Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning lets you climb the mountain to success

Building a business is often compared to climbing a mountain. It’s likely a difficult hike to the top, but then you get to sit back and enjoy the view—right?

Well, maybe not. Most mountain climbers I know don’t quit climbing when they get to the top of their first mountain. Sure, they take a little time to enjoy conquering this particular challenge, but most then start planning for the next mountain.

This means learning new climbing techniques and learning all they can about the next climb. That’s true for entrepreneurs as well: The learning never stops.

Learning = success

Successful entrepreneurs – like mountain climbers – are lifelong learners. Just because you’ve experienced success doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Helping your company stay successful is as important as building it in the first place. To do that, you have to keep educating yourself.

Lifelong learning doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school—although that is one form it can take. Whether you choose to take classes at a local college, attend a training course on a new software, or consult with experts about how to implement some new management styles, continuing to learn new skills and perspectives is essential to keeping your business on a successful path.

Obstacles to learning

“But I’m too busy to read or take a class or meet with anyone else!” I get it. Your days are full, and your head is weighed down by the multiple hats you wear. But don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important.

Continuing to learn from books and other people is the only way to make sure you stay ahead no matter what industry you’re in. Research shows that people who engage in lifelong, self-directed learning perform better and have more motivation than those who don’t.

The rewards of self-directed lifelong learning shouldn’t be underestimated. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn summed it up this way:

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

Focus areas

However, you’re running a company, so you need to make sure you’re directing your self-learning in areas that will help you be more successful. Jackie Nagel, president of Synnovatia, a small business performance firm, recommends focusing your learning efforts in these areas:

  • International economic trends
  • Technology
  • Consumer behavior
  • Industry trends
  • Marketing trends

Of course, don’t hesitate to find out what people are doing outside of your industry as well, and engage in something called learning transfer—where you take the ideas that work in one field and apply that knowledge to work in your own area of interest. To do this, you have to be able to deconstruct knowledge from one field to make it useful in another. Elon Musk breaks it down like this:

“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree—make sure you understand the fundamental principles (i.e., the trunk and big branches) before you get into the leaves/details, or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Tap into wisdom

While transferring knowledge from one industry to another is one way to engage in lifelong learning, another important way is to learn from others who have been there before. Engaging with a mentor – or even a one-time meeting with someone who can offer insight and perspective into your industry or company – is invaluable. It allows you to learn from someone else’s experience without having to live through those things yourself. And the best way to avoid mistakes, of course, is to talk to someone who’s already made them.

While it’s tempting to go it alone so you can say you built your company yourself, you give up access to a wealth of wisdom when you take that route—wisdom that can save you a lot of agony and money. Richard Branson has this to say about the “I can do it myself” mindset:

“Understandably, there’s a lot of ego, nervous energy and parental pride involved, especially with one- or two-person start-ups … Going it alone is an admirable, but [a] foolhardy and highly flawed approach to taking on the world.”

Don’t hesitate to ask someone who’s walked in your shoes and is further down the path for feedback or advice. One of the best ways to learn is to be taught by someone who has done what you’re doing.

Whether you seek out a mentor or learn in other ways as you climb the entrepreneurship mountain to success, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security when you reach that first summit. Keep learning all you can from reading, classes, learning transfer and others who’ve already climbed the mountain. After all, there are many more summits to reach, and you’ll need that knowledge to make the climb.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.