Not long ago, competitive advantage among individuals, organizations and different regions worldwide belonged to those who ‘knew the most‘ – a knowledge economy. Now it accrues to those who know how to learn the most – a learning economy.
Through the book Never Stop Learning – Stay relevant, reinvent yourself and thrive, Brad Staats takes the reader through the latest evidence on how to accelerate your learning on work and life. My highlights out of this book are:
- Learning is so vital today that we can think of ourselves as living in a learning economy. We can’t just be knowledge professionals; we must be learning professionals.
- Each innovation requires new skills – the value in repetitive manual labor continues to decline. Nonroutine jobs are growing.
- “The more we learn, the more we realize what we don’t know, so we need to invest in more learning. The cycle can go on and on”
- Specialization requires investment, but it helps to determine where to allocate one’s scarce attention.
- As individuals consider their career paths, they must recognize that staying relevant means outlearning not only those immediately around them but also people around the globe. It is easier than ever for companies to contract with employees from anywhere in the world.
- Staying relevant in the learning economy requires dynamic learners – failing to learn and adapt means being left behind.
Brad presents eight key strategies for learning, around which the book’s content is organized:
- Learn from failure – progress is not only two steps forward, one step back, but often running in place – or backwards, or sideways. Truly learning from failure is a slog: hard, painful and slow. Think of Tom Peters winning strategy defined as WTTMSW: ‘whoever tries the most stuff wins’. The reason we need failure to learn is straightforward: learning requires trying new things, and sometimes new things don’t work as expected. Failure creates a powerful learning cocktail, mixing new ideas with novel information and motivation to experiment. Be aware of atychifobia – the fear of failure. As Mark Zuckerberg has said: ” in a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks“.
- Learning requires process focus, not outcome focus – most of the time, even though we know that learning requires evaluating the process used to get an outcome, we focus on the outcome instead. Taichi Onno, the creator of the Toyota Production System said that “having no problems is the biggest problem of all”. Because all systems have flaws, seeking out those flaws and eliminating them is the only way to learn and improve“. A process focus is central to learning since it involves understanding what (and how) inputs affect important outputs; so as learners focus on the process, they can see through the noise that surrounds valuable signal. But be aware of the outcome bias – even though the outcome is positive, that does not imply that the process was good at all, and vice versa.
- Asking questions – we must question a situation so we can learn from it. When we don’t the consequences are dramatic. Young children interact with the world 70 to 80 percent of the time with questions – the scientific method follows a similar approach to learning in all contexts since it helps us identify what our exploration is meant to answer. By asking questions we make it easier for others to help us. Once a leader says “I think“, everyone else stops thinking. One of the most powerful way we can learn from others is to ask ‘what do you think?‘ and be open to the answer. But be aware that getting things done involves answering questions, not just asking more of them. Also, rushing to answer in today’s world may not be the best decision. In uncertain environments like the ones we face nowadays, it is unrealistic to expect to know everything. Be aware of the availability bias – to take decisions according to the information that is most readily available rather than on more-complete information. Also about the confirmation bias – to look for information just to confirm our existing beliefs (which is quite common nowadays on social networks). To find the right answers, surround yourself with talented people who hold different perspectives.
- Learning requires recharging and reflection, not constant action – the Japanese even have a word for dying from working too much: karoshi. Contemplation provides two things: reflection and rejuvenation. Be aware of the action bias – sometimes we would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing, even though you are taking the wrong actions while moving on too fast. Research supports the fact that many of us consider working constantly to be a measure of status – such ‘busyness signaling’ is usually wrong. Do not confuse action with progress – they are not synonymous; so block out time for thinking since it is beneficial not only for individuals but also for teams. Conduct after-action review (AAR) – reflection creates an opportunity to learn from what happened to improve future work. Consider also a plan for taking breaks – you need to take sufficient time to rejuvenate during workday, between workdays, and on vacations if you are to position yourself successfully.
- Be yourself to learn – to be satisfied, we need motivational factors that include task achievement, responsibility, and growth.
- Play to strengths, not fixating on weaknesses – do not try to fix irrelevant shortcomings; we learn best when we play to our strengths and to those capabilities at which we excel. Do not believe that we need to excel on all dimensions to achieve long-term success. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, decide what you will focus on and what you will say no to. Say no to the idea that any weakness must be treated as a learning need – just think of those weaknesses that can help you support your strengths and go after those.
- Specialization and variety – expertise is necessary for success and learning, but it is often insufficient. Learning, therefore, must incorporate variety as well as specialization. Using variety to slow ourselves down makes us more likely to do what we should. Engaging in different activities helps overcome boredom – when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Be a t-shaped person: highly skilled at a broad set of things and a world- class expert within a more narrow discipline.
- Learning from others – one of the key qualities of a good leader is to be humble; that is what allows a leader to be open to what he can learn from others. People with whom we interact are integral to our eventual success or failure. We can be better to process information when we are surrounded by others – not only might they share information with us, but we can solve problems jointly. Asking other teammates questions makes them feel knowledgeable and leads them to like you even more.
Living in a learning economy means that we must approach learning with four mindsets: focused, fast, frequent, and flexible. Focusing on the principles of dynamic learning helps you not only to cope with inevitable change but also to adjust, learn, stay relevant, and excel.
Learning is a process that needs constant attention.