Over the course of my career, the single most impactful skill I've had to develop is a learners mindset. It took me a long time to come to this conclusion, but learning is a skill, and being able to learn independently is invaluable in the work place as well as in your personal life. In this post I wanted to explore the different elements of learning, and break down the approaches that have worked for me.
Learning by passion
One of the biggest mistakes our education system makes is not learning to harness the power of personal interest and passion. We are taught to read by going through a list of books that may never appeal to the individuals in the class.
My number one learning recommendation is; if you are trying to learn a skill, then start by finding a project or a topic related to that skill that really personally interests you.
Example 1: learning to code - if you're going to learn to code, what's an application of coding that personally interests you? Make your mission for learning to code about that project. If you're into skiing, then code up a project related to skiing. If you're in sports, then make the project sports related. When you hit the inevitable road blocks that you'll come across while learning to code, that passion will help you power through.
Learning by doing
This method and tip is all about jumping into the deep end of the pool to learn to swim. Nothing beats real world experience, and some concepts are extremely difficult to comprehend until you've lived them.
I've tackled skills like learning languages, photography, kiteboarding, and none of them really stuck till I got out into the real world and tried them and made mistakes! Yes, making mistakes is part of the process, and the more you learn the more you'll start to accept mistakes as part of the process. Eventually you'll even start to embrace making mistakes as forward progress!
Theory based learning
On the opposite end of the spectrum is learning through consuming the theory first. People who naturally tend to learn this way tend not to like the "learning by doing" mentioned above, and people who learn by doing tend to dislike theory based learning.
The pro tip here is to combine both methods of "learning by doing" and "learning by theory" in order to learn faster. I've always learned at an accelerated rate by reading about the theory, then throwing myself into the deep-end, then going back to learn about the theory to see what I was doing wrong.
The other real break through is the power of the internet. You can find incredible high quality content on just about any topic for free at the tip of your finger on your phone. Put in the time to find that content, and you'll have a cheat code to acquiring new skills.
The top 3 types of learning tend to be more interesting than this last category. This category is for those situations where you're doing something that you don't deem particularly valuable. It might be repetitive, or it might be the type of work that you dread doing.
The point being, look for micro opportunities to learn in order to turn the bad situation into a good one. I once had a internship in the Information Systems department of the Human Resources org of a large chemical company. Needless to say, I knew immediately that I never wanted to work in this type of environment again (its probably why I spent the next 15 years in startup). My job was to do data input / data clean-up on a bunch of boring reports, but I ended up making it interesting by teaching myself VBA and learning how to write macros in excel to do all that work for me.
I wasn't motivated by the work itself, but I was drawn to picking up a new skill that might be valuable in another job. Yes, programming isn't a micro skill, but it is an example of finding learnings within the situation.
A better example of micro learning is one that many sales people face. Calling on new potential prospects who don't know who you are can be a daunting task that leads to high levels of rejection. This in and of itself is not super motivating. The micro learning opportunity is to treat it situation where you do actually get to speak to someone as an opportunity to do research on your future client. Each conversation, however short, is an opportunity to learn something about their business, their industry, their mind-set as a business owner , etc. And then the more calls you make, the more you learn and become an expert.