In the last post, I revealed how post-67-Steps I got high off explicit knowledge, thought I ruled the world, then crashed back to reality after failing to write a book about success. I concluded that tacit knowledge – the ability to apply – is really what counts in our information age. It’s the man who can actually cook you the perfect souffle over the one who can just talk about it.
But after some reflection, I realise I had it all wrong… I didn’t paint the whole picture. In fact, I missed a gigantic peice of the puzzle.
If tacit knowledge was all it took, why did the greats read like their lives depended on it? If explicit knowledge was useless, then why did the greatest minds throughout history stuff their heads full of it?
The greatness of Napoleon, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Guevara, Da Vinci…. Could it just be pure coincidence? Is there no link between explicit knowledge and success?
I think not.
In this article, I hope to prove to you just how influential explicit knowledge is in our lives, or, at least, in my own. It’s gonna be a long article, so if you’re desperate for the conclusion, here it is.
Explicit knowledge is like a treasure map. But that’s all. Just a map. Is having the map important? Damn right! It leads to treasure! But we can have all the treasure maps in the world, and still no treasure. Tacit knowledge is the treasure – the reward we get when we find where X marks the spot.
Of course, we can stumble across tacit knowledge without the map. But as we’ve only got one shot at life, why hitch your horse to chance?
By devouring books, the greats had an ocean of treasure maps to follow. They followed them, and gained massive tacit knowledge as the reward. Plus, they could pick and choose which treasures to go for, in other words go with the treasure map that would likely yield the most valuable treasure.
In some ways, I agree with my last post. Tacit knowledge is ultimately what counts. But there’s a caveat… It helps an awful lot to have explicit knowledge first, because without it, you’re stumbling in the dark. Acquiring them both is our sweet spot. Yin and yang.
Proving The Massive Influence of Explicit Knowledge
To prove just how powerful an impact explicit knowledge can have, I’ll share a bit of my own story. I hope, by the end, I convince you that the treasure maps you pick up and the act of following them will take you on a crazy journey. And how the next book you read, the next person you meet or the next Ted Talk you watch might just change your life.
High School, Hollywood, and a Legendary Physics Teacher
The story begins at high school on a small Scottish island. There, my dad worked as the deputy head teacher. Which sucked. Not because I disliked my Dad. In fact, I owe him, (well -both my parents), everything, and have copied him in so many ways. It sucked simply because kids will be kids. And boy, did all those digs and snide remarks thrown at the deputy head’s son get under my skin. I didn’t want to be known for someone else. I needed to be known for something completely of my own merit, not just because I was the son of a teacher. I needed a new identity.
I loved playing sports. Sport was a great equaliser – a level playing field. On the court, family ties counted for nada. I became that kid who played every sport, on every sports team, wore trackies all day and ran every morning before school (inspired by my dad). Your quintessential sporty kid.
At the end of term in P.E class, we watched the movie “21”. It’s the story of a twenty-something hot-shot mathematician, Ben, who gets accepted into MIT Medical School. Problem is, he can’t fork over the $300,000 entrance fee. Out of options, he applies for a prestigious scholarship. He asks the Dean what decides the winner, who answers: the student that “dazzles” him. Trying to up his dazzle game, Ben joins the MIT blackjack group who count cards in Vegas. They go to Vegas, beat the system, win a ton of money, lose a ton of money, and get revenge on someone who stitched them up. Then Ben wins the scholarship by telling this amazing story. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.
Now, counting cards was cool. But the best part of the movie? When Ben, this shy quiet kid, is in a Vegas hotel bathroom. He looks at himself in the mirror, and he narrates: “The moment we left campus, the concept of vectors and formulas, were replaced with counting, shuffle tracking. Knowing when to hit and knowing when to color out. I was becoming a pro on all levels. I made more money in one trip to Vegas than I would have in 5 years, 9 months, 12 days and 6 hours at J. Press Menswear. In Boston, I was just Ben Campbell. But in Vegas, I could be anyone I wanted.”
If no-one knows who you are, you can become anyone you want?! (Explicit knowledge alert!)
High school ends. Sitrep: Loved running businesses on computer games (habbo hotel for the win), latent childhood dream of creating a renewable energy powered transportation company (HariboCorp), sporty, kick-ass grades, but didn’t enjoy the last years of high school. I just wasn’t one of the cool kids.
Next movie for inspiration – Iron Man. Meet Tony Stark – an inventor, engineer and entrepreneur – owner of the Stark Enterprises weapons company. (Little did I know that he was modelled on the real-life Elon Musk). Plot: Tony Stark gets kidnapped, designs a robotic suit in captivity, destroys the bad guys and gets the girl.
This is how inventor-engineer-entrepreneurs live?! Tinkering with flying suits in their garages, building robots, innovating and changing the world? All in a house overlooking the ocean, driving a sweet Audi, and Gwyneth Paltrow as a secretary… Damn! I want to be an engineer!
Combine this with an utterly legendary physics teacher (I salute you, sir!) and the consequent love for solving physics problems, and boom, I choose to study Physics and Engineering at St. Andrews University. The only reason I got in was because I was deemed to be from a “disadvantaged” background. (A beautiful island with a tiny school counts.) My maths and physics grades weren’t good enough, so I was shuffled into a tiny group of other people from “disadvantaged” backgrounds.
Why St. Andrews? Explicit knowledge. I’d heard that it was a gorgeously small and historic town surrounded by ocean and countryside. With a sweet physics department too. Small community? Nature? It sounded like home. It sounded perfect.
The following year, and the explicit becomes tacit. It did suit me perfectly, though with way more Barbour Jackets than I was expecting.
TED Talks, The Alchemist and Elliott Hulse
I moved into the cheapest uni accomodation money could buy – sharing a flat with five guys. With inspiring dissatisfaction from being pigeon-holed into “this type of person” at school, and explicit knowledge from 21 stored in my head, I become someone else. I go from the shy, quiet kid to one of the most sociable in the house. Boom! Of course, I had no idea that I’d followed the treasure map of 21 while I was doing it. I just had this feeling that going to university was my big chance to change. I did change, and with it realised that given a clean slate, we can all become who we want to become. Thus, explicit became tacit.
That year, my best friend from uni introduced me to TED talks. We became obsessed, and all we then did was watch, discuss-in-postage-stamp-sized-kitchen, and repeat. The talks, of course, were amazing. But what’s more: they opened my eyes to all the juicy information out there just waiting to be devoured.
Two TED spoke to me more than any others.
The first: Lewis Pugh on his incredible 1km water arctic swim (-1.7 degrees water). What captivated me was how he did a mental 180…. A couple of days before the main swim, Pugh goes for a 5 minute practice swim to test the water. Never had he experienced so much pain – he couldn’t feel his fingers which had swollen to the size of sausages. He was mentally destroyed. All he could think of was the story of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who after 3 minutes in the water, had to get his fingers amputated. “If that happened to Ran after 3 minutes, and I can’t feel my hands after 5 minutes, what on Earth is going to happen if I try 20 minutes? At the very best I’m going to end up losing some fingers, and at worst… I don’t even want to think about it.”
His close friend saw how he was thinking. “Lewis, I’ve known you since you were 18 years old. I’ve known you, and I know, Lewis, that deep down, right deep down here, that you are gonna make this swim. I so believe in you Lewis, I’ve seen the way you’ve been training, and I realise the reason you’re going to do this. This is such an important swim. We stand at such an important moment in the world’s history, and you’re going to make a symbolic swim here to shake the lapels of world leaders. This gave Pugh so much confidence, and he went on to swim the kilometre.
This talk taught me (explicit knowledge) the awesome potential of human beings, and the incredible power of mindset.
The second: “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” by Amy Cuddy. Message: by changing your body language, you can change who you are. Yes, the mind changes the body, but the opposite is also true. When you’re happy you smile, but smiling makes you happy also. Want to be more powerful? Adopt powerful body language! Even for 2 minutes, adopt a power pose and feel your testosterone soar. In the talk, she tells the emotional story of how she almost quit grad-school because she felt she didn’t belong. Her supervisor, who had taken a chance on her, said “You are not quitting. Because I took a gamble on you, and you’re staying. You’re gonna stay, and this is what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna fake it. You’re gonna do every talk that you ever get asked to do, and you’re just going to do it and do it and do it, even if you’re terrified and paralysed and having an out-of-body experience, until you have this moment where you say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m doing it. I have become this. I’m actually doing this.’”
More explicit knowledge that you can become who you want to become, this time by simply changing your body language.
My best friend also introduced me to my favourite book (by far), The Alchemist. For a glimmer of the explicit knowledge to be gleaned from that, check out this post.
Being a poor student, I was looking for ways to save money and stumbled upon a blog called Mr. Money Moustache. Damn, did I devour every single word. Afterwards, my head was bursting with explicit knowledge. Financial freedom through badassity? Most people’s lives are exploding volcanoes of wastefulness? Conventional wisdom is utter BS? Muscle over motor? Stoicism? You can live an incredibly kick-ass life not in spite of spending little money, but because you spend little money? Holy Smokes!
Through MMM’s blog, I find a paleo-lifestyle blog called Mark’s Daily Apple. I devoured that too. Apart from all the explicit knowledge about wealth accumulation and health that I’d test and put into practice (explicit to tacit), the two blogs instilled into me one thing. One vital piece of explicit knowledge perhaps more important than any other….
That the majority of people don’t know how to live. They complain about their circumstances and feel totally out of control, yet their life choices create their circumstances! Perhaps this is what Thoreau meant by, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”
I compared the explicit knowledge I’d absorbed to what I saw around me, and realised how true it was. To quote Benjamin Disraeli, “Man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creatures of men.”
I noticed the poor life decisions others were making all around me….How stressed people are with money and losing weight, despite the fact that they’d be healthier, wealthier and happier if they didn’t commute with the shiny new car in the driveway bought on finance. This is madness! Don’t people know that we are always in control?!
After that, I became suspicious of anything “normal” or “conventional”.
Undoubtedly inspired by the adventures of Pugh, my best friend and I cycle across Scotland to spend Christmas on Islay. We bring a golf club, and a golf ball for each day to have a who-can-hit-the-golf-ball-the-furthest-at-the-most-scenic-location-of-the-day competition. We have an utterly epic adventure. Doing what most people don’t do turned out to be quite the idea!
In second year, at the suggestion of MDA and MMM (explicit knowledge), I start lifting weights to supplement my triathlon training. Not knowing the difference between a dumbbell and a barbell (total noob), I look for answers in that great bastion of knowledge that is YouTube. I stumbled across Elliott Hulse – Strongman and philosopher – who would become my greatest mentor for the next three years.
I started on a quest to find explicit knowledge of weightlifting, but I ended up discovering far more fascinating things… I learned about the dangerous journey of following my heart, using fear as a compass, becoming the strongest version of myself, how to learn from everyone I meet, the trappings of success, Ralph Waldo Emerson,and Nietzsche’s metaphor of life.
I guzzled up all the explicit knowledge Elliott could give me, and subconsciously distilled it into one main principle: Become the strongest version of yourself. To do that, follow your heart. (c.f The Alchemist).
My desire for adventure had taken on an entirely new light. Now, it wasn’t just about the place, or the things in it. It was about the journey, the unknown, and who I would become. So when I got the option of studying abroad, I took it. The professor told me my grades would take a hit. But it’s not about the grades.. It’s who you become!” Elliott’s influence was already strong within me.
Meanwhile, I was OBSESSED with cooking. (That’s not a mistype). My free time was wolfed down reading cookbooks, concocting new recipes, and binging on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and River Cottage. I was convinced I would become a chef.
(Cue Elliott Hulse advice). That summer, instead of finding a nice, responsible, CV-polishing job, I worked as a commis chef in a pro kitchen back on Islay. (irresponsible, following heart). Working in the kitchen was tough. I made some big mistakes, and consequently learned many things….
How to make mistakes. How to own up to mistakes. How to laugh at mistakes. That thick skin is something you develop (just work in a kitchen), how to half-ask a girl out on a date (just half do it), how to drink a G&T, but most of all, the priceless feeling of satisfaction you get after throwing yourself off the cliff and learning to fly on the way down.
Summer ends. It’s T-minus four days to Canada. And I haven’t packed a thing. Or found someplace to live. But hey, cycling 100 miles of stunning Scottish scenery with my best mate will take my mind off things. Iain. It would be completely idiotic to go off gallivanting for three days on an epic adventure.
“Common sense” prevailed, and I bailed. Apologies were made. It just wasn’t the right time.
But that evening, after hastily arranging a Canadian flat-viewing, I threw caution to the wind and decided to go ahead with the trip. But I needed a bike. So we met in Glasgow, I bought a second hand bike off Gumtree, and we had an utterly epic trip. Plus, we finished just in time so I could fly to Canada the next day. Bonus!
Hmmm… this irresponsible, following-the-heart thing is turning into quite the idea. Thanks explicit knowledge!
Canada, Eh? (and the wonderful world of MeetUp.com)
I flew to Canada, and arrived in Kingston with the help of a family friend. The house I’d arranged to view turned out to be a total dump (even to my standards). Sitrep: Unknown city, no local knowledge, nowhere to live, no friends, no connections.. Oh, and term starts next week. (I hadn’t even gone to Diagon Alley yet!) But things are looking up. I have a bag of almonds and an internet connection.
Via la internet, I bag a fantastic place to live. (Tacit knowledge acquired: don’t take the first place you find just because you’re desperate.) However, I still haven’t made any friends. Coming to Canada was another huge opportunity to become exactly who I wanted – in this case way more outgoing. This was my new Vegas, and I was eager to put Elliott’s ideas to the test.
But first, I heed the advice of the old wives’ tale: Seek and you shall find, ask and you shall receive, knock and the door will open…. Or google it.
I chose the latter and wandered into the weird and wonderful world of MeetUp.com. “Group of people going for dinner on an island on the lake. New people welcome.”
Ok, this could work. But going to dinner with complete strangers? … What if we don’t get on? What if I don’t know what to say? What if….
My mouse hovered over the “Sign up” button. Sweaty palms ensued. But explicit knowledge a lá Elliott Hulse prevailed. “If it’s not scary, it’s not worth doing.” I clicked the button, then thought, “What the hell have you just done?! You idiot, Iain!”
I never got to that island on the lake. We missed the ferry. There we were: Liz, a woman part of the group, stranded with two students decked out in shirts and shades. Thinking fast, Liz gave usa tour of Kingston in her car, then drove us out of the city to a river-side village to have dinner with her daughter.
We had an amazing time, and we met up for dinner the following week, only this time the daughter takes her boyfriend along. The two of them and I got on like ducks on water, and they became my best friends in Canada. I felt semi-adopted by the boyfriend’s family, and I had the immense pleasure of spending some incredible moments with everyone. I remember arriving at Tyler’s house in some sweet Canadian wilderness, and within half an hour was laughing like a kid as we flew across the lake on his jet-ski. I’ve made it in Canada, baby!
(Plot twist: the jet ski ran out of fuel in the middle of the lake. In October.)
I followed a crazy treasure map of explicit knowledge given to me by Elliott Hulse. It said that if you do the scary thing, you’ll find it’s worth doing; life rewards you if you take that leap of faith.
Well, I followed the map. And two amazing friends, their families, and a year of magical moments was my treasure. (And tacit knowledge of course.)
In physics, I meet my great friend Paul, who introduces me to The Count of Monte Cristo. Once again, I get incredibly inspired by a story of transformation. The protagonist of the book, Dante, becomes a charming renaissance man who sails the world’s oceans, speaks many languages and graces many courts. He then seeks revenge on all those who put him unjustly in prison.
Then, I met a girl. A girl from Spain. A girl with black flowing hair and deep brown eyes. We started dating, and I told her how I felt about her. It was scary. Real scary. For me, that’s scary. I took the leap of faith, did the scary thing, and once again I was rewarded – another amazing person came into my life.
If it’s not scary, it’s not worth doing. Explicit to tacit.
At this point, I’m devouring The Art of Manliness blog, another treasure trove of explicit knowledge. I learn what it means to be a man, the benefits of journalling, the lives of Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, how to change a bad habit, how to ask a woman out on a date, cultivation of virtue, the meaning of manhood throughout history, Roman and Greek philosophy, and the concept of antifragile.
Back in physics, I’m working with the leather-jacket-clad Engineering Physics students in an Electronics lab course. For the design projects, I’m working with this guy who… is just so damn cool. At the time, I didn’t fully realise why. Was it the playing of the drums? The leather jacket? The motor bike? But now I realise why. It was the way he introduced me to his friends. It just struck me; what a damn awesome thing to do, introducing people like that. Here was a guy who just seemed so free, so without ego. A man! His introductions made me feel like Canada was my home. (Sir, I take my hat off to you. It would be an honour to introduce you in Scotland, to in some way repay the great debt I owe you.)
With no triathlon training, I become consumed by lifting weights. Training in the gym at 6am, one guy has grabs my attention. Everyone else is keeping themselves to themselves – the “bro” thing to do. But here’s this guy who’s shouting encouragement, who’s spurring everyone else. “Lift it, Iain!” The energy! The enthusiasm! I get chatting to the guy, andI add him on Facebook. It turned he was a business coach, who ran the Best Business Podcast.
Intrigued, I listened in on the podcast. Anyone with that much zest for life at 6am in the morning has got to be worth listening to. On one fateful episode, I hear the following…
“You can take a millionaire, put him in any city in the world with no money, no connections, no advantages. Within a year, he’ll make his money back. Because a millionaire’s value isn’t in the million dollars in the bank. A millionaire’s true value lies within, in all the knowledge, experience and character virtues they’ve acquired along the way. Replacing millionaire with “successful person”, and we’ve got The Alchemist. The boy spends one-tenth of his flock to go to Morocco, gets robbed, and with no money, connections, knowledge of the language nor friends, he has to make a success of himself. What’s more.. He had to go through it to find his treasure. Maktub.
With The Alchemist, the Count of Monte Cristo and Elliott Hulse in mind, II adopted this as MY definition for success. And it was time to put it to the test.
Any city in the world, eh?
I’d studied one year of Spanish at school. So I guess I chickened out by going for Spain over South America. But Spain it was, and the place with the most opportunities and the clearest Castillaño was Madrid.
So, I looked for flights to Madrid, (4 months in advance). The flights were cheap, but once again, I hesitated over the “Complete purchase” button. Sweaty palms ensued. “If it’s not scary, it’s not worth doing...” I pressed the button.
“Holy shit! What have you just done?! Iain, you idiot!”
My remaining time in Canada was spent testing out the “Jesus” pose (explicit knowledge from a TED talk), experimenting with hydrogen pyrotechnics in the lab, and other fun and slightly scary situations. House parties, weekend snowboarding trip with strangers…
Reading Art of Manliness tickled my fancy for journaling. Roosevelt did it, Lincoln did it, Franklin did it, Guevara did it.. In fact, who didn’t journal? Inspired by the explicit knowledge that writing is a foundational habit to success, I wanted in. Fast.
Fast – a word which here means signing up as a freelancer on Elance.com. With no writing experience, I put a bid in to complete 20 articles of 1000 words for $20 in total – basically a job that gets you in the door. It was Easter Holiday (Spring Breeaaak!), and everyone else had gone home to eat delicious food, relax and/or study physics for the final exams looming on the horizon.. Meanwhile, deep in the heart of the library, I was squirreling away article after article, doing all I can to make the deadline. On the top of my game, I’d take 3 hours per article. At worst 7. I spent 60 hours minimum, writing, with exams only a month away. But hey, with $20 in my pocket and a 5 star review? Blazing a trail, baby!
I soon have to say goodbye to all the incredible people I’d had the honour of knowing. (I always say that I went to Canada for the adventure, but I’d go back for the people.) I flew back to Scotland to see la familia for a week, then depart for Madrid with a small hold-all, a backpack, and 400 pounds cash to my name.
Jumping off the Cliff and Entering the Colloseum
Deja vu…. While everyone else is getting a physics internship, I’m flying to Madrid to do…. well, I had no idea.
From the airport, I took the subway into the throbbing heart of Madrid. (After my brief exchange with the guy at the ticket office, I realised I couldn’t speak or understand Spanish to save myself. I KNEW some vocab from school, but I didn’t know how to APPLY it – explicit knowledge, but no tacit to back it up.
I arrived below a lively area near the centre of Madrid. Walking up those stone subway steps, hold-all over my shoulder, seeing only an ancient Madrileño-style apartment building gleaming in the brilliant Madrid sunshine… I felt like a gladiator walking into the Colloseum for the first time.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
At the time, and still to this day, a metaphor that I try to live by is the anecdote of how a certain species of eagle teaches their chicks to fly. When the mother thinks they’re ready, she pushes the chicks out of the nest. The fledglings are left with a Hobson’s choice: Fall 30m to their death, or fly before they hit the ground.
When we put ourselves in these sink or swim, fly or die situations, we discover resources deep within that we had no knowledge of… It’s immediately after these moments that we truly realise what we’re capable of.
“If everyone did the things they were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison.
Another anecdote that I love is in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. To find the treasure, and save his dying father, Indy must reach the Lost Ark. After dodging traps, he reaches a huge, black chasm. Horrified, he refers to his guidebook, “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth”. He looks at the stone lion above him, and realises that it’s a leap of faith – the ultimate test. He hesitates, takes a deep breath, and with a hand on his heart he steps off the ledge. But, where he should have fallen – where his foot should have found nothing – a path appears. Only those who took that leap of faith could find the treasure.
And this, Elliott Hulse says, is how life works. If you have faith, you’ll be rewarded. Rewarded in courage, rewarded in virtue, and rewarded with the a sense of satisfaction and utter exhiliration that money will never be able to buy.
Damn did I feel like I had jumped off the cliff. I felt alive.
After 4 days in a youth hostel, I found somewhere to live. A dinghy little room with no window, living with four guys who all spoke English? Hell no! (Thankyou experience in Kingston!) A day later, I hit the jackpot. Small room but with window overlooking a green oasis, in a classic old-school building complete with old-school lift, supremely cool area of Madrid, within walking distance to el centro AND living with 8 others, none of whom were interested in speaking English. I tried bartering down the the price. Negotiations were comical. After much handwaving, we negotiated a lower price in exchange for language classes. And she’ll help me learn spanish. Sweet or what?
Next on the list: furiously improve spanish skills and find a job. The former consisted of furiously studying in the library by day, and annoying one of my unfortunate flatmates by night. (advantage of living with 8 people – you spread the annoyance around rather than completely overwhelming one person with your linguistic ignorance.) The latter consisted of mining the internet, and sticking up posters (“Busco Trabajo”) on every lamppost I could get my sellotape on. 21st century or what?
Three weeks in, with money dwindling and no bites on the posters, I’m getting desperate. On the internet, I see “journalism internship. Copywriting.”
Hmmm, “no idea what copywriting is, but writing…? I can do that!”
After my freelancing stint, how hard could it be? I phoned up, barely understand what the lady was saying, but enough that a guy from London wanted to interview me through Skype. In said interview…
“Iain, write me a fun definition of the word “summer”. If it’s entertaining, you’re in. You have one hour.”
I was feeling the pressure now…
By the end of the hour I at least had something, which turns out to be good enough. I was in. Score!
Spanish office: come down tomorrow morning, the salary is 300 euros a month, yada yada…
300 euros a month?! My rent is 450….. Not good.
Spanish office: I said 600. Not 300.
To cut a long story short…
Office location: in a super-cool area of Madrid. Floor 3, above the Dior office.
Co-workers: all Spanish. Between 20 and 30. Majority are beautiful Spanish women.
Other essentials:: Drum-kit in kitchen.
Need I say more?
My job as a copywriter was to make super-cool events in London sound super-cool, so that people reading the event description on the app, Fever, would want to go to said cool events. We’re talking Thames Boat Parties, Camden pub crawls, Asian street markets, and Top Gun screenings on rooftops (BYOP – bring your own pillow). I’m now the head writer for the London branch. Off you go, sport.
As I walked out into the sun-soaked streets at the end of the day, I couldn’t stop laughing. Awesome job, surrounded by the majestic architecture of Gran Vía, an amazing place to live, semi-adopted by my Peruvian landlady’s family, able to hold a conversation in Spanish…
Priceless. I’ve made it in Madrid, baby!
At home, I look for tips on how to improve as a copywriter. I see on facebook an episode of Daryl Urbanski’s podcast featuring a hot-shot copywriter, Bret Thomson. I devoured the whole thing, then proceeded to devour every other episode I could get my paws on. On one episode, I heard something interesting….
An entrepreuner saying that one of the biggest things that contributed to his success was reading biographies. Comparing the massive challenges faced by the likes of Napoleon, said he, made his own insignificant, and learning what made the greats tick gave him gems that he could apply to his own life.
“Biographies, eh?” I’ve never forayed into non-fiction…but if he gets that much from reading Napoleon, it must be worth a try. (Explicit knowledge alert: reading biographies makes you kick-ass at life.)
During my time at the job, my head was absolutely swimming with the now-tacit knowledge of Elliott Hulse’s teachings and the likes. I’m asked by my landlady what I would do if I won a million dollars, and I replied, honestly, that I would be doing exactly what I was doing at that moment: following my heart and throwing myself into unknown, scary situations. Money can’t buy the satisfaction of following your heart.
At this point, I’d been so damn lucky. I’d stumbled across the perfect resources, the perfect ideas and the perfect mentors at the perfect time. If it wasn’t for all the explicit knowledge that I stumbled across, I wouldn’t even be in Madrid. Thus, DreamBigStartSmall was born to share the explicit knowledge that I’d found useful, and what I’d learned from it, in the hope it might inspire others to blaze a trail on their own journey. (If I hadn’t worked as a writer, you wouldn’t be reading this now. Weird!)
Video Games, the 67 Steps to The Good Life and a Lesson in Humility
Summer ends, and I return to finish the physics degree in Scotland. I begin my diet of biographies like the good entrepreneur suggested. Among them, inspired by reading AoM, the Strenuous Life of Theodore Roosevelt. I also took out a student loan for the first time to allow me to work on DreamBigStartSmall instead of taking a part-time job. I wanted to build a business around what I loved.
So now I’m back in the physics department at St. Andrews. And the enthusiasm and cool Eng-Phys students at Queen’s are missing. I look around me, and realise that I’d much rather be a Theodore Roosevelt than a tired, uninspiring physics professor.
Uninspired with the work, I fall into a two month videogame funk after watching a TED Talk about how video gamers will change the world. (How’s that for the influence of explicit knowledge?), I recover just in time, and get really good exam results. And I think “How come I work so, so, so much harder at Queen’s, yet get mediocre grades, and work less at St. Andrews, and get kick-ass grades? I concluded that the system was BS and St. Andrews could shove their 3rd best physics department in the UK where the sun don’t shine – it’s all rote learning.
Second semester begins and I’m implementing more tips from the Best Business Podcast. Surrounding myself with inspiring people (Patrick, I salute you, my good sir!), completely cleansing my facebook feed, reading suggested books…
Yet, I felt I was spinning my wheels. I fall back into a videogame funk. But, thanks to the empty facebook feed, I stumbled across a TEDx talk. “Why I read a book a day (and why you should too): the law of 33%.” I’d heard Tai Lopez mentioned on the blog BasicGrowth (influence of explicit knowledge) so I clicked the link. Tai Lopez starts… “Everyone wants the good life, but not everyone gets the good life.”
Coming away thinking, Now this guy knows a thing or two.., I discover his “67 Steps to the Good Life” program. I hear it costs 67 pounds. And I hear it’s a scam. But I take the leap of faith, and have one of the best learning experiences of my life so far. An absolute mountain of explicit knowledge. ( Little did I realise at the time….)
I completed the 67 Steps, and my outlook on life changed. I put into practice as many of Tai Lopez’s principles as possible, but by far the biggest change was reading. If I was nibbling books before, now I was gorging on them. Explicit knowledge: the more you learn, the more you earn.
With so many sources to back this up, I became a devourer of explicit knowledge. Problem? Dude, read a book!
With the advice that you have to pay to learn, I spent money on a fitness program (Kinobody) which revolutionised my fitness approach. Post-67steps, I’m asking girls out, I’m reading three times a day, I’m on the lookout for mentors, I’m hanging out with amazing people…The world was my oyster.
As my enthusiasm for learning went up, my enthusiasm for university went down. Why learn from an uninspiring, tired lecturer when I can learn straight from Alexander The Great? My life goal changed – become an entrepreneur to inspire people and share great ideas exactly like Tai.
Exams arrived. I contemplated quitting right before, so that my back would be against the wall in the real world without a BS certificate to act as a safety net. My family talked me out of it. I come out with ace exam results, but a 2:1 overall.
Post exams, I spent 90% of my bank account to go meet Tai Lopez at his special entrepreuner conference in London. It was going to be BY FAR the biggest purchase I’d ever made. Am I really going to spend all this money on a one day event? Just to meet Tai Lopez?
I remembered advice from the BBP… Although it wasn’t recommended, sometimes you have to go all in to light a fire underneath you. Sweaty palms ensued. “Where a man spends his money shows where his heart is…”.
Am I about to spend almost every penny to my name on becoming the strongest version of myself? Damn right! Maktub!
I took the bus down to London and was feeling pretty terrified at what was to come. I had no concrete business idea, I had no money to play with, and I had no real entrepreneurship experience. Unless you count Habbo Hotel, and a tiny t-shirt company I briefly ran at university.
The conference was amazing… Just being in a room with people who all want to achieve.
The first thing we did was turn our chairs into a circle for a quick-fire question and answer session. You had 1 minute to explain your biggest business challenge, then everyone else would come up with rapid suggestions. While everyone chipped in with acute answers, I contributed nothing. Because I knew nothing. Here, amongst men and women of action, my degree counted for nothing.
I returned to Scotland with loads of notes. I summarise them. The most important takeaway was this: he who experiments the most wins. But something nagged me about what I’d listened to…. Tai said “always stay ahead of the trends. Trends are the most powerful thing, either go with the flow, or you’re finished.”
To this I thought, “What if the trends aren’t where we want to be going? How do we build businesses that reverse the trends?” Example: people are spending more time eating front of the TV, and less time around the family table. As TV’s infect more and more of the world, why would I want to align my business to take advantage of this?
I now had a month before graduation, so I went off adventuring with friends. On our walking/canoeing trip, I read Roosevelt’s biography for the second time. I got incredibly inspired, again.
Towards the end of university,I felt so damn successful after the 67 Steps that I wrote a book. A book about success. I’ve done the 67 Steps! I knew everything there was about success! I could tell anyone how to kick-ass, big time. I felt like the king of the world. Damn it Iain, why are you just soo successful? (Step #3: Humility. The irony…) With adventures over, I set about editing the book. The title? The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People. My reasoning: self-made billionaire Charlie Munger said if you want an answer, invert the question. So if you want to be successful, then ask how to be unsuccessful, then simply avoid doing those things. Plus, I’d get a slice of Stephen Covey’s pie while I was at it.
The first few days of editing went well, but by the fourth day, procrastination crept in. Days wasted became weeks wasted. A month in, and I’d barely edited anything. I felt like I couldn’t finish it.
Then it hit me.
Of course I couldn’t finish it. Because I knew nothing of success! I’m neither a pro-triathlete, or an academic hotshot. I’m not a successful entrepreneur or a speaker of many tongues. Who am I to be lecturing people about success?!
All I knew is that everyone has the power to change.
Then something else hit me… The difference between explicit and tacit knowledge. I knew how to be successful, and the steps one has to take. But I didn’t really know. I couldn’t apply them to my own life. I had the treasure map from Tai’s 67 steps, but hadn’t found the treasure. I had the keys to the car, but didn’t know how to drive. What I was missing was tacit knowledge.
The book a failure, I embarked on something I had wanted to do for a long time – walk the length of Scotland, and write the guidebook for the so-called Scottish National Trail.
My thought process at this time was….If I go get a “job” that involves an office, or a lab.. I.e a soft cushy job, then that’s it, I’ll plateau. I need to build my character first. Obviously, I looked to my hero, Theodore Roosevelt, who when his political career seemed over, spent all his money on cattle and became a cowboy in the Wild West for three years. He left New York as a failed squeaky-voiced legislator, but returned with a voice that could drive hundreds of cattle and apprehend villains. He later said after his presidency that had he not gone out west, he never would have become president.
Following Roosevelt’s Footsteps
I wanted an experience like that. So that’s what I did. I signed up for an epic sailing adventure – taking a 105 year-old wooden sail-boat from Vancouver in Canada to England through the Panama Canal, with two months in Cuba in between. “Adventure of a lifetime” and “not for the faint of heart”, the advert on Crewseekers said. (Knowledge of crewseekers from a blog. Influence of explicit knowledge.) There would be no modern conveniences – only a lot of hard graft.
Perfect. I wanted to sail through the scariest ocean to truly test my mettle. I wanted to sail through hell, and out the other side beaten, bruised, but unbroken. I wanted to be that “Man in The Arena, whose face is marred by sweat and dust and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
We spent one month repairing the boat. It was a month of learning and graft, and it was fantastic. The crew was excellent. It consisted of six guys – two from England, two from France, an Australian and me.
Hearing the stories of their lives so far.. living in Africa, skydiving, crashing motorbikes, opening restaurants, sailing all over, living on boats… And the boatyard foreman. He had some insane stories to tell. I couldn’t help but thinking, “Now these guys have truly lived.” Here were men of action, with tacit knowledge of life. These are guys I need to be around and learn from.
On the day before our departure, the boatyard foreman took us on a day-sail on his boat. Basking in the sunshine, and with a cold beer in hand… Life could not be better. Another unknown situation, another reward from life. Satisfaction right there.
We set sail for Victoria the next day. The foreman, and his friend came with us. We talked books, and philosophy on the way. With some whales and cuban rum also. Not too shabby at all.
In Victoria, the foreman’s friend gave me a book. “Tristan Jones – A Steady Trade.” Incredible book, and in it, one chapter explained exactly why I wanted to come on the trup. One night aboard the ship, in a storm, the topmast of Tristan Jone’s ship was tore off. And in that moment, he was paralysed with fear. He thought he was going to die. His shipmates ask him for help, but he’s in shock. He sees the captain, and stutters that it’s all over. The captain shouts at him to go down stairs and make a nice cup of tea, then. “AND MAKE IT BLOODY STRONG!” Downstairs, he realises that there’s no point in being afraid. It’s about what a man can do, and what a man can’t do. He throws down the tea, and goes back on deck to do what he can.
Afterwards, he realised he had become a man that night. He’d come back from the abyss, witnessed, then displayed, true courage.
The weather window that we’d been waiting for arrived. We set off for the Pacific. We motored on absolutely flat calm ocean, we had a stunning sun-set behind us, but we were heading towards some dark, foreboding clouds. “The breath before the plunge.”
That week, we battled the Pacific, and we came out on the other side. I got what I wanted. Not quite the Tristan Jones experience of a mast coming down, but a hairy Force 9 did perfectly. I, the first-mate and the captain were up on deck, sitting in the deck-house, waiting for the storm to subside. The captain explained… “I need to think whether this is going to go Force 10, and bring the whole rigging down.” It was Force 8/9 at the time, and putting up a storm sail would have been very dangerous for our inexperienced crew.
It never reached Force 10. In those moments, I realised the difference between those who crumble and those who come out stronger – mindset. If you get caught up in your thoughts, caught up in what could happen, vs. what you can do right now to respond to what is actually happening, you start to panic. Staying present is everything. It’s like the Serenity prayer…
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
I’m not gonna lie – I was scared at times. I thought that we might need the liferaft. But, with The Alchemist as my Bible, I had a conviction that whatever happened, I was gonna make it. And we did. Whenever I found my thoughts drifting, I forced them back by repeating Invictus, which was written on Nelson Mandela’s wall during his 27 years in prison.
One of the crew wanted to get off after that. Relationships between he and the captain went south. We eventually reached Ensenada, Mexico, where the boat was to stay for the next two months until the next leg of the trip. Two of the guys had to leave immediately. A third was only down for the first leg of the trip, so he stuck around for a couple of days to find a hotel near the beach for surfing. The captain would fly home for Christmas and come back in February, and I would stay on board with the old-timer Australian. Life was amazing. We’d come through the scary experience I wanted, we were moored in sunny Ensenada, I’d already met some great people who lived nearby (one of the guys my age – his favourite book was The Alchemist. Says it all…) Tacos were cheap, the fish market was amazing, the people of Ensenada unbelievably friendly, I was reading a ton of books… Life could not get any better.
On the third day of recuperating, one of the crew returned in the evening. He had planned to stay in a hotel that night, but hadn’t found one. His plan was to stay one more night on the boat, then leave. The old-timer explodes, telling him to get the fuck off the boat, yada yada, he hasn’t been working enough, he can’t sleep here, so pack your bags and fuck off. My friend looks to the captain. And the captain is with the old-timer. A shouting match ensued, with some very colourful language, and my friend packed his bags and left. As it was his last night, I was gonna go for tacos with him anyway to say goodbye, so I left with him. As we walked, I felt uncomfortable. My friend has been treated like shit. A professional volunteers three months of his time and can’t stay for three nights on the boat afterwards? I should’ve backed him up. If I was a man of principle, I’d leave the boat. Leave…that’s a big decision, Iain.
I didn’t know what to do.
What would Elliott Hulse do? Use fear as a compass.Well, leaving would definitely be scarier than staying. Leaving would be a giant step into the unknown…
I asked myself if I really stood for the “courage” amulet that hangs round my neck.
What would Roosevelt do?
I recalled the first page of Roosevelt’s biography…
“Roosevelt’s greatness lies in the fact that he was essentially a moral man in a world that has increasingly regarded morality as superfluous.”
The choice was then simple. I would leave the boat. I returned, and told the other two that I was leaving. They said they expected nothing less, but wanted me to know the full story behind what happened. Over some rum, I was simultaneously complimented on my conduct, and told about the apparent flaws of my friend. Weakest member of the team (he was one of the strongest in my eyes), doesn’t want to learn, backstabbed everyone… The incident that night, they said, was the result of a long period of discontent between the two people. My friend should’ve read the signs, I was told. Why did this all go over my head then? Because I am naive, I was told.
I replied back that you can’t expect someone to change unless you give them the opportunity. I believed that everyone is the Master of their Fate, and the Captain of their soul. They disagreed. They said that some people can’t change.
Despite the disagreements, their complements were working. I was now questioning my original decision. I’d followed my heart after all, and told them that I was leaving. But now that the old-timer had apologised for over-reacting, what had I to gain by leaving?
I asked them, “If I stayed, what do we need to do differently? They told me they just wouldn’t recruit that type of person again. I was angry, but after being told that I was a useful asset to the team, I told them I’d stay. I returned to have a meal with my friend.
Then it hit me. Who am I going to listen to? Whose advice am I taking here? Am I really going to go with the two on the boat, who I’d never trade shoes with? One of which described Ensenada as a piss-hole, and fails to see the joy and beauty in every part of the world, and fills it with misery? Am I going to go with the guy who hurled abuse at me to simply take a pot of food up on deck? Am I going to go with the kill-joy? Am I seriously contemplating listening to this guy who walked away when I discussed a compromise we’d need to make if we were going to be living together for the next two months?
Or am I going to go with my friend; a lover of life, a learner, humble, and a great laugh?
“Only take advice from people you’d like to trade shoes with.” “Don’t listen to what people say – watch what they do.”
And so it was obvious. I returned to the boat, shook hands with them both, and left for good.
So here I am. Currently in the beautiful city of Ensenada, Mexico, brushing up spanish, making friends, reading, writing, making things happen… Once again, life is amazing. Maktub.
Now, I realise what Elliott Hulse meant about the crazy journey that your heart takes you when you follow it! And I realise the massive influence that explicit knowledge has had – certainly in my own life. Explicit knowledge, that is always derived from other people in some shape or form.
I’m now living in Ensenada, Mexico, halfway around the world, because of the biography (explicit knowledge) of Theodore Roosevelt, all because I heard it suggested on a podcast that reading biographies is great. Roosevelt, who I never would of heard of had I not read the Art of Manliness, which I’d never have read had I not kissed a girl from Spain, which I’d never have done had I not come across Elliott Hulse, which I only did because I started lifting weights suggested by Marks Daily Apple, which I only heard of because of reading Mr. Money Moustache, which I only heard of because I became a cash-strapped student after leaving home.
And I only heard of the podcast that suggested to read biographies because I met Daryl Urbanski at 6 am in the gym at Queen’s, who I’d not have met had I not studied abroad, which I wouldn’t have done had I not read books like the Alchemist and if I’d listened to sensible people who told me that if you want good grades, don’t study abroad. The Alchemist I wouldn’t have read, and TED Talks I may not have watched, had my best friend not suggested them to me. And I wouldn’t have met him had I not acted on the explicit knowledge that St. Andrews would suit me perfectly, and I wouldn’t have gone their in the first place if I wasn’t inspired by a legendary physics teacher, a couple of Hollywood movies, and a childhood dream to build a renewable transportation company.
And it’s now Madrid V2, only in Mexico. Once again, a leap of faith. Something I would never have done, in Madrid, or here, had I not adopted a definition of success from the entrepreneur in the gym or watched Elliott Hulse.
I’m here because of a continuous cycle. A cycle of taking in explicit knowledge, and testing it in the real world. I’m where I am today, for good or bad, because of the treasure maps that people, books, and videos have given me, and the fact that I followed some of them to their treasure. This is the yin yang of explicit and tacit knowledge. This is why the greats read books. This is the crazy journey of life.
Conclusion: The Next Person You See, Book You Read, or Video You Watch Might Just Change Your Life.
Explicit knowledge is a treasure map that was written by someone else. Books, stories, mentors, videos, movies…. It inspires you. “Inspire” – the opposite of expire – literally means to breathe in. With every book you read, movie you watch and person you listen to, you’re breathing in ideas.
But explicit knowledge is only ever a map. You can have all the treasure maps you like, and still have no treasure.
Tacit knowledge is the treasure you discover it after you’ve followed the map to its conclusion. Tested the explicit knowledge in the outside world, if you will. Only YOU can acquire the treasure. And you get the ability of real-world application as the reward.
Looking back, I’ve followed many treasure maps. The explicit knowledge that I’ve discovered – on purpose or by sheer chance – has had a huge influence on my life. Maybe yours too.
When a chinese premier was asked what he thought were the consequences of the French Revolution, some 200 years prior, he replied, “It’s still too soon to tell.”
And only after his presidency did Roosevelt look back to that experience out West and say he wouldn’t have become president without it.
I believe so it is with explicit knowledge. You can only truly see it’s effects years later.. if that. I reckon it’s still too soon to tell.
“Every day, stand guard at the Door of Your Mind.” – Jim Rohn
I leave you with one question.
What explicit knowledge is going into yours? It’s probably changing your life.
Dream Big Start Small!
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