When we are born, we know nothing. We are an empty vessel. The great mass and wealth of human knowledge is unknown to us. We each start completely from scratch, possessing none of what humanity has captured over the centuries.
Animals need only their instinct to survive. We need quite a bit more than our instincts, many of which no longer serve us. Unlike any other animal, we have the power to overcome our basic evolutionary instincts. We can suppress our base animal instincts, and we can use our free will to make decisions and choices about our lives and our futures.
It would be wonderful if at birth we could pick up right where humanity left off, knowing everything we need to know right from the start, and then building on top of that. It doesn’t work that way. We each start anew . . . sort of.
(Stay with me here. This post is really important lesson on sales effectiveness).
Learning What Is Known
We humans are clever creatures. We have come up with some ways to pass on what is known. We have found ways to make certain that every new human doesn’t have to relearn everything that is known from scratch.
We have cultures that pass on certain ideas, customs, and behaviors. We have tribal knowledge and tribal wisdom that is passed down through the generations. We have stories and legends that capture certain ideas and fundamental truths and explain why we do what we do, and why we are who we are.
We have societal rules and norms that establish boundaries and protect the culture and the individual from harm.
We also have parents, families, and communities that pass on prior lessons and knowledge.
And then, of course, we have an educational system, a system that was designed to educate young people and provide them with the skills and knowledge to succeed—even if it is presently only preparing them for a world that no longer exists.
Why We Stop Learning
One of the primary reasons we stop learning is that our culture and our society strongly suggests that, at some point, we have completed the task. You finished high school (which prepared you to work in an Industrial Age society), you finished college (which may have prepared you to work in a knowledge worker role in an Industrial Age society), and then you entered the workforce.
Our culture and our society suggest that you know enough.
We stop learning, in part, because we have outsourced the responsibility for our education to third parties, to organizations that are designed to take us only so far in our acquisition of knowledge. When they are finished, we incorrectly believe that we are finished learning.
We stop learning, in part, because we are so busy working, raising families, and living life, that we lose our focus—and some lose their desire—to learn, to know more. We spend our time instead of investing it.
We stop learning because we are rigidly attached to the idea that we know what we need to know to succeed. Too much is changing for any of us to stand still or to believe that no further investment in ourselves in necessary.
What To Do About It
Human knowledge is growing at an exponential rate. We are acquiring greater knowledge of how our universe works, and we are acquiring greater knowledge into why we are who and what we are. Not that the long-known universal truths are less important or less true than they might have been; they aren’t. But the rate of change is increasingly disruptive.
We are falling further and further behind as more and more is known.
All of this leads to the conclusion that it is likely that you have already stopped learning generally, and within your own domain and area of your expertise. But there is more for you to learn. There is more for you to know.
You must become a perpetual student.
Reading: I once told an undergraduate class I taught that they should cheat their way through life. I told them that the best and most effective way to cheat was to read books. An author spends a lifetime studying, collecting ideas, synthesizing those ideas, and publishing them in a form that makes them easily consumable by others. For $9.99 and 6 hours of your time, you can know everything that the author knows about their subject—without spending the 10,000 hours or more it took them to learn the same material.
Thinking: E.M. Forster, the English novelist, once said: “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” You have to spend time thinking about what you spend time thinking about. What do you already know? What do you already believe? What do you still need to learn? Like Forster, you can learn a lot by discussing ideas with other thoughtful people. There is a lot to be gained for thoughtful people who are open to acquiring new ideas and having theirs challenged. Discussing and sharing ideas, especially from diverse groups of people, can help you acquire new knowledge, new understanding, and new ideas that you can apply to your life and your work. Much of what we do here on the Internet is discussing ideas.
You can spend time thinking about how you can apply new knowledge to what you do and what you believe. You can do what Peter Drucker recommended and keep a journal of ideas and the decisions you made to see how they later turn out; you can examine your thinking and see how it progresses.
Writing: You can also learn a lot by writing. You can distill the lessons that you have learned, adding other ideas to what you know, and modifying your ideas and beliefs. Reading to identify new ideas, spending time thinking about the new ideas and the knowledge you obtain, applying that new knowledge to your life and your work, and then writing about it is a killer combination in the way of gaining knowledge and understanding.
These are some of the way you can become a perpetual student of the game of life, or any other game.
When it comes to sales, your sales training is like grade school and high school. It gives you a basic foundation, and it provides you with the very minimum that you need to know to be acceptably mediocre at your chosen craft, your profession. There are countless lessons available to you, and unless you are very aggressive and proactive about learning and capturing those lessons, they are lessons that you will miss. Unless you take your personal development into your own hands, you will be less effective than you would be otherwise, and you won’t be the value creator that you or your clients needs you to be.
Each of us starts knowing nothing. Too much is changing too fast for those who would be successful to stop learning. It is our own responsibility to cure ourselves of our own ignorance by becoming a perpetual student of the game, whether that game is life, sales, or some other game.
How was the foundation of your education developed?
At what age did your society suggest to you that you knew enough?
How do you ensure that you continue to learn and develop throughout your whole life?
What are the things that you need to study? What are the things that you would you like to study?
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