By Geoff Smart

Geoff Smart is chairman and founder of ghSMART. Geoff is co-author, with his colleague Randy Street, of the New York Times bestselling book, Who: A Method for Hiring, and the author of the No. 1 Wall Street Journal best-seller, Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government. Geoff co-created the Topgrading brand of talent management. He is the Founder of two 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations. SMARTKids Leadership Program™ provides 10 years of leadership tutoring and the Leaders Initiative™ seeks to deploy society’s greatest leaders into government. Geoff earned a BA in Economics with honors from Northwestern University, an MA, and a PhD in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University.

Based on my experience interviewing and advising over a thousand successful business leaders, I’ve come to the conclusion that great leaders aren’t smarter, more hardworking or luckier than the rest of us. Most of their success comes down to the fact that they simply learn better than the rest of us.

The truth is that without too much cost or hassle, we can bolster our confidence and expertise to move toward the top of our field. Here are five practical ways to learn something new in business.

  1. READ 10 BOOKS.

It’s easy to start down the road toward mastering a topic. Go to Amazon, type in your chosen topic and read the 10 bestselling books that come up. Pay attention to the words and concepts that seem to matter the most. The total cost? About $200.


When I was learning about predictive analytics, I bought the book Predictive Analytics by Eric Siegel. I soon learned that the author hosted a huge conference on the topic under the same title, so I went to it as soon as I could. These meetups are an invaluable source of information no matter what you want to learn. The total cost is $1,000 – $15,000.


A year ago, I decided I wanted to learn more about digital marketing. Many of our clients at the time were struggling with the increasing digitization of demand creation. Rather than interview 10 experts, I made a target list and used referrals to interview over 100 experts on the topic. People are happy to have a 30-minute discussion about their favorite subjects to help you learn and get oriented. You know you are beginning to grasp a topic when you start to hear the same buzzwords and pieces of advice. The total cost is $0 if you interview by phone.


You probably know a topic that an expert in another field would love to learn. Consider doing a “mentor swap” where you agree to exchange advice and pick each other’s brains a couple times a year. The only thing better than having an expert mentor is hiring an expert full-time. The total cost for a mentor swap is $0, but it costs much more to hire an expert full-time.


You’ve heard the expression, “The best way to learn something is to teach it.” It’s always a good idea to run a project in an area of interest. When I see clients dive into these, they’re often an expert from the beginning, but running the project boosts their expertise significantly.