How To Find More Gold
Over the years you’ll find some absolute gold – lessons, ideas and insights that permanently influence your life for the better.
We instinctively refer to this as gold for a few reasons – it’s scarce, valuable, impressive, can be crafted into something unique and beautiful, and can earn you some serious cash.
This metaphorical gold is acquired in a similar way to actual gold.
Sometimes you stumble upon a nugget, a visible lump formed in nature.
However, most of the gold in the world is microscopic – invisible to the eye.
I met a geologist at a mining camp in Indonesia, who told me that their gold mine was quite rich – they were finding two grams of gold in each tonne of dirt.
Imagine sifting through 1,000kg of dirt, just to find two grams of gold.
And yet this earns the community billions of dollars.
We can learn a lot from this process, which I’d describe in four steps:
1. Identifying gold-rich soil
2. Processing a hell of a lot of dirt
3. Separating out the gold ore from the dirt.
4. Refining gold ore into gold bars
Each step can be optimised, and taking the process seriously is highly lucrative.
Here are some practical examples…
Identifying gold-rich soil
There are two approaches that work here; listening to those who have come before you, and taking samples in obscure locations.
First, you can learn from those who have come before you as to where you should start your digging.
These include book lists, long form interviews, biographies, podcast recommendations, essentially the bibliography of people you admire.
An example of something I’ve found valuable is Seth Godin’s AltMBA reading list.
It’s full of book I never would have read on my own, but which have become some of my all-time favourites.
After the first few proved to be good quality, I was happy to order the others without understanding why they would be of interest to me.
Another good rule – the best version of anything is usually worth your time, even if it seems irrelevant to your field.
You can learn something from the best literature, live music, restaurants, comedians, films, TED talks, whiskey makers, documentaries, political leaders, mechanics, museums, etc.
Those at the top of their game have a lot to teach you – a lot of the underlying principles and philosophies will help with your future projects.
Personally, I’ve found that a handful of incredible people are disproportionately responsible for the majority of gold I’ve found.
These mentors drop gold without realising it, through formal conversations or throwaway lines, so I prioritise any opportunity to sit near them.
This also involves “hard chat”, the conversations that feel uncomfortable but are loaded with gold.
These may not be people you expect, as Matt Mullenweg said in Tools of Titans:
“Everyone is interesting. If you’re ever bored in a conversation, the problem is with you, not the other person”.
Processing a hell of a lot of dirt
You have the same amount of time as Elon Musk or the Pope.
You can’t invent more time, but you can certainly prioritise your time, and find ways of combining two things together.
e.g. deciding to read two books per month would be prioritising your time, and listening to podcasts while you vacuum the house would be combining two things together.
These two approaches will help you increase the amount of good quality material that your brain gets to process, rather than reality TV, Facebook feeds or gossip.
It’s also worth allocating a larger portion of your incentives and money towards good material.
This might mean buying a $55 book, tickets to an event, changing your birthday wish list, or indulging in something once you hit a particular goal (e.g. reading 40 books means you’ll treat yourself to a day spa).
Be sure to take note of how certain content affects your mood.
I might have a three-hour flight, which could be used to study, but it’s at the end of a big day and I’m exhausted.
Motivational quotes are unhelpful here, because pushing too hard will make me miserable, and I won’t get anywhere near as much gold out of the material if I’m feeling flat.
In this situation, I’m better off watching Brooklyn 99 on my phone, and committing to reading that book tomorrow morning.
Gary Vaynerchuk has an interesting way of encouraging people to learn from him; telling them to watch what he does, not just what he says.
That is, you can consume content from people, but also extract gold from observing how they make decisions.
e.g. how do they use social media platforms? Who do they work with? How do they position themselves? What made me like/dislike their content?
Separating out the gold ore from the dirt
Often the best way to identify valuable things is to give them space and time.
You might attend a workshop and forget 50% of the content within a week, 90% within a year and finally keep 0.5% in three years time.
I bet that 0.5% is full of gold.
That said, our memory is a terrible record keeper, especially when we don’t initially understand why something might be valuable in the future.
A better guide is to use your gut – noting all the times when you think “Huh. That’s funny…”
You see, hear and experience things that strike you as being unusual.
These might be ideas and experience that delight you, that capture your attention, that seem wrong or odd, or just unexpected.
For example, in Practical Facilitation Tips I described a moment from an elephant sanctuary:
“As we entered the sanctuary, our tour guide stopped us to talk about each elephant.
“Today you’ll be meeting five elephants…” he began, then introduced them one by one.
“The first elephant is named…” and then gave their age, history, personality and role in the family.
We get in a bus and drive to where they’re being fed, and suddenly we’re excited to meet these elephants - they have names and character traits, like we know who they are.
It made me realise the power of an external introduction, it completely changes how new people see you.
The tour guide introduced elephants with more dignity than how I introduced my colleagues.
By having someone else give you a glowing recommendation (without you being up the front), everyone will suddenly respect your strengths and look forward to talking with you.”
This moment caught me by surprise, so I made a note of it, long before I knew how it could be useful.
Notes are great for this – the app on your phone allows you to make lists over many months of things that you intend to do, quotes that stick out to you, ideas you want to remember, or inspiration for your improving your work.
Often in conversations I’ll take a quick note on my phone, write down quotes in my notebook during meetings, or take photos of interesting ads.
It’s also interesting to note what your subconscious has remembered; and there are two times this is particularly visible:
1. When you want to contribute to a conversation
2. When you are having a debate
Your brain throws out concepts and ideas that may have been floating around for years in the back of your mind, but are suddenly relevant and important.
An exaggerated version of this effect can be seen in the film Limitless, where a pill helps people use miscellaneous memories to do great things.
You may not be able to do it on cue, but when you find yourself passionately disagreeing with something, it might contain a previously hidden lump of gold.
Whenever these come out, it’s worth taking the time to write them down afterwards.
Refining gold ore into gold bars
Conversation is a great way to compress gold flakes into gold bars, be it through formal or informal teaching.
Formal teaching might be a talk, workshop, article or interview, where you structure a point of view through a series of concepts and examples.
Informal teaching might be conversations over coffee, meeting with mentors/mentees, things you write in comment sections, or the topics that your friends are sick of you ranting about.
In either case, there’s a similar process that will help you create something valuable.
The first thing to do is to dump all of your raw material into a single place.
Two good places to start are dot points in a word doc/notes app, or headings on blank PowerPoint slides.
This allows you to collect all of the various elements and see how they naturally fit together.
You can swap them around and form clusters, then boil each cluster down to its core point.
For example, you might have three stories that all have the same underlying message.
Pick the best one as part of the spine, but keep the other two up your sleeve for when people inevitably have questions.
Secondly, you have to edit out the non-essential details.
This can be a 30% reduction in your content, or shortening each point by 30%, or both.
There are a lot of good books on how to do this, I enjoyed How To Write Short by Roy Peter Clark and How To Write Better Copy by Steve Harrison.
Part of this comes from practice – you naturally find shortcuts in getting to the “aha!” moment, and part of this comes from deliberate efforts to be brief.
Thirdly, you get to add in new pieces of gold to strengthen your work.
These might be little nuggets that add value without being standalone topics, such as quotes, stories and supporting tools.
Finding these can be fun, and they add a spice to your core points (which have been edited down).
I believe these are the difference between a good workshop and a great workshop, they add a richness to any subject that keeps the audience’s interest.
For example, close to 60% of my workshop material is now made up of what were once bonus topics, such as The 5 E’s Of Customer Journey, Strategyzer Test Cards, Can If Maps, Demographics and Psychographics, Dear Charlie, How To Find Your Cause, etc.
Each of these were ideas and exercises that had the potential to be adapted for my sessions, all I did was experiment with new ways of integrating them into unrelated topics.
There we are; four steps that can double the amount of gold you collect each year.
If you pay attention to clues of gold-rich soil and increase the amount of material you process, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what turns up.
If you pay attention to the random thoughts that pop into your mind and practice turning ideas into polished content, you’ll rapidly increase the amount of gold in your repertoire.