Manny García-Tuñón: The learning never ends

08/24/2014 7:00 PM

08/23/2014 1:13 AM

It never ceases to amaze me. We think we know all there is to know about something. It could be anything, really, but particularly in the area of business, and then something else inevitably happens that reminds us that the learning never ends.

Coming out of college, I thought I knew all there was to know about construction. It didn’t take me long to realize I was wrong. After more than two decades in business, I thought we had mastered the art of business development, management and strategic planning. Then the recession hit after the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and I realized that the game had changed entirely. Forced into survival mode, we had to relearn our own business model lest we cease to exist.

Today the learning continues for my team and me as we find ourselves implementing new strategies, software and infrastructure to manage growth and expansion. And while adjusting for growth is certainly better than adjusting for contraction, the need to learn and relearn is equally crucial in either case because the adverse consequences can be equally devastating.

Regardless of the state of the economy, every situation affords each of us a tremendous opportunity for growth, both personally and professionally, if we choose to continue learning. That’s right, learning is a choice.

I will never forget an experience I had many years ago while driving my daughter to the orthodontist. We were listening to one of the local jazz stations on the radio, and the song that happened to be playing was Small Town Girl by the great jazz guitarist Larry Carlton. Now, I’ve been playing guitar since the eighth grade and can hold my own, but this guy can do things with those six strings that I can only dream of doing.

I lowered the radio and commented that I would love to be able to play guitar like that. My daughter, who at the time couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, heard my comment and asked, “So why don’t you?” I looked at her through the rear-view mirror and said the first thing that popped into my head: “Because I can’t.” She looked back at me and responded to my admittedly weak answer with a very direct question: “Why don’t you learn?”

From the mouths of babes  . . .

Why don’t you learn? That simple yet powerful question kept rolling around in my head. Why don’t you learn? The only real answer was that, at the time, I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to dedicate the time and effort required for it.

All of us could list things we would like to do but can’t, simply because we haven’t practiced or learned. Perhaps it’s a hobby, or golf, painting, or writing. How many things not tried would enrich our lives if we had simply learned how to do them?

But what if it’s more than simple leisure? What if that something you’re holding back on could positively affect not only you, but those around you? What if you could make a significant contribution and, as a result, increase your income? Perhaps you have an idea that can take your organization to the next level, or improve your customer service. Whatever it may be, the truth is that if you feel strongly enough about it, you would surely find the time and the means to do it.

You may have been thwarted by a lack of confidence. The most difficult step is usually the first one — just getting started — but start we must. Taking action, gaining experience, practicing, learning does wonders for our confidence. Once we take that first step, we find that the process is not that difficult after all, and the journey is as fulfilling as actually achieving the goal.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote, “We function best when we are striving for something we do not have.” That striving involves learning. Learning is a lifelong process, and it’s a critical success factor in business. It is absolutely essential that we continue to educate ourselves in the areas of our goals.

Books, podcasts, seminars, lectures. Get your hands on as many as you can. As you take it all in, you’ll find yourself getting more and more excited about your goals, and better prepared to assimilate your success. Open your eyes, your ears, your mind and your heart. Learn. Learn. Learn.

Having mentioned my guitar-playing, I’ll end with a quote from the great Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”

Identify that which you feel strongly about. Set goals. Make a contribution to your team, your customers. This is your time to make some music.

Don’t know how? Why don’t you learn?

Manny García-Tuñón is a columnist for El Nuevo Herald and president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami. He can be reached at manny@mgtunon.com and www.mgtunon.com

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