The Sponge Principle

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- During the 25 years I spent on active duty in this wonderful Air Force, and even now as a civilian, I have found one enduring principle that continues to override all others.

I call it "The Sponge Principle." It applies to everyone, young and old, Airman Basic to General. By following it, you keep yourself open to new experiences and knowledge.

I can't take credit for inventing this principle. It's something that's been in existence since caveman days, and I know I've heard others around me say, "just be a sponge." By "being a sponge," or keeping yourself open and ready to soak up information and experiences from others, you optimize your learning abilities. I like to say that we don't know what we don't know until someone teaches us something new. Not to date myself, but I was a captain when I got my first computer on my desk at work and had to learn how to do e-mail and automated performance reports. I had a very patient Airman help me overcome my fear of the "snake" on my desk and teach me that it wouldn't bite.

You can't predict when you'll encounter a learning situation. You could be surrounded with information, but to soak it up you need to be receptive. In order to condition yourself to be receptive, in order to absorb, always keep in mind that you have four inputs for information - your two eyes and two ears - while you have only one output - your mouth. You can optimize your learning potential by listening and observing while minimizing how much output you give, which, more often than not, drowns out the inputs.

Learning doesn't always happen in a classroom environment or even a structured environment. Our daily experiences are filled with learning opportunities. Someone you view as a customer might be opening a new door of knowledge for you to walk through. You just have to recognize it. Even children can teach us something new, or show us a new perspective on life. You haven't truly seen life until you've seen it through a child's eyes as an adult.

How well you immerse yourself in the pool of information that surrounds you is a personal choice. Do you bravely dive in and revel in the experience of getting wet, or do your dip your big toe in, then back away?

In order to learn and grow, you need to condition your "absorbency" and be that sponge. Find that pool, dive in and don't be afraid to swim around. Go ahead and take that plunge, get saturated with life and expand your knowledge.