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August 03, 2004

My wife copied down this quote from Eric Hoffer and left it on my bedside table:

"In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

I suspect that most of us have areas of our lives where we are learners, and areas where we are learned. It's wisdom well-taken, isn't it, that in everything where we seem to be successful, we should have the humility and intellectual honesty to consider whether we haven't crossed over the boundary from learner to learned?

But it seems to be wisdom seldom taken. So consider for a moment the areas where you might rightly be regarded by your peers as learned. Are you open -- truly open -- to the new idea?

Of course we all say "yes." How can we not? But is the reality in fact something different? What I see at times, for example, is learned people proclaiming that the new idea "has been tried before." They pretend that the new idea is in fact an old, failed idea, and warn others away from it. Now, there's nothing new under the sun, so to speak, and so the reality of innovations is that most of them are combinations of ideas, tools, and strategies tried and discarded before. Thus it is easy for the learned to reject the new by telling himself that it is really old.

And so in field after field, the innovations of learners overtake the conventions of the learned, who are the last to discover that yes, the world has changed.

This is a vulnerability borne of pride. It was pride that led editorial writers at the New York Times, for example, to proclaim in 1921 that Robert Goddard, the eventual father of rocket science, "lacks the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." It takes humility, on the other hand, to follow the advice of Peter Drucker, who once wrote that, "It is much cheaper to make yourself obsolete than to be made obsolete by your competitors."

Drucker was 91 years old when he made that observation. Would that the rest of us had so much humility age 21. So ask yourself: am I a learner, or just learned? Look at what you do through the eyes of the learner. Maybe you'll discover the next big idea.

Did I ever mention that I used to do public speaking on management and leadership? Sometimes I still bust out with something like the foregoing, usually in my sleep. Thank you for your patience. I now return you to your regular programming.

Posted by Woodlief on August 03, 2004 at 01:54 PM


Great stuff!

Posted by: Terry at August 3, 2004 2:54 PM

One key to remaining a learner is a short memory. Seriously. A short memory helps one avoid the intellectual equivalent of "glory days," and keeps the focus looking forward. If you look forward, you can't help but be learning. Tautological, but true.

Posted by: PDS at August 5, 2004 1:36 PM