Startups: How do you know you have really learned?

Learning and knowledge are, without a doubt, the core pillars of economy, collaboration and creativity. And the Lean Startup theory takes this undeniable fact one step further, saying that “knowledge is the only true measure of progress” when dealing with the process of product development. But I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the problem with this finding — or conclusion if you wish — lies in the fact that it’s not at all obvious whether one has indeed learned something or not.  

Startups: How do you know you have really learned?

From information to knowledge and from knowledge to learning

Speaking of learning and knowledge, I recall a previous article of mine I had written some years ago. In that article, that was published at the EFront blog, when TalentLMS was still in the development phase, I was stressing the difference between knowledge and information. Following on from the key points mentioned there, and in connection with another article, where I was calling on founders to reopen their books and re-study fundamental theory, today I would like to focus on learning and knowledge.

Let me tell you more about this.

Transformed behavior as proof of learning

Of course, the respective ideas are not mine. More or less, all of our understanding is shaped through the books we read; and in this particular topic I’m describing here, I was influenced by an exceptional book I’ve read. It’s called “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization”, by Peter M.Senge, MIT Professor. In his book, Professor Senge highlights a simple but undeniable truth; Information becomes knowledge only if it modifies the behavior of the subject who possesses it.

What’s interesting is that Peter Senge uses the Greek word “Μετάνοια (Metania)” in a way to accurately describe this conscious transformation of behavior that is, in the end, the proof that information has indeed been transformed into knowledge.

Interesting, isn’t it? Let’s see how this theory applies in life and business, in general.  

Life and startup learnings: signs of ignorance or not?  

There are plenty of examples that validate this theory. Take smoking, for example. We’re all aware of how fatally smoking affects our health. But it’s only those that do have the knowledge of the consequences that will finally manage to quit it. Or, consider the example of stealing. We all know that is bad to steal, right?

Now, think of those that somehow get the opportunity to steal without being noticed. Or, to be more accurate, those that though they do know that no one will ever find out about their action and yet they choose not to do so. They indeed have acquired the knowledge. I think one can easily think of a host of other examples.

In the same way, for a startup founder that makes an effort to study and stay updated, acquiring more and more information is not enough. One needs to prove — first to themselves — that they did learn. How? Only by managing to point out concrete and essential changes in their behavior. And it’s these changes that constitute a valid learning process.

How learning helped me make a shift in my understanding, at the business level

Allow me here to share with you some testimonials of my learning process. Looking back over the twenty years of my learning journey in business, I’d say that I’m happy I managed to learn a few things. And the proof is that I’ve managed to transform my perception and change my behavior accordingly, in the following ways:

  •  I used to be an advocate of what we call public relations and consequently of enterprise sales as a viable sales model for a business.

Then I realized that there’s nothing like product-led growth and automated sales. Both of them undeniably lead to extroversion and define, of course, a scalable business model.  

  •  I used to believe that a centralized business model was suitable for our organization.

Then I realized that only by trusting my partners and coworkers to sit in the driving seat and have me as a consultant — or a co-pilot, if you wish — are we able to succeed.  

  • I used to think that marketing & sales are a matter of talent.

Then I realized that both of them are scientific fields, just like computer science and any other science. And that talent is, of course, helpful; but it cannot replace scientific knowledge.

Some final thoughts

I would like to invite you to think, for yourself: what is the latest book or article you’ve recently read and found it to be exceptionally interesting? Can you think of a few major habits and behaviors you’ve managed to change, inspired by the learnings you got from it? If yes, then rest assured that you did learn. If not, you probably need to try harder; as this — and only this — is proof enough of “acquiring” knowledge: The conscious transformation of our behavior, that is “μετάνοια (metanoia)”.

Startups: How do you know you have really learned? was last modified: October 23rd, 2020 by Dimitris Tsingos
Dimitris Tsingos

Dimitris Tsingos

The Starttech Ventures Founder. Tech entrepreneur. Passionate European federalist. Dimitris has been the President of YES for Europe - European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs [2011-15], the Founder of the Hellenic Start-up Association [2011], Board Member at EBAN - The European Business Angel Network [2014-17], 40-under-40 European Young Leader [2012-13], Marshall Memorial Fellow [2018] and a Fellow of IHEIE/PSL [2019].