It’s not the ability to pick stocks or spot market trends. It’s not the ability to sniff out which wells will produce oil or which methods will cure cancer. It’s not the ability to mange people or leverage their talents or maneuver a startup through an IPO. If you possessed any of these skills, you would certainly be very valuable, but those skills aren’t born in a vacuum. They’re preceded by one, all-important skill.
Now, I still think curiosity is the key to any sort of sustained success, but you can’t be curious without first being aware. And being aware is easier than ever. Sure, today there is more to be aware of, but you don’t need to be a Renaissance Man, keeping up on a wide variety of fields and topics. Merely being aware of what’s going on in your field of interest, and those that directly affect it, is a good start.
I wanted to become a good landscape photographer. Though I didn’t know it going in, this required being aware of not only how a camera works, but of how light works, how weather works, of the dynamics of any particular location, of what’s going on when I’m setting up a shot, of what’s in the frame, of what processing tools are available to me, of what printing, matting, and framing techniques are available. You need to be aware of all of this when you’re planning shots, and when you actually get out in the field. Without being aware of how these things can affect the outcome, you’re extremely limited in the quality of work you can produce. If you’re not aware, you’ll never be valuable.
But, this is true for pretty much everything that can produce value. In law, you have to constantly be aware of hundreds of little rules, brand new rules, old rules, how those rules affect things, how to get around rules, etc. In order to be a good cook, you have to be aware of everything going on around you, from how you’re cutting the meat, to how much salt to add, to how long the sauce has been simmering, to how much heat to apply, etc. etc. Same with coding. Same with stock picking. Same with, same with, same with.
Like anything else, awareness takes practice, but the practice works. I don’t have a lot of time to photograph these days, but anytime I walk outside, I still notice what the clouds are doing, how the air is moving, and whether the sunset looks promising. I don’t even have to consciously think about it anymore, it just pops into my brain.
So, slow down. Open your eyes. Pay attention. Notice. As my old negotiations professor would say, “notice what you’re noticing.” With practice, awareness is the easiest thing in the world, and the results can be world-changing.