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Entreporn: learning vs doing vs wasting time

One comment thread on my Mixergy Premium article yesterday made a number of interesting (if flawed, in my opinion) points.

One of the key points was an attack on the practice of sitting around watching screencasts, reading articles, and doing basically anything except building a business, and hoping to somehow attain success by that method. The point is interesting enough to deserve a brief article.

Entreporn: mental masturbation

There is a category of advice articles, and a way of consuming those articles (as well as better ones) which is wholly unproductive. We all know it. We've all been there, and we've done it over and over again because, well, it's addictive. It gives you the buzz of learning stuff, absorbing new information, adding to your growing skill set. It's a bit like grinding in MMOs - killing wild boar after wild boar, accumulating XP until you're finally ready to make it to the next level.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn't work like that. There's no speed limit. There's not even a speed meter. There's no destination, there are no road markers, there is just purposeful movement vs going round in circle. There is no levelling system in the real world, and no one in the entire universe is going to give a shit whether you read a million startup advice articles, ever. Probably not even you.

Reading business books and articles, watching screencasts and interviews, is utterly useless beyond the first few weeks where you're actually learning a rough map of what stuff there is available for you to draw from. If you know nothing about startups, spending a week randomly reading all sorts of articles in the Founder's Library makes sense. It's like an accelerated brainwashing programme to fill your mind with the awareness of what's there for you to draw from.

But beyond that initial sip on the firehose, the rest is mental masturbation. Unless you have something practical that you need to do, reading about startups, business, and so on, is a waste of time.

Learning and doing

However, there is a context within which "startup advice" articles and other materials (to categorise them with this giant brush) are priceless and invaluable: that's when you actually have something specific that you want to do.

If you want to figure out how to advertise on Facebook successfully, reading articles about the topic, by people who have done it successfully, is so immensely valuable that anyone who doesn't do it must be an idiot.

If you want to fix your business's broken customer service process, watching an interview of an expert who has seen your issues a hundred times and explains exactly what works to fix them is great use of your time. It has concrete and obvious value to you.

In short, if you have a specific problem to solve or opportunity to address, and you want to acquire a specific skill to address that opportunity or problem, then spending time learning rather than just jumping into doing is a no-brainer.

Another way to look at it: if you would consider paying someone to solve this problem for you, then learning about the problem is valuable. You wouldn't pay someone to talk to you about startups in general, so don't waste your time on it.

Qualifying my advice

Daniel B Markham rightly criticised the world of entreporn. That stuff is a waste of time. And I deserve some criticism for not specifying this in my article. Here, then, is the correction, or addition:

If you don't have specific problems that you're trying to solve, don't sign up to Mixergy Premium - or, in fact, any kind of source of "startup advice".

Instead, stop reading this article (it's a waste of your time too), get out of your chair, and go and find some concrete problems and opportunities to measure yourself against.

Once you've found them, then you can go back and make use of the treasure trove of advice on this site, on Mixergy, on HN, and on many other sites that I've linked to here.

You'll no doubt discover that masturbation simply isn't as good as the real thing. Go forth and do stuff, for real.

More from the library:
Product scope: where to draw the line
The psychology of a VC, and how to take advantage of it
Ring the freaking cash register