It seems as though I am always consuming content. A nonstop treadmill of daily news, ideas-based podcasts, audiobooks, books books, documentaries, reality television and the fictional worlds of Bobby Axelrod and John Dutton. It’s a lot.
When I pull in content my goal isn’t to learn every concept that is explained or remember every single date and nail the timeline, it is to understand milestones — the big picture. Sometimes, depending on where my head is or what I’m involved in with work, I get something completely different out of content than I would if my context was different. This happens a lot and is why there are certain articles and books that I reread regularly when my context changes.
Regardless of when I read something, my goal is to get a single idea out of it — something that I can use or something that clarifies another idea that I have already noted. I tend to group my reading around themes in order to get a wider viewpoint. For example if I’m reading about climate change I’ll group articles, books and podcasts together and then read and listen to them in succession. I try to bring in contrasting viewpoints in order to balance my thinking. Depending on the subject my views are my views (especially around the climate) but it is solid practice to hear the other side. You will learn something that either reinforces your viewpoint or opens up an opportunity for more exploration.
Learning shouldn’t be a stressful endeavour when you are doing it for personal growth. I don’t put any pressure or timeframes on when I should know a subject because it is a process. One book, one article, one podcast at a time until you’ve got enough perspective to have your own earned opinion. When the world moves as fast as it does and content can be created and distributed as quickly as it is, knowing how to build an opinion one idea at a time — slowly and deliberately — is essential. I once worked for a CEO who read business articles and switched our company strategy based on them. We bounced from the latest thing to the latest thing making no headway and, eventually the company failed (for many other contributing reasons but lack of clarity was one of the top ones). The lesson is to extract an idea from everything you ingest but do it to build upon what you already know.
It’s not complicated. Bring in content. Chew on the fat. Disregard the rest. Repeat. Doing this starts to fill the gaps in knowledge, confidence and expertise. The key is to start with the first idea.