“If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.”
This quote is attributed to so many people it's difficult to figure out exactly who said it first. But it is an incredibly powerful statement nonetheless.
I believe my natural state of boundless curiosity has helped in this respect, but following this advice, even before I encountered it, has served me well over the years.
Discussion, information, challenge, critique - however we frame it, these are all things that help us grow.
Listening to, and crucially, hearing the opinions of others on a subject is an incredibly simple way to widen our perspective and explore a point of view.
Being party to another’s experience, which can often be broader or harder won than one's own, is a privilege.
The fact that another person is willing to share their experience and knowledge, to enter into a discussion or to schedule one-on-one time in order to help others is a gift I willingly accept, and do so often.
Mentoring, and taking charge of our own learning
We bring our own experience and lens to any issue we encounter.
Others do the same, which is how a range of different viewpoints can emerge on any one given subject. Being willing to explore those other experiences can and does lead to much a deeper and richer comprehension, whatever the topic.
I have always sought out counsel, or mentoring if you will, on both a formal and informal basis. This has helped me massively over the years.
For one thing, it reduces the time it takes to understand a problem, issue or activity.
That's not to say that I abdicate my own learning. To truly understand takes active participation.
It also takes a willingness to listen, learn and regularly accept the point of view of another.
Critique, so often confused with criticism, can be challenging. What's more, when offered or accepted in the wrong spirit, it can lead to real tensions. The rewards are worth the risks though.
It can be difficult to find mentors of real quality, as many of the best wouldn't really describe themselves as 'mentors'.
But that has never deterred me. Many of those whom I seek out for counsel would probably shy away from allowing me to describe them as such, yet that's what they are to me.
I continually ask for their opinions as I seek to learn.
I am rather ruthless (in what I hope is in a kind and open way) in looking to tap into their knowledge.
All through the various stages of my career, I have strived to put myself in positions where I could encounter those of experience in order to listen and learn.
As I mentioned earlier, my natural curiosity and inherent competitive nature help me here. I want to learn, to be challenged and to improve with each and every interaction.
This is probably what leads me to often being described as ‘well networked.’
But this has come about not because I set out to know lots of people, something often difficult for a natural introvert, but because I wanted to learn from as many great practitioners as I could.
I remember one particular discussion with a former colleague about how much time I spent outside what was then a financial planning echo chamber, choosing to spend time with those from across the wider financial services spectrum.
Their take was: "Why should I?"
My reply was: "Why wouldn't you?"
To know and learn from others is profoundly helpful during a career.
To get to know others you respect and admire is a gift, and to earn their respect and friendship as part of that is a privilege beyond measure.
In return, it's been great to help others in some small way as I have been helped. It continues to be a positive experience to debate and to enter into the two-way bargain that is mutual challenge.
That, in my humble opinion, is the fast-track to personal development.