I recently contributed to an eBook targeted to Pharma and Healthcare marketers. The book, intending to guide its audience toward where to invest their learning in 2010, is directly relevant to anyone in business. It begins with the famous Toffler quote
The illiterate of the 21stcentury will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
-Alvin Toffler, Rethinking the Future 1999
Since he wrote those powerful words, 9 years after the publication of Senge's Fifth Discipline, web 2.0 has exploded, and the challenges of choosing where to learn and what to learn are bursting exponentially -changing patterns of trade and social power on the planet.
Jim Collins says it well in a Fast Company interview:
FC: What has changed if you’re building a business now, as opposed to 10, 20, or 30 years ago?
JC: The skills. You need to be continually learning. For example, if you accept the idea that work is infinite and time is finite, you realize you have to manage your time and not your work. You need a laserlike focus on doing first things first. And that means having a ferocious understanding of what you are not going to do. The question used to be which phone call you wouldn’t take. Now, it’s the discipline not to have your e-mail on. The skill is knowing how to sift through the blizzard of information that hits you all the time.
As a Business Anthropologist, I am fascinated by how social media are changing the world of learning. Sunday's New York Times re-iterates how Twitter works as a learning portal - for approximately 10% of its users, according to a 2009 Harvard study. With over 1000 user-designed applications, no one has quite figured out how many people that is… a telling commentary.
Close to the beginning of the revolution represented by social media, I undertook a study of 50 top performers, asking about how they rejuvenate. They recognized that,
The ability to be a 'beginner' is a key factor in sustained top performance….Forty eight consciously keep their curiosity sparked through exploration and learning.
"What I'm doing now was totally beyond me 12 months ago."
- Entrepreneur, age 72
In my 3 decades in the trenches with business leaders, nothing seems to have gotten easier. Most would agree that the changes of the past 15 months demand more skill than ever, and a new kind of skill: being nimble in the face of uncertainty.
I cast my vote with Senge, Toffler and Collins: the ability to learn is our single best strategic investment. The evidence goes back to the first human communities.
Our ancestors have done it for millions of years. We can do it again. How will you choose your strategic learning investments this year?