Learning is Better than Being Learned

There is a global push to prioritize learning in the workplace, and it’s about time. The concept of continuous growth and learning should be woven into the fabric of every company rather than viewed as a benefit, afterthought, or extra activity, according to this Inc. article. Similarly, this HBR piece says ongoing learning is an economic imperative, and it goes on to include ideas for making learning a part of everyday work. The desire for learning is evident, and companies are beginning to create space for it.

Prioritizing education is necessary today when business models are changing (and therefore transforming culture) overnight. But there is a difference between learning and being learned, and author and philosopher Eric Hoffer nails it with this quote:

“In times of change the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Being learned no longer suffices, so it is time to become a learnerThis requires the right mindset. 

Growth Mindset

Mindset is, in the words of John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, “everything.” The authors go on to say, “perception may not truly be reality, but when it comes to how we approach challenges and opportunities, mindset determines the world we encounter and possibilities we apprehend.”

Your mindset, or the stories you tell yourself about the world you encounter, influences your outcomes. Mindset really is everything.

You may have heard of the Growth and Fixed Mindsets. Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, came up with a spectrum of mindsets which has Growth on one end and Fixed on the other. While the Fixed Mindset regards skills and abilities as unchangeable, the Growth Mindset embraces the belief that you can work toward abilities and improve through practice. Dweck’s TED Talk, which has been viewed nearly 9 million times since its release in 2014, is a good introduction to the Growth Mindset if you aren’t familiar.

We are 100 percent Team Growth Mindset. But in this post we’re going to look at another mindset — one which falls on the Growth side of Dweck’s spectrum — which we think is required for continuous learning.

Curious Explorer Mindset

There’s what you plan for and then there’s what actually shows up. The Curious Explorer Mindset is concerned with the “what shows up” space. The everyday surprises which require new ways of thinking and acting. 

The Curious Explorer Mindset is inspired by great explorers, who are ever-curious and always looking for the next metaphorical frontier. Explorers pursue new territories with imagination, focus, and resilience. They look at challenges as opportunities for discovery and adopting new ways of thinking, and they are quick to pivot when things don’t go as planned — which is often.

Like explorers themselves, the Curious Explorer Mindset embraces little actions early and often; experiments you can learn from and build upon. You can’t plan for something you don’t know you are about to face (we call this the Unknown Zone), and this mindset equips you with a lens which can produce clarity when there is no certainty. And to the dismay of the learned, the times when there is no certainty are plenty. In situations like this, learning is better than knowing something that isn’t applicable.

Believing skill can be acquired through learning and practice, as the Growth Mindset maintains, is a good place to start. The Curious Explorer Mindset takes it a step further and encourages learning through exploration.

Learn through exploration

Exploration comes in all shapes and sizes. Getting out and experiencing new things, hearing new conversations, and learning new ways of thinking are all ways to explore. The reason this benefits you is because when you’re in the unknown, you can draw on all of these different experiences you’ve collected while exploring. When you are out trying to observe and listen, you will see things the learned will not.

If exploration is new to you, here are some everyday ways to explore:

  • Stop at a new coffee shop on your way to work. Check out the surroundings (decor, configuration of the space, etc.) and listen to conversations. You’ll hear what others care about.
  • Work out of a co-working space you haven’t visited yet. This is a great way to meet new people, hear about other businesses, and see how others spend their days.
  • Visit a museum over your lunch break. See what generations before you cared about. Pay attention to how they used art to share messages. Notice the people around you and the conversations they are having.
  • Take a cooking class. Learn about new cultures as you stretch yourself, make mistakes, and learn as you go.
  • Attend a TEDx conference. These happen all over the world on a daily basis and the topics are as vast as they are interesting.

Mini explorations like these put you in unknown situations, all of which are opportunities to test out the Curious Explorer Mindset.

How to be a lifelong learner

Being a learner enables you to adjust quickly to inevitable change. Instead of falling back on what you know to be true, you can be out learning about what is really going on. This puts you in a position of being proactive rather than reactive.

You’ve already got the learning part down; you’ve done it since you were young. But being a continuous learner requires a little bit more intention. Here are 10 practices to incorporate into your everyday life so you can go from being learned to being a learner:

  1. Adopt the Curious Explorer Mindset. Tap into the list above for opportunities to take this mindset for a test drive.
  2. Take small steps for early learning. With small iterations, you create a lot of space for learning. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling and seeing if it sticks. If it does, it’s ready. If it doesn’t, you know your pasta needs to cook longer. The same goes for ideas.
  3. Seek clarity, not certainty. Certainty doesn’t exist when you are in the unknown. But you can gain clarity by taking small steps in order to learn, and just getting out and doing instead of staying back and planning.
  4. Be endlessly curious. Annoyingly curious! Be curious about anything and everything.
  5. Pivot when necessary. By taking small steps, you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Apply those learnings and make changes when needed.
  6. Prioritize good questions, not clear answers. Asking questions puts you in a position to learn, having answers puts you in a position of being learned. You now understand this distinction.
  7. Observe. There is so much going on around you everywhere you go. Pay attention to what you see, then go learn more about it.
  8. Take risks without being reckless. Alex Honnold famously climbed the 3,000-foot El Capitan wall without any ropes — an enormous risk — but he wasn’t reckless about it. He planned and practiced until he had every step memorized. Now Alex is one of the most recognized climbers in the world.
  9. Replace “failure” with “learning.” Every time you do something and it doesn’t work out, you learn something you didn’t know. Given the choice between failing and learning, we’ll take learning any day.
  10. Reflect. Give yourself the space you need to process all of the new information you collect.

The need to keep learning isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it will only become more necessary as time goes on. Keep these 10 practices in your back pocket and you’ll be well ahead of the learned, who will be beautifully equipped for a world which no longer exists.

Just don’t forget your Curious Explorer Mindset.

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If you are interested in putting your Curious Explorer Mindset into action, check out our programs and events. We have a lot going on in 2019 for those interested in continuous learning.

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