Learning and Education

I’ve spent my entire life learning things. As a kid I was always encouraged to learn things that other people didn’t even know existed, and that habit has carried to this very day. If you ever stop learning, you might as well just crawl into your casket and call it good. As human beings, it’s what we do.

Imagine my amazement last week when I was talking with a customer, a man named Tim whose family have cumulatively served as mentors to me the last several years, and he mentioned to me that he had put himself into a situation where he was learning a lot. We had a short conversation about it, and I’m sure he had a whole lot more on his mind than where the conversation went. Essentially I believe he’s had quite an enlightening year.

The great thing about this family is that while they operate a very large company, the problems they have are really not a whole lot different from mine. I have a lot of humbling moments when they ask me for my opinion. From the outside it looks like they have all of the world’s problems solved.

I’ve realized (and re-learned) over the years, and especially these recent years, that learning is a constant process. It’s a situation where times change, situations change, and old experiences have to reapplied to new situations. Somewhere along that path, somebody has to learn something new. While some situations are a little painful, a successful person acknowledges that the pain is simply a new lesson, and then does his best to learn quickly so it isn’t a lesson that has to be learned TWICE!

There are lots of schools that can teach you theories and concepts, and “standard” ways of dealing with business and life and so on. That’s all good and there is some value there because it does give a person a basic set of information to draw from when situations arise. This is called “education,” and the real learning will come when the information set has to be put into action.

Learning comes at many different levels, and from many different perspectives, and is induced by any given situation on any given day. The way to learn more and become more experienced is to put yourself in as many situations as possible throughout your life. Yes, some situations are tough or are uncomfortable, but you’ll never learn the lesson that comes from them if you don’t jump in with both feet and a good attitude.

I’ve got a book sitting here that I refer to often. It’s called “Lincoln on Leadership,” and most people that have worked for or with me have experienced quite a few of the concepts it introduces, along with MY little twist. We can probably agree that Abraham Lincoln was one of the most successful presidents in US history, and yet he spent most of his life facing hard times and adversity. His life was filled with challenges and there was a lesson to be learned on every corner.

One of the great things about Abraham Lincoln is that he spent his life being a leader, but not a dictator. He would give people a set of goals and then walk them through the process of meeting them. He would let people learn their lessons and bring the right answers to the table. It is well documented in several books I’ve read, how he would spend his days walking from government department to department, getting his information first hand and having real conversations with the people who actually did the work. This was unnerving to the War Department because they were used to doing things and then reporting the results later. However, what was really happening was that Mr. Lincoln was learning how things really worked on the ground. He was getting a daily dose of the kind of reality that doesn’t happen at the corporate level, and people admired him for the strong, intellgent decisions that came because of it.

As I go through life, the best lessons I’ve learned have been “on the ground.” Sure, there are always new things about office politics, upper management, and so on, but you don’t know what’s actually happening in your company unless you spend some regular time with the people who actually put your policies into action.