In a recent post, we talked about why it’s important in today’s world to be a learner, not just a knower. But what does being a learner really look like? Here are some quick mind hacks to keep you learning and growing so you don’t fall behind.
1. Try Something—Anything—New
Brain research shows that novelty boosts memory, enhances learning and even motivates us to seek out new rewards. But you have to be intentional about looking for the new, because the brain naturally discards and filters for what we know, filling in the blanks to be most efficient.
The good news is, there are countless ways you can inject some novelty into your routines. Change up your office. Rearrange the furniture or adjust the lighting. Visit places off your beaten path. Read websites, books and opinions you’d typically ignore. Mix up your “go-to” problem-solving methods. Build on your knowledge with new facts that push the boundaries of what you’ve always known.
Choose behaviors that open you up to a world of fresh sights, sounds and ideas. These are the seeds of learning.
2. Think Like a Beginner
I use this mind hack when I’m interviewing someone for a profile story or case study. Even though I usually have some background and context going into the interview, I’ll start things off by saying, “Pretend like I know nothing.” That way I’m not steering the conversation down a narrow path—and potentially missing the most interesting or provocative points.
The biggest impediment to new learning is what you already know. Your brain is unconsciously “answering” questions before you realize it. To learn you need to empty, quiet and monitor your brain or else it will create interference.
By approaching situations with a beginner’s mindset, your focus will be on seeking the facts, without the mental baggage of prior experience. This neutral starting point will help shift your thinking away from your natural bias while preparing you to expect new information.
3. Flip What You Think You Know
Whether we realize it or not, we head into most situations with a set of assumptions in mind. Of course, we all know what happens when you assume…So first, make sure you know what your assumptions are, and then try flipping it around. What if the opposite were true? How would that impact what you’re trying to do?
We once worked with a large beverage company that was worried about a sales slump with one of its core products, which was targeted towards people under 30. The product team was operating with several assumptions. For one, the brand was embedded in the hearts and minds of young adults. Also, the product’s name was fixed, and changing it would destroy the brand.
We asked the team to flip these assumptions. What if the product name didn’t matter? What if the name was actually hurting the brand rather than helping it?
Our questions met with a lot of resistance. Then the team did some market research and discovered that many members of the target audience had negative perceptions of the name. They approved a new name and sales soared.
4. Act Like A Detective
Or a reporter. Or a scientist. Or an investigator. Or whatever puts you in a frame of mind to ask lots of questions and approach situations with extreme curiosity.
In her book Rookie Smarts, Liz Wiseman says, “When there is too much to know, having the right questions may be more important than having a ready answer.” So before making a decision or solving a problem, ask at least ten open-ended questions that will help you see more pieces of the puzzle. Start with any question that takes your thinking to a deeper level.
Besides opening up a space for answers, questions can immediately shift your attention, internal dialogue, emotional state and desire to take action (which may be premature). Knowers look for what they already know, and then they’ll focus their time and energy on filling the gaps in their knowledge. Learners are willing to spend the time and energy to be curious because it moves them beyond that singular path. And more often than not, that’s where the more effective and complete answer is.
5. Think About What You Learned Today
Here’s a 10-minute program for learning something every day. Start by shutting the door to your office and turning off all electronic devices. Then ask yourself:
- How successful was I at getting things done?
- Did I get into trouble with my interactions with other people?
- Did I hit a wall in coming up with ideas or getting results?
- What will I do differently tomorrow?
In ten minutes, you’ve just set the stage for more learning and better results tomorrow.
It’s no longer enough to be the smartest person in the room. Today’s most effective leaders and employees realize they don’t have all the answers, and they have the self-confidence to admit it.
Be a learner and seize those opportunities to bring in more brains, listen for what you don’t know and keep growing.