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Mecardo Blog

You better learn to learn!

Posted by Robert Herrmann on 11 March 2018
Robert Herrmann
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“For students starting a 4-year degree, half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.”

This was one of the startling facts I learnt recently from a YouTube post discussing the rate of change and innovation that has occurred around the world and is predicted for the future.

It included other amazing stats like the 25% of India’s population with the highest IQ’s ……. is greater than the total population of the USA!

And, “China will soon become the Number #1 English speaking country in the world”, along with, it took 38 years for the radio to reach a market audience of 50 million, 13 years for TV, and 2 years for Facebook to reach an audience of 50 million. 

Both these projections seem amazing but also plausible to me, but what if someone had told us this 30 years ago? Would we have believed it or even done things differently?

We have seen many of these revelations via Facebook posts or had friends dropping the links to us; I find them interesting and are constantly amazed as to what remarkable things are happening in our world. I am also astounded that people can identify and figure out some of these amazing things happening around us and publish it in such an interesting perspective.

It got me thinking, what about those of us who have been in the workforce for some time? How do these ongoing disruptions impact on my job, the role of staff, the activities of the business? Is there anything we learnt back at school or university that is relevant today?

Over time Mecardo has employed mostly university graduates, generally it is their first full time job. When we review their experience in the business after 6 months, we were surprised to learn that a general comment was “we didn’t learn at university the things we need to know in the day to day business of providing clients advice”!

In fact, in advising on the use of derivatives for commodity price risk management, they tell us the way Mecardo uses the knowledge of hedging is completely different from that taught in the classroom.

This leads to the question, why do we then employ university graduates, wouldn’t it be more cost effective to put an eighteen-year-old graduate on and teach them along the way?

The good news for universities is that they provide something other than knowledge, they teach students how to learn.

In a basic way we already knew this; I would respond at the 6-month review that we had selected employees not on what they had already learnt, but on our assessment of their capacity to learn on the job.

This I believe is the process of most successful employers; it does however put onus on the employee to embrace continuous learning. If you were selected because the company thought you could learn then that’s what you need to do to meet expectation.

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It also can assist to focus the business; if the business is looking for staff to learn ongoing, it needs to encourage, embrace and reward staff who achieve this. Creating a culture that incubates learning is everybody’s business.

A colleague called the other day and informed me he was commencing an MBA, and that he was finding the greatest challenge was “learning to learn” again. For those long-finished studies this is not always an easy process, but whether we are returning to studies or just doing our job, those who have been around a while do need to “learn to learn”.

Employing university graduates means we are employing new staff who have just finished a “learning program”, and joining Mecardo and continuing to learn is easier than someone of my vintage who needs to “re-learn how to learn”!

Two things come to mind, if you are learning, don’t stop! If you are not learning, you had better start sooner rather than later.

 Futurists and philosopher, Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Unlearning is an interesting concept, once we have learned something well, we tend to stick to it, applying daily habits to what we have learned.

Businesses are the same, executives drive the direction based on learnings, with management gaining strength from repeating successes.

But as we know, life changes quickly and constantly. It is inevitable that the future will produce more change coming more rapidly, so while replicating success is important, even more vital is planning and building for the next business incarnation.

Charles Darwin was adamant, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Founder of innovation practitioner Minds at Work Jason Clarke told the Australian Dairy conference how people reacted to change was the key to managing it. Change could be “exciting and frightening at the same time”.

“People need to be curious and open to the challenge but those at the top found this difficult. Companies in the number one position had traditions and respect, but they often did not have the time to think about alternatives, lacked the freedom to experiment, were not motivated to disrupt and had little appetite for failure.”

Mr Clarke said every great idea had a use-by date, using the ice-cutting industry as an example of one that was ultimately disrupted by the invention of refrigeration. But none of the businesses involved in ice-cutting had moved into refrigeration!

No-one can foretell the future, however if we continue to learn we will position ourselves, our people and our business to adapt to whatever the change is in the future.

Learn to learn and proceed with confidence. 

Topics: management, business, learning

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