When it comes to learning…what gets you excited? Hold that thought whilst I backtrack a little…

I had arrived early for a meeting at Waterstone’s, the famous bookstore situated a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus in London. Getting there early with some time to browse was a financial mistake with which my ‘Homeland Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer’ was less that happy. Still, I think congratulatory overtures are in order for the amazing self-restraint demonstrated by all the books I didn’t purchase! Well, that at least is what the little voice inside my head offered as mitigating circumstances, a mere whisper from well behind the parapet.

Maybe I should have found a better line of self-defence?

BooksBut, health and safety issues aside (see how much I have adapted to living in the UK!), the point I want to get to is this: when it comes to learning, what gets you excited? As I trolled the bookshelves from Business to Psychology (and almost everything in between) there before me was tangible evidence of just how little I knew. Subject after subject which invited deeper exploration and that fired the imagination. Knowledge that asked to be read, stored and put to some practical use. It almost became an exercise in frustration that here sat so much silent knowledge waiting to find a voice; so much to read, learn and find some greater use. Words on pages that would morph into tools that would forever transform how one thinks, sees, lives and acts. So much that would be missed, lost and never known simply because of time, comprehension and (as the Minister would doubtless add)…budget!

Simply being there with time to feast my eyes and fire my mind was enough to generate a real excitement around learning that I have always assumed was normal and that I have, in such environments, taken for granted. It later occurred to me that perhaps the excitement I felt is not one that is all that common? I understand that not everyone ‘learns through reading’ and so if I broaden the scope of inquiry to includes multiple manners of learning stimuli, my question remains, ‘when last were you excited by learning?’

I think this is an important leadership question.

It reveals the depth of curiosity in oneself and speaks to a need to keep moving forwards in unpacking, unravelling and discovering new things. It alludes to a state of mind that is not satisfied with the status quo of current knowledge and learning, and it opens the door to new understandings and competencies. It is an antidote to staleness and an arthritic mind; perhaps even an antidote to an arrogance and blindness brought about by ‘all I do know’ without seeing ‘all I don’t know’.

Time wandering around a place such as Waterstone’s is exercise for the soul and mind. It should become a necessary leadership team excursion where each person needs to buy one book that will stretch them beyond their field of expertise; buy one book that will open windows in their mind and stimulate new thinking. Such an exercise will surely have direct and indirect business benefits…yes, if I were a CEO, I would make such an excursion compulsory and use it to sharpen learning, build curiosity and ensure that my team, and through them, the organisation is a ‘learning organisation’. What a field trip it could prove to be!

And why is that important?

Well, an ‘adaptive challenge’ is defined as, ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’. In a world where leaders are facing more and more adaptive challenges, learning is a fundamental response / requirement in both identifying the problem and in finding the solution. A ‘learning organisation’ is an ‘adaptive organisation’ and  being adaptive, is the most important of all futurefit traits.

Need I say more?

…And to think it all started with some spare time at Waterstone’s!


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