Learning & Growing…continuously

It should be a no brainer in today’s world that each and every one of us has to be learning continuously. Only with continuous learning, can we continue to grow. Changes and challenges incessantly impinge our lives. And the only “master-key” you have to overcome the challenges life throws at you is to be perpetually ahead on the learning curve…failing which, that same “curve” will fall on our heads, crush us under it’s weight and swamp and overwhelm us with situational demands.

Intellectually even if I understand this, do I follow this approach in my real life? Rather than listening, we are for ever busy holding forth, giving our perspective and what we consider our wisdom for the benefit of anyone within hearing distance. A friend once highlighted for me the traditional truth : when we speak, we are only repeating our own knowledge or views (which we already have); but when we hear, we most likely stand to gain something new and learn and grow. Remember God’s design has 2 ears and just one mouth: so listen twice as much as you speak??

Do not be afraid of your ignorance. When I say “I did not know this” what I am also saying is “I did not know this before, but now I know this” which is an euphemism to say “I am smarter and more knowledgeable now than I was before this interaction”. I know more now than earlier, so I am more intelligent now that I was yesterday. So should it not be common for people to accept “I did not know that”? But what do we actually see? Unwillingness to listen. Unwillingness to accept that I made a mistake. Unwillingness to say “I did not know that”. And in this process, who is the loser? Are you listening?

My advice is : wear your lack of knowledge as a badge of honor, flaunt it openly, say many times you do not know: and in the process learn new things, continuously. In our village there was a saying: when you do not have buttermilk at home and want to ask your neighbor: do not hide the utensil behind your back. Keep it in front for all to see. You are more likely to get buttermilk then!! I have found that when you show that you lack something, many people will come forward to help you. I have forever gained from the munificence of Good Samaritans. “Ask and it shall be given” as the Good Book tells us.

Today’s times are a ground swell of change. In this fast paced and ever changing world, solutions are often outdated even before they are fully implemented. No one person can have the privilege of being on top of all that is happening. I remember a T-shirt my daughter used to wear with a blurb: “If you are not confused, you do not know what is going on!!” Reality changes with the speed of a kaleidoscope! And so it is said that ” If you have not given up some of your ideas and opinions in the last 24 hours: check your pulse! You may be dead!!”

In this rapidly changing environment, no one can be a master of all that they survey. This is the genesis of team based solutions and using multiple experts to work together on fashioning a solution that is workable and lasts for long. And still retain the flexibility in the plans to heuristically change things as we move forward with implementation. Remember, the reality then is possibly going to be different from the reality now. The market place demands are always different from the planning or drawing board stage. Unfortunately we often forget that. And we get committed, nay stuck to cold plans etched on even colder drawing boards. To be successful we must continuously adapt and change. And be ready to learn.

Learning requires you to think different. We all remember how powerfully Apple used this campaign to launch their path breaking marketing approach and products in the late 1990s. In a similar manner, solutions to today’s problems require a flexible and varying approach. Think Different !! Literally like a Rubik’s cube, problem solving approaches will have to be iterative and yet new, innovative and yet consistent. Trying different routes and solutions till you hit on the right one. Rapidly prototyping solutions and then junking them to try something different. Keep on experimenting till you succeed.

Remember the famous story of Edison? He tried some 1600 different filaments and materials for the invention of the electric lamp. What would glow and cast light would burn out or blow; and filaments which withstood the heating, would not glow and give light. After he succeeded, as is the wont of journalists, Edison was asked how he felt about his 1599 “failed” experiments, before he hit on carbon filament which was suitable for a commercial lamp. Edison replied “I did not fail 1599 times. I KNOW 1599 elements that do not work” Learning from experimentation and failures is the key to building a viable solution.

Learning from problems and failures, using these experiences as feedback to further modify and improve your solution, trying new things, and different approaches… it is these iterative efforts that finally give us good solutions in today’s dynamic environment. A popular joke goes like this: Interviewer: “How have you been so successful?” Entrepreneur: “It is because of my good decisions” I: “How did you make good decisions?” E: “Because of my experience” I: “And how did you get experience?” E: “Because of my bad decisions”. Even after finding a solution: continuous learning is about still not giving up your pursuit for a better answer.

Nothing is so good that it cannot be improved. In another context of human endeavor Baron Pierre de Coubertin reminds us Citius, Altius, Fortius. In all efforts in Olympics (the best example of excellence in human pursuits) the motto is to go Faster, Higher and Stronger. It is said that athletes need “freedom of excess”. So also in finding solutions and achieving results we need continuous learning to grow continuously. The “freedom of excess” will take us further, farther and beyond. This is the ONLY route which will help us stay the course of challenges and hurdles that life is throwing our way. Renewing ourselves daily through learning and growing will help us overcome all the challenges and emerge as winners.

Wishing you the strength to break more molds as you learn & grow: vikas