To succeed in business today you have to be a continuous learner.
If not, you’ll be on the slow track, where most people are passing you by. Even if you feel you’re successful on the slow track, at some point there will be an abrupt stop — Count on it!
College students are changing their majors more frequently to stay ahead of trends and new technologies. Many seniors have changed their major at least once before graduating. That’s OK, especially if you want that career opportunity you’ve dreamed of.
So what’s a business employee to do to stay ahead? Be proactive and take advantage of all the training and learning that’s available in-house. Courses or workshops outside your company are in brochures and catalogs. Find the ones that complement your skills or stretch them. Don’t be afraid to attend workshops that push the boundary of your knowledge and experience.
Integrate what you’ve learned and demonstrate how it’s made a difference in what you’re capable of doing. The value added should be very clear. Make a presentation to your colleagues so they can learn as well. Continuous learning means being a resource to each other. Your manager would appreciate that perspective.
As a manager, it’s a good practice to sense the changing competencies of your employees. Not so much to keep pace with them, but to know how to use new competencies in the work assignments. Encouraging new skill development pays off usually in performance and results. Have a portion of your budget devoted to training and continuous learning. Perhaps there’s a skill you need to develop as a manager, especially as technology moves forward and Gen Y employees demonstrate their tech savvy and thirst for more knowledge.
As a manager, if you can attend industry association meetings, you’ll have a great opportunity to dialogue with your fellow managers across different companies. It’s a great opportunity to learn what’s new and what the competition is doing. Write out what you’ve learned and make adjustments to your work plan when you return. Many associations offer workshops to keep members current and even ahead of what’s happening now. Then you can provide new answers that show you remain current and even ahead of the competition.
How does a business owner keep current and be a continuous learner? There are several ways. Listen to your managers and their discussions. Ask a lot of questions of any advisers; you may have to stretch what they tell you. Talk with other business owners and colleagues at trade shows, association meetings and workshops tailored to business owners. Multiple viewpoints that integrate new facts and principles help you learn and grow as an owner. Encourage this process in your business.
Read, read, and read. There are many books that appear and disappear from the business best seller lists. Each has a new slant on an old topic. Listen for what your colleagues are reading and may recommend to you. New books are worth at least a skim for the best ideas they offer.
Stay curious! Henry Ford offered this thought that “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
If everyone is on a steep learning curve, the company can become a learning organization that adapts quickly to change and can sustain a high level of profit. It can stay contemporary and agile as the years go by.
You learn in several ways. You learn by observing and imitating others, you learn from incidental observation, and you learn from gaining insight from the information you’ve collected. It helps to be mindful of all that goes on around you.
You can lose a significant amount of what you learn in the first hour. If you rehearse and repeat what you’ve learned, it’s more likely to go into long-term memory. It’s one of the ways you store knowledge. You can also organize what’s learned into categories, meaning it’s more readily available when you need it. Still, you’ll lose a lot of learning over time if it’s not used. Most of what you learned in grammar school, except for some very personal experiences and useful memories, is gone.
Guaranteed that when you’re bitten by the continuous learning bug you’ll find that learning is an active process, along with creating meaningful memories.
Your company will benefit as it moves forward. It will also have a history and legacy to keep its culture alive and a driving force.
Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best: “Learn continually — there’s always one more thing to learn.”
Bob Vecchiotti is a business adviser and professional coach in Peterborough. He lives in Dublin.