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Mike Figliuolo


If You Don’t Read This, You’re Going to Die

No one knows everything. Not even you.

Published: Wednesday, November 15, 2023 - 12:03

Most companies fail due to dumb mistakes made by senior managers. The biggest mistake of all: a hubristic unwillingness to accept that there’s plenty you don’t already know.

As we get more senior in our organizations, we get a lot smarter. Our wisdom grows. We understand the business better than those around us. Newfangled management ideas come and go, but we’re now wise enough to believe we know everything we already need to know.

Then—wham! The world smacks us upside the head with a powerful, “Didn’t know that, didja?” Your business is in turmoil. Chaos. Confusion. Cows raining from the sky. Armageddon.

There’s only one thing I know that can prevent those kinds of moments: Learning. Ever heard the adage, “The day you stop learning is the day you die,” thrown around before? Yeah. That. (Or, as Yoda might say, “Die you will that day when stop learning you do,” or something like that.)

Learning is a lifelong sport. The minute you stop, you die.

If we all know that to be true, why do we insist on not learning? My thought: Hubris. We demonstrate excessive pride and believe we’ve learned everything we need to. That’s just flat-out dangerous.

So how can you avoid this fate of dying due to dumbness? I’m glad you asked.

Accept you don’t know everything

You’re smart. I know this because you’re reading this post. I also know I’m preaching to the choir because, clearly, you’re interested in learning (that’s why you’re here). Perhaps you should forward this post to the office know-it-all.

If you’ve had this forwarded to you because you are the office know-it-all, and you’re about to stop reading because you really don’t need to learn what’s in here since you know everything, let me ask you this: What’s the atomic weight of Americium? And no cheating on Google. See? You don’t know everything.

If you’re not sure you fall in this camp, read this post about being Mr. Smartypants. It’ll give you a few ideas on how to think about this problem.

Once you accept you don’t know it all, you’ve opened your mind to being better at what you do.

Figure out what you want to know

I’m sure most of you don’t need to know the atomic weight of Americium (it’s 243). But you should lay out what you do need to know. Step back from your business. Identify a few major trends that will affect it during the coming two or three years. Ask yourself how much you know about those trends. Target the one you’re dumbest about.

You can also ask, “What does my organization need to do better,” and target getting smarter in that space. I had the distinct privilege of training several C-level execs recently on a topic they were very familiar with (can you say “intimidating?”). It was an awesome experience. Even though they were very experienced in the overall concepts, they were open and eager to learn new tools for applying those concepts. They didn’t just pick up new tools and techniques during the session. Their attendance at the training also sent a very strong signal to the organization that the concepts are important. That signal drives the organization to learn and grow.

What do you want to know and learn about? Create a little curriculum list for yourself titled “Stuff I Gotta Learn More About This Year” and use it as a checklist. Monitor your progress in that learning agenda.

Go learn

Find the opportunities to amass this new knowledge. It could be a book, a training course, a seminar, reading blogs, or simply sitting down to lunch with people who are really smart about that topic. Immerse yourself in the subject. Keep your mind open to new tools, ideas, and techniques. Challenge your conventional wisdom and ask yourself how the new knowledge changes your existing view of the world.

Apply the learning, too. Pick targeted aspects of the new ideas and try them out. For example, if you’re a social media idiot, open an X (formerly Twitter) account and start following and tweeting. See how you can do old things in new ways. You must apply the tools to truly learn how to use them and integrate them into your existing knowledge base.

Learning is a lifelong sport. The minute you stop, you die. What new things are you learning about right now? How do you keep yourself focused on learning and growing?

Published Oct. 25, 2023, on The thoughtLEADERS Brief on LinkedIn.


About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch (Weiser, 2016) and One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass, 2011), and co-author of Lead Inside the Box (Weiser, 2015). He’s also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.