How being committed to lifelong learning makes you a better business leader
Today, we live in a world where many things change more quickly than it did a decade or so ago. Many products and services we use today didn’t even exist a decade ago, like the iPad, Uber, Instagram, DropBox, or Airbnb. At the current rate of change, your skills—and your business—can quickly become obsolete and irrelevant.
Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger
Warren Buffet is an American business magnate, the CEO and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and considered to be one of the world’s most successful investors. Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s right-hand man at Berkshire Hathaway. Together, they have an estimated net worth of US$80 billion. More importantly, despite their old age, both are still widely known as committed lifelong learners.
Charlie Munger famously said:
The other big secret is that we’re good at lifelong learning. Warren is better in his 70s and 80s, in many ways, than he was when he was younger. If you keep learning all the time, you have a wonderful advantage.
Buffett and Munger estimate that they spend 80% of their day reading or thinking about what they’ve read. And if they aren’t reading, Munger says they spend a lot of time talking to people who are intelligent and talented—people who can teach them new things at the end of the day.
How does lifelong learning benefit these two men? Mugner says, “We’ve learned how to outsmart people who are clearly smarter [than we are].”
Sir Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and has an estimated net worth of US$5 billion. He famously said:
The best way of learning about anything is by doing.
He believes that experience is a good teacher and that mistakes provide a lot of lessons that allow one to grow. While Branson has built strong brands like Virgin Airlines, he’s also had big public failures like Virgin Cola. But he says:
It’s more likely that you will succeed because of what you learned from the occasions when you didn’t succeed … The most important thing is not to be put off by failure.
Branson also believes that a good leader learns from listening to other people. This means getting ideas from the people you work with and getting feedback from the people around you—the more one listens, the more one learns.
His learning philosophy and can-do attitude have led him to bring the Virgin Group where it is today.
Bill Gates famously founded the Microsoft Corporation, and he currently has a net worth of US$88.9 billion. He has a very healthy view of failure. He said:
Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.
Like Branson, Gates believes that failure and mistakes provide a lot of lessons for growth. Mistakes force us to change our tack and improve ourselves so that we can succeed the next time we try.
Gates is also a voracious reader, like Buffett and Munger. He reads an average of 50 books a year.
All four business leaders are, without a doubt, four of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. And all four have one other thing in common: they are lifelong learners, and they acknowledge that this is the key to their successes.
But how exactly does lifelong learning help one achieve success?
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology conducted a field experiment between two companies of soldiers conducting navigation exercises. After a series of exercises, each company was asked to review the events. However, while one company was asked to focus only on the mistakes and failures, the other company was asked to focus on both their successes and failures. While both companies showed signs of learning, the company that discussed both their failures and successes learned much more and developed “richer mental models.” What this means is that they are better able to interpret events and experiences, and have a better understanding of what to do and what not do to ensure future success.
What does this mean for business owners?
Our success very much depends on what we know and how we can access that information and resources. And while failure is a good teacher, we cannot afford to fail all the time just to learn something new. That’s why lifelong learners look to other sources to enrich their knowledge.
Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates learn not just from their own experiences, but show that they also learn vicariously by reading books and listening to the people around them—and they do so continually and consciously throughout their day, throughout their life.
So, to sum up, here are things you can do to be lifelong learners:
- Read regularly.
- Talk to people smarter than you.
- Listen to people.
- Learn from your experiences and mistakes.
- Learn from other people’s experiences and mistakes.
If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.