If you're really ambitious, you expect that you're going to be doing important things for most of your life.
This brings us to an interesting dilemma.
When to stop training and start producing?
You could always train more, learn more, study more, before you start building and producing. It's almost always going to be a justifiable decision, especially if you're young.
There's many schools of thought on this. There's the "just get into action now" school of thought, who start hustling and taking actions right away. This is usually a good course that leads to results, but I think sometimes the move-move-move crowd misses out by maxing out in a small area. They get to the top of the game, but they never researched and planned whether it was the right game to play.
There's the "of course you should study crowd" that encourages you to get a bachelor's degree, master's degree, and a PhD, or do the equivalent training and learning before getting into the field. Ironically, I think this falls into the same trap as the above - you come out with some excellent credentials and knowledge in a particular field, but maybe didn't do enough real world application to see if that's the field you want to play in.
Sometimes it's decided for you. If you play a sport, there's a defined season when that sport is played, and there's a defined spectrum of games. You train however much makes sense to you and your coaches.
But most of the world doesn't work like that. At any given time, you could make a sales call, or you could read a book on selling. At any time, you could submit a resume to get a job, or you could be working to get a new credential. At any time, you could be studying your craft, or you could be doing your craft.
Again, I lean more to the action side of the equation - start producing sooner than later, because you also learn from that. It shows you what areas you need to take action in by your mistakes.
But it was still a hazy thing to think about.
Recently I had a chance to re-read Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" - and it strikes me that Covey is one of the only people that captured this dilemma really well.
He calls it P/PC balance - production, and production capability.
Production is getting results - doing things, accomplishing things, making money/resources, etc. Production capability is what allows you to do that - skills, contacts, connections, credentials, tools, maintenance.
In the end, there's no magical correct answer. Ideally you are both producing and increasing your production capability by training all the time. The exact amounts are set by you.
I'll say I come down on the produce side of the equation - you don't know how well your training is going unless you try to use it in the real world. And by trying, you also learn more, and best of all - you see firsthand where you need the most additional training going forwards.
I have pretty smart readers here. I bet some of you have thought your way through this one. What do you think? What choices did you make, when trading off between producing and training?
I see it as a problem of maximizing the P * PC product (i.e. amount of work accomplished), subject to a linear constraint a*P + b*PC = 1. It takes time to produce stuff (factor a) and it takes time to increase production capability (factor b) and there's a finite amount of time you have at your disposal.
Unfortunately this trivial concept is pretty hard to apply with precision in real life. It's impossible, extremely fuzzy at best to measure a, b, P, and PC. However, it's pretty easy to grasp that the amount if work accomplished is really small if either P or PC is small.
When to stop training and start producing?
Why not do both at the same time?
Here's a quote from an interesting article I read yesterday:
"Lots of the experts in the world will tell you that they didn’t practice much, but that is usually because they don’t consider doing what they enjoy as practice. The kid spending hours outside playing soccer with his friends doesn’t see it as practice, but it is. The designer sketching what he sees out his window does so because he loves it."
More here: http://www.drawar.com/posts/How-To-Be-An-Expert-Developer-or-Designer
There is certainly a balance. I used to be a perfectionist, tweaking my work which never quite got out there. I think there are a lot of people out there like me who get stuck in place because of that.
That's why I'm with you: there's a balance, but if you have to choose a side, choose producing tangible results. In the end, it's mostly a false dichotomy: by doing, you are also learning.
Depends on the field and nature of the task, since some require a lot more knowledge than others. Learning by doing seems to be a great way to go about building a web app for example. Not so if you're gunning to create a new programming language or a new operating system.
The distinction there I think is the difference between systems and products. When building systems, you start with architecture, and architecture is fundamentally hard to change once the building is halfway up.
As it happens, those involved in architecture, whether it be the architecture of a commercial office building, or the architecture of a video sharing site, are wrestling with immense complexity, and yet affect many people through seemingly trivial decisions.
To that group, study until you can somewhat reproduce current systems, and then practice and iterate until you've got a refined system.
It's a good question Sebastian. I think the answer is a continuous mix of both. I believe in learning by doing. Test the things you've learned by starting a small project. And every time you do any kind of project, try to encapsulate lessons that you can apply to future endeavors. Ultimately there is no value in training on its own - the point is to do. And yet, another way to think about your life is that everything is training to prepare you for what's next.
See my post: 21 Lessons Learned from 21 Weeks at a Startup
I think it ultimately depends on who you want to be.
If you want to have a lot of answers, then Production Capability might be a better path for you. Otherwise, if you want to have a lot of products under your belt, then obviously starting sooner will be better for you. You can always pivot to the other extreme when you're satisfied with what you have.
Most ambitious people do want both. However you're still more likely to favor one over the other. So go where your passion takes you, but still leave a little bit of room for the other. In my case, I want to be as knowledgeable as possible about many things. Obviously I still want to produce, but I tend to favor learning over production. (Even producing, but nothing practical, it's all for the sake of learning!) So whenever an opportunity comes to produce something of value, I force myself to stop learning a while and build it, knowing I'll jump right back into learning when I'm done.
"Is Exponential Growth Possible?" got a few really good comments. Riley Harrison left a really good comment and questions -
A great blog. One of the realizations that helped me was comprehending that if an insight or epiphany wasn’t actionable (didn’t lead to action) it wasn’t of much value (other than recreational). I have thought way too many deep thoughts, read too many self-empowerment books searching for the non-existent silver bullet (insight) that would allow me to bypass hard work, accumulation of small victories and risk taking.
The traditional barriers/obstacles (time, money, energy, risk taking etc) are to me somewhat secondary to just plain old inertia. But being at the right place at the right time – is that serendipitous luck or something else. You do have to factor into the equation that you are shooting at a moving target (circumstances change and you change) – times stands still for no man… As to the list of things to make you grow I would add that being conversant in the latest findings in neuroscience and positive psychology wouldn’t hurt.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/brenopeck/271247073/ Peck, B. (2006)
As an undergraduate one of my majors was Cinema Television Studies. Even though my concentration was Screenwriting, which requires mostly imagination and not a lot of action I was required to take a few classes in production. These classes require you to create short films and work in teams as if you are a "crew." Being considered the leper of the film tracks (a lot of people saw the screenwriting concentration as a place for people who didn't get into the design or production tracks - I just wanted to write stories) I regularly was shoved into the position of line producer, script supervisor, or production designer so I wouldn't get my hands dirty with the "real filmmaking." What these aspiring "real filmmakers" failed to realize is that these are largely managerial and supervisory roles and the production can't move forward if these areas aren't taken care of.
What I regularly dreaded was trying to figure out how to lead a group of 20-something, laid-back, Californians who I was younger than and was seen as lower status due to my choice in focus. Yet, these were my classmates - my peers who I was forced into the role of managing.
The hardest part about managing these groups was that they didn't realize that my job was to manage them, because they always pushed the jobs I got onto someone else -they never knew what it took to get things done.