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November - 2007 - issue > Entrepreneur
Journey of Life Long Learning
Gunjan Sinha
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Learning as a discipline
As an entrepreneur, leader, programmer, sales person, or student every one of us is constantly being pushed to learn new things. In many instances, we actually do end up learning many of those things. But, how do you create a systematic framework for personal lifelong learning, one which helps us learn across various aspects of business, technology, and start-ups? How do you institutionalize learning within your organization, in such a way that the organization (be it a small group, or your entire company) can learn to learn new things in the ever changing marketplace?

I am a big proponent of building a learning organization. A system of learning that helps you develop a closed loop learning process with you and your environment. It is my firm belief that technologists and entrepreneurs who become good at learning, end up being much more successful in their careers eventually. They develop greater resilience to face challenges, they are able to morph to suit changing environments, and as a result establish their mark and leadership within their organization.

Many of us are so caught up with the intricacies of our day-to-day actions and reactions that we do not ever invest in developing a framework of learning, thereby foregoing the opportunity of life-long learning and career advancement.

Build learning loops
As you develop an organization (or network) of people who have to learn to learn from each other, it is important that there are clear and simple learning loops between these individuals. To establish learning loops, one has to consciously build organizational processes and culture, which foster team learning across groups of individuals. In many situations, when a group of people or even a single individual is failing to correct their problem, or learn from their past mistakes, it could very well be the result of missing the learning loops between this group and his environment. A good example could be a sales guy, who is constantly trying to get an appointment with his prospects but is repeatedly failing to establish contact and is not able to learn from his or her limitations. In this example, if there was a well developed learning loop between the prospect and the sales person, after 2-3-4 attempts at establishing contact, the sales person will start to study the effect of his sales calls and begin to realize that things are not working as planned. He or she will then start adapting to a “Plan B” which might drive him or her to try an alternate route to establish the contact with that prospect, or perhaps to change the game by having some one else reach out to the prospect instead, and then forward the contact to him. This adaptability is the essential element found in a learning individual or a learning organization.

Learning begins with listening
Good learners are good students. They know how to listen to what is being told to them. In many business and technical situations, there is a clear feedback coming from the customers or markets or other channels of the organization to your actions. Some of this feedback is clear and verbal, and some of these feedbacks are subtle and non-verbal. As a smart professional, your job is to learn how to listen well to these inputs without letting your ego come in the way. The urge to speak up and get noticed is a natural one, but perhaps, should be saved till the point of time when you have personally assimilated the feedback from the environment.

Begin to unlearn your past
Very often I come across individuals who weigh in too much of their prior experiences. They may have learnt that serving customers in a certain way works well, or in some cases may have a bias towards a style of marketing, which helped them to be successful. While past is good to learn from, most of the outcomes of your current venture will depend on how you navigate the future. You have to look at and accept the world as it comes at you, and apply techniques which are relevant for this time and day. Not a method that worked the last time last year. Experience should teach you to unlearn your past, so that you are open minded towards the future. Top tier entrepreneurs and technologists are busy shaping the future the new way, and not in re-applying the rules from their past experiences. Your past experiences give you a sounding board, a gut check to help you apply what might be relevant today or in the future – No more!

Choose your mentors early on
This one sounds obvious, but very often I find that many professionals do not take the time or trouble to identify a mentor who can give the guidance through his or her lifetime career. Mentors have been there before and have done that, whatever you are involved in today. They have played several innings; you can draw upon their experiences to your advantage. Most successful professionals decide upon their mentors early on in their careers. At siliconIndia.com, I am proud that we have set up a nice platform for mentorship, to help those who want to start learning from their mentors. If you have not checked out the mentorship section of the siliconindia.com web site, I would strongly urge you to do so now. These services are freely available to all of the registered members of siliconindia. There are other credible platforms for mentorship, for example TIE has a successful mentorship program to help you navigate through your career or venture startup. Mentors are different from your direct managers, as they are providing you an unbiased advice aimed at merely helping you achieve more with your time and resources. Many forward looking organizations are now formally setting up mentorship programs to complement the traditional management systems, and therefore create a stronger learning culture. The key to success in any mentorship program is a good emotional bond between the mentor and the mentee.

Practice makes you perfect
Most successful professionals and entrepreneurs have achieved their success not by the proverbial kiss of lady luck or some extraordinary act of brilliance. More often they have achieved their pinnacle of success because they have been practicing their stroke in that direction over several years. They keep playing their shots till they learn to hit the ball with perfection. All of us have gone through our college days and cherish remembering the days where you spent days solving tens and hundreds of math or science problems to become good at getting your grade. The same applies to your career. Successful entrepreneurs are marathon runners, they know how to keep at it, keep practicing their strides, till they get it right. And when they do get it right, it appears effortless from the outside as they achieve the impossible. Deep within these successful professionals, it must be known, lies an inextinguishable spark of passion and practice that helps them achieve their dreams.

Tap online resources like siliconIndia.com to enhance learning
It is this very vision of learning that has led the dedicated team of siliconindia employees and volunteers to create an online platform for life long learning through http://www.siliconindia.com. For those of you who are active members of siliconindia.com online community, I firmly believe that as we are building this powerful siliconindia community, we are helping to drive learning and knowledge for the rising Indian professionals. We can help fellow siliconindians through our encouraging remarks, feedbacks, honest criticisms, blogs, and articles. I would like to see our siliconindia network community grow into a strong example of a true learning organization, where we draw upon the power of the group, to enhance the career, knowledge, and standards of each one of its members. Feel free to leverage professional networks like siliconIndia.com to help build your own learning network.

As always, please send me your feedbacks or suggestions online at http://blogs.siliconindia.com/gunjan or through email at gunjan@metricstream.com

The author is the Chairman of SiliconIndia.com and MetricStream. An internet pioneer, he was the co-founder and President of WhoWhere? Inc., a Internet directory services company acquired by Lycos in 1998 as well as eGain, an online customer service company. Sinha can be reached at gunjan@metricstream.com
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