A conversation on how to sustain learning…

So tell me why you think learning is so important, I mean it is not like I don’t have enough to do right now? I’m part of this TomorrowToday Future of Work Academy and to be honest, there’s a lot of resources in there…how do I sustain this learning curve and I guess make sure it is sticking?

That is a really good question but let’s back-up a little before I try to answer your question. Let me ask you this…do you think it is important to be adaptable as both an individual and as an organisation?

Sure, I guess so…

You’re right. In fact I would go as far as to say that being adaptable is essential if you want to survive the future – or maybe let me put that more positivity…if you want to thrive in the future! You have heard that often quoted Darwin saying that it isn’t the strongest or fittest that survive but rather those who are most adaptable. That is true at both a personal level as well as at an organisational level. Adapting to an ever-changing context, to a continually disruptive context is simply non-negotiable.

Yes, I get that…but we were talking about learning…

Yes, we were. Well here is the link…learning is an essential part of what it means to be adaptable. In Ron Heifetz’s model on adaptive leadership he makes a distinction between ‘technical challenges’ and ‘adaptive challenges’. In a technical challenge you know exactly what the problem is, you also know how to fix it – and here experience is invaluable, and so you apply the solution to the problem. Of course technical problems can be complex but essentially you can identify the problem and find a solution. OK so far?

Yes, go on…

Well, in an adaptive challenge the problem is less clear. In fact you don’t really know what it going wrong but things simply aren’t working as they once did. So, clarifying the exact problem requires intentional diagnosis and asking the right questions. That is hard enough but here is where it gets interesting…the solution, if there is one, requires learning. It will involve new mind-sets, behaviours and skills. So essentially in an adaptive challenge learning is required at both the problem definition stage as well as the solution-finding stage. Learning is an essential part of what it takes to be adaptive!

And just to be clear…an adaptive challenge is defined as ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’. I love that description. Most leaders I chat to agree that they are experiencing more and more adaptive challenges.

I agree. I find that in that both at work and home adaptive challenges seem to increasingly be the norm…Hey, I’m a parent…do I need to say more!?
OK so I get that learning is vital to being adaptable and that being adaptable is essential to being futurefit – that is a word I hear often in TomorrowToday land and I must admit, I really like it. But here is my dilemma … how do I sustain this learning mentality…how can I ensure it becomes a habit that makes a practical impact in all spheres of my life? That’s what I was getting at right up front…

You did and I must tell you that the answer to that question is not easy. For starters it is impacted by who you are – what I mean is, by your personality. We all learn in different ways and so it stands to reason that ensuring we maintain and use what we learn will also be impacted by who we are.

So, the first thing is to perhaps ask yourself this question, ‘how do I learn best?’ As you think about what you have learnt and how you have retained that learning, it will reveal insights as to how you best retain knowledge and turn that into practical learning.

Only you can really do this work.

For some it might mean making lists and trying to implement that list of things to learn. It might mean sharing your learning – or even what you would like to learn with someone else and inviting them to hold you accountable. The forming of a habit starts with the knowledge that the habit is important and secondly having the necessary desire to want to form that habit in the first place. So, basically our habits are the results of knowing something – that it is important, having the desire to want to do it and then the skills or right equipment to actually do it. An easy example would be developing the habit of running – you have to know, for whatever reason that it is important, you have to want to do it and then you have to have the right equipment to do it – you have to own some running shoes!

So how can I make a habit of learning?

Well, you know it is important and you have the desire to learn – to grow both personally and professionally. I guess then there would be some simple things you could try that would help you get it to stick…

Like what?

Well, maybe try to learn something new every day through the asking of a question. So draw up a list of great questions and try asking one or more of them every day.

Keep a learning journal or some sort of record of progress made. For example, I am learning to write with my left-hand – I am right-handed. Every day I write for three minutes in an exercise book and after 110 days I can see my progress. I thought I would have mastered it a lot sooner to be honest! But, it is fun to share the story and have a record of my progress. So, my point is…find a way to track your progress- after all learning is more often than not an on-going process, a journey.

Keep going, this is helpful…

Well, also practice whatever it is you are learning. So depending on what it is you are learning, make sure you have a practical outlet for trying out that learning. This could be with your team at work or in your private capacity. Knowledge has to find a practical outlet…I remember once hearing, where exactly I don’t recall, that ‘wisdom was merely knowledge applied’. Maybe learning for it to be learning needs to be ‘active’ – putting into practice what it is you are learning! Maybe this is the bridge between knowing stuff and wisdom? So maybe look out for what it is you are experimenting with every day…or maybe every week is more feasible – look for a means to make your learning active.

I love asking people…especially those in leadership, what it is that they are learning? So, how would you answer that question? Could you immediately give me a few things that you are actively learning?

…Good question but let me rather ask you how would you answer that question?

Well, nice deflection there but OK point taken. As mentioned I am learning to write with my left-hand and my next project is to learn to ride a bike that has been reversed-engineered…in other words, when you turn the handlebar to the right, the wheel turns to the left and visa-versa. It is an experiment to see how long it will take me to rewire something that is hard-wired in my brain – it is an experiment in unlearning. It is an experiment that might well kill me as should I master it, going mountain biking could get interesting! It was an idea I saw on YouTube and I thought ‘why not?’ …’What a great experiment in unlearning! I’m going to try that out for myself’’

Well good luck with that! OK, so I think I get what you are saying…

Sustaining learning is dependent on knowing yourself – what works and won’t work. It is about doing something daily or weekly – something that will build a habit. It is letting others know what you are trying to learn to both create accountability or sharing the learning as you practice it…how am I doing so far?

Excellent…carry on.

It is also about experimenting and being able to ask great questions to others and maybe even asking those questions of oneself! It is about monitoring progress and recognising that learning is a process and something of a journey. I guess it is also about patience!

I think it is important to understand that learning can ebb and flow. There may be times when you turn-off certain learning stimuli – like reading for example; times when you down tools for a time to regroup, refresh and recharge. This is OK and important to sustain intentional learning be that through reading, asking, conversations, experimentation etc…I have found that sustaining learning becomes a default mentality and when this happens, some of your best learning is through serendipitous means…finding treasures in unexpected places and ways! That is one of my favourite ways of sustaining learning!

Look at the time! Thanks for the conversation, I need to run and I guess there can be no easy A,B,C to sustaining learning although you have given me some practical things to try and certainly some food for thought think…thanks so much!

No problem. It was my pleasure. Let’s try to meet again in a few weeks over coffee to discuss how some of those things are working out for you. I would really value that….

That would be great, take care and thanks once again.

Cheers. I’ll give you a call…


TomorrowToday understands and promotes the absolute importance of continuous learning. The Future of Work Academy is our teams contribution to equip our clients with access to content that has been developed to help you become future fit and to help make continuously learning happen . Each month our team provides our members with the practical resources required to successfully adapt and acquire the skills needed for success in the Future World of Work. For more information on the Future of Work Academy please visit www.thefutureofworkacademy.com where you can sign up to be a member of the academy.

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