Beginner’s Luck

The other day I attended a webinar on a subject relevant to my daily life and where I wanted to improve – increasing your “work from home” efficiency. I’ve worked from my home office full time for almost a decade, and sporadically for years before that, but you can always improve and even if you’re already an expert on something that doesn’t mean you know everything. Plus, things change! Even if the first home office I ever set up was perfect, new tech(niques/nology) have changed the game and I’m sure I don’t know all of it.

The webinar was… fine. Actually, that’s uncharitable – the webinar was fantastic, but not for me. One of the “top tips” was… get a desk lamp. But here’s the thing, most of the people on the webinar had their worlds rocked by this wisdom, because they’d been working with overhead light and open windows or just the glow from their monitors and getting a desk lamp really is much better than that. Since all knowledge is acquired, it’s silly for me to be judgmental about the fact that “desk lamp” was solid gold insight for many people. At one point I was new to working from home, and I’m sure the first time I put a desk lamp on my desk instead of relying on the 60-watt yellow overhead bulb in that room I was probably equally impressed. But this whole experience highlighted for me what I’m going to call “The 101 Problem.”

Here’s The 101 Problem: If you want to be valuable by teaching a new skill or informing on a particular subject, the most good you can do usually comes from providing beginner’s content. It’s simply math: For any decently interesting subject X, the number of people who don’t know a thing about X is about 99.99% of the population. That’s a pretty huge potential demographic, both in terms of you getting some sort of reward for your instruction and in terms of how many people you can potentially reach and help. Compare that to the number of people who already have the 101 content down and are ready for advanced stuff: we’ve already established that 99.99% of people know nothing, so only .01% of people know anything at all, and only an even smaller percentage of those people will want to go further, be reachable by you, etc.

So in other words, the demographic for good Beginner’s Content is several orders of magnitude larger than the demographic that wants/needs Advanced Content. So most good content creators are making content for beginners (lucky them!) but few are making content for anyone else.

In fact, a common complaint about anyone trying to make advanced content on anything is that it’s not “accessible” enough!

The cycle here is vicious. On subject X, I find it easy to learn the basics because we live in a wonderful world absolutely filled with information. Once I’m past the beginner level, I’m much more “on my own,” but if I stick to it and continue to learn, I can become an actual expert. Once I do, there are a few people who would love for me to share my expertise – but The 101 Problem rears its head again, because if I wanted to spend time teaching my skill and maximize both my personal ROI and the number of people I helped, I wouldn’t help the people trying to become experts! I’d help the know-nothings trying to become novices.

I’m not sure that there’s a solution to this problem. It could just be that once you’re on the path of knowledge in a particular sphere, it’s just your path.

Maybe the real solution is to walk it with a friend – someone who neither knows much more than you nor much less, but different things, and wants to learn alongside you. Headed in the same direction.

That sounds nice.

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