I was participating in a webcast recently. One of the speakers pose an intriguing and important question, “Do you have a daily learning objective?”
The response from the audience was predictable, a minority of the participants had a formal objective. Some had good intentions, the majority had no formal plan. Later, I started posing the question to others. The responses were similar, but I also heard a lot, “I take the training my company asks me to take….”
By contrast, when we study top performers, each person has a formal objective. Some set aside a period of time to read, to listen to podcasts. Some sign up for online courses, spending some time studying every day. Some are very focused on learning within their profession, for example, reading sales books. Some are very broad in their learning objectives, looking at history, general business, current affairs, biographies, economics, and so forth. Some are leveraging new platforms like Clubhouse.
When I ask top performers why this formal learning is so important, the answers are pretty consistent. All know that continuing to be a top performer requires constant improvement and learning. They say things are changing so quickly, that if they don’t continue to learn and improve, they will fall behind. Very often, when I ask why they are so committed to constant learning, I get this perplexed look/response, “Why wouldn’t I be….” These people are curious and curiosity drives a constant drive to learn.
Continuous learning is important. Setting aside time every day dedicated to learning is the mark of a professional.
But I believe there is a greater opportunity that we miss. What can we learn in every conversation we have?
With customers, we can/should be constantly learning. We learn about their business challenges, we learn their opinions and points of view about various solutions and alternatives, we learn about their dreams and goals, we learn about their doubts and concerns, we learn about them as people.
We learn from our peers and colleagues. We learn what drives them, what their goals and dreams are, their concerns. We learn about their families, who they are and what they have become. We, also, learn about them as people.
As managers, we learn about our people, what makes them tick, how we maximize their performance. We not only learn about them, we learn from them. Things we hadn’t been aware of, things that are new to us, different perspectives, approaches, new ideas.
I have worked for/with a few inspirational people. One of the characteristics that makes them inspirational is they consciously seek to learn in everything they do–every meeting, every interaction. They are obsessive about this.
Some decades ago, I had a professor. He was a mentor of mine, he happened to be a Nobel Laureate. One day, we were walking across campus talking about esoteric ideas in theoretical physics. We stopped to cross a street, he paused, turned to me, and said, “Dave, did I ever tell you how much I learn from you?” For a moment, my ego drove me, I thought he was learning from my ideas in physics. He put down his briefcase, ran the fingers of both hands through his hair, pushing it straight back out of his face (This was in the days when my hair was below my shoulders.) “That simple thing makes my life so much easier.” (He later went on to discuss how my naive questions helped him think about new ideas.)
It’s important for each of us to set formal time aside, every day, to learn. But we must also look for the learning opportunities in every interaction we have with each person we meet.