5 Takeaways From My First Year At The Knowledge Society
Last September I had the privilege to join the Innovate program at The Knowledge Society. This is a student accelerator program for students to come together and learn about emerging technologies, mindsets, and real world skills. I truly cannot put my gratitude for TKS into words, but I thought I would try to provide some value and compress 5 of my takeaways from the year in an article.
#1. Learn and Build, Build, Build
From a young age, I knew I had the general goal of wanting to make a difference in the world. Before this year, though, I wasn’t doing too much to reach that objective. The key to getting where you want to be is in the word ‘building’. It’s up to us to discover our passions, because once we do, the likelihood of helping others while also feeling fulfillment is substantially increased. However, the mistake that a lot of people make is not exploring and then working a job that perhaps brings others joy, and perhaps is deemed as the definition of success — but they hate it. If you instead start exploring at a younger age, then you can find out what you love and what you dislike. It all starts with exposing yourself to areas of interest.
There are many emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, nanotech, and blockchain that too many people don’t know about simply because of a lack of exposure. It may seem difficult to learn about such topics because they’re not necessarily taught in schools, but there are an abundance of resources at our fingertips. Start with videos, then go to articles, then courses, and scientific papers. Let’s take an example, and say nanotechnology is super interesting to you. How do you approach this in an innovative and intentional way?
First, get a broad understanding of what nanotech really is. The best way to learn is to explain, so produce your own articles and videos, or describe it to your parents and siblings. From there, just keep learning. Look at existing projects in the field and see if you can replicate them. Go deep, and more niche. Nanotech branches into many different fields. Let’s say that, through your research, you become super interested in its health applications. You delve into health x nanotech, read papers, and talk to experts (we’ll get to that).
You then become particularly interested in nanoparticles for drug delivery, so you keep researching, go deeper, write your own scientific paper, keep replicating projects, and get a degree of expertise in the field. Through going really deep, you’ll start to get ideas. Run them past experts, try to break them apart, and then choose one to run with. Try to build it out, get funding, or write up a proposal. Obviously this may be easier said than done, but by having bias towards action, managing your time well, and thinking 10x, not 10%, your journey will be easier (and more fun). Because, remember, this should be fun!
If you follow this process within different fields, you are going to become unstoppable. When you have deep knowledge in a variety of areas, you can come up with unique ideas at intersections nobody’s ever thought of. For example, now that you have knowledge in the intersection of drug delivery and nanotechnology, what if you delve into artificial intelligence? What if you discover a neat idea at the intersection of all three of these topics? Learning and building is a simplified process of garnering the ability to be a polymath, and make the next game-changing invention.
#2. Network As Much As You Can
I briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph that a crucial part of learning and building is talking to experts. Before this year, I associated networking with older people, and I thought it would be something I would start doing 10 years down the line. What I didn’t realize was two things: 1.) it’s super important, and 2.) it’s not as hard as it seems. Anyone can network, regardless of age. For me, the biggest networking resource out there was LinkedIn (and still definitely is). When I delved into my project of trying to make a better solar panel using nanomaterials, I was reaching out to the CEOs of huge successful companies, as well as startups, PhDs, professors, researchers — pretty much anyone who knew more about the topic than I did. That’s not to say everybody is going to respond. Your hit rate may be 15%, but that’s still 15 people if you reach out to 100, and think of how much knowledge you could gain!
Networking has been absolutely integral to every single project I have worked on, because it allows you to talk to people who are dedicating their lives to this area you’re interested in. A lot of the time, experts are more than willing to help out a student working in their field because they’re excited to see the younger generation passionate about what they’re passionate about. Some tips: always come prepared to meetings with an overload of questions, do your research beforehand into the person / their company, send an invitation for no longer than 30 minutes, and always arrive a few minutes early.
A lot of benefits come from networking. Not only do you become smarter, but if you follow up and have numerous calls, that proves to this expert that you’re capable of growth, and are serious about your work — and that’s impressive. From there, numerous opportunities can arise. Internships, speaking at conferences, writing for their platform, lab space, media features — these are all potential added advantages, not guarantees, but if you’re being intentional, such possibilities are on the table. Monthly newsletters are a great way to keep people updated on your progress.
Another part of networking is mentorship. I cannot express how valuable mentorship has been for me. It may seem scary to ask someone to be your mentor, but if what they’re doing aligns with what you want to do, or if you feel you could learn a ton from them, what’s the harm in asking? Weigh the upside and the downside, and the best case and worst case scenarios. Best case: They say yes. Upside: knowledge + all the potential opportunities I mentioned. Worst case: They say no. Downside: you’re slightly embarrassed, but lose literally nothing. Why would you let the fear of embarrassment prohibit your growth? Think strategically.
#3. Stop Fearing Failure
That brings us to takeaway #3: stop fearing failure. An example of this would be mustering up that boss mentality to ask someone to mentor you. If you think about it, the reason a lot of people don’t push themselves is that they’re scared of things not working out. Take someone who wants to solve the world’s biggest problems, like poverty. Is it really plausible to think that their first idea is going to immediately eradicate this huge issue? Likely not! It can take years of research, but if you truly love the problem you’re tackling, that shouldn’t matter.
Remember: you shouldn’t be doing something for instant gratification. That’s what is sometimes referred to as monkey brain, and it’s a mentality the majority of the population follows. Breaking that down, seeking instant gratification and seeking rewards and recognition right away for your work is not going to lead to the seeking of failure, and this ultimately will not lead to you reaching your full potential. It’ll lead you to sticking with what you know, and what’s easy. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone, embrace discomfort, and put yourself in challenging situations. Think of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Melinda Gates, Steve Jobs — none of them have not failed, because failure is a stepping stone to success. They played the long-term game. The sooner you realize the importance of this, the closer you will get to (what you define as) success.
#4. Think Anti Mimetically
The mimetic theory emphasizes that “peace thus produced is violent, comes at the expense of a victim, and is built upon lies about the guilt of the victim and the innocence of the community” (source). If we look a little closer at what this really means, the mimetic theory can be defined as the subconscious imitation of another desire. There are hundreds of situations everyday where we follow this framework. Sometimes we don’t even realize it. Most of your desires likely aren’t even your own. For example, the need for a large house and a fancy car stemmed from somewhere. When you were born, that wasn’t really on your priority list. But by growing up in society, and seeing how others acted and what they deemed as good, your own wants began to develop.
Many think the only way to do well is getting high grades in school, going to university, working a 9–5 job that pays a good rate, the end. However, there is always another way. There are unconventional paths, like founding a company, or creating your own job, that often are not considered. Even eating a hamburger with two buns follows mimetic thinking. Why do we do it? Why do we not just have one bun? It’s because of what we see around us. Mimetic thinking can be a very toxic mentality to get into and force you to go with the herd. Obviously you don’t want to be that one friend who questions every little thing (like maybe the two buns with the hamburger concept), but your beliefs, values, and priorities should be your own. Start seeking what you want. Understand your drive and purpose, and stop yearning for external validation. Don’t live somebody else’s life.
Ask yourself when doing something: What narrative has society carved out to make you think or behave or desire this way, and does it make sense for you?
#5. Balance Hustle & Health
Knowing how to hustle is a great skill to have, but a lot of people hustle to the extent of damaging their health. They think that grinding 24/7 is what’s going to get the most work done, but really, it’s just getting them closer to burnout. When you’re going hard at a project, or a problem, working all the time is not the way to go, contrary to popular opinion. Health should always be prioritized, and being at a laptop day and night frankly isn’t doing that. As a matter of fact, taking breaks helps to reset your mood, reduce stress, and boost productivity.
I’ve recently been looking into Robin Sharma, a celebrated leadership expert and bestselling author, and the #1 thing I’ve taken away from his Youtube channel is the power and importance of rest. Robin uses the 5 great hours concept where he works for 5 hours out of his day and takes the rest of the time to let himself renew and revitalize. He says “if you want to get more done, take more time off”. Don’t deplete your battery — work in cycles, otherwise your vitality, mental health, and physical health will diminish. Take care of yourself. When working on cool projects, it can be easy to become cocky and think you’re superior to others, but trying to beat everybody all the time, not celebrating others, and being competitive to the point where it’s exhausting can get miserable. Taking care of your health also means taking the time to be a good person, provide service, volunteer, and embody humility. Otherwise, life just turns into one big rivalry.
Overall, I am so grateful for everything I have learned this year. Huge thank you to The Knowledge Society for pushing me out of my comfort zone — I wouldn’t even be writing this article if I hadn’t joined the program!
TL;DR: learn and build, network, stop fearing failure, think anti-mimetically, and balance hustle and health. This is a great starting point to living the life you want to live.
Thank you so much for reading this! I’m a 15-year-old passionate about sustainability, and am the author of “Chronicles of Illusions: The Blue Wild”. If you want to see more of my work, connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or subscribe to my monthly newsletter!