Continuous learning

The best investment for surviving a VUCA world


Modern philosopher, Nicholas Maxwell, suggested that academia should move away from merely acquiring knowledge and rather focus on seeking and building wisdom. But can there be wisdom without knowledge? Our everyday life has changed rapidly in recent years. Building knowledge is key to surviving and thriving in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Adaptability has become essential to navigating the unpredictable changes and remaining relevant to meet expectations and stay ahead of the curve. 

In the age of instant gratification, the demands of millennials and Generation Z are a far cry from those of their Generation X and Baby Boomer peers. What may have been proven to be best practice as recently as five years ago, is likely to be obsolete in today’s workplace. Advances in technology have brought about an increase in non-traditional jobs at the expense of trusted career paths. Who would have thought that dedicating hours to perfecting your Myspace layout could lead to a profitable career as UX Web Developer? Or, in contrast, that newspaper publishing would be on its way out as consumers now reach for their smartphones to digest the latest headlines.

The generational shift in society has indeed filtered into the job market. According to Deloitte, the shelf life of many professional skills is five years. If we are to work alongside artificial intelligence in the future the skills that we will require include analytical thinking, active learning and creativity. Therefore, to ensure that you remain relevant, it is important to invest in continuous self-learning. This ensures that you constantly acquire knowledge and develops your skillset to adapt to the changes with minimal discomfort.

The good news is that we are all able to develop the skills necessary to stay ahead of the times. In the same way that we eat food to nurture our bodies, we need to feed our brains to nurture our minds. Recent research further proves that we are never too old to learn – they actually detected neural growth in some up to the age of 87.

Dedicating time to gain knowledge is not a sacrifice at the expense of present demands, it is an investment in your future. We can’t afford to remain stagnant; we have to evolve to advance. Whether you are a high-flying CEO or a bright-eyed intern, the only way to secure sustainable success is to invest in self-learning. Listen to a podcast or an audiobook during your morning commute; follow your favourite thought leaders on social media for bitesize nuggets of inspiration; watch a quick seminar while you wait for your next meeting or partake in an online class while cooking dinner.

So, what does this mean for employers? Sadly, it seems that little is being done to help the workforce become more adaptable. Deloitte further reports that only 38% of workers surveyed have opportunities for learning and growth in the workplace. Yet they confirm that high performing learning organisations are 92% more likely to innovate.

Why are we letting this opportunity pass us by? There are numerous small steps organisations can take to nurture a continuous learning environment. Perhaps start by giving employees access to developmental resources, like a company library. Employees could also lead knowledge sharing sessions, you could include informative pieces in internal newsletters or even invite external speakers to empower employees regarding critical topics. Developing a culture in which constructive feedback is encouraged or enabling a peer-to-peer coaching system, is yet another way to increase knowledge and personal empowerment.

However, to come back to Maxwell, he does have a point when he says:

As long as we lacked modern science, lack of wisdom did not matter too much: our power to wreak havoc on the planet and each other was limited. Now that our power to act has been so massively enhanced by modern science and technology, global wisdom has become, not a luxury, but a necessity. click here

From an organisational perspective, I think building wisdom requires nurturing both a learning environment and a learning culture. We must provide opportunities to both building knowledge and applying it. We gain nothing when we empower employees with new knowledge without fostering an environment where they have room to experiment and even fail in order to learn. Before everything else we, as leaders, must learn to provide a safe space for our teams to learn while still holding them accountable for achieving objectives.

*Brian Eagar is a founder and the CEO of TowerStone Leadership Centre, whose vision focuses on empowering leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success.


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Issue 413


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