How to keep up on the latest intel in your field
If you fail to learn, you risk becoming irrelevant, writes ‘Never Stop Learning’ author Bradley Staats. Here’s how you can stop solving yesterday’s problems—and be the first to tackle tomorrow's.
You’re great at what you currently do—and your resume shows it. You have a degree, maybe a certification or two, and some years of experience under your belt. You know all there is to know to not only get a job, but also to be successful in your career…right?
That’s what Bradley Staats—with his Harvard MBA and investment banking job at Goldman Sachs—used to think. Then, he realized he couldn't remember the last time he actually learned something new.
As Staats notes in his new book, Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive, knowledge in every field now changes so fast, and becomes outdated so quickly, that survival depends on keeping up.
The trouble, though, is that most people would rather not take the time to learn, probably because they aren’t very good at it. “Instead of doing things that will help us learn, we often do just the opposite,” says Staats, who is now an operations professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “But if we can understand why we go down the wrong path, we can change that.”
Monster recently spoke with Staats about the habits that get in the way of taking on new information—and how to fix them.
Q. You make the point that the first step in learning is to ask the right questions before rushing ahead to an answer. Why is that so hard to do?
A. There are several reasons, but one of the big ones is simply not realizing we need to ask questions. The pace of change has accelerated so much that often, without realizing it, we assume we understand things that may have changed when we weren’t looking. So, we think we know more than we really do.
Another thing that stops us is simple busy-ness. Everybody’s to-do list is so long that there’s a real temptation to just press on, rather than take the time to double-check.
Q. Research in Never Stop Learning shows how pausing to reflect boosts performance. How can even the busiest of people carve out time to just think?
A. Reflection is critical for learning, partly because it helps us really understand new information and converts tacit knowledge into something we can act on. But it’s often difficult, especially in open-plan offices where people feel pressure to “look busy.”
Personally, what I do is schedule short blocks of thinking time on my calendar, just like any other appointment, and then try not to let anything else interfere with that.
Q. We often miss chances to learn, or to apply new ideas, due to fear of failure. How do you overcome that?
A. No question, fear of failure keeps us from moving forward, but it’s a tough one because, while many companies pay lip service to risk-taking as a crucial part of innovation, clearly there are usually still consequences if you take a risk that doesn’t work out.
One solution is to have conversations with other people in the organization to discuss why you think your idea would work and what happens if it doesn’t. Don’t go it alone.
Q. Speaking of co-workers, why do we often learn more from working with the same people over time, rather than with new ones?
A. The ideal learning situation is really to do some of both, if you possibly can. Different people naturally bring different skills and knowledge to the table, which is why diverse teams can be so valuable.
But, at the same time, working with the same people over time has an interesting benefit, which is that you get to know and trust each other. That creates a situation where you’re open to learning from them, and it makes you more willing to ask questions that can lead to new insights.
Q. Why is focusing on our strengths more important for learning than trying to “fix” our weaknesses?
A. It seems surprising, I know, because trying to be good at everything is what so often determines what we choose to learn about. But the rapidly growing amount of knowledge that’s available now has led to more and more specialization. So what makes you stand out in the job market now is building a deep expertise in what you’re already good at, which is usually also something you love doing.
It makes sense because if you focus on what you really love, you’re going to want to learn everything you can about it—and that can make all the difference.
Stay up-to-date on your job search
Just as you want to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in your industry, you also want to stay on top of new jobs as they become available. Want some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you not only get job alerts emailed right to your inbox, which cuts down on the amount of time you’d spend combing through ads, but you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Let Monster keep you in-the-know, so you don’t miss out on any great opportunities.
Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is a columnist for Fortune.com and the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?