Like many others, I used to assume that if you want to be good, always study the best of the best of the best.
If you want to learn basketball, learn from videos of Michael Jordan rather than the best kid on your block, right?
But then, certain experiences made me question if this was true…
Tim Ferriss wrote about the art of learning in his book, Four Hour Chef, and argued that you should avoid learning from the best swimmers in the world if you want to swim better because they started at places much higher than you (great genetics, hours of training when they were young, etc.). Instead, learn from people who started off just as bad as you (poor genetics, started late in the game, etc.) who got to a world class level.
I set a goal to read every book written by a billionaire a couple years ago.
Once I got through a dozen or so, I started to change my mind. After studying countless videos and books from billionaires, I realized that it takes a certain patient, undying passion for work and willingness to cut back on expenses for decades plus a business that can scale and reach the masses to become a billionaire.
But I didn’t want that. A million dollars is more than enough for me. Nor would I have the enjoyment to pursue something so doggedly for decades. I’d rather enjoy myself, travel, and have a good time with a million.
When you study millionaires, their strategy and focus is subtly but importantly different. It’s hard to explain but it’s different.
This goes in stark contrast to the old advice of “if you want to be the best, you should study the best” or “if you want to be better, study the best.”
Not necessarily true.
What if you don’t want to be the richest guy in the world? Will another billion or two really make a difference on your life when you already have a few billion? Is it worth all that boring suffering?
Studying the best of the best may not align with your life goals because their life is not always what you want your life to be.
Also, there is the paradox of the expert going on here. The paradox of the expert is when you become so good at your topic that all the concepts and terms become so intuitive to you that it’s hard to remember how it was to be a beginner and explain it.
An master in a field is often great at what they do but not great at teaching it (though there are exceptions).
Here are some major reasons why you shouldn’t always listen to the best of the best.
They Succeed For Reasons Beyond Their Understanding.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how the best tennis players in the world will tell you to do one thing, but when you watch slow-motion videos of them playing, they do something completely different. They’re not even aware of what they’re actually doing because it’s so subtle, intuitive, and fast.
Thanks to survivorship bias, we only see the winners. We don’t see the thousands or millions of losers who followed the same tips and failed. Sometimes, the champion thinks it was one thing (like hard work), when in reality, it was another (the losers worked hard too but weren’t as curious or creative).
Maybe genetics or luck (being born to the right role models) plays more of an impact than they think. Maybe they can’t understand why you can’t work as hard or suffer as much as them. They shake their head when you take a cheat meal or put on Netflix. But maybe they’re wired to work harder or been taught better by their parents? But maybe not. Maybe you just don’t want it badly enough. Just a possible example.
This point isn’t a green light for you to give up or use excuses for why you can’t succeed. Instead, it’s to open your eyes and be on the lookout to what else you can leverage to succeed.
I had the pleasure of taking a class with a couple members of a world-class teen jump roping team. Their team won the international championships in the choreography division. (Fun, unrelated fact: They said the speed jump roping division was out of their realm. The Chinese dominated those.)
I asked them why and how they think they got to that level. They mentioned two simple things: practicing a lot after school and a ton of teamwork and camaraderie.
I genuinely believed she thought that was the truth to their success. And I have no doubt they played a part. But I couldn’t help but wonder what she may have left out. Was talent scouting part of it? Where they in an area that had a lot of demand for jump rope classes? Was leadership and coaching a part of it? How about reduced competition since jump roping isn’t huge in the U.S.?
They Have Different Goals Than You.
I learned a surprising fact this year from the head coach at my CrossFit gym that the athletes you look up to are fit, but far from healthy. In fact, if you want to be a world champion, you have to accept and commit to the fact that you’re increasing your injury risk dramatically and sacrificing health to increase your output.
Another competitor told me she was just as shocked when she learned this fact. She wanted to be fit and healthy, but her trainer told her that’s not how the athletic world works. Your goal is performance, which requires training and work that taxes your health.
Sometimes, winners have different goals than you. Some want to stack medals and trophies. Others want to make a massive amount of money at all costs. If your goal is to spend time with family or stay healthy, well, following what they do will force you to sacrifice those values.
Similarly, the process for making billions of dollars is different from that of making millions. And making millions is different from making six figures a year. If your goal is to just make a simple six-figure income and you blindly follow the practices of the richest man in the world because you it’s ideal to “learn from the very best earners,” you’ll end up exhausted, disillusioned, and disappointed.
Billionaires have to create an entirely different enterprise that sometimes requires decades of stress, anxiety, and living like a pauper to create a complex and scalable system that can actually earn billions.
In reality, you’re better off following the advice of a six-figure earner who did it in record time and has a good work-life balance – And this probably achieved his income in a much simpler way, such as becoming a freelance designer, writer, or programmer.
Their Advice Is Too Generic and Vague.
I was reading a few articles from people who had achieved decent success.
They were making six figures or multiple six figures.
They were telling their story about how they went from clueless broke to where they were now.
It’s the typical advice that’s in thousands of articles and videos.
Many of these stories have a common theme: they end with one or two concluding points about how to do it. And it’s always fairly broad, vague, and generic, such as “work hard” and “believe in yourself when the chips are down.”
What’s going on here?
I’m sure you can understand my frustration when you see stuff like “The only thing holding you back is…”, “Just work harder”, “Take more action” or “It’s because you haven’t committed fully”
Perhaps, this is true, but it is so VAGUE and broad. And I’m sure I’m not the only one frustrated. I was watching a video interview of David Dobrik, and he expressed similar frustrations.
Most people don’t realize that there’s tens of thousands of books by millionaires and every single year, many more books of this sort come out with the same theme: “how I did it” and “my advice.”
They are often fueled by the desire to become a best-selling author, tell their own success story, or make an impact.
I say all this for two reasons:
1) Listening to credible advice is better than getting opinions from broke or unsuccessful family members. But sometimes, successful people are poor mentors or have a hard time articulating exactly what they did.
2) Be careful with whom you listen to. A person who stumbled into their first million differs greatly from someone who made millions multiple times and has the confidence to do it repeatedly thanks to his experience.
The second point is huge.
It turns out that successful people don’t always really know exactly how they got there and can fully teach it.
The author Malcolm Gladwell has remarked about how professional tennis athletes will tell you to do one thing but when you watch time-lapsed footage of how they play, they do a completely different thing.
If you watch people who are really good at networking, getting promoted, and finding incredible job opportunities, sometimes when you ask them on how they did it, they can only string together a few bits of advice: “You just talk to people.”
Do you have any idea who Max Martin is? He’s responsible for a ton of hits from artists like Nsync, Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swfit, Pink, Maroon 5, Katy Perry, and more.
The point is that there is a difference in being successful at something: business, making money, dating, networking, or getting healthy… versus being able to teach and help others.
Occasionally, you have someone who can do both well. But how do you differentiate and find these people?
First off, I want to commend you. For reading this far, you are already ahead of the crowd.
Most people never even realize this and they take their advice from anyone who’s done what they want to achieve. Yes, that’s better than just taking advice from your uncle, but now you have taken it a step further.
There are a good amount of people who got a large amount of success on their first or second attempt online: their first Youtube channel got millions of views or their podcast got millions of downloads over the years or the website took off in traffic.
If you ask them how, some of these people will skip over elements to their success. Because they themselves are unaware.
If you lucked out in certain ways you are completely unaware of, how could you address those issues?
Thus, you get advice like “you just have to try harder” or “you’re not taking action.” Sometimes, there are parts of the process that are missing because the person giving advice has looked to the few things he or she has done differently that they are aware of.
That is one of the dangers to early or first-time success.
I’ve reached out to dozens of YouTube influencers and Facebook pages. Some of them don’t know how hard it is to build from scratch because of certain things that aligned that they weren’t aware of.
Sometimes, they will say “I just put out content and people came”
They were unaware of the massive search demand and traffic for their topic.
Occasionally, things just align where there is a lack of competition in the market and search demand. They were in the right time and place.
Note: not everyone is like this. There are people who worked REALLY hard to climb their way to the top.
That gets us into things I do to try and filter through to people I can trust.
This is not a complete, extensive list. My opinions and process may change in the future.
However, this may help you be more efficient in your search for advice compared to the average person.
These people write books because they have accomplished a lot and oftentimes, they want to impart all of their wisdom in a single book.
Therefore, it’s not really specialized.
For instance, you could get a book on all the details and depths of marketing by marketing king Dan Kennedy.. or a book on leadership, managing people, hiring, and IPO’s by Richard Branson.
It depends on book, but some still go into a good amount of meaty depth despite covering a lot more things.
Richard Branson’s The Virgin Way is his most recent release and I recommend it. It goes into more depth than a lot of other books but I also wish he went a little deeper.
They Got Lucky And Would Fail If They Had To Do It Again.
I’d rather listen to someone like Com Mirza or T. Harv Eker who have been through over 10+ failed businesses than one guy who tried something initially and hit it moderately successful. The first group have a lot more experience and lessons learned that might have been missed.
If they’ve just hit six figures or their first million, they still have a lot to learn.
A few years ago, I thought all millionaires could almost do no wrong. I was more naive. I realize now that a lot of millionaires still have a lot to learn about the world.
Mark makes the cut because he grew Facebook to billions of dollars over a decade of work, learning many business lessons. You can stick to one thing and succeed too if you have that track record length.
By track record length, I mean that years of success and experience matter.
Someone who has recently in the last 1 or 2 years made financial success should not be as valued as someone like Warren Buffett who has consistently had an upward trajectory over 50+ years into the billions. (Everyone still has ups and downs, but if you look at 5 year, 10 year, 20 year averages, it is clear. Be careful of anyone who hasn’t even had a 5 year average yet)
Look for specific detailed advice.
Warren Buffett goes into specific detail and examples in terms of business advice, citing his own stories and business history.
Maybe you’re not getting anywhere because vague, broad advice like “Stop wasting time playing video games” is too broad to take any definitive action.
Yes, it helps, but it’s not going to be specific towards your goals.
Find advice specific to what you want to achieve.
If you are broke and homeless, find specific advice on finding your first job… not random tactics about motivation or chakras or pricing strategies.
If you are successful in your business, look to specific advice on what you can do better: marketing advice -> go to the most successful in marketing -> Dan Kennedy or Jay Abraham: they give very specific, actionable advice.
Look for Relevance To Your Situation
Sometimes, it’s not the best bet to model yourself after the most successful.
The entrepreneur Neil Patel recently mentioned in an interview I was listening to that you would be a fool to copy Amazon.com if you’re a small mom and pop business website.
They have difference scale, different resources, different problems, different opportunities, and a lot more going behind the scenes.
Without understanding the why behind what they do, copying would be completely wrong.
For instance, they use orange checkout buttons. Purely copying that without knowing the reason could mean a lower, not higher checkout rate: the color has to contrast with the color theme of your site.
The point is that you should look to relevance towards where you are looking to go.
Maybe it is better to find someone who has a track record of helping thousands of small businesses go from zero to 1,000 visitors a month. They are specialized on your next crucial step. They’re more relevant to you.
I’m doing something no one’s ever done.
I’m going to read every book ever written by a billionaire.
You might be surprised to know there’s hundreds.
It’s funny how so many people talk about getting rich and they never learn from those who have, let alone read a single book.
Some people read a few books by millionaires.
It’s rare they’ll read a single book by a billionaire.
They’re Great At What They Do, But Bad Teachers.
The experts who are best at their craft forget what it’s like to be a beginner. They’ve been so used to thinking of their work at sophisticated, advanced levels that they can have a hard time articulating or having the patience to break down basic, beginner concepts.
I remember watching an episode of the singing competition The Voice. The singer Adam Levine remarked that although Christina Aguilera was one of the best singers in the world, she was not even close to one of the best singing teachers.
The skill and teaching the skill are two different things. And so often, we get starry-eyed over the famous practitioner rather than over the teacher or coach behind the curtain.
I think the same thing can happen to learn about wealth creation with billionaires.
Athletes may be great at what they do, but many cannot articulate why and how they do the subtle things they do. That’s why there are famed coaches.
I learned a lot from reading books by billionaires but some of the things were not as good as books written by millionaires.
As a very important note, I am comparing the best books written by millionaires to the mediocre to moderate books by billionaires. There’s a lot of crap books written by non-millionaires and millionaires I am not talking about.
I am simply saying that as a whole, you’re better off reading certain books like Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill versus anything by Ken Fischer.
He’s a billionaire but what he teaches is often times very specific for his profession, money managing, and someone not in that field won’t pick up much. This is oftentimes the case for a lot of books.
They Identify The Wrong Things That Made Them Successful.
Plenty of people naturally study the patterns of successful people to find out what works in every area of life. To an extent, that’s a good practice. Many people don’t even consider studying successful people and perform mediocre in life.
But studying the patterns doesn’t always work.
It’s human nature to look for patterns in life. Unfortunately, this Behavior can get us into trouble when we try to recognize patterns that actually don’t exist or we spot the wrong patterns because there’s so much data and factors involved.
Divorce is a great example. Most people want to have a long-lasting marriage. And there are those who study and teach good marriage practices. You would think that with all this studying, marriage counselors would be fantastic at predicting divorce rates. However, their average divorce prediction rate is 50%, no better than flipping a coin.
Just using your gut or natural instinct to identify patterns is often a recipe for failure. That’s why John Gottman, famed marriage researcher, use the decades of rigorous scientific procedure to identify the patterns between healthy couples and couples doomed for divorce. Through his research, he has been able to achieve a 90% + divorce prediction rate.
How does this apply to you?
You’re probably trying to assess and analyze the success factors in the life to your natural instinct. And you may be identifying patterns that are inappropriate or wrong Oh, just like marriage counselors or everyday people trying to figure out to divorce. Additionally, that successful person you’re following may be doing the same thing to pick out why he or she succeeded when others failed. Unfortunately, he may pick out the wrong pattern, especially if he’s put on the spot during the interview and only given a few seconds to come up with an answer.
Conclusion: Why You Should Still Listen to Successful People (Just with A Grain of Salt)
No, I’m not saying you should swing to the other pendulum of the extreme and listen to anyone’s advice.
Ignorance is not bliss in this case.
There are plenty of people who have never considered studying only the best and will take advice from anyone and there are plenty of people with little or no accomplishments in a skill that are willing to give advice.
Just in the last month, I got unsolicited advice on how long I should wait before using my wrist in workouts at the gym after my wrist injury. The advice was sometimes way off the mark from what the doctor recommended. A couple people told me that it was minor and I should be expected to go back to full throttle in a couple days when in reality, it was a severe wrist strain that needed at least 2 weeks of rest time.
Similarly, I’ve seen many people follow so-called experts online as if everything they said is gospel truth even though they may or may not be a millionaire who just lucked out and still has a lot to learn. Why? Just because they’re showing off an expensive car or apartment they own on social media.
If anything, you should be more cautious if they look rich and young because it’s more likely that they are more naive and ignorant about the world than they let on. Of course, they’re going to claim that they’re experts at everything — they’re trying to sell you some course or product.
I love studying millionaires, having read dozens of books by them and countless podcast interviews (The Eventual Millionaire podcast interviews a couple new ones every week).
I’ve found that millionaires have a more narrow set of skills that they’re good at compared to billionaires. They may only be good at Facebook ads or consulting, but they know much less about other topics. Because that’s often all you need.
While billionaires still have a narrow focus, they have a broader set of knowledge, which may include managerial skills, macro and microeconomics, competitor analysis, hiring ability, and so on.
What this means for you is that you shouldn’t look at millionaires as gods who are great at everything or know everything. They have gaps in their knowledge and some of the ones who achieved it quickly likely got lucky and have a lot of bad advice mixed in with their good advice.
Learn From The Best You Can Within Your Life Goals
I tend to use years of experience as one metric to gauge who I can trust.
I will trust Warren Buffett more than others when it comes to business knowledge because he has decades upon decades of business experience building one of the largest net worths in the history of humankind. He has gone through the up’s and devastating down’s of business.
From there, I will trust a millionaire who spent decades in business to make and lose a million dollars a couple times over some millionaire who just made his first million in 3 years on social media for similar reasons.
Losing it and making it back is a strong indication that someone has the chops. They weren’t just lucky; they were forced to develop the skills necessary to get back up there.
Another metric I will use is years of success.
Some people love following Tai Lopez, but honestly, he’s only been “successful” for a couple years. Before that, he had little internet presence before that. He’s been fairly quiet about his background before that, referencing a nightclub and insurance business he was a part of.
Compare that to someone like Warren Buffett who has been a billionaire for decades.
I’m not saying that Tai or anyone else like him is 100% bad to follow. I am saying that in this digital age with hundreds of billionaires and thousands of millionaires to follow, you have the luxury and obligation to be more picky.
Why bother to leave room for doubt that the advice you get is bad?
Finally, I use the metric of life goals. Follow someone who has the life you want.
If your goal is to be financially free, travel, work little every day, and live off a digital business that generates $200,000 net profit a year, maybe Ryan Lee of Freedym.com is worth following.
Not all rich people are created equal.
That lawyer friend of yours may be raking in six figures a year but he’s working 80 hours a week and neglects his family. Is that part of your dream life? If not, don’t follow his advice or you’ll end up like him.
I don’t want to be a billionaire because that’s much more money than I need and it wouldn’t be enjoyable grinding through what it takes to get there if that extra money holds no utility to me. So I’m better off following certain millionaires.
Use “Just in Time” Learning
Pat Flynn is a successful internet entrepreneur who teaches others how to start businesses online. His business and website is called Smart Passive Income and he makes six figures net per month, which he details in depth with his monthly income reports.
Pat, along with many experts like him, are big supporters of the concept of learning who are just one step ahead of you.
With this “Just in Time Learning”, you aren’t getting overwhelmed with information that isn’t applicable or useful to you for years to come. For example, it’s a waste of time consuming content on how to hire employees or manage a 7 figure business when you haven’t even started a business yet because you won’t get to that stage for many years.
By the time you do get to a 7 figure business, you’ll have forgotten what you learned. It’s better to spend that time learning how to effectively take just the next step (which would be how to validate a product idea) because it would be most relevant.
Also, this “Next Step” process solves the paradox of the expert because someone who is successful one step ahead of you was recently just in your shoes. Therefore, he or she understands what it’s like to be a beginner and can explain and address the issues you will face in a context that you will better understand.
So don’t be afraid to take advice from people who have small successes even if they aren’t wildly successful yet.
Use Scientific Processes, Accomplishments, Testimonials, and Credentials
In our John Gottman example, I pointed to the success of his scientific process towards finding what actually makes marriage last. A scientific procedure eliminates some of the fallacies that you’d otherwise miss. For example, Gottman’s experiments had a good sample size so that the fluctuations of a few strange or extreme couples doesn’t severely affect the overall conclusion.
Science is one of the most rigorous, controlled processes to identify what truly matters. It is a great way to identify the truth of the world and it’s what has pushed our civilization forward these last few hundred years.
Having said that, even all of these factors can be misleading.
Certain peer-reviewed studies can still be skewed because they sampled a study size that was way too small and not statistically significant. Unless you’re a super nerd, you don’t have to get too paranoid about avoiding bad or misquoted science, but it’s important to keep in mind.
If you are a super nerd, a good book to learn more about this is Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks.
Someone who has gone through rigorous schooling to get credentials and/or have many client success stories is worth following because it’s hard to do either. I would argue getting a large quantity and quality of client success stories or reviews is more trustworthy because it’s closer to actually demonstrating success and harder to do.
You could get a bunch of credentials in the academic world but still lack the skill to actually create success for others.
These metrics can still be manipulated though. Certain certifications, like becoming a CrossFit coach, don’t take more than a couple weeks to do. Therefore, it may seem credible to the uninformed unless you do your research.
Also, success stories and reviews can be manipulated through incentives. Pick up artist (dating) companies are notorious for grabbing people right after they finished a boot camp class for video testimonials when they are in a good mood. But weeks and months after, these people end up having no results and regretting the testimonial.
Although these thing seem like common sense, most people don’t seem to think it through logically before they do anything. Their actions are different: they are very open to advice from any sort of person as long as they look moderately successful.
To a degree, we’re all just making it up as we go and trying to find our way.
I came across this quote from anonymous and I think it’s partially true.
When you look at fairly new industries (social media marketing, website design, or growing an audience), it’s true.
The advice, guidelines, and framework that experts give are just based on what seems to work the best based off their experiences.
Rules can be broken.
Especially when it’s a new industry, the amount of experience you can have in it is rather low.
People are giving advice on social media platforms that have only been out for a year. Their advice is based off a limited set of guidelines based off limited experience that may not be the best practice in the long run.
It’s not always not useful though.
Some social media platforms, for example, like Youtube have been around for over 10 years.
The best people who give advice on this have found a framework that works more times than it doesn’t based off studying all the most successful videos. It’s been shaped to help increase your success.
But even then, it’s not perfect.
There are exceptions.
You can break the rules. And sometimes, it works even better.
That’s because the world can be a complicated place.
It also applies to creative things: art, fiction writing, music, and creating Youtube videos.
You can listen to certain frameworks, but sometimes it can work better to go against the advice and do what you know is right to your audience.
For mainstream music and popular fiction stories, there’s a structured format.
The book The Hero With a Thousand Faces illustrates how thousands of the most popular fiction books out there follow a structured format.
And I think there is some great use in following these frameworks to success.
But sometimes, you shouldn’t.
Sometimes, you don’t want your work to become another canned mainstream song that sounds like everything else. Nor does your audience.
Understanding this makes me really analyze any advice I get before I consider using it.
What level of research has been done to come to your conclusion?
Was this done in a scientific fashion or anecdotally?
What volume and depth of research did you do to come to these conclusions?
And even then, you may still decide it’s better to break the rules.
And there’s a lot of reasons for this.
Breaking the rules can make you stand out. And that’s sometimes exactly what you need to do to have a competitive edge against everyone else in order to succeed.
Perhaps there is a new way of doing things that works better but is unexplored because of failed assumptions.
Even with science this is the case.
The best scientific theories will help you achieve the best possible result in 99.999% of circumstances.
But what about that 0.000000001% where things get weird?
My recommended reading of the day is Richard Branson’s book First, Break All The Rules.
He is someone who represents the theme of this article.
While there’s a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t blindly follow a successful person’s advice, that doesn’t mean never fall it. Many people have succeeded thanks to learning from the mistakes of history and the people before them. Rather than discounting all advice, sift through the criteria mentioned to find the people you can trust.
Thanks for reading this article.
Did you learn anything from it? How will you use this to better succeed?