Whens the last time you thought about learning? Even more important: When did you last think about how you learn?
Good learning sometimes feels like an engrossing story: It surprises us by being a type of immersion. When were in the middle of it, we dont notice much else around us. We may lose a sense of where we are. We may not realize time is passing. The learning process might be hard and it might be frustrating, but if learning (or a story) works, we are absorbed and completely immersed, in a good way.
That may be a reason why we sometimes have trouble knowing how we learn. Lisa Crons Wired for Story (Ten Speed Press, 2012) makes just that point about stories: Its hard to be objective and analyze the way a good story works when were in the middle of it, because were emotionally involved and our brains just seem to be taken over.
Maybe learning is similar. Have you ever tracked what youve learned and how? See what I mean?
Theres been lots of research on learning styles and understanding what preferences we may have. But how do we actually track our process so that we can improve it or speed it up?
I recently had lunch (along with many other people) with the CEO of Boise Inc., an Idaho company that makes packaging products and paper (although the CEO says we are chemists).
Originally from Germany, Alexander Toeldte worked at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for years. He lived in New Zealand, where he was CEO of a global dairy company, before joining Boise Inc. Hes trying to push the company to be better at learning, developing young people, giving them challenging assignments earlier in their careers. When he talks about his own career, he mentions a mentor he met on Day 1 in his first job at Ford.
This mentor was rigorous about pushing himself and others to learn.
He told me to learn one new thing every day, Toeldte said, not two thats overachieving but at least one thing every day.
Easy to say, not to do, but Toeldte tries to follow that advice himself and encourages it in Boise Inc. But even more specific and practical was a tip he learned from a McKinsey colleague, one he claims is the most creative in the firm.
Keep a learning log.
Write down what youve learned after anything you do. It could be a small piece of learning, like understanding that to determine a mills annual capacity you multiply daily capacity by 400 and subtract 10 percent and youll be close enough. It might be a big lesson, a deep philosophical insight.
The important point is that the consultant consistently logs what he learns and, perhaps partly as a result, excels at pattern recognition, seeing and connecting dots that others dont. And presumably, over time, hes gotten better at knowing how to learn something and do it more efficiently.
Simple, but it takes discipline, like most other things in life that are good for us. But try it for a week or a month, and just see what surprises come up. Maybe youll experience a good immersion in learning.
Nancy Napier, executive director of Boise States Centre for Creativity and Innovation. firstname.lastname@example.org