3 expressions that explain the importance of continuous learning

Rinke Huisman

If you want to continue to improve and innovate as a company, it’s important that learning is a routine activity for the employees. Instead of running through periodic development cycles, in which you set learning goals and have a half-yearly conversation with your supervisor, learning should be a consistent factor in the minds of all organisation members. Beside the desire to keep on developing, more perspectives can be named that are of great influence on the continuous learning ability of an organisation. We’ll explain this in the light of three well-known expressions down below.

Standing still is going backwards

We’re only on one-fifth of the 21st century and it’s already known for its unpredictability and changeability. Developments succeed each other in a high tempo and the Netherlands is clearly in the race considering achievements, ambition and innovation. That became clear as well during the peak of the corona crisis.

Standing still while trying to keep up with the changeable society and the competition is the worst one can do. Who doesn’t move along with the developments, with supply and demand, looses the game eventually. It’s crucial for an organisation to remain agile. Agile in policy, in management and having an agile personnel. You can make the agility ‘common’ by incorporating it in the methods of the organisation as a continuous process. Please note, there’s an important difference between continuous achieving and continuous learning. When we take it too far and aim for the highest attainable, on a more than average level, we’ll end up with depressions and we won’t be able to deal with setbacks, according to research

Professor Yuval Noah Harrari states in the book ’21 lessons for the 21st century’ that change is the only constant in this century, and to be successful we need the following:

  • Being able to deal with changes; 
  • Being able to live with uncertainty;
  • Being able to learn, also when you passed 50;
  • Having mental and emotional stability;
  • Rediscovering yourself (a carpenter retraining to become a programmer for example);
  • And last but not least: truly knowing yourself.

These characteristics must be emphasised in an organisation and they all have a direct link to the concept of continuous learning. What stands out in this list, is that all characteristics are focused on the individual. Obtaining self-reliance and responsibility are conditions to contribute something to your environment. This is rather logical, the health of the employees mirrors the health of the organisation. This brings us to the next expression.

If you give it attention, it will grow

This is an ancient wisdom of Aristoteles. It’s important you focus on the right things. By simply working hard you won’t come much further. Psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter is concerned about the sick leave for years and says the following: “I think that the burn-out mostly concerns the lack of attention, not working too much hours.” Successful organisations have eye (and attention) for the talents of employees and are continuously looking for ways to stimulate these. Only making flight hours and practicing for the sake of practicing isn’t sufficient. You need a strong purposefulness, set by yourself or your supervisor. Practicing with attention is the only way to obtain new knowledge, skills and to develop talents. Here also the self-knowledge returns in all layers of the organisation. What do I need to excel at my work? What does our organisation need to grow further?  

You’re as strong as your weakest link

In the book ‘Force of habit’ by Charles Dhigg, a story is written about a stale factory in Alcoa in America in 1987. In this factory a new director, Paul O’Neil, was appointed. He was expected to let the profits rise sky high. During his first speech on the shareholders meeting he set a completely different goal, which wasn’t received that well by his shareholders. O’Neil wanted to focus on the incidents on the work floor. His goal: zero deaths. Some shareholders sold their shares immediately, others remained suspicious and waiting, but gave it a chance. The news of the new goal spread quickly to the work floor of the factory, where it lead to a lot of appreciation and motivation. All employees were invited to think along, to do suggestions and adjustments. The work processes that followed quickly led to more efficiency and less accidents. In the end, it was a move of a lifetime from O’Neil, and the shares increased with more than the double. 

 

Organisations that aim at such a learning culture as Alcoa in the 90s, work more efficient and create involved personnel. The weakest link remains, but only on a higher level. 

Do you want to know more about continuous learning and how you can manage it? We wrote this blog on creating a learning organisation a while ago.