Do you want to become a “Learning Machine”?

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” — Arie de Geus

learning machine

In a world of constant change, so called “experts” with static knowledge won’t take us any far.

Learning comes in multiple forms. One of the ways we learn is through exposure to various media including books, videos, internet etc. The best of our life’s learning comes when we are interacting with other human beings i.e when we apply what we have ‘learnt’

In our interactions with people, we tend to behave positively when we get appreciated and the other way when we get a critique. I have seen this in my own behavior at times.

A true learner has a beginner’s attitude all the time. We can call this the “I know nothing”mindset !

What would make me assume a naïve state of mind even in those areas where I have so far considered myself to be relatively good at ?

What would motivate me to do that ? It would only have to be the desire to constantly learn!

Desire (real-time) + Knowledge (real-time) = Success (in real-time)

My hack to getting closer to this wish of being a‘learning machine’ is what I intend to share in this edit.

Let us get into some real life scenes and see how this plays out .

Scene 1:

A functional leader is making a presentation on how last month/quarter went in his/her business area to a larger team.

Typical approach:

The leader shares what happened to the audience,.He tries to make a good impression by isolating all the good things and highlight them. He mentions few challenges so that it looks complete.

Expected behavior:

The leader expects some peer group acknowledgements on the good achievements. He also expects some support on the challenges from the audience.

Let us just change the perspective on the approach to this presentation for a momentto :

Learn to understand the diverse perspectives on key challenging areas as it is very difficult to get all such minds together with their quality time”

What do you think the behavior of the presenter will be with this perspective?

It could be,

The leader quickly rushes through key events and spends most of the time in blowing up the challenge areas (areas not working) and seeks support from the audience. Suddenly the presenter exposes himself (demonstrates his ability to handle vulnerability), thereby starting to show a beginner’s attitude.

As you may observe, the outcome of such a discussion is very productive for the individual, the group and the organization.

What caused this transformation? We just added two words “Learn to” to the task ahead. It is the articulation of what we want to accomplish that makes a huge shift in our behavior.

Let us now move to another business scene.

Scene 2:

A sales person is attending a key meeting with his/her client to sell his/her product.

Typical approach:

The salesperson tries to sell the product explaining how the product can help the client by boasting of all the key features and benefits of the product.

Expected behavior:

The sales person expects the client to sign up or move forward to the next stage of discussion.

Let us just change the perspective on the approach to this client meeting to :

Learn to understand the key challenges of the client in the area the product serves, and see how he/she could make the product and service relevant to their problem”

The sales person’s behavior now could be:

We can expect the behavior of the sales person to be lot more empathetic, and listen to any critique of the product on offer and explore possibilities while the discussion is on. The sales person would be alive during the discussion. He/she might even be acknowledging some of the client’scritical views without any defense.

It is the narrative we say to ourselves that impacts our behavior and hence the outcome !

An example from my own habit on how this plays out. I read a lot and many of what I read sounds interesting but evaporate with few aha moments.

My old narrative used to be “Complete reading this interesting book on start-up”

My new narrative is “Learn how to manage a start-up using the experiences of others”

The new narrative makes me note down key pointers and convert them into actions as I read the book. It also makes me ask a lot of questions, as I am interested in application.

My 2 bits to become a learning machine is to simply use narratives starting with “Learn” before committing time to activities.

Learning follows !

While browsing the net for good content on this subject , I stumbled upon this TED video by Ramsay Musallam (a teacher). You may find it very useful.

These 3 messages left an impression for me from the video,

“It is the student’s questions thatare the seeds of real learning”

“Curiosity comes first”

Finally, the gem

“Can we be our own Surgeons (Reflection) and save ourselves and others !”

Be naïve , Be a beginner, always …

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ps: this article was earlier published by same author in ETRetail