Allow me to continue speaking to you in this Leading Thoughts about a theme I started last time. It was the theme of self-education. You may remember that I said that if I was asked to name one skill that would most likely lead to success in the years to come for most leaders, it would be self-education.
This hit a nerve with many of you and I began getting requests to disclose how I do my own self-education. I’m happy to help. So, here, in brief, is how I learn what I need to learn.
First, I constantly ask the smartest people I know this question: “What’s coming?” Strategic self-education is largely about learning what you need to know to manage the future. Well, you won’t know what you need to know unless you have some sense of what’s coming. I ask everyone—from airline pilots to energy execs to tech experts to international statesmen to repairmen—what is coming in their fields. Then, I try to distill what areas of knowledge I’ll need to bolster in order to navigate the new day that is dawning. This is where I concentrate my self-education.
A quick example: I do a great deal of speaking and teaching. I’m always looking for the latest brain science information that will help me communicate most effectively with every audience. When I ask a brain science expert what new discoveries would help me most, he said that I needed to understand “chunk theory.” I’d never heard of it. I read. I asked questions. I learned. I speak differently now as a result.
The second self-education technique I use is to constantly be reading in four areas. There is the personal development/devotional area in which I read to feed my spiritual life and to improve as a person. Then, there is the reading about future trends. Third, I read relevant, insightful fiction. The speculative fiction of William Gibson, for example, is essential to understanding cyber-trends and cyber-punk culture. The novels of Dan Brown are helpful theological romps. Finally, I read history, since there is nothing new under the sun.
The third step I take is to use apps to gather the information on specific topics I need to follow and to introduce me to whole new cultures. I use Apple’s News app, Flipboard, Instapaper, Feedly, and, of course, Twitter as my digital “researchers.”
Finally, I go global. I keep a world-wide perspective. I do this because my own country is not at the forefront in all arenas. Other nations, other cultures, are already “doing the future” as compared to where I live. I was impressed with the wind farms in West Texas until I saw what Germany is doing with renewable energy. I was impressed with how American businesses made use of my cell phone until I traveled in Asia. I thought I understood certain trends until I listened to BBC News and Stratfor and saw that I was actually quite behind in my understanding. The future was already happening abroad. I just needed to visit, either physically or intellectually.
So, these are the techniques I use. You need to develop your own plan. The heart of the matter is realizing that change is unceasing, that much of what you know has a “Use By” date stamped on it, and that success comes on the wings of an aggressive program of self-education. By the way, this can all be really fun.