Learning as a lifelong pursuit.

October 28th, 2011

I consider myself a spotter. You’re probably one, too, scanning your daily RSS feeds, e-newsletters, e-zines and favorite blogs for new information relevant and important to you. One of my favorite daily reads is SmartBrief on Leadership, a free online publication that summarizes news and new thinking on management and leadership with links to the original sources.

Last week a SmartBrief guest-blog post by Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and executive editor of the journal Cognitive Science, reminded me of the importance of being a life-long learner.

It’s my view that a smart organization is made up of people who are continually learning. I believe people focused on personal growth are motivated to know more, do more, become more and create more in ways that are meaningful and purposeful. Learning is a spark that ignites creativity.

Here’s how Markman puts it in Improve Your Knowledge Daily:

Knowledge is a key driver of business success. Innovative ideas emerge when people are able to apply their knowledge to new problems. Unfortunately, in the modern business environment, the desire to learn new things is often trumped by the need to respond to the next item on the to-do list. There are no shortcuts to having high-quality knowledge, but effort spent learning new things effectively repays itself handsomely in the long run.

Here are five things you can do to maximize the quality of your knowledge.

  • Stop and organize. At the end of a meeting, don’t leave your memory for what was discussed up to chance. When a meeting ends, don’t whip out your smartphone to check your e-mail, respond to a text or call your next appointment. Instead, take a minute to review the three main issues that came up in the meeting. This brief review helps to solidify your memory for what just happened.
  • Give yourself permission to learn new things. Being away from your computer for even an hour can cause your e-mail queue to build, not to mention the phone messages and the tweets you missed. But learning something new is hard work and can’t be done while you’re sharing your time with ongoing correspondence. At least once a week, spend some time in a quiet place reading new material, watching a video with professional education, or listening to an audiobook.
  • Be here now. Multitasking is the bane of modern existence. You cannot maximize the quality of your knowledge if you are doing two things at once. The modern world may promote multitasking, but that doesn’t mean that people are getting better at it. Worse yet, the areas of your brain that would help you to monitor your own performance are tapped to their limit by multitasking. So, you’re your own worst judge of your ability to multitask. Don’t try to improve your multitasking ability. Just focus on the task at hand.
  • Explain things to yourself. When you hear a really good speaker, it is easy to start nodding and to believe that you completely understand what she’s talking about. Likewise, reading a good article gives you the illusion of expertise. To make sure you really understand what you just encountered, take a few minutes to explain it to yourself. That is an easy way to reveal the gaps in your understanding.
  • Ask questions. It is amazing how often people use words that you just don’t understand. I don’t mean people who are deliberately trying to impress you with their massive vocabularies. I mean the buzzwords that slip into everyday business communication. When you find that your understanding of a key point is blocked by one of these words, ask a question. It is better to clarify a new idea quickly than to walk around with a low-quality explanation in your head.

Art Markman’s book “Smart Thinking,” with a formula for thinking more effectively, will be published in January, 2010. I’m sure you’ll be learning more about his ideas right here after the first of the year.


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