At conferences and cocktail parties alike, it’s hard to escape discussions of the challenges associated with today’s fast changing business landscape:

  • Evolving technologies including greater automation, machine learning and AI.
  • Exponential access to information and the ever-shortening half-life of knowledge.
  • Shifting workplace demographics and the rise of the gig economy.
  • Accelerating customer expectations.
  • Innovation as a key strategic priority.
  • Uncertainty and volatility at every turn.

These dynamics have profound implications for organizations and their people. As a result, forward-thinking learning and development (L&D) professionals are considering how to address these dynamics and – more importantly – how to get out in front of them and future-proof their workforces in a variety of ways. Reskilling, upskilling, redeployment, mobility enablement and leadership development are all strategies for preparing employees for the uncertain future.

Given that the only constant is change and that the complexity and ambiguity we face today will likely persist, there’s one fundamental strategy that should be every organization’s and every individual’s priority: learnership.

Instilling learnership is about equipping the workforce with the skills to learn, adapt and apply evolving knowledge at the speed of change. It’s about cultivating the disciplines and cadence of continuous learning in preparation for a more productive and successful tomorrow.

In many ways, learnership feels like it should be a natural extension of all the years we spent in school – but the sensibilities required for workplace success now and in the future are profoundly different. Rather than driven by the externally imposed pressures and direction that focused us as young students, learnership is internally motivated. It’s structured not by a teacher’s or anyone else’s curriculum but by the individual’s unique interests and appetites. In many ways, learnership is about unlearning old ways of thinking about learning and cultivating a more organic and self-driven relationship with the continued acquisition of knowledge, wisdom, experience and growth.

And the way to do that is by cultivating four key qualities: curiosity, attention, experimentation and reflection. The nexus of these qualities is where learnership lives and thrives.

Curiosity creates the space that welcomes learning, and inquisitiveness leads to looking at the world through the lens of “Why?” and “What if?”. Whether applied to organizational strategy, work processes or customer needs, a curious spirit mines the mundane for learning.

You can help others cultivate curiosity by:

  • Removing the barriers to asking questions at work.
  • Celebrating rather than shunning those who ask challenging questions.
  • Encouraging others to explore what really interests them.

Attention is all about presence and focus. When people elevate their awareness of the world around them, they’ll seize opportunities to learn. In this way, attention becomes an intention to grow.

You can help others cultivate attention by:

  • Encouraging others to evaluate and eliminate distractions.
  • Allowing people to unplug and step away from day-to-day work.
  • Supporting practices like meditation and exercise.

Experimentation is a fundamental way of interacting with the world that recognizes the power of taking risks. Stepping into the unknown introduces the possibility for failure but also for powerful learning. And bouncing back from missteps builds resilience that fuels continuous learning.

You can help others cultivate experimentation by:

  • Communicating smart failures throughout the organization.
  • Rewarding rather the punishing mistakes when people learn from them.
  • Offering support to those who are willing to step outside their comfort zones.

Reflection refers to our quickly disappearing willingness to engage in simply thinking. After all, who’s got time to think anymore, right? It’s only through disciplined reflection that insights are captured, experiences are understood and learning happens.

You can help others cultivate reflection by:

  • Creating pauses that build thinking time into learning experiences.
  • Asking questions that promote deeper consideration.
  • Prompting others to extract learning from even the most routine tasks.

Helping others cultivate curiosity, attention, experimentation and reflection supports the development of learnership – and enables organizations to thrive in today’s changing business landscape.

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