Eyes wide open Featured

4:53am EDT November 1, 2005
The best advice I ever received had nothing to do with business. At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Today, however, that advice given shortly after my son was born two years ago has proven appropriate to the CEOs we speak with every day and the stories we write about them.

“Don’t blink,” a friend said. “If you do, you’ll miss Sam’s childhood, and that time will never come around again.”

It sounded like trite advice for a first-time parent, but I wisely heeded it.

By devoting my time to Sam and his development, I’ve learned a valuable business lesson about the importance of continuous learning.

Like most toddlers, Sam has an unquenchable thirst for learning. He’s a sponge for information and proud of himself when he recognizes a letter on a sign or a number in a book. His favorite phrase these days is, “Daddy, what’s that?”

Voltaire wrote, “Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement, and it goes well beyond the inquisitive nature of a toddler. The most impressive CEOs I’ve met are those who plead ignorance, surround themselves with people they claim are smarter than they are and constantly ask questions.

Learning, for them, is critical, and there’s always something new to integrate with how they run their business, treat employees and view the world.

There is little doubt that keeping your mind open to new ideas — from books and lectures to peers and employees — can embolden you in ways you’ve never thought possible.

When is the last time you’ve solicited ideas from your staff beyond your senior executives? How about your clients or vendors?

It’s worth remembering that some of the best ideas in process improvement came from workers on the front line and that some of the greatest breakthroughs in business have come from listening to customers.

As a CEO, you learn from listening to and observing others, then adding their collective knowledge to your own. It’s amazing what happens when you keep your eyes as wide open as 2-year old’s.

As Theodor Geisel once wrote under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go.”