To Be Teachable Is NOT the Most Important Trait (No Matter What Brandon Says…)

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My good friend Brandon Turner wrote a post on this blog not too long ago entitled The One Character Trait You Need to Succeed (and How to Start Developing it Today).  This is a wonderful read indeed, as is everything that comes off of Brandon’s screen.  However, in my view Brandon missed the mark on this one by suggesting that being teachable is the most important requisite for success.  If it were, there’d be a whole lot more successful people.  After all – a lot of people are intelligent and learned, but very few are successful…

My Friend – the Psychiatrist

I have a friend who happens to be a psychiatrist.  His profession fascinates me from one stand-point – it seems that once people step foot into a therapist’s office, they never leave.  People just keep coming back for more, more, and more – good for the therapist’s bottom line, but perhaps not so good for the patient…  The following is a loose outline of a conversation I’ve had with my friend on several occasions:

Me: People come to you because they are confused and unable to find answers.  Your job is to open the door for them to walk into the light, which you do.  But, most never seem to walk through the opening.  Why?

Him: You seem to know a lot about this.  How come?

Me: There was a time when Patrisha and I struggled communicating and we saw a counselor for a while.  I learned a lot…

Him: And what did you learn?

Me: I learned that it’s impossible to have all of the answers, and that you have to start walking in the face of the unknown.  I learned that the game is not about having all of the answers, but about knowing enough with which to take action…

Him: And did you?

Me: I am very happily married!

Him: There’s your answer.  Most people don’t ever walk through the opening because they don’t have a complete 360 degree view of what lies ahead.  People assume that it’s my job to push them through.  No – my job is to help them find an opening; it is their job to muster up the guts to walk though.  Most never do – they just keep studying and learning in hopes that additional knowledge will somehow cause action…it never does.

Life is not about being able and willing to learn more – it is about taking action in spite of not knowing everything!

Here is the deal

It’s convenient to think that ability to learn is the driver of success.  Why is it convenient?  Because it’s comfortable and does not scare you.  You are an intelligent person after all, and as such learning new things does not scare you; it’s right up your alley.  And if that’s all it takes to achieve success – buddy, you are right there…

However, you may soon discover that having information inside your brain is akin to having gas in your car – it can enable you to run but only if you first throw the thing in gear and hit the gas pedal.  And guess what – throwing your knowledge into gear and hitting the gas pedal is a little more difficult than learning; it requires purposeful action.  Purposeful Action is indeed the driver of success, not the amount of gas in the tank!

Think BiggerPockets

My understanding is that traffic on biggerpockets is about 500,000/month +.  This means that people come to learn stuff on BP 6 million times every year.  Why is it, do you think, that there are only a bit over 100,000 members on the site?  Why is it that only 100,000 out of millions upon millions who benefit from infinite information dished out here for FREE chose to come out of the shadows and be accountable by becoming members?

Take this one step further – how many of the people who visit the site ever do anything with the information; how many do 1 solitary deal?  Is it .1%?  Is it even less than that?

Learning and having the right information is certainly a necessary component of success.  But, as I concluded above, knowledge doesn’t drive success – action does.  So – if we were to break this down a bit further, we’d realize that there are 2 main reasons why people don’t take action in real estate:

First Reason for Inaction

People want to know all of the answers upfront, and in this way these people, who are the majority of BP’s traffic, are not dissimilar from folks on the couch in my friend’s counseling practice.  His job, and BP’s is to teach people how to think, not to teach them every piece of useful information known to man…think about this!  At some point you have to throw caution to the wind – will you, or are you just going to continue coming here to make yourself feel better that you are learning…?

Second Reason for Inaction

This is a big one – a really big one indeed, and it is practical.  This transcends real estate and applies to all entrepreneurial activities and goes something like this:

The truth of being an entrepreneur is that you won’t have a steady pay check…

How does that make you feel?  Most of you have not been without a W2 paycheck – ever.  Saying no to the paycheck is truly one of the most difficult tasks ahead of you, and yet in order to commit yourself to success as an entrepreneur you will have to quit being in someone else’s employee eventually.  Do you have it in you?  Can you burn the ships as Cortez did in order to eliminate the means of escape – that’s what we are talking about here.


Brandon is correct to point out that unless one is able and willing to absorb information, success is impossible – you have to have gas in the tank if the thing is going to move an inch.  However, just putting the gas in the tank won’t move the car, and while teach-ability and knowledge are desirable, action is necessary.  I quote Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in this world can take place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Action is the chief requisite for success.  Lack of continued persistent action is the chief reason for failure, even for those who know everything…

What are your thoughts?  Would you agree with Brandon that teach-ability is the most important trait for success, or would you side with me?
Photo Credit: betta design

About Author

Ben Leybovich

Ben has been investing in multifamily residential real estate for over a decade. An expert in creative financing, he has been a guest on numerous real estate-related podcasts, including the BiggerPockets Podcast. He was also featured on the cover of REI Wealth Monthly and is a public speaker at events across the country. Most recently, he invested $20 million along with a partner into 215 units spread over two apartment communities in Phoenix. Ben is the creator of Cash Flow Freedom University and the author of House Hacking. Learn more about him at


  1. I believe we too often forget our genetic programming where most of us are genetically programed to follow, not lead. Imagine showing up to football camp where everyone wants to be the quarterback, or in politics where no one wants to be second fiddle as the VP.

    Of course environment has a lot to do with our chances of success but from birth a few of us are better programmed to succeed than others, i.e. the natural born “Leader” etc.

    If you believe you can learn from knowledge and the success of others and employ the same degree of resolve, you will enhance the possibility of your success tenfold.

    • Tom – I’ll have to both agree and disagree. It is true that living life comes more naturally to some than others. However, in my other life I am a teacher – I teach kids to play the violin, and for many years this was my main gig. And I’ll tell you – I’ll take a less gifted kid who wants it and knows the meaning of taking action (otherwise known as work), verses a super talented but lazy student. Believe me when I tell you that I’ll get better results with the child who works like hell…

      Taking purposeful action in the face of the unknown is not natural by definition – it can not be. As you wisely pointed out, some find it easier than others. However, I promise you that a person for whom this is most unnatural but who commits herself to taking action will achieve greater success than a person who rests on the knowledge that it’s easier for them. Thoughts Tom?

    • Ben:

      I’ve coached kids in running and triathlon for years and would make the same observation: Give me a driven, but perhaps less talented kid, versus one who picked his/her parents well {i.e. has the genetics to be a superior athlete}, but lacks ambition.

  2. Wow! This post really makes me think! Very inspiring and spot on in my opinion. I am very much someone who studies and researches for all the answers and then does not take action! This was eye opening and I hope makes a change in my life now that I feel I’ve seen the light. I don’t want to down play research and getting the facts right and being prepared, but if you never take action, what is it all for?!
    Thank you for this post.

    • Joe – thank you for reading and commenting so very honestly. This is the definition of sticking your neck out; now we know you and we, the BP Nation, are going to hold you accountable – that’s what happens when you raise your hand and say “I”…

      One more thing Joe: you should not “hope” that this article causes change in your life – it wont. Articles can’t change lives. Articles can inspire people to change their own lives.

      As such – decide and do Joe. Best of luck and keep in touch!

  3. Glenn Schworm

    Ben, B is the man so I hate to dis him publicly or he will keep stealing my articles like he has a few times! 🙂 but I must say I agree with you 100%. It has been a baffling experience in my life thus far as I have seen it in many areas of life. I guess we all do it to some degree in areas where we are not succeeding. Whether it is an exercise program, eating habits, changing careers, partners, or Real Estate. Bottom line is fear holds us back from taking the action we need to reach those goals. Real Estate seems to be a very common dream for most people but also for most people it only stays a dream. Enjoyed your article.


    • Hahaha – Glenn 🙂

      This article came out of me like fireworks in response to Brandon’s – I promise. I think I know why he wrote it – it’s kinda his job to help people feel good about being here to learn. We need more people taking action. I want huge numbers of BP people everywhere. I want to see BP bigger than the REIA movement. That would be cool, and we can do so much together. We could pull funds for investments. We could set up non-profit arm to donate to social causes – you know? We need more people taking action to do all that though…

      BTW – if our articles are similar in some way it’s only because great minds think alike…

      Now Glenn – question: You’ve got a gorgeous wife who supports you, a great business, and a ton of money. Why the hell are you complaining about a stolen article (which never happened). Hahaha

      Glenn, I know – you are not busy enough. You need to get some tenants man! 🙂 Ask Brandon about all of the fun he’s been having in the past few months… And me – where do I start. Been cleaning up that 10-unit (might right about it when I finally reposition it). 9 out of 10 seem OK; working on the last one – I HOPE! But WOW – get some tenants and the articles become less important lol 🙂

      As to the topic at hand – you are right on!

  4. What I have witnessed in the contracting trade and business is not so much fear causing one not to take action, but the total lack of being able to learn. We no longer teach children to learn in school, it is all memorize facts and form a team to work out problems. Working in teams builds adequate employees, but not those who can make decisions on their own.

    In 30 years I have had many apprentices, only those who for lack of a better word soldiered on became successful.

    In my field technology changes daily, one must know the fundamentals to move on to the more complex. I attend many manufacturers training events in a year concerning new high tech products. What I witness from some other contractors is a point of confusion as their brain tries to learn something completely new. At this very moment a subconscious decision is made, either understanding is gained as the brain absorbs and learns the new concept or a shut down as the brain decides it cannot process the new information. This is usually witness with criticism of the new product.

    We all have witnessed this first hand, when the first VCR players had the ability to record television shows while we were out. Those who refused to learn then are now technical dinosaurs, their ability to learn has been long ago fossilized.

    These folks cannot take action even if they desired more then anything else to do so.

    The same issue is present in REI, except those desiring knowledge seek it from the wrong source and are given conflicting worthless (get rich quick) guru information, they never learn the fundamentals of investing. All future information just helps to further confuse the student.

    This is why I have to applaud Josh for creating BP, because if a student wants to learn the fundamentals they can find the information here. The student can build knowledge from a solid foundation where all future success will originate.

    • Dennis – I concur that knowledge is requisite to any success. Absolutely – it is, and that’s why BP is here. However, knowledge on its own “does” nothing. Knowledge is a tool. Ability to learn is a tool. Both are necessary, but not drivers of success in my opinion.

      BTW – Those who know me best (Brandon Turner) will tell you that I hate computers. Flat out – period! He had to literally physically show me how to log into BP to post an article. I bet the whole time he was thinking – what an idiot. And I am dude when it comes to technology… I haven’t had TV service for 4 years. I’ve never owned a DVR because there is not a damn thing on TV that’ll make me smarter and therefore why record it. I guess I am a dinosaur…god thing I can pay others to do technology related things lol

      Thanks so much for your comment Dennis

      • Ben, if Brandon had to physically show you how to log on BP, you are most probably a kinesthetic learner (especially, if you only “remebered” after yo’ve done it yourself). Well, playing violin requires this type of learing too.

        • Naturally I am Galya – I am a fiddle player 🙂 BTW- ever heard of someone learning to play the violin out of a book? Doesn’t happen – and REI is not any different!

          Galya – this stands for Galina; Russian, right? I think I’ve spoken on the phone to every Russian-speaking person on BP, but not you. It would be my pleasure indeed. There is a toll free number on my site if you are interested 😉

          Thanks so much for commenting!

        • May be later (talking on the phone). I also speak Hebrew fluently, since I lived in Israel and got my higher ed there. Interested talking in Hebrew? Personally, don’t like Galina.

          BTW, I don’t think you are “naturally Galya,” but you’re a better judge, ha-ha.

        • Nice Galya – I couldn’t hang with you in Hebrew. Better keep it Russian. You know what they say – keep it simple stupid. That’s about my speed lol

          Do call if you get a chance

  5. I would offer that you need BOTH. Knowledge without action gets you nowhere. Action without knowledge can be very costly. It’s iterative – learn some, act some. Find another area to learn aboutm then act on it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  6. I would offer that you need BOTH. Knowledge without action gets you nowhere. Action without knowledge can be very costly. It’s iterative – learn some, act some. Find another area to learn about, then act on it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  7. Douglas Dowell on

    This is a summation of what is universal truth of success. Well played sir!!
    If you rely on solely book knowledge you will reach a point of redundancy. Just one more book and then you’ll be ready? Trust me from personal experience that doesn’t get it.

  8. Wow…such the truth! I struggled with this for a while…and learned that along with being teachable most importantly you must spring into action! Without action, what you’ve learned will go unnoticed. Thanks for this!

  9. Thank you for this article Ben.

    My opinion has always been that FEAR, in all its forms, is why people never really get started in this business and we do not talk about it nearly enough.

    Education is probably the best way to mitigate fear, but it is not enough. Almost weekly I meet people who know a whole lot more about RE than I do, but they are stuck “analyzing” deals waiting for the right one to come along.

    PURPOSEFUL ACTION. I love that! Action without education is foolish. Education without action is just good reading.

    Well done.

  10. I gotta hand it to you that at first I thought ‘what is Ben talking about?” Of course teachability is huge. But I believe you’re spot on with the purposeful action. I KNOW I’m one of those that has trouble putting into action what I’ve learned. I’ve got a great understanding of things and can talk some of the talk with REIs, but I don’t have the experience yet because I’m constantly afraid of what will happen.

    It is tough, but I know for me just moving forward in a direction is better than sitting stagnant. Although I might lose something from moving forward I am at least seeking the opportunity to gain something as well.

    • Steve – what’s Murphy’s Law? If it can happen – it will happen. Assume and be that shit is going to hit the fan. Prepare for it. Then take action. The point is – you don’t know what’s gonna go wrong. But something always does, and you know this intuitively which is why it’s difficult for you to take action. Just assume it will and be confident that you’ll land on your feet, and take action 🙂

      Thanks so much Steve, and good luck!

  11. Ben I have must agree there is no substitute for taking action. It is also just as important to be persistent. Odds are really good you will make mistakes or even fail the first time or two at bat. This will eliminate a few more perspective entrapenours. IMHO taking action,and persistence rank at the top. The teach ability thing, or the ability to learn comes into play only after you have the nerve to take action, the guts to try again, and THEN the ability to learn from your mistakes. Sorry Brandon. Ralph Ramey

  12. Hi, Ben. Not everyone who wants to become “success[full] as an entrepreneur” are planning to quit their job. Everyone has a different definition of success.

    To the article. People have different styles of learning, one of those styles is kinesthetic learning, or learning by doing, tactile learning. I would say it’s the one when you take actions and learn by doing yourself. Kinesthetic learners can learn by other styles too (visual or auditorial), but it won’t be as efficient or they may not even learn. If kinesthetic leaners are aware of their type of leaning style, it’s easier for them to take actions, because they know this is the only efficient way they can learn, by doing. Those people would be the first to take actions. Taking action is a way of leaning. You only learn to drive when you drive.

    And then after you took actions, you still should learn from your mistakes. If people cannot learn from their mistakes, or have poor teachability, it doesn’t matter if they took actions or not, they won’t be successful.

    • Galya – everyone who wants to succeed as an entrepreneur will need to quit their job sooner or later; by definition 🙂

      Very thoughtful comments indeed, but too liberal arts for my taste. Balance sheet is either positive or it’s negative. Income statement either cash flows or it doesn’t. Success either is or it is not, and as success goes – there are things that can not be learned without action. Therefore, taking action is key requirement and driver of success. Recognizing that there are many learning styles is fine and dandy, but this has no impact on the reality that success is driven by action… the rest of it is just to make ourselves feel better about not acting with a purpose. Thoughts?

      Thanks so much Galya!

      • I disagree with the first statement. Perception of success vary by person.

        In response to the second part, I pretty much said the same as Greg Powers, taking action is learning. Some people jump to it (taking action) very quickly just because it comes natural to them. These people know that learning through action is easier, may be consciously or subconsciously. You may be one of those kinestetic learners. Anyway, it’s all theories (liberal arts), they never work, you can’t explain everyone using one theory. And you are right, excuses are like a**holes, everyone has them and they all stink.

  13. Absolutely agree with you Ben. With so much information available today, people fall into the trap of reading about life instead of living it. This happens in almost every field, not just real estate. Don’t jump blindly into things, but also don’t be afraid to make mistakes as well. Experience is the best teacher!

  14. Great blog, Ben! Though I have to admit I giggled through most of it – you are such an instigator!

    My reaction was like Alison’s, in that I think I would play Solomon in your “beef” with Brandon: you need both, hand-in-hand. I’ve seen lots of people take action on any number of endeavors, then spin their wheels because they weren’t teachable. Crash and burn.

    Oh, and I’d make this argument as well: if you don’t take action, are you truly being teachable? Because everything I’ve been taught concludes by saying I need to take action. Hence, no action = not teachable, maybe? Chew on that. 😉

    • Hahahahaha Nice Karin – touché!

      How much fun is it to write about CAP Rates, NOIs, and DSCRs? I can’t do it. I am a performing artist at my core, which means 2 things:

      1. I love stage
      2. I need the energy of the back and forth – LOVE IT.

      This is why I take the time. It’s funny; every other article I write, I’m texting Brandon – dude read this cause I am sure I went too far on this one. Haven’t yet…:)

      I think you said something else I should respond to, but I just love the personality of your post (meaning your personality), so I’m gonna stop here.

      Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment Karin!! Made my day – really 🙂

      • Wow, thanks! I sincerely appreciate that.

        And speaking of you texting Brandon every time you stir up trouble, er, write a blog, I’ve noticed that we haven’t heard from him yet …

      • Damn… Ben. and I was planning to learn all about Cap rates and whatever the last thing is… ah, DSCR. Honestly Ben, did you know about all these before your first investment? When I took my first mortgage I knew practically nothing about principal and interest and still managed to get 2.875 interest rate and changed my mortgage company during the closing because the other one wouldn’t match. How about writing what you knew before your first investment.

  15. I think of being teachable as something completely different than perhaps you do. I don’t think being teachable is gaining knowledge, but in fact the ability to change your beliefs or previous habits in light of new and better beliefs and habits.

    Many people belief real estate is a bad investment because that has been hammered into their brain by someone close or a family member since they were young. Their belief is that Real Estate is bad, not matter what the facts show. They are in fact very unteachable no matter how much information they consume, classes they take or mentors they listen too. All that information does not good, because they will never act on it due to their beliefs. If they were able to change their beliefs and break through those subconscious restraints then they would be teachable.

    I think being teachable is about taking action and learning at the same time. Many people automatically discount a ton of information on numerous subject’s because they are preconditioned with a bad thoughts on those subject’s.

    The true form of being teachable is the willingness to learn new ideas without letting your previous training and conceptions taint your learning. I think many people do not take action because they aren’t all in with what they have been trying to learn and therefore are not really teachable.

  16. Hi Ben:

    “Common Sense + Action = Power” You need both.

    You always find the finest fishing holes where the AVERAGE fisherman is afraid to go.

    Face the fear and do it anyway.

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

    The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.

    So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

    Theodore Roosevelt 1910

    • Absolutely Brian – that quote of Roosevelt is, as far as I can tell in the forefront of every successful person’s thinking. This game gets messy, dirty, sweaty, unsexy, unglamorous, and downright discouraging in every way at times. Our only job is – TO HANG ON! And it’s a tough job indeed…

      Thanks so much man!

  17. I commented on Brandon’s post earlier intending to say what you’ve said so well here. Certainly wisdom/judgement is also necessary, but you have to act and act persistently. Success in most things really isn’t that complicated but you have to take risks and work for it.

  18. I think by and large there are 2 sets of actions takers.
    1. Only take action when you are all but assured of success.
    2. Do something, even if its wrong.

    1. These folks might have taken action previously. But then all the stars have not aligned in the same way since. They are waiting for everything to be perfect. They want to be able to clearly convince every stranger they meet at the grocery store that taking this step is a no brainer. Unfortunately, when building on past successes the next step isn’t always clear. It isn’t until they realize that staying with the status quo is also an action that they are choosing to make and has real consequences.
    2. This person has seen the importance of making decisions and taking action. They also do not believe that waiting is an acceptable action step. These folks are usually very confindent in their decision even more, will resist analysing a poor decision.

    Both of these extremes do not want to be wrong. One doesn’t want to be wrong in the begining and one in the end. We need to be brave enough to be wrong. We need to properly value our inaction just as we need to account for over action. I would say we need to be like football players. They study(teachable), play at gametime, and then review game film. When we study bwe need to observe action and develop a gut, a natural instinct. When we play we need to trust our training and just fly. After the game we must look at what we did so be can again train to refine our instinct and gut.

    Great post!!

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