Never, Ever Stop Learning

Like it or not, you have to keep learning to stay relevant.

“I don’t think I can learn anything else here.”

It’s a sentiment that, when expressed, probably means it’s time to move on.

You see, we live in the age of the autodidact.  It’s a fun word to say (well, fun to say to yourself…I’ve been around folks who might beat you up for dropping that one on the table).

But, more importantly, it’s a fact of life today.

You see, we are blessed with a set of tools that no generation has ever been blessed with before.  The poorest schoolkid can access the entire world of knowledge, practically up to the minute, from a terminal in a public library nearly every day of the year. 

But, once you or I settle in and stop learning, we are toast.

Toast, I tell you.

Why?  Simple competitive reality.

In past generations, a person could formally train on a trade or profession and then ply that trade for the next 30 years without a tremendous amount of change.

Also, in past generations, most companies thought of training as an investment to be built upon.  Today, it is often viewed more as a cost to be contained.  Any corporate trainer whose programs have been bid out by the procurement department knows this all too well.

So, you have to keep a strong focus on learning, no matter where you are in your career.

A case study

Have a look at the very long term history of computer programming languages posted by Tiobe:



What do you see?

If you look at a “mid career” point in time, say 15-20 years in, the results are astounding.

A person who is mid career today did their training between 15 and 20 years ago.  Let’s assume that the person has been head down and working at his programming trade for the past 15 years in a sort of “Rip Van Winkle the coder” approach to his career.

What does he find when he is exposed to the real world?

First, 5 of the top 10 programming languages today were not even on the radar when Rip started his career in the year 2000.

Second, If Rip started college in 1995, and trained on legacy systems, he’s in even more of a world of hurt.  The “middle tier” of programming languages from 1995–Pascal, Lisp, Ada, and Fortran–are essentially irrelevant today.

If Rip returns to the workforce, he had better get caught up.

Yeah, you say, but that’s computers…

Sure, the tech sector moves faster than others; and many innovators are moving forward with new learning models.  One of my favorite happens to be The Iron Yard and its code school (now closed – unfortunately), which is among a group of companies changing the way that career prep is done in the tech sector.

But the same career learning quandary is true across sectors when it comes to learning and career advancement–whether you are an accountant, clerk, manager, or even CEO…

What got you here probably won’t get you there.

Case in point:  There is more knowledge available to the average corporate executive today than ever before–at a valuable or nonexistent price point–through forums, experts, and networks.  In my experience, a plurality of execs tap only a fraction of the avenues available to them, and rely solely on methods and intuition forged in a different world.  One need only look at the degree to which executives use networks like LinkedIn to see how “current” they are.

“I don’t have time for that” you’ll hear them say.

I’d argue you can’t afford not to constantly learn and network in the world.

If you are truly busy, and your time is that valuable, have somebody else do it.

So what? 

I’ll offer two reasons that a healthy approach to constantly teaching yourself is imperative for people in all parts of the workforce today… And, they are simple.

First, you and your company need it.

If you are a corporate manager or executive today, you probably grew up in an age where expertise and distinct knowledge was owned by a few people and doled out at a very high price (through brand names we all know well).  That has all changed.  Experts can be found and tapped in a much more ad hoc manner, and if your company isn’t doing it, your competitors probably are.

Second, it’s insurance!

Today’s job market and the more “flexible” (some might say cynical) approach to employing people makes investment in your own skills imperative.  If your company isn’t investing in your current employability, and you aren’t either, then you may be in for a rude awakening when the whimsy and capriciousness of cost cutting comes into your life.

It’s much better to be employable than to simply be employed.  Employed is an instantaneous state…Employable is a transferable one.

We are in the age of the autodidact.   Embrace it.

Never, ever stop learning.

I’d be interested in your thoughts, experiences, and reactions…Leave a comment below.

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