Technology and globalisation are driving change at an unprecedented rate. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary school today will end up in a job that does not yet exist. This has particular importance for knowledge workers – professionals such as marketers who rely on their skills and knowledge to perform and excel in their roles. As we reach the mid-point of the year, it is timely to reflect on how best to develop a learning mindset and maximise learning within a busy work-life schedule.
Knowledge workers will have to learn to stay young and mentally alive during a fifty year working life. Peter Drucker.
Develop a growth mindset
One of the best ways to approach learning is by adopting a growth mindset, as identified by the academic and author Carol Dweck. In her view, effort creates talent.
People with a fixed mindset focus on validating themselves in the eyes of others. Intelligence is seen as a finite resource, with all effort focused on being seen to be smart. A growth mindset, on the other hand, emphasises continuous development. Believing you can increase your mastery and knowledge is crucial. If you think you can become smarter, it increases your motivation and ultimately leads to higher levels of achievement.
It is the difference between a passion for learning and a hunger for approval. As Dweck says, “why waste time looking smart when you could be getting smarter”.
Use specific learning techniques
In A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley talks about the benefits of alternating between focused and diffuse learning. She describes how famously creative people such as Thomas Edison used this technique. It involves switching between a meditative state and the focused effort required to complete complex tasks.
Oakley also highlights the dangers of procrastination. We all face this feeling at some point. The key is to push through this resistance rather than accept the immediate benefit of switching focus to another activity. Runners often face this with their morning jog – by working through the body’s initial reluctance they get into their running stride.
Author Cal Newport, meanwhile, talks about the benefits of Deep Work. Setting aside specific blocks of time, away from emails, phone calls and other distractions. Using time in this way, you can deliver projects that require deep thinking and significant effort. It could be building blocks of 2 – 3 hours into your day where you focus on a core project, or setting aside a longer period once a week to devote specifically to such work.
Use the compound effect – little and often
Process is a huge part of effective learning. You have to commit to putting in the time, making it a habit and part of your daily routine. We significantly underestimate what can be achieved over a long period. By adopting the compound effect, regularly undertaking learning and study over weeks and months, you can rapidly advance your knowledge in a particular area. No amount of talent or skill can substitute for the hard work and graft of continuous self-improvement.
Mastery is one of the keys to autonomy, job satisfaction and security in the modern economy. The business world values knowledge workers – those people with deep knowledge and skills in a particular field; software engineers, legal experts and surgeons are just some examples.
Mastery requires time and effort. The 10,000 hour rule, popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, is one such example.
What are your strengths? Are there one or two key skills you possess that if you really focused on would lead to mastery? How can you build a routine into your day to make progress on your goals?
Brian Tracy talks about the golden hour, taking 60 minutes each day to focus on personal development. Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect, advises to bookend the start and end of the day for this purpose.
The key to both pieces of advice is consistency and routine. Concentrate your learning around particular goals or aspects of your life where you wish to develop excellence.
Keep ‘sharpening the saw’
Finally, don’t forget to keep ‘sharpening the saw’, in Stephen Covey’s famous phrase. Learning is a process, an ongoing project. We experience change on a daily, monthly and yearly basis – upskilling is the natural and required response, as Drucker’s quote advises. There is also a personal satisfaction and reward. We are committing ourselves to continuous improvement, and ultimately mastery in our chosen field.
So set aside an hour. Get out a pen and paper and start to identify the learning goals you need to achieve to deliver upon your overall objectives. Put in place a routine around these, one you can commit to, and soon you will see the benefits.
About the author
Steven Roberts MMII is head of marketing at Griffith College. A Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and certified data protection officer, he writes on marketing, data protection and strategy.