Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A success constant

Some things change; some things don’t.
No longer do we see engineering students on college campuses caring slide rules. No longer do we submit punch cards to white coated technicians working in the computer room. Today, calculators are on every phone, libraries fit on tiny storage units, and computations that used to take all night, are done in an instant. However, some things do stay the same.

One of those is critically important to progress in any field, in any business, in any life. It is the foundation for all success. The lack of it is one of the main contributing factors to failure. What is this special and important component? It  is the openness to learning.

Openness to learning
A survey of a hundred people, asking if they are open to learning, will probably get a hundred positive responses. A survey of those with whom they work or supervise, however, will most likely not get the same percentage. So, why the discrepancy?

There are  many reasons. The first on your list is probably the workers’ lack of understanding, or their misperception. And, there are other reasons, such as the definition of learning, a restriction on who can teach us, a belief in our own wisdom, the perception that our understanding is the understanding, and so on. While some of these may be very valid, – that is, our education, experience, perception and understanding are important – they can stifle our progress and the progress of those around us.

First, it is important for us to realize that while we may know much, we do not know it all. There is no one bright enough, educated enough, or experienced enough, to know everything.

Second, we need to be sincerely interested in learning every day. Productive learning is not a cram course; it is a bit by bit, every day a little. Taking classes and attending workshops can be important, but they should be merely stimulations to further exploration.

Third, it is important to be open to learning from all sources. Particularly in organizations, it is important to pay attention to what those in the trenches believe is real, and to willingly examine those perceptions. These people know much. We must be willing to learn from them. They know more specifics about their situation than all of the clinicians and  celebrated  business writers do.

I continually advocate management by walking around – spending time with workers and employees at all levels. There is much acclaim regarding a television program were the CEO signs up to work in the industry, then, after spending time in that position, he or she reveals the true identity. Although that is a nice idea, to me it is pathetic that the employees don’t recognize their leaders. If your employees don’t know what you look like, you probably don’t know what they think; it is time you got out of the office and spent time with them.

The bottom line: regardless of your organization – home or multi-billion dollar enterprise – the foundation for success is the sincere openness to learning.