Five Reasons Why You Must Learn to Learn

An Article by John Horn: It’s September, so communities around the world are rightly focusing on the importance of learning. The thing is that the ability to learn is the most critical skill for everyone everywhere to develop regardless of whether we are heading back to school.

In our age of rapid innovation, unbelievable disruption and constant change, learning provides inoculation and inspiration by building skills, enhancing curiosity and shifting perspectives.

Here are five reasons why you must learn to learn. During these turbulent times learning is the most critical skill to develop in your organization, company or community.

Learning Builds Resilience

“Education is inoculation against disruption,” is a common phrase used by leadership guru Robin Sharma. He’s right.

The ability to learn will consistently keep you relevant. Research shows that learning a new skill builds resilience on its own, but training your brain to learn all sorts of different things – from basic plumbing to WordPress – will keep you relevant amidst unknowable disruptive forces, like automation, globalization and climate change. Remember, the best kind of learning is really hard, which is why the actual effort put towards developing new qualities cultivates resilience along the way.

When we teach and learn resilience we literally change lives.

Learning Fosters Innovation

Curiosity, critical thinking and creativity are learned abilities. EY Global argues that creating the conditions for people to test and learn together enhances innovation:

By giving employees permission to experiment, you offer people the opportunity to be wrong. Companies that embrace the fundamental philosophies once exclusive to start-ups, such as an iterative and fail-fast approach, will create new products, drive business development and attain/retain top talent.

When organizations create a culture of continuous learning innovation becomes part of everyday business.

Learning Drives Results

I oversee organizational learning for a medium-sized credit union – my team is noticing how our commitment to effectively measuring the impact of our learning experiences is sharpening our stakeholders’ thinking about the business results we’re striving for. Josh Bersin argues that building a learning capability at scale is a critical differentiator for personal and organizational performance – a key takeaway for all the CHROs and CFOs who are contemplating gutting learning budgets in preparation for a potential recession:

Think about the history of companies like Nokia who lost their market to new competitors like Apple, or the many search companies who lost the search market to Google. These companies don’t fail to innovate. They simply fail to learn.

That is, their organizational culture likely did not tolerate being open to mistakes, the messy process of disruption, and the need to iterate and learn at the same time you operate. People who invent and innovate must not only be very capable technically, they must have the freedom to learn and share what they’ve learned in an open environment. This is why our High-Impact Learning Culture assessment is among the most valuable set of tools we have  developed.

In that research we found that some of the most important elements of “capability building” include creating a management culture which is open to mistakes, building trust, giving people time to reflect, and creating a value system around learning.  Companies that adopt the 20 leading-practices in learning culture significantly outperform their peers in innovation, customer service, and profitability.

When companies fail to invest in peoples’ ability to learn then they historically fail.

Learning Activates Change

In a Fast Company interview, the OG of organizational learning culture, Peter Senge, suggests that mechanical or top-down changes rarely stick, but that systemic change, regardless of how it’s inspired, is more likely to happen when investments have been made in learning: “Deep change comes only through real personal growth — through learning and unlearning… Commitment comes about only when people determine that you are asking them to do something that they really care about.”

When people are more curious, thoughtful and open to having their perspective shifted, which are all outcomes of powerful learning experiences, then change is more likely to stick.

Learning = Learning  

Back to Josh Bersin (this time co-writing with Marc Zao-Sanders for HBR). A community that is always learning has figured out how to make learning happen in the flow of work, which is probably my favourite concept from Bersin. My team at Vancity jokes that “the purpose of learning is learning” because this obviously means we’re indispensable; however, there’s truth to the quip because, at its best, learning is the catalyst in a virtuous cycle of personal and organizational growth. So much effort in the knowledge economy is spent finding and analyzing information and sharing it with others so that they can learn it – and more and more educational information is coming to people and weaving its way into the flow of work so they don’t need to attend scheduled webinars or travel downtown for a workshop.

When we’re always learning we’re always asking better questions, gathering better insights, understanding more perspectives, producing better products and services, and creating more value for our communities.

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