How To Acquire Specific Knowledge (In 7 Steps)

For 3 years, I was sold on a lie by everyone around me.

Like many other people entering their 20s I was sold on a lie...

Go to university. Pick a degree to specialize in. Study and work hard to get good grades. Graduate then get a job.

What I was sold on the idea that this was the way to learn how to do a job before really doing it.

Traditional learning sucks. It gives everyone cookie cutter knowledge. Rarely do students even get specialized knowledge.

Unless you're a doctor, lawyer, or engineer college does not teach you any specialized knowledge to do a job.

I realized this when I decided I wanted to take classes on product management. To my surprise, there wasn't any offered at my school.

This is a job that 698,945 people are currently hired to do, roughly 9% of the tech industry.

Not a single class taught it. No professor with a background in it. No resources to learn it...

So I did what any college student would do.

Pitched a professor to wave the requirement of taking other so I could spend the time building specific knowledge. It worked too. A lack of resources is never an excuse for inaction.

Along the way, I learned there's different ways to acquire specific knowledge.

Specific knowledge becomes unique knowledge only you possess.

Specific knowledge is different than specialized knowledge because it is something only you have. Which creates opportunities only you can do.

“The first thing to notice about specific knowledge is that you can’t be trained for it… [it’s] found much more by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion…Very often specific knowledge is at the edge of knowledge. It’s also stuff that’s just being figured out or is really hard to figure out... [It] tends to be technical and creative. It’s on the bleeding edge of technology, on the bleeding edge of art, on the bleeding edge of communication.”

- Naval Ravikant

School is only meant to teach you how to learn. It's our jobs to fan the flame of curiosity to go out and learn on our own. You cannot acquire specific knowledge without being a perpetual learner.

Associate your identity with being a learner, a problem solver, and a curios individual and naturally you'll begin climbing the steps to acquire specific knowledge needed to overcome the obstacles you face and achieve your goals.

Specific knowledge is your professional point of differentiation. It allows you to evaluate decisions better and the better you can reason the further you separate yourself from others.

As you work to build your specific knowledge you'll slowly build a personal moat by:

  • Finding alternative resources you may not have had otherwise
  • Combining knowledge in ways others would never have expected
  • Quickly getting to what matters by being at the edge of knowledge
  • Getting compensated instead of someone else (like your competition)

By learning both "just-in-case" and "point-in-time" knowledge you become irreplaceable (even by AI).

There's 7 steps to acquiring specific knowledge.

Just like building any other expertise you must try something, see if it works, iterate, and try again.

Most people do this already without even realizing it (or maybe you do intentionally experiment like this).

The problem is they really only do this process when there's obstacles they face. Never acquiring specific knowledge to reduce the future obstacle on the pursuit of their goals.

My goal is to provide you with a 7 step system to repeatably build these skills month after month so you can rely more on your past experiences to create better outcomes for your future.

1) Start a project or use a current one

This could be a lot of different things. Many of you are currently running your own businesses and you can use that. It could be a side project or just something you want to do for fun.

The goal is to have an environment you can experiment in so that there can be active learning.

If you want to learn code, build a program.

If you want to learn a language, have conversations with people that speak it.

You need to have a place where you can integrate practical exercises that allow you to practice the knowledge you'll build over and over until they become second nature.

What this looks like is completely contingent on the level of risk you can take. Sometimes using your business may not be the best place to start.

2) Research related projects

How can you start applying anything without a proper understanding of the best practices?

This newsletter is my side project and whenI was first starting out I researched other newsletters and landing pages to get an understanding of where I wanted to go. This set the expectation for what I needed to get to -- creating a gap between where I was and where I want to be after I learn the specific knowledge.

There's always comparables you can look at.

If it's something less quantifiable like a language, then look for stories that can set up a baseline.

3) Take inventory of current knowledge

Build on top of the foundations you already have.

You already know a great deal of information. You wouldn't have made it this far if you haven't learned a lot.

Understand what you already know and organize the information to be used as your starting block.

Most of the knowledge we have is not in the right shape to be used because it's hidden and buried.

4) Identify the specific knowledge you need to acquire

What's the foundations required to learn it?

This is how you get from your present reality to the future state you identified when researching other projects.

It's important to keep an open mind throughout this step because you'll be jumping into the unknown.

This is where you'll assemble the image before you paint it. Just like you would in a coloring book.

5) Identify potential distractions

A definition is a statement that includes everything the something is and excludes everything it is not.

If you define what success looks like then you must also define what is not included in that.

Focus is important to be able to streamline success. Often times people quit on the first or second attempt because they fall prey to distractions in this quest because there is no exact path to follow.

There is no map of the territory and you end up having to building your own system to acquire the specific knowledge.

Managing distractions is an important aspect of self-education.

6) Self-educate

Consume courses, books, videos, online forum post. Go to workshops and get mentors.

Just start somewhere -- anywhere. This is the part where you explore.

“The narrow mind stays rooted in one spot; the broad mind is free, inquiring, unprejudiced; it seeks to learn “both sides of the story.”
- James T. Mangan

Consume information critically. Approach it from what you know to be true from your past knowledge. Let it be rooted in those past experiences you've had.

Ask for help. You learn more from people than from reading any book. Every person possesses knowledge and they are more than willing to tell you what they know if you're serious and sincere when you ask them.

7) Document your journey

Everyone knows you learn more when you teach so why not explain it to yourself.

Create notebooks for specific purposes (online or physical). Make sure there is structure and they are organized in a way that makes sense for you.

This is where you really start to paint the picture of your specific knowledge which you can later use to position yourself from your competition.

Try passing along the knowledge to others because in an effort to add more value you'll be forced to go deeper than what you even have written down. Use the Feynman technique if you need to.

These 7 steps will take you from blending in with the crowd to standing out as a high performer in just a few months of focused and intentional effort.

FOOTNOTES

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