Learning to learn

Life is not a ladder. It is a series of bridges. Individuals and companies can learn from the little things in life for wisdom is not assigned to a select few, tried and tested, experts

Learning to learn
The other morning, while I was half groggy and caffeine craving, my youngest daughter asked me during the car ride, “Mom, how do you think?” Now my youngest daughter is a Chatty Kathy in the mornings and questions like these are par for the course. I did, however, have to think about how I thought. She waited for a minute, which is very long for a kid. Then felt her mother was being quite obtuse and tried to give me some examples so we could get to the answer faster. She said, “Well, mom, I think in a cartoon strip.” I was a little startled.

When I am in the middle of a thought process, my mind races, stops, jumps on another bus and then on to another. There are mind maps, word puzzles, half-baked ideas left stranded somewhere along the road to nowhere. It also got me thinking about how we learn and how often we actively engage in learning.

The process of learning for adults is interesting, says Deb Peterson and she cites Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning. He observed that adults learn best when:

(1) They understand why something is important to know or do; (2) They have the freedom to learn in their own way; (3) Learning is experiential; (4) The time is right for them to learn; (5) The process is positive and encouraging.

Companies can definitely learn something here and promote a more conducive environment to accelerate any form of learning if their training modules contained these qualities.

Apart from books and the usual suspects, other places of learning include:


Our world is changing so fast and while we are out earning a living, our kids are learning the language of social technology. They are gaming. They are instagraming. Some are facebooking. Some are YouTubing. They are communicating in code constantly. Their language is abbreviated, visual and one to many. They are first movers, demanding, preferential and fickle and, in some cases, the perfect target audience for a beta. Regular conversations with my children have resulted in many aha moments for me.


On the other end of the spectrum is the rich experience that the seniors bring to our lives. Of mistakes made. Of lessons learned. Of wisdom gleaned. In many companies, people who have been around for a longer time have so much to share. Knowledge harvesting can actually stop teams from repeating mistakes that have already been made. Who hasn’t heard some one say, “We did this launch this way a few years ago and it didn’t work.”


Give the intern or the newbie a chance to speak at meetings. Brainstorming should not be fenced. I remember being a newbie on a team and whenever I tried to say something, the manager would say “Well that is not how we do things around here.” After being reminded about that ten times, I learned to start doodling on those conference calls instead. Young ideas, untested ideas, eager ideas may not always be practical but there is a freshness and an enthusiasm that will hit the mark once you give it some water and sunlight.

The Others

Sales thinks marketing is a revenue drain. Marketing thinks sales should do better. Finance carries a big stick. HR doesn’t understand people. Stereotyping is boring and prevents crossover ideas. When I juggled my executive MBA and my full time job at Shell, I got a chance to try many hats, albeit briefly. I got a view into finance and ROI. I studied organisational change. Business information management and operations, among others. Obviously, I enjoyed some more than the others and ended up doing my thesis on online marketing. But I was certainly grateful for the 360 view. On the other side, regular dialogue with customers, business partners and vendors can provide some insights into improving the way a business is run.

This can be applied at home, in the community, at school. Did I leave anyone out? My point exactly!

Wisdom is not assigned to a select few, tried and tested, experts. Life is not a ladder. It is a series of bridges. Learning is everywhere. Everyone has something to teach. Every situation has something to offer. In success, there is best practice. In failure, there is room for improvement.

There is one caveat, though. Learning cannot happen if you are opinionated. If the right way is always your way, then the best way is to part ways.

All that is needed is curiosity, an avid interest in another viewpoint, the capacity to listen, the ability to ask the right questions and the humility to change your mind.

“Get over the idea that

only children should

spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”

—Henry L Doherty

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