As leaders we are supposed to know it all, be quick to find solutions, be able to respond quickly to customer demands. The speed at which things are changing in business often puts us back at square one – of not knowing. At least, if we will allow ourselves to admit it.
Recently I found myself in the thick of having to learn about a program I was totally at sea with. I struggled, got frustrated and bored my friends and family with the same complaints of not making any headway over several weeks. Had I read the article Learning to Learn by Erica Anderson in Harvard Business Review, March 2016 sooner, I might have saved myself and those close to me a lot of trouble.
Andersen says that, in order to succeed in learning to learn, one has to be prepared to become a novice again. That I was abundantly aware of, since I am not tech savvy at all and I had decided to tackle something completely outside of my expertise. Acknowledging my novice status wasn’t enough. In fact, repeatedly being reminded of this status almost had me quitting!
Andersen identified four attributes that go along with the willingness to learn:
- Aspiration – although I really wanted to learn to do this task, the obstacles I put in my way were thoughts that I should just get someone else to do this – subconsciously giving myself reasons not to have aspirations to learn the skill.
What you can learn: Focus on the positives for learning.
- Self Awareness – until the negative self-talk kicked in, I was unrealistic about the assumptions that I could quickly and easily learn. The time I had allocated to learning was way off!
What you can learn: Test your assumptions by asking yourself if your assumptions are correct and what could you be doing differently?
- Curiosity – I was guilty of thinking that the new thing I was trying was boring and I should not be doing it. Had I stepped back and looked at the knowledge benefitting me, I may have fared better.
What you can learn: Ask yourself why others are excited about this?
- Vulnerability – going back to being a novice makes us vulnerable. Being OK with that and feeling dumb was my challenge. Instead of reinforcing my idiot-status in my head, Andersen suggests that I would have been more successful had I acknowledged consciously, that I would be bad at it in the beginning, making space in my brain to accept the need to learn.
What you can learn: Get out of your way by getting comfortable with not knowing, for now.