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When learning is bad for business

“There’s no such thing as failure, there’s only learning experiences”

It’s the ultimate business owner’s reframe. The final word in any post-disaster discussion. “What did you learn?” is the default question for business coaches and consultants the world over.

Learning is always good, right?

Except when it isn’t. Expect when learning is killing your ability to succeed as an entrepreneur. 

A few weeks back, I published an article about a powerful cognitive phenomenon known as Sunk Cost Bias. It’s an ingrained mental habit we all have, that dramatically impacts our behavior as entrepreneurs.

Turns out it isn’t the only bias we have.

Information Bias is our tendency to seek information even when it cannot effect action.

This is going to be a short post, because that really says it all.

As entrepreneurs, we have information bias up to our eyeballs. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably one of the more seriously afflicted.

Why? Because we love learning. We’re enchanted by the idea of expanding our awareness. We hunt down magic bullets to business success in what ever format we can get our hands on.

We seek out info, analysis, expert opinion… all in an effort to slake our thirst for rich, useful information.

But does our cup runneth over?

There comes a time in every entrepreneurs career when action not information is needed. As a crisis unfolds, doing is more important than learning. 

When a customer is angry about something, your swift action will un-frazzle them and perhaps make them loyal for life.

When a supplier drops the ball, your swift action will ensure you (and your customers) are not left in the lurch.

When your marketing plan is planned and your sales pitch is practice-perfect, only action will create actual sales.

Only action puts dollars in the bank.

Be aware of your Information Bias. Keep a weather eye out for the tendency to look for nice, comfortable learning experiences when doing is what’s needed.

It’s far less scary to check your analytics again… or hunt for another how-to guide… than it is to do the thing you know you should do. If you give in to your information bias you’ll simply learn that you already know what do. Again.

Would you like to be a little less smart and a little more wealthy? There are no wrong answers to that question – so let’s hear your perspective on Information Bias! Leave a comment…


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  1. My answer to this: address the information bias by finding learning that enhances your USP. And with the emphasis on ‘unique’.

    If you know a lot about a topic not many others know about, you can leverage that. I’m talking about info that takes serious digging, that few people will bother taking the time to find. Primary research and the like that puts you on the cutting edge.

    But most marketing and how-to guides? Don’t bother.

    James linked me a report on Twitter the other day that said most freelancers spend only 5 hours per month on marketing. PER MONTH! The issue is not depth of marketing knowledge… it’s action.

    1. Hey Patrick,

      This is a really good perspective. Getting deep on a particular field has huge advantages – although I do think that you need some general knowledge in the business basics also.

      Most of all though, I’m interested in how people are putting their knowledge to USE.

  2. “only action puts dollars in the bank” Amen to that Peter.

    I think we all cycle through that initial uncertainty though. Until we’ve stretched ourselves and proven that its safe, we tend to sit back in the shadows blaming procrastination, perfectionism, or whatever excuse works in the moment.

    In the end its the time we waste that becomes the point of regret.

    1. Don’t get me wrong Jackie, we need to learn things. Especially when we’re just starting out.

      Figuring out our information bias is about knowing when we cross the line and learn “enough” to actually go achieve something.

  3. Agreed. When I read this post I thought of all the classes I’ve taken over the years, whether it was to enhance my acting career, business, or just for personal enrichment.

    I think, though, that I know when to say “enough’s enough” especially when it comes to classes that will (supposedly) help my business. I do maintain that we can always learn more, but I have a hard time justifying a year of my time, thousands of dollars and a “certification” no one cares about when I could actually be *doing* the work, and/or reaching out to potential clients.

  4. I am thinking that the amount of Information you think you need to consume is determined by your level of schooling.

    I was a traditional student – who went from school, to university and then completed a Masters. And I research way too much. I think we have been conditioned that way – because your essays must have multiple sources.

    My father on the other hand finished school at 13. He finds the information he needs, acts, reviews then starts the process again.

    And that is why I think so many successful entreprenuers are people who didn’t have a long formal education – they didn’t get into bad habits of passively learning without action.


  5. Not going to tell you how much business self-help porn is on my Kindle, and I’ve only had it 4 months! (Does it matter that most of it is either your books, your recommendations, or the recommendations of your immediate colleagues? I haven’t gone out of the compound very much… 😛 ) I would definitely put myself on the steep edge of a very sharp learning curve, though.

    But I agree with Ainslie. Past a certain point, formal education aggravates this passive addiction. My partner has dyslexia, so acquiring knowledge was a hands-on, ears-and-eyes-wide-open activity…with emphasis on “activity.” The common sense and groundedness that fosters is enviable to the theory-loving information junkie in me.

    Medical education requires LOTS of information absorption. But my wisest mentor said repeatedly ” ‘MD’ stands for ‘M’ake a ‘D’ecision.” There’s a point at which trying to know it all is simply paralysis.

    Thanks, Peter. Another great post.

    1. hehe, well if you’re using MY recommendations then it’s all okay then… not information bias at all! *cough*

      See, I write and publish this stuff even though it’s contrary to the actual act of publishing business/psych commentary…. but it’s important to say anyway.

  6. Thanks Peter – another little gem in there.
    I like to scan information for the little gems that align my thinking or enlighten me. Like the ‘only action puts dollars in the bank.’ That’s made it to sticky note status to remind me not to get sidetracked today as I plan my next step marketing strategies.
    I do agree we can become info junkies that spend way too long info hunting. My anti dote to that is to be selective about what I will read and take their gems and put them into action.
    When I get sidetracked – make and stick to a sequential list with the action that will get the greatest outcome at the top.

  7. Not sure I want to publicly acknowledge that I’ve read and commenting on this post, as it may incriminate me and my information bias …

    but I just had to say ‘hear ‘hear’, ‘amen’ and ‘ooh, sounds a little bit like someone I (used to) know’


  8. Don’t know how I missed this post when it first came out, but thankfully someone pointed it to me today!

    After seeing a couple of online acquaintances talking about yet another course they’re beginning this week I found myself wondering about the last 3 I remember them squealing about. I love learning. It’s one of my core values and yet…what I’ve been witnessing lately feels different. There’s a more driven kind of energy that piques my curiousity.

    How many courses will it take till those same people take action? How many dollars and hours spent?

    “Only action puts dolars in the bank” – thanks for this much needed reminder.

  9. “As entrepreneurs, we have information bias up to our eyeballs. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably one of the more seriously afflicted.” I love the honesty.

    I struggle with this daily. Thanks to iTunesU, Youtube Edu, Khan Academy, MIT OCW, and so many more, you can get years of quality courses for free.

    Something that helps is putting off learning into a “someday” folder or word doc and focusing on what needs to get done now.

  10. Yes I do agree actions drive business but not any actions it should be the right actions. Also not any one can behave and act right without some skills which need to be learned and practised.

    So, action the information is important, learning the skills and practise may emphasis and even rescue (sometimes) business.


  11. Guilty as charged, Peter! Learning is so often easier than doing because we have more control over the outcomes of our learning activities than our more active activities – or at least, that’s the elusion we create for ourselves. In my own and others’ defence, though, if I hadn’t spent so much time quite possibly hiding behind learning I wouldn’t be so clear about what to do when I need to take action – at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

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