#AlwaysBeLearning is one of the core values here at MarketInvoice. We embrace change and constantly challenge ourselves to improve through learning events, workshops and our unlimited book budget. To understand why this is such a fundamental core value, I would like to start with a quote from the book Make it Stick: The science of successful learning by Peter C. Brown, where he states: 

“No matter what you may set your sights on doing or becoming, if you want to be a contender, it’s mastering the ability to learn that will get you in the game and keep you there.”

This is probably true in all aspects of life but I think it can especially be applied to highly competitive fields such as software engineering and Fintech. So, how should we learn? Is there any specific recipe?

Unfortunately the answer to these questions is not simple. However, looking at recent research about the relation between the brain and the learning process, and considering social studies and common behaviours of people considered high-achievers in their field, it is possible to find some common ground that can help us improve the way we learn.

A shift towards neuroplasticity

Recently, several studies focused on how the brain works and evolves over time, especially in relation to learning activities. The concept of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life) is becoming commonly accepted.

The brain is no longer thought of as a static organ that can be classified with simple numbers (IQ indexes) but is now considered more similar to other muscles; able to be trained and evolved. In fact, studies show that there are strategies and behaviours that can serve as cognitive “multipliers” to brain performance. These behaviours are usually wrapped into two main classes: embracing a growing mindset and practicing like an expert.

Embracing a growing mindset

The first behavioural class focuses on the mindset that can be defined as the self-perception that people hold about themselves. In particular, while a fixed mindset usually means that people believe their basic qualities are fixed traits, in a growth mindset people believe instead that the power to increase their abilities lies largely within their own control and that their basic capacities can be developed through dedication and hard work. 

We often grow up in a talent-focused social environment where successful people are thought to be so because they are talented and naturally gifted. However, we’ve recently seen a shift in this point of view with sociological and scientific publications that have shown how talent is only one of the variables in a more complex equation.

In her highly recommended book Grit, Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, Angela Duckworth interviews and observes a large number of people who are considered highly successful in their specific fields. She proposes some simplified equations that, in an exceptionally elementary way, can be used to explain what is necessary to excel in every industry. As a result of her interviews and analysis, she proposes the following:

talent x effort = skills

skills x effort = achievement

In this quite straightforward synthesis, she highlights how effort (boosted by grit, passion and resilience) is not only a necessary part, but it actually counts more than natural talent in the long term!

Wrapping up our consideration of the importance of a  growth mindset, it really seems that Henry Ford was right when he said:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are probably right.”

Practicing like an expert

The second behavioural class that can help us achieve our long term goals and improve the way we learn is to practice like an expert. This specific definition has been pioneered by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who argues that to become an expert in a specific field, the way you practice is more important than merely performing a skill a large number of times. 

Ericsson’s research has been substantiated many times by different authors over the years, with most summarising similar key points that are now broadly known as deliberate practice. The first step is to break down the skills that are required to be an expert in a specific field and focus on improving those over time. To do this, you must repeatedly strive towards goals that are slightly beyond your current skill level which necessarily involves working outside of your comfort zone. 

The second step is to receive quick feedback about your progress and your work by a peer or, better, by a coach or mentor. Making mistakes and correcting them builds the bridge to advanced learning; so test yourself, fail, learn from your mistakes and then try again.  As an ancient Japanese proverb says:

“Fail seven, rise eight.”

The third step is to set SMART objectives for yourself: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-boxed. Doing so will help you keep track of your progress. Here at MarketInvoice for example, each one of us is encouraged to set a series of quarterly SMART goals to ensure continuous development.

Finally, the last fundamental step is spaced repetition. In his book, Peter C. Brown describes how one of the central challenges to improving the way we learn is finding a way to interrupt the process of forgetting. To do so he explains how spaced practice (breaking up learning over time) is more effective than massive repetition in embedding knowledge into long-term memory. In fact, even if it seems more difficult and you can feel yourself initially stuck, the more effort that is required to retrieve something, the more effective the re-learning will be in shaping your permanent knowledge.

Of course this is not a complete recipe, especially because every one of us is different in the way we  learn but hopefully, these few (certainly not easy) steps will help you reach your long-term goals.

If you’d like to share your tips for enhanced learning or find out about engineering at MarketInvoice, get in touch with me by emailing r.monesi@marketinvoice.com