Learning is the new execution

Learning for Transformation

The same question weighs on everyone’s mind. Whether you are the dean of a university faculty or the head of a consulting and research think tank. Whether you are a top tier CEO, or an employee or a solopreneur. Everyone is thinking about how to accelerate learning to advance your outcomes.

Learning is the new execution. According to BCG’s Martin Reeves, from a competitive and performance standpoint, it was previously understood that a company remained ahead of its competitors on key metrics for a cycle of 8 years. In more recent studies, that time frame has diminished to within one year. The implication of this is that to stay ahead; organisations need to learn and innovate 8X faster.

Organisations continue to have a vested interest in the skillsets their employees bring to the table. Still, once they’re in, they also require that these employees are capable of unlearning and relearning elements of their knowledge at pace. How do our current educational systems stack up for this challenge?

Traditional Institutions

The approach to solving the problem traditionally is to apply research and methodology, studying history, conducting experiments, and facilitating peer reviews of new methods and approaches. This way of working has led to many value-added contributions to knowledge, evolution and change, and done at a pace that reasonably suited the requirements of businesses.

To continue with this approach but eight times faster presents an opportunity for a new way of thinking.

Postmodernist view

What if the market and machines could tell us what to do? Advancements in technology have already led to increased mobile utilisation and internet access, the growth of platforms and online business models, and the almost complete democratisation of knowledge, data, and insights. Artificially intelligent solutions are using structured and unstructured means of deriving outcomes based on targets we set it. Learning has become a game of humans and machines.

There is already considerable evidence that the market place is evolving solutions to the challenges, including the participation of universities and research think tanks.

  1. Increasingly democratised access to publications from reputable and scientific bodies, either paid or free.
  2. The exponential growth of peer to peer content on various sites, in the form of video, podcasts, written and other creative work.
  3. A growing body of auto-didacts of all ages – people at work or children at home sourcing and consuming learning in the flow of work or of recreation, at a pace that they choose.
  4. A mindset shift to experiences. People in the workforce at all ages are taking breaks and time outside of corporation and careers to seek fulfilling experiences, including travel, side gigs and start-ups.
  5. The rise of We Work and other co-working facilities demonstrates a structural shift from employee to independents or driving the growth of smaller, more dynamic technology-driven SMEs.
  6. The explosion of e-learning SAAS (software as a service) solutions for companies, and e-learning content and sites that enable free and direct public consumption (Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs)
  7. The proliferation of research in neuroscience endorsing experiential learning and the role of learning in the flow of work.
  8. The rising demand for flexible work, which permits greater life balance and more space for creativity.

Our academic institutions are participating in these democratised solutions, but at the same time reluctant to relinquish full control. Perhaps if universities focus on their strengths: Research based on scientific methods, control testing, and exploratory questioning and reasoning, they could play a more supportive role in the future of learning, but not as central a role as they performed in the past.

Embrace the mess

In many ways, education has moved to the free market. Many educational service providers will be born out of this new democratised model, and some will fail while some succeed. The same applies to individuals participating (or not) in the new model.

At the same time, organisations will reduce their labour forces as technology optimises processes even more. The loss of traditional employment opportunities will drive more people to these platforms for learning, creating even further growth.

People will learn to learn, to survive in a free market, but we must acknowledge that the market place is not entirely free.

  1. Economic privilege exists for those who have already amassed vast sums of capital and secured critical resources – e.g. water, arable land)
  2. Information asymmetry is very high in the marketplace, fed by flawed algorithms design to reinforce old patterns of thinking and not develop new ones.
  3. Resources are not free. Indiscriminate use without renewal will cost us the planet, so we need to temper and adapt our understanding of what it takes to achieve growth.

Societal Shared Value

Governments exist to manage the needs of the society it serves. It follows that addressing the above-market imperfections such that the economy and ecology reflect the consensus of the society would be key action steps to take.

What can governments do to facilitate learning:

  • Create some equalisers, such as setting a limit to the number of days any one person can work in a week. Creating space to hone creative skills as well as introducing job sharing can be hugely beneficial to maintaining levels of employment.
  • Global corporations pay global tax, driving more social equity.
  • Providing access to coaching and development support for all impacted generations of the changes to work.
  • Anyone able to contribute economically to society should be invited to participate; either by volunteering or through jobs, enabling constant reskilling opportunity no matter what age.

Takeaways

To make a meaningful positive impact on our jobs, our lives, or the survival of the planet, we must continue to engage in learning.

To make a meaningful positive impact on our planet, we must act, despite others inaction.

We must embrace what we could be by evolving who we are.

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