We all know people who are "book smart" but clueless in the real world, and those who are "street smart" but unable to handle any environment other than the one they're used to. Last season The Apprentice was based on this dichotomy, pitting a team of people with higher education against a team whose members had less formal education. When you look closely at both sides of the spectrum, you realize that the key ingredient to success is experience. Experience comes from action and action is synonymous with doing.
Learning by doing comes down to proving yourself. When I was in school, I worked hard and even studied foreclosures in my spare time. This wouldn't have meant much, though, if I hadn't put my knowledge to the test by actually finding a foreclosure to invest in and then doing it.
I found a 1,200 unit residential development that had 800 vacant apartments. It had become a disaster. The developers had gone under and the government had foreclosed, but I saw it as a great opportunity to learn by doing. I learned a lot, and I made a good profit. Plus, I got the confidence to move forward in my real estate career.
This would not have happened if I hadn't put my knowledge to work for me. It also wouldn't have happened if I hadn't spent time studying and preparing for such an opportunity. Learning and doing have to work together to be effective. Knowledge alone isn't enough. You have to act on it, but it's hard to do anything effectively without good information.
Did you ever notice how easy some things look until you try them yourself? Golf can look effortless and non-athletic until you try to play a decent game. Suddenly, it takes on an entirely new dimension. Don't underestimate anything until you've tried it yourself. The real pros make extremely difficult maneuvers look easy because they've spent thousands of hours perfecting their technique. You probably haven't seen them practicing, but they have been. They're not armchair golfers; they've been out there doing it for a long time. It's one thing to prepare, but it's another thing to do.
I think a lot of people are afraid to fail so they don't try. They talk, but don't do. That's a great formula for failure. My advice is to take some risks, even if you fail. There has never been and there will never be an Olympic ice skater who hasn't taken a spill on the ice, no matter how much she knew about ice-skating. She's acquired her skill by doing, not by watching.
When I was interested in acquiring the Commodore Hotel near Grand Central years ago, a friend told reporters my idea was like "fighting for a seat on the Titanic." I worked against great odds, but the Hyatt Hotel not only became a huge success, it began the redevelopment of the dilapidated area around Grand Central. I learned by doing, but I was also motivated by all the talkers who just complained about how crummy the area had become. They made me think: Why not do something about it instead?
Apply this thinking to yourself and to your situation. You will not only learn a lot, you will learn how much you didn't know, which is equally important. So give yourself a challenge, not once in awhile, but every day.
Knowledge requires patience; action requires courage. Put them both together and you'll be a winner.
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