Fired Up: Be a 'Learn-it-All' not a 'Know-it-All'

Back in school, nobody liked the “know-it-all”—that over-eager student who always had an answer to any of the teacher’s questions. Raising their hand, squirming in their seat and exclaiming, “me, me, I know, I know,” then grinning smugly at their fellow students after answering.

Guess what? The know-it-all isn’t so effective in the work world, either.

With the rare exception, the know-it-all in the professional world is not always a smiling sycophant brown-nosing the boss. The know-it-all can be a recognized expert in their field, and truly have valuable insights. Being called an “expert” by your colleagues is fine, as long as you don’t believe your own press and give up on continuing to learn.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, encourages his employees to be “learn-it-alls,” not know-it-alls. In a recent Inc. magazine interview, Nadella notes that experts often focus on how they’re viewed by others, rather than on ongoing learning and growth. As a clear example that Nadella follows the “be a learn-it-all” mantra himself, he derived this insight from research he did on how to boost his children’s education.

As CEO of the third largest publicly traded company in the United States, Nadella could easily have convinced himself that he had “arrived” as a leadership expert and had nothing more to learn. Instead, when researching a topic seemingly unrelated to the business world, he was open to insights that could crossover to his role as CEO. It’s what he calls “thinking of yourself as a student.”

Einstein, who was arguably the top physics expert in history, put it this way: “The important thing is to never stop questioning.” Decades after he published his papers on the Relativity Theory that revolutionized our understanding of space and time, Einstein continued to ask “why does the universe work this way?” Up until the day he died, he persisted in his studies, seeking to develop a theory that would unify all of physics.

If top experts in leading multinational corporations and in science devote themselves to continual learning, what does that mean for us in the humble glazing business? Say you’re a top salesperson in your company, earning the highest commission year-after-year. In other words, an expert at uncovering leads and closing business. Your competitors—both in house and at other companies—likely are watching your methods and learning how to best you. If you don’t learn new sales techniques, they’ll catch you and you’ll no longer be an “expert.” For you, becoming a “learn-it-all” could be an intensive action like pursuing an MBA in marketing, a mid-level commitment like attending a multi-day sales seminar, or as simple as reading a sales book or article, or even asking a colleague or manager for their insights. The important thing is to be proactive about pursuing learning opportunities.

W. Edwards Deming, an American engineer who helped Japan evolve from its reputation for producing inferior goods to being a producer of highly desired, innovative goods, drove home the point of why we all should keep learning, whether we’re the CEO or the person on the shop floor: “Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.”

David Vermeulen is the national sales manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. TGP works closely with architects, designers and other building professionals, providing them with the state-of-the-art products, service and support to maximize design aesthetics and safety in commercial and institutional buildings around the world. Contact him at 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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