“There are no un-interesting things; there are only un-interested people.”
I was sitting at Starbucks a few days ago as I do every morning when I’m home and reading through a book when someone started up a conversation. He asked what I was reading. When I told him, he seemed surprised, even shocked. He asked me, “Why?” I said “To learn.” He again asked me why. I said because there are a thousand things to learn and I’m committed to learning several new things every day. He paused. So I asked him a question, “What have you learned today?”
Now if he was shocked earlier by my answer, he was even more shocked by my question. “Learned? … [pause] … learned? Well, I don’t know.” “Well, what have you learned in the last week?” What I discovered in that brief conversation is a way to induce a profound state of stunned silence(!). That was not my intention, but that was the effect.
What I learned from Maslow’s work on Self-Actualization Psychology, and what I wrote in the book by that title, is that the human unique human instinct is our instinct to learn. We are made to learn and, in fact, to be live-long learners. Without instincts in the way which animals have instincts, we have to keep learning. And we do, whether it is formal learning or not. This is our inescapable meaning-making power which as a human being you cannot turn off even if you wanted to. So learn we do. Make-meaning we do. The question is not whether you will or will not, the real question is about what you learn, the quality of your learning, its usefulness, effectiveness, etc.
Many years ago (1970), Alvin Toffler published his best selling book, Future Shock, and in it wrote this about the critical importance of learning in the future—“the future” which now in 2015 has arrived:
“Tomorrow’s schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn.” “To enhance human adaptability: by instructing students how to learn, unlearn, and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education.” (p. 414)
The art of learning, and the meta-art of learning-how-to-learn (meta-learning), as well as the skills of un-learning and re-learning are today essential skills for anyone who wants to be on the cutting edge of business or one’s own industry. These are skills required for just staying current so that you do not fall behind. How are your meta-learning skills?
Today many of the key thinkers in the field of education can testify to the importance of something else which Alvin Tofler wrote 45 years ago: “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” Precisely because things are changing so quickly, if you do not know how to unlearn and relearn (the meta-learning skills), you could very well be functionally illiterate in your area of focus or expertise.