5 insights for learners: Things which help me with frequent domain/career change

2021 was another eventful year for me, highlight being my midlife career change.

After founding MAXIMESS (IT Services/ Digital Product Engineering Company) in 2009, I went on to found educational institute and worked in education domain for over 10 years. Meanwhile I co-founded a school and a co-operative credit society too. I was also active in social activism and experienced grassroots of our democracy by contesting state assembly election twice. So along with my primary work of teaching students and mentoring my colleagues in all my ventures, I have been doing many things here and there. At the start of 2021, considering the opportunities in front of MAXIMESS and my hunger for adventure, I decided to start actively working in IT as my primary work.

Couple of days back MAXIMESS turned 13. Now its around 10 months from when I actively started working in IT and started exploring the domain. Here, I am sharing my learnings in hope that it will help someone like me into similar transitions into any domain. ‘Self Regulated Learning’/‘Independent Learning’ is a skill which will help you in every industry, every demography and every era. To do that, I have learnt that when you start exploring a territory unknown to you, letting your curiosity be stronger than the doubt and using common sense to avoid critical mistakes puts you at advantage. Moreover, your ‘enthusiasm and motivation’ helps you make up for ‘lack of knowledge and expertise’.

I have always used following strategies to learn and to do better (it is not by design for this assignment, but crux of my lifelong learning across various domains and ventures):

1. Zoom In – Zoom Out: Attention to details at every level is important. Understanding the parts and how they connect to make the whole is right way to learn and think. I use this to understand verticals and horizontals of our organisation, skillsets and mindsets individuals, tools and processes used to deliver value etc and how it forms the organisational structure and culture.

Think it like zooming in and out on google map. When you zoom in you study a small area in very much detail and then you zoom out to see how it fits into bigger one. Do that systematically and you understand the whole.

2. Listen Actively – Ask Right Questions: There a lot you can learn from your peers. I took time top attend meetings of different groups/teams and also had one-on-one meetings with different stakeholders. Actively listening helps you understand things deeply, go beyond what is verbally said, ask short right questions to know more and thereby helping everyone (including yourself) with new insights.

Compulsive behaviour of speaking too much to impress or being absent minded in discussion, are roadblocks in learning and also toxic for team imany ways. Deliberate efforts towards active listening and developing habit of asking right questions minimally for eliciting more relevant information helps everyone.

3. Observe Parallels – Embrace New: Core domain ‘Knowledge’ varies from industry to industry but the ‘Wisdom’ is mostly permeating across all domains. From subject to subject or from industry to industry, I always find that some things are same and for some there are parallels. So you never start from scratch when you venture into new role or domain. This ready structure then helps you absorb the new knowledge.

Your ability to observe carefully and subtly validate your understanding is going to definitely help. That gives you the much needed confidence while walking into the unknown and embracing new knowledge, skills to make it your own.

4. Read – Learn: Continuous learning is important to reach the desired expertise and to excel. Apart from the sources mentioned above, reading blogs/books and going for some relevant courses will complement your journey. This should become a habit. If it’s not yet, start small but start now.

Newton used to say, ‘I could see farther by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Staying updated of the existing knowledge will help you understand what new can be built and how existing can be made better. Reading and learning are the ways of standing on shoulders of giants.

5. Fast and Slow Thinking – Metacognition: Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about two systems of thinking, system 1 is fast and automatic whereas system 2 is slow and deliberate. I have observed that when we do some thought-based work for first time, we use system 2. But when we do same work over and over, with awareness, it slowly becomes a system 1 work for us. Example, I learned driving using system 2 but now, for most of the time it’s being done by system 1. My mind know the situations where system 2 have to kick in. System 2 needs more energy and have to be wisely used.

Awareness about these two ways of thinking and ability to use it wisely is helpful. To be able to think about your thinking or know about the knowledge is metacognitive ability. Metacognition is learners one of the superpowers.

I am sure you this insights and skills will help you as they have helped me.

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