When a new academic year starts at school or college, students get presented with a curriculum of mandatory and elective courses. After you graduate, that changes completely: if you want to learn as an adult, you’re the one who has to devise your own curriculum.

I got my MBA at the age of 29 and launched GLOBIS, my business school/VC firm at 30. Since it was my own company, I had no boss or senior colleagues to learn from. How, then, could I develop the skills I needed to become a better leader?

Well, the first thing I did was to ask several people I admired to sit on my company’s board as external directors to mentor to me. That was a start, but it was not enough. Determined to meet more leaders from whom I could learn, I started attending all sorts of seminars, conferences, and later the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Where do you want to go today?

At the age of 33, I decided to draw up a long-term vision for myself and my company. I imagined what sort of person I would be at the age of sixty.

The vision for my business school was to become the No. 1 business school in Asia. That meant I had to become Asia’s No.1 dean or president. I therefore set about envisioning what kind of skills I should have as a 60-year-old top dean or president.

I created a self-development framework comprising three elements:
1. Mental abilities
2. Skills & knowledge
3. Physical health & fitness.

In other words: Mind, brain and body.

Based on these three elements, I drew up a “dream image” of the person I wanted to be in 30 years’ time. For example, in the mental abilities category, I needed to be furnished with a calm, resilient mind capable of confronting any kind of adversity. In the skills & knowledge category, I wanted to understand every aspect of management with a particular focus on entrepreneurship and technology. In physical health & fitness, I wanted to stay fit, healthy and active.

To turn this vision into a reality, I started to plan step by step and year by year. At the start of every calendar year, I drew up a personal curriculum for myself. This has a detailed to-do list of achievable numerical goals in each of my three categories.

For example, in 2017 my physical goals were:
・To do 100 sit-ups, 10 squats, and stretch every morning
・To climb the stairs to my 9th-floor office every day
・To swim 3 times a week
・To go mountain climbing 8 times in summer
・To go snowboarding 15 times in winter

Meanwhile, as part of my long-term goal of staying on top of the latest technology trends (in skills & knowledge), I visited the factories of various cutting-edge companies like legendary factory robot maker Fanuc and car-component maker Denso (who also invented the QR code!), as well as going to KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in Daejeon, visiting the headquarters of tech companies Tencent and Huawei in Shenzhen, visiting the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, and attending a course at the Singularity University in Silicon Valley.

Since I store my annual curriculum in the cloud, I can access it easily from my iPhone or iPad to keep tabs on how well I am achieving my various goals during the year. At the end of December, I conduct a final tally of what I have done and what I have failed to do. Handily enough, whatever I have not done, I can simply carry over and try to do again in the upcoming year, and add new goals on top. I have been doing this for over 20 years now.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

As the president of a business school and the father of five boys, I have studied brain science, cognitive science, educational methodologies etc. to understand how people can improve their skills. My simple conclusion? Repetition is the secret to mastering anything. Whether you want to be good at swimming or public speaking, you have simply got to practice over and over (and over!) again.

With enough repetition, we can all get good at anything.

The only limiting factor is time. There are only 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. You need to decide what skills you want to get, and allocate as much time as you can to practicing them.

The best way to do that is (a) to find yourself good teachers, mentors and role models and (b) to draw up a year-long curriculum with clear numerical targets and, then, practice, practice, practice, repeatedly.

Happy New Year developing your new skills in 2018!

Photo by oatawa