Always be Eager to Learn!
Your days of learning don’t need to stop when you walk out of school for the last time. Treat life as one big classroom.
By Phil Latz
Let’s start with a story.
Once upon a time, many years ago, I came back from a season of bicycle racing for a team in France, more than a little disillusioned with all of the drug taking I saw. I soon got married, then before long we had two daughters and for the first time in my life needed to seriously think of a career choice other than trying to become a professional cyclist.
I found myself as a ‘base grade clerk’ in the Australian public service, sitting next to a gentleman who’d had a very interesting life. ‘Bill’, as I’ll call him for his privacy, had escaped early family tragedy – his father had committed suicide – by joining the Australian Army and spending time in Asia where he became an interpreter.
Years later he returned to Australia, settled down, got married and started a family. He worked his way up through the ranks to become a store manager for Woolworths, then advanced to shopping centre management, before mental health issues saw him unable to work for a long period. Then he started back in the workforce at the bottom of the ladder, sitting right next to me as a fellow base grade clerk.
Bill turned 40 during our year or so working together. At the time he said, ‘You’ve got no idea how quickly the time has gone.’
Already knowing everything, as I did at age 22, I was too polite to say what I thought at the time, which was literally, ‘Don’t kid yourself, you’re way old!’
No offense if any public servant is reading this story, but from my experience, we never had too much work to do. Bill had many interesting stories from his action packed life. He was good at telling them and I had plenty of time to listen.
In particular, through many episodes over the weeks and months, he effectively gave me a complete course on how to run a Woolworths supermarket – everything from stock control to merchandising to staff management to sales and marketing and more. I reckon I could have walked straight into one and taken over!
So when the opportunity came up a couple of years later to buy a run-down country general store I said to my wife, ‘Let’s find out if what Bill taught me really works.’ Sure, the scale was smaller, but the principles were all the same.
Turned out Bill knew his stuff… by applying his lessons we quickly built up the business and sold that general store for almost twice what we paid for it within two years.
The sale of that business gave us our first ever decent lump of capital which we ploughed straight back into founding Bicycling Australia. Initially we were a one magazine start-up working from a home office. Over the next quarter-century we became the largest specialist cycling media business in Australia, adding more magazines, book publishing, trade shows, online mail order, before selling the three distinct sections of that business to three different buyers between 2014 and 2017.
So without Bill’s teaching we might never have bought our first business, which in turn enabled us to start our second. The moral of the story is you can learn valuable lessons anywhere, any time. Your education shouldn’t finish the day you leave school.
Learning starts with having an open minded attitude. As one famous author says, ‘Your attitude determines your altitude.’
Today there are more learning opportunities than ever. You don’t have to pay $50,000 for an MBA degree from a prestigious university, although that might be the right choice for you. Apart from the traditional books, short courses, recorded lessons and so on, there’s now a wealth of good material on line. I’m still learning about all sorts of topics, just has fast as I can cram information into my ageing brain!
You don’t just benefit for narrow learning directly relating to your business. Anything that gets you inspired or thinking about possibilities will help you, which is why I’ve also read a lot of biographies.
Please don’t say, ‘But I’m too busy running my business to do any learning!’
You make time for the things that you value. If you watch any TV, you have time. That might sound very harsh when taken out of context. Of course, we need to relax, watch some TV, spend time with family, play sport or whatever you enjoy. My point is that it’s easy to make excuses regarding a lack of time when it comes to things like intentional learning and self-improvement.
Getting more structure into your schedule might not come naturally to you, but in my experience that’s the best way to make time for learning.
Business coaching is a form of learning, with a good dose of personal accountability added into the mix. Like all forms of learning, it won’t suit everyone. It requires you to come with the right attitude. The clients who get the most out of coaching are the ones who are open to new ideas. Are you brave enough acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that you could learn new ideas that help you to improve their business, and your life?
That requires you to be open to change. Which is a scary thought to most people at the best of times. Never more so than today, when technology is driving change at an accelerating rate in just about every facet of life. You have my complete sympathy. I sometimes wish I was born a century ago in simpler times – but not for long.
Perhaps the only thought more scary than having to change is that if your competitors are more open to change and new ideas than you are, they could run you out of business.