Executives Must Find Ways to Keep Strategies for Continuous Learning

Article excerpt

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final article in a series on continuous learning.

In the previous four columns, I discussed strategies for continuous learning, each time from the perspective of people who were not previously empowered. But how about the already-motivated and -empowered professional whose work schedule is crammed from dawn 'til dusk?

Given the rate of change engulfing everyone, she or he must find a way to keep up.

I, for example, do a couple of regular television spots, this column each week, a book every 18 to 24 months and present about 150 seminars a year in North America, Asia and Europe. My customers expect me to be up to date on a wide range of issues - from the intricacies of tax policy to the state of micro-computer development and the current wisdom about proper span of control. My calendar seems to be a conspiracy aimed at keeping me away from reflection.

Though each of our situations is unique, my conundrum is no different from that of the average professional banker, engineer or consultant. Here is the three-part strategy for continuous learning that I've devised.

First, laying traps helps me to overcome my busy schedule and lack of self-discipline. I use a half dozen tactics which force me to expand my horizons.

- Writing these columns. I have to emit 800 or so fairly polished and original words each week. By noon on Friday, a ``finished product'' must be electronically shipped to my syndicator in Orlando,Fla., no ifs, ands or buts.

- Using new 35-millimeter slides in my presentations. I use slides in my seminars for several reasons, including more orderly communication with the audience. But the most important is that it keeps me fresh.

I conscientiously incorporate new material onto new slides. When the slide comes up on the screen during a presentation, I am forced to discuss its content. When new material is simply in a written speech outline, I can pass it over if it feels uncomfortable at the moment of truth - and, I can assure you, new material always feels uncomfortable.

- Scheduling oddball speeches and seminars. I book five to 10 events each year that I know will demand original research - seminars for senior military officers, testimonies before Congressional committees on national policy issues or speeches to school administrators. When they are booked a year or more in advance, they sound like jolly good ideas. But about 60 to 90 days before each event, I panic - which is precisely the point. It's too late to bow out, so I have to get to work.

- Signing up to write articles for technical or professional journals that are beyond my normal areas of interest. Once again, the impending deadline forces the research to happen whether there is time or not.

- Signing multi-book contracts. Having accepted money in advance for the book after next, conscience and honor require that it be written. …