Our instructor’s name was John, and the topic was tokenized real estate.  My response: “What on earth is that?”  John’s background and credentials were impressive.  He had over 30 years of real estate experience which included residential and commercial sales in a number of states, conducting training for realtors and doing property appraisals.  He delivered six or seven fascinating and informative webinars for our group.  Each one was unique and included fresh new research.  He made a statement in every single session that stuck in my head: “I’ve done the research, and I know where to research.”  I will never forget these words.  

As I replayed the recordings of his trainings numerous times, trying to wrap my mind around the basics of this new asset class, his words brought comfort and confidence.  Because of his detailed and organized research, I became moderately literate on this topic in just a few weeks.  I understood the concept, was somewhat fluent in the vernacular and could move forward with assurance – excited to take one step at a time.  I could not have done this research on my own because, unlike John, I really didn’t know where to research.

John took me to a place of total preparedness, but the question is, “prepared for what?”  The answer to this question is the key to any learning process involving an investment decision.  He did not prepare me to make the decision – not yet!  But he prepared me to do my own research!  We live in a world that is swirling with change, faster than most of us can grasp.  Every day we are faced with new laws, new technology, new asset classes, new rules, new opportunities.  I’ve encountered many who believe that the old, familiar stuff will simply remain in place while new options surface and rise in popularity.  But in this world of fast-moving technology, sometimes the new will totally replace the old, leaving us no choice except to embrace the new.  Or sometimes we may be compelled to explore the new because it appears more lucrative than any of the older options.  Either way, we find ourselves needing to research something that is totally unfamiliar.  So where do we begin?

Some people are great researchers because, like in John’s case, they are able to draw on extensive personal experience.  When he wanted to learn about a new kind of real estate opportunity, he could begin with what he already knew from being actively involved in the business of real estate for over 30 years.  

Other people are just natural researchers.  In fact, the “research” shows that about 17% of the general population fall into this category.  These individuals are hard wired from birth to enjoy doing research.  They have the focus and passion to dig in and doggedly pursue any topic that is of interest, and they will not rest until they have checked into every detail for themselves.  This insight came to me from the works of Don and Katie Fortune.  They are a husband-and-wife team of behavioral researchers who spent a lifetime studying and documenting the natural gifts that motivate individuals.  Without getting too deep into the personality of natural researchers, let it suffice to say that 83% of us are not in that category.  We don’t really like doing our own research, we probably do it poorly and worst of all, we tend to procrastinate, avoid, skip steps and are likely to become paralyzed when faced with some important, new concept that demands research.

That’s why we need guys like John.  A good researcher will blaze a trail through the jungle of information for the rest of us to follow.  He will clear a path, organize new knowledge into logical categories, break down complex materials into bite-sized chunks, mark the mine fields that could blow us to smithereens, address contradictory views and make it safe (even exciting) for us to venture into the unknown with relative ease and great confidence.

A past teacher and mentor introduced me to a learning concept he called “standing on the shoulders of giants”.  This phrase is a great visual for me.  Remember being lifted up onto your daddy’s shoulders so you could see over the clamor and confusion of a crowd?  From that vantage point, you could evaluate things and chose the places of interest where you wanted to go.  In the same way, I let John lift me up onto his shoulders.  From there I checked out the landscape of tokenized real estate.  Then, I put my own feet on the ground and began to explore, strategically, the areas that were of interest to me.  I jumped into the arena and tackled the beast for myself.

Being a member of a good learning community has advantages that are priceless.  I am eternally grateful that I’ve found a tribe of people who are rich in experience and researchers.  Sometimes I am the one with the experience and passion.  If so, I might stay up all night finding the missing piece of research that benefits the entire community.  At other times, I go to bed feeling lost and bewildered, but awaken to discover that someone else has stayed up all night putting together just the information I needed to move forward.  So sweet!  Doing my own research is necessary and it is quite satisfying when I’m standing on the strong shoulders of others.

As a financial literacy advocate (and not as a financial advisor) I will close with one piece of advice.  (Drum roll, please!)  Always do your own research, but as you engage in Do-It-Yourself Research, be certain never to start from scratch!  Always begin by finding a friendly giant and strong shoulders to stand on.