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How To Learn What You Don’t Know

How To Learn What You Don’t Know


    I once knew a small company CEO who controversially brought three former accountants onto his management team. “It’s accountant overload,” one employee complained. “And what does accounting have to do with marketing and client relationship management anyway?”

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    The new leaders had other expertise besides accounting, but that’s not my point. When I spoke to the CEO, I learned that he surrounded himself with financial prowess because he considered this to be his personal area of weakness.  “I don’t have a strong accounting background, and yet finance plays a major role in every area of our business.   Issues are inevitably going to come up that I need solid and informed advice handling, even if I can’t identify those issues yet,” he told me.

    Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several CEOs. The one thing they all have in common is self-awareness. People who have gotten to the level of chief executive officer, whether at a large or small organization, are there because they know they don’t have all the answers and are receptive to continuous learning and improvement. They know what they don’t know.

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    In order to reach the next level of success in your career, it’s worth making an effort to uncover what you don’t know and/or what you may not do as well compared to others. I guarantee there’s something even if your job appears to be going smoothly. Here are four ideas to get you started:

    Inventory Sub-Optimal Situations

    The best way to uncover knowledge gaps is to closely examine your current work and identify areas where you are not succeeding as much as you wish you were, as well as the negative or unproductive scenarios that keep cropping up over and over again. For instance, this year I observed that I was able to score a lot of introductory meetings with potential new clients, but that I rarely converted those meetings into actual business. I eventually chalked it up to a deficit in sales skills and sought immediate mentorship on the subject.

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    Take an Assessment

    Many written and online surveys are available to help you identify both your strengths and weaknesses. BestUniversities.com has a nice roster of free tools. Because online surveys are not particularly reliable, I recommend taking several and trying to identify a pattern of similar results. Note that popular assessments like StrengthsFinder are not as useful in this capacity because they focus on capitalizing on your strengths and gloss over areas for improvement.

    Ask Colleagues Anonymously

    It’s important to regularly solicit 360 degree feedback on your performance even if you aren’t a manager. Devise specific questions like: “What is one thing I could do more effectively to make your job easier?” and “If I could take one professional development course this year, what do you think would be most helpful for me?” and survey everyone who has worked with you recently. Make sure that colleagues and reports know that they can respond anonymously, because all-positive feedback given under duress won’t do you any good.  If you don’t have a tool to do this in-house, Rypple is a terrific option.

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    Work with a Coach

    You can often learn a lot by talking with an objective third-party who is not personally invested in your work.  Career coaches are wonderful at sizing up your situation and recommending growth opportunities. For a recommendation, either ask a trusted colleague, friend, or expert, or consult an organization like the International Coaching Federation. Select someone who makes you feel comfortable, but who will also challenge you.

    If the acknowledgement of your imperfections makes you feel insecure, take heart. The first step to remedying any deficiency is to acknowledge it, and by admitting you don’t know what you don’t know, you’ve made a powerful proclamation about your future potential.

    (Photo credit: Businessman in Lotus Pose via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on August 21, 2018

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

    Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

    When you train your brain, you will:

    • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
    • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. Hello promotion, here I come!
    • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. No, thanks Alzheimer’s; you and I are just not a good fit.

    So how to train your brain to learn faster and remember more?

    1. Work your memory

    Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

    When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

    If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

    The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

    Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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    Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

    What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

    For example, say you just met someone new.

    “Hi, my name is George”

    Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.” Got it? Good.

    2. Do something different repeatedly

    By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

    Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

    It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

    And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

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    But how does this apply to your life right now?

    Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

    Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

    Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

    So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

    You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

    That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

    3. Learn something new

    It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

    For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

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    Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

    You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

    4. Follow a brain training program

    The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

    5. Work your body

    You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

    Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

    Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

    Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

    6. Spend time with your loved ones

    If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

    If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

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    I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

    7. Avoid crossword puzzles

    Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

    Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

    Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

    8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

    Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

    When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

    So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

    Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

    Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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