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Learn to Stay Young

When I think of the concept of continuous learning, what comes to mind is a perpetual motion machine. You know, those mechanical contraptions that once you start them up, they run forever. But even with perpetual motion machines there has to be one action to start them up and sometimes taking that first action is the hardest part. It’s easy to grow complacent, become a bit close-minded, and even develop resistance to learning as you grow older or become more experienced in your craft.

You may already be successful, even famous or infamous within your industry or career. But without the willingness to learn and the openness to new ideas, you are simply treading water. Sooner or later you your arms will get tired and you will begin to sink. The reality of life and work is that there is no standing still. We are either moving forward or falling back.

Moving forward requires a spark of energy, a catalyst that can help you get out of the quicksand and back onto solid ground. Sometimes this catalyst is a threat. You may see younger, more talented, better educated workers start to spring up around you. Your career might be under a technological challenge or your skills may not be such demand as they were five or ten years ago. Or you just may be stuck with doing things the way you learned them a long time ago or to wake up to find out that “we don’t do it that way anymore around here”.

Rather than wait for the future to catch up to us, continuous learning can help us grow and develop in the present to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Learning doesn’t mean having to go back to school but it does mean making an investment of your time and energy, both of which are at a premium in today’s working world. Continuous learning can take place right at work through mentoring, coaching, or partnering with any person who has the skill you need. You trade your inside knowledge of the business for their technical expertise and you both benefit.

Continuous learning can also be as simple as reading a book, asking questions, or taking a workshop on a subject you want to learn more about. We all learn in different ways so find the one that works for you and follow that path until you get the knowledge that you want. Read the latest periodicals and newsletters about your business or career so that you can take advantage of the new ideas, trends, and work processes that are emerging. Of course this will mean that you will have to develop that essential quality of learning: an open mind.

Being open to new ideas, especially when they come from mere babes in our workplace is one of the hardest skills for an experienced worker to acquire. It will require more listening than talking, and sometimes just biting hard on your tongue to keep it from spilling out your true feelings to your younger colleague. You don’t have to take all of the management theories from the new MBA grad that just joined your unit. Take the things that make sense to you, that fit with your experience and expertise and discard the rest as the folly of youth and inexperience.

Companies and organizations that engage in and promote continuous learning approaches are almost always successful and leaders in their field. They see this process as an R+D investment in their best resource, their people. They know that in order for their enterprise to grow to the next level they must not only attract the best and brightest, but they must help these people maintain their enthusiasm, motivation, and performance by encouraging them to continually grow and improve. They also promote an internal sharing of corporate and individual knowledge and expertise amongst their staff complement.

Computer giant CGI is one example of that model in practice. They start with an approach that strives to create an environment that promotes the professional development of their staff and facilitate the exchange of expertise among them. They ask each staff member to establish career objectives that are consistent with the company's goals and objectives. They then ask each of them to:

Act as coach or mentor in the process of integrating new members, as well as in other professional activities.

Promote continuous improvement by participating in quality improvement, synergy and practice development initiatives.

Participate in seminars, courses and conferences, and share their knowledge with their colleagues.

Continuous learning is as its name suggests a life-long activity. Henry Ford once said
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” I intend to stay young.


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