5 Essential Methods for Sharpening the Saw

By Jeff Cobb.  Last Updated on July 11, 2024

Photo of sharpening the saw (circular saw)

In my last post, I highlighted a number of ways in which we can all seek to elevate our visibility and authority as experts. My reason for focusing on this topic was that, if you want to sell online courses, if you want to become a consultant, or if your want to start and grow any other sort of knowledge-based business, it helps tremendously to be known as an expert.

The flip side of this effort, of course, is actually being able to deliver the goods.

Based on the many e-mail exchanges I have had with readers, most Learning Revolution subscribers tend to have substantial expertise and experience in their chosen field. I’d like to think I do as well, but I know the effort to maintain and increase expertise is a lifelong process. Here’s some of what I do on an ongoing basis to keep the saw sharp and make sure there is real legitimacy behind my efforts to elevate my expertise.


I engage in an ongoing effort to track and curate useful insights and information that relate to my work. I have a process for doing this that centers around the use of Feedly as an RSS reader. Here’s a brief video I did about it a while back. I recommend a similar process for anyone who wants to effectively stay on top of their field or industry.


Every year I make a list of books I plan to re-read and reflect on. I’ve found over time that going deep on just a handful of books and continually revisiting them really helps me to focus my thinking and be more effective in my work.

This is essentially my “curriculum” for baseline knowledge and skills in the work I do. For most of us who are experts in a niche area, there is no established MBA-type curriculum: we have to develop our own over time. My list changes periodically, but here’s what is currently have on the list (in no particular order):

  • Influence – Robert Cialdini
  • Blue Ocean Strategy – Renee Mauborgne and Chan Kim
  • Make It Stick – Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel
  • Telling Ain’t Training – Harold Stolovitch and Erica Keeps
  • Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples
  • 22 Immutable Laws of Branding – Al and Laura Ries
  • The Effective Executive – Peter Drucker
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • Good Strategy, Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt
  • The Discourses – Epictetus
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Incerto – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Not all of these, of course, relate directly to business, but I feel it is very important to read outside of topics directly related to my expertise. Doing so often sparks new ideas and perspectives that help me keep my work distinctive. (I also read quite a lot of fiction and biography, though tend not to re-read those quite as much.)

New Reading

As helpful as revisiting books I’ve read before can be, I do also want to make sure I am adding to my knowledge – supplementing and tweaking the curriculum. Here’s what I have put on my list recently (as of January 2019). Again, in no particular order:

  • Churchill: Walking With Destiny – Andrew Roberts (Currently reading. Excellent.)
  • The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting – Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore (I’ve gotten big on fasting lately)
  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress – Steven Pinker
  • Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success – Robert J. Sternberg, Elena Grigorenko, and Linda Jarvin
  • The Ingredients for Great Teaching – Pedro De Bruyckere

I’ve got many others I am vetting and will definitely add to the list as the year goes on. I welcome suggestions in the comments.

Again, fiction will play a role, as will poetry, though I decided to just stick to non-fiction above. I would have to write a short book to explain my rationale on all of the choices above, but if you are wondering about any of them, feel free to contact me. Also – to be clear – my point is not that these books should be on your list. My point is that, as an expert, you should be maintaining a similar list of your own.


Who we spend our time with – whether literally or figuratively – has a huge impact on how we think, what we learn, and the overall trajectory of our personal and professional growth. I’m trying to get a lot more conscious about who I connect with – and stay connected with – and why.

This includes “two-way” relationships – i.e., people I can talk to and who talk to me (whether in-person, by phone, by social media, etc.). It also includes “one-way” relationships – people I listen to (e.g., podcasts, videos, online courses) or read (e.g., see the lists above).

Now, my aim is not to be mercenary about it, but I’m looking for people who can help me grow – and hopefully vice-versa. Professionally, I want to connect with more people who are bit more knowledgeable, skilled, or further along the path than I am – just enough so to motivate me to stretch myself. If you have focused on doing this before, you know it is not easy territory, but I think it is one of the most valuable things that those who want to grow their expertise can do.


Significant growth requires getting out or your comfort zone and taking some risks. I equate this with running “experiments,” and I’ve got a number of these in mind. A big one is that I am in the process of shifting Learning Revolution from being a sideline to being a core part of my business. As a result, look for a significant Web site update soon.

I’m also reviving my Mission to Learn blog and will be using it as a foundation and launch pad for my next book. In doing this, though, I plan to take a much different approach to blogging than I have before. My aim is to publish multiple short posts each week rather than focusing on much longer, less frequent posts like I do on Learning Revolution.

All the best,


P.S. – Be sure to also check out 7 Ways to Elevate Your Expertise.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top