Are You Ever Too Old to Learn New Things?

June 23, 2017

By Ric McCullough, Vice President of Sales & Customer Service

Is it possible that you can ever be too old to learn new things? If your answer is no then here’s another question. Is it possible that you can become too old or set in your ways to accept learning; to acquiesce to the fact that at any occasion at any time during any day you can learn a lot of new things?

I would answer no and yes respectively to those two questions.  No, you’re never too old to learn and yes, it’s easy to believe that you’ve learned enough. It’s easy to think that the skills and knowledge gained after a lifetime in business make you equipped to handle any decision; that you’ve seen it all and there’s not much that you can gain in new knowledge.  I have seen it before – professional leaders who think it’s just the same old stuff regurgitated, reformulated and rebranded as the new and improved learning trend of the week.  Good grief! I hope and pray that I never become that person.

Here are three simple and effective ways to make sure you never stop learning.

Learning Through Mistakes
I have learned all kinds of things from my many mistakes. The one thing I never learn is to stop making them. ― Joe AbercrombieLast Argument of Kings

At a relatively young age, I had the very good fortune to work at a company that lived by a set of Core Values. Three wise men owned and led that company and while I learned so much from them, this one core value has always stuck with me:  the willingness to make mistakes; to fail and to learn.

It makes no difference if you manage yourself or if you also manage others. Have the courage and self-respect to make informed decisions and if they’re wrong, own it and determine what you learned from that outcome. Understand that, at the very least, you just eliminated one of the ways that didn’t work and now you’re closer to a working solution.  Some of the best things learned in my life were lessons I learned from mistakes I made.

Do you embrace and project a culture with your direct reports that it’s okay to make a mistake? Have you developed that level of trust with your folks so that decisions are made based on merit and not based on fear? These are easy but important questions to ask and answer if you believe this core value.

Learning Through Collaboration
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. ― Benjamin Franklin

This is one of my absolute favorite Ben Franklin quotes. Do you create a collaborative environment at the workplace?  If not, you are missing out on a true “win-win” scenario. If, in collaborating with others, you not only solve a problem or issue but you also learn through collaboration something new or come to a realization you hadn’t considered before – what could be better? Additional, incremental benefits are simply everywhere with collaboration. It’s not just you learning alone, its everyone learning from everyone else. It’s about gaining new perspectives, it’s learning to be an active listener, it’s building teamwork, its networking, it fortifies goals. Collaboration is the one learning method that just keeps on giving.

I recently was faced with a thorny work issue that was also time-sensitive. I happened to have a meeting already scheduled that day with good friend and PSA HR consultant, Leila Blauner, of Scalability Solutions. I asked her if we could change the agenda for our meeting and explained my issue. We collaborated on this for the next hour and by the time that meeting was over, I realized that not only did we solve my business issue but she also helped me to clear away all the emotional noise so we could just concentrate on a solution. That was a new lesson for me. I learned a lot from that collaboration.

Learning as an Elixir of Life
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. ― Mahatma Gandhi

If you are a believer in continual improvement and learning, there is no better quote than this. Living every day to the fullest as if it were your last day and learning as if you had all the time in the world may seem like it’s just too dramatic for your tastes and sensibilities. If so, I would ask this question:  How many times this week or month did you say to yourself or a peer, “Well, there’s an hour of my life I will never get back.”  Just pledge that you’ll stop doing that and use that time instead to engage in a meaningful collaboration with a colleague or spend that time learning something new.

While these comments and observations cannot be solely attributed to age, suffice it to say that with age has come a greater appreciation of the role of continual learning as a measure of success in life and business.

If you are not learning, then, in one man’s humble opinion, you just are not living.

So tell me, what did you learn today?