Organizational learning rises and falls on the personal learning orientation of its leaders. It is until we institute continuous searching and learning as a personal pursuit before we can underscore its importance in the corporate world. Well, herein lies a challenge. In today’s fast paced world people say they have become too busy (or too distracted) to even read.
So how is learning or continuous learning going to happen? Just how? If you ask me, reading as a source of personal competitive advantage is fading fast. Reading as a fundamental bridge through which learning occurs is ebbing away. There is an apt refrain from Charlie Jones that bears mentioning at this point. It is this: “You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.” If this were true (I hope it isn’t) then some people around us are as ‘new’ as the books they read while earning their Bachelor’s degrees! One met Reading on the road to Greatness the other day, by the brook called Knowledge, hedged in by Wisdom, and sought to gain understanding of the situation. Reading where is thy power? Reading where is thy potency?
The Power Of Learning
At the base of sustainable development is continuous learning. At the very foundation of continuous learning is a little known art called Reading. If the potency of voracious reading hasn’t caught on you then you haven’t really known the following persons: Thomas Edison; Michael Faraday; Peter J. Daniels; Philip Emeagwali; Ben Carson; Sunny Ojeagbase and Kevin Callan. And thanks to the Bottomline magazine and the internet, I have these people re-introduced to you.
Michael Faraday started as an apprentice to a bookbinder at the age of 12. He read every volume that he found and was fired with enthusiasm by an article on ‘Electricity’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica. This inspired him to conduct numerous home-brewed scientific experiments, while teaching him the basics of physics and chemistry. Michael is still regarded as the father of electricity. The untutored son of a poor blacksmith rose by his own thirst for knowledge, to become one of the foremost scientists of all time. Reading provides inspiration.
Thomas Edison was a man with only a few months of formal education. Before he was 12, he had read works by Shakespeare and Dickens, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and more. Because his mother Nancy was devoted and observant, she discovered simple ways to nurture her son’s enthusiasm. She thus brought him to the stage of learning things for himself, learning that which most amused and interested him, and she encouraged him to go on in that path. The result? 1,093 patents for such wonders as the microphone, telephone receiver, stock ticker, phonograph, movies, office copiers, and incandescent electric light. Reading fires imagination.
Peter J. Daniels
Peter J. Daniels is a 79-year-old multi-millionaire Australian business mogul, life coach, writer and professional speaker. His family owns the only private-owned gold and silver bullion bank in the world. At 26, he was an illiterate bricklayer. Suddenly he got saved. He got himself three dictionaries – he kept one at home, one in his old bunker and the last one he took everywhere with him. He would point at a word and get people to pronounce it for him. He thus taught himself how to read and write. He has since read over 6,000 biographies. He was once paid a million dollars by a U.S company for a one-hour speech. Reading stimulates our God-given brains.
Sunny Ojeagbase, publisher (Success Digest magazines, Complete Sports newspapers), writer, journalist, motivational speaker, and philanthropist had little formal education (two O’levels) but a burning desire to learn. He was not hindered by the unhelpful view of education, which associates reading with preparing for exams. Sunny’s voracious reading has made him a publisher and a successful entrepreneur. In his words ‘the story of my life would have been different if not for the books I read’. Reading can be a bridge from failure to success.
Philip Emeagwali a Nigerian who has been dubbed the Bill Gates of Africa and even the father of the internet, inventor of the world’s fastest computer, history’s 35th Greatest African, and number one greatest scientist of African descent. Philip dropped out of high school four times between the ages of 12 to 17. Hear him, “When I enrolled in college at age 19, I had a total of eight years of formal classroom education. As a result, I was not comfortable with formal lectures and receiving regular homework assignments. I preferred to study those subjects that were of interest to me. I learned by reading the classic but out-of-date works of Galileo, Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. Reading opens the worlds of information and possibilities.
Ben Carson is an American neurosurgeon and the youngest Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States by President George W. Bush in 2008. In 1987, Carson made medical history by being the first surgeon in the world to successfully separate twins conjoined at the back of the head. But in fifth grade this same Carson was at the bottom of his class and his classmates called him “dummy”. When his mum saw Ben and his brother’s failing grades, she determined to turn her sons’ lives around. She sharply limited the boys’ television watching and refused to let them outside to play until they had finished their homework each day. She required them to read two library books a week and to give her written reports on their reading even though, with her own poor education, she could barely read what they had written. Within a few weeks, Carson astonished his classmates by identifying rock samples his teacher had brought to class. He recognized them from one of the books he had read. “It was at that moment that I realized I wasn’t stupid,” he recalled later. Carson continued to amaze his classmates with his newfound knowledge and within a year he was at the top of his class.
Last is the emotional story of Kevin Callan. In 1995, Kevin at 36 years, a lorry driver from Manchester, who had left school without qualifications, was jailed for life for shaking to death four year old Amanda Allman. Incarcerated in Wakefield prison, he devoured volumes of books that enabled him to become an expert in child neuropathology, and to correspond with other acknowledged experts. Kevin became an expert in neurology in order to help prove he had not murdered his four-year old stepdaughter. His solicitor, Mr. Campbell Mallone, said: “This man has read practically everything on head injuries and brain surgery. The way he grasped the fundamentals of a complex medical science… has been remarkable.” Tony Buzan was on point when he said, “Learning how to learn is life’s most important skill”. But I dare say that it was Elizabeth Hardwick that drove the point home with this zinger: “The greatest gift is a passion for reading.”
Recall the story of Toyota mentioned in the first article? It would astound you to know that the executives at Toyota may have been able to save the day or at best reduce the effect of the cars recall if only they had read and learned from David Magee’s book, ‘How Toyota Became Number 1’ for chapters 2 and 3 bear the titles, ‘Strive for Continuous Improvement’ and ‘The Power of Humility’.