Specific Knowledge Unpacked


Naval Ravikent talks about specific knowledge, an interesting concept that could help you boost your value which will either increase your wealth or provide you with more options on how best to live.  In this post, I will unpack the concept and provide examples to better illustrate what I understood from his lecture.

What is specific knowledge?

Specific knowledge is a concept that cannot be taught. It is a compounding of knowledge that is acquired during the entire length of a person’s lifetime.  It is a mix of learned skills, encoded genes, and genuine curiosity. Let's examine each one individually.

Learned Skills

These are skills learned very early in childhood or a skill you have spent a lot of time acquiring. Therefore, it comes naturally to you as you grow older. The best example of this is language acquisition, which is quite easy for kids, but very difficult for adults.

Encoded Genes

This is a skill that’s embedded in you. Tasks that require this skill are performed easily by you, so much so that you get frustrated when others do not perform it as effortlessly as you. The best way to discover these types of skills is to take note of the compliments you dismiss.

Genuine Curiosity

To be curious is to be genuinely interested in something.  You are not curious just because someone says a thing is interesting. You are because you find joy and thrill when learning and reading about it.


These three things make it very hard to teach specific knowledge. It is specific to each person’s life, hence the word SPECIFIC!


Characteristics of Specific Knowledge

Here are a couple of characteristics that help you identify specific knowledge:

Nobody can figure out how to automate it

How do you automate something that’s just different in every aspect? No matter how you look at it, you cannot automate it.

Highly creative or technical

It's creative by nature and is accompanied by uncertainty or can be highly technical with a lot of complex details.

It happens as an output of combining uncombined disciplines

The first time I heard this phrase was on Tim Ferris’ podcast. It resonated with me because I tend to do it subconsciously, where I like to possess just enough knowledge to combine uncombined stuff, and it works!



How to find, build, and expand on specific knowledge?

On finding specific knowledge

Naval tells a great story here about how his mother helped him find his specific knowledge. When he was a kid, he used to critique pizza shops’ business strategies, menu design, offers, and suggest what they should and shouldn't do. One day he was talking to a friend whom he told he was going to be a scientist. His mother overheard, looked at him, and said "No, you are not. You are gonna do something with sales."

So ask the people around you, and they will tell you what it is. It's something that is observed and is revealed in the situation, not something you think about.



So How Can I Build And Expand My Specific Knowledge?

The best strategy Naval recommends is to look for what knowledge you have already built and capitalized on it. Here are a couple of ways you can expand specific knowledge:

Through apprenticeship

To be an apprentice is to accompany someone and learn from them. Naval recounts a Warren Buffet story about his time as an apprentice to Benjamin Graham:

The classic line here is that Warren Buffett went to Benjamin Graham when he got out of school. Benjamin Graham was the author of the Intelligent Investor and sort of modernized or created value investing as a discipline. And Warren Buffett went to Benjamin Graham and offered to work for him for free. 

And Graham said, “Actually, you’re overpriced, free is overpriced.” And Graham was absolutely right. When it comes to a very valuable apprenticeship like the type that Graham was going to give Buffet, Buffet should have been paying him a lot of money. That right there tells you that those are skills worth having. Source



I believe this refers to the skills you gain through tasks assigned to you by colleagues and bosses.


My best guess here is that this refers to the skills you pick up learning material to acquire. It's not something that you enroll in, like a university or course.  It's more of a self-catered curriculum of related/unrelated stuff.

By following the obsession and thinking about how to monetize at the back of mind

This one is my favorite. You cannot teach curiosity. You simply can't make someone genuinely curious about something. This is the cherry on the top of the cake when it comes to specific knowledge.

Examples of specific knowledge

Scott Adams

I think Scott Adams is a great example of people who exercise specific knowledge. He's a corporate guy with a business degree who is also a comic artist. It would be quite difficult to instill specific knowledge like Scott Adams’ type in people because it is derived by combining uncombined skills (for example, on the job training, artistic skills, business education, and writing skills).



Recommended reading on specific knowledge:

  1. Specific Knowledge Is Highly Creative or Technical
  2. What is specific knowledge by Thomas Waschenfelder
  3. Why Talented People Don’t Use Their Strengths


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