Description: Maintaining a lifelong learner’s mindset by embracing new experiences and seeking diverse perspectives.
Thinking Partner Notes
What’s the fiction: If it’s not directly related to your work, it’s a waste of your time.
What's really true: The most consistently creative and insightful people explore; they seek out new people and different ideas, without trying to find the “best” people or “best” ideas. Instead, they seek out people with different views and different ideas.
Example: When I first asked Stephan what he wanted to work on, he said in a very awkward voice, "I don't know, maybe how to talk to people I don't know more easily." He literally started to whisper, which was unusual for a 240-pound six-foot four guy. I asked if he had an event or something big coming up. He did: a client fundraiser. He went to great lengths to share how much he hated these things, and he wasn't a social animal, and what a waste of time...
Instead of tackling the social discomfort of the event, I asked in his work (he worked all the time) how he found new opportunities to invest in. He said through reading. I asked who he did feel comfortable speaking to; he described at work he could talk to anyone, because it was about work–it was transactional and they had a reason to talk. He emphasized the word "reason." In past conversations with me, Stephan had shared his appetite for learning; He dedicated hours a day to it. "What if the reason to speak with someone was to learn?" I asked. "What would I learn from them?" he retorted, "I know nothing about them." I asked him if a random conversation between him and another person he didn't know had ever happened where he learned something valuable. After thinking about it, he leaned in and said, "There was this time an electrician came over to my house, after fixing my wire issue he asked if I had been to the new exhibit 'Bodies' yet. I said no, I hadn't heard of it. He described in detail the fascination of seeing the human body down to every vein and organ. It piqued my interested, so I went. To this day, as I sit on boards of medical tech companies I can somewhat follow along because of what I experienced at the exhibit. It had a profound effect on me." Our discussion came back to the event and he decided he could go if he looked at each person he spoke to as a potential harbinger of random knowledge.
When he reported back after the event, he actually enjoyed himself. He had learned about the ingredients and process for making cosmetics, the risk of shipping container insurance, and the latest injury concerns for football players. He had been quite engaged and happy he attended.
Things to try: 1) Practice following the things that strike a spark of interest; 2) Practice trying to be surprised by something every day; 3) Practice exploring unfamiliar media (i.e. articles, music, film, short stories).
Next steps: 1) Find a friend or colleague whose experience or expertise is unfamiliar to you; 2) Schedule time to meet with them for lunch or coffee; 3) During your meeting, ask as many questions as possible about the subject of their experience/expertise and listen intently.