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  • Donald E. Hester

The Art of Continuous Improvement: Lessons from a Lifelong Learner

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." - Mahatma Gandhi

As an advocate of lifelong learning and continuous improvement (CANEI), I strive to expand my knowledge and skills in various fields. With a curiosity that knows no bounds, I aspire to become a polymath - someone with expertise in multiple areas. I've found that my learning journey often leads me to unexpected places, and I've discovered that many of the principles I've learned in one field can be applied to my current career. For instance, when I took a course to obtain my motorcycle license, I was surprised to find that much of what I learned applied to risk management. Just like planning a motorcycle trip, risk management involves identifying goals, protecting resources, and constantly monitoring for potential hazards. Both require the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and take proactive steps to mitigate risks. It may sound unconventional, but to me, cyber risk management is just like riding a motorcycle!

Some points I would recommend

"Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Obsessively and ceaselessly educate and train." - Marine Corps Principle

Know Your Learning Style

To optimize your learning experience, it's essential to explore different learning modalities. While reading is a valuable method of learning, visual learners may benefit more from watching a video or attending a class. Others may be tactile learners who prefer hands-on activities. Understanding your learning style can help you learn faster and retain information more effectively. However, using multiple modalities, if possible, can also reinforce your learning. Although experts may have different opinions on learning styles, I suggest that you focus on your strengths and adapt your learning accordingly. Personally, as a visual learner, I often create diagrams to help me remember information from reading. I recommend exploring different learning styles and seeking out resources, such as books or courses, to become a better learner.

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman

Get Multiple View Points

To broaden your perspective and avoid bias, it's important to seek out diverse opinions on a topic. I enjoy learning from experts and also from those who disagree with them. Exposure to multiple viewpoints is crucial because you can't fully understand a subject if you only see it from one perspective. By limiting yourself to one viewpoint, you're effectively keeping yourself in the dark. Even if you believe a certain perspective is true, there's no harm in learning about opposing views. I once taught a class on a controversial topic that had three distinct points of view. To be as objective as possible, I presented the pros and cons of each viewpoint in a dispassionate manner, without revealing my own opinion. After the class, I was surprised to find that people from different sides of the issue came to talk to me, each thinking that I supported their point of view. This experience may have been an example of confirmation bias, but I was pleased that everyone appreciated the diverse perspectives presented in the class. By considering multiple viewpoints, people gained a better understanding of their own position and may become less dogmatic about their views in the future.

"The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Be Intentional

Being intentional about your learning is crucial to making progress in your personal and professional growth. To start, create a learning plan that outlines your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. While it may be easier to follow a prescribed path in a degree program, there are still plenty of resources available for those not enrolled in a formal education. Consider taking courses through online platforms like The Great Courses, Master Classes, or LinkedIn Learning. However, it's important to remember that without a set curriculum, you must be proactive in selecting courses that align with your goals. Additionally, micro degrees or certificates can be a great way to stay motivated and track your progress towards your larger learning goals. By being intentional and purposeful in your learning, you can ensure that you are consistently growing and developing in the areas that matter most to you.

"One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated." - Thomas More

Just-in-time Learning

Just-in-time learning can be a powerful tool to acquire specific skills as needed. For instance, if you are tasked with a new project or responsibility at work, consider taking short courses or sessions to help you build the necessary skills. Platforms like LinkedIn Learning offer micro-courses on various topics, including software training. If you have a presentation to prepare, taking a short course on giving good presentations can be beneficial. By learning on-demand, you can develop skills quickly and efficiently, without having to commit to longer programs or courses. Incorporate just-in-time learning into your routine, and you'll find that you're better equipped to handle new challenges as they arise.

"Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint." - John of Salisbury


A few years ago, I became fascinated with ancient history, and I started reading and listening to nothing but history. At first, it was incredibly exciting, and I was learning a lot of interesting new things and I could not wait to start another book or course. However, as time went on, I found that I was getting burned out on the topic. Eventually, I realized that I needed to take a break and switch to something completely different for a while. By doing this, I was able to refresh my mind and gain new perspectives on the world, which help make my learning more well-rounded.

Diversify your learning throughout your life by exploring a variety of topics. It's easy to get stuck on a subject, but try to avoid this by switching things up. For example, if you listen to audiobooks during your commute, try not to listen to the same genre or subject right after you complete a book. Instead, mix it up by exploring different topics like history, psychology, science, business, philosophy, or theology. It's important to keep things fresh and interesting to prevent burnout. Additionally, incorporating a fiction book from time to time can also help provide a break from non-fiction material. By exploring a variety of topics, you may even be on your way to becoming a polymath. I will put a science fiction book or two into my rotation.

"Training to enable “brilliance in the basics” and educating junior leaders to make sense out of the unexpected (as friction, uncertainty, and ambiguity are war’s elementals and nothing ever goes according to plan) are the down payment for subordinate initiative." - Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Career Enhancing Learning

I recommend including career-enhancing courses in your learning plan to help you stay current and advance in your field. For example, if you work in cybersecurity, it's important to keep up with the latest trends and technologies. Look for courses and certifications that are relevant to your job, and make sure to fulfill any continuing education requirements. In addition, try to vary the topics you study to keep things interesting and prevent burnout. For instance, you might take courses on network security, cryptography, incident response, and cloud security, rather than just focusing on IT audit or governance. Don't forget to take advantage of any professional development opportunities offered by your employer, such as workshops, conferences, or webinars. By staying engaged and proactive in your learning, you can build a more fulfilling and rewarding career.

In addition to technical skills, it is also important to consider the development of soft skills in your career-enhancing learning plan. Soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork are essential in today's workplace. Many employers look for candidates who not only have technical skills but also possess these critical soft skills. You can find courses or workshops on developing these skills through various platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or even your local community college. By including these soft skills in your learning plan, you can improve your overall performance at work and stand out as a valuable asset to your employer.

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think” - Albert Einstein


Apply what you've learned. Personally, I enjoy discussing what I have read and learned. However, some people may find it tiresome. If talking isn't your thing, consider writing a summary of what you have learned. I use OneNote to keep track of notes from books and courses dating back to the early 2000s. It's an excellent tool for quickly refreshing my memory on a topic, and it's accessible on my phone anywhere I go. I find that sharing what I've learned with others can be a great way to reinforce my own knowledge and to help others grow as well. You can take it further by creating blog posts from your summaries. While I don't always have the time to be consistent with my blog posts, sharing what you've learned on a blog is an excellent way to pay it forward and pass on knowledge. Remember, knowledge is power, and by sharing it, we become stronger and smarter together.

One of the best ways to solidify your own understanding of a topic is to teach someone else about it. Teaching requires you to have a deeper understanding of the material, which means you have to go beyond just memorizing facts and figures. You have to understand the underlying concepts and be able to explain them in a way that others can understand. This can be done in many ways, such as giving a presentation, writing a blog post, or simply having a conversation with someone about what you have learned. By sharing your knowledge with others, you are also helping them to learn and grow. It's a win-win situation that benefits both parties involved. So don't be afraid to teach someone what you have learned. You never know, you may just end up learning something new in the process.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." - John F. Kennedy

Make Learning a Habit

Take advantage of every opportunity to learn. For example, if you have a long commute, use that time to listen to audiobooks or podcasts. If you have downtime at work, consider taking an online course or reading an article related to your field. Make a schedule or set a goal for yourself to read a certain number of books or take a certain number of courses per month or year. The more you practice, the easier it will become to make learning a habit. Over time, you will find that learning becomes second nature and you will naturally seek out opportunities to learn and grow.

The military often emphasizes the importance of constant learning and improvement. In the Marine Corps, I was taught from the very beginning that there is no such thing as downtime. Even in moments that may seem idle, there is always something to learn or improve upon. This is why in boot camp, we were required to read our reference book, known as the "Knowledge," during any spare time we had. Always having something to read with me has become a habit. So much so people will ask what I am reading now. Even my dentist!

"What gets measured gets managed" - Peter Drucker

Keep Track of Your Learning

Keeping track of your training and learning can be a great way to motivate yourself to continue your education. People often enjoy gamification, and turning your learning into a game can make it more engaging and enjoyable. Creating a list of the classes you've taken or the books you've read can help you see your progress and give you a sense of accomplishment. You can also take advantage of features like Kindle's reading time tracker to turn your reading into a fun challenge. By making a game out of your learning, you can stay motivated and inspired to continue growing and improving.


In this blog post, I discussed the importance of lifelong learning and how it can enhance one's personal and professional growth. I emphasized the need to incorporate a variety of learning methods such as reading, taking courses, attending conferences, and teaching others. Additionally, I encourage you to make learning a habit by taking advantage of every opportunity, regurgitating what you've learned, and passing on knowledge to others. By embracing lifelong learning, you can stay relevant, adapt to changes, and achieve your goals.

Ad astra per aspera

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