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.