Quick Takes:

  • Life teaches lessons through reference experiences
  • The lessons themselves might not be linear, but the learning has to be
  • Most of the things we learn require prerequisites to understand
  • Therefore, we need to actively seek out reference experiences so we can compound our learning

There’s a timeline to learning, no doubt about it. But there’s also an ebb and flow to it, with life lessons weaving in and out, and almost never in a straight line. Things you may learn today won’t be used for years, and things you learn years from now could have been used today.

“When the pupil is ready, the master appears.” We learn when we’re ready. Not a second before, and often-times a second too late. Life is waiting to teach us, but it’s up to us whether or not we want to learn, because it’s through the active pursuit of reference experiences that we receive the lessons we need.

The point of learning is growth, and if you don’t grow through your life experiences, there’ll be no learning, and more importantly, there’ll be no compounded learning. You can’t learn something that requires prior knowledge  you don’t have. So, even though a life lesson might offer itself to you, you can only receive the information and process it as truth after you have the required prerequisites. Therefore, learning follows a linear timeline and compounds on itself.

But while learning is linear, the lessons aren’t linear at all. Let me explain: it’s not uncommon to receive a life lesson two years prior to needing it, or two years after you needed it. Some life lessons are even taught through a mosaic of reference experiences, and it’s only through multiple experiences – sometimes the same one over and over – that you can unlock the lesson and learn the life principle.

A reference experience might occur on one day, and several weeks later, the learning will present itself, due to the fact that you needed to learn the prerequisite first. This is why the lessons themselves aren’t linear, only the learning.

Something could happen today, for example, yet you’re not ready to receive that learning. You might only understand later, after a necessary prerequisite has been understood. You can only learn life’s lessons in a linear progression, yet the lessons themselves are anything but linear. 

A Life of Linear Learning

It’s nice to know that learning compounds on itself. It gives our actions a sense of direction and connects two seemingly unrelated bits of information. In fact, many of us have learned something only to apply that new information to a completely unrelated part of life. It’s not uncommon for a lesson learned in our love lives, for example, to teach us something about business, too. And it’s definitely not uncommon for something in business to teach us how to be better at home.

There’s learning everywhere, and the quicker we can compound that learning, the better balanced our lives will be.

For example, starting a business is all about linear learning. You just don’t know what you don’t know. It’s  impossible to seek answers to questions you don’t even know to ask, and when you’re starting a company or taking on a new career, the most important thing to do is figure out what questions are important. However, the only way to do that successfully is to get your hands dirty, one step at a time.

When I first started my company, I didn’t know the first thing about entrepreneurship. In fact, coming from a background in finance, I didn’t even know how to make a sales call. How could I ask the proper questions and seek the right learning if I didn’t even know the first thing about generating revenue?

Thankfully I had a business partner to rely on, but with him being an engineer by trade, we were in the same boat. However, we did have an advantage in that we both knew how valuable reference experiences and perseverance could be, and we understood the importance of action.

So, we picked up the phone and started calling businesses who fit our client profile. Remember, we didn’t even have a product, only an idea, but we figured the best way to validate that idea was to get someone to pay for it. And what joy! People were interested, but no one was willing to whip out their credit cards. We had to bridge the gap between interest and sale.

Which meant we had to dial-in our sales pitch, which meant truly understanding and then accurately communicating the value of our service…which meant we had to call more people. We needed a better understanding of customer pain points and goals so we could better frame our sale. And we did, we got better.

Finally, after about six weeks of cold-emailing and cold-calling, we got our first sale, and it was a big one. One that would make us profitable in our first month of true operations. The sale, although bumpy on the back-end (another learning experience through doing: how to actually deliver the value you promised), went well, and the client was happy. So happy that they wanted to renew their contract, but not so happy that they wanted to renew it with haste.

Waiting, the worst part of the sales cycle. We didn’t have any other clients, and were beholden to renewing services with the one we had. Of course, this made us oversell our prized client and probably scare them into inaction. If only we had a sales pipeline…

Oh, we need a sales pipeline, I remember thinking! We went back to square one, mapped the path from initial reach out to sale, and ramped up our calls so we could keep the pipeline filled, since pipelines are notoriously leaky.

And we signed clients. And guess what? Our first client came back, after we stopped pestering them, which made me think: deliver value and then stand by that value. If you truly delivered value, than relax a little, the repeat purchase will eventually take care of itself.

Now that the pipeline is growing, I know the next learning experience will be scalability. But, of course, I’d never be able to learn about scaling a business if I didn’t first learn how to build a pipeline in need of scale. See, learning is linear. 

It makes sense, then, that if learning is linear, and reference experiences let us learn, and our goals are multiple steps away from us, then we should start learning now.