Summary of “Learning to Learn”

The March 2016 issue of HBR includes an article titled Learning to Learn by Erika Anderson.

As the business and technological environment continues to change at increasingly high rates, it requires us (as knowledge workers, particularly) to adapt. Sometimes adapting involves learning new topics. This HBR article discusses the underpinnings of the ability to succeed in learning.  We have to resist our biases against novelty and acquiring new and difficult competencies. Such competencies will make us more valuable in our current jobs and the overall marketplace. Read on for a summary of how to identify and grow those underpinnings.

Aspiration Embracing change requires some desire to adapt, which can be difficult to muster. The author suggests boosting our desire to accomplish a change or learn by clearly identifying how the new thing will benefit us directly. We should link the change to something we already aspire to, such as a higher level of income or another skill that we would like to achieve. In this way, we can avoid our “not invented here” bias, by focusing on the positive aspects of a change.

Self-awareness We are typically terrible at knowing our skill level on many tasks. This article cites a study in which 94% of professors surveyed indicated that they were better than average. Many studies have replicated this result (look for a future post). This lack of self-awareness pushes us to think “I’m already pretty good; why do I need to get better?” Anderson recommends changing your self talk. As an example, she suggests we replace a thought like “I’m already pretty good at this” with something like “What facts do I have that show how good I am?” Such a thought will lead to greater openness to new ideas.

Curiosity Sometimes, we defend against learning a new skill because we think it is not interesting. But, most likely, there are people who currently exercise the skill – they must find something interesting, fulfilling, or valuable in it. If we can be curious, we can dig in and find out – read an article or talk to someone with the skill. It is likely that you can find something interesting or something more to be curious about.

Vulnerability It is tough for adults to admit that they need improvement. When we are beginners in the new skill, we feel inadequate. While this is frustrating and somewhat embarrassing, it is simply part of the territory. It is likely that people who already have the skill remember when they were learning and made novice mistakes. If so, they are equally likely to have patience with your naive questions and poor skill level. We might as well adopt a novice mindset and recognize at the outset that we will stumble around for a little while, and that we will get better over time.

Think through some of these ideas, get your mindset shifted, and get in and start learning.

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