Double your learning speed and cut your mistakes in half

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(image from genkaku)

One of the great perks of my job is I have clients and blog readers who come with all kinds of business ideas.

Alpaca farming.
Software startups.
Energy healing.
Green energy consulting.
Mental health advocacy.

And perhaps my favorite, posted to my public coaching page a few days ago:

Hi Pam, I spoke to you in 2007 about a robot that could clean the skyscrapers (if you remember), that remained a hobby project however now I am planning to start a software outsourcing company in India. I would need your advice and guidance. Shall we have a quick chat?

Thanks,   (Name)

I don’t know about you, but I have not had a lot of experience with skyscraper-cleaning robot businesses.  And I have never launched a software outsourcing company in India.   This doesn’t worry me much, because I am sure that there is a group of highly skilled, successful and kind people who have. And all I have to help my client figure out is how to connect with them so he can get a clear idea of the major steps required to be successful, or High Value Activities (HVAs) as my business partner Charlie Gilkey likes to call them.  

Skipping Stones

This is exactly what David Billings, better known as Sparky Firepants, did this year when planning a major shift in his business from graphic illustration for individuals to art licensing for large companies.   David has deep skill and knowledge about art and the design business, but had big questions about the new world of art licensing.

He told me that in the past he would have tried to figure out everything himself, and taken a long time to get the lay of the land.   This time, he identified a number of artists who were very successful licensing their art. He found experts who taught the technical aspects of art licensing. And he identified the biggest live event that attracted the premier art buyers in the world.

By doing this, he learned, for example, that he would need about one-fifth of the amount of art pieces he originally intended to display at a large trade show in Las Vegas.    Can you imagine how much time he will save by making four-fifths less art? Not to mention money he will earn, in the form of freed up time for other revenue generating activities?

Would you please create my success for me?

While learning from the best and most successful in your field, it is very important to  make sure you are not asking them to do your work for you.   It reminds me of something Martha Beck once told me:

“Every time I go to a cocktail party, well-meaning authors or experts  corner me with a copy of their book, asking in a hushed tone ‘Would you mind giving my book to Oprah when you are in her office?’ What they should be asking is ‘What were the most powerful steps you took to prepare yourself to be on Oprah?'”

Seth Godin said something very similar in his post No knight, no shining armor.

“The magic of the tribe is that you can build it incrementally, that day by day you can earn the asset that will allow you to bring your work to people who want it. Or you can skip that and wait to get picked. Picked to be on Oprah or American Idol or at the cash register at Borders.

Getting picked is great. Building a tribe is reliable, it’s hard work and it’s worth doing.”

The eight magic questions, not the magic bullet

So what is your brand new business idea or big goal that you have no idea how to accomplish?

Getting a book deal? Creating a successful software product? Getting your own television show? Monetizing your blog? Selling skyscraper-cleaning robots?

Answer the following questions

  1. Who has done this, or something similar to this, and done it well?
  2. Of all the people I find who have done this well, which of them share my values, work ethic and life goals?
  3. What were the key moves these people made in order to have success?
  4. Who are the deep experts, enthusiasts and influential people in this area?
  5. Where do they hang out, so I can go meet them?
  6. What are the decision criteria used by decision makers for selecting products or projects? (most relevant for things like book deals, television shows, getting venture capital or being chosen for guest posts on popular blogs)
  7. How can I apply this learning to my own business planning?
  8. What are my key moves in the next month, next quarter and next year to get me to my goal as quickly as possible?

I shared this process with a client who was struggling to understand if he was taking the right steps in building his software product.   When we got to question five, “Where do they hang out, so I can go meet them,” it turned out there was a huge conference, The Business of Software, the following month. Speaking or in attendance were the absolute cream of the crop of experts and practitioners in his field.

So he went.

The time and expense learning from from the very best in the field for two days sounded better to him than twelve months of stumbling around, investing time, money and sweat in what he guessed was the best way to create and market his product.

Sure sounds better to me!

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10 Responses to “Double your learning speed and cut your mistakes in half”

  1. shaleen says:

    Hi Pam Its amazing that you wrote this article in 2011 and i still find it very useful. Recently I launched my own blog and I had been struggling a bit but after reading your article I feel like there is a way forward now thanks

  2. clarisonic says:

    Took me awhile to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be very useful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also engaged! I’m sure you had fun writing this article

  3. Great advice! I would add to that something that should be obvious, but in my experience with others is often the culprit in a business stagnating or never getting off the ground.

    When you spend all this time learning from experts what you should do with your business, then DO IT! Don’t spend the money to attend events, spend the time of an expert in your industry/field, or spend your own time reading and researching unless you actually intend to act on the advice and information!

    Take a chance. Give it a try. Fail. Learn. Try again. That’s how the experts you have talked to and learned from have gotten where they are!

  4. Wonderful post Pam. I’d love to say to Andy that with the power of social networks these days you can reach just about anybody online and then follow it up via a phonecall or video call on Skype. You don’t need to meet them in person to connect with them and build a relationship.

  5. Amy Johnson says:

    More and more, I’m hearing the messages of connection, collaboration, community…the 3 C’s, maybe. My default mindset to be independent and think I have to go at it alone, so it’s incredibly helpful to be reminded that it’s not “cheating” (another C!) to build and leverage connections. And it’s so much more fun to do things with friends and others who are brilliant in different ways than I am. Thanks so much for this, Pam!

  6. […] (image from genkaku)One of the great perks of my job is I have clients and blog readers who come with all kinds of business ideas.Alpaca farming.Software startups.Energy healing.Green energy consulting.Mental health advocacy.And perhaps my favorite, posted to my public coaching page a few days ago:Hi Pam, I spoke to you in 2007 about a robot […] Original post […]

  7. Who were the people you talked to when you were first considering becoming an author and blogger? Were there experts you sought out and discussed the idea with?

  8. Number five is a killer for those of us outside of the UK. It’s very hard to network with people half a world away!

  9. Gina Rudan says:

    Once again you have posted nuggets of wisdom which are critical for every “trep” to be mindful of and your timing is perfect. I am sending your Eight Magic Questions to every single one of my clients :). Thanks for being one our best Yodas!

  10. I love this process you created. I do something similar when I coach people. We identify exactly what they want, exactly who can help them get there, and exactly how to build a relationship with those people.

    I have a blog post coming to memorialize how I help people. I think I may reference this post.