- The Ultimate Survival Skill for the New Economy
- By Dave Kahle — posted 03/09/2011
We understand that the only competitive advantage the company of the future will have is its managers' ability to learn faster than their competitors.
—Arie P. DeGeus
We're living in incredibly turbulent times. In spite of newspaper headlines proclaiming growing employment and a slowly growing economy, many business people admit to a pervasive feeling of uncertainty and confusion about their businesses. In order to thrive in these times, you and your business must master a core set of skills that will set you apart from your competitors.
In a world that is rapidly changing, today's hot new product is tomorrow's obsolete dinosaur. More important than any one product is the ability to continually create new products. Today's strongest employee could very well be tomorrow's employment problem. More important than any one employee is the ability to find and maintain employees who are constantly growing. Today's closest customers could be out of business tomorrow. More important than any one customer is the ability to attract and retain a variety of customers.
In addition, as the economy becomes more and more global, competition will increase. The quality of competition will also improve as competitors strive to outdo one another in providing customer service and value-added products and services. In this new economy, those who survive and prosper will be those who know how to learn, and who do so faster and more systematically than their competitors.
Adapting to Rapid Change
Since the dawn of the information age, business people have been buffeted by an increasingly rapid rate of change. Consider this: In 1900, the total amount of knowledge available to mankind was doubling about every 500 years. In 1990, it was doubling about every two years. Today, according to some, the rate of change is doubling every 35 days!
Imagine the implications of that kind of increase in the rate of change. It means new products, new regulations, new market configurations, new customers, and new technology in almost every industry. It's no wonder that we're confused and uncertain about what to do. It wasn’t so long ago that we had a growing market to cover over many of our flaws. Not true today.
One of the best lessons you can teach a new employee is: "The only thing you can count on is that you won't be doing this job in three years." The point is that the job will change in that period of time to such a degree that it will be a different job. The technology used will likely change, as will the customers, the systems, and the focus of the job.
We all need to accept that rapid change is a defining characteristic of our economy, and plan to deal with it effectively. Instead of thinking we should simply persevere until it's behind us, we should prepare for rapid change to be a way of life.
What's the best way to go forward in light of this rapid change? What mind-sets can we adopt that will equip us to survive and prosper in turbulent times? What skills do we need to survive and prosper in the information age?
The one core skill that will define the most successful individuals is the ability and propensity to engage in self-directed learning. The only sustainable effective response to a rapidly changing world is cultivating the ability to positively transform ourselves and our organizations. That's the definition of self-directed learning.
In the face of a world that is different one week to the next, our most powerful positive response is to cultivate the ability to learn. Learning here doesn’t refer to just the acquisition of new information, although that is a necessary prerequisite. Rather, this kind of learning requires one to change behavior on the basis of an ever-changing understanding of the world. Learning without behavior change is impotent.
The individuals who become disciplined, systematic, self-directed learners will be the success stories of the new economy. Likewise, the organizations that become learning organizations will have the best chance of surviving and prospering. The most skilled employees, therefore, will be the ones who can continually access the changing facts and growing complexity of their jobs, and then change appropriately. That's self-directed learning.
Those organizations which become learning organizations will be those who fill themselves with people who regularly engage in self-directed learning. Here are three tactics to help you instill self-directed learning in your organization.
Wipe the Slate Clean. Imagine that you have written the history of your company or your career on a blackboard. You have every decision, every strategy, every success and every failure noted in detail. The sum of this experience provides the rationale for why and how you do everything that you now do.
Now, take a wet towel, and wipe the board clean. Erase the past. As you do so, you eliminate the unspoken acceptance of the way things are, and replace it with the new understanding that things may not be the way they should be. Just because something is, doesn't mean it should be. The reason you started doing something may no longer exist. Remember, with a world turning over more or less completely every two to three years, any decision or procedure that had its roots in a situation three or more years old may not be justified today.
This little exercise provides a mental image for a change in thinking that needs to take place if you're going to become a learning organization. You must begin to think about things that you do, not on the basis of the past (three or more years ago), but rather on the basis of the present and the future.
This is a way of eliminating one of the biggest barriers to learning and changing: the mental obstacles that we put in our own way. This principle can be applied in every area of your business, from something so fundamental and important as your method of reaching your customers, to something as mundane as the way you answer the phone or fill out a receiving document.
Give Learning a Strategic Emphasis. Build in the need to become a learning organization in the most fundamental building blocks of your business. You can do this by following these tips:
- Write it into your mission statement.
- Get the board to pass a resolution advocating it.
- Display your commitment to it predominantly in your personnel manual.
- Talk about it at your employee meetings.
- Make it an agenda item in your executive meetings.
- Articulate it as an initiative in your strategic planning sessions.
- And, begin to model learning behavior yourself.
Make self-directed learning a part of everyone's job description. Begin to create learning expectations for yourself and all your employees. Talk about their need to learn and grow. Include it as an item on every job description.
Then encourage, develop, and support learning opportunities throughout your organization. Here's some things other organizations have done:
- Require every employee to attend a certain number of outside seminars, Internet-based courses, or other learning events per year.
- Reward the effective application of learning. In other words, when someone finds an effective way to change things, reward them. One of my clients holds a monthly employee meeting, where the employee who has made the biggest positive change in the way things are done is rewarded with US$150.00 cash bonus.
- Begin to implement these strategies and you'll take the first steps to transforming your organization into a learning organization. You'll begin the process of mastering the ultimate skill for the new economy.
Check out this video where Barry Wright discusses adapting to change. Watch it now.
Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of distributor and B2B sales people and sales managers to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He’s authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. Sign up for his weekly Ezine, or visit his blog.
For more information, or to contact the author, contact:
The DaCo Corporation
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