Are You Still Learning?
I played in the National Football League for 18 years. I played in 246 regular season games with 239 starts, plus 11 more playoff games, including 3 Super Bowls. There aren’t many, before or since, who have played more. But here’s the thing: after all that time, all that experience, I was still learning and getting smarter and finding ways to get better up until my very last game.
Today, I’ve been in the business world for more than 50 years. I’ve started and built more than 20 companies, from fast food to advertising to technology, from the old school to the new school. Through all that, and with all that I’ve learned, I am still learning and getting smarter and getting better every day.
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That’s what it takes to be successful. You can’t stop learning, whether you’re a quarterback or an entrepreneur. There is always something new to try and an area to improve. It never stops.
But to be able to do that, you have to be honest with yourself, recognize your limitations, and have the humility to ask for help. I don’t think that I’ve ever had an original idea—all our learning comes from other people. So I learn by going to other people and asking them questions. I want to learn what they know, and then find ways to apply their ideas to the challenges that I’m facing.
Asking someone for help and advice is not a weakness. It’s not weak to admit that you can’t do it alone. It’s a sign that you understand yourself. We all have things we don’t know, and things we need help with—the question is whether you can admit that to yourself and to others, to people who can help you overcome that weakness. Denying it just means that you’ll never improve; when you admit you need help, you’re on the path to turning a weakness into a strength.
I read a fantastic interview in the New York Times last week that touched on these ideas. Amy Pressman is the president and co-founder of Medallia, providing customer service technology. She was asked about her company’s culture. Here’s how she responded:
“People present themselves with resumes of unbroken success. But none of us are perfect. Unfortunately, when we hit roadblocks and need help, many of us don’t feel like we can ask for it. So we’re essentially curtailing the pace at which we can learn, because it’s much harder to learn in the shadows without asking for help than to just come out and say, ‘I am really struggling with this. Please help me. What can I do?’
“Ultimately, the one sustainable competitive advantage that a company can have is a culture that enables its people and the entire organization to learn faster. Fast learning has to come from a place of people feeling safe to talk about what’s working and not working, of recognizing that their job is not to appear perfect but to get better.”
That’s powerful. A business can have every advantage, but if its people aren’t learning, aren’t admitting their weaknesses and looking for ways to improve, then ultimately they will fall behind. No matter what you do, how big you are, how successful you’ve been, the number one thing has to be continual learning and improvement.
The process never ends—and that’s the fun of it! I love learning something new and trying new ideas. I want to see what works, what doesn’t, and constantly refine what we’re doing to get better and better.
I encourage you to think about where you need help. What don’t you know? Find people and resources that can help you, and learn. Learn, and get better. You’ll be glad you did.