Edited excerpt from Peter Fenton, quoted in Sunday Conversation #1: Peter Fenton, Benchmark Capital by Semil Shah:
I think there’s a common trait that I would call ability to learn. My partner, Bob, likes to say, “Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all.”
The problem of being a founder, entrepreneur, CEO, your business is changing on you radically every year. So, as you scale from zero to 30 it’s very different at 30 than it is at zero, and then to 300 all over again, and then to 3,000 all over again. So, if you don’t have that curiosity and ability to learn, you can get left behind. The company will grow past your ability to grow with it.
Being a learn-it-all means you have to be very self-effacing around what you do and don’t know, apply critical thinking, and don’t assume that what you’ve been told is right. That trait is a muscle, I think, that you have to continually work on. Sometimes people lose that as they achieve success, and they become know-it-alls and they’re full of advice.
(1) Cf. Gary Burnison’s “learning agility”. Gary thinks you should look for learning agility in every job candidate.
(2) Cf. Adam Bryant’s “passionate curiosity” and “relentless questioning”.