Nov 28, 2017 | 4
Minute Read

You don't have to be an intellectual to be a great learner

dude reading book.jpgPossessing the ability to learn may be the most important skill needed to succeed in the workforce. If we accept that general premise, the next question must be...Is it better to possess an immense amount of knowledge or is it better to have the ability to quickly learn specifically what one needs to know?

In today’s marketplace, interviewers recognize that continuous learning is critical. Imagine not being an avid bookreader and, while at a job interview, the interviewer asks how many books have you read in the past month? For someone who doesn’t actively pursue learning in this manner, it may be a very unsettling question and a hard one to answer. Should this person be penalized in the eyes of the interviewer, or in the marketplace, in general, because they choose to learn on their own terms?

The simple truth is that you don’t have to be a bookworm to be a fantastic learner! Masters of various fields have a penchant for learning but on their terms, and that does not always mean reading a bunch of books or gathering endless amounts of information.

Two equally effective ways to learn

A person can learn in two distinct ways. One way is to absorb as much information as possible. If you are this learner, you consume as much information as possible and want to expand your knowledge continuously. If you have this intellectual driver, you crave knowledge and are energized when put in a position to learn. If your job allows you to further your learning, you will remain engaged and will likely enjoy your job much more so than working in a position where your learning opportunities are stagnant or non-existent. But this is not the only way to learn.

Instinctive learners of the world may not read books as often or as frequently as the average bookworm, yet these specific learners are often the masters of their domain. If this sounds like you, you value learning just as much as the aforementioned bookworm, but you do it on an “as needed” basis. Instinctive learners seem to intuitively know just how much time and energy to spend on learning. Using this approach, you can master your area of expertise because you know exactly how much time and effort it will take you to absorb the information you need. In his best-selling, non-fiction work Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell proposes the premise that 10,000 hours spent on anything can make a person a master. And that premise holds true whether or not the person read a bunch of books along the way.

You gut-driven, instinctive learners do not want to be bogged down with over-learning; you just want to focus on acquiring skills from which you can benefit. If you need to learn something new tomorrow, you can concern yourself with that then. Your favorite invention of all time is the search engine which can give you the information you need in milliseconds and in just the amount of content that you crave. You succeed because you know yourself and how you learn most effectively.

Personifying the learning styles

Putting a personality behind the concepts will help to showcase the different approaches to learning that we may experience in everyday life. Tom and Cherisse are both customer service specialists that approach learning from opposing ends of the continuum, and while neither is right or wrong nor has an advantage over the other, the different approaches are very clear.

Tom is a lifelong learner. In fact, learning situations energize him and he seeks out opportunities to learn anytime he can. Tom’s high intellectual drivers can manifest in many different situations. At work he was tasked to form a committee to re-write an information manual which was right in his wheelhouse. While some members of the committee wanted to jump right in and get started, Tom preferred to gather examples of other company’s manuals to have examples of what other companies were doing. Tom is motivated by gathering new information and having as much knowledge in his “toolbox” before getting started. The more information Tom has, the more confident he feels.

Cherisse learns as she goes. She is also on the committee with Tom but she approaches things from a very different perspective. Rather than spending a lot of time gathering a bunch of information, Cherisse is eager to jump right in and get started. Instead of gathering other companies manuals for comparison, she searched the internet for quick ideas on what other companies were doing. While Tom’s research may have taken weeks, Cherisse completed her “research” in less than an hour. The search engine is her trusted advisor, as well as conferring with other people in the know that already have the answers she seeks.

Although Cherisse may not necessarily have had a high GPA in school, she graduated on time, excels in her field of study and enjoys a career in her chosen field. Once she became part of the working world, she was immediately able to apply what she learned to her new job, and when faced with a new problem, she became known for learning “on the fly” because she possessed the ability to find specific information quickly. Cherisse may never participate on Jeopardy! but she’s everybody’s go-to person within the company because she is great at what she does. If she doesn’t have the answer, she knows exactly where to find it.

Ask the wrong questions and hire the wrong candidate

Let’s take it back to the initial problem posed at the up front of this post: why the question of “which books you read recently” is a problematic question. This question is not a good way to gauge a person's ability to learn. If you are an interviewer, try these questions instead:

  1. "How do you gather information that pertains to your job?"
  2. "Tell me about a few sources of information that you've used in your life recently and how you used these sources?"
  3. "What has inspired you recently and how and where did you get that information?"
  4. "What does 'willingness to learn' mean to you?"
  5. "How do you prefer to learn?"

Create an advantage by knowing the answers

Inevitably, not all interviewers will be savvy enough to ask the correct question, especially if they are a bookworm themselves. So if you're in an interview when the interviewer asks you "what books have you read lately," feel free to use anyone of these replies:

  1. "I read books that apply for specific areas of my life. Although I am not a prolific reader, I do seek out information that is applicable. For instance, I recently learned...."
  2. "Instead of reading a lot of books for the sake of reading, I prefer to get information from experts in the field quickly through sources such as live conversations and email chats."
  3. "Books are great and provide a lot of information so I'll dive deep into a book when I need specific information. However, I prefer briefer versions that give synopsis. One of my favorite ways to gather this information is through ‘Cliff Notes’ or apps like Blinkist."


These opposite ends of the spectrum describe two very unique ways to approach learning. Clearly, two different ways to approach learning but both extremely effective and very valuable to an organization looking to hire top talent. Here at TTI Success Insights, we have names for these specific drivers. While the Intellectual learner favors gathering as much information as possible and storing it all in their personal computer known as a brain, the Instinctive learner is the master of the search engine, the “cliff notes” versions of books and any method by which they can get their hands on pertinent information as quickly as possible. After all, their goal is to get on with the project at hand. Learn more about these two distinct, unique motivators known as Driving Forces by clicking this link.

Are your Driving Forces satisfied? Start feeling engaged, rewarded, and energized. Download the Ebook

Don't forget to share this post!

Dave Clark