Why the Process of Learning Never Stops
The other day my daughter sent me pictures of her children playing a fun game — they’d spin a globe, point to a country at random and then head to the internet to learn about that country (Oliver wants to visit Guinea because he discovered they have diamonds and gold; Genevieve prefers Argentina because their houses are bright and multicolored).
I’ve also received pictures of them reading — their goal is to read 100 books in a month — and exploring an old weedy garden for worms, slugs and old potatoes.
The sense of wonder of a 6-year-old and 4-year-old is fun to watch. Everything is new, and the amount of possibilities of what to learn and do seem endless.
Those of us in the business world could learn a few things from these youngsters.
In fact, when you first started out in business as an entrepreneur or starting a career, you might have been a bit like Oliver and Genie. You read and researched, tried various ways to do things and generally had a sense of wonder about what lay before you.
But what about now – two or five or 10 years or more into your business? Are you still in learning mode? Or have you settled into a comfortable complacency?
One of the most dangerous times for a business is when it is enjoying success. That sounds like an oxymoron, but that is often when the owner relaxes a bit to rest on his or her laurels. Then it becomes easy to keep up the status quo, to go on autopilot and let the business run itself. It’s hard to justify spending more money on something that isn’t broken.
Soon, though, the business model that had been running so well starts falling behind. Others who have spent time reading and researching and trying new things speed on by.
I’ve seen it happen. One client of mine made beautiful oak bedroom furniture in two styles. He enjoyed a season of great success and so he kept on doing what he’d been doing.
Inevitably, a few years later his business dropped off. Other similar businesses began offering products in cherry, quarter-sawn oak and even exotic woods in a half-dozen new styles. People loved them and began purchasing those products instead of my client’s.
My client, though, steadfastly refused to budge — he’d been successful with his two styles in oak, and he wasn’t going to consider doing anything differently. The last I knew, his business was continuing its slow death spiral.
Researching, reading and learning can never stop for a business owner, and really shouldn’t ever stop for anyone.
One of the smartest people I’ve known is my dad, who dropped out of school after eighth grade. I don’t mean just street smarts or practical knowledge — his knowledge of the world, current events and history outshone that of many college graduates.
My dad was so smart because he never let his lack of schooling keep him from learning. He read voraciously — novels, biographies, magazines and the daily newspaper front to back — he listened to conversations and asked questions and, like my grandchildren, enjoyed a general sense of wonder about the world around him.
Talk to any of the most successful and smartest business men and women and you’ll find a similar theme. They never stop learning. They read, they research, they listen, they explore.
No matter what stage you are in your business — fresh startup, peak success or sliding back down — I challenge you to revisit that sense of wonder of young children. Grab a book written by a successful business person (there are thousands) and read. Even if you only learn one thing, that’s worth it. If you read 20 books in a year and only learn one thing from each of them, that’s 20 new things you can apply to making your business — and your life — run more efficiently and successfully.
And in the end, like Oliver, you’ll discover where the diamonds and gold are.