Steven's Blog

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The Best Educate Themselves

“I am reading every book by Peter Drucker I can get my hands on.” That’s what Tsukuba International School Principal, Shaney Crawford, said to me nearly nine years ago. Never before, nor since, has any salaried manager or company CEO ever told me anything even remotely similar even though this is precisely the type of self-education that most ought to be doing. When Shaney Crawford asked me to serve on the school’s board, I immediately agreed.

Since that time, under Shaney Crawford’s leadership, Tsukuba International School has quadrupled its student numbers, added a high school, gotten international baccalaureate certification, doubled its building infrastructure, achieved strong profitability after a period in the red following the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami disaster, and is on track to become the largest international school in Japan based on land holdings. People who educate themselves achieve great things, and Shaney Crawford certainly has. 

In this day and age, there is no excuse not to self-educate. My twelve-year-old son is teaching himself to program in Swift (a language used for making iOS apps) using a superb online course on YouTube. The course is free. I touched down in Mykonos, Greece not so long ago and had some time as I was waiting for my luggage. I accessed a series of free online three-minute lessons in Greek on my iPhone and went through as many as I could. When I exited the airport, I was speaking Greek. My driver asked me how often I had been coming to Greece. It was my first visit.

The instantaneity of access to resources for self-education is unprecedented. Today, education is much less about learning than about knowing how to learn anything you want—if you have the desire.

When a CEO engages me to help a sales team improve its capabilities, I often hear the salespeople complain that the company never provides enough training. When I ask how many people have read a book on sales, rarely more than two people raise their hands. Those who do read have rarely read more than two books, and none recently. How can you be a professional salesperson for a decade and never have bothered to read a book on selling?

I never cease to be surprised that so many executive managers end up in senior-level positions without the competencies they know they need and yet still don’t bother to educate themselves. I was recently talking with the vice president of sales at the Japanese office of an American company. He told me that he has a cross-cultural communication problem with the head office and wanted my help. He was having trouble convincing executives to invest in Japan, which they mostly considered an unimportant market. 

“Well, what’s your business case for the investment?” I asked. 

“Business case?” he replied. He had never bothered to make one and did not even know how. 

“I think I know what your problem is,” I said, “and it is not cross-cultural communication.”

So-called communication problems, cross-cultural, or otherwise are psychosomatic. They always mask some other problem that is usually fixable.

In another company, the director of strategy, whom the CEO had asked me to coach, did not understand what business strategy is, much less how to develop one. I asked if he had ever read a book on strategy. He hadn’t.

“Don’t wait. Today, I want you to go to any large bookstore in Tokyo. You will find lots of books on strategy on the shelf. Read one in Japanese or English. I don’t care. Just read one.”

“Which one do you recommend?”

“Just pick one that you find intriguing! The principles of strategy are mostly the same. Read one book, get another!” 

He still has yet to do this. “Too busy,” he claims, presumably with the time demands of “strategy.” I advised the CEO to fire the guy. There is no helping people who won’t educate themselves.

In my view, no company should provide training or education to any employee who does not first attempt to educate himself or herself in some way. 

Self-education is a mark of excellence. If you want to know who your best employees are, look for the ones who take the initiative to first learn something on their own. Click To Tweet Do you know who are your best? If not, go find out, and don’t wait.

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