08 November 2022
Mark Twain once said “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning”. Lifelong learning isn’t education, qualifications, and courses. It’s a mindset. It’s intentionally creating opportunities to experience, experiment, and figure out something you didn’t know yesterday. And it can be the key to growing a successful business.
We’ve all met that person with 20 letters after their name and a wall filled with certificates, tactfully placed in full view of their Zoom set up. And there’s nothing wrong with taking on more formal education, for any reason. But when it comes to running a business, education and success don’t go hand in hand – but learning is absolutely necessary. If you own a business, you’ll know that there is no amount of studying that can prepare you, but having the right mindset is the real game changer.
The pursuit of perfection is often highlighted as a barrier to success in business. The pursuit of knowledge can be seen as the same. If you’re looking for 100% certainty on an issue by hoarding all the information you can on a topic, then you will never be ready to get to version 1 (which is better than version none). Lifelong learning is much more about getting to 10, 50, or even 90% and knowing that the rest can be outsourced or filled in different ways. The key is to actively seek out new and engaging information. You might even find that some of it isn’t applicable right now, but just like a muscle, seeking out new learning opportunities will quickly become a part of the way you move through the world, and who knows what you’ll pick up along the way.
The benefits of intentional lifelong learning are well established. It will help you feel more fulfilled, increase your self worth as you invest in yourself, and help you stay flexible as the world changes. Alongside those personal benefits are some really clear business benefits:
Ultimately, being flexible and adaptable is part of the essence of entrepreneurship – lifelong learning ensures you stay in that space and don’t lose your curiosity.
Now we’ve established that embedding learning into your life in an ongoing way is valuable, both in terms of your business as well as personally, what can you do today to make it happen?
The saying goes that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room, and it’s true. You could seek out these people at events, through LinkedIn, or even better, hire them! But get them in the room and get ready to soak up their wisdom.
Youtube, podcasts, books, however you learn, there are countless free resources on every topic you can imagine. Find the formats or creators you love and go from there. Make this a part of your every day and you’ll be surprised what rabbit holes you end up down and the learning you’ll stumble across that could be your next gold mine.
When a chance for change comes around, explore it from every angle. Maybe this change isn’t right for you in your current state, but is there someone who could help the transition? Or a particular topic you could explore to help you see a different perspective? Try and imagine the change in the context of different versions of yourself, if you should take different paths along the way.
Growing pains are painful for a reason. Growth comes from vulnerability. Crabs need to leave their shell, trees don’t grow through hard bark but soft areas, and you’re no different. Vulnerability is essentially a state where we could be wounded, but we need to reach into those areas for growth. In business, this means putting yourself in a position where you aren’t the expert or feel completely confident. If you don’t feel uncomfortable at least some of the time, then you’re not growing.
The investment in learning could come from money if you take on formal education, but lifelong learning requires time. By setting aside a small part of your day to actively seek out new learning you will become more porous the rest of your day and continue that learning throughout it.
Entrepreneurs are known for their willingness to take a risk and even fail, but being wrong is slightly different. Someone can take a successful idea to market at the wrong time and experience failure through no fault of their own. Being wrong mean being accountable and correcting course, which are all choices you make personally. The better you are at being wrong, the more experiments you’re likely to try because the fear won’t hold you back, and ultimately the ‘rights’ will start to stack up.
Lifelong learning isn’t an end goal with a certificate at the end, but who needs a certificate to tell you that you’re a success anyway?