“Learn as though you would never be able to master it; hold it as though you would be in fear of losing it.” – Confucius (Analects, sixth century B.C.)
The most successful businesspeople I know never tire of learning new things. Even in the sunsets of their careers, they are trying to “figure things out” and rejoicing in new insights and suggestions given them by people who often know less than they do.
Here are four ways to become a better learner.
1. Be humble. Recognize that what you know is a small fraction of what there is to know — even in the area of your expertise.
2. Stay hungry. Be eager to learn more so you can do more.
3. Recognize your prejudices, because they blind you to opportunities and hamper your progress. See them. Name them. Warn others about them.
4. Give preference to firsthand data. In a world that is deluged with filtered, processed, and pre-packaged information, value the knowledge you get from personal experience — yours and that of others. Speak to your customers. Get down to the shop floor. Find out what’s really going on.
5. Read voraciously. Spend at least a half-hour a day reading to improve your business skills and an equal or greater time reading to broaden your mind. Read fiction and non-fiction, tough texts and easy guides, books, newspapers, and magazines.
6. Read effectively. Know your reading objective before you read. Use scanning techniques to conserve time. (See Message #262, “How to Read an Extra 52 Helpful Books This Year,” and Message #415, “Double Your Reading Speed Immediately.”) Take notes. Review them.
7. Keep a journal. This is something I’ve been doing on a daily basis for several years and so I can tell you — from firsthand experience — that it helps. In addition to jotting down notes about what I’ve done or plan to do, I keep a daily record of things I’ve learned.
Every day — in the afternoon and again in the evening — I take a five-minute break to ask myself, “What have I learned today?” Since I try to learn a new word every day, that’s usually part of the list. I also try to recall new Jiu Jitsu moves, new facts and figures from my reading, anything I’ve learned about wine or art, and — last but not least — any important thoughts I’ve had or philosophical conclusions I have come to.
All these little nuggets are noted with an asterisk so that, at the end of the week, I can quickly look back over what I’ve learned and refresh my memory. What are you doing to increase your knowledge? Do you know more today than you did yesterday? Have you more useful, factual knowledge? Are you wiser than you were before?