Between multiple degree programs and being a trainer and faculty member, I’ve spent thousands of hours in classrooms, as both student and instructor. One of the common complaints that I’ve said to myself (and fielded a few times from others) is that, “I already know this stuff.”
It is virtually impossible in any class or training program to present material that is both challenging and new at every moment to every person. Despite the best planning, there are always situations where a few people will have seen similar material previously.
Still, as much as I know how challenging this is from an instruction standpoint, my first thought when it happens to me is to either tune out the class or conference completely or to somehow demonstrate that I already know this stuff and don’t need to pay attention.
Most classes and conferences I’ve attended follow the 20/20/60 rule. 20% of the material is brand new to me and, if I applied it, would make a massive, positive impact in my career and life. Another 20% of the material will likely never be helpful to me, based on where I am in my career and past experience. The remaining 60% falls somewhere in between, depending on the content.
When I run into what I already know, here’s a framework I try to follow that might be helpful for you too:
Whenever I run into something I know, the first action I try to take is to coach someone else on it. Even if I’ve seen it, chances are that others have not. I’ve found that I can often make a positive impact helping others discover things for the first time if I turn my attention to who I can help. When I’ve done this, it’s helped me improve my listening and coaching skills.
Moreover, I sometimes find that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.
Focus on the other 20%
Human nature loves finding fault – which is why Dale Carnegie’s principle, “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain” shows up first in his How to Win Friends and Influence People book. Instead of fighting the 20% you’ve seen before, turn your attention to what is new. Write questions about what you’d like to know more about it. Research a reading list from experts in the field. Find podcasts that will inform you.
Most of us would be busy for years if we actually focused on 20% of the material in any class.
I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve been told by someone that “I've been to tons of leadership training” only to hear from others in their organization how poorly they lead. Knowledge does not equal action, which is why we all need to pass a behind-the-wheel test to get a driver’s license in addition to a written exam. Find something in the class you already know but haven’t done anything with, and commit yourself to take immediate action to realize benefits for yourself and others.
Which one of these will you use in the next class or conference you attend? Tell me in the comments below.