If you want to achieve, become a world-class learner. That’s the tweet-sized heart of this blog.
I grew up in a loving home of modest means. Creating a better reality for my future self became something of a mandate. Like my mom’s best friend used to say, “Money doesn’t suck, the lack of money sucks.” That certainly stuck with me, but I don’t chase after success just for the money. I am on this path because I want to play an active role in creating my life, and I enjoy the risks and rewards that come with accepting responsibility for the outcome. It’s a good gig.
My father instilled in me the “work hard” approach to life, and I’ve employed it to address basically all the challenges associated with this pursuit. That ethic has been both a blessing and a curse. Rewards certainly come from the “Git ‘er done!” mandate and the immediate, tangible results of a hard day’s work. But humility comes in seeing how slow my progress has been, precisely because I’ve address most challenges with the same strategy: work harder.
By nature, I’m very curious about the world around me. That curiosity has super-charged my hard work and allowed me to assimilate a lot disparate information. It’s also catalyzed one hell of an odyssey that’s seen me in 26 (or more) jobs, several industries, and fields of study as contradictory as music and business. Being naturally inquisitive has been an enormous asset to the hard work, as I have found a lot of better ways to work and have developed a unique and rich understanding of areas that intrigue me.
But work and curiosity don’t appear to be the total answer. After more than a dozen years in commercial real estate finance and a reasonably high degree of proficiency, my business doesn’t always make the progress I desire. Sure, I strive and that allows me to progress toward the target. But sometimes, I just work, and work, and work. Think Groundhog Day or The Truman Show. I’ll wake up today, do exactly what I did yesterday (work hard) and expect a different result. Yes, you got it right, that is the definition of insanity.
I suspect that I’m not the only entrepreneur in this boat. For me, and others in the ADHD camp, the view from the boat looks like this:
- Seek a better life
- Take the initiative and accept responsibility for the outcome
- Work hard and remain curious at all times
- Hit challenges/ceilings
- Think “working even harder” will break the ceiling
- Find that challenges/ceilings remain in place
Learning some valuable lessons along the way is the missing ingredient. Right now, there are about 1,645 billionaires on this planet. According to one source, approximately 73% of them might be self-made. How in the heck did these people get to where they are? Did they simply work even harder than me and the rest of the world? Obviously not; no one can work that hard. They’ve learned unique and powerful ways of thinking and behaving that enable them to direct resources with an efficacy few others can match. This isn’t meant to be about billionaires. They simply serve as a one example of the power of learning.
Let’s explore the kind of learning that I feel can impact results. Consider this PC analogy as a learning hierarchy:
- We learn right click processes to exploit new, perhaps more efficient ways to accomplish routine tasks.
- We learn/install entirely new software to direct the CPU to satisfy a need or desire.
- All this learning runs on the operating system in the background, the intelligent design that allows function.
My Journey: Some Personal Examples
I read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott on recommendation of an executive coach. The read, and following support by the coach, allowed me to see that by not having difficult conversations with those closest to me, I was doing both of us a severe disservice. Scott holds that “the conversation is the relationship.” I screwed up the courage to have my first “fierce conversation” and had such an incredible result that my view of conflict shifted completely. The conflict avoidance in my nature is still here, but I’ve now felt the joy of dialogue that’s outside of right and wrong, tit for tat, and respond to the instinct to pull back from the conflict by leaning into it. The conflict (my intuition that senses or feels it) has now become a beacon for growth. This learning has me seeing conflict in a completely new, and healthier, way.
Entrepreneur’s Organization, which I joined about 4 years ago, taught me how I avoided making hard decisions. The organization employs a “gestalt” method for examining challenges faced by those in the group. In a strictly confidential setting, people share without risk of judgement and garner direct feedback on the issue., Years back, I presented to the group that a myriad of business choices left me feeling confused and I wasn’t sure what to do. After a long series of low-ego, honest, experience-shares by my mates, I saw what was completely hidden to me until that time. I wasn’t confused at all. I was using confusion as a crutch to avoid making hard decisions. Now, I can see how my behavior may hold me back and consciously choose to move forward.
For help with strategy, I turned to Dave Crenshaw, a great business coach out of Salt Lake City. He refused to even discuss it until I learned and applied his time management system. His system forces everything in your life into the great common denominator, time. Everything goes onto the calendar, all of my tasks, meetings, calls, projects, and workouts. When I tried to get it all on the calendar it was painfully obvious that I was totally bankrupt on time. I was trying to do way too much (just work harder!!). Now, I try to say “no” much more, and focus on aligning my current efforts with long term goals. Also, before taking on anything new I ask myself: do I want this in my life? My “git ‘er done” tendency has been short-circuited and I may have finally learned one of the most important lessons of my life.
Each of these lessons has proved to be among the most material mile-markers along my journey. They shift the Rubik’s Cube in my hand in ways that allow new moves and a new perspective to arrive. They let “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” to be infiltrated by the impact of new tools. Personally, I want more of this rocket fuel. Goals like more income, more free time, more employees, better profit margins, better investment results, etc., are things to measure. They don’t impact with the power of learning events and tools that allow me to approach a problem in a new way.
But here’s the rub. This isn’t stuff that’s easy to learn. Unfortunately, you are not likely to learn what you need to by reading this blog. This kind of learning goes really deep. It is not retaining information and facts that pass as knowledge.
Even with the understanding that this kind of learning is the target, I continue to struggle to keep it front of mind and actively build, recruit, and manifest it. The tyranny of the present and my tendency to simply get it done, whatever it may be, hold me back. And ironically, the positive of these impediments are material contributors to what got me here!
Thankfully, I’ve found a few approaches that seem to accelerate or catalyze opportunities to grow. I’m no expert here, but I hope this approach to learning might help you.
- Get a coach. Very, very few athletes achieve all alone. Why do we (as business owners or simply high achieving humans) think that we can or should? I’m actively seeking a coach again for the insights that come from having my own baggage reflected back at me, and for the value of accountability. I also want to leverage off the coach’s experience influencing many others in similar situations.
- Seek out engaged and turned on people. Groups like Entrepreneur’s Organization are another resource. They say the best way to predict your income level is by looking at the five people closest to you. The money part of that, to me, is a reflection of the impact of powerful, vibrant, and shared dialogue, thinking and insights. The learning here can come while out for a surf, after three beers, a quick phone call, or as the result of a week or months-long grand dialogue.
- Accept vulnerability. I have come to see that my challenges are not really something I need to own. Sure, the baggage is mine, but taking it off and pointing it out allows for detachment and the understanding of new vantage points. Others’ vulnerabilities allow me to see how they, too, have insane hang ups that make no sense at all, just the same as I do.
- Embrace systems and measures. I don’t like to measure; it is a weakness of mine. But driving my awareness by employing objective and regularly recurring measurement is a fantastic tool. Athletes get to use clocks, scoreboards, judges, and tape measures. For those aspects of my performance and beliefs that I want to change, what can I measure? How can I evidence the status of the condition I want to monitor and change? At the moment, I am exploring sending daily emails to myself asking things like: “How well did I focus my efforts on building the business vs. doing the job? Rate it 1 to 10.”
- Heed your emotional experience. Remember how that brutal heartbreak changed your view of all other relationships? Notice what value experience has garnered in the professional world? Our deepest learning comes from experiences, not facts. Wisdom is imprinted upon our soul and changes who we are when emotion effectively brands it upon us. Tony Robbins and a few others make experience (not lecture) a key underpinning of their teaching method. Someone steals an employee, you feel it, you learn. You make a tax blunder, it hurts, you learn. Someone cheats you, you learn. Experiences that are emotional seem to mainline the kind of learning I’m talking about.
World-class learning allows us to change our beliefs, behaviors, and vantage points so we can employ internal or external resources to achieve our goals. While “all men are created equal” is a catchy phrase, our inequality is undeniably driven by our ability to learn. And the ability to learn is probably the single greatest equalizer that exists. The quality of our lives is driven by the quality of our questions. If you’re not getting all you hoped for from the gift of life, perhaps learning might be a place to focus your just-work-harder energies.
Original post by Kevin Choquette on LinkedIn Pulse can be viewed here.