I have noticed an interesting phenomenon, having helped business leaders prepare for the future of work for the past 17 years: when they are faced with having to learn something new, some of them don’t have the courage to do so.
It’s as simple as that. They don’t admit to themselves, let alone anybody else, that they don’t know something. And a basic requirement of learning anything is acknowledging that you don’t already know it. After all, if you kid yourself that you know everything, why should you have to learn something you already know?
As I gently help them come to terms with the fact that there are things they don’t know, I remind them of what the late John Wooden, UCLA Head Basketball Coach, once said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
This is one of the reasons why we battle with change. After all, our knowledge is what got us to where we are, so it must surely be good enough to get us to where we still want to go.
There’s no question that we acquire a significant amount of knowledge, wisdom and understanding over the decades, and we must acknowledge this. The point is, if we don’t have the courage to admit to ourselves that the knowledge we have acquired has become outdated, insufficient, no longer relevant, we will never change – because we’re not prepared to acknowledge that there must be something we still have to learn. And so, because there is no true learning, there is no change. American author and speaker, Professor Leo Buscaglia, put it this way: “Change comes as a result of all true learning.”
That’s right. The knowledge you require for the next 10 years is not the same knowledge you will require for the decade after that. Have the courage to admit to yourself that what you know now is not what you need to know in the future. That doesn’t mean you simply discard all you’ve ever learnt in favour of the so-called fad of the month. It means you accept that you will always have to keep learning, no matter what. The path of lifelong earning has no final destination. If you want to prosper in the future, it might be worth adopting the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
See your learning like this: treat everything you learn as the foundation for all new knowledge you learn along the road of life. In other words, the knowledge you acquire along the road of life simply serves as the base – the foundation – on which you build all other learning. And while you’re alive, you keep building and building your knowledge.
We all need to learn different things, and at different stages of our lives. The important thing, though, is that you never stop learning. Leaders who try to make it on knowledge they learned 10 years ago end up embarrassing themselves and disappointing those they lead.
It takes courage to admit that your knowledge is outdated, that you no longer “know it all” in your field. But then, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts!”