I am a committed supporter of life long learning. This is not something that my school teachers would necessarily have expected, my being one of those “could do better” pupils but nowadays I am something of an advocate of business and personal development guru Brian Tracey’s view, namely:
“Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self development) in order to guarantee your future.”
Like me, he sees learning as an investment. An investment in you; an investment policy drafted to protect against the risks of change or, even better, a strategy for you to be the agent of change itself. Learning is life insurance.
You should, in fact, try to learn something new every day. This need not necessarily be a formal training course, but an awareness that someone or something can add to our data bank of knowledge every single day, every single event. You may be surprised to know that simply by being more “in the moment”, by paying better attention, by asking better questions and by deploying better listening skills, you can learn something new every day. This, however, I see simply as life learning. You can choose to do this or not from one moment to the next and then assess whether there is value in these knowledge-bites for you to store and apply as and when appropriate. How somebody else deals with a situation or how they construct their sentences or fact-oids with which you can simply increase your score on TV quiz shows. All learning increases knowledge and all knowledge is power. You choose how to use this power.
From a professional perspective there exist more compelling reasons, however, that are particularly pertinent in days like these; days of redundancy threats, down-sizing, outsourcing and Government intransigence. Professional learning is investment not expense; protection against these ravishes of austerity or future job market developments. I will draw upon a familiar analogy to illustrate:
1. A new string to your bow, non-core knowledge. By adding complimentary knowledge to your skill set and personal portfolio you are able to:
a. Create a broader context for the application of your core skills
b. Provide a greater contribution by way of understanding better where your key skills fit into a project as a whole
c. Understand better where the skills of others are appropriate and relevant
d. See your own offer from the perspective of other contributors and/or competitors
This will allow you to improve the contextual relevance of your own offering and to apply it better across more varied sectors.
2. Stand closer to the target, core skills development. By focussing on learning and the development of skills within the area of your current expertise you can:
a. Become the guru and the only go-to guy for industry comments, strategy and advice
b. Increase your market value with recognised qualifications and/or your own cutting edge papers, policy and products
c. Set the trends within your market/company rather than following them
This will encourage people to see you as the expert by developing a niche u-s-p. Closer to the target you are infinitely less likely to miss!
3. Buy a new bow, alternative and unrelated learning. There is no reason to stick with what you know. In fact, I personally prefer not to; to be a generalist rather than a specialist:
a. Change will happen anyway; why not steer your own ship?
b. Just because you are good (or paid for or familiar with) at one thing should not stop you from trying others
c. No matter how good you are, you cannot know everything about any single topic; life changes, knowledge changes and the value of you and your current skills will change
Step out of your historic comfort zone; try something that you liked at school, try something random or abstract. If nothing else, this will expand your life experience and, the chances are, make you a more interesting person to be around.
You can. Of course, just learn for the fun of it. For the sheer joy of it! You do not need to restrict learning to work or job related activities and by learning non-work skills you may even provide yourself with a mental and emotional (and physical) diversion from the stress and mundanity of how you earn your living. Yes I know, if we love our work then its not really like working but how many of you can actually say that you love everything about your work? Or indeed that you actually like it at all?
The days of 25 year career paths and golden watches have gone. Labour is (hugely inappropriately and incorrectly) seen as a resource rather than an asset, to be used up and exhausted, depreciated and replaced with a more cost effective product rather than invested in and allowed to appreciate. Life long learning is investment in this asset be it, you or your staff.
My advice is simple but, unfortunately, not unique; Learning IS life and, as a far more learned chap than I put it:
“once you stop learning, you start dying.” Albert Einstein
So get out there and learn something new; it may possibly save your life.
Phil Birch is the business editor of the3rdimagazine.