Continuous learning is paramount to our success, yet it is commonly overlooked or underrated. But there is one one particular skill that will catapult us further than any other in reaching our fullest potential in our careers, our families and life. The skill that we need to consistently refine is that of problem solving. The ability to critically and analytically assess situations coupled with real knowledge and the wisdom necessary to effectively apply a solution is a trademark characteristic of those who choose to continually learn.
In 1597 Sir Francis Bacon was quoted as saying, “Knowledge is power.” Now a lot of things have changed in the past 419 years but that statement is more true today than it was in 1597. Every organization, from Fortune 500 corporations to local public service agencies such as the Stockton Police or Fire Departments, wants to hire people who can solve problems.
At the University of the Pacific, especially at the Eberhardt School of Business, we perform accomplishment-based interviews and routinely ask our job candidates to give us examples of problems they have solved at previous jobs and the impact that their solutions had on the business. In every goal and every part of our job there is a problem that needs to be solved. The more successfully we solve problems, the more successful we are in life.
For us to become better problem solvers we need to invest. Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.” Of course paying for this investment is not easy.
I have a friend, Mary, who was assessing her future and realized she needed a significant increase in her knowledge of a particular field. She needed a better understanding so she would be able to ask discriminating questions and be able to choose an appropriate solution accordingly. At this stage in her life, she opted to earn a master’s degree in a field that would launch her career in a new, more meaningful direction. She spends more than 40 hours a week taking classes and doing homework, even though she has a full time management position and is active with her children and grandchildren.
Mary is not in her 20s or 30s but over 50. Mary understands that she needs to make this investment in herself if she is going to continue to be successful in the future. She has plenty of legitimate reasons not to make such a huge investment, but she refuses to be dissuaded. Mary is an inspiration to anyone who thinks they don’t have the time, energy or money to learn update their skills.
Of course Mary is at one end of the spectrum. The challenge is at every level to consistently strive to improve our knowledge and our ability to think. Ben Franklin has another quote that may apply to those on the other end:“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” If you would like to see the poster boy for continuous learning throughout his life, then Google Ben Franklin.
Confucius once said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Many times we lack an awareness regarding our own ignorance. After all, how can we effectively measure our own ignorance? Knowledge is much more than just having the data, it’s about knowing how and when to apply information, and then evaluating the success or failure of our application. According to Plato, “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.”
I want to leave you with a final quote from one of the leadership gurus of the 20th century, Peter Drucker. “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” Make sure you are continuously learning and updating your skills in all areas of your life. Otherwise you might find the knowledge and wisdom you have developed in the past is not enough to propel your success in the future.