Saturday, November 29, 2014

What I wish I had known :: Lesson 2 :: Learn to Learn

Lesson 2 is all about learning.  Learning to do new things, behaving differently, breaking the shackles of theory, observing, experimenting, or just thinking and dreaming about how to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem.

In India, the chances are, that we learnt only what we were taught - the definitions, details, steps, examples. We were told what to do and we did it.  We were graded on how well we did what we were told to do.

I know that this sounds harsh and that there are many schools today that help people learn differently, but I am assuming that most of us were "taught".

Well, things are different in Corporate India. Yes, we are told what to do, and how to do it. Sometimes! But we are also expected to conceptualize, create, innovate, experiment, research, extrapolate, and observe from experts and implement our learning in our work environment. How do we make this transition?

We Need to Learn to Learn!

Forget: Corporate India is going to expect you to forget large parts of your education. You are going to have to unlearn what you have learnt to learn something new. You would have made many presentations with bells and whistles to draw and retain attention.  Well, we now want you to be more effective using staid corporate guidelines and styles. Forget what you have done in the past and relearn the tool, our way!

You are going to have to learn to forget how things were done, and done successfully, as business environments change at an alarming rate. Forgetting and starting from scratch, using first principles helps bring new solutions to newer problems.

Observe:  Think of how you learnt to drive.  The chances are that you learnt this by observing others' drive and the things that they cursed when driving.  Similarly, I was not taught how to make a dosa.  My mother told me that as a toddler, I would stand by her, and shrug my shoulders, moving them up and down, mimicking how the edges of dosa separate from the tawa, to tell her that the dosa was ready to be flipped over.  I learnt by watching my mother make countless dosas.

I learnt how to make presentations, use humor to diffuse a situation, to make an elevator speech, to be inclusive and many more things, by simply observing others.

Read:  Learn to learn by reading.  Read anything you want – fiction, fantasy, biography, crime; anything! Reading builds knowledge; it builds the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes; it broadens your general knowledge.  Reading has held me in good stead, when I need to find a common topic to make a customer comfortable, helped me empathize with others by putting myself in their shoes as I do when I read a book and become the protagonist.

Read diverse topics. Reading just work related stuff will make you one-dimensional. Truly, you never know when something you read will be useful. Just read. Devour what you can. Your brain will bring it to the forefront when you need it.

Experiment:  How many of you have watched one of the countless cooking reality shows and while you learn to make new dishes, have at the same time thought of tweaks that you believe will make the dish better? If you have actually tried these tweaks – you have experimented. Whatever the outcome – a full stomach or the dustbin, you have learnt something.  Revel in it. You will be able to repeat an experiment gone well or avoid a failure.

In the workplace, you are constantly looking for where to experiment and then doing the experiment. You will fail, and you will pay for that failure.  But you will also learn from the failure, and you will also succeed beyond your wildest dreams. There is no limit to experimentation.

Be Consistent: The best way to learn to learn, is to consistently learn something new. Learn a language, learn to dance, or to play an instrument, or to cook, or program your TV or to write. I have just learned to write a blog. Each time I learn something new I am building the muscles of my brain to do something new; I am shoring up experiences that I will be able to bank on at a later date.

“Doesn’t this take a lot of time?” you think. "I simply don't have the time!"

Not really. I do a lot of this learning subconsciously.  Just imagine how much better I would be if I consciously looked for learning opportunities, and just jumped into them without over-thinking! 

I learned very early in my career to update my resume every 6 months, not to look for another job, but to determine if I was learning new skills. I do that even today, 29 years later. I know when I am stagnating and when I am growing.

Unlearn, Learn, Re-Learn – Spend the Time

It’s worth much more than the minutes spent

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