American philosopher Eric Hoffer proffered, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be a great leader or a success.
But we’ve entered a world of radical and constant change, which means being a great learner is now truly a prerequisite to success in most fields.
Leading by example
From the top down, today’s leaders must be examples of the best learners.
To quote from a speech prepared by President Kennedy: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.
As you look at many of the most accomplished CEOs Richard Branson, Shellye Archambeau, Jeff Bezos, Ginni Rometty, Bill Gates, and my hometown titan of industry Gail Miller, they all have had to be great learners.
Branson mused: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Learn from those around you, pay attention to the people who have the things you want. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be curious, and never stop learning”.
We’ve entered a world of radical and constant change, which means being a great learner is now truly a prerequisite to success in most fields
Today’s world demands intentional learning
In our post-internet world, we have solved the challenge of democratising learning. If you know where to look, you can learn almost anything for free.
You can go on YouTube and watch training videos from literally the world’s best runners – gold medalists, World Champions, ultra marathoners – excellent content material from truly the world’s best, and you will learn something.
But it doesn’t turn you into an ultra marathon runner. Gaining new skills takes intentionality and practice. The act of becoming an ultra marathon runner is the journey of actually upskilling.
Crucial skills in a world of AI
For the last seven years, the narrative has been that power- or soft-skills will be the most valuable in an AI world.
While that may have rung true in AI’s early days, the technology is now handily outperforming humans in emotional tasks. It’s also automating away a lot of the creative jobs and producing music, artwork, and television scripts.
We may not know what it will take in five years to be a great leader, but whatever the future brings, your learning velocity is now one of the surest ways to prepare
In 2017, the World Economic Forum said the half-life of skills was around five years. Today, it’s about two years. The organisation reports that the average employee must learn 100 new skills over the next five years – that is 20 per year!
We may not know what it will take in five years to be a great leader, but whatever the future brings, your learning velocity is now one of the surest ways to prepare.
Challenge your preconceptions
When I was 17 and disillusioned with our education system’s emphasis on test scores, I started going to the library and reading – for the first time – books that my teachers hadn’t assigned.
I realised that while I had become a great student, I hadn’t become a great learner.
That’s when I committed to the journey of being a great learner, even if it came at the expense of being a great student.
That moment of having my preconceptions challenged is the foundation of my passion and love for lifelong learning.
The most outstanding executive teams are no longer the smartest teams but the teams that have the highest velocity to learn
Soak up knowledge
From networking, reading, attending conferences, learning platforms.
I’m a big believer in book clubs. People still learn more from books than any other source, but most read and learn independently.
I am a great believer in the power of books and started BookClub, which connects teams with transformative ideas distilled from books.
When you read a book, you can easily share with your team the language, ideas and frameworks to discuss how you can apply these things inside of your business.
Recharge for inspiration
Bill Gates takes two weeks out of every year away from technology and society in a cabin in the woods – for what is called a think week.
I love reading too, but I am also an advocate of the power of a nap to recharge – I am a champion naptaker.
Focus on solving the constraint
Anne Dwane, Co-founder of military.com, taught me the principle of “managing to the constraint,” which refers to focusing your efforts on the one thing currently limiting you from achieving your broader goals.
As that constraint changes, you quickly adjust your management to the new constraint.
This helps avoid being overwhelmed by everything that needs to come together for success and instead focuses your energy on the most important thing to address right now.
Be public about your learning
Learning is contagious in the same way that exercise is.
Data shows that in cities where people exercise outside, the rate at which everyone in the city exercises goes up.
When you see others exercise, it compels and motivates you to get moving.
When you see other people learn, you are more likely to do the same. Be public about your learning and the journey of pursuing a new skill
Learning and sharing
In the same way, when you see other people learn, you are more likely to do the same. Be public about your learning and the journey of pursuing a new skill.
The most outstanding executive teams are no longer the smartest teams but the teams that have the highest velocity to learn.
And instead of aspiring to be the smartest in your class or the smartest in the room, take the challenge that you’ll lead by example and be the best learner in any situation.
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