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Never stop learning

 

I have been teaching financial modelling for over 5 years now. But at the first ever class held in July 2018, the delivery was so badly curated that it was clumsy and in my opinion somewhat even embarrassing.


I had spent weeks preparing for it, assembling a deck of over 500 slides. In those slides were numerous case studies and valuable content which I had amassed from over 10 years of corporate finance experience. It was by some measure, a work of art.


Yet, in spite of those, I received possibly the lowest rating ever for a financial modelling course. Someone in the class even openly remarked, "how can anyone teach financial modelling like that??"


Turns out that being a teacher and a practitioner can be two vastly different things. Being good in your trade does not imply that you are good at transferring that trade knowledge. Having years of industry experience does not necessarily mean that you are a good teacher.


Even good teachers need training regardless of their age and background. Just as some aspects of your job sometimes needs to be re-learned or upgraded.


 

广州华商学院 lecture

I recently gave a one-hour workshop on business and corporate finance in Hong Kong to a group of university undergraduates from the Guangzhou Huashang College (广州华商学院). The workshop was part of a three-day immersion program to get the students acquainted with the prospects of working or studying overseas.


The flow of the workshop was basically the same content I had been doing over and over again for the last five years at SMU, condensed into a sixty-minute session, and further watered down for an audience with basically little to no working experience.


The catch was that everything was to be done in Chinese, which put me at risk of being reduced to a babbling idiot.


It might not sound like a big deal, but for me, this was the first time ever that I had to deliver a class (somewhat professionally) in a second language.


Sure enough, being based in HK and Shenzhen over the last three years, I have had to communicate and present plenty in Chinese. I had also done cross-border M&A deals in China during my banking days. However, I always had the benefit of a safety net - coworkers around me who could help fill in the gaps. This was entirely different.

The aftermath? Not as bad as I expected. Neither was it as smooth as I wanted it to be. But most of all, it was refreshing. The entire experience was a discovery process and a learning opportunity for them as much as it was for me.


 

The point is: When we are in our twenties, it is conveniently easy to commit to learning. Every lead or project is seen as an opportunity to clock some mileage, hone technical skills and sharpen the sword. Practice makes perfect. There is that insatiable thirst for acquiring more knowledge, which leads to opening many doors in the future.


When we move onto the thirties, that mileage elevates us to become subject matter experts, but we also become increasingly narrow and selective in terms of the assignments and projects we undertake.


Beyond the thirties and into the forties, companies, shareholders and the people who hire you become more impatient and less forgiving. Results get prioritised and learning often takes a back seat.


Amidst many lost opportunities and closed doors, it becomes easy to forget the enthusiasm of the twenties, easy to stop learning: Easy to stop learning a new trade, a new product or service, the workings of a whole new industry, take on a new role at work, a new way of doing things, or even a new language.


As for the taxi driver in Shenzhen: If someone older than me with a presumably mediocre income and virtually no university education can bother to learn English in a largely Chinese environment, in anticipation that he might need to use it one day to communicate with his foreign passengers, what excuses do we have for not picking up a new skill when the opportunity arises?



Never stop learning.

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