Jonathan Levi has dedicated his life to studying how humans learn. He's an Inc. 5000 serial entrepreneur and the founder of Superhuman Academy, an online resource that helps people improve their ability to learn new skills or information quickly and effectively. His recent book, The Only Skill That Matters, uses a neuroscience-based approach to help people read faster, remember more, and learn more effectively.
And he has one message for the CEOs of the world:
Stop thinking of yourself as the CEO! You're the CLO: The Chief Learning Officer.
According to Levi, the primary job of a CEO is to learn. Sound crazy? Well, it's not. Because the reality is that most successful CEOs are already functioning as CLOs.
I recently caught up with Levi to discuss this CLO concept. Here's some insight from that conversation and a practical technique to improve your learning.
The role of a CLO
To be a successful CEO, you need to be a master learner. CEOs need to be able to take in new information, process it, remember it, and then use it to make decisions on a daily--even hourly--basis.
As CEO, you need to
learn about industry trends;
learn about new technologies and techniques that could benefit your company;
learn about the people and companies in your network;
learn enough about the roles of employees to ensure they're doing a good job;
learn enough about the departments under you to function as an effective leader; and
learn enough about what is put in front of you to make an informed decision.
And that's just scratching the surface. The reality is that nearly every facet of a CEO's job can be boiled down to learning and decision-making.
But most people have never been taught how to learn. Levi has built his business around precisely that, and he has several methods and techniques that people can use to become "SuperLearners." One of those techniques is all about making connections.
Hebb's law: Neurons that fire together wire together
As human beings, when we learn something new, we tend to treat it as just that--something new. But this isn't conducive to learning or remembering.
Instead of thinking about something as new information, you should immediately think of how you can connect this new topic to something you already know and remember. Ask yourself, "How does this relate to what I already know? Where can I create a connection?"
Why is this important? Because, as Levi likes to say, our brains work like Google. When you stumble across new information, your brain is asking itself, "How many connections are there to this piece of information?" and "How trusted or valuable are those connections?" The more connections you can make to pre-existing memories, the more likely your brain is going to remember new information.
In neuroscience, this phenomenon is called Hebb's law, and the idea is that when you connect information in your mind, you're actually creating connections between neurons in your brain. When you treat a piece of information as entirely new, you're creating a lone network of neurons. Your brain deems this solitary network unimportant, and you promptly forget it.
But if those neurons are connected with memories (neurons) that are deeply cherished or embedded in your mind, your brain understands that this new information is linked to something important--and therefore, the new stuff is also important and needs to be remembered.
The final piece that all CEOs must remember is that, in most cases, you don't need to know every granular detail or understand a concept in depth--you just need to know enough.
Levi mentions a story from his time in business school that many CEOs could relate to. He was paying an inordinate amount of money to go to business school, yet he found himself in an introductory accounting class. Like most students, he was there to learn how to run a business, not work as an entry-level accountant. So why the accounting class?
The professor started the semester with a simple clarification. He said:
"I fully understand that none of you are here to become accountants. In fact, you probably won't even do your own bookkeeping. But when someone else is doing it for you, you need to be able to understand what's going on, ask intelligent questions, and point out errors. That is why you are here."
As a CEO, you should only be concerned with learning enough to make an informed decision. Don't get bogged down in nitty-gritty details. Learn what you need to learn, make the decision you need to make, and move on to the next one.