Lawrence of Arabia
There is a scene in the movie, “The Lawrence of Arabia”. The caravan is crossing the desert and has spent days in the scorching sun. The lead character, Lawrence, is caught staring blankly at the shadow of the caravan on the move by Sherif Ali, the head of the caravan. He warns Lawrence not to do that, and that he might get “lost” forever if he does that constantly.
Getting lost, in this context, is, not getting physically lost alone, but more than that.
Learning and its vastness, and learner the Lawrence
Learning, as we all have come to agree is a vast space and a continuous process. As vast as a desert, or an ocean, or a forest. I would associate it more with a forest though. A vast forest. Abundant, rich, lush with so many intriguing aspects and with a power to attract us, the learners. Is it possible for someone to get lost there?
Why not? It is possible is what I think.
Learning can become a habitual pass time (or time pass) just like gossiping, if not pursued with an intent. Next time you pick up a book or enroll into a course/program/workshop, just sit back and think how the previous similar experiences go? If it has been progressive, and tangibly useful to you, then the rest of the write up is not for you. You are in a different league (It might not harm to go through it though). But if it has not been, and all it did to you was give you momentary high, for a few days, and then fade away, then you should probably consider reading on.
There is a very fine line between making learning/reading a time pass and actually learning from what we learnt/read, and putting it to tangible use. The line so fine, that it does not let us acknowledge the existence of the line, which side of the line we are on, if we are wandering somewhere close to it, and if we are at the risk of crossing the line to the riskier side. Just like how Lawrence was on the verge of getting “lost”. If acknowledged (as to which side of the fine line you are on, and if you are on the wrong side), it is possible that one might find one self “addicted” to learning. Wanting more of it, just to get more of it.
Scary?! With learning becoming so available, so interesting, so time consuming, so costly, it does not harm to be cautious about it, even if it is not scary.
Learning compass: Your tool for effective learning
How do we stop ourselves from getting “lost” in this vastness of learning? Use the compass, the learning compass. Keep a check on what you are doing, where you are, which way you are heading in this vast space of learning. It can be a book, a program, a workshop, a course that you are pursuing or planning to pursue. It can be anything from which you expect to learn something. But it is essential to make sure you are progressing and not getting “lost” in the process.
A little bit of context
So, what has caused this brain damage to me? What made me think about this learning addiction?
I am currently pursuing my Executive MBA program on Product leadership, with Institute of Product Leadership (IPL). As part of this program, one of the subjects that we were introduced to was “Creativity and Innovation” by Dr. Pavan Soni. We had a classroom session on this 2 months ago. A very interesting and intriguing session. Lots of interesting things were learnt during that class.
Last week, I enrolled for another off-the-course session from the same faculty (we call it Master class, in the Institute). As I was going to be there in the Institute on that day, on some other work, I thought I will attend the session as well. I did not check on what the session was about though, and decided to go for it based on my experience with the faculty.
And once the session started, I realized that it was about the same concepts that we were taught in the class room. The session and the faculty are both top class and that kept me glued through the session.
It was after the session was over, that I started thinking about what I did in those couple of hours of session. I relearnt what I had learnt earlier. What else did I go through during those 2 hours of session? What did I learn from this session that I had not learnt in the class room session that I had attended two months back? Had I learnt anything at all? If not much, why? Why did I enjoy it so much again, the second time? Am I missing something?
These thoughts are what inspired me to think how I can apply myself to any learning, and vice versa.
Some of those thoughts, when I stayed with, and worked on giving them a structure, gave me a few insights which I am going to share in the rest of the article.
Learning Compass: More about it
- Know yourself, the learner: Though the higher education and courses we pursue are to advance our career or get a new career, there is more to us than just a career. The learnings from these (courses/programs/…), with their long lasting impacts, touch upon our whole self, not just the professional part of “us”. So, it is important to know ourselves completely and see if we fit into whatever the learning (we are planning to pursue) is all about. And, be true to yourself when you make the decision to pursue it, if you want to have that lasting impact. Tendulkar wanted to become a medium pacer, rather a fast bowler. He probably did not know himself when he built that aspiration. But he did not stop there. He went to on to know more about himself, more deeply, till he knew himself “well” enough. And what he learnt, and happened then on, is history.
- Know what is it that you are going to learn: This complements with the above point. And, has to be in continuation with the above point. What is it that this learning has to offer to me when I am pursuing it and after I am done with it? Talk to people who have done it or are doing it. Understand it. Weigh it. A “Leap of faith” is not bad. But, do not make that the only or the main “deciding factor”. The time and money invested should be based on a much stronger rationale.Within our course itself, we get a good amount of pre reading (well) before each class room session. I had not looked at it from this perspective till now though. Well, it is not too late yet. I have now realized that we need to go through the pre reading to understand where the session fits in, and where do I fit into it, more than just getting an introduction to the topic of the session.
- Learn with a goal /objectivity: I have to admit, that I went into the current course without a specific goal. My goal was to explore my goal while I learn. While that is quite idealistic (or that’s what I thought), but, does it work? It might. It might not too. Our faculty tells us, or warns us, that we should not wait till “it” happens to us. We should make it happen. And if we have to make it happen, we have to know what is it that I want to make happen. I can “now” visualize that warning, and why it is so key, in the best of the HD technologies that are out there.
I think the goal becomes more and more important for a higher education, like the one I am pursuing. We should have one to make the best use of what we are pursuing. And have a goal that aligns to your “self”. Be practical about it.
It can be as simple as doubling your current salary, which I think is a very important goal and not a bad goal either.
But, whatever the goal is, we need to be sure that it is our goal. And pursue the path (of learning) head on with that one goal. What if I do not have one, or it is not as tangible as the one mentioned above? You will still probably learn things, and discover your goal along the way, and reach it. Or, you will probably learn things, and learn more, and more, and get drifted away in the forest of learning, wanting for more. This again, is not all that bad considering what you got to learn. But is it the best we should get for our investment?
- Apply what you learn: “Have a mission statement for your team/life/self”, is what I learnt in a leadership program that I attended sometime back. Stephen Covey, Robin Sharma, Dale Carnegie, and above all, I myself (in #3), have told this to me more than once, whenever I went to them, in the recent and distant pasts. Have a goal. Have a mission statement. But have I applied it? Have I practiced it?
It becomes very important to apply and practice what you learn in the course like the one that I am currently pursuing. And to do that, it would be beneficial if you have a goal. You can start aligning all that you learn to your goal and that way move towards your goal applying whatever you are learning. The ones that you can’t apply, you will be able to recognize those and discard it from your radar. So, it allows you focus, and stay focused.
What happens, if I don’t apply my learnings? It becomes just like what has happened to Newton’s 2nd law to most of us. Yes, we forget it. And in distant future, when we need it, probably not remember it. Chances are that it might never be forgotten also. But is it worth taking that chance, for the investment that has been made?
Teaching is a very good way of applying what we learn, if we do not have an immediate direct application channel.
After-class-sessions, Group discussions go a long way in cementing what was learnt in a class or a session in a very practical way.
- Stay put: The sources and the number of sources of learning available now, are more than ever before. The need of it is also more than ever. What is becoming scarce is the time we invest to stay put with a new learning. I think it is a very key aspect with higher education and non-conventional subjects. Stay with your learning. Immerse yourself into it. Soak in it. Let it get into you. Because, that is when we can start aligning it our goals, can start applying it, can make a cognizant decision of parking it aside or discarding it. Many times, the realization comes in slowly. But, if you have moved on without spending the necessary time with the learning, it is possible that we might miss on a very key realization or an insight.
This is in a way related to our commitment to what we are pursuing. It might be a movie, a book, or a program like the one I am pursuing, from which you expect to learn something. If you are a tube light like me, stay put with it, stay connected, till you completely shine bright.
- Be ready to kill your darling: During the process of your learning, you might realize that your identified goal is not something that you will be able to materialize with what you are learning. Or, you are not learning anything at all, or even your goal was not an actual goal at all. Listen to that calling when it happens. It might push you to stay on (#5 above) for some more time, or force you to take “the” tough call. Weigh between the goal, and the path you are taking. It might be that the goal is not worth it after all, or the course you are pursuing is not the right path to get there. Plan to be in a position to take the tough call when it is needed. It might be a tough call, but it will it be worth taking it, keeping in mind the larger picture. But yes, be convinced that you have done enough of #5 before you take the call.
There was a Kannada movie that released in 2003, named “Hollywood”. It started out to as sci-fi thriller during the making. It went on to become a sci-fi comedy later, and was a decent hit. This was an intentional switch by the makers when they realized that or “learnt” that what they were pursuing (to create a thriller) was not practical. They did not abort their project, but modified it by taking a tough stance. I am sure there are many better known examples to substantiate the point I want to convey.
Conclusion: My Learning Compass
This is my learning compass and these are my ingredients of my compass. It might not be applicable to all. You might already be equipped with your own compass, with its own directions and needles. It would definitely not hurt to discover it before you pick up your next learning experience. I hope this write up helps you discover your learning compass, wherever it exists, and equips you to learn better, and effectively. This is not all either. I might find more of them in the coming days. But, the once that I have identified now are definitely worth considering from now on, for me at least.