Three more ways to learn continuously

Learn continuously

Learn continuously

Over the last several posts, I have explored continuous learning. Here are the last three topics for now. I look forward to creating a dialog around this topic. Please comment if you have other ideas or questions about continuous learning.

1. Say yes – keep space for spontaneity

Learn continuously

When people are asked to do things, a lot goes on in their mind. Do I have time? Can I afford it? What do I get out of it? Who is getting something out of this beside me? Is this aligned with my plans?

All very selfish thoughts. I find that one of the best ways to be selfish is to just say, yes. When you say yes you put yourself into situations that you wouldn’t be in if you had said no. Now I don’t mean dangerous situations, but business situations. Let’s say somebody asked you to be on a panel, to present at a conference, take on a new project or coach a new employee. If you say no, you will never meet the people on the panel, you will never learn new things as you prepare for the presentation, you will never gain experience through the wins and failings of the project, and you will never have the opportunity to get to know a really interesting new person at more than a passing level.

All of that happens because you say yes; break through the barrier of routine, and open yourself up to learning.

2. Hold your beliefs lightly

Learn continuouslyIf you think you know something, you may be reluctant to look into it any deeper. I have conversations all of the time about topics that I think I know something about, but when I get in a group, I find that some of what I know is only surface knowledge, and some of it is wrong. If I hold on to what I think I know about everything, I can’t learn new things. In some areas I might be considered a subject matter expert, but even in these areas, I am not the only source, or even the best source for all aspects of entrepreneurship, managing start-ups or social learning. I think a subject matter expert is someone who actively learns all of the time, someone who is passionate about their area, but not so trapped by their beliefs that they can see when disruptions happen, new insights occur or new technologies offer improvements. Be humble even about what you know because some new discovery may be very important to your future, and you need to be willing to embrace it, or it may just pass you by.

3. Negotiate learning into your objectives

Learn continuouslyThis is harder than it sounds because when most people write their objectives, they create them based on their manager’s objectives — which are derived from other, higher-level objectives. Even organizations that consider themselves “learning organizations” seldom flow down any meaningful learning objectives to individuals.

People can take classes, but they often feel like the classes take time away from work, and the success of that work drives personal assessments, and personal assessments drive bonuses. Contributing to lessons-learned systems and in-house communities often get left out of time measurements and success metrics. If you can’t integrate learning into your personal achievement equation, you will probably skip most learning opportunities. People don’t get paid for learning more on the job, really, do they?

I find it useful to not assume that this is the case. I have learned to take the time to talk with my manager about what I need to know to advance in my career, and then find ways to put that learning into my objectives. If it is important enough that I know something to better contribute to the organization, then it is important enough that the organization recognize my effort to learn it. Even for a CEO!

Continuous Learning: Adopt What You Learn by Doing Stuff

Adopt What You Learn

Adopt What You Learn

Many organizations sponsor professional development classes, or people take brief courses on their own at a local college or online.  With our get-everything-done-now world it may be convenient to drop these short courses into your life, but it is much harder to figure out what to do with what you have learned. The same is true of books or conversations. I have a list of great ideas. Many of them are still waiting to be great for me. But some of them do help me reorient  my work, or change the way I think. But I must make the effort, I must try to incorporate the idea into the way I do things and see if it really works.

I went to a meeting recently where I learned some important ideas I wanted to apply to my business, including some insights out about how best to design a website. I didn’t just send out a list of five ideas people should start doing. I sat down and wrote five e-mails for things like redoing our website, which were turned into projects with accountabilities and commitments for doing things differently. I think if I had just sent out a note about how to make a better website, we would still have the same website. Now, we not only have started implementing those ideas, but we are actively looking for other great practices to apply.

Every one of my direct personnel is required to routinely create a learning and development activity report. Each of them will have to identify a minimum of two areas where learning will be integrated immediately.

I’m trying to get my team to build continuous learning into any change activity. Every one of my direct personnel is required to routinely create a learning and development activity report. Each of them will have to identify a minimum of two areas where learning will be integrated immediately. I think it is essential for a development program to create a mindset in which individuals find applicable learning and actively, and visibly, engage in applying that learning. I tell them to ‘adopt what you learn.’ I don’t want to just encourage passive learning. I want my team to see that their peers are applying learning, and perhaps that will even inspire them to learn more from each other.

Continuous Learning: Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best

businessman and social network structure relationship building

Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best

When you are given an opportunity to meet an interesting person, don’t be shy, even if you are shy. I’m kind of shy, but I’ve meet CEOs, diplomats and technology leaders, and some of them are now my mentors and friends. They would be neither if I hadn’t made the effort to meet them and talk with them. Relationship building is an active, not passive activity.

Sure, a lot of your encounters are brief, and you may not get to do much more than say hello, but sometimes, you get to have a leisurely breakfast or a deep conversation ahead of a presentation, or the opportunity for a chat over a glass of wine at the end of a day. But you know what? If you are standing shyly on the side, not approaching a person to at least say hello, none of those things is ever going to happen … unless you are the interesting person and people come over to you. Yes, that is a bit of extra advice: you are an interesting person and if you are confident and open, people will want to know you.

To be honest, I don’t do well when I’m in a big group— I find in big groups all of our defenses are up—and that’s not where I connect best. So I have learned to not only master my shyness when in big crowds, but also to not be bashful in reaching out to people I already know at conferences and get myself invited to dinners, for instance, where I can really talk to people. In a smaller setting, over time, everybody can get comfortable and we become more vulnerable — and that is when we really start having a conversation, when we really start getting to know each other.

Some readers may be comfortable in other situations. If that is true, then you should try to find a way to bring yourself into those situations more often. That is where you will learn best.