LEARNING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

LEARNING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

Niranjan Gidwani – INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT DIRECTOR AND FORMER CEO OF EROS GROUP

When living in such turbulent times, each of us has a need to remain marketable – in other words, remain employable.

In the ever-shifting sands of the corporate world and business, our work has value and meaning only if we can participate in teamwork, ad hoc projects, and develop new skills all the time. We are not only evaluated by the boss but also by our peers and subordinates. Worse, the evaluation is harsher than it used to be at any time before.

The strength of a chain is determined by its weakest link. If we happen to be among the weaker members of our teams, our association with the team will be short-lived indeed. We will be shunned. No one will be willing to include us. The evaluation system will be more self and peer driven. To be able to survive in the midst of such drastic change, We have no choice but to constantly add to our repertoire of skills.

We will require substantial width of knowledge, and sufficient understanding of various disciplines, such as finance and distribution. Being an expert at something and knowing enough about many other things sounds contradictory, but that’s what we need today.

The ability to be a team player and yet to be an all-in-one business person – one who can put together a balance sheet, an income statement, run a little business. A one-person army if you like. In short – a specialist as well as a generalist; a team worker as well as a one-person business. The contradiction stares us in the face.

 In such a frightening environment if we haven’t re-invented ourselves every couple of years we won’t have a job. A job does not necessarily mean only working for someone. It also applies to being in the job of running one’s business.

The knowledge worker has to show why he or she should be retained, what benefit he or she can offer to the organisation, and how he or she can add value to whatever the organisation does.

 How are we more valuable now than a year ago? What services have we rendered? Who among our customers can vouch for us? What value have we added to our organisations? What knowledge have we shared with the people we work with? What glorious failures have we had? What remarkable lessons did we learn from those failures? And what curious and creative things do we intend doing in the coming year?

Our evaluation would include in-depth reference checks from our peers, as if we were about to change jobs. The best references would point to the winners. Having done well in each job won’t be enough. Each job change will have to demonstrate better performance under different circumstances

 We will have to learn to live without the convenience of pointing our fingers in some other direction for failure. That option is rapidly vanishing. One has to take the good with the bad all by oneself. The ability to tap into networks will mean that we will have to know how to use a computer just like we know how to use a TV or a telephone today.

During the last two decades, management schools have concentrated all their efforts upon building the analytical skills of their graduates. Analytical skills are undoubtedly important. So are critical thinking skills. Only very recently have they started focusing on skills involving attitudes, participating in teams, understanding the mind-set of other cultures, operating in a global environment, communicating with clarity, and being creative.

 The new millennium requires businesspersons with an abundance of soft skills. If management schools fail to provide them, people will seek this knowledge elsewhere. The ‘global village’ is no longer a distant dream that the Wright brothers imagined. National boundaries are no longer relevant except in books of geography and matters of defense. They mean less and less for business. Trans-national business has come to stay.

 The successful trans-national business executive has to comprehend the cultures of other countries, other cities, other places, and other regions. If we can’t communicate in a few languages we will suffer a serious disadvantage. If we can’t eat different kinds of food, we will starve in most places.

If we spend all our time learning how to analyse hard data, we will have precious little time left to do real work. We will end up becoming a victim of paralysis by analysis. Soft issues are assuming far greater importance than hard issues in today’s decision making.

 When we begin our careers we are young, smart, lean, and mean. Thanks to these attributes we begin to taste success. But successes are almost always followed by failures, since success rapidly overcomes us. We are lulled into a false sense of superiority. In the aftermath of success, we begin to eat and drink too much. Slowly but steadily, the layers of fat begin to add. Now, if we continue to be smart, we step on the fitness machine and get rid of those layers of fat. That’s fine for the body, but what about the mind?

 Don’t we have to keep the mind fit by letting knowledge enter and excite it? How can we ensure purposeful flow of fresh blood in the head without exciting it with new knowledge? The executive of the traumatic 21st will require life long exercises not only on the physical fitness machine, but on the mental fitness machine as well. In effect, the executive of tomorrow will have to become a lifelong learner.

Steve Jobs spoke about “Connecting the dots” when addressing students at Stanford University and showed how one thing in your life always leads to the other – how his biological Mother’s obsession led him to attend college, drop out, attend only the classes he chose, which led that to his interest in calligraphy, which in turn became a differentiating factor about Apple. When the events unfurled, he had little idea of how it would all come together. Each valuable step was a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of his life.

So, there is a larger meaning to everyone’s past and current situation – sometimes happy and sometimes difficult. Yet, it is all a run-up to something larger, something yet to happen. Most of the times, Steve says, we can only connect the dots looking backward. But sometimes, we come across people who can connect the dots looking forward as well. These are the ones who have a vision for the future. It may be a personal vision or an organizational one. Once they build that vision, it develops a life of its own; it attracts other people who commit to a shared vision and go on to build a vision community. All such people have one thing in common – They are all lifelong learners.

How about us? Where do we fit?

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