Man, did I used to think like a bonehead. Back in the day I couldn’t wait to finish college. My narrative went, “16 years of formal schooling is more than enough. Get me out of here!” As I began my senior year my father began pushing the notion of an MBA on me. Although I took the GMAT, that was as far as I went with it. I simply had no interest. It was time for me to get some education in the school of professional life.
Fast forward four years and I was transitioning careers from recruitment advertising – a now largely defunct field – to high tech communications. I retook the GMAT, and this time it felt different. I wanted to get an MBA. My intention was to round out my liberal arts undergrad degree and simply gain more of a business grounding I could leverage during my career. I pursued a part-time degree at Boston University and in 1994 got me my MBA. And THEN my learning was blissfully over. Thank GOD! Except that I really enjoyed the process, the learning and the camaraderie with some unique classmates who had very different backgrounds and work experience from mine.
Oh wait. After getting my MBA, I met my wife. We were professional colleagues, or should I say I was her manager for the storage subsystems division of one of our clients at a public relations firm. It turns out we had at least one thing in common. We each owned a copy of “Unlimited Power” by Tony Robbins. If you turn the clock back 22 years Tony had a much smaller following. His domain was largely late night infomercials, QVC, and…oh yeah….he DID work with Bill Clinton. Oops!
Tony turned both my wife and I onto continuous learning and growth for adults – the concept that personal development, aka the opportunity we have to take control of the wheel and become better versions of ourselves – was key to improving our sense of fulfillment in life. We both discovered that Mr. Robbins was a gateway for us to gain wisdom and practical counsel from other thinkers ranging from old school Western sages like Peter Drucker to new age spiritualists like Wayne Dyer.
And so it is that nowadays I constantly ask, “What is there that’s new for me I can learn that is relevant to my goals, hobbies, or philanthropic pursuits?” You see, it’s more than a professional game. It’s a life game.
That said, when I entered the professional workforce there were – to name just a few examples – no laptops, graphically-based computing interfaces, smartphones, Internet, apps, or the code that powers all this stuff. But we sure did have fax machines. Six minutes per page. Wow man!
My point is that the failure to constantly acquire professional knowledge and develop new skills we can apply to our vocations renders us obsolete ever more rapidly. As the late Nathaniel Branden stated aptly in “The Six Pillars of Self Esteem,” which he wrote more than 20 years ago:
“In a world in which the total of human knowledge is doubling about every ten years, our security can rest only on our ability to learn.”
This is all well and good, but is there a way to LEARN how to learn more effectively and efficiently? Veterans of MOOCs (massively open online courses) may be rolling their eyes by now, because they know the perennial number one MOOC is called, “Learning How To Learn.” Available for free on Coursera and taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, it is a quirky, somewhat geeky and yet altogether enjoyable four week adventure that teaches several key skills for increasing focus and retention and blasting away procrastination, reinforced by an abbreviated ‘101 level’ tour of the human brain. My favorite elements were the overview of focused versus diffuse modes of thinking, working versus long-term memory, and chunking. While the course is largely oriented toward students, those of us who consider ourselves students of life and who don’t have a degree in psychology or neuroscience will find plenty new to absorb here. The tips on improving reading comprehension alone are worth the price of admission, which again, is free provided you don’t want a completion certificate.
Taking this course and conducting some long excursions on the Nets woke me out of an admittedly drooling slumber. Although I have been well aware of the coming disruption in higher education caused by companies like Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy and others providing low or no cost courses in a range of disciplines, I had no idea how close at hand we are, as in right now. These are great times for the young ones in our world, including the huge numbers of whom are hard pressed to pay for an old-school education at a bricks and mortar institution.
Why this long dirge on continuous learning? Four weeks ago I wrote about “winning” and equated the concept less with the sports or business arena and more with becoming a better version of ourselves. I both highlighted and reinterpreted a powerful model from Derek Sivers with four steps that build upon each other: managing and directing your thoughts proactively, adding value and contributing to others, mastering ‘people skills,’ and engaging in continuous learning. During the last few weeks I expanded on the first, second and third principles.
Continuous learning and the willingness to evolve and adapt closes the loop. Without this we become sort of like that client my wife and I worked together on back in the mid 1990s.With it we can feed our ‘winning machines’ on an ongoing basis and gain the potential to become like some other company you may have heard of. Sure, you may come close to the brink once or twice, but there is nothing we all love more than a strong and enduring comeback.
I rest my case.