“Know something about something…”

What is this thing; lifelong learning? David Brooks called it the ‘question-driven life’, and the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke delivered one of the best defining quotes: “Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.” 

Lifelong learning = Curiosity

Recently, in a response to a consultant survey, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc. identified curiosity as the one attribute a leader will need to succeed in the future.

Journalist and questionologist, Warren Berger reports ‘Why Curious People Are Headed To the C-Suite’ for the Harvard Business Review.

“Dell was responding to a 2015 PwC survey of more than a thousand CEOs, a number of whom cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as leadership traits that are becoming increasingly critical in challenging times. Another of the respondents, McCormick & Company CEO Alan D. Wilson, noted that business leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful.

“These days, a leader’s primary occupation must be to discover the future,” Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich told me. It’s “a continual search,” Shaich says, requiring that today’s leader keep exploring new ideas—including ideas from other industries or even from outside the business world.”

OK, you’re not the head of a multi-national corporation, but you have questions, and not just about the technical aspects of work. It’s the human stuff that’s a bit more difficult to unbundle.

There have been continuing education and extension programs catering to adult learning for a hundred years. Most are connected to an academic institution and offer ‘lite’ versions of curricula taught to college students.

In the summer of 2008, ‘philosopher of life’ Alain deBotton founded ‘The School of Life’ in London a few blocks walk from the Russell Square Underground Station. Since then it has evolved into the new model for lifelong learning, employing non-traditional faculty to deliver programing focused on “developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand, and where necessary change, the world.”

In the Marchmont Street location, and recently opened global sites, professionals come together to learn, share and evolve in a safe space of respectful interaction. This past weekend, SOL offered a ‘pop-up’ sampling of programs in Los Angeles. I attended three of the five sessions led by philosopher and trust consultant, Brennan Jacoby.

On a beautiful California Saturday morning, a diverse group of students arrived at the Design Matters Gallery to begin a day of three, 90 minute sessions. The content informed, inspired and provoked lively discussion.

The School of Life model works because talented faculty deliver contemporary topics, using an instructional technique that allows for the right balance of introspection, sharing and networking. Sessions seemed to end too soon, with attendees lingering to continue conversations.

For the Los Angeles weekend the topics included: How to Find A Job You Love, How to Be Creative, How to Think Like an Entrepreneur, How to be Confident and How to Have Better Conversations.

The School of Life is a catalyst for the question-driven life. If you’ve decided your ‘wonderful self’ is not quite perfect yet, and you’re “ready to amass knowledge and offer it around”, set you lifelong learning GPS on London, or visit the website to begin your quest.

 

 

 

Work is not a spectator sport

There are conversations, articles and books that resonate with us over time because they serve as recurring reminders of the essential elements we need to incorporate into our daily work lives.

One article I recommend is a 2011 OpEd piece written by David Brooks in The New York Times. Titled ‘The Question-Driven Life’ it begins with the statement: “We are born with what some psychologists call an “explanatory drive.” You give a baby a strange object or something that doesn’t make sense and she will become instantly absorbed; using all her abilities — taste, smell, force — to figure out how it fits in with the world.”

I believe that curiosity is a key element to success in a career. But how many of us approach our work with the intense desire to learn of the average two year old?

How do we learn if we don’t ask questions? How do we make connections to solve problems if we don’t ask questions? Observation plays a key role in our success, but sitting back as a spectator does not give us the information we need to actively engage with our colleagues, clients and investors.

The concept of the question driven life fits nicely into the world where investigative skills define the work of the profession; research, science, medicine. However, today, in our information driven world, we are all researchers and problem-solvers.  In a world of Wikipedia, it’s best to get first hand information, asking questions of actual humans, face to face. And in finding answers we further develop our expertise and begin to identify connections beyond the scope of our initial task.

And we become more valuable to others, for the knowledge we possess and share.

Mr. Brooks concludes his article with one of my favorite quotes, encouraging engagement in work and life quoting the late Richard Holbrook‘s essential piece of advice for a question-driven life: “Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it.”