Why you Need to Learn how to Learn

About this time last year, I wrote about how companies like AT&T  are emphasizing the importance of learning on, during and outside the job for their employees as a means to compete in the digital age. They have recognized that the skills needed by the company and its employees to thrive in the future are not there yet today, and in order to compete they must adapt.

In a recent talk to college students at the University of Missouri St. Louis, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson yet again touted the importance of learning, even urging students to retool and pivot after joining the workforce. He said, “I believe your skill set is two years in duration, max. Mine is two years in duration, max. I’m constantly retooling myself.”

 

Learning is a topic that is on the rise in the corporate world. According to research published by leading HR Analyst Josh Bersin, learning and development is one of the most important trends facing HR Executives this year. And while many companies are rolling out initiatives, whether it’s through courses like Udemy or in AT&T’s case, partnering with a college, I’m convinced the best results will come when each individual professional takes it upon themselves to identify and develop a learning plan to make sure they maintain and even stay ahead of the curve.

As a consultant, learning is a key driver to my success on the job. We are constantly being placed in new situations, new industries, new functions and new types of business problems that the only way we can adequately advise our clients is by forcing ourselves to learn and evolve our skillset.

Furthermore, as a result of the impact of technology and innovation, our clients are coming to us with problems that are more and more complex, interdisciplinary, and frankly, new and we have to learn in order to stay ahead of the curve to guide them through the process.

As someone who has made a conscious effort to continually learn throughout their career, I want to offer some actionable tips for how you can “learn how to learn” and develop in your career:

Become an Expert – In today’s knowledge economy, knowledge is power. The more knowledge and insight you can provide, the more valuable you can be to your team and organization.

One way to accumulate knowledge in a focused manner is to become an expert. That way, you can be the go-to person on a particular skill, issue, or idea on your team. First, you might already be on the path to becoming an expert based on your existing work experiences, so think about if there is anything you already are an expert in.

Next, a simple “Major/Minor” Framework can help you find other areas to be an expert in. For example, let’s say you work in Marketing, and specifically, within SEO and Blogging. In this example, your Major would be Marketing, and your Minor would be things like SEO, Social Media, blogging, and Google Analytics. From there, you can start building your knowledge in both your major and minor to eventually be seen as the Marketing/SEO/Social Media guru.

Look for the intersection points – Knowing your function or industry is important, but what’s also important is how your function or industry intersects with the broader organization and world. I call this, “playing at the edge.” If you can play at the edge, it forces you to not only understand your specific area of expertise at a deep level, but a few other adjacent areas. By applying your knowledge to other adjacent areas, you can expand your knowledge base but also, understand the bigger picture of how your area of expertise can either be applied to other areas, or how it impacts other areas.

For example, let’s say you work again in Marketing, but begin to study how what you do impacts the Sales team.  If you can understand how your SEO and content empower and drive sales, you can A) play a bigger role in working with the Sales team and B) produce better content for the sales team that helps win customers. This increases your own knowledge of marketing, helps you understand the broader impact of your work, and gives you more opportunities to engage with other areas of the organization, all of which are positive steps for your own career development.

Use Technology – The great thing about the internet is that everything, literally everything is on there. It’s literally never been easier to learn about something by using different digital tools and technologies that are made available. Platforms like Lynda.com, Udemy and Coursera are great resources. As are things like Twitter, blogs, websites and forums like Quora.  If you want to know how about the tools and apps I use to learn on a daily basis check out my post on how I learn to keep up with my job.

Read – The best writers and thinkers are often the best readers. It’s where they generate their ideas and insights. This tactic can work for you, in your quest to learn and develop subject matter knowledge. One way to do this is to configure your information diet. This consists of books, and/or articles on relevant topics and information, and should be consumed on a regular basis.

Talk to Others – Reading and learning on your own is great, but sharing ideas and putting your mind together with other intelligent but diverse groups of people is what will spur ideas and innovation in your head. Take the time to identify other people in your network who share your love of learning and find ways to talk and communicate with them. In some cases, you’ll want to talk about topics that are of importance to you, but in other cases, you may have to talk about topics that are not relevant to you. That’s okay! In fact, that sometimes can be really helpful as it can help you make connections that you would have never come up with if you spoke with someone who was as familiar with the topic as you. The key here is finding people who are as eager to learn and engage as you are.

Earlier this year, LinkedIn studied the career paths of executives in an attempt to identify common characteristics of those who made it to the C-Suite. One of their conclusions was that the people who made it to the C-suite demonstrated a broad and diverse range of skills and experiences as opposed to a narrow and focused view, or, said another way, those who focused on continuous learning, growth and development were the ones who made it to the top.

It’s been well documented that learning is good for your health. It also might be the thing that saves your career.

Further Reading

Want to accelerate your career? Learn how to learn

About this time last year, I wrote about how companies like AT&T  are emphasizing the importance of learning on, during and outside the job for their employees as a means to compete in the digital age. They have recognized that the skills needed by the company and its employees to thrive in the future are not there yet today, and in order to compete they must adapt.

In a recent talk to college students at the University of Missouri St. Louis, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson yet again touted the importance of learning, even urging students to retool and pivot after joining the workforce. He said, “I believe your skill set is two years in duration, max. Mine is two years in duration, max. I’m constantly retooling myself.”

 

Learning is a topic that is on the rise in the corporate world. According to research published by leading HR Analyst Josh Bersin, learning and development is one of the most important trends facing HR Executives this year. And while many companies are rolling out initiatives, whether it’s through courses like Udemy or in AT&T’s case, partnering with a college, I’m convinced the best results will come when each individual professional takes it upon themselves to identify and develop a learning plan to make sure they maintain and even stay ahead of the curve.

As a consultant, learning is a key driver to my success on the job. We are constantly being placed in new situations, new industries, new functions and new types of business problems that the only way we can adequately advise our clients is by forcing ourselves to learn and evolve our skillset.

Furthermore, as a result of the impact of technology and innovation, our clients are coming to us with problems that are more and more complex, interdisciplinary, and frankly, new and we have to learn in order to stay ahead of the curve to guide them through the process.

As someone who has made a conscious effort to continually learn throughout their career, I want to offer some actionable tips for how you can “learn how to learn” and develop in your career:

Become an Expert – In today’s knowledge economy, knowledge is power. The more knowledge and insight you can provide, the more valuable you can be to your team and organization.

One way to accumulate knowledge in a focused manner is to become an expert. That way, you can be the go-to person on a particular skill, issue, or idea on your team. First, you might already be on the path to becoming an expert based on your existing work experiences, so think about if there is anything you already are an expert in.

Next, a simple “Major/Minor” Framework can help you find other areas to be an expert in. For example, let’s say you work in Marketing, and specifically, within SEO and Blogging. In this example, your Major would be Marketing, and your Minor would be things like SEO, Social Media, blogging, and Google Analytics. From there, you can start building your knowledge in both your major and minor to eventually be seen as the Marketing/SEO/Social Media guru.

Look for the intersection points – Knowing your function or industry is important, but what’s also important is how your function or industry intersects with the broader organization and world. I call this, “playing at the edge.” If you can play at the edge, it forces you to not only understand your specific area of expertise at a deep level, but a few other adjacent areas. By applying your knowledge to other adjacent areas, you can expand your knowledge base but also, understand the bigger picture of how your area of expertise can either be applied to other areas, or how it impacts other areas.

For example, let’s say you work again in Marketing, but begin to study how what you do impacts the Sales team.  If you can understand how your SEO and content empower and drive sales, you can A) play a bigger role in working with the Sales team and B) produce better content for the sales team that helps win customers. This increases your own knowledge of marketing, helps you understand the broader impact of your work, and gives you more opportunities to engage with other areas of the organization, all of which are positive steps for your own career development.

Use Technology – The great thing about the internet is that everything, literally everything is on there. It’s literally never been easier to learn about something by using different digital tools and technologies that are made available. Platforms like Lynda.com, Udemy and Coursera are great resources. As are things like Twitter, blogs, websites and forums like Quora.  If you want to know how about the tools and apps I use to learn on a daily basis check out my post on how I learn to keep up with my job.

Read – The best writers and thinkers are often the best readers. It’s where they generate their ideas and insights. This tactic can work for you, in your quest to learn and develop subject matter knowledge. One way to do this is to configure your information diet. This consists of books, and/or articles on relevant topics and information, and should be consumed on a regular basis.

Talk to Others – Reading and learning on your own is great, but sharing ideas and putting your mind together with other intelligent but diverse groups of people is what will spur ideas and innovation in your head. Take the time to identify other people in your network who share your love of learning and find ways to talk and communicate with them. In some cases, you’ll want to talk about topics that are of importance to you, but in other cases, you may have to talk about topics that are not relevant to you. That’s okay! In fact, that sometimes can be really helpful as it can help you make connections that you would have never come up with if you spoke with someone who was as familiar with the topic as you. The key here is finding people who are as eager to learn and engage as you are.

Earlier this year, LinkedIn studied the career paths of executives in an attempt to identify common characteristics of those who made it to the C-Suite. One of their conclusions was that the people who made it to the C-suite demonstrated a broad and diverse range of skills and experiences as opposed to a narrow and focused view, or, said another way, those who focused on continuous learning, growth and development were the ones who made it to the top.

It’s been well documented that learning is good for your health. It also might be the thing that saves your career.

Further Reading

Thinking and Doing

As career-oriented young professional, I go through periods when I get anxious and nervous about my career. Despite having a good job, stable income, and positive future prospects, my mind races through a series of questions and doubts. These questions tend to keep me up at night, as the thought of not having answers can be stressful. These questions include:

  • Will I become successful in pursuing my goals?
  • Am I actually good at what I do, or did I just get lucky?
  • What if my success runs out?

 

As an analytical and thoughtful person, I tend to mull over this more than I should.

While the mulling over those questions is not always fun, I often come to realizations and insights as a result of thinking through some of those questions. Furthermore, I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I can’t keep things locked inside my head, and during those times I often reach out to others to get their thoughts and perspectives on what I’m thinking about. Generally speaking, I usually feel better about where I am after I go through one of those cycles.

This cycle has ups and downs, but illustrates what I think is an important dichotomy: the balance of thinking and doing.

Thinking means taking the time to reflect and honestly ask yourself tough questions, and to pursue truthfulness and authenticity in finding the answers to those questions. This process helps you become more self-aware, spots trends and reoccurring themes, and helps you make sense of where you are and where you want to go. It can shift you to a course you want to take, and at the very least, reaffirms that you are moving in the right direction. Thinking helps us remove the tunnel vision we often get when we focus too much on doing.

Doing is critical because it takes your thoughts and turns them into tangible actions. It takes the theoretical and turns it into the practical, and gets you to make action-oriented steps towards a particular goal. Doing is also where gain experience, make mistakes, and develop muscle memory, which builds not only our abilities, but also our confidence in those abilities. Doing breaks those times when we get too caught up in our thoughts, and helps us take our ideas about where we want to go and makes them a reality.

Here’s my three-step process for Thinking and Doing:

  • First, you need to practice both thinking and doing. Since most of us are “doing” things every day, start asking yourself honest questions about what you are doing, and make an effort to search for those answers.
  • The second step, once you’ve started to identify when you are thinking, and when you are doing, is to know when it’s appropriate to think, and when it’s time to do. Look for triggers in both aspects – when are you starting to feel anxious or restless after thinking about something? When do you begin to lose sight of the goal you are actually working towards? Finding these triggers or moments will help you understand when you need to hit the pause button and move in the other direction
  • The last step is understanding the right balance of thinking versus doing. Is it 50-50? Is it 60-40? I believe it’s different for everyone, but in general, I do believe that actions speak louder than words, so I tend to err more on the side of doing than thinking. Figuring out what works best for you should be your goal.

Practicing and using the thinking versus doing framework will improve your self-awareness and help you understand the how and why behind what you do every day.

At times, it will be uncomfortable, and it may even take you down a path that you did not envision, but I believe it will help improve your self-awareness, define what it is you really want to be doing, and pursue taking actions that are aligned with what you want. You may even be able to answer those questions that keep you up at night.