#PEOPLE & PRACTICES

Why continuous learning is important

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Jiro Ono, the world’s greatest sushi chef, has an interesting story. When he was 9, he left home  to learn to make sushi. Jiro now owns a world famous sushi counter near the entrance to the Ginza metro station in Japan. He is 94 years old and continues to work on his sushi making skills, one day at a time. 

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert cartoons has a similar story. He started making the four-strip cartoons in 1989 and has made more than 9,000 since then. He not only built a successful career but also amassed a huge following for his work just by grinding away at creating comics, day after day.

Haruki Murakami, my favorite Japanese novelist, also follows a similar approach to writing (and running). According to him, “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

I can go on to give numerous examples of successful people making their way just by persisting each day, and not because of innate talent or mastery. But I would rather arrive at a point than go in circles.

All of the examples above point towards one thing–“success begets success”. All of them exemplify the importance of continuous learning. There is one thing that separates them from the rest of the world– even after becoming successful, none of them stopped practicing their craft. Rather, they continued to hone their skills by investing time and energy in practicing every single day.

The Japanese term for this quality is shokunin—which literally translates to craftsman’s spirit. Shokunin is a way of life where the person believes that they are always a work-in-progress. Such people embody the craftsman spirit and relentlessly pursue perfection through their craft.

But how can people like you and I imbibe this quality?

By investing in PDCA — Plan, Do, Check, Act — cycle.

PDCA

Plan (set goals)

plan set

The planning stage helps figure out the problem you’re trying to solve or a skill that you want to master. When you sit down to identify and analyze what you wish to achieve, you come up with ideas.

An example of this could be– you struggle to complete your work on time and there’s always some spill-over in the next day. You know that you can easily accomplish your goals but somehow every day leaves you feeling drained.

To solve this problem, you first need to develop a hypothesis– is it because you find it hard to say no to extra work? Is it because you don’t estimate your work properly? Once you have narrowed down on a hypothesis, build SMART goals and execute them, one day at a time.  Remember, plans don’t change the world. Planning does. 

Do (experiment)

Do (experiment)

Barbara Sher said “Doing is a quantum leap from imagining.” So whatever plans you make, implement them. Remember you are only working on a hypothesis. Therefore, act fast, so that even if you fail, you have time to change the hypothesis and work on the next plan. Whatever goals you take, act on them with utmost sincerity. Show up everyday. Carve out a small win each and every day. 

There isn’t a better advice than David Parell’s about the importance of producing outcomes everyday—

“Discipline of execution, and constant learning in your job is like compound interest (like on FDs). The more sincere you are about it NOW, the more successful, or satisfied you will be later. The less sincere you are about it NOW, the lesser you will be successful or satisfied in the future. Thus, if you are getting things done slowly, or learning slowly, you aren’t just having a slow time now. You are bringing down the compound interest curve for the rest of your career.”

Check (evaluate outcomes)

evaluate outcomes

Once you have accomplished your goals, review and analyze the outcomes. It will help you realize if a) your hypothesis about the problem was right or not? b) did you implement the right solution? Is there anything that you can do better?

On the contrary, if you skip this step and keep running without looking back, you risk arriving back at square one. It’s like running on a treadmill without even looking at how many kms you’ve run. So, be your own critic and keep a mid-check on your progress.

Act (fix mistakes, refine and iterate)

Act (fix mistakes, refine and iterate)

This is the last step in the PDCA cycle and the most important. In this phase, you have a chance to correct your mistakes, refine them and go back to implement another plan. Investing in Kaizen (continuous improvement), helps you make informed decisions about what’s working and what’s not. The best part is that nothing is coincidental. Everything is backed by outcomes so that you can learn and improve from your mistakes.


When I read about the Chinese bamboo tree, I was astonished to discover that it doesn’t come above the ground until five years. But once it does, it grows 90 feet tall in five weeks. Does it mean it grows in five weeks? Absolutely no. It takes 5 years so that the roots get enough nourishment. As a result, when it comes out, the roots are hard to dislodge. 

I wish I can learn this art from Bamboo plants and invest in continuous learning more often.

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