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Be a learn-it-all: The 8 keys to staying relevant and reinventing yourself (review of Never Stop Learning)

This review first ran in the Nov. 24 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself and Thrive

By Bradley Staats

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

never stop learningI’m university bound after 13 years at college.

One thing will stay the same and another will change in a big way when I join Canada’s most research-intensive college on Monday. While I’ll continue working with outstanding faculty and staff, I’ll be climbing a new and steep learning curve.

And here’s why I’m excited to make that climb. In a world of continual change, it’s far better to be a learn-it-all than a know-it-all.

“Learning is so vital today that we can think of ourselves as living in a learning economy,” says Bradley Staats, an engineer, investment banker, associate professor with the University of North Carolina and author of Never Stop Learning. “We can’t just be knowledge workers; we must also be learning workers.”

But most of us are bad at learning, says Staats. “Supremely bad. In fact, we’re our own worst enemies. Instead of doing the things that will help us learn, we often do just the opposite. If we fail to learn, we risk becoming irrelevant. We end up solving yesterday’s problems too late instead of tackling tomorrow’s problems before someone else does.”

So if you too are making or mulling a move that’ll bring you to the base of a new learning curve, Staats has identified eight keys for successfully climbing the curve as a dynamic learner.

Value failure. If you’re not trying new things and making mistakes then you’re not learning.

Focus on the process rather than the outcome. “At its core, learning involves understanding what (and how) inputs affect important outputs – building a model of the way things work.”

Ask questions rather than rush to answers.

Reflect and relax. “Dynamic learners fight the urge to act for the sake of acting and recognize that when the going gets tough, the tough are rested, take time to recharge and stop to think.”

Be yourself. Instead of conforming, find the courage to stand out. “When we are truly ourselves, we are more likely to expend the necessary effort. We do things for both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons.”

Play to your strengths and quit trying to fix irrelevant weaknesses.

Combine specialization and variety so you have a T-shaped portfolio of experiences where you’re deep in one or a few areas and broad in many others.

Learn from others. Learning is not a solo exercise. “The people with whom we interact are integral to our eventual success or failure.”

In a constantly changing world, we can’t afford to put our careers on cruise control and coast on muscle memory and institutional knowledge. Staats shows why becoming a dynamic learner is the best way to stay relevant, reinvent ourselves and thrive.

“Yes, learning requires constant vigilance. When it comes to learning, you can be your own worst enemy. But if you recognize the challenge and seek to overcome it, with determination, you can.”

So regardless of whether you’re changing jobs or staying put, keep looking for new learning curves to climb – the steeper, the better.

@jayrobb lives and works in Hamilton and has reviewed and learned from business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. Reviews are archived at http://www.jayrobb.me.

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