Our traditional approach to education needs to shift to what Richard Bolles—author of "What Color Is Your Parachute?—labeled lifelong learning back in 1986. Your workers need to learn this new model—now.
- If you want to have adaptive workers, you're going to need to help them to become lifelong learners. Back in 1978, author Dick Bolles wrote a book called The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them. He said that we start our lives with a massive glut of learning. Then we shift into a segment of our lives mainly filled by a massive glut of work. And we're finally rewarded with a massive glut of leisure, in what I call the period formally known as retirement. Now, nobody told you this, back when you were in the learning box.
None of your teachers told you you were going to learn all the rules for school and then you were going to be thrown, with little preparation, into the work box. And finally, when you're too tired to work anymore, you're going to be tossed in the leisure box, again without any real preparation from our society. So where did this three boxes construct come from? It turns out, at the start of the Industrial Age, we required a variety of new institutions to support a changing workforce, as we moved off of farms. In the early 1900s, factories needed workers who could perform reading, writing, and arithmetic with reasonable proficiency.
The one room schoolhouse was no longer up to that task of educating a factory-ready workforce, so the federal government took on the responsibility of providing a national system of public learning that could deliver the educated workers that factory owners needed. That led to the creation of institutions like high school and eventually encouraged higher education to become more widely affordable and available. But in an exponentially changing world, having the majority of our learning stuffed into the first few years of our lives makes absolutely no sense.
Instead, we all need to think of ourselves as continuing what we started in the learning box, to continually gather new information and learn new skills throughout our entire lives. So what does it take to be a LifeLong Learner, or as I refer to them, an L3, lifelong learner? Here are several suggestions. L3s remain curious. There's always something that fascinates a lifelong learner, so they're motivated to continually dig into new topics.
L3s have a goal. It can be something as simple as a new hobby, or as substantial as learning a new subject, a new language, or a new field. Whether it's reading a book or finishing a specific course or studying for a nano degree, a lifelong learner wants to learn a new body of information to add to their knowledge toolkit. L3s also need to diversify. I've mentioned before that we'll all increasingly have a portfolio of work, with a variety of different work-related activities, all at the same time.
We also need portfolios of learning, spanning a range of topics and gathering information from a range of sources, including books, videos, apps, websites, games, and other people. Now this kind of perspective might be new to your team members and your peers, but the only way you can help others to be adaptive workers is to encourage them to be lifelong learners. I have two simple steps to suggest. The first one is to write down your own portfolio of learning.
What are you currently curious about? What are your learning goals? And the second step is to ask your team members to answer the same questions so you can all continue on a path of being lifelong learners.
- Dealing with disruptive change and the new rules of work
- Establishing a new contract with workers
- Rethinking job qualifications
- Hiring for diversity and inclusion
- Identifying key skills for adaptive workers
- Helping your team become lifelong learners
- Leveraging automation for your team
- Becoming an adaptive manager
- Making human resources a partner
- Recognizing when your adaptive strategy is working