It's Not What You Learn, It's How You Learn: What Every Business Leader Needs To Know

by Gurbaksh Chahal

The world is changing at a rapidly accelerating pace. What you learn today can be quickly outdated. How to learn, though, is a skill that will last a lifetime. When you think about it — it makes sense that we must be taught how to learn before we learn anything specific. But rarely, if ever, does that happen.

Just why is it so important? Your grandfathers may well have had just one job for their entire lives. Maybe your parents had two or three jobs. Well, many of today’s graduates will face three or four career changes throughout life. Careers — not jobs. And some of these careers may not even exist right now.

This is the extent to which the digital age is revolutionizing our world.

And, consider this: At one end of the business spectrum, a third of Fortune 500 companies vanish every 15 years. At the opposite end, nine of 10 startups fail within three years. A failure to learn and a failure to adapt are probably major contributing factors.

No matter how well-educated you are in a traditional sense, you must be prepared to continue learning if you want to be part of a business that thrives rather than dies. You can’t enter the workforce believing that because you’ve obtained a master’s degree, you are set for life. What you learned in college might not be all that relevant just a few years down the road.

But, if you learn how to learn, you’ll find that acquiring new knowledge and new abilities will be so much easier. Learning really should be a lifelong adventure and learning how to learn must take priority over what we learn — especially when you can’t predict with any certainty what skills you’ll need.

Too many schools today have still not stepped into the 21st century. Teachers still lecture. Students still listen and dutifully take notes. But many of us don’t absorb information that way; you have to find the way to learn that suits you best.

Some of us are visual learners and learn through sight. Picture, diagrams, demonstrations and videos are great tools for this type of learner.

Some of us are auditory learners and learn through hearing. Audiotapes, lectures, debates, discussions and verbal instructions are appropriate ways for these people to digest information.

Some of us are kinesthetic-tactual learners and learn best through physical activities and through direct involvement. This type of learner likes to be “hands-on,” moving, touching and experiencing.

All of us, to some degree, utilize all three types, but most people display a preference for one over the other two.

Identify your learning preference and make use of it. Convert your source of information to your preferred way of acquiring information and you’ll find that learning will become easier and potentially, fun.

I use a six-step process as a way to master any topic. In brief:

M. Motivating your mind.

You need to be motivated to learn. Frankly, if you don’t have the right attitude — if you don’t want to learn — you won’t be able to learn.

A. Acquiring the information.

As discussed above, you need to acquire and absorb the information in the way that best fits your sensory learning preferences.

S. Searching out the meaning.

All too often, we memorize facts to regurgitate them on tests. But, you must make sure you truly understand the subject matter.

T. Triggering the memory.

There are numerous memory strategies that can be applied (and numerous full-length books on the subject) to help you lock it down. Learning the meaning of the acronym MASTER is one of them!

E. Exhibiting what you know.

Find a study buddy to whom you can present information. It’s a great way to test yourself and prove that you have permanently acquired the knowledge.

R. Reflecting on how you’ve learned.

Reflect on the learning experience. Not what you learned, but how you learned it. Then, you’ll find an approach that’s perfect for you.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to take charge. You’ll become a self-managed learner. Most people use only a fraction of their brain’s capacity because they have not been taught how to use what they already have.

Traditional school didn’t do it for me. But, because I was restlessly hungry for real-world experience, I made the life-changing decision to drop out at the age of 16 to pursue my dream of creating my first startup business. I learned all about business by actually doing it and of course, by making a ton of mistakes along the way. I don’t seek to influence people by saying the academic path is wrong; it just depends on how you absorb information.

That’s what learning is all about. As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

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