How to Stay Ahead When the Shelf Life of Skills Is Limited


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As a society at the forefront of science, we’ve learned how to make a loaf of bread last weeks instead of days. We learn to make physical necessities last longer, but the shelf life of our professional needs, like skills and knowledge, has diminished. While it’s debatable whether food that never molds is a good thing, there’s no denying the positive results that come from the ability to stay ahead of the curve and ensure your technical knowledge doesn’t expire.

Learning a Living

The rate of change in business and technology has gone through the roof. The radio took 38 years to acquire 50 million users. It took TV 13 years to reach the same number, the Internet four years, and less than one year for “Angry Birds” to do so.

The skills required for your workforce to remain productive and efficient are changing exponentially as well, with every slight alteration in environment, technology, and the economy having an impact.

The best way to approach this ever-changing world is to “learn a living.” You can no longer reserve time away from your daily work to learn. The concept of stepping away from routine responsibilities for the sake of education is disappearing. Instead, you have to learn continuously while you work.

As the lines between work and learning continue to blur, these three strategies can help you learn a living.

1. Micro-breaks

Taking small breaks before performing a task can make the task more effective. For example, use 10 minutes prior to a meeting to research the topics or skills required to ensure better performance. You can implement these during the workday to make activities more efficient, rather than taking large chunks of time away from productivity.

2. Micro-learning

Leverage micro-learning assets to your advantage. Use summarized and/or well-curated content from sources like getAbstract, TED, and The Economist, rather than taking a full course on a topic. This is a great way to understand enough to move forward.

3. Consulting experts

Experts have the most up-to-date information you can find, hands down. They know what’s new in a field before it’s published and easily accessible to the masses. They often engage their social communities, so find people you can contact when you need more information. This is a prime example of how knowing an avenue through which you can access answers is more important than actually knowing the answers yourself.

Getting Employees to Learn Their Livings

It’s not hard to implement these strategies on a personal level, but you need to successfully transmit the ideas and actions that help you “learn a living” to your employees. Most people don’t have time in their schedules to attend classes to advance their learning, but they do have the time to take micro-breaks to read and learn.

General Electric (GE) is a great example of a company with a long history of innovation through learning, and the company encourages its employees to stay up-to-date with the latest information they can apply to their daily work. GE offers a wide variety of on-demand learning resources to empower employees with external thinking that fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing.

If you want to follow this example and successfully transition into more employee education, here are some tips to follow:

• Link your learning assets to your company purpose, long-term business objectives, and short-term needs. Strike a balance between “push” and “pull,” or between prescribing what to learn and allowing people to seek out what they need.

• Ensure your learning assets can be leveraged from anywhere on any device, during any break or work activity.

• Create and leverage micro-breaks for employees. Plan for 50-minute meetings (instead of 60) to allow for learning time. Find five times each day to fit in these 10-minute windows.

• Provide micro-learning assets to employees. You may choose to enhance these micro-breaks by curating short, relevant reading assets for employees.

• Select tools that allow for easy electronic sharing of best practices on multiple levels: one-on-one, one-to-many, or even many-to-many. Knock down the boundaries of your office walls.

• Foster a culture of collaboration through coaching and mentorship within the company. Create a list or ” a virtual place” where employees can connect with experts within their network, and remember to offer your expertise as well.

Whatever methods you choose, you need to learn a living in order to stay ahead, both personally and as a company. If you refuse to blur the lines between education and work, you might end up a moldy piece of bread in the corporate graveyard.

Michel Koopman
Michel Koopman is the CEO of getAbstract Inc. getAbstract's mission is to find, expertly compress, and provide universal access to critical business knowledge in a format that learners can absorb quickly and easily. This allows customers to stay current and competitive and to become leaders who can make better decisions. Today, their solutions include a library of more than 9,000 business book summaries, in text and audio format, which more than 10 million subscribers use, including 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies.


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