One of the personal benefits of the pandemic of 2020/21 has been reconnecting, all be it mostly online, with friends from years past. Somehow both I and others have been searching the net with hopes of saying hello to a few more people than in the past. I’ve reconnected with a childhood friend from as far back as Grade 3 in Texas. I also stumbled across an old University friend. We spent some time together in a Kinesiology program at the University of Calgary before moving in different directions. We haven’t been in contact for well over 25 years. Thanks to applications like Linked In our paths crossed. He moved on from financial services into business coaching and has written several books.
My friend Mike has met a number of interesting and successful people over the years as he developed his speaking and coaching skills. One with whom he was particularly struck with is Kevin Eastman former NBA coach. Eastman played college basketball and has spent most of his career coaching. He’s coached at the NCAA level as well as in the NBA. He spent eight years with the Boston Celtics and was part of their 2008 NBA Championship team. Eastman finished his basketball career in an Executive capacity with the L.A. Clippers organization. Eastman has seen excellence in sport over almost 35 years immersed in Basketball. He now shares his experiences as a speaker to listeners in sport and business.
He detailed his understanding of excellence in a book, Why the Best are the Best. A core differentiator from Eastman’s perspective is that those that excel are constant learners. Constant curiosity cultivates a quest for more information. The curiosity fuels both a hunger and humility. The best know they don’t know everything. Their goal is first and foremost learning more in order to improve. Those that excel recognize that no matter how good they are there’s a world of knowledge and information out beyond them that is much greater than what they do know. There’s always room for improvement as a result. Eastman lived this value at his core earning both undergraduate and masters degrees as a scholarship student-athlete. A core practice Eastman developed early in his coaching career was to keep a specific journal in which he would record an entry each day about what he learned that day. His journals came to be known as WILT journals. WILT or What I Learned Today cued him to produce purposeful entries. The practice of journaling about what was learned reinforced both the learning and his belief in it as a core value. Moreover, it heightened his awareness antenna to always be on the look out for something to learn. On some level, because Eastman knew he would be spending time writing later each day, he would look for things to learn. As the days turned into weeks, months, and years, the evidence of continued learning grew into many volumes of Eastman’s WILT journals.
Additionally, in his briefcase, Eastman would keep a blue folder. The folder was blue such that it would stick out from other contents in the briefcase and be easily found. In this folder he kept a list of guiding principles that he crafted from his work over the years. It consisted of 25 words around which his coaching philosophy for performance was crafted. From his WILT to his blue folder, Eastman was continuously working to build and formalize his knowledge base. Wherever he was, whether in traffic while commuting, in a line at the airport, or anywhere where waiting was involved, Eastman would pull out his blue folder and study some of its contents. Even if it was just a minute here and there, he would fumble for the opening in his briefcase and grasp for the blue folder. Even the smallest of moments afforded an opportunity to learn. His formal approach to detailing his learning by writing it down coupled with keeping portions of his learning easily accessible led to constant refinement and reinforcement in his own mind. In Why the Best are the Best, Eastman writes, “These lists allow me to: turn lines into lessons, turn red lights into reminders, turn flights into classrooms. I have learned that one man’s wasted time is another man’s learning time. He’s more than able, he’s absolutely ABL. Eastman was committed to Always Be Learning (ABL).
In The Personal MBA Josh Kaufman encourages us to write things down not just to log a to do list, but to review and reflect on decisions we’re facing or making in order to improve. Kaufman writes, “Jotting down the events of the day in a diary format is useful for later review, but using a journal or confidant as a problem-solving tool is even more useful. Self-Elicitation is the practice of asking yourself questions then answering them.” It is this kind of learning you can do on your own that is hidden in the power of writing things down. Writing things down is a way of reinforcing what we’ve learned. It is like receiving the lesson one more time. Our learning deepens and we have a record of it which becomes a resource. We can reference our learning in the future as well as demonstrate to others what we’ve done. By taking the time to write down what we’re learning we’re creating a “life resume.” Our WILT journal becomes objective indication of our initiative and commitment to continuous improvement.
Some of Stoic philosopher Seneca’s writings are preserved in the form of a series of letters he wrote to a friend. In his counsel to Lucilius, Seneca often echoed the idea of finding one thing each day that can be learned and applied in order to improve. Improvement was worthwhile as it offered a shield against which to protect oneself from the difficulties of life. His friend was encouraged to acquire daily one thing that would strengthen or improve him. Look for learning everywhere. Take in a quote, a story, an experience, or insight and document it in order to preserve the idea. Seneca sought to simplify his friend’s efforts. The answer wasn’t in some big secret but in little learnings. Seneca’s advice applies to us as much today as it did several thousand years ago to his friend. We would do well to look for one little thing daily we can learn that will lead us forward. What are you learning today? In The Art of Achievement Tom Morris writes, “Wise people like to end each day with the question: ‘What have I learned today?’” Echoing this theme, Todd Henry writes in Die Empty a suggestion of two questions we should ask daily, “Begin each day with the question ‘What do I want to learn today?’ and end it with ‘What did I learn today?’”
In this short Inc. magazine article, billionaire Mark Cuban further reinforces the value of learning. Cuban’s response when asked about what was his best investment ever, “Some of the best investments I ever made were investing in myself, first and foremost. When you’re first starting, you may or may not have a job. You don’t have any money. You’re at a complete uncertainty about your career. What I learned early on is that if I put in the effort, I can learn almost anything. It may take me a long time, but by putting in the effort I taught myself technology, I taught myself to program … it was time-consuming — painfully so — but that investment in myself has paid dividends for the rest of my life. I learned that learning truly is a skill … and that by continuing to learn to this day, I can compete and get ahead of most people, because the reality is most people don’t put in the time to learn … and that’s always given me a competitive advantage.” Canadian mixed martial arts great, Georges St. Pierre writes in The Way of the Fight about how he invested his early earnings into improvements. When others were buying jewelry or a fancy car, he was hunting down experts to help him get better. GSP writes, “In those days, every dollar I made went into my training. I knew it would pay off; I just felt it.”
Most of what we know about Leonardo Da Vinci is based on what remains from his notebooks. Over the course of his life, Da Vinci recorded many of his ideas and thoughts. His notebooks cover many, many volumes which were miraculously preserved. A record still exists today of over 6,000 sheets from his notebooks that show the expanse of his thinking. From sketches on human anatomy, to art, engineering, and philosophy, Da Vinci’s curiosity and ongoing commitment to learning shines through. If writing things down in order to deepen our understanding of them is good enough for someone like Da Vinci, it should be good enough for the rest of us to consider trying.
High performers like Mark Cuban, Kevin Eastman, GSP, and Leonardo Da Vinci are driven by learning. They have the agency to seek out information on their own initiative. They aren’t dependent on others to provide information, though they are happy to learn from others. High performers default to being willing and ABL. Always Be Learning. Learning isn’t a chore but a joy. Learning is something that is completely within an individual’s control to pursue. It’s not dependent on going to the right school or getting exposed to the right materials, teachers, or classes. Knowledge about virtually everything is available to any of us any time right at the tips of our fingers. High performers take responsibility to lean in and learn. Committing to learning something daily will train your brain to look for lessons in your life. Taking a moment to write down what you’ve observed or learned will help you deepen the learning and draw from it in the future.
“The most important investment you can make is in yourself.” -Warren Buffett-