Humility, Lifelong Learning and Success

Outstanding performance is one of the keys to personal and professional success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become an outstanding performer you need to do three things.  1) Stay on top of your game by becoming a lifelong learner.  2) Set and achieve high goals.   3) Get organized.  Manage your time, life and stress well.

Lifelong learning is important because the half life of knowledge is getting shorter and shorter.  If you don’t keep learning, you won’t even keep up, you’ll fall behind in the knowledge that you need to become an outstanding performer.

My best suggestion for becoming a lifelong learner is simple.  Read.  Read technical journals.  Read trade magazines.  Read business publications like “The Wall Street Journal”, “Business Week”, “Fortune” and “Forbes.”  If you think they’re too stodgy, read “Fast Company.”  Read your company’s annual report.  Read your competitors’ annual reports.    Read your local newspaper and “The New York Times”.  Read news magazines like “Newsweek” and “Time.”  Read business and industry blogs.  Read books.  Reading is the best way to stay up with what’s happening in business, in your industry and in the world. 

There are other things you can do to keep learning.  Attend seminars.  Join the major groups or trade associations for your industry.  Attend their meetings and participate.  Volunteer for committee work.  Become known locally in your field.  Take a class at your local university.  Use your company’s tuition reimbursement program to get a free undergraduate or Masters degree. 

But there is one other very powerful way to keep learning.  Pay attention to the people in your life – and not just those from whom you think you can learn something.  Pay attention to everybody.  The other day I came across a quote from Galileo, the father of modern astronomy…

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I could not learn something from him.”

I love this quote because it makes a great point about the importance of lifelong learning, it also reinforces the worth of each person. 

We all have our strengths — things we do well – and our weaknesses – things we don’t do well or need to learn to do.  If you’re humble enough to admit to your weaknesses, you can learn a surprising amount of things from a surprising amount of people.  A little humility can really help you learn.

The other day, I was in my local bike shop.  They employ several mechanics, most of whom – both men and women – are heavily tattooed and pierced.  I was watching one of the mechanics deal with an upset customer.  From what I could tell, the customer was making some pretty ridiculous demands – and not in a pleasant way.

I was wondering if the mechanic was going to smack him with a wrench.  I would have been tempted to do so if someone was treating me in such an obnoxious manner.  Instead, he stayed calm and listened.  He made sure he got the facts of the situation correct.  He explained the store’s responsibility and the customer’s responsibility in this situation.  By the time he was finished the customer not only agreed with him, he apologized for his behavior.

While I try to not judge people by appearances, I probably would not look to learn something about customer service from a 25 year old guy with tattoos and piercings.  (My prejudices are showing through here I’m embarrassed to say.)  Yet, because I watched I really learned something about how to resolve conflict.  In two words, I learned to “stay calm.”  That’s what this young man did.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are outstanding performers.  Outstanding performers are lifelong learners.  You can learn from everybody – if you keep your eyes open and are humble.  Pay attention to what’s happening around you.  If you do, you’ll be surprised at the useful information you can pick up in some unlikely situations and from some unlikely people.

That’s my take on being humble to learn.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.

Bud

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