Ever had one of those moments when you feel everyone’s smarter than you? Of course, secretly, you know it’s not true, but that doesn’t prevent you from feeling uneasy. In our hyper-connected world, where everyone has what seems like an informed opinion, it’s especially hard to stay ahead. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
Personally, I believe life should be split between watching the fun from the bleachers and going out into the field and hitting your own home runs. Since none of us wants to labour too hard, I brainstormed with some smart colleagues. The next time you’re fed up of bringing up the rear, try these zoom-ahead ideas.
Do an Alice: Be curiouser and curiouser.
Pick your passions. You don’t want to turn into one of those obnoxious know-it-alls. You know the kind who (loudly) dominates the party. So, decide what’s important. For example, regulation jeans and white/black shirt work just fine for me. I don’t care that my wardrobe won’t make friends with Fall’s hottest finds. Stay ahead in areas you are passionate about. Technology? Food? Cricket? Also, don’t forget to share that passion. Befriend people with whom you can develop that passion. It’s usually more fun than striking out on your own.
Find filters. Identify others who are smarter than you in the fields you want to track. Then use them to filter the information the world is flinging your way. This step involves trusting other people’s judgement; being open to brilliant ideas and insights that don’t originate from you; and being prepared to admit that someone else knows better.
Don’t always believe them. The world usually devotes more eyeballs to the bigger, more promoted brands and people. So do your own research too. You might just find that the small book that released quietly can easily hold its own against all those next-big-things unveiled at champagne and celebrity dos. Also, these days, there’s a strange duality about feedback and reviews. For example, everyone’s a brutal critic on the Internet. Yet so many things are given a “positive spin” in today’s world. Develop your own inner rating system.
Get a mentor. One pal recently told me hers works at a publishing house and gives her a list of brilliant new authors every quarter. My first requirement from a mentor: He/she should hand me a new way of looking at the world.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. So what if someone else discovered it? Or got there first? You can find a different way to play with the information. Interpret it in a way it hasn’t been already. Connect the dots that exist—your way.
Know your history. It holds most of the answers including why the Marathi manoos behaves the way he does and what drives the Kashmir conflict. It gives you context and perspective. It allows you to go beyond the shrill “you shut up, you stupid” level of debate in Indian society today.
Have brilliance on speed dial. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the answers to everything. But you should know people who you know will never let you down in their area of expertise. I have a friend who can answer any Salman Khan query.
Let Alice inspire you. Be open to self-discovery. Explore. Be curious. Meet lots of quirky people. Always ask why. Move out of your comfort zone. You’re bound to find Wonderland.
Of course, at the end of the day, staying ahead is hard work. It requires you to be more attentive to your environment, to use your weekends and after-work hours to “do” something beyond drinking beer and dusting your house. One friend doesn’t watch B movies—they’re a waste of his precious time. And most people who are at the top end of the curve sleep not more than 5 hours a day. Then again, life is fun on the bleachers too.
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