The World Economic Forum recently declared a “state of emergency in business”. The reason? It was agreed that there is an urgent need to invest in apprenticeships in order to reskill more than a billion employees whose jobs are going to be transformed by technology.
Even before COVID-19 emerged, the concept of stable employment was already an idea of the past. We now clearly see that the pandemic has only increased the urgency of expanding reskilling efforts, whether to keep up with the speed of transformation now underway or to master the different working models that are part of our daily lives.
We are seeing more and more organizations from all sectors concerned with the issue of learning. We know that culture and leaders play a critical role in motivating employees to learn, but we also know from experience and popular wisdom that learning is difficult.
The beginning of the journey of continuous learning starts with each one of us. It’s not that difficult to become a strong “learner”, but we need to adopt the right mindset and make constant efforts around this topic.
First the mindset. It has a tremendous influence on our behavior, often unconsciously. To be stronger at learning, we need a growth mindset and a curiosity mindset.
A growth mindset suggests that we can grow, expand, evolve and change. Intelligence and ability are not fixed points, they are characteristics that we cultivate. A growth mindset frees us from the expectation of being perfect. Failures and mistakes are not indicative of our limits, but tools that help us develop.
A curiosity mindset is also fundamental, because curiosity is our learning engine. And it can be cultivated, even in those who don’t consider themselves naturally curious. Curiosity is the search for awareness, the opening up of ideas and the ability to make connections between different concepts.
Then there’s practice. In order to be more effective and facilitate the process, there are some best practice behaviors that help us, as “learners”, to get the most out of our experiences. Setting clear learning objectives, dedicating and protecting time for learning, getting feedback, reflecting and evaluating our progress are all critical to the lifelong learning journey.
But the key theme I’d like to develop has to do with deliberate practice, one of the most relevant behaviors for accelerating the way we learn, retain and transfer.
Practice, especially practice in context, is absolutely fundamental to learning. Many of us believe that practice makes perfect, but this classic proverb is not entirely correct. As Richard Turner, an absolute phenomenon in the art of card magic, says, “Perfect practice makes perfect”.
In the world we live in today, we don’t need to be perfect, as the documentary DEALT shows us humans can be. But it’s important to understand that doing things over and over again does little to build your skills. Instead, our suggestion is to focus on practicing challenging activities in order to broaden our expertise.
Instead of practicing our presentation over and over again, let’s practice the specific aspect of our presentation that needs to be improved. Instead of developing our strong skills, we should invest in upgrading those that are weaker. Instead of going on an intensive journey of generic learning, we should invest in a spaced-out, consistent journey of specific learning.
Becoming better prepared to learn is an investment we make in ourselves, but it’s also an investment we make in our professions and our companies, so we really must be demanding with learning experiences.
If they just make things a bit easier [watching a video or listening to a webinar], learning will be an illusion. Challenge and demand better, because only by being challenging can learning be retained and transferred.