This guest post is by Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, executive editor of the journal Cognitive Science and a member of the editorial board of Cognitive Psychology. Follow him on Twitter at @abmarkman.

Knowledge is a key driver of business success. Innovative ideas emerge when people are able to apply their knowledge to new problems. Unfortunately, in the modern business environment, the desire to learn new things is often trumped by the need to respond to the next item on the to-do list. There are no shortcuts to having high-quality knowledge, but effort spent learning new things effectively repays itself handsomely in the long run.

Here are five things you can do to maximize the quality of your knowledge.

  • Stop and organize. At the end of a meeting, don’t leave your memory for what was discussed up to chance. When a meeting ends, don’t whip out your smartphone to check your e-mail, respond to a text or call your next appointment. Instead, take a minute to review the three main issues that came up in the meeting. This brief review helps to solidify your memory for what just happened.
  • Give yourself permission to learn new things. Being away from your computer for even an hour can cause your e-mail queue to build, not to mention the phone messages and the tweets you missed. But learning something new is hard work and can’t be done while you’re sharing your time with ongoing correspondence. At least once a week, spend some time in a quiet place reading new material, watching a video with professional education, or listening to an audiobook.
  • Be here now. Multitasking is the bane of modern existence. You cannot maximize the quality of your knowledge if you are doing two things at once. The modern world may promote multitasking, but that doesn’t mean that people are getting better at it. Worse yet, the areas of your brain that would help you to monitor your own performance are tapped to their limit by multitasking. So, you’re your own worst judge of your ability to multitask. Don’t try to improve your multitasking ability. Just focus on the task at hand.
  • Explain things to yourself. When you hear a really good speaker, it is easy to start nodding and to believe that you completely understand what she’s talking about. Likewise, reading a good article gives you the illusion of expertise. To make sure you really understand what you just encountered, take a few minutes to explain it to yourself. That is an easy way to reveal the gaps in your understanding.
  • Ask questions. It is amazing how often people use words that you just don’t understand. I don’t mean people who are deliberately trying to impress you with their massive vocabularies. I mean the buzzwords that slip into everyday business communication. When you find that your understanding of a key point is blocked by one of these words, ask a question. It is better to clarify a new idea quickly than to walk around with a low-quality explanation in your head.

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26 Responses to “Improve your knowledge daily”

  1. Valerie Iravani says:

    Art, This is a great post, and few people take the time to make these steps. These are actually characteristics I worked to teach my children. We made a game of asking "why", tested each others knowledge levels throughout their young lives, and even today as young adults, we test each other. We also share knowledge that we learn, and I share knowledge with my direct reports.

    At work, I send out "trivia" on Fridays as a way to engage my employees, challenge and amaze them. I challenged them to (voluntarily) learn about Social Media and then share their experience. We talk about our customers' businesses at team meetings, and support each others skill development.

    I also practice the are of "silent awareness" to encourage "being here and now" without multitasking. It's hard, but increases one's ability to listen and listen without judgement so you hear what's really being said.

    I hope many people read your post and use the steps you have listed!

    • Art Markman says:

      Thanks Valerie! You're right. It is hard to avoid multi-tasking, but it is probably the single most important thing we can do to learn more effectively.

  2. Leah Michele says:

    Great post! Simple and to the point – great tips! I look forward to using these!

  3. powerofslow says:

    It is great to see the notion of multitasking as a myth being championed on a blog about leadership. Thank you for underscoring the need to take a quiet moment aside to learn something new every day. I wholeheartedly agree with you!

  4. Good post. My problem is I don't want to lead, but prefer to defer to mediocre or better leaders who want to. Wanting to lead is the pre-operative phrase and good leadership skills come from wanting to learn to be a better leader.

  5. harpreetgujral says:

    I simply love this post. This is "THE ARTICLE" that highlights the problem faced by many of us, not just at work but also when we are at home trying to while away our time as a means to relaxation but it ends up giving more burden on our allready burdened mind……

    This is one of the common problems i am facing at work lately, as i am growing in my carreer i feel all the more burdened to first complete things on priority and then focus on a lesser priority todo item…… but in the middle of this, your emails, phone, and chat applications are enough to loose your focus on…..

    All the practices given above are really helpful, all one needs to do is to practice them in real life……

    Thank you Mr. Marmann

    Cheers

  6. CharlieNYC says:

    Hi Art. Terrific post. One aspect which come into play is economics. When times are tougher, companies and organizations tend to cut back on learning programs. The very programs that, for a small amount of money, could really help people learn more, be more creative and quicker to the solutions. And do more with the proverbial "less." I think this is a short-sightedness that only hurts them in the long run.

    • Art Markman says:

      I agree. I was just chatting with someone on a plane about this issue. In many ways, a down economy is the perfect time to focus on training and learning.

    • TimSTL says:

      Hello Charlie
      Thanks for the posting! great job!!
      Wow! That is what I have experienced in over 20 years with the power generation industry. Now after two decades I am entrenched in a culture that is on the verge of chaos as the baby booms start the mass exodus into retirement or not as the economy forces some to stay longer. This will present a dilemma to most organization that must train new employees and establish some continuing education for many people who are reluctant to learn. Learning is as much about the desire to learn as it is the need of an organization to transfer knowledge. It follows to say "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" well get yourself and your organization some thirsty horses! I would say all organizations in all industries need to espouse the idea of learning as a staple of the culture and the value that lies within.

      • CharlieNYC says:

        The other aspect of using learning, training and team building now also ties in with the cross-generational make-up of the workforce. How do you get people from the Woodstock generation working smoothly with the Bonnaroo, CMJ and Coachella generation? It's critical that this issue be handled to keep things working smoothly and profitably in these, shall we say, sucky economic times?

  7. Ben Reilly says:

    Great article Art! It's true how many of us rush from meeting to meeting without taking the time to review what happened during the meeting. This is a critical step that I see most people miss. If we all took the time to review more often, we might be lucky enough to have less meetings. That would be nice!

    • Art Markman says:

      I often argue that it is up to all of us to create a "culture of smart" within our organizations. The more we encourage people to continue learning, the smarter the whole organization gets.

  8. stratecutionstories says:

    Good post. But there's a difference between gaining knowledge, and being a "knower" (vs. a "learner"). You've highlighted the need to maintain a "learner's" approach – which is critical for organizations and people. Take a peek at my post at http://stratecutionstories.wordpress.com/2011/10/…. It's critical to recognize your own ignorance, and search for learning all the time.
    Michael Baer http://www.stratecutionstories.wordpress.com

  9. Kingsley says:

    Great post indeed! What a high level of discipline, this requires, most especially knowing when to do what to do…

  10. Art

    Great post – I totally agree. RE 'stop and organize' – whenever I put a meeting into my diary, I allocate two additional slots – one before to prepare adequately, and one after to review thoroughly. After a few weeks, this becomes second nature.

  11. Kenny Jahng says:

    How about adding "teach someone" — you've accumulated all the knowledge, now share it. Getting in the habit of sharing tips, best practices, practical know-how is one way to codify what you've learned. And it increases your network at the same time too. Now that's a nice bonus.

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  14. [...] Markman, a well-known professor of psychology and marketing, recently wrote a piece for smartblogs.com about the importance of building your knowledge base each and every day. Knowledge, he explains, is [...]

  15. [...] I really like these ideas for life practices, not just business practices. Knowledge is the basis of everything, any good, smart Sagittarius (like me) will tell you that, so keep trying to learn, constantly in every area of your life. You’ll be better off for it. http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2011/10/21/improve-your-knowledge-daily/ [...]

  16. [...] Here’s how Markman puts it in Improve Your Knowledge Daily: [...]

  17. [...] lisant cet article ce matin, pendant ma veille quotidienne, j’ai pris conscience que ce que nous suggérait Art [...]