On the importance of cross learning

Or why you should seek the knowledge outside of your main domain

What is their secret?

I bet not once you have seen extremely talented people around you.The ones that seem to grasp any subject on the go. Quick learners and open-minded individuals, whose creativity results in innovation almost every time they set their mind on a task.
“What is their secret” you think? “Were they born multi-talented or is it education that they have received?”
It can be either, but most probably these people understood the importance of cross-learning. And hopefully this article will encourage you to cross-learn as well.

One vs Many

Each of us has our own professional inclination or a domain of expertise. And it’s totally fine that we have found this ONE thing. The problems start the moment when this ONE thing prevents us from exploring outside of our box. “Why would I need it since I wouldn’t put it to use in my field” – you think. The answer is pure and simple – innovation. Some years ago, aspiring entrepreneurs thought “how finance knowledge can help me in my purely tech startup?”. And now, how many Fintech companies are popping up? The finance-technology connection, that has been owned exclusively by banks for over a half a century, is now taking the first place in startup industry.

Knowledge transfer from one domain to another can result not only in highly innovative and unthinkable outcome, but can also bring a solution to a problem which has been doomed to stay unresolved.

Here is an example from the corporate world. Once I went to a ‘Women In Tech’ event where one of the speakers was a lady with legal background who had joined a telecom company where she was assigned to lead a team of 40 engineers. The company had been stuck with the team’s productivity and she, having no technical background, applied her knowledge from the law firm (which was her previous employer) to deal with the technical issues that the team had been encountering. To the best of my knowledge, she still hasn’t learnt the technical specifics of the job, however her fresh views and solutions transferred from outside the industry allowed her to succeed where her tech-savvy predecessor failed.

This is why a growing number of companies adopt job rotation.

Why everybody loves Elon?

There are plenty of people, especially among those who had experienced a personal contact with Elon Musk, who don’t particularly admire his style of communication and the way of being, as Ashlee Vance reports in his biography of the visionary. Nevertheless there’s one thing why everyone who has heard about Elon loves and admires him for. It is his contribution to the development of so many distinct break-throughs. Is he an expert in all the fields he’s launching in his businesses? The answer is no. Does he suffer due to this fact. And again No!

So, why is he being so successful? Of course there’s much more than one factor and this topic is all together another discussion, however he does cross-learn massively. From his childhood time, Elon was known for his love for books and craving for different knowledge, which is now showing its results in full. Any time Elon sees a potential in a project, he educates himself on the subject well enough to create a vision and communicates it to the right people to implement. To people who possess much more technical knowledge, but still who failed to come up with such inventions as Elon did.

Lesson (not) learnt from the semi-conductor industry

In his timeless bestselling book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Clayton Christensen examines and presents the data on semi-conductor industry disruption and the reasoning on the failure of so many established players to act, whereas new smaller players were extremely successful in adopting new applications of the emerging conductor types.

On top of many other reasons, it was a fixation of the main players on the existing uses of semiconductors and desperate attempts to adapt new types to the prevalent settings. New companies succeeded because of their fresh views and lack of bias. They saw a solution which was not apparent because it had not existed before. This is innovation. This is market making. And these are open minds and a cross learning of these minds. Minds which were able to envision the solutions nobody had thought of before and which excelled massively in new ambience.

In the following edition of the book Clayton shares the massive response he’s got from various leaders in different industries who observed the same pattern.

Ready. Set. Go!

So what are the ways to start cross-learning and benefit from it and where do we find sources to do so?

Luckily there’s no shortage of possibilities and no pain is involved. You could make cross-learning fun and fulfilling, so much so that the spark inside of you will start to demand constant ignition.

Here are some ideas on how to start:
pick couple of topics that you will commit to learn more about. It could be anything from history to marketing. Choose the topics which are close to your heart but not to your main domain of knowledge.
start with searching for articles on that topic and add a couple of blogs/magazines to your reading list for regular updates
research recommended books on the topics which are easy to read for a person without detailed knowledge on the subject. Avoid books for expert as you might easily get bored or discouraged due to the lack of understanding.
join seminars, workshops, events and exhibitions related to the topic of interest
meet new people. A lot of them! And listen carefully to what they say. Everybody can teach us something if we let them to.

Conclusions

I hope the examples discussed helped me to convince you to take the next step and invest some additional time in your development. You won’t notice when you will transfer from a novice in discussions on a new topic to an active contributor with a well informed opinion. You will be amazed to see the connections between the topics where previously you could not imagine have existed. New ideas will flow to your mind and new solutions will result in great things.

Give it a try! It’s worth it.

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