By: Chuck Frey
In today’s fast-paced business world, no one’s going to give you permission to engage in continuous learning — a strategy that is essential to your future success. You must take the initiative yourself.
Unfortunately, however, this attitude is far from the norm. Most people subscribe to the “inoculation” theory of education — “I got my degree (or diploma), and now I don’t have to learn any more.” Not only is this attitude out of step with successful living, these days it may be downright dangerous! Accelerating change in nearly every area of human endeavor is making current knowledge obsolete at a faster pace than ever before. Gone are the days of the artisan, where one could learn a craft and utilize it for a lifetime, with little or no change. In short, the only constant these days is change itself.
To grow in our jobs and our family lives requires that we keep on growing and learning, long after our formal schooling is done. The more we’re able to know and the more skills we acquire, the more value we can offer to our employers, friends and families. And that places us in an upward spiral of growing income and emotional well being. Well-known business author and change agent Tom Peters calls it cultivating “towering competence” — becoming the very best at what you do, by continuing to learn and hone your skills and capabilities to the point where they become highly regarded and sought after by your coworkers and professional peers.
Continuous learning means we’re keeping the “raw material pile” of our brain freshly stocked, which enables us to come up with more and better ideas and innovations — which every business needs today. New ideas and solutions are a primary way you can add value to your job, and therefore increase your success.
Noted self-help expert W. Clement Stone, in his many writings on this topic, recommended that you spend anywhere from a half-hour to two hours a day in study and thinking time. It’s this tireless dedication, in combination with an insatiable curiosity, that will propel you steadily forward in good times and bad. What’s more, learning new skills and knowledge can be fun!
The US Coast Guard has created an employee engagement program that invites innovative ideas from every member of their 80,000 person workforce to share ideas that might help them meet their mission. Sometimes they adopt existing technology like social media to solve their problems and sometimes they explore emerging technology like machine learning. Find out how in this podcast interview.
Where should you start?
Where should you focus your continuous learning? Self-help experts suggest several areas, including the study of your current profession and related disciplines, and a study of the English vocabulary. Building your vocabulary is important, because your knowledge of a larger number of words and their meanings is essential to presenting your ideas persuasively. I’d also recommend reading everything you can get your hands on regarding business strategy and innovation. Knowing how to create, evaluate and sell ideas is a must in today’s knowledge-centric economy.
In addition to these areas, also make it a point to continue learning more about your hobbies or other personal interests. They add an important dimension to our lives outside of work, and shouldn’t be neglected.
As you can see, continuous learning can be a key ingredient in your success. In addition, as knowledge becomes obsoleted at a faster and faster rate, keeping your personal knowledge base up-to-date is quickly becoming a matter of survival!