If you want to be a true expert, a guru, and someone who is cutting edge, then you have to know what the edge is in order to go beyond it. It’s not enough to read everything written on your subject, you’ve got to have your own ideas and perspective too. But you do have to know what other people are saying about your field or niche.
It’s one thing to say you are an expert, but if you don’t know the basics of what other people are saying or doing in your field, you will quickly look like a fool or a sham. You’ve got to be up on EVERYTHING that relates to your niche.
However, there is a balancing act here. These days, you could literally read 24 hours a day on bogs, websites and books on almost any niche. And not have a spare second left to actually do anything or create a single new idea. You have to have balance.
It’s one thing if you are a pottery expert or an abstract painter—then perhaps you don’t have to read as much. But if you are in most business fields, academic arenas, or an area of social science, you had better learn to read—a lot. In most fields, you need to read at least one major newspaper daily (I prefer the New York Times), a handful of influential blogs, a smattering of magazines, plus the dozen or so book a year that have the biggest splash on your industry, and you need to get a frequent taste of any news program or network that touches on your niche. No one is so creative that his or her ideas come completely from a blank tablet. All ideas are combinations of other ideas, so if you want to be a leader in your field, you had better know what all the good and bad ideas floating around are in your niche.
Partly, you need to know this so you can be a curator for others and to tell them what is really important. Partly, you need to do this in order to know what you like and don’t like. And partly, you need it as raw material to create your own ideas. Ideas are the raw material of other new ideas, even if the raw material is bad ideas.
If you find it a real struggle to read all the relevant publications and news outlets that deal with your niche, maybe you are in the wrong niche. If you put down reading time as “work” time, then chances are you are in the wrong niche. If it isn’t fun for you, then it’s going to be hard to do it in the long run. My specialty is media, speaking to the media and speaking in general. But no one has to tell me to spend 3 hours reading the New York Times Sunday morning. It’s just something I like to do and is as automatic as drinking coffee or eating breakfast. And no one has to tell me to skim TV news channels—it’s just a lifelong habit.
There is no one day of the Drudge report or no one issue of the New York Times that I’ve read, instead it’s the sum or the total me3dia exposure that is so helpful. When I am working with clients from fields as diverse as energy companies, financed companies and unite nations agencies, it turns out I know stuff, And I know what other people in their field have been saying in speeches and to the media for years. This makes me more helpful to clients and allows me to apply my expertise in more specific, tangible ways.
You will never have consistent output of books, videos and speeches unless you have consistent input of new idea in the form of Internet, print, video, audio and TV news and media outlets. Figure out what everyone else in your field reads and absorbs in the media and do the same, AND then come up with even more content to absorb so you will be ahead. And then figure out how to process it into its logical conclusion: your own intellectual products.