Last night my wife and I went to the home of a friend to hear her practice for an upcoming piano recital. Our hostess, Joyce, runs an international support team for GE and is a 6 Sigma Black belt. She has been taking the piano for the five years. As I listened to her play and make mistakes, I had to wonder why she put herself through the regiment of a high school student to learn the piano. She is definitely a Type A person who excels at her job. She has many opportunities to travel and expand her skills through work. You might say the piano is a diversion, and it is. There many other diversions, why this one? My wife, who is a National Board Certified reading teacher, has also been taking the piano for the past several years, though not as diligently as Joyce. Why do these accomplished women need to learn an instrument?
I can hear you all saying, "It’s just a nice hobby, a distraction." I would answer yes and no. Yes, in that attempting to learn a musical instrument is very different from each woman’s work. No, in that quilting or knitting is also very different. They do it because they are "learners" by nature. They are life long learners. In today’s world that may be the most important personal trait any individual can have.
Not counting companies where I was a principal, I’ve been an employee of 7 companies between 1972 and now. Not one of those companies exists today. Some of the names exist, but they don’t do anything remotely like what they did when I worked for them. For all intents and purposes they are gone. What happened? The market around them changed or the technology they had became obsolete. They did not change fast enough to survive. The little moral of my business career is "Change or die." Snappy isn’t it?
With all this corporate carnage around me how did I prosper? I adapted. I changed. I didn’t grow a third eye or anything like that. By the sheer nature of the technology markets I live in I was forces to be a life long learner.
What does it mean to be a life long learner? You have to realize that a certain amount of your personal capital, knowledge and skills, will become less valuable as time moves along. Some part of the expertise you rely on to earn a living will loose value. You need to go out and get new skills. That act of getting new skills is your responsibility. It will cost you.
Acquiring new marketable skills is difficult otherwise everyone would have them and they would be less valuable. If you can get someone else, an employer, to pay for any instruction you need that’s very nice. But, you may have to put out the cash yourself. After all the new revenue generating attributes will be yours. At a minimum you will have to spend your time training and exert some effort to make any new knowledge your own.
Life long learning is not a revolutionary concept in our times. Two generations ago working for the same company for 40 years was the norm. It is certainly not the case today. The problem with life long learning comes when you think it, but don’t put it into practice. The practice is difficult, but must be done.
First and most difficult is deciding what new skills you want to develop for a new job or a new business. Once you’ve selected an objective finding someone to train you should be easy. You’ll have to pay. Tech schools, on-line schools, post-graduate programs at colleges all cost money. If you go into business for yourself part of the cost of getting in will be training.
A personal attitude of life long learning will keep you working, because you are always bringing something new to the game. It’s much more demanding than sitting in front of the TV or a bowling league, but if you don’t get that attitude you will become obsolete.
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