The world is changing fast. Industries are being disrupted and new technologies are emerging that change the way we do things. In turn this places more emphasis on mastering news skills and learning new things as we try to keep up with the pace of change. This brings new challenges and problems for professionals: how do you keep up with what is happening and how do you ensure you are continually learning and developing?
One solution is to read the countless articles and clickbait telling you the ‘shortcuts’ and ‘5 key secrets’ to really understand and master a subject. Superficially these type of articles make you think you are learning something but they don’t really help you know a subject. As the Nobel Physicist Richard Feynman pointed out – ‘there is a difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.’ In essence there is a difference between reading about a subject and really knowing that subject
I don’t think the solution is to try and stuff more into your head in an attempt to absorb more information. In fact, I’m making a conscious effort this year to stop cramming my brain full of crap information – I’m going on an information diet. But what I have been doing more of is mentoring, teaching and writing. This has been a conscious decision. Let me tell you why.
It is easy to convince yourself that you know a subject. You’ve read a few articles and you feel you have a grasp of the matter. After all you’re smart and pick stuff up quickly, right? I’m certainly guilty of thinking like that.
But how well do you really know something? Or are you just falling into the Dunning–Kruger trap – the tendency to over estimate how much you really know about something?
That is where teaching comes in. It is a great test of how much you really know a subject. Firstly, to teach someone something you have to clearly articulate your knowledge of that subject. So you have to articulate out loud (and with nowhere to hide) what you understand and know about a subject. And if you’re a good teacher you want to use simple words that everyone will understand and not just hide behind jargon and gobbledegook.
But not just that, you have to be able to stop at any stage and explain a concept in different ways to ensure that all of your audience is following you and understands you. You can’t just read a script, you have to know your subject forwards and backwards and be able to explain it in terms that your audience will understand. And you have to be able to use evocative imagery and analogies to inspire and connect with your audience.
But teaching is not just about inspiring others it is also about being inspired and challenged yourself. It is about being asked a question that challenges your beliefs about a subject or being asked a question that gives you a new perspective on a topic you thought you were very familiar with. @markritson provides a great example and highlights just how personally uncomfortable and challenging being put on the spot by students can be.
And finally the benefits of teaching are two way. Not only do your pupils understand more about a subject but in explaining a subject you become more certain and sure of your own knowledge. It’s a win-win situation. You aren’t just reading blog posts at your desk to get ahead in your career but you are helping other people to forge their own path too.
If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, and you work in the media industry in the UK, you should check out Media Trust. They seek to connect charities with media professionals willing to donate their time and expertise. Charities benefit from accessing media talent and you get to give something back.
Personally I have found it very rewarding. Not only do you develop professionally by having to really articulate your thinking and knowledge to a completely different audience but you will be helping people who really need it. Isn't that a much better way to learn?
Paul is Global Head of Strategy at Vizeum. He is a Global Strategist with experience that spans a variety of sectors (CPG, Tech, Pharma and Finance) and disciplines (Media, Advertising, CRM and Sales Promotion). He is responsible for European Strategy across all Starcom Global Network Clients including Samsung, P&G, Coke, Airbnb, Novartis, Etihad, Mars. Paul holds a Bachelor in Biological Sciences, Zoology from the University of Oxford.