The Magic of Lifelong Learning

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When is the last time you learned something new? And I’m talking about real, purposeful learning (as in, say, learning Italian) as opposed to mundane, everyday learning (as in, “Really? Cousin Mary’s having a baby? How wonderful!”) I’m talking about the kind of learning that takes a conscientious effort, and that really works the old brain muscle. If you’re like many people, your answer probably begins with some variation of, “Well, let’s see. I left college in….”

And that’s not good enough.

I’ve found over the years that I’m happiest when I’m learning something new. It doesn’t really matter what it is: how to speak a new language, how to pilot an airplane, how to dance the tango. I just like learning new things. I’m curious about life, and interested in virtually everything. I also find that I want to be around other inquisitive lifelong learners. If nothing else, it makes for a more interesting cocktail party (is there such a thing as a cocktail party anymore?) But more than that, it also makes for a better career as a leader.

A good leader can see a situation from many different perspectives. A good leader can put him or herself in the shoes of an employee, a customer, a shareholder. A good leader can also interact successfully with a wide range of people. And the reason a good leader can do this is because a good leader’s mind is versatile. It has both depth and breadth. It is constantly learning and seeking new opportunities to learn. The good leader doesn’t allow his or her mind to become stagnant. Ask a great leader what books they’re currently reading, and you can be sure you’ll get an interesting and enthusiastic answer. Now, compare this to the 42% of college graduates who never read another book after college, or the 70% of U.S. adults who haven’t been in a bookstore in the last five years. There’s a reason leaders become leaders.

The Beatles were constantly learning new things. They were already on top of the world when George Harrison took it upon himself to learn the sitar—a fiendishly difficult Indian instrument that is featured in the beginning of John Lennon’s song Norwegian Wood. Paul McCartney was always interested in learning more about composition and producing. And the evidence of the Beatles skyrocketing learning curve is clearly apparent when you see the growing sophistication of their albums, from With the Beatles through Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

Take it upon yourself to learn something new. Pick up a book, attend a class, visit The Teaching Company. Learn something new—preferably something that has nothing to do with your current business. You’ll broaden your mind and expand your awareness—and you’ll become a better leader in the process.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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