After failing my first major exam as a college student (note: it’s not wise to begin studying for an 8 am exam at midnight the night before), I decided to create a “studying process.” By using this process during the rest of my collegiate career, I survived college and was able to graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a 3.74 GPA.
While I definitely worked hard in college, my GPA was not the result of spending 50 hours a week in the library. Instead, it was the result of a very strategic approach to learning and development that you can use to become an expert on anything in record time.
Professional development is one of the secrets to adding massive value to your employer and taking your career to the next level. Follow these 4 steps and you can dominate any field or industry quickly:
1. Study. Your first step to expertise is to identify the world’s 3 top experts on a topic/skill, and to read one book by each expert. (You could also participate in their online courses, live seminars, or training programs.) Just make sure you learn from the right people. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can self-publish a book or create an online course and call themselves an “expert” on any topic. Learning from unqualified sources will actually stunt your development. Make sure you learn from the world’s best.
2. Apply. While you will definitely benefit just from absorbing the wisdom of leading experts, you can’t become a true expert on a topic/skill until you apply your new knowledge. For example, you can’t become an expert on public speaking just by reading about public speaking; you have to speak in public. You can’t become an expert on project management just by reading about project management; you have to manage projects. You can’t become an expert on LinkedIn just by reading books about LinkedIn; you have to use LinkedIn firsthand. By applying what you learn through your initial study, you’ll deepen your understanding of the material and fill in some of the inevitable gaps found even in the world’s best books or training programs.
3. Summarize. Before any major exam in college, part of my studying process was to go through my textbook and class notes and create a concise review sheet of the major ideas and concepts. This step forced me to identify the key points and to translate the ideas from the authors and my professors into my own words. In addition, my summary was much easier to review before the exam than a 500-page textbook. So, after you read your 3 books (or take a course, attend a seminar, etc.) and after you apply what you have learned, you should create a brief summary of your new knowledge. This will deepen your learning even further and leave you with a very concise, valuable resource to refer to for years to come.
4. Teach. After studying, applying, and summarizing what you have learned, the next best way to deepen your mastery is to teach your findings to others. By teaching your topic to someone else, your level of understanding reaches an even higher level. You can “teach” your topic by writing articles about what you have learned, by delivering presentations about what you have learned, or simply by sharing your ideas informally with friends, family, or colleagues.
According to a study by a publishing firm called The Jenkins Group, 42% of adults never even read one book after graduating college! If you read 3 books on a topic, apply what you have learned, summarize your findings, and teach your new knowledge to others (by writing or speaking), you will know more about that topic than 99% of the population, classifying you as a true expert. The payoff in personal satisfaction, professional recognition, and financial compensation will be well worth the effort.
P.S. Here is my challenge to you
Identify the #1 topic or skill you need to develop to get to the next level in your career, and work this 4-step process over the next 30 days. For public accountability, you can comment below with the topic/skill you want to master, and you can report back on this blog again in 30 days with an update on your results.
Pete Leibman is the Author of the new book titled “I Got My Dream Job and So Can You” (AMACOM, 2012). His career advice has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN, and he is a popular Keynote Speaker at career events for students and young professionals and at conferences for people who work with students and young professionals.