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Why Can’t Someone Be Taught Until They’re Ready To Learn?

Clay Christensen is best known as the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma. He’s also the author of a new book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, which has some wonderful insights (see excerpts here and here).

The founder of 37Signals, Jason Fried, recently spent some time with Christensen and gained a key insight into why we can’t be taught until we’re ready to learn. Simply put, if you stop asking questions, you’ll stop learning.

Spending time with Clay leads to lots of interesting insights, but for me, there was one that stood out among all the others.

You’ve probably heard it said that someone can’t be taught until they’re ready to learn. I’ve heard it said that way too. It makes sense, and my experience tells me it’s mostly true. Why though? Why can’t someone be taught until they’re ready to learn?

Clay explained it in a way that I’ve never heard before and I’ll never forget again. Paraphrased slightly, he said: “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”

What an insight.