WHEN I was still a teacher, and even up to now, I always believed there is no such thing as a stupid student. Only lazy ones. Students have different intelligence ratios and have different learning opportunities. Some have steeper learning curves and thus exert more effort in learning new things. Others have an accelerated learning curve where they listen to something for the first time and they understand it right away. Same with some adults—some quickly learn new skills while others quickly forget even something they had just been told.
It all boils down to people’s learning curves—how fast someone can assimilate a new process to enhance their performance of a given task. When people become older, this becomes steeper for most, while some surprise themselves by learning new skills even way past their retirement. It is not true that you cannot teach old dogs new tricks. Sometimes, it just takes time. And when you find yourself grappling with new processes, there are several things you can do to hasten your learning curve and enhance your personal productivity.
Master the basics. Nobody becomes an expert on something overnight. Often, it takes years of failures, success, research, and a lot of effort for one to become specialized in something, more so when it is a highly technical field. Some come through with the help of mentors who will guide them through the process, while others find it in themselves to push through and succeed. Understanding the basics will help you look at the processes involved and help you understand how, if possible, things can be improved. You can suggest new ways of doing things, but a good understanding of the basics will provide the foundation for improving them.
Use your strengths to learn new things. I once had a new team member who came from corporate communication. She was very good at what she does and could navigate through all types of people and personalities. She used that to learn the ins and outs of the organization and which departments worked well with what and within a few weeks, she was able to establish a point of contact from key departments we worked with. And from there, she learned their training needs, processes, and best practices. In the same manner, use your own strengths to build up on what you need to know to get your work done.
Read up on best practices. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” A good way to jump-start learning is to learn from others’ mistakes. Read up on emerging trends and current issues in your profession as a lookout for possible self-improvement, or as a way of assessing risk to your own profession and organization. You can also learn from people’s stories and how they succeed in their own fields. One of the most enriching parts of interviewing people is asking them their biggest mistake and the lesson they learned from it. You not only get to know people better but you also learn from them.
Your interests also play a crucial factor in learning something new. The more interested you are in learning a skill, the more invested you are. Take, for example, learning how to swim. If you were forced to learn to swim by being thrown in the water, chances are you would find it more of a threat than a fun activity. But when you initiate the lessons and even get in extra hours of practice because you really want to swim, it becomes easier for you to learn the necessary skills. When confronted with new processes or tasks at work, adopt a mindset where you visualize the benefits to motivate yourself to learn. Having an end goal always helps push you and keep you moving forward.
To be dexterous, accept new challenges in the workplace. Just make sure it fits within your interests, and the skills required to complete the project are more or less similar to the skills you need for your work. I remember the first time I wanted to do an interactive learning video where I had to take several shots of someone from a variety of angles. No one had done that, and I felt it was my opportunity to impress my peers. It was also my first time making a video, and my manager told me at the time to come up with a shot list.
I did not listen and ended up redoing the shoot because I did not have enough footage. But that mistake taught me why I had to do a shot list, and why it is important to plan video shoots especially when the model has a limited schedule. My manager was teaching me how to do it, but that mistake taught me why I had to do it. New challenges and experiences help solidify learning and improve our learning curve, so it sticks.
Create an environment for learning. I remember when we were putting together kits for our trainees and we had to photocopy, collate the materials, and then finally assemble the kits. Our mistake was everyone was doing everything all at once. It took us several hours to finish and there were some with missing pages and some with repeated materials. It cost us additional time to double check. After that, in the next batch, we all decided to divide the work among ourselves and one was assigned to publication, collation and assembly. It became easier for us to put the kits together. It also became easier for people to take responsibility for certain parts of the task, and it made everyone open to the possibility that there was a better way of doing things.
Learning new things need not be on pen and paper alone. There are countless ways for self-improvement and learning new skills. You just have to be open to new opportunities and have the mindset that everyone you meet has a lesson to teach you.