During Q & A at a career-planning workshop that I led recently, a member of the audience asked me, “Where could I get the best education in life?” This article elaborates my response.
You learn best from imitating the techniques of the successful
“What the outstanding person does, others will try to do. The standards such people create will be followed by the whole world.”
* The Bhagavad Gita
The best way to educate yourself is by observing the top performers in every field and by identifying and applying their effectiveness techniques to your circumstances. Your inspiration may be somebody you interact with, somebody you can hear about in the media or a fictional character from a novel or movie.
Try to imitate the best performers in a discipline to be successful in that discipline. Study their educational and professional backgrounds, their work style, successes, and failures. Identify how they go about conducting their everyday affairs. Try to copy the stock picking and capital allocation skills of Warren Buffett to become a successful investor. Piggyback on the thinking of the best mutual fund managers; replicate their portfolios to benefit from their stock selection process.
Read about the techniques of Sherlock Holmes to improve your reasoning and problem-solving skills. Impersonate your favorite stand-up comedian ahead of a presentation or public speech to improve your delivery. Study the footprints of the leaders in your organization if you want to follow their lead.
Imitate different attributes of people you encounter every day: the cheerfulness of an administrative assistant, the persuasion skills of a seasoned negotiator, the resourcefulness of a car mechanic, and the dexterity of a customer service agent.
Role models are inspirational
Looking up to others is rather instinctive. As kids, you looked up to your siblings, parents, or family members. At work, you learn from observing your colleagues and bosses.
When we learn of role models, read their stories or watch of them on TV or in the movies, we identify in them a part of ourselves; we associate with their struggles and victories, their hopes and despairs.
When we identify with a role model who has accomplished what we seek yourselves, we not only learn from them but also become more confident in our abilities.
This technique has its limitations
Naturally, the influence of role models is neither always practical nor necessarily productive. Your perception of popular role models (sportsmen, artists, businesspeople and other celebrities) is often incomplete and based on cursory assessments of them. Media accounts of their trappings of wealth, fame, and success or their unseemly lifestyles can just as easily turn them into negative role models. Excesses and faults are as common in everyday life as they are in the news. Exercise judgment in what you identify and implement. Hence the corollary: Learn from the shortcomings of the unsuccessful.
Call for action
- When people make a positive impression on you, reflect on what they did and how they did to impress you. Explore what you can learn from them.
- Identify the top performers in your field. Seek to understand and adopt their techniques. Improve or tailor them to your personal circumstances and improve yourselves.
- Study the biographies and memoirs of your favorite historical leaders. Read news stories and case studies of people you admire. Learn their techniques.
- Think of personal and professional skills that you would like to improve upon. Identify one or two people in your organization who are especially skilled in these areas. Observe them or ask them for advice.
Learn everything you can from others, implement what appeals to you, and discard the rest.