What are you going to do with all those skills?

Insights can come from anywhere.

Maybe you have a deep interest in some topic. You are a practitioner in something, but it’s your side passion.

Through doing something, you gain knowledge of it. And by experimenting, you can find new ways of doing things.

When you combine that with other skills or things from different parts of life, you’re doing what James Altucher calls having idea sex.

But what about all those books you’re reading?

All those courses you’re buying and bulldozing through?

Those endless videos and webinars?

Are those helping you build the skills you think you need for your startup?

Is knowledge a skill?

How to interview a car

The car was running rough. It happens with old cars sometimes.

But when the check engine light starts coming on, that means there is a problem.

Sometimes the light will go off on its own. That usually happens after four drive cycles. A drive cycle is when the car is turned on a run for 20 minutes. After four without the problem recurring, the computer turns off the light.

But this time, something was wrong. The car was misfiring.

It was also somewhat familiar.

I got the OBD2 Code reader, flipped the cover under the dash and plugged it in.The reader turned on and started reading the car’s computer.

The reading tells me the car is running lean in banks one and two.

It’s also telling me something else.

The Idle Control Valve is stuck open.

Uh-oh.

My favourite king

1400 years ago, knowledge was precious. Books were very expensive to create. They were all done by hand on animal skins. Only the wealthy could afford to have books.

And the wealthy had one other advantage. They could hire learned people to teach them and their offspring.

Back in those days, there were numerous Latin dialects, so communication was tough.

This period was known as the dark ages.

It was the time after the Roman Empire had fallen. The world was in chaos. And much of what came from Rome seemed lost.

Charlemange conquered modern Europe and discovered he had a problem.

He was illiterate. But so was his new kingdom. They all spoke different languages.

So he gathered the most learned people in the known world to solve the problem. How could they create a common language and educate the leaders so he could rule effectively?

There were some key skills required. One of which was a common easy to read language that everyone can understand. And once that language was established, the first book to be translated into the new language was the Bible.

This gives us some idea about what skills might be essential.


I had no idea so many dogs can skateboard, ride a magic carpet and surf….


That dog has skills!

2020 has been a tough year in many ways. We’re all probably a bit near-sighted, having watched hours of Zoom calls a day. The amount of knowledge available is amazing.

There are no topics you can’t find a webinar on.

I had no idea so many dogs can skateboard, ride a magic carpet and surf….

You can learn about literally anything right now on a screen.

But are you developing skills?

Are you learning something that you can apply right now?

If you have an idea to solve a problem, are you thinking you need certain skills to get going?

Are you spending a lot of time trying to get your bearings?

Because if you are, you’re probably not moving forward on the idea, all while collecting knowledge that you can’t use.

I’m not a mechanic. I just play one sometimes

When you see Idle Control Valve, you know what to look for.

You go on the internet, type in the car and model and ICV DIY.

Then you get a list of forum posts and videos.

Lots of these are garbage.

But a handful will walk you through the process.

The airbox comes out. That gives you more access to the area in question.

The Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF) comes off, and the air boots are next.

The idle Control Valve takes air from the airbox through the MAF and the air boots. Some of the air goes to the throttle body and the rest to a metal thing about the size of a Redbull can with a T at one end. That’s the Idle Control Valve.

When the idle control valve sticks, that means it has some carbon build-up usually. But more likely, the boots that guide the air came loose. So you remove the ICV and check it. Then you clean it with some special cleaning agent until it moves freely.

Assembly is in reverse. But for whatever reason, getting the boot on the throttle body takes some work. You have to line up this tab in a tight spot that you can’t see. It’s all by feel.

90 minutes later, it’s all back together. All you have to do is clear the code and turn on the car.

I’m no mechanic, but I learned all that on the internet. But it wasn’t the videos and the forums that helped fix the problem.

It was applying what I saw and read and the challenges of sorting it out that got it done.

Hook the OBD scanner up to a potential customer

Some people are serial buyers of courses. It’s so natural and easy to buy another thing that gets forgotten. It sits unused on your increasingly bloated computer.

All that information is like being on a pasta, cake and ice cream diet. Your computer is getting fat.

And that’s one of the big problems with lots of programs. They never get used.

Even the ones that do get used are rarely applied.

If the information isn’t applied, is it really valuable?

I guess if you just wanted to know, maybe it is.

But if you’re thinking about how to start a company by exploring an idea, do you need more information?

Here’s step one.

Write your idea down on a piece of paper. Ya, old school. Ok, if you want to use the phone, do it.

Next, think about who your customers might be.

Do you know anyone who might want this idea?

Now write down a series of questions. These questions shouldn’t be designed to get a yes. They should be shaped to gather information about the idea.

Use open-ended interrogative questions. These are the what, where, why, how kind.

You want to see if you can understand if the problem you are trying to solve exists. And you also want to get an idea if it’s painful enough to pay for.

You’re not selling. You’re hooking up the imaginary OBD2 to the people you’re interviewing.

Now ask yourself, can you gather and build these skills by reading about them, or doing them instead?

The skills that are essential

Now, what skills do you need to apply this very simple idea?

Well, understanding how to ask the right questions is a pretty important skill. That means being open to new information and contradictory information.

Remember, you don’t know if the idea is good. And you might discover something more important in your conversation.

The other skill would be communication. This is one that requires some practice. It’s the one old Charlemagne was concerned about 1400 years ago.

Look, you’re not going to be giving your interview in text shorthand. In person would be best if possible. But over zoom is good too.

You want to absorb all the information from an interaction., This includes voice tonality, body language, and the words they use to answer.

All of this tells you about the gravity of the problem or lack of a problem.

And the other skill you will require is the ability to listen deeply. Not only are you gaining an understanding of non-verbal cues, you want to understand what they are telling you and why.

Listening is only possible if you come to the interview without a strong bias that you have the answer.

Now ask yourself, can you gather and build these skills by reading about them, or doing them instead?

A museum of skills won’t build your company

If the car starts running rough again, I might get a different code. Maybe it’s misfiring. I have an idea why that might happen. If an ignition coil goes, I take off the engine cover, start the car and unhook each of the six coils until I find no change. Deactivating a good coil will make the engine run worse. A bad one will mean no change.

How did I figure that out? I read some stuff, watched a few videos, then applied it.

When the climate control system stopped working, I looked it up and found it was probably the module under the dash. That one was a bitch to get at. But I looked it up, figured it out and got it down. Now it works.

As you develop your company, the temptation will be to have this giant toolbox of information. Without application, this information is of little value. It’s like studying how to do a direct listing before you’ve even received feedback on your idea.

The timing matters.

Collecting skills like a museum of knowledge is cool. But it isn’t going to help you build a company.

Doing builds companies.

And the skills you should have to get started are great questions, communication, listening and curiosity.

Start there.


Tristram Waye

Unleashed Ventures