I'm a big fan of the new book Principles by Ray Dalio. In it, Ray proposes that we spend time refining and sharing the principles that guide our actions.

That practice has become very powerful for me, and is now something we're introducing at work as well. Here's a list I made of five great principles for growing faster at work:

§1. When I'm offered feedback, I shut up and listen. And I don't immediately offer feedback back

I receive a lot of feedback at work. When I do, I try not to interrupt with "let me explain my side of what happened". Instead, I curiously seek out the other person's perspective. All of it. And I try to let them finish.

When I do, I learn so much more compared to arguing, defending, or immediately offering feedback in return to try to "correct" their perspective. It really doesn't always matter if their feedback is "wrong" or "unfair". Their feedback is their perspective and therefore valid. And I want it undistorted — which is hard to do if I mix my own feedback in with theirs.

It's not always easy to deliver feedback, and I try to give people the gift of speaking their heart to me. Listening like this can create a bond between us, and may also help them open up and say "okay, that was all. now tell me what you feel and see."

§2. I schedule a lot of "elevation time"

My first memory of real personal growth happened at a summer camp as a 12 year old. All the kids were told to have "personal reflection time" by spending time alone in the forest for about an hour each day. We were told to "ponder all the things we had learned" and "think about which lessons we want to keep, and which ones to dismiss". This all sounded super boring to me as a kid.

But over time it grew on me, and has now become my favorite practice for internalizing knowledge. This camp still stands out to me as magical, many years later. Not because of the learnings themselves, but because of how I integrated the experience into me in an efficient manner.

These days I  schedule several hours each week for this practice. I call it "elevation time", because it helps bring my energy, perspective and spirits higher up. It's usually a mix of:

  • Hiking or swimming
  • Reflecting (usually using Evernote)
  • Pondering my personal goals and principles like these
  • Listening to my heart and body
  • Reading

§3. I allow others to see my shortcomings

When I don't understand, when I say stupid things or I just don't follow my own principles... then I want others to help me see it. If I were to spend time and energy to hide these mistakes, then I won't grow as much. Like saying "I was only joking" if I really wasn't.

Instead, I want help in recognize the reason for the mistake and see it as an opportunity for improvement. The people around me can help me grow tremendously, but I have to let them.

Imagine if your code/design/text was alive and tried to hide it's weakest parts, refusing to let you see them? Then how could you make it better? If I want to grow, I have to take this seriously and put myself out there.

It's only embarrassing to do this if I believe that my value is in my ability to be perfect. But it's not. My value to my colleagues and my company is often more about how quickly I can learn and thereby get to our goals faster.

Further, allowing others to see my weaknesses allows them to show theirs. And I've found this to be a great way to create a nice atmosphere at work... where we can all just be ourselves.

§4. When confronted with new concepts or information, I stop and create my mental models first

I remember things best when I understand their foundation well. Or as my friend who had this exceptional memory used to say:

The mother of learning is not repetition, it's association.

That phrase really stuck with me. If I learn something new and can't remember it well, it's usually because I can't associate it with anything else.

As Elon Musk explains:

It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles (i.e the trunk and big branches) before you get into the leaves/details. Or else there's nothing for them to hang on to.

With this in mind, I try to customize my learning opportunities to make sure I focus on principles and fundamentals first. This is why I learn best in a 1on1 setting, because that's where its easiest to control the learning experience. Otherwise I may be forced along a general path that assumes I know certain things, which I may not do yet.

So from building those fundamentals first, I'm able to build out my understanding piece by piece and really own my learning experience. Structuring those fundamentals about a given topic into Evernote helps a ton, too.

I love the request "explain to me like I'm five" when I'm learning entirely new concepts. And surprisingly, people love to answer this request too, especially people who are really good at something. I love seeking out experts to see if I can get to the heart of their skills, especially by acting as a complete beginner.

§5. There's always more for me to learn

I believe this is the most important principle of the five.

And the one most easily overlooked.

One of my biggest barriers to personal growth has been this simple idea: "I'm really good at [topic]", such as:

  • building great products
  • being a good teacher
  • communicating well in writing
  • getting shit done
  • etc

You could say these ideas have become a part of my identity. And that's where the problem begins. Because from here it's really easy to go straight into "I already know how this works". Or "because I have title so-and-so, I obviously know everything about this already and don't need you ask you any questions."

This is when it's very easy to stop listening, and to stop questioning my own assumptions. It's easy to become hard to collaborate with. A "know-it-all", who never takes in new perspectives.

Humbleness in all things is so hard. But without it I believe we limit our growth tremendously, in particular in going from "great at something" to "absolutely, ridiculously outstanding at it".

So those are the current top 5 on the list for growing faster professionally. If this was your list, what would you add or edit?

Let us know by tweeting to @littke or follow us at @lookback.

Have a growth day 👋