In my last column I talked about how people in organizations must continue to grow personally and professionally if they and their organizations are to thrive. Specifically, I discussed the importance of gaining knowledge. While reading, learning and gaining knowledge are essential, there are many other ways to grow. For example, reaching out to others to share what you’ve learned is one of the best ways to accelerate your own growth.
By teaching others what you’ve learned, you reinforce the lessons for yourself. You can do this by taking your expertise and turning it into a class or seminar, or by sitting on a panel at a professional conference. But teaching isn’t always about formally lecturing people. More often it’s about looking for teachable moments to guide others with insights or expertise that may be relevant.
When I was in graduate school I had a professor who spent years researching the most effective way to learn. He discovered three important practices of highly effective learners. Based on his findings, I urge people to do the following three things:
First — unless you’re among the tiny fraction of the population that has exceptional auditory memory — take notes during or as soon as possible after you learn. For the great majority, listening alone does not lead to learning. My professor’s research showed that just three hours after a seminar or class, pure listeners remembered only about 50 percent of what they’d just heard. Twenty-four hours later, they’d forgotten 50 percent of that. At the end of one month, they had less than 5 percent recall of the new material they’d been exposed to at the seminar.
This tracks with my own experience speaking at annual company meetings. Whenever I ask an audience who spoke to them the year before, more often than not I’m greeted by blank stares and head scratching.
Then I’ll ask, “What did last year’s speaker talk about?” Inevitably, they strain to remember the topic. As far as remembering the content of what they heard, forget about it! So I always encourage people to take notes.
The second thing I urge people to do is to re-read their notes within 24 hours and pull out the key insights. Summarize the major points and either write them in clear, neat handwriting or type them into an electronic device. This is important. Most people don’t look at their notes until somebody asks them a question about what they learned. Decipher your gibberish while the thoughts are still fresh in your mind, or else your notes will be useless.
Third, pass your knowledge on. Think of who can benefit from the information you’ve just absorbed. Within a week of your training session or seminar, take a colleague to lunch and share your learning, or reserve a conference room and invite everyone who could use the information to come and hear what you gleaned.
Sometimes the best way to teach is to tell stories. People’s eyes glaze over when you overload them with concepts and facts. An instructive story, colorfully told, is not only more memorable, it can also get past people’s judgmental, critical mind — the one that wants to argue about facts and concepts. By showing your point in a story, your teaching has a better chance of getting through. For example, if you want to teach people about the importance of good customer service, make your point come alive by telling a personal story about an experience with a company that turned you into a raving fan.
Reaching out to others can safeguard you from isolation and the tendency to believe your own press — pitfalls that trip up many leaders. Presenting yourself as a teacher forces you to stay on top of developments and trends. Conversing with your students keeps you open to new information and fresh thinking.
Be on the lookout for opportunities to share what you’re learning with colleagues and emerging leaders. The investment you make in others will come back to you many times over.
Ken Blanchard is a best-selling author, speaker and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.