Our ability to learn is becoming the currency we trade on in our careers. Where we used to go to work to learn how to do a job, learn now is work. Adaptive and proactive learners are highly valued assets for organizations, and when we invest in our learning, we create long-term dividends for our career development.
Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, shared that when evaluating the founders of potential investments, he looks for individuals who have an “infinite learning curve”: someone who learns constantly, and quickly. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella echoed the importance of learning when he said, “Know-it-all will always do better than know-it-all.”
However, it is not as easy as gaining new knowledge. In our increasingly “wavy” careers, where people change roles more frequently and fluidly and move in different directions, the ability to unlearn, learn and relearn is vital for long-term success. Based on our experience in designing and delivering career development training for over 50,000 people worldwide, working with organizations such as Virgin, Unilever and Microsoft, we have identified several techniques and tools for you. help integrate learning into your daily development.
Since we spend so much of our time, energy and effort in our daily jobs, they provide the most important learning opportunities. The challenge is that we don’t intentionally invest in day-to-day development – we are so busy with tasks and doing work that there is no room for anything else. Deprioritizing our development is a risky career strategy because it reduces our resilience and our ability to respond to the changes happening around us. Here are three ways to take ownership of your learning on the job.
Learn from others
The people you spend time with are an important source of knowledge. Creating a diverse learning community will offer you new perspectives and reduce the risk of ending up in an echo chamber. Set yourself the goal of having one curiosity coffee every month, virtually or in person, with someone you’ve never met before. This could be someone from another department who could help you see your organization in a new light, or someone from your profession in another company who could expand your knowledge. You can push your curiosity even further by ending each conversation with the question, “Is there anyone else that you think would help me connect?” Not only does this create the possibility of new connections, but you can also benefit from a straightforward introduction.
Experiences help you test, learn, and adapt along the way. There are endless ways to experiment at work – for example, using different tools to increase the interactivity of your virtual presentations, exploring the impact of meetings with or without a camera, switching from video to phone calls, or even trying out new negotiating tactics.
For an experience to be effective, it must be a conscious choice and labeled as a learning opportunity. Keep a learning journal where you track the experiences you run and what you learn along the way. It’s important to remember that you should expect some experiences to fail, because that is the nature of exploring the unknown.
Create a collective course
In a winding career, everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. As a team, think about how you can create a collective program where you learn from and with each other. We have seen organizations effectively use skills exchange where individuals share a skill that they are happy to help other people learn. It might sound like a creative problem-solving solution offering to share the processes and tools they find most useful, or someone with coding expertise to host lunchtime learning sessions for beginners. Skills exchanges are a good example of democratized development where everyone has something to contribute and learns continuously.
Unlearning means letting go of what is safe and familiar and replacing it with something new and unknown. The skills and behaviors that have helped you get to where you are can actually keep you from getting to where you want to be. For example, a leader may need to unlearn their failure to always speak first in meetings. Or a new manager may need to unlearn by always saying “yes” as their workload increases.
During the pandemic, we were all forced to unlearn certain aspects of our lives, such as how we collaborated at work or what school was like for our children. Unlearning is uncomfortable, but the past two years have reminded us of just how adaptable we can be. Here are three ways to make unlearning an active part of the way you work.
Connect with challengers
We unlearn when we look at a problem or opportunity through a new lens. This is more likely to happen if we spend time with people who challenge us and think differently from us. The purpose of connecting with the challengers is not to agree or debate but to listen and consider: What can I learn from this person?
Look for people who have a opposite experience of you in a way. For example, if you are part of a large organization, find someone who has never worked for themselves. If you have 25 years of experience, find someone who is just starting out. People who have made different choices and have different areas of expertise than you are a good place to discover a new source of challenge. Ask people, “How would you approach this challenge? Or “What was your experience with this situation?” Is a good way to explore another point of view.
Identify habits and obstacles
We all have habits that have helped us get to where we are today. However, habits can create blind spots that prevent us from seeing different ways of doing things or new approaches to try. Our brains use habits to create mental shortcuts that could cause us to miss out on opportunities to think and unlearn our automatic responses.
To create a habit tracker by noting all the actions and activities you do by default over the course of a week. Pick three habits to consciously unlearn and try a new way of working. For example, if you usually have meetings, see what happens when you leave it to someone else. If you are used to problem-solving, try asking others’ point of view first. Testing your habits helps increase your awareness of your own actions.
Ask stimulating questions
Driving questions reset our status quo and encourage us to explore different ways of doing things. They often start with: How could we? How can I? What would happen if? These questions are designed to prevent our existing knowledge from limiting our ability to imagine new possibilities. They move us forward quickly into the future and spur positive action in the present.
To practice leading questions, it helps to team up with someone else and take turns asking and answering questions. These five empowering peer-to-peer questions can get you started:
- Imagine it is 2030. What are the three big changes in your industry?
- How could you divide your role between yourself and a robot?
- Which of your strengths would be most useful if your organization doubled in size?
- How could you transfer your talents if your industry disappears overnight?
- If you were to rebuild this business tomorrow, what would you do differently?
To relearn is to recognize that the way we apply our strengths is constantly evolving and that our potential is always a work in progress. We need to regularly reassess our capabilities and how they need to be adapted to our current context. For example, collaboration remains more important than ever, but maybe you are relearning how to do it in a hybrid working world. Or maybe you’ve changed careers and are relearning what transferring your talents looks like to a new setting. Here are three ways to use relearning to stay agile in the face of change.
Stretch your strength
One of the ways to strengthen your strengths is to use them in as many different situations as possible. If you become too comfortable to apply them in the same way, your development stalls. Resolving Strengths involves relearning how to use your strengths to offer support and solve problems outside of your daily job. These could be your networks, organizations you volunteer for, or even side projects you are involved in. For example, one of our workshop attendees is a business marketing manager who applies her creativity not only to her day job, but also to the successful brownie business she started during the lockdown.
Get fresh feedback
Examining your skills from someone else’s perspective will help you identify opportunities for relearning. Asking for feedback can help you open your eyes to your developmental blind spots and regain control over your growth. When your goal is to relearn, we find that presenting to people even better questions works especially well for providing them with the security of sharing candid comments. For example: How could I improve my presentations even more? How can we make our team meetings even better? How can I do even better to improve my performance?
Relearning takes resilience, and if you’re feeling pessimistic about the progress you’re making, you might be tempted to give up. Refocusing on what is working well can help keep you moving forward.
Try to write three very small successes at the end of each day for two weeks. Your successes can come from your personal or professional life, and while it can be difficult to spot them at first, the more you do, the easier it becomes. A very small success might include asking someone for their opinion, helping a colleague prepare a presentation, or even encouraging your little one to eat a vegetable! After two weeks, you will have 42 very small successes, creating the motivation and momentum to continue investing in your development, even when it seems difficult.
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We cannot predict how our careers will develop or what the world of work will look like in the future. Investing in our ability to learn, unlearn and relearn helps us increase our preparedness for the opportunities that change presents and our resilience to the inevitable challenges we will encounter along the way.