Leadership Perspectives

3 ways to become smarter in 2016

January 5, 2016
Marie Peeler

Do you want to be a smarter leader? Don’t we all? In addition to the conventional ways that leaders try to learn and expand their thinking capacity, there are lots of other ways that you can add to your knowledge and stimulate your creative thinking. Here are just three.

1  Share what you learn. Years ago while I was still new to the mailing industry, I was asked to speak at a Postal Customer Council meeting. My topic was tactical and not at all open to my own interpretation, or a matter of opinion as it was based on postal regulations.

I  was TERRIFIED. In addition to mailing industry attendees there would be a whole lot of postal employees in the audience, and I figured that they would nail me if a got any of my facts wrong. I studied my topic with zeal, even unearthing some of the more arcane aspects of the regulations and using them to inject a little humor.

 “This rule must be adhered to in all cases, UNLESS you are mailing live, day-old poultry.” Now who knew there were rules for how to mail live day-old poultry?

Turns out no one, including the many postal employees there that day, knew about those rules. But I did, after I prepared my talk. That was the most important aspect of the experience for me. The talk was a success but, in preparing to speak on the topic I got to know the regulations really well.

If you want to learn a topic better, offer to give a presentation, facilitate a class, or teach it to one of your colleagues. Nothing helps you learn more than the pressure of knowing that you’ll soon have to share.

2- Read something non-business related every week. Business and industry reading is important, but so is reading that expands our horizons, stimulates our thinking, and provides us with enjoyment. It can be fiction or non-fiction. Here are some of the best books that I’ve read recently: Unbroken, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and What Came Before He Shot Her.

As a result of reading these books I know things about World War 2, genome research, Sino-Japanese relations, and city gang violence that I didn’t previously know I was even interested in. My world has been expanded, I’ve considered the ramifications of what I’ve read, and I’ve pondered the future implications of historical events.

So don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to devote all of your reading time to business and self-improvement. Read for enjoyment – It’s stimulating.

3- Learn a new skill. Again, the new skill does not have to be business related. Studies have shown that learning a new language or musical instrument can exercise your mind in ways that will actually make you more intelligent. (memrise.com is a great free site that features a fun way to learn languages and more. I’m using it to learn how to order my dinner in Italia.)

According to a Wall Street Journal report, even learning to juggle may increase gray matter. The caveat was that when the training was over, the gray matter receded again, which seems to give credence to the advice to “keep on learning.”

4- Here’s a fourth idea. I offer it as a bonus, because it’s a bit redundant with an entire post that I wrote on the topic last month. Find a way to get adequate sleep. It solidifies your memories, reinforces new neural pathways, and improves your ability to learn.