This is a guest post from Ehab Al Shihabi, an advisor to the Director General at Al Jazeera Media Network and an Edward R. Murrow Center Senior Fellow at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He writes about the media and the news industry and his opinions here are his and only his.
June 18, 1815 changed the course of Western civilization. That day, the battle of Waterloo marked the final defeat of Napoleon, ending his attempt to conquer Europe.
A few days later, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the well-known banker and financier, made a small fortune off the news. What he did is both fascinating and instructive.
He owned a courier network that brought him the outcome of the battle a full 48 hours before England's own riders. Knowing that the news would have a huge impact on markets, he began selling stocks. Tricked into thinking that Napoleon had won, spectators started a mass sell-off. When the stock market crashed, Rothschild bought up everything he could at a huge discount.
By the time Rothschild died in 1836, his personal net worth was 0.62% of British national income.
Why is Rothschild's story just as relevant today as it was 200 years ago?
Because it illustrates the massive importance of having an information advantage--knowing something that other's don't and fully leveraging that knowledge. The question is, how can you do it right now?
Over the last decade, I've worked inside one of the largest international media organizations in the world, Al Jazeera. I was the launch manager of Al Jazeera Turkey, Balkans, and America. I was the Interim CEO of Al Jazeera America. I'm also a senior fellow at one of the world's leading international affairs schools. This has given me a unique perspective on how we as individuals can develop an information advantage in our career.
You're living in a media bubble, and you don't even know it
The first challenge to developing an information advantage is realizing that most of us live in a media bubble.
If you default to only consuming what comes in through social media or visiting the same sites over and over, you'll inevitably be learning the same thing that others in your field already know. Here are the different bubbles:
As a result of these bubbles, we are not by default exposed to the ideas that will give us an information advantage.
In order to develop an information advantage, we need proactively go beyond our industry, our network of friends, social media algorithms, and the mainstream media. An information advantage comes when you know something valuable that others in your field don't.
The question is, how can you find the needles in the haystack, the gems of unique insight among the billions of pieces of new content that are created daily?
How to burst your media bubble
Outside of the traditional media bubble, there are ideas that will surprise you and make you look at the world differently, perspectives that challenge your beliefs, and independent content creators with an incentive to send you high-quality content, not just sell you advertising.
From crowdfunded individuals, to lists of the world's top thinkers vetted by experts, to non-profit media organizations and new tech tools, the right tools and resources can help you find fresh voices and ideas.
Over the last few years, I've spent many hours searching these out. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Crowdfunded content creators
Crowdsourcing has provided content creators the freedom to focus on high-quality work without worrying about making a living or sacrificing their standards.
2. Lists of the world's top thinkers
Lists are often invaluable ways to find top thinkers. First, compilers of these lists have spent hundreds of hours searching for thinkers. Secondly, they have experts vet the nominations. This saves you the time of doing it yourself.
3. New tools/ apps
There are a variety of tools and apps to help us streamline the content we read, and discover new, high-quality content. Here are three I particularly recommend:
4. Nonprofit media
Nonprofit media is flourishing today. Here are a few high-quality nonprofit media outlets that will provide you with deep, investigative content and/or content from original sources.
Turn It Into A Habit
Unlike in Rothschild's day, news now travels around the world instantaneously. Access isn't the problem. Nor is availability. Also, anyone can create content, and so the amount of content in the world doubles every year.
Yet, most of us take this for granted. For most of us, consuming content online is like breathing. We do it passively for hours everyday, but few of us actually examine our behavior. Unless you proactively find the hidden gems using the tools and strategies above, you will keep visiting the same sites and reading articles on the same old topics with the same old viewpoints.
In just 30 minutes per day of searching, you can rapidly build a base of unique knowledge that helps you think and make decisions differently, and truly stand out. I recommend just picking one hack or curator that you like to get started. That's all you have to do: take action now.
Are you content to stay in your media bubble, or are you ready to tap into the information advantage?