How to Learn The Basics of a Topic Rapidly

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One of the most difficult tasks that marketers face when dealing with a new technology, new circumstance, or even a new job/industry is how to get up to speed quickly. How do we learn the landscape of a field, the basics of a topic, in such a way that allows us to begin operating efficiently and effectively?

We could read the most popular blogs in the space, which surfaces what’s happening now. However, like starting a story in the middle of the book, blogs may not be the best place to start; rather, they’re where we should turn once we have a firm grasp on the fundamentals.

We could follow the most influential personalities in the space, which will give a sense of what topics are on the minds of the leaders. However, as with the blogs, the most prominent experts will rarely be talking about the basics.

We could pick up the defining books in the space. If a field is established enough, there’s probably even a For Dummies book available. Unlike the first two examples, picking up a textbook is a great way to learn the fundamentals. We start from the beginning and learn at a pace that’s comfortable for us…

… except that in today’s fast-paced economy, our customers will rarely make the time for us to delve into deep academic study.

So, what option fits the bill?

Video. Specifically, two kinds of videos: industry conference sessions and explainer videos. Industry conferences, especially on-topic keynotes, tend to give good, broad landscape perspectives on any given industry. They help us to understand at a basic level what’s happening and surface the broad, big picture issues we need to know about.

For example, suppose we need to understand design thinking, a part of the discipline of creative design. What is it? How should we think about it? A quick search of design thinking videos on YouTube and I find Pawel Zebrowski’s TEDx talk on design thinking:

Design thinking – what, how, why, when? | Paweł Żebrowski | TEDxSzczecinLive

This is a great first step to understanding design thinking. Suppose I want to understand the process more. Explainer videos give helpful insights about a specific topic or issue, often with detailed process explanations. Here’s an example of a design thinking explainer from IBM:

A good explainer video ties together many of the buzzwords about a topic without overusing them or obfuscating them further.

Whenever we need to hit the ground running as fast as possible, look to the wealth of great, free materials available on sites like YouTube. If you’re not sure what’s credible and what’s not, ask people in the field who they recommend starting with. It’s possible, in the space of an hour or less, to rapidly skill up our understanding of any significant topic in business with a combination of videos.

Power tip: if we want to create authority and recognition, instead of searching for the explainer videos or the conference talks, be a source of them in our industry.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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