We’re used to thinking about “receiving value” as a passive endeavor most of the time. We expect items and services that we purchase to provide value to us. We pay the price up front, and then we feel entitled to just relax and enjoy the value we’ve purchased.
It’s easy to expect that if you spend the money, your purchase should cough up its full value to you. I paid for you. Now give me what I’m owed.
But only some parts of life work that way, like if you buy and enjoy a nice latte. Buying it is the hardest part of the transaction. Drinking it is easy.
But have you ever made a major purchase that you were a little hesitant about because you knew it would require extra work, like buying a new phone or computer? Or maybe you paid for a trip. Or you stretched yourself to go to a seminar. What happens in those cases? The value delivery isn’t totally passive.
There’s an active element in many purchases. You must do your part to fully extract the value you’re paying for. You have to learn and set up the tech you bought. If you go to a seminar, you have to pay attention, take notes, and do your best to apply what you’ve learned afterwards; the ideas don’t automatically implement themselves. Even if you buy a fun video game, you still have to become skilled enough to enjoy it; it takes some effort to extract the fun.
Recently my wife and I bought some new adjustable pillows. They came overstuffed (as expected), so we had to remove some of the stuffing to adjust them to our desired firmness. It took extra work just to receive the full value of a pillow.
Some personal growth value can be derived passively. You can read articles and books, listen to podcasts, and watch videos. You may learn some interesting ideas this way, including many useful reframes. You may make some easy tweaks here and there. You’ll gain some clever hacks as well. But there are much bigger gains to be made that require extra effort to extract and apply.
Passive value is great. It’s just limiting. It would be nice if we could transform all parts of our life through easy consumption, but that isn’t the case.
I must have consumed about a billion words of personal growth content by now in the form of books, articles, audio programs, videos, speeches, seminars, and more. I’ve also created a lot of it. But in terms of the value I’ve received from personal growth, I’d say that the passive value benefits are no more than 10-20% of the total. The other 80-90% is on the active value side, requiring non-trivial effort to extract it.
Joining Toastmasters is a good example. You may gain some knowledge by showing up for the meetings. Sit in your chair, listen, observe, and maybe jot down some notes about anything that strikes you as interesting. I’ve seen members approach Toastmasters in this way, and they generally progress very slowly. It’s hard to even notice that they’ve improved much after a year or two; it’s like their skills are mostly frozen in time.
The members who advance fastest embrace the extra work to extract the value. They write and deliver speeches. They enter speech contests. They volunteer for different meeting roles. And they generally progress a lot faster. For $60 in dues, these members extract thousands of dollars worth of value.
But of course it takes more work to do this.
I’d say this is just something to accept about personal growth. If we acknowledge in advance that we’ll have to do this extra work, we won’t resist it so much, and we’ll be paid back with a much bigger avalanche of value.
Which is better? Buy a fancy new phone and barely learn how to use it… or buy a fancy new phone, master it, and enjoy more value from it just about every day? I’d say the answer depends on your priorities. Which areas of life are really worth mastering?
In my own business, I’ve found that people who accept this basic fact about reality make for much better customers too. They’ll do the work of extracting the value, such as by fully completing every lesson of a course. Some go through each lesson multiple times. They’re happier too because they get good results this way. So it’s win-win to focus on such people. It’s a very sustainable business model. I love customers who will go all-in to extract the value and then tell me about their great results afterwards. What’s not to like about that?
I think this also explains why some content creators burn out when they mainly serve people who are looking for passive value. You’ve probably heard of YouTubers who’ve called it quits due to frustration or overwhelm. I think one reason is that it’s less satisfying to try to help people get results through passive value, like if they’re mostly just watching videos. Such people may only be receiving 10-20% of the value that active value seekers would be able to achieve, so they may not be as appreciative or supportive of the work because they aren’t getting as much out of it.
Contrast this with serving an audience who will work harder to extract the value, so they may receive 5-10x as much value from the same amount of material. They’ll be a lot more appreciative, supportive, and forgiving, and it will be more rewarding to serve them.
It’s so much easier to satisfy and delight people who are willing to invest some extra effort to receive the full value of your contribution. They don’t just consume content. They actively test and apply ideas. They explore and experiment with you. They engage with the work. And they often reflect ideas back with improvements.
I’m this type of person myself. I’ve learned the hard way that being too passive doesn’t pay off that well. I get better results from personal growth investments where I have to do extra work to extract the value. Consequently, I’ve been beyond satisfied with some of my personal growth investments over the years because I’m willing to do a lot more work beyond just making purchases, watching videos, and showing up to calls.
I’m the kind of person who will spend $10K on someone’s coaching program and get $100K in value from it – hence I LOVE $10K coaching programs because I get such terrific results. The passive value is worth perhaps $10-20K. The other $80-90K of value is from the extra work I do to squeeze more value out of it.
When buying a piece of software that I’ll use a lot, I’m the kind of person who will watch every tutorial video and spend many extra hours learning the interface and practicing with it, so I can extract more value from using it over the years. I grew up using software where reading the manual was often essential because the interfaces were much less intuitive, and there was no Google to look things up.
Here’s a simple tip for extracting 5-10x more value from your personal growth investments: Decide in advance that you won’t be outworked when it comes to extracting the value. Show up with a pick and shovel.
Don’t just go a few steps beyond passivity. Ask yourself what standard is expected of you for extracting some decent value from your investment. Then beat that standard – by a lot.
If you buy a book, for instance, we could say that the baseline standard is that you’ll at least read it. But what standard did you apply for the books where you got the most value? Did you discuss them with others, take notes, test ideas, read them multiple times, bookmark pages, etc?
You’re severely limiting your progress if you focus on passive value through osmosis. Don’t wait for value to seep in. Go squeeze the full value from your investments.
Be like an outstanding juicer. Don’t leave wet pulp behind.
Now it may not be realistic to always apply this standard, but when it really counts, it’s an awesome standard to use.
When I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t just buy an audio program and listen to it once. I’d listen to some of them 50+ times (for a 6-hour program), to the point where I had them virtually memorized. I can still hear the voices of Earl Nightingale, Brian Tracy, and Denis Waitley echoing in my head sometimes. Additionally, I kept testing the ideas from those programs in a variety of ways. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on personal growth materials, so I did my best to squeeze all the juice out of what I could afford.
This approach paid off very well. I juiced one $60 time management course for all it was worth, applying the ideas to go through college faster, thereby saving a few thousand dollars just in tuition. (College was a lot less expensive in the 90s.)
The truth is that a lot of personal growth ideas work amazingly well, but it takes work to extract and apply the best ideas. Don’t lament this fact. Do your best to accept and then embrace it.
Despite the pandemic I’ve learned that many readers of my blog are having an amazingly good year. Some directly credit their active application of personal growth ideas as being instrumental in helping them stay positive, overcome setbacks, navigate career pivots, and spot aligned opportunities. It’s great to see them adapting and thriving by being so active during these months.
We’re surrounded by tremendous opportunities for growth, learning, and improvement in life and business right now, but those who show up with picks and shovels are extracting a lot more value than those who are mostly relying on their eyes and ears.
How have you been showing up this year?