Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 106 – Never Stop Learning

There is one thing the uber successful people do all the time. There is an added bonus for those who may think this “one thing” is a little simplistic, but I am here to tell you – if it works for the business leaders, CEO’s, entrepreneurs and every person you or I would consider “successful” then we should take note and apply that information to our own lives.

So what is it?

Never stop learning.

That’s it? So you are talking professional development?

Actually no, not really, because I think the lessons we can learn come from every discipline, and melded together can form some amazing insights into our world and the people we interact with.

Think about it. Who do you have the most stimulating discussions with? What branch of “education” are they from? I would be surprised if you say they are from exactly the same field, with the same background and education as yourself. When I am challenged it is because I am speaking to people who make me THINK. Last Thursday is a prime example. I had dinner with 3 friends. One has an MBA and ran his own advertising agency. He now builds websites and what he doesn’t know about search engine optimisation and social networking you could write on the back of a postage stamp. The second person manages large health network projects and computer infrastructure. The third person in our group is a physicist and cloud computing expert. And then there was me.  To say I know a little about all of those subjects was probably a good thing as I was constantly on my toes and what I learned over a glass of red and an evening of Asian cooking and stimulating conversation was taken on board and back to the office.

How do you even begin to have those kinds of conversations and keep up? I read. No, strike that, not only do I READ, I read and absorb a massive amount every single day. I have journals full of insights and thoughts. But – this is one of the keys I will share with you – I only read what excites me. Yes I will read the boring, academic papers if I have to, but more often than not you will find me reading everything from how fear drives our lives, through psychology to the digital realm and everything in between. But it has to capture my attention and quickly. The publisher is right with this one – capture their attention in the first paragraph or you’ll find your books in the remainders shops before you can say “the hunger games”

Before I forget, the second thing a lot of the successful people do (I can’t say that for all of them, just look at the size of some of these people) is exercise.

Exercise! As in go to the gym and pump iron?

Personally I don’t care whether you walk the dog twice a day, run for the bus, run marathons or hit the gym; I just know (speaking from experience) I feel better, more energised and have more breakthroughs during and for about an hour after exercise. How many times have you had a breakthrough or a great idea “when you are in the shower?” Think about it for a moment – showering is perhaps one of the only things we do for long enough on our own (as in with no distractions) to allow the brain time to delve into what has been poured into it recently and able to sort through the bits and fragments. The only other way I know how to do this is through exercise. And I’m not alone.

Someone asked Richard Branson how he managed to achieve so much, and he responded “work out.”

 Assuming you are still reading this, and haven’t backed out in disgust saying: I don’t have time to blinkin exercise, and I read all day long – what are you talking about.

I will say this

We all find time to do what we want to do – and you know I’m right, so stop sticking your tongue out at me.

I bet you find time to do the things that excite you. Of course you do, that’s the whole point. If you can tailor what excites you about life to your career – think how far and how fast you will grow. How much you will know and be able to share with your colleagues. In the consulting arena – you will be THE go to person, because not only are you the expert in your field, you are passionate about it. Why? Because it excites you, that’s why.

Do you want to be the best in your field?

Then find and pursue what excites you.

The following are just some simple suggestions on how to do that (assuming you don’t already know):

Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. This may sound like an obvious thing to say, but how many people actually practice this technique? Consider this – every person that you work with has something they can teach you. Given the size of most organisations – this on the job learning will never stop. Every person has a different set of life experiences and formal education they bring to an organisation, so take the opportunity to speak to as many as you can. Ask the question why? Why is a great word, kids use it all the time. Why? Because they are learning all the time.

There is also another aspect to this – be willing to teach as well as learn. In doing so you will learn new things about your own role and the tasks that you are being asked to do.

Read as much as you can. As we have mentioned – the greatest leaders in the world “read” and they read a lot of material. If you can read a book a week in the area that excites you, in just 1 year you will have read 52 books (even I can do sums) but more importantly you will know more than 99% of the rest of the population on that subject. YOU will be the expert.

Go to as many events as you can. This has a double effect for you. Not only can you meet more professional people, you also get to ask lots of questions. You can also share your knowledge with others. But – and this is the key, remember you have to be willing to listen to the answers you received. Be remembered as the person who asked the great questions, but also gave the speaker your full attention as they spoke to you. Few people manage to do this, and if you can, you will be remembered for all the right reasons. Not the person who knew it all and wanted to tell anyone who came within arm’s reach.

Be open to new experiences. When was the last time you challenged yourself physically as well as mentally? If someone asks you to join them on a particular outing – don’t say no straight out, you might enjoy yourself. One of the most fearful, yet at the end – exhilarating nights was grass tobogganing. Look it up, it was fantastic, but if I had said no, I would never have known that I could overcome that kind of fear and have fun at the same time – in the company of people from a range of backgrounds and experiences. That’s why ad hoc meetings and meet ups are so important. Get along to the New Grads in the Pub if you don’t believe me.

One of the books I am reading at the moment, looks at the “Medici Effect” in it, it looks at:

Why do so many world-changing insights come from people with little or no related experience? Charles Darwin was a geologist when he proposed the theory of evolution. And it was an astronomer who finally explained what happened to the dinosaurs.

Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect shows how breakthrough ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory, and offers examples how we can turn the ideas we discover into path-breaking innovations. (

The premise behind the book comes from a burst of creativity in 15th century Italy thanks to the Medici family who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines, and when these minds came together they created a new world based on ideas now called “the Renaissance”. Today, when you step into an intersection of fields you open yourself and the world around you to exciting possibilities – assuming of course …

You are willing to embrace change. Change is inevitable. It is a fact of life, we either change by choice or we change by force. Why not change because it’s exciting?

Who can you interact with to bring forth new ideas into your world? And please bear in mind you don’t have to meet them in person to gain the benefit from reading their words and taking action on the ideas you are given.

In the library and information world, change is inevitable. We are seeing massive growth in the digital arena, the question is – how do we incorporate that into our business models?

A couple of years ago now, a program came out entitled “Life on Mars” – a policeman was transported back to the 1970’s and he had to come to terms with a life he knew nothing about. One of the first episodes saw him enter a record shop, in it was a sound booth where you could go and listen to music. So – here’s a thought – what about translating that idea into today. Bring your own device and plug into a copy of the latest book, read a chapter or two over a cup of coffee. If you don’t have one, you read using the libraries. The difference I see is this. No physical books, no shelves – just comfy chairs, a range of titles to read, and if you are motivated and want to buy – a link to the publishers website and away you go. Just because the publisher / library lending model doesn’t currently work as well as it should, doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to look at things. Why can’t we try before we buy, just like they did in the 70’s with music?

How can you translate what you are watching, reading, having conversations about to your life, your career and your passion? I’d be interested in hearing your comments.

With many thoughts