Why Lifelong Learning is the Key to Entrepreneurial Success
"I realized that becoming a master of karate was not about learning 4,000 moves but about doing just a handful of moves 4,000 times.” — Chet Holmes
How can we make learning our default mode?
According to Holmes, it’s not about amassing random knowledge or memorizing copious amounts of information. It’s about turning what we absorb into strategic action.
Many entrepreneurs get stuck believing they should acquire as much knowledge as possible or become a human Wikipedia. It’s now easier than ever to Google anything our heart desires, but all of this rapid browsing gives us the illusion that we’re processing more than we actually are. True learning, on the other hand, goes far beyond hoarding facts.
In fact, Plato made the case against simply memorizing data: “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion, obtains no hold on the mind,” he said.
It’s not the same thing to spend a single afternoon studying “how to meditate,” for example, as it is to make it a daily practice. Sheer knowledge alone is often powerless. Bruce Lee understood this more than anyone: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
That’s why we can’t settle for skimming over the surface of information, we have to cultivate the habit of digging deep and immersing ourselves in new experiences.
This is what allows our thinking to grow more elastic and less rigid, and which ultimately lets us generate new and original ideas.
Related: How Studying History Brings Success
Becoming a lifetime learner
A Harvard Business Review story by John Coleman illustrates the need to prioritize learning. He writes: “We’re all born with a natural curiosity. We want to learn. But the demands of work and personal life often diminish our time and will to engage that natural curiosity.”
As someone who is constantly pulled in every direction, I know what it’s like to end up pushing things to the backburner. In the early days of building JotForm, having a busy calendar meant that I was always balancing my personal life with working toward my dream.
All of my free time went toward my family or company, and precious few hours were dedicated to reading and practicing what I absorbed. But it’s important to remember that creating anything of meaning comes from continuous, deliberate learning — of what we take in on a daily basis.
For a long time, I made excuses for not reading and researching material that wasn’t related to my work. But at a certain point, I realized that in order to become a more open-minded, creative and innovative leader, I had to make learning a lifelong habit. Here are four ways to do it.
1. Know what you want
What are some concepts, thoughts and practices you’d like to explore? Having a variety of passions plays an important role in maintaining our interest, but the goal of learning should be to push us beyond our comfort zone. Part of this involves discomfort, and that’s a good thing.
In order to manage and overcome mental barriers, we should have a firm understanding of our own limitations, and what we’d like to change.
Here’s something to keep in mind: you should learn more about the things that matter to you. What excites you. But also about what challenges your beliefs and previous ways of thinking.
2. Don’t try to do it all
Instead of spending your free time catching up on the latest Netflix show, actively seek out opportunities to stay up-to-date with growth opportunities.
Getting rid of distractions is a good rule of thumb when learning new material, but also focus on setting aside small, regular time allotments. This means setting up realistic goals like leaving your phone in another room for a 30-minute block of time.
Consuming knowledge in these bite-sized quantities gives your mind time to process and recover from intense concentration.
But remember: it’s the repetition that counts. The most successful entrepreneurs all share the same trait: they focus on a handful of practices and rinse and repeat until gaining mastery. American essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, agrees:
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.”
3. Make it fun
No matter where you are on your journey, turning to a community of like-minded individuals can help make learning fun and exciting. Whether you participate in online or offline courses, you can gain more insight by connecting with other learners.
Engaging and participating in activities with people that are better than us can also give us opportunities to examine our beliefs and expand our thinking. We’re also able to learn from others’ experiences and provide value to them in return.
Make specific goals of joining a group or signing up for a formal class on what interests you. Knowing that you have a community to share notes with and provide you with feedback can keep you on track.
4. Turn desire into action
Lifelong learners understand that smart goal setting means increasing our learning agility, or our ability to take knowledge from one concept and apply it to another.
Understandably, most of us will automatically think that the knowledge and skills directly related to our work should take priority. If you stick to reading business books, the thinking goes, you’ll have better results.
But what I’ve discovered about being a lifetime learner is that significant progress can only be made by translating diverse concepts and applying them to my role as a leader. Regularly practicing a few minutes of meditation every day, for instance, creates a domino effect by helping me cultivate patience and awareness in other areas of my business.
It’s a lesson every founder can understand. The key to success has less to do with obsessing over consuming the “right kinds” of materials, and more to do with how you use what you learn. This is what ultimately gives us a fresh perspective.
Simply put: Keep growing and don’t settle.
Or to quote Friedrich Nietzsche “The doer alone learneth.”