Tag Archives: learning

Learn as much as you can…

Recently, I sat for an hour with a sales representative from Oracle. (One of those chance, accidental encounters). He knows his stuff.  He knew things, many things — things that I did not know. We talked about the Cloud, and “adding value,” and the challenges brought by new, unexpected competitors… We talked about a lot.  I think he appreciated insights I shared from recent books I’ve read, especially Team of Teams.  But, I know I appreciated his tutorial.  I learned things — things I did not know. Words and concepts that I’ve read about became understandable. He “explained” things in the course of our conversation, and I was grateful.

Which got me to thinking…

Who do you learn from?

This is not an unimportant question.

Narrow expertise is indeed valuable. But, ever-increasing broader knowledge is also valuable; maybe even more valuable.

Assuming we have acquired some level of basic knowledge, what happens next is that we tend to learn from people:

  • in our field
  • who think like we think

In other words, what we learn may provide a slight, continual, ongoing expansion of our capabilities and knowledge (this is good), but a failure to expand our horizons; a failure to learn from some one or some ones “outside” our normal viewpoints.

And, to fail to take advantage of that wider world of knowledge is not only a mistake, it could be increasingly a threat to your own future and that of your company. One of my favorite quotes is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Black Swan:

The library (i.e., your personal library) should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real- estate market allow you to put there.

It reminds me that our knowledge is narrow, and the available information out there is so very vast.

And, the more we learn — the more we read and learn from “outside” our normal interests — the better equipped we will be to make sense of this diverse, collaborating, so.many.things.meshing.together world.

So… a simple suggestion. Read something, pretty regularly, from an author you normally would not read, in a field you know little about. And find more “accidental, chance encounters” with people who could teach you about something you know little about. It might be a surprisingly valuable way to spend some of your time.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Learning Takes Time

Maybe because I have spent a lot of years reading and studying…

It seems that the pressure is growing stronger by the day to make quick decisions, read many, many short items, and rush from task to task…

Maybe I am defensive. My formal education is in the “Humanities.” The Humanities is in the mode of “we better defend our existence” these days. At times, I envy those STEM folks. They learn tangible lessons; how to use math, how to code. I didn’t learn such tangible lessons. In fact, I never liked the classes I had to take in my graduate work in “statistics.” I should have – but I didn’t.

I remember especially one professor whose exams were open-ended essay questions. We had to write – a lot! And, though there were certain points we had to cover to make the grade, we really had to demonstrate that we had learned how to think about some pretty good and big questions and issues…

Anyway, I wonder if our modern educational path is leaving such behind, and that it might be hurting us in some way.

I thought of this as I read this article: “The Decline of the American Actor – Why the under-40 generation of American leading men is struggling—and what to do about it” by Terrence Rafferty from The Atlantic. He starts it this way:

Is it time for American actors to take a hard look in the mirror? Earlier this year Michael Douglas mused darkly to a magazine interviewer, “I think we have a little crisis going on amongst our young actors at this point,” and Spike Lee, commenting on the “invasion” of black British actors, had some pithy observations on the subject, too: “You want talented people,” he said, and British actors’ “training is very proper, whereas some of these other brothers and sisters, you know, they come in here, and they don’t got that training.” Douglas and Lee, just like the rest of us who go to the movies, are a tad puzzled about why so many good American roles have been going to English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Australian, and Canadian actors. The phenomenon may have reached its unignorable peak in last year’s docudrama Selma: the parts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Governor George Wallace, and President Lyndon B. Johnson were all played by Brits.


The British are coming!

Read the full article. He basically makes the case that the modern young American actors (primarily the men) are skipping the needed steps (years of these steps) in training.

OutliersI thought of key business books I have read. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and his popularization of the 10,000 hour rule. And then, the needed “next read” to Outliers, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Mr. Colvin demonstrates that just any old 10,000 hours isn’t enough. It requires 10,000 hours of disciplined, deliberate practice – working on something for the purpose of getting better at it. (A careful reading of Gladwell would show that he fully agrees with this. In other words, 10,000 hours does not make you the best. But the right 10,000 hours gives you a decent shot at being really, really good!).

I think of one of my professional pursuits. I present synopses of business books. I guess in order to save folks time – so they can “learn quickly.” So, I feel a little guilty about this. I wish that we could just sit in silence, for quite a few hours, read the books, then talk about the key stories, the key lessons, and takeaways.

But, these days, the 15 minute version of the synopsis seems too long for some people. I’m now getting e-mails with fast-paced graphics about 4 minutes in length, promising to teach me the essence of a book in 4 minutes. My 15 minute version seems excrutiatingly slow to some people – so “yesterday.”

“Learn fast” seems to be today’s mantra.catspeedread

I remember a Mad Magazine graphic from my early years. It was a drawing of Grandma in her kitchen. Flour and sugar and pie crust are everywhere, including on her face, her apron, on the floor… She is pulling a beautiful cherry pie out of the oven. It looked delicious! But, her face was furious at the words coming over her kitchen radio. An announcer was promoting buying the latest frozen pie, to pop in the oven, and cook in just a short time. The tag line: “Better than Grandma could ever make.”

Learning takes time. There is no “pop in the oven for an hour and get all that you need” shortcut. Learning takes work, serious thinking, and lots of time devoted to the process.

I do realize that many jobs allow little such time for such learning work. But, I think that may be hurting us in ways that we can’t and don’t quite yet understand.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Who Do You Learn From?

SomThe Road to Charactere people seem to think that they don’t need to learn from anyone. They will pound out their own direction, chart their own course. They can do it on their own – they think…

But, for most of us, we need to learn from others. And even if we chart a portion of our own course, we rely on those who went before.

Last Sunday, Fareed Zakaria had part two of his interview with David Brooks, prompted by Mr. Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character. Here’s a critical and enlightening portion of that interview (from the transcript). I’ve bolded a key portion:

You grow up in an ecology and you inherit a certain tradition, a certain gift from the dead of how to be good. And so, there are a whole bunch of things you can believe in. There’s a Greek tradition, a classical one, which emphasizes honor and courage and glory. There’s a Jewish one, that emphasizes obedience to law. There’s a Christian one on salvation and grace. There’s a scientific one, rational thought and thinking your way to a good life.

So there are all these different traditions. They have all been handed down to us, and I’m not going to tell a young person which one to believe, but pick one. Because we tell them you’ll come up with your own world view. Well, if your name is Aristotle, Aristotlemaybe – with your own real view. The rest of us, we have to learn from somebody else. So, the dead have given us this great gift and I just lay them out for the students and for the readers of the book and I say pick one. It will help you out to inherit a tradition, a full integration that greater minds than your own who know you better than you know yourself have left for us as presents.

I’ve jed-catmull-steve-jobsust finished reading Becoming Steve Jobs. And, just last week, I completed reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar. I came away with this from the two books: though Mr. Catmull never quite claimed credit, it’s pretty clear that Steve Jobs learned much from him – considered him a mentor.

Steve jobs had a reputation that he was pretty much his own course charter. But, he learned from another – he was willing to learn from someone else, and Ed Catmull seemed to be the right fit, at the right time.

So, the question is, today and always, who are you learning from? Unless your name is Aristotle, you probably should develop a teachable spirit, and be on the lookout for your next mentor/teacher/guide.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Smarter Teams, Smarter Use of Technology, and a Smarter You

I went on a middle-of-the-night reading binge last night (couldn’t sleep). So, three thoughts, all from my reading…

Thought #1 – we’ve got to make our teams smarter.

This comes from Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others by Olimpia Zagnoli. She writes well about time wasted and effort wasted by teams done badly. And she proposes three ways to make teams smarter (all research-based…). Here are the three findings/suggestions:

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

Thought #2 – we’ve got to be smarter using our technology.

This one is not yet available to watch. But, in an upcoming debate at the great site IntelligenceSquaredUS.org, they’ve got quite an upcoming debate (May 13) on SMART TECHNOLOGY IS MAKING US DUMB. Here’s the descriptive paragraph:

Smart technology grants us unprecedented, immediate access to knowledge and to each other—a ubiquitous and seamless presence in everyday life. But is there a downside to all of this connectivity? It’s been said that smart technology creates dependency on devices, narrows our world to echo chambers, and impairs cognitive skills through shortcuts and distraction. Are smart tech devices guiding so much of our decision making that we are losing autonomy without even realizing it? Or are these concerns an overstatement of the negative effects of high-tech consumption?

I look forward to this debate. Just click over to take a look at the speakers debating the issue. (Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, is one of the voices arguing for the motion).

Thought #3 – We need smarter people; you need to be a smarter you.

This was the read for the weekend/month…maybe year. It is a very thoughtful, provocative essay: Among the Disrupted by Leon Wieseltier. Here’s the opening of the essay:

Amid the bacchanal of disruption, let us pause to honor the disrupted. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of bookstores and record stores, which have been destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry.

And a few more excerpts:

And even as technologism, which is not the same as technology, asserts itself over more and more precincts of human life, so too does scientism, which is not the same as science.

Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life.

There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life.

TecnnopolyThis essay reminded me of the warnings and insights of the still more than relevant Neil Postman in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Mr. Postman wrote this in the early 1990s, just before Netscape opened up the masses to the internet and the World Wide Web. After I finished reading this essay, I pulled my copy of Technopoly off my shelf, and re-read the opening pages. The essay, and Postman, made me think…

Anyway, let me say in the strongest possible terms, READ THIS ESSAY! It will help you think about being a smarter you in the midst of the current technology-rich cultural rumblings.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Re-Thinking What it Means to be a Learning Organization

Read these quotes carefully:

If you’re running a big company today and are not aware of these technologies—not to mention how they might impact your company—you are simply not doing your job.

Constant learning is critical to staying on the exponential curve.

John Seely Brown and John Hagel have observed that although all of our large organizations are set up to scale efficiencies, in this new economy what we actually need to scale is learning.

What is needed now are new dashboards that measure the learning capability of organizations.

How can the board guide a CEO if it is not aware of the potentially disruptive changes the company faces?

Exponential OrganizationsThese all come from Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it) by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone, and Yuri van Geest.

So, here’s the problem. I’m a big fan of the idea of life-long learning. I believe in learning. I want to encourage others to learn; I want to challenge others to learn.

I read books, I listen to TED Talks, and other videos, and I value learning.

Or, so I thought…

There are books that I love to read because they just teach me information that I need filled in (like, The Innovators). But there are also books that I read that sort of slap me in the face, and remind me that I don’t even fully grasp the questions and challenges…

Exponential Organizations is that kind of book.

Of the many reactions I am having reading this book, here’s a key one: I have probably mis-defined the idea of a “learning organization.” To the authors of this book, they define “learning” as actual exposure to, and then adoption of and mastery of, new technological tools. The new technology itself and the new ways it can be put to use.

And, on that count, I have not yet learned to learn.

I’m presenting my synopsis of this book this Friday, and will blog about my takeaways early next week. But here’s my thought right now – if I am not actually doing some new things, kind of “all the time,” then I am not much of a learner.

The book clearly describes why companies that don’t learn to learn are left behind.

And, now, I realize better than ever, why I have some serious catching up to do…

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Learning to Learn—and then Continually Learning

I think I better understand why it is important—imperative—to have a true learning society.

I’ve just read the first chapters of the book Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Bruce C. Greenwald. It is one of those “academic, to-the-point” writings. And it is excellent.

First, read these excerpts from the book:

Not only Creating a Learning Societyis the pace of learning (innovation) the most important determinant of increases in standards of living, the pace itself is almost surely partially, if not largely, endogenous.
Development entails learning how to learn.
In reality, more firms operate well below their production possibilities curve.
There are large gaps between “best practices” and “average practices.”
Most firms are forever “catching up.”
America seems to have learned how to learn.
How do we move economies to the frontier, and how do we move the frontier out.
There is always a knowledge gap.

(Note: endogenous means having an internal cause or origin; growing or originating from within an organism).

Here’s what I think the book is saying:

  1. There is a current “best” in any and every field. Call this the “frontier.”
  2. The vast majority are not operating at that current best.
    “Most firms operate well below their production possibilities curve.”
  3. This gap between best and less-than-best is true for individuals, companies (and specific departments within companies), and entire countries.
  4. The person/firm/country that is behind the “best” will inevitably fall further behind the best.
  5. The “out-in-front” are “moving the frontiers out,” while all others are simply trying to get closer to the frontier that the leader has already reached.
  6. Even those at the frontier, the best, are not the best in every single portion of their operation.
  7. Thus, the need is to learn to learn, to keep learning, and as you learn, keep moving toward the frontier or arriving at the new frontier (which will not remain the frontier for all that long).

The book has much to say about how governments can help empower such learning, or can in fact clamp down and make it harder to practice such learning processes.

In other words, learning to learn, and continuing to learn, is now the survival skill of the age – for individuals, for companies, and for entire countries and societies.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

%d bloggers like this: