Our future success requires leveraged learning

The stresses created by the pandemic, legacy problems, and accelerating change are creating a new environment where all of us will need to become lifetime learners to thrive. The complications created in this new world will also require a proactive learning approach where we lean into and learn through problems to create breakthrough solutions.

We face a pandemic, a sputtering economy, the aftermath of an intense election, social unrest, and a slew of structural problems ignored for decades like infrastructure issues and escalating health care costs. It’s a daunting list — especially when most of us are just trying to make it through this moment.

All of this turmoil creates incredible change. Technology adoption accelerated as work-at-home became a viable option. More older workers left the workforce as many decided to “hang it up” rather than learn new skills. We have 11 million workers still on the sidelines with diminishing recovery prospects. Oh yes, and the pandemic rages on — and will continue to rage — until vaccination builds our collective immunity.

These changes mean we will never return to our old definitions of normal because the pandemic revealed and magnified fundamental issues and divides facing Wisconsin. There is a wide divide between the urban and rural parts of our state, with unique challenges in each that must be addressed for all of us to thrive. Technology gaps separate the people and organizations that can and cannot compete in today’s markets. Uneven availability of broadband and other key technologies limits the potential of broad swaths of our state.

These issues are even more difficult to address in a system that doesn’t work for everyone. Statistics suggest that the fundamental American dream — the ability to go as far as your talent will take you — is on life support, while multiple heartbreaking episodes reveal the systemic racism alive in our state. Somewhere along the way we lost the feeling that we’re all in this together and replaced it with “You’re on your own — good luck!”

Changing our trajectory requires us to commit to continuous learning to become better citizens and build a stronger economy. Companies must learn new technologies and approaches to remain competitive in the world’s markets. Workers must learn new skills to increase their incomes and create more personal job security. The public sector must embrace new perspectives and support structures that keep us out-front of our competition. Change creates new learning demands for everyone.

These demands require new definitions, energy, and focus to thrive. For too long, learning meant knowledge sharing for most of us — someone learns something and then shares it down the pipeline with the rest of us. That’s outdated. You and I need new ways to engage to remain relevant. We need a learning process that helps us find practical solutions to complicated problems.

We will see an evolution of learning in the coming years. Most of our “learning” focuses on finding known solutions to known problems. That’s knowledge sharing, not true learning! Problems are coming at us faster — and becoming more complicated — making them impossible to solve reactively with knowledge sharing. Instead, we need to take a proactive stance to learn about emerging problems that will allow us to learn new solutions. Much bigger impacts come from proactive learning and anticipating future issues.

This new learning requires our organizations to transform their learning systems. Proactive learning around critical issues requires time and space. Leaders must demonstrate persistence to understand and unravel key insights and provide the resources necessary to follow them to the places they lead. Success requires flexible thinking and malleable opinions.

Success also requires individual commitment to continuous learning — commitment to persist in finding new information by sorting through more available data than at any other time in history. Learning also requires us to engage in difficult discussions, outside our usual bubbles, to discover new perspectives. Finally, there must be an individual commitment that we will allow new information to change our minds — a very tall task for most of us.

Our personal and collective success depends on our ability to act proactively on complicated issues. We must create the time and space necessary to learn new solutions to unprecedented problems. That requires persistence to look beyond the obvious and a willingness to change and adapt based on what we learn.

Are you ready to make that commitment?

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