As our world continues its transition to a fully digital society, I’ve been watching people and organizations scramble to figure out how to reinvent themselves and thrive within the modern world of work.
Adaptation is essential, yet there’s a hesitancy preventing people from changing and evolving as needed.
We get complacent. We stay stuck in our ways. We settle for the status quo—yet the only way to evolve is break free from status quo.
Over time I’ve come to believe there is one specific skill that enables any individual, organization, or community to successfully evolve and flourish.
This skill involves becoming comfortable with uncertainty, taking risks, navigating change, and reframing success.
And the skill is, simply put, the ability to learn.
While this is not easy to master, it is definitely well worth it. It takes patience and persistence—two life skills I also consider crucial—along with a growth mindset, and a few key tenets to lay a strong foundation.
Develop the tenets below, and you’ll come out ready to learn, evolve, and create your own successes, over and over and over again.
In this world that we live in, there are no guarantees.
Everything is uncertain — which is ironic, as that is perhaps our greatest fear as humans.
Yet many of us struggle to deal with uncertainty in our lives because we want the comfort of knowing what the future holds.
- Will we be ok?
- Will we gain financial freedom?
- Will we have job security?
- Will this plan work?
- What will happen if…?
The answer: nobody knows!
In fact, things like “job security” are actually false narratives, made up to make ourselves feel comfortable despite the fact that any “job” we have may disappear at any moment, for any reason, without any advanced warning.
Nothing is guaranteed.
We each have to find our own way in this world, and the only way to do so is to become comfortable being uncomfortable. To become comfortable with uncertainty.
It’s a messy process, but learning how to do things for yourself — and how to push through the discomfort — will pay you back in dividends throughout life.
The world exists in a state of constant change, where targets are moving and uncertainty is the norm. From unpredictable economies to the sheer ambivalence of what the future holds, it’s absolutely impossible to predict what will happen next.
Which brings us back to learning.
It’s precisely because of all this uncertainty and ambiguity (see: VUCA) that it seems to me the best thing we can do for ourselves — both as individuals and as collectives of people within organizations, communities, and societies — is to learn how to become reflective, introspective, and adaptive.
Essentially, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to learn how to actively learn.
By setting ourselves up to learn, we can never truly fail!
In a learning system, our metrics for success completely change:
- Instead of “what did you do today?” we can ask “what did you learn today?”
- Instead of focusing on the WHAT and the HOW all the time, we can instead focus on the WHY — which is way more important, as it helps us understand. And understanding, whether we’re talking about a customer, an employee, a market, a problem, a situation, a whatever, is such a critical component of making things better and moving ourselves towards success.
Yet unfortunately, most people do not seek to understand. They do not ask why, nor do they think to dig deeper and explore the layers below the surface, even though that’s where all the good stuff is.
By regularly checking in with ourselves and our surroundings, we can then adapt our course, plan, and tactics based on to the experiences we live and the data we collect. And all of this rolls up into the ability to move ourselves forward, into the state we want to exist.
Think about how differently you would behave if learning was your measurement for success, instead of whatever metrics you’re currently using?
Once you’ve mastered the skill of learning, then, by nature, you’ll be able to learn anything! This puts you in a much better position to accomplish your goals.
Here are some work-related things you can learn, once you’ve mastered learning through experimentation and risk-taking:
- How to diagnose problems
- How to think critically
- How to be patient
- How to make decisions faster
- How to communicate better
- How to collaborate more effectively
- How to pick up new skills and knowledge
- And so on!
Anything that stands in your way; you can learn your way through the problem!
When you set yourself up with the skills necessary to effectively learn new things (capabilities, knowledge, insights, processes etc), the way you see the world dramatically changes, which becomes an additional advantage that will contribute to your success.
- Instead of make-or-break initiatives, you’ll view things as experiments
- Instead of rigid “it must go according to plan” planning, you’ll view things as fluid and adaptable
- Instead of “failing to achieve success,” you’ll view things as “look at all the stuff we learned!”
Once you realize that doing instead of planning, paired with periods of reflection and adaptation, will help you move forward, you’ll be free to set out and try new things all the time, without the fear of failure! All because it’s in the spirit of learning, as opposed to being focused solely on traditional metrics of success.
Trying new things is the basis of what it takes to be creative, innovative, disruptive, and all those things that businesses, organizations, and people want to be. So really, learning becomes your main advantage!
When you know how to consciously and actively learn from your experiences, any time you set out to achieve a certain result but end up in a place you never expected to be, you’ll have the skillset necessary to think positively about what happened along the way, and then adapt yourself, your strategy, and your actions as necessary.
You may not always achieve what you set out to achieve, but you may learn your way into creating something more meaningful, impactful, and powerful than you ever could have imagined.
By nature, learning is an experiential process. You cannot truly learn if you do not actively experience.
You can read theory, sure, but most often, the only way to truly learn the hard stuff in life and in business is to learn by doing; by getting out there, trying something, reflecting on how it went, and then trying something new.
It’s a cycle. The Cycle of Learning, in fact. Trademark coming soon.
Unfortunately, most people do not think in this way.
And even more unfortunately, most organizations, companies, bosses, and leaders do not think this way either.
Most people don’t approach their lives or their work with the belief that the more they learn, the better off they’ll be. Instead, they seek shortcuts via blog posts, videos, books, and conversations.
But you’re different, right?
You’re willing to put in the work, make the necessary time, and roll up your sleeves to focus on doing, learning, and repeating.
That way, you can learn your way through all the change that’s rapidly thrown your way.
And over time, you’ll develop new levels of expertise.
You’ll identify patterns of things that have worked and things that have not. You’ll identify behaviors that are helpful as well as behaviors that are harmful. Same for mindsets, attitudes, and perspectives, as well as processes, systems, and policies.
You’ll have gained so much experience and expertise that your fear will no longer be uncertainty, but complacency.
You’ll be a master at navigating change, which only further enhances your ability to adapt and flourish.
It’s time to go out there and learn how to learn. You can start by practicing active learning, where you are mindful about your experiences and intentional about reflecting on them.
Next time you try something new, make time to consider what you’ve learned and write it down.
Better yet, start a “Learning Log” and keep record of all the things you learn in a day. Then, at the end of a week or month, look back on everything you’ve learned, and bask in the glow of accomplishment! This is all because your intention was different from the beginning: learning instead of succeeding.
To dig in deeper, choose a project that you’ve recently completed and ask yourself this question:
What did you know by the end of the project that you didn’t know at the beginning, and why is that valuable?
Notice the new perspective you’ve gained. You now hold these insights for the future.
Looking back on all we’ve covered, it’s now time to take this actively developed skill and apply it to the world you live in.
The fact is, there are things in your life that you want to change. You’ve settled, and the status quo has become good enough.
But deep down, you know it’s not.
Things could be so much better if you were to break through the complacency and put energy into making things better.
It begins with your curiosity, and continues by honing your learning abilities and helping others around you sharpen theirs.
When you help others learn how to learn, everyone gets better at tackling tough challenges. With your newfound confidence, you’ll be fired up to challenge the status quo and change the way things are done. It won’t be easy, but it will totally be worth it.
And from there, it’s then time for you to figure out WHAT you need to focus on learning.
But we’ll save that for another day.