YKK Stories

2017-11-06 Issue 22 Fundamental Behavior 21 – Be A Lifelong Learner

February 19, 2019
Author: YKK
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Do you consider yourself to be a lifetime learner? Do you have a natural curiosity that inspires you to learn more about the world around you? These are questions we all need to consider and answer for ourselves, no matter how young or old we are. I know that even at my age (definitely not young), I find lifelong learning to be increasingly relevant in my life.

Everyone should be a lifetime learner, eager to learn new things. When I went to engineering school fifty years ago, we didn’t even have handheld calculators that could add and subtract. Talk about living in the Stone Age! And now we use little handheld devices that have more computing power than the computers that took humans into space. We can continue to learn. We have to continue learning.

We benefit and grow intellectually from having a curiosity about our world and the people in it. We become more interesting around our family and friends when we can bring up timely topics. Personally, I like to spend time sitting in traffic listening to interesting programs on the radio. Even though I love music, I think my time is better spent keeping up with the news. And I’m not talking about the talk programs where people shout their one-sided opinions. I don’t have time for that nonsense. I try to learn whatever I can during the two to three hours each day I’m stuck in traffic.

When I was young, I spent that time in my car listening to cassette tapes trying to learn foreign languages. And let me admit that speaking foreign languages is not my “gift” in life, so I don’t claim to have mastered any language. But I still think it was worth my time, because now when I’m around people who speak those languages, at least I know enough words to say “thank you” and to follow some of the conversation. People from other countries appreciate our effort to speak their language. So I encourage you to invest a little time studying any foreign language. Then, when you meet people who speak that language and are able to communicate with them, you will experience a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment.

Let’s all be curious about the world. Technology makes it so easy for us to continue learning. We can “Google” to explore any topic, from language to geography. I remember when I was studying Japanese many years ago before all this technology existed, my only options were to use books, audio tapes, and the thousands of flash cards I laboriously made with index cards, scissors, and Scotch tape. Now there are free apps that greatly simplify the process. We don’t have any excuses not to study. A doctor from Macon who visited Kurobe recently with his wife said they were able to travel alone in Japan by using the Google translator app. They would speak English into their iPhones, and it translated their words into Japanese to the people in restaurants and taxi drivers. Isn’t that amazing technology?

As I mentioned in a previous discussion, when faced with challenges, I often simply try to make incremental progress. Returning to my Japanese language studies, I knew I wanted to learn the 2,100 basic “kanji” characters that students learn in school. But I knew I couldn’t learn all of them at one time, so I made a chart to learn a certain number each day. Looking at the task incrementally, it didn’t seem nearly as daunting. I also learned that even though it was possible to learn quite a few kanji at one sitting, as time went by, it became harder to remember all of them. So I had to slow down my pace and constantly review the kanji I had memorized previously. My point is simply that we don’t have to climb the mountain in one step, rather we climb it one step at a time and enjoy the view and the journey.

At this point in my life I am making a list of the things I would like to understand better. One area of particular interest to me is the geography of the world. I read a book recently, The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan, that whetted my appetite to study geography. His theory is that geography and demographics in the past have greatly influenced the success and the difficulties of all countries around the world, and they will continue to influence commerce and politics of the world in the future in very dramatic ways.

I also want to study Spanish again. I know a little bit of Spanish and that basic knowledge has helped me communicate with our colleagues and friends in Latin America as well as our Hispanic colleagues and friends throughout our region. It doesn’t take much effort to be a thoughtful citizen of the world.

I won’t take up any more space sharing my long list of study topics with you. Instead, I’d love to hear your list. Please enjoy your discussions of Fundamental Behavior #21, “Be a lifetime learner,” and share with me the topics that interest you. No doubt my list will have grown even longer after I hear from you.



Alex Gregory
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America