Learning Strategy for the Next Year

An old friend of mine recently re-posted an HBR article on importance of learning - really great stuff (google for HBR and Erika Andersen).

I respectfully disagree with the idea that you should choose only the skills, in which you can become truly great (using your past learning experience) - this comes from yet another HBR article by the same author. Life doesn't really care about what we are good at - we have to ask ourselves instead "what do I need to learn and how quickly to be successful in this situation".

But I have been following this expert for a while and find her ideas very stimulating.

Anyway, learning. The quote of the quote:

" In the words of Arie de Geus, a business theorist, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”"

The only.sustainable.competitive.advantage.


Sorry, just simply no.

First, it is extremely dangerous to think that a single habit can create sustainable advantage.

What will you do with knowledge and skills if you don't have enough energy to do anything?

If you don't have enough courage to put it to use?

Or not enough influence to make your knowledge and skill really impactful?

Second, learning is absolutely critical in these days of constant change, agreed. But, accepting its importance is only a NECESSARY, not a SUFFICIENT condition. How to approach learning strategically is of vital importance.


Necessary, not sufficient

We are drowning in information. It is a blessing. It is a curse.

A curse of choice, a curse of distraction, and what I call a curse of paralysis.

It is very easy to get lost in learning these days, where all we do is...learning. And as we consistently get social confirmation that more of this is a good thing, we swim in illusion that we progress to our goals as we learn up to the point when we forget about them. 

What matters here (and in many other things) is CLARITY.

Where do we want to go? There is a simple truth. Life in its beautiful complexity doesn't really care about our strengths. Other people don't really care about our strengths.

We keep bumping into situations where our "strengths" are inadequate. And spend our lives looking where to fit them better. Even if something resonates deeply with us, we shall inevitably face adversity and challenges, where our current strengths will simply not be enough. Such is the blessed variety of life. And the speed of change only grows all the time.

So, we have a choice. Keep looking for situations perfectly matching our strengths and hiding when it is not the case. Running when situation requires something else. Quitting. Or delegating, outsourcing, and hoping for the best. Frankly - stagnating more and more.


Ask ourselves:

"What is required to be of service here? What will move the needle? How can I grow into that?"

Research shows that top performers of the world don't focus on their strengths any more than average performers. Instead, they work to skill up quickly and efficiently to meet the challenges, step outside of their comfort zones so that they DON'T. COMPROMISE. THEIR. MISSION. They have unwavering commitment to the mission and belief that they can do whatever it takes to serve it.

What's important for the mission? Find it. Get it done. Move on. Quick inventory check on the skills and tools you have. What's the gap? What's the path to bridge the gap? What's the first step today?

What matters also is FOCUS. Focus has three components. 

  1. Following through the learning and up-skilling process before moving on to something else. Not finishing when it really matters is bad. Ahhh, so many learning opportunities now. What's the new shiny thing today (TED talk, book, online course, masters program ad)? We hop from learning to learning without really going deep into what matters. So, we learn all the time, but how does it help us on our road to sustainable success?
  2. Doing just enough, but no less than that. Going for more than needed is not good as well. We have a 20/80 rule. Usually, 20% of the effort yields 80% of the result, and we have to decide. Does pressing for more skill in this area matter for us strategically? Remember, it's only 24 hours a day, and it is not going to change. If 80% of the result is enough, it makes sense to move on to the next critical area. Usually, there are only 3-5 areas where we need more than that, where we need to dig and train and practice more.
  3. Mercilessly cutting on what is no longer needed or makes no sense for our mission. We often fall prey to commitment trap - feeling obligated to finish what we started. If it no longer makes sense or isn't really what we thought, we waste our time, which we don't have. Learning for the sake of finishing is senseless. Recently, I had to kick myself out of a digital course from a major business school when I realised that this is not what I need now - my goodness, it was so difficult to drop it!!!!). That's what people with "learners' mindset" (guilty as charged, myself) often miss.

Final thought.

I like this question when clients tell me what is important for them and what are the new skills needed to get them there.

"Where is the skill development on your calendar for the next 6 months?"

If you don't have it there, you will not start. Or you will start and move on to the next shiny thing. Daily pressures will not let you see the larger picture, and ....well, pressure just won't go.

So, what's your learning strategy for the next year?

1️⃣Where do you want to go?
2️⃣What do you need in terms of skills and knowledge to get there, which you currently don't have?
3️⃣Where can you get it from? What are the 5-10 sources/ways/modalities? How do you rank them?
4️⃣What is the first step?
5️⃣What is the plan for the year?
6️⃣Where is this first step and the plan on your calendar?


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