Keep learning or become irrelevant. But the problem is, we’re bad at learning.
We’re our own worst enemies: fear of failure, the tendency to tread paths already beaten by others, and the obsession with outcomes rather than processes get in the way of our learning.
Professor Brad Staats outlines why success demands continuous learning and provides a practical framework to a become dynamic learner in his new book “Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive” (Harvard Business Review Press, June 2018). He shares original research about how we learn and engaging stories about how real learning happens.
Staats is associate professor of operations and faculty director of the Center for the Business of Health at UNC Kenan-Flagler. He teaches and researches how to improve individual learning and design organizations that create successful learning environments, and works with companies around the world to develop their learning and analytics strategies.
Staats’ book provides a framework of eight essential elements for becoming a dynamic learner and overcoming roadblocks to learning:
- Value failure. Dynamic learners are willing to fail in order to learn.
- Focus on process, not outcome.
- Ask questions – don’t rush to answers.
- Make time for reflection and relaxtion. 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. Don’t try to conform – be willing to stand out.
- Play to strengths. Don’t try to fix irrelevant weaknesses.
- Pair specialization with variety. Build a T-shaped portfolio of experiences – deep in one area (or more) and broad in others.
- Learn from others. Learning is not a solo exercise.
One of the impressive endorsements for the book was written by retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, called it “ brilliant tutorial in how we learn – or more often – how we don't. The essential guidebook to prepare for a new age.”
Alan Murray (BA ’77), chief content officer for Time Inc. and president of Fortune, wrote: “With change accelerating, the ability to learn has become the quintessential business skill. Teaching people and companies to become fast, effective, and continuous learners – which Staats does compellingly in this new book - is a fundamental first step toward conquering the future.”
The book has been a 20-year journey, says Staats. “When I used to work in investment banking, strategic planning, and venture capital, I wondered why individuals, teams and organizations that I thought had similar resources would perform at such different levels. I recognized that it was a difference in how they learned, but I wanted to know why. So, I decided to go back and get my doctorate and become a professor to see if I could understand it. I’ve spent almost the last 15 years researching why we are so bad at learning and what we can do about it.”
The book tells an optimistic story, says Staats. “Even though we are our own worst enemy when it comes to learning, that’s also the good news. If we are the problem then we are also the solution. The person we have the most control over is ourself. And so if we can understand why we take the actions we take, then we can start to design processes to help us learn successfully.”
“My hope is readers will use the book to take control of their own learning journeys – to forge their own paths that will help them to stay relevant and accomplish their goals.”