Acknowledge Learning Gaps

No One Can Be an All-round Expert

By Margaret Vaughan

Some of the greatest pleasures in my life are to open a book I’ve never read, open a notebook in which nothing has ever been written, and to walk into a library that I’ve never before entered. To me all three offer the same thing: unlimited possibility.

Of the three, the most daunting and awesome (in the truest sense of the word) has always been going into a library. Libraries are my cathedrals. I am awed by the numbers of books I have not read, the knowledge I do not possess, the wisdom I have not yet gained. And there’s the rub. I know, when looking with wonder at the collected wisdom of the ages held within the bindings of those books, that I will never learn it all. It’s impossible. So, I am always striving to learn, always researching, and always questioning simply because I know that my knowledge is incomplete and always will be. And I’m OK with that.

One of the most important things in life is learning how to learn. Everyone has had experience with trying to teach a 2-year-old something. The first “power” word they learn is “NO,” and they like to use it a lot. It can be challenging to teach them, so sometimes it is better just to let them learn the hard way; as in “don’t touch that, it will burn you.” It’s an important process.

The problem for many of us is that we get stuck in our 2-year-old selves. We don’t want to admit that we don’t know and are afraid to ask for help or guidance. My question is why?

It’s impossible for any one of us to know everything about our business. I have 40 years of experience in supply chain management. There’s probably not a supply chain management function that I have not performed, yet there are so many areas of the business in which I know that I am completely inadequate. Does this bother me? Sort of and not a bit. “Sort of” because I think that I should know, and “not a bit” because I’m not afraid to ask questions, to show my ignorance, and to hire people more knowledgeable than myself and learn from them. I hope that when my clients hired me, they learned from me. God knows I tried hard enough to teach them!

The thing is that our business and, indeed, the rest of our lives, are in constant flux. We have to keep up with learning new things every day while at the same time retaining old skills – who can still do cm/inches conversion in their heads? So, if you don’t know something, ask. Then listen to the answers. And maybe, one day, you might be able to say: “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever learn.” But I doubt it.  

Margaret J. Vaughan has more than 30 years’ experience in all facets of supply chain management.

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