Education, experience and enthusiasm are each sparkplugs that work to ignite your success. But if you want to build speed and maintain momentum, you’ll need sustainable fuel in the form of lifelong learning. The world is in a state of perpetual evolution, and in order to stay abreast of the latest innovations and understand how to leverage them effectively, you’ll need to get curious and strive to continually expand your knowledge base. Show me any successful person and I’ll show you someone who continually cultivates their mind and persistently looks for new ways to incorporate knowledge and its application in all that they do.
Consider the following strategies for cultivating your desire for knowledge and turning it into success.
Step 1: Read challenging material.
Expanding your knowledge base isn’t about simply increasing the consumption of “more information.” It is, however, all about adding value. To enhance your understanding of your field, it’s important that you continue to seek out new and high quality sources of information that are both relevant and inspire you to work outside your comfort zone. Reading challenging material is one important way to accomplish this aim. Entrepreneur and renowned life coach Tony Robbins is a voracious reader who has read well over 10,000 books and constantly expands his understanding with high caliber daily reading of some sort.
While you might have to do some digging to find sources that are equally thought provoking and useful, in the end you will be glad you did. Start your research with a leading expert in your field. What have they written? What do they recommend reading? Who are their colleagues and what have they written? Make it a point to read four or five good articles every week and finish at least one stimulating book a month.
You should also avoid the confirmation bias trap. If there are contrasting viewpoints on any topic you’re studying—and there usually are—read them and understand where the points of contention are. Contrarian thought is not a bad thing.
And after you’ve read something insightful, choose a key takeaway that you can immediately apply to your life. If you can’t turn theory into practice, you’re probably not reading the right materials.
Step 2: Seek constructive feedback.
Besides making avid reading a habit, you should also condition yourself to seek feedback from people who will offer you honest but constructive criticism. Learning isn’t only about what you take in from the typical sources, especially of your own volition. It’s also about getting objective feedback that can help discover blind spots and missteps that you may be too close to perceive on your own.
After all, the goal is always to become smarter and better, so your focus should be on sharpening your acumen by using all available sources.
Bob Dignen, of Cambridge University Press, explains the importance of feedback this way: “Working internationally, which often entails working with high levels of cultural diversity, business complexity and within virtual teams, means we are likely to get things wrong from time to time. We will assume things incorrectly. We will communicate in ways which are confusing and possibly impolite for others. The only way to make sure we don’t continue making the same mistakes is to get feedback.” Whether working domestically or internationally, getting quality feedback should be high on your list of priorities. Insights gained through fresh eyes can influence brand credibility and impact your overall success.
Is feedback always easy to accept? Of course not. Having a third party examine your shortcomings can be a hard pill to swallow. No matter. That detail doesn’t change the fact that it’s incredibly necessary to maximize your success. So, decide in advance to develop thick skin and welcome constructive feedback from credible sources with open arms.
Related: How to Overcome the Fear of Feedback
Step 3: Learn so you can teach others.
Acquiring new knowledge and applying it to your life will dramatically increase your chances of achieving the goals you set out for yourself, but it will also help others realize their potential. Your achievements will hardly go unnoticed by those around you, and when they ask you about the secrets of your success, you can direct them to the resources that have helped you. Share that knowledge with an open hand. Don’t think of the people around you as competitors who might be gunning for your job, your clients or your fame; think of them as potential allies who can spread wealth throughout the knowledge pipeline. Be the rising tide that lifts all boats.
Richard Rusczyk notes that teaching others also removes the possibility of self-deceit, meaning that the best evidence of your own understanding is your ability to competently convey that knowledge to someone else. “Teaching also forces you to communicate your thoughts clearly and precisely… but being heard is not enough. You must also be understood. Your ideas will never be more effective than your ability to make others comprehend them.”
If you think about it, there are probably many “teachers” who have helped you get to where you are today. While it may seem cliché, it’s also true that to whom much is given, much is required. Therefore, do no miss an opportunity to share your knowledge, lessons and advice with others whenever it arises.
If you aspire to be a lifelong learner who is motivated by not only your own success, but by helping others, your goal should always be to create a dynamic ecosystem that fosters continual learning and growth. Your curiosity and thirst for knowledge will inevitably inspire others, so be mindful of your purpose as you move forward in your personal journey. Sit down with a good book as often as possible, seek needed feedback and then pass it around when you’re done. The world is an unfathomable reservoir of knowledge—it’s simply up to us to root it out.
A leading authority on leadership development and organizational performance management, Karima Mariama-Arthur brings more than 25 years of comprehensive, blue chip experience in law, business and academia to every client engagement. A shrewd advisor to distinguished organizations from DC to Dubai, her expert insights help clients to successfully navigate today's ever-changing and competitive global business environment. Karima is the author of the internationally acclaimed and 2019 NAACP Image Award nominated leadership guidebook, Poised For Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan), which launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As an extension of her work, she speaks regularly both nationally and internationally in her areas of expertise and serves in an advisory capacity on select corporate boards.