Resolve to adopt a reading strategy. My plan is to scan, dig, and respond. Today’s fast learners are surrounded by tens of thousands of must-read magazines. Without a sound strategy for skimming the cream off that sea of information, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and guilt-ridden as you watch the “to read” pile grow taller than the children in your household. Resolve to apply discipline and a system to your magazine reading. First scan every publication for content, tagging or tearing out the articles that interest you. Attach a Post-it note, explaining why it caught your attention; this context makes the reading richer. Make a reading date with yourself a couple of times each week, and tackle your collection of articles. Finally, challenge yourself to do something with that information: Respond to the author, or review the article and distribute it to your team — take some action!
Resolve to start or join a business book club. Fast learners know that there is a time to skim and a time to interrogate. And they know that nothing makes you smarter than debating ideas with other smart people. Resolve to start or join a book club with your colleagues. Challenge each other to share the applications and ideas you uncover with your business or department.
Resolve to be a “good reporter.” Good reporters know that, developed properly, every situation and encounter is a story idea. Likewise, fast learners know that every person they meet and every event they attend is an opportunity to learn something valuable. Resolve to take nothing for granted: Assume every situation has a lesson, and ask the kind of questions that help you get the whole story. I travel a great deal in my job, and one of my coping mechanisms is to pretend that the world is my own personal focus group. I am constantly asking opinions of everyone I meet — from experts to doormen. This orientation has exposed me to perspectives I would have never dreamed of, and it has inspired some of my best ideas.
Resolve to tickle your brain once a week. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends making an “artist date” with yourself each week to nurture the creative side of your being. I am an avid believer of this practice and suggest that it is the soundest way to enable lateral thinking. Read poetry, see a film, visit a museum, play with clay, or do something else that you find fulfilling once a week, and watch how it improves your brain’s ability to be creative and produce big ideas.
Resolve to publish, speak, and teach subjects you need to learn. Fast learners know that the best way to develop their ideas and become smarter is to share them with others. Fast learners are not afraid to experiment, document, and share what they are up to. They are dedicated to posing better questions — not just finding the answers. We live in a world hungry for content, so create some. Resolve to write an article, make a speech, or teach a class on a topic that you are not familiar with. The deadline will get you started, and the responsibility of developing a new expertise or point of view will help motive you to dig deep for information.
Laurie Coots (firstname.lastname@example.org) joined Chiat/Day in 1984. In 1997, she was named chief marketing officer and now focuses her attention on long-term trends and strategic issues that will affect both the agency and its clients in the new economy.