“Knowledge is Power” Is Terrible Advice

“The more you learn, the more you earn.”

That’s a quote from Warren Buffett I still believe in. However, lately, I’m starting to notice a lot more experts on the internet talk about how knowledge isn’t power; it’s execution and action that matters. They say that so many spend too much time absorbing content online. Then, they become these theory junkies that never go out and practice anything and never get better.

There’s a certain truth to this that I’ve observed. I’ve even brought up this exact point many years ago in my own videos. 100 years ago, advice and information was scarce. You had to be really lucky or spend a lot of money to be able to get advice from someone successful or pick their brain. Now, there’s an overwhelming amount of that advice for free on the web.

How to Be A Great Salesman Jason Fried
Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals, a multi-million dollar business, and author of Rework tweeted back at my old account telling me to just go out and sell. And stop reading books.

But I think taking action is a larger chasm to cross than many people think. And I’m going to attempt to explain my theories on how best to cross it.

One show I love is Shark Tank, a famous TV show where businesses pitch investors their ideas to get investment money in exchange for part ownership in their company. I’ve been watching since 2014, and one of the earlier episodes that came to mind is when one of my favorite YouTubers, Aaron Marino, went on to pitch a men’s fashion info product business. (Season 4 Episode 2)

As you might guess, it didn’t end well. Aaron didn’t get a closed offer. One reason can be summed up in one of Mark Cuban’s statements. He pointed to the model who was dressed as a slob and then the model dressed well and said something like, “There’s no way you’re going to get that guy to turn into that guy with an e-book or video set.”

And he was right. In his gut, he knew that information alone, even if it was the right info, wouldn’t change this man’s image. I bet he couldn’t articulate exactly why that was the case, but he knew. So, let’s break it down, because it’s such an interesting, frustrating concept: How come when someone is presented with the exact success formula and knowledge they need to success, they often still fail to take that advice? 

It can make one feel exasperated, confused, maybe even wanting to give up if they think there’s no way to accomplish it even if you get the right advice. While I do see theory-junkies with no results who seem to support this idea, the good news is I think there is an answer.

To start to even attempt to answer this question, let’s go back to Jason Fried’s point about reading no books. I don’t necessarily agree. While some say you can learn everything from YEARS of experience without resorting to a single book, I have picked up a lot of incredible tips and advice from seasoned salespeople that would’ve taken me years to discover or I may never have trying to figure it out on my own. It’s kind of like trying to learn chess or ballet without a teacher or any structure. Having the wisdom of someone to guide you and history means you’re building off the shoulders of those who came before you.

Turning a complete blind eye to the decades of mistakes that came before us is a little misguided. Successful businessmen like Neil Patel or billionaire Charlie Munger emphasize the importance and benefit of learning from others’ mistakes rather than your own.

But the other extreme is burying your nose in books for years until you feel ready, hoping the right bit of knowledge will help you. I typically see a spectrum of people, not necessarily people on just one extreme. I followed one guy on a paid community once who had endless knowledge of “male archetypes that are successful for dating” and had all these tips and guides on constructing the perfect male look book for dating profiles, but he admitted he was great at the knowledge, but was decent and not as good at the execution and results.

It’s not that these people aren’t trying. They are. They’ll dabble. They’ll put in some effort. But things won’t click. They don’t know why or they do and they can’t get past that hump.

The guy with bad fashion may have a list of reasons why they can’t get to the next level. For example, I myself admittedly had mediocre style so I paid for a mini-fashion makeover where I had someone shop for me and buy me clothes at the mall. This taught me a lot and shined the light on some of my psychological blocks and reasons for not leveling up:

  • lifestyle – I work, mostly on my own, at home, so I’m only going out for short bursts for food or a social activity, so why dress up?
  • unwarranted, but a real fear – what if someone gets jealous or makes fun of me for dressing up? (Fun fact: this has never happened yet. If anything, I get compliments.)
  • laziness/convenience – easier to just get out and go. Contacts are a nuisance to put on and wear.
  • a false idea of “being myself” – Oh, I’m just being myself if I walk out in t-shirts and shorts
  • lack of pay-off – Am I really going to bump into someone when I’m out exercising or getting groceries or at this social event that will make the extra effort of layering clothes, accessories, putting on contacts, etc. worth it? Not likely
  • cheapness – I’m on a budget; can’t afford it

Whether these perceptions or beliefs are real or not, they block me from taking that step. And the funny part is that they’re often not real. Dressing well also doesn’t have to be about doing it for others. It’s for your own confidence and feeling good too sometimes. Also, you never know who you’ll run into. Plus, it’s not that much extra effort or time, it builds a better perception/brand of you, and usually, no one is going to be aggressive towards you out of envy – they’ll more likely compliment you.

That said, these are still things I’m working through, especially the convenience/effort one. Sometimes, you need someone there with you in real life to force you through your blind spots or point them out. A coach. In my case, the style consultant literally made me buy certain items: watches, skinny jeans, things I didn’t want to before or didn’t feel suited me; he made me stretch.

A rare moment when I put on something formal and took off my glasses rather than have my typical t-shirt and shorts look.
I’ve been failing at fashion for several years even though I’ve tried. Paying for a style consultant helped. Here’s a rare moment when I put on something formal and took off my glasses rather than have my typical t-shirt and shorts look.

Now, the average schmuck in the Shark Tank video may have some of these mental blocks or additional ones. Maybe they’re too busy or lazy/uninterested to finish the ebook in the first place. Maybe they get distracted by TV or work, so they forget to take action on what they learned. Maybe they’re on a budget and can’t afford the recommendations. Maybe they bought them all and they’re all stuck in a pile in their closet, and it’s too much hassle to dig them out.

While I wouldn’t give up hope on this guy (I think there’s some way it’s possible they change), I do acknowledge the fact that it’s harder to make that transition than people think. Thus, I think that’s why a lot (maybe even most) people who watch educational videos on YouTube or buy online courses fail to make much progress.

To end on a positive note, I still have a lot of faith in investing in e-products or reading something in a book or learning something on YouTube and using it to change your habits/life. This year, I have bought a lot of these products because I believe in them. Not everything works, but I’ve tested a lot of stuff that does work. I went from being very inconsistent at the gym for years to going 5 days a week for years (more about this story in my email newsletter welcome series). I went from knowing very little about Google Tag Manager and Data Studio to becoming an expert and using it in my career. I’m currently learning a lot about Tableau and SQL, which I knew nothing about a year ago. I’ve recently bought courses from top YouTubers (Fidias, Matt D’avella, Airrack) because I believe it can improve my reach, and I invested and taken communication masterclasses by Bill Clinton, Seth Godin, and other leaders. And even some storytelling classes.

That is because I believe it’s possible to take action and improve your life. And I’m doing it even right now, by taking 20 to 30 minutes, to write this article to practice storytelling and create content about a topic I’m passionate about. How? It starts with the baby-step method, which is to start small with a little bit of work, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, or 10 minutes, and then gradually ease into more practice when you’re more comfortable.

From there, if you’re alone, it’s about:

  • enjoyment
  • purpose
  • fulfillment
  • getting away from current or future, severe pain
  • curiosity and interest
  • getting a coach
  • having a training structure that’s credible
  • reflecting on your progress and lessons
  • measuring progress

If you’re able to do it with others, it’s about:

  • group coaching
  • accountability
  • community
  • sharing what you’ve learned
  • measuring progress
  • enjoyment
  • purpose as well
  • fulfillment as well
  • interacting with peers
  • training structure as well
  • curiosity and interest as well

What do you think?

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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