Work

It’s never too late to learn

07 May 2019

Michelle Gibbings

Melbourne-based Michelle Gibbings has more than 20 years' experience in leading and guiding people through change across multiple sectors and industries.

Don’t underestimate the importance of upskilling throughout your career.

When was the last time you learnt something new? Last week? Last month? Last year? Or is it so long ago that you can’t remember?

It may have been a course organised by your organisation where you felt compelled to attend. Alternatively, it could have been learning for enjoyment, or because you wanted to master a new craft or update your skill set.

Regardless of the circumstance, when you think about the learning ask yourself:

  • Did I embrace the learning with eagerness, or did I see it as a chore and something to be endured?
  • Did I play safe with the learning and target a course or activity that was easy, or did I seek to challenge myself?

We all know that we are living in an ever-changing world, and that the pace of change is getting faster. To thrive, you need to adapt, and to adapt you need to be willing to get uncomfortable and to learn new things.

The good news – it’s never too late to learn.

Challenge yourself

As children, we learn through playing. It is a form of experimentation, and whilst we might fail at times, we typically dust ourselves off and try again.

As we get older, we often become more reluctant to try new things and do things differently. We can become more stuck in our ways and avoid learning or avoid doing tasks where we might fail.

We all have an inner voice, which voices our fear of failure, of being judged or being held up to ridicule.

Rather than seeking to silence the inner voice, acknowledge its presence and recognise that the best indicator that you’re learning something new is when you feel uncomfortable.

Our brain loves certainty. It likes to have all the answers and to know what to do. However, when you are doing something for the first time, your brain won’t know precisely the steps to take, and consequently, you start to feel uncomfortable.

So, rather than shying away from the discomfort, embrace it!

Get active

Everyone learns differently, but one element that is common is that people learn better the more involved they are with their learning.

As the famous Confucian text said: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me and I’ll make it my own.”

When you take responsibility for your learning and understand its criticality in your career and life success, it puts you in the driver’s seat.

Plan your learning

Every year I sit down and plan out my learning agenda for the year. It will be a mixture of activities that are cerebral and practical. The learning will be both broad and deep.

Targeting and planning the learning also helps ensure you don’t squander your time, resources and energy. The most effective way to do this is to identify the gap between your required future skills and current skills.

This involves three core steps:

  1. Identify the current skills and knowledge you have, covering the spectrum of technical, functional and behavioural.
  2. Research and determine what new skills or knowledge (technical, functional and behavioural) will be needed; looking beyond your immediate industry.
  3. Craft a list of activities to close the gap and identify the priorities to be addressed. This may include: books to read, courses to enrol in, journals to subscribe to, membership organisations to join, new people to meet and new practices to perfect.

Expand your horizons

There are many learning sources – from formal qualifications to short courses. Determining the best approach is a trade-off between the cost, time taken to complete and corresponding time out of the workforce, to the skill acquired and the benefits it confers.

For leaders needing to invest in their skills whilst remaining in the workforce, there are lots of options:

  • Read more – use curating sites such as Pocket or Flipboard to find and regularly send you relevant articles.
  • Listen to podcasts – that go beyond your normal subject domain to broaden your frame of reference.
  • Attend a lecture on a subject to broaden the knowledge base.
  • Enrol in a free or low-cost course – MOOCs (mass online open course) are available through platforms, such as Coursera, edX and Open Universities.
  • Get a mentor or coach to help refine areas of development and expertise.

Today, accelerating your progress is as much about what you need to learn and develop, as to what you currently know and the experience you bring to your role. It’s therefore inevitable that staying at the forefront of knowledge and continuously uplifting capability helps your career. So to get ahead, you need to step outside your comfort zone and embrace new learning.

William Pollard, an English writer and Quaker from the mid-1800s said: “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

As a writer he is not well known, which is a good reminder that learning and ideas come from lots of sources.