Business owners are involved in so many different areas when running a business – from sales and marketing to accounts and human resources – and often don’t have the expertise in every field. Some of these skills can be picked up over time and with exposure, but often these may be learnt too late and to the detriment of the business.
Lifelong learning sets successful entrepreneurs apart from those who run small businesses but can’t get it to reach its full potential. Incremental practices can make a big difference to how and what you learn.
Practise the following five habits daily to make learning as routine as brushing your teeth.
Foster a Growth Mindset
Don’t allow your mindset to prevent you from growing. We often let our beliefs about learning hold us back: “I’m too old to learn”, “I’m too busy running a business to learn new things”. Neuroscience has proved these beliefs to be false and have shown that our brains stay malleable well into old age, and it still remains possible to create new neuron connections and learn new things well into your eighties.
According to Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, people have one of two types of mindsets: Fixed or growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that you are born with a fixed level of intelligence and that this cannot improve with work and effort. In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that they can constantly improve themselves through work and practise.
Successful entrepreneurs adopt the second type of belief. They understand that only through ongoing learning and practise can you not only improve yourself, but adopt these learnings to increase the profitability of your business.
Henry Ford said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
Practise the 1% Margin
Britain’s cycling team coach, Dave Brailsford was faced with a formidable goal of ensuring that a British cyclist won the Tour de France – something that had never happened before. His approach was simple: He instituted the marginal gains approach which practises a 1% margin for improvement in everything that the team would do.
From focusing on the cyclists’ nutrition and training programmes to choosing the best pillow and most effective gels, Brailsford and his team searched for the 1% improvements in everything. His goal was to win the stage race in five years – they achieved it in three.
Practise a few simple disciplines daily, like reading eight pages every day. This won’t change your life immediately but imagine the accumulation of knowledge you would have after ten years.
Create and Maintain Goals
As you practise the 1% marginal improvements, you also need to be clear and specific about what it is exactly that you want to learn and by when. There is little difference between a choice that is 1% better or 1% worse, but according to personal development expert, Jeff Olsen, as time passes, the gap between those who make better decisions each day and those who make poor decisions grows ever wider.
Success is not a standalone event, it requires working constantly towards a specific goal so that you can finally realise it. Establish what it is that you want to achieve so that you can incrementally learn and improve to reach your final goal.
“Being productive and being busy are not necessarily the same thing. Doing things won’t create your success; doing the right things will,” says Olsen.
Always Ask Questions
Some things cannot be learnt from a book. Actively seek out experts in fields that you otherwise lack the skills in and ask questions. This may take a bit of pride swallowing but the benefits far outweigh a moment of awkwardness.
Research from Washington University has shown that questioning helps you to create mental representations that will aid you to both understand and remember the information. Questioning works because it makes you an active learner instead of a passive recipient of information. When you interact with information by elaborating on it, thinking about its context, or relating some pieces of information to others, you increase the likelihood that you will remember it.
Apply What You Learn
Don’t just accumulate a large archive of learning and information. The greatest benefit of learning comes from applying it to your business and life.
Olsen said that learning is: “The greatest gift you could ever give yourself is also the wisest business investment you could ever make. It is the most critical step in accomplishing any challenging task, and is the one step without which all other success strategies, no matter how brilliant or time tested, are doomed to fail.”