Sunday, March 22, 2009

You are never too old to learn, just too stupid!

I heard this expression for the first time last week, with the timing of a true comic performer my brother in law delivered it with absolute style and panache. After quietly laughing to myself (for fear of causing upset) it got me thinking.
It is true that we humans seem to make the same mistakes over and over again, even when we are ‘old enough to know better’. Most of us are motivated to learn because we see an intrinsic benefit for ourselves. For example; we learn a new language because we want to go on holiday or do business in countries where the majority mother tongue is not the same as our own, We follow an MBA course because we want to advance our career by rapidly increasing our general knowledge of business and economics.
So needlessly to say, I get upset when I hear people say ‘I am too old to learn….’. I believe you are never too old, it is just an excuse. There are countless stories of elderly people learning the most amazing new skills. Twenty years earlier the ‘I am too old to learn’ types would probably have used some other lame excuse such as ‘I am not cut out for this kind of thing’. Why don’t people say the truth and just admit that they can not be bothered, that they are simply not interested enough in the subject to go through all the hassle of learning something new? And yet all of us, in certain aspects of our lives continue to repeat our old mistakes because we are too lazy (or dare I say stupid) to learn or know better.
I recently led an MBA course at the Solvay Business School in Brussels and it became obvious to me that not all the students had the same academic level. And sure enough some of the students scored very high in their exams while others, scraped through and although some of the difference can be put down to the amount of effort invested, another part is simply a question of intellect, or the ability to rapidly store and hold data.
I do not mind admitting that I was not the brightest student in my class, I always returned average results, so in order for me to do well in anything, I had to put in a lot more effort than the more gifted students. However, as I went into business, I realized that success is more about the application of knowledge and not so much the amount of knowledge acquired. By the time I was in my mid thirties, I had discovered my true strengths and worked hard to improve them to such a point that I began achieve real success and to understand my net worth.
Coming to terms with the fact that you cannot be good at everything is important. By selecting the best team available, to compliment your weaknesses, and then motivating them to work together, each one utilizing their unique skills to the advantage of the group – is one of the true secrets to having a successful and versatile business.
The advance of the personal computer has given people with higher emotional intelligence than academic intelligence an enormous boost. Pda’s and laptops can store and retrieve all the ‘unimportant’ information accurately and efficiently, whenever it is needed, meaning one’s inability to remember the exact date of a meeting or the name of a supplier you once met – is no longer so critical.
Even the oldest person on the planet can learn a new language – it might take them longer than a child, but a few words in the head of a wise person, are worth a thousand in that of a fool!
So if you are finding yourself saying ‘I am too old to learn’, correct yourself – you are not too old, you’re simply too stupid to admit that the subject does not interest you enough for the effort required.
Hans Eysenck apparently once claimed he could teach anyone enough mathematics to get them to university entrance level, so there is hope for all of us!
Be cleaver out there………

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