How to be a learner and a transformer
It is fascinating paradox that the more you learn, the more you want to learn. Conversely, the less inclined you are to learning, the less you learn and the slower you grow.
“The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” To keep pace with change and avoid disruption, a business leader must constantly learn and acquire new skills.
Learning helps us increase our readiness for the opportunities that change presents and our resilience to the inevitable challenges we will experience along the way. Whether you are in teaching, PR, marketing, banking or technology, learning is your strategic advantage.
Here are 14 techniques and tools to help you become a super learner, and change yourself and the world around you.
- Learning: the new money
The first step to great learning is to put it in its proper place and accord it top priority. Our capacity for learning is becoming the new currency we trade on in our careers.
Adaptive and proactive learners are highly prized assets for organizations, and investing in learning creates long-term dividends for our career development.
When we invest in our learning, we create long-term dividends for our career development.
Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, shared that when assessing founders of potential investments, he looks for individuals who have an “infinite learning curve”: someone who is constantly learning, and quickly.
- Intentional learning
Since we spend so much of our time, energy, and efforts at our day jobs, they provide the most significant opportunities for learning.
The challenge is that we don’t invest intentionally in everyday development — we’re so busy with tasks and getting the job done that there’s no space left for anything else. Be more intentional at learning at every opportunity.
- Curiosity chats
The people you spend time with are a significant source of knowledge. Creating a diverse learning community will offer you new perspectives and reduce the risk that you’ll end up in an echo chamber.
Set a goal of having one curiosity coffee or chat each month, virtually or in person, with someone you haven’t met before. This could be someone in a different department who could help you view your organization through a new lens or someone in your profession at another company or agency who could broaden your knowledge.
Experiments help you test, learn, and adapt along the way. There are endless ways you can experiment at work — for example, using different tools to increase the interactivity of your virtual presentations, exploring the impact of camera-on versus camera-off meetings, switching from video to phone calls, or even trying out new negotiation tactics.
For an experiment to be effective, it needs to be a conscious choice and labelled as an opportunity for learning.
- Create a collective curriculum
As a team, consider how you can create a collective curriculum where you’re learning from and with each other. Skills swaps are a good example of democratized development where everyone has something to contribute and is learning continually.
Unlearning means letting go of the safe and familiar and replacing it with something new and unknown. Skills and behaviors that helped you get to where you are can actually hold you back from getting to where you want to be.
During the pandemic, we were all forced to unlearn some aspects of our lives, like how we collaborated on work or what school looked like for our kids. Unlearning feels uncomfortable, but the past couple of years have reminded us how adaptable we can be.
- Connect with challengers
We unlearn when we look at a problem or opportunity through a new lens. This is more likely to happen if we’re spending time with people who challenge us and think differently than we do. The purpose of connecting with challengers is not to agree or debate but to listen and consider: What can I learn from this person?
Seek out people who have an opposite experience from you in some way. Asking people, “How would you approach this challenge?” or “What has your experience of this situation been?” is a good way to explore an alternative point of view.
- Identify habits and hold backs
We all have habits that helped us get to where we are today. However, habits can create blind spots that stop us from seeing different ways of doing things or new approaches to try out.
Our brains use habits to create mental shortcuts that might make us miss out on opportunities to reflect on and unlearn our automatic responses.
Create a habit tracker by writing down all the actions and activities you do by default over the course of a week. Pick three habits to consciously unlearn and try out a new way of working.
- Ask propelling questions
Propelling questions reset our status quo and encourage us to explore different ways of doing things. They often start with: How might we? How could I? What would happen if? These questions are designed to prevent our existing knowledge from limiting our ability to imagine new possibilities. They fast-forward us into the future and prompt positive action in the present.
To put propelling questions into practice, it’s helpful to pair up with someone else and take turns asking and answering questions. These 4 peer-to-peer propelling questions can get you started:
- Imagine it’s 2030. What three significant changes have happened in your industry?
- Which of your strengths would be most useful if your organization doubled in size or reduced in size?
- How could you transfer your talents if your industry disappeared overnight?
- If you were rebuilding this business tomorrow, what would you do differently?
Relearning is recognizing that how we apply our strengths is always changing and that our potential is always a work in progress. We need to regularly reassess our abilities and how they need to be adapted for our current context.
- Stretch your strengths
One of the ways to make your strengths stronger is to use them in as many different situations as possible. If you become too comfortable applying them in the same way, your development stalls.
Strengths solving involves relearning how to use your strengths to offer support and solve problems outside of your day-to-day work. This could be in your networks, organizations you volunteer for, or even side projects you’re involved in.
- Get fresh feedback
Looking at your skills from someone else’s perspective will help you identify opportunities to relearn. Asking for feedback can help open your eyes to your development blind spots and take back control of your growth.
When your objective is to relearn, we ask people better questions works that provide them with the safety to share candid feedback.
- Relearn resilience
Relearning takes resilience, and if you feel pessimistic about the progress you’re making, you might be tempted to give up. Refocusing on what’s working well can help you continue to move forward.
Try writing down three very small successes at the end of each day for two weeks. Your successes can come from your personal or professional life, and though it can be hard to spot them at first, the more you do this, the easier it gets.
A very small success could include asking one person for feedback, helping a colleague prepare for a presentation, or even cutting down on your sugar! At the end of two weeks, you’ll have 42 very small successes, creating the motivation and momentum to continue investing in your development, even when it feels hard.
- Knowledge management
How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose. This could not be truer today—but the way we’ve been socialized to think about information and knowledge is insufficient. Our formal education system treats knowledge as a fixed asset acquired during a certain phase of life.
In reality, knowledge is constantly changing, and good leaders never stop acquiring and assimilating it.