“If I have seen further than others, it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of giants.”
These are the words of a giant about the giants that preceded him. These are the words of Sir Isaac Newton, the father of classical physics, who credited his success to the scientists that came before him, and from whose ideas he learnt.
Newton’s lifetime was a period of great scientific upheaval. Though scientists like Copernicus and Galileo had shunned the misconceptions of ancient scientific thought, science as a knowledge was more of a loose assortment of seemingly unrelated facts. Besides, pure science was often viewed as a plaything of intellectuals, and no one believed if it could be of any practical significance.
It was Isaac Newton who, building upon the works of his predecessors – Descartes, Galileo, Copernicus– supplied a unified theory that could make scientific predictions, and subsequently be applied to bring about the technological revolution that seems so mundane to us today. Newton himself realized and acknowledged the importance of the foundations laid by his forerunners. Newton studied the concepts of his precursors and then synthesized them to build the unified theory that led to many scientific and technological advances.
Take another example. Henry ford is often credited as the pioneer of mass-production; however, most of his ideas were not his own. Contrary to the misconception, he did not invent an automobile, Benz and Daimler had already done it; Eli Whitney had used interchangeable parts more than a century before; and the concept of assembly line was borrowed from meat industry. However, Ford assimilated these methodologies according to his requirements.
There is a common element in the two success stories: both great men learnt from others and utilized that learning to their own purpose. While Newton learnt from the scientific ideas of Descartes, Galileo, and Copernicus to formulate his theories, Ford combined the manufacturing ideas from various industries to create and perfect his assembly line.
Following the footsteps of Newton and Ford, dear readers, don’t hesitate to learn from seniors and peers and upon that learning, construct the building of your own ideas. Here are the seven lessons to help you improve your learning abilities.
Lesson One: Identify Your Learning Needs
The first step towards learning new skills and ideas is to identify and accept your weaknesses—call them your leaning needs. If you think you are already perfect and don’t need to learn anything, you are shutting your doors on new competences. It takes some courage to call a spade a spade, especially if it bruises your ego, but it is certainly worth doing.
Learning can be obtained at three levels: talking, teaching, and training. Talking is the first level. You start by talking to people who already know. For instance, you learn your native language by talking to your parents. The second level of learning is teaching i.e. a teacher explains you a particular subject with specific focus on your leaning needs. The third level of learning is training i.e. when you start doing a certain trade by yourself.
Above is a natural process flow for learning new skills. However, based on your own needs, you can decide what sort of trainings you would need. Identify your needs and make a training plan.
Lesson Two: Don’t Hesitate to Make Mistakes
Albert Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”. Let me modify this a bit: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never learnt anything new”. If you don’t try new things just because you are afraid of making mistakes, you are blocking your learning and progression. Be it Edison’s light bulb or Einstein’s relativity theories, all human accomplishments are invariably the final product of countless mistakes and associated learnings.
Lesson Three: Learn Both Directly and Indirectly
You can learn from people both directly and indirectly. Direct learning includes communication, face-to-face or remote e.g. online, with people who know better than you. With regards to direct learning, conversation is deemed better than interrogation as it provides a means of two-way learning. Indirect learning could be by observing people doing things and imitating them. Reading books, surfing internet, watching DIY videos would also fall under indirect learning.
Lesson Four: Choose a Mentor
Learning a new trade could be intimidating and overwhelming. You might need someone to guide you through the process. Such a person is called a mentor. Ideally, it would be someone who would have been in your position in the past; such a person would be able to understand your learning needs in a better way. For instance, a senior engineer can be a mentor to a fresh engineering graduate. Having a good mentor would help you expedite your learning and make it more effective.
Lesson Five: Leave Your Biases Aside
An open mind is an essential pre-requisite for effective learning. You may learn from people you don’t like but if you are biased about their personalities or views, the information you receive might be filtered, possibly allowing only the negative things to pass through. This kills the essence of the learning process as what you perceive is a twisted view of the information. Be open, be ready to accept others’ views.
Lesson Six: Feel Indebted but Not Patronized
Learning from others doesn’t mean being patronized by them; it just means you are open for progress. A surprising number of people are reluctant to learn from others. They feel it is somehow demeaning or patronizing; however, this is merely a perception. All of us try to imitate the best athletes, businessmen but learning the same thing from a peer would be considered condescending. Avoid this perception. And yes, don’t forget to acknowledge the contribution of people from whom you learn.
Lesson Seven: Always Keep Learning
“I am still learning”. Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, said these words when he was 87 years old. And this is probably what made him great – an unwavering thirst for knowledge and learning. You may be an expert in a certain field, but you can never claim you have mastered everything. There is always something you can learn, even from a novice. Stay humble and keep learning.