Knowledge vs Experience: how to deal with information overload

According to Google, there were over 129,864,880 published books in 2009.
If you read 2 books a month, it would take you over 5 million years to go through all of them.
Just enough time for you to forget the first few hundreds and start all over again.

Books changed my life and changed who I am. For the better.
Sandwiched between two covers of paper, you can find life changing knowledge, timeless ideas, and captivating stories ready to empower you and enhance your thoughts.

I’m also a big fan of podcasts, videos, and blogs.
If books show a summary of someone’s lifetime work, podcasts and videos allow you to peek into a personal conversation or into someone’s journey, and blogs offer laser focus on a particular issue or skill.

On WordPress alone (the leading blog platform) 80 million new posts are published each month. YouTube gets 300 hours of new video content uploaded every minute.

Books, podcasts, blogs, and videos are a powerful way to upgrade your peer group, hone your skills and learn new ones, and be exposed to possibility.

It’s mind blowing.

But when it would take thousands of generations to go through it all, it can become overwhelming. Really fast.

Information or infotainment?


Infotainment is when you absorb informative content for its entertainment value without doing anything about it. Even the most life changing book or thought provoking article has some infotainment value. (This post included).

The infotainment spectrum is very wide, ranging from the news (unactionable by its very nature), to a step-by-step article that makes you think “Ah! She’s so right.” seconds before you push that thought aside and go back to life as usual.

And that’s fine.

As long as you don’t mask consuming information as a race to better yourself, colouring it with all the pressure and anxieties of being up to speed and constantly catching up with everyone else.

As it often happens, your own chemistry doesn’t help. Like ticking small tasks off a todo list, jumping from one short read to the next trying to keep up releases dopamine in your brain, making you feel good and craving for more.

Learn to recognise the purpose of the information you consume.
If it’s a highbrow way to entertain yourself, treat it as such and just enjoy it.

Information overload

When you use the executive function of the brain on conscious and engaging activities, you are tapping into a finite resource. Information overload uses up our limited willpower, which reduces your ability to take action and make decisions. So the more information you ingest in a day, the less likely you will be to take action on that information. Or just take action at all.

Another reason why content can be so overwhelming, is that it makes you feel like you are taking action, without actually having to take any risk. You feel good, and get to stay in your comfort zone.

Constantly looking for more information is a form of procrastination.
It’s also a way to try to minimise risk and cling to certainty, by absorbing as much information as possible before taking action.

But risk is intrinsic to life. So using information to eliminate it becomes a race without a finish line. And because different authors and broadcaster followed a different path and experience, you may get contradictory information and end up more confused than before.

Don’t get me wrong.
Books, blogs, and podcasts changed my life, and opened doors to possibilities I would have likely never stumbled upon. I am forever grateful.
But opening the door is not enough if you don’t walk inside.

Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.

Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing. Click To Tweet

Knowledge vs Experience

Imagine reading a book on handwriting.
Imagine memorising every single letter and how each stroke is drawn.

Does this make you good at writing longhand? Or even able to?

Most of us learnt how to write by practicing. Someone showed us how to do it (the theory), and then through experience it became automatic. We’re so good, we can apply it to different materials and use different pens. But, though we do have a theoretical understanding of how to write, most of us can only do it with one hand.

Theoretical knowledge usually builds context, exposes you to new ideas, gives you a clear direction and specific examples of what you are learning. It’s a great way to learn from the experience of others, and direct and shortcut your own.

Experience, on the other hand, comes from blending theory with facts, events, and actions. It brings knowledge to a whole new level, making it flexible to problem solving and adaptable to different situations, which makes it more applicable and requiring less cognitive power.

information overload

Theory helps you shortcut experience. Experience gives theory purpose.

Balance Theory with Action

Information doesn’t get it done.
So how can you balance theory with action?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: only absorb as much information as you can action.

The less time you can dedicate to taking action, the more focused you should be in your learning.

knowlede plus action

Align your learning and your goals

It’s too easy to get lost into the next blogpost or the next book popping up in the suggestion box.
If you want to turn knowledge into experience, you need to be intentional and say no.

Theme your learning to support your goals.
Ask: what must I learn in order to achieve that goal or become that person?

What do you need to learn first? Concentrate on one topic, understand it, action it, and then move on once you’ve turned knowledge into experience.

Use a bookmarking service like instapaper to save articles that sound interesting, and then filter through them before you actually read them. Is this relevant to your journey now?

If not, learn to be ok with the feeling of missing out on something.
129 million books, remember?

Learn deep

I get asked a lot why I only write a post every 2 weeks. It’s because I believe in quality over quantity.
On one hand, I don’t want to overwhelm readers (you) with unnecessary content; on the other hand, I want to keep a high standard and write well-researched, thought-provoking posts.

The same principle applies to consuming information.
It’s easy to want to go through a long list of new books, just because it feels good. Explore a lot of different topics, just because they’re interesting.

Learn deep instead. Read more of the same topic or the same author. Read or listen to the same blogs, podcasts, and books again: each time you will have a different takeway. Spaced repetition and examples applied to different situations will make it easier to internalise the knowledge and truly master it in your experience.

It’s not a matter of quantity, it’s a matter of quality.
If you read one book a year and you take ten times the action of someone who reads ten books and takes no action, you are going to be a much greater expert, and a much wiser person.

Think about this.

Would you rather be under a brain surgeon who’s read 100 books or done 100 operations?
Would you rather be in business with someone who’s read 100 books or done 100 deals?
Ideally, I’d say both. But I know which one I don’t want.
So make sure that you theme your learning, and you focus on quality, not quantity.

Mixing knowledge with action, you’ll create solid experience.

You turn now: what’s one action you will take from this post to turn knowledge into experience?
Send me an email and let me know.

— Matt