Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and arrest on February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
Before I turned 30, I changed industries and career fields at least three times. I also worked in six different countries, all of which required learning new languages and alphabet systems.
After a few big consecutive international moves, I developed a strategy to quickly immerse myself in new environments, whether changing countries or just careers. The ability to rapidly understand new industries and landscapes meant I was always agile. This opened the door to countless business and career opportunities, allowing me to professionally leapfrog with every new move I made.
Whether you're a serial entrepreneur hoping to pivot and break into a new industry, or you just want a career change, this advice can help you rapidly become an expert in anything.
Learn the lingo.
The first thing you need to do when entering a new space is learn all the most common terms. This helps you understand what's going on but also makes you sound like an insider. You can do this through online research, but also by interviewing or speaking with industry experts.
Start by learning all the common buzzwords, slang, and other relevant terms that people in this space regularly use. Just like learning a new language, learning 20-50 of the most prevalent terms can make you seem like a true insider versus a casual tourist. Every time you don't know a term, do some research or ask questions to learn what it means. You can even make flashcards if it's helpful for you.
It's important to try to pronounce and use these terms correctly. For example, I once overheard someone who wanted to work in tech call software developers "SWEs," but I've never heard anyone in Silicon Valley use that term. Likewise, talking about "putting things up in the cloud," sounds pretty weird.
If you're not sure how to get started, try finding popular industry blogs, podcasts, or YouTube videos to consume. Podcasts and videos can give you clues as to how to correctly pronounce something, but you might want to check a few different sources first to make sure they're pronouncing it correctly.
Nerd out and take notes like a student.
Learning common terms is great, but you need to do a research deep dive to really understand the entire landscape. It's often useful to take notes and draw diagrams to map out how things relate. I like to pretend that I'm studying for AP biology or an economics class, and try to map out different systems in the new space I'm learning. These could be more "macro," like types of businesses, or actual companies and their competitors. It could also be more granular and specific ("micro"), and be details of how certain processes or software works.
I'd also recommend trying to understand the big problems, new innovations, changing trends, and what people in this space regularly respect and engage with (specific publications, industry events, etc).
Curiosity is key here. Make notes of everything you still don't understand and continue to read or watch online content on those terms and topics. Write down thoughtful questions you can ask people in this space. All this will help take you from just an average insider to an industry expert.
Find the influencers and connectors.
Beyond acquiring new knowledge, the most important thing is understanding who all the key players are and building close rapport with them.
Who are the super connectors and most trusted authorities? The term "influencers" is overused these days with social media, but that's ultimately what these people are: influential.
Finding and befriending these people can also help you learn new terms and information. But beyond that, they can provide you with the inside access you need to leapfrog to the top in your new space.
One of my favorite strategies for rapidly building rapport with these people is to cold email and interview them. Sometimes I even host small events to do the same thing even quicker.