We live in a world of uncertainty. Machines are becoming more and more autonomous. Data and algorithms have become vital in our choices. Computers and code continue to transform our lives.
Many of us worry about the risks of the digitized, connected, and automated future.
But we also live in a world where learning new things and acquiring new skills has never been easier.
“So, what should we do now to get ready for the uncertain tech-driven world of tomorrow?”
I often get asked this question when discussing the “future of work” (it happened again several times last week). My simple answer is to remain positive and concentrate on the process of self-learning.
Here are my practical suggestions for making self-learning fun, productive and effective. They helped me find new work opportunities, set up new collaborations and led me into speaking arrangements all over the world.
Being curious is an essential ingredient of successful self-learning. Personal growth stories often mention the importance of an “open mind.” Reference is made to the habits of the “smartest,” “busiest,” and most “successful” people in the world. Their curiosity drives them to consume and digest information continually.
I also spend at least one hour per day digesting new content.
But I quickly learned that being curious and simply absorbing more information isn’t enough.
Many people I talk to have a similar experience. They are curious and spend a lot of time reading, watching presentations or listening to podcasts. But many of them feel that something is missing. They don’t feel prepared for the future at all. Or, even worse, the new information directly feeds their anxieties about the future.
Something more is needed to make the self-learning process more effective.
The following decisions have worked for me.
Build a Team
One of the most interesting lessons I learned over the last couple of years is that it is almost impossible to engage in “self-learning” alone.
It sounds counterintuitive, but self-learning is so much more effective and productive when you are part of a community, work in a team, or collaborate with other “self-learners.” By having a dialogue and becoming each other’s mentors, the self-learning process goes faster and is so much more fun.
Inspiring other people and learning from them is priceless.
With current communication technologies, interacting and experimenting with other co-learners is relatively easy. For instance, I have a weekly Skype meeting with one of my friends and colleagues from Japan. We exchange idea, curate information, and educate each other. Self-learning becomes very useful when you (have to) explain in your own words what you have learned that week. Also, and perhaps even more importantly, it makes self-learning fun and engaging.
My wife, who is an entrepreneur and has her own business, is also part of the team. She reads a lot and shares tons of information about tech trends and developments. And there are other people (colleagues, entrepreneurs, mathematicians), I discuss the future of work with regularly.
Another necessary ingredient of my self-learning process is “writing.” It forces me to become creative with what I have learned.
I understand that this recommendation sounds easier than it is. I have recommended many of my colleagues and friends to start writing, blogging, vlogging, tweeting, making infographics, but they often stop when their output doesn’t generate sufficient views, reads, claps, likes.
Of course, recognition is important and works as a motivator. But what I realized is that being famous/popular isn’t the essential part of self-learning.
It’s the process.
It’s the process of being creative that adds value to self-learning. At least, this is my experience. When I started to write every week (it’s true that you have to be consistent), the self-learning process accelerated. I am almost fifty and have never learned so fast in my life.
Make the Time
One of the reactions I often get when I explain my self-learning process to others is where do you find the time.
It’s true that the self-learning process takes me at least ten hours per week. Now I could, of course, give you the simple answer and tell you that it’s all about being disciplined. You must find the time for “self-learning” (even if you are extremely busy).
But this answer is not very satisfying. It’s a difficult question (and it shows the importance of loving the self-learning process). Most of us will find time for the things we love.
But, one thing to get you going is to include self-learning as part of your work.
The company I work for and the organizations I advise have a massive interest in understanding the technological uncertainties of the new world. They know that the challenges of today are the opportunities of tomorrow. But to seize the possibilities, their employees need to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge. Self-learning with colleagues proves to be a handy start in this respect.
Think Different about Technology
One of the most significant “problems” the people that approached me struggled with was the exponential growth of technology.
They realize that the rise of new technology cannot be stopped and will continue to have an enormous impact on every aspect of how we live, work, and play.
But after reading articles and books, watching masterclasses, and listening to explanations about various digital technologies (artificial intelligence, blockchain, smart contracts), they often feel lost and even more confused. It has also happened to me. Even the 101-presentations sometimes appear to be complicated or raise tons of other questions.
What helped me was to stop looking at new technologies as just “technical concepts.” The self-learning process went much faster after I started to see the strategic, cultural, and organizational significance of the new technologies. All of a sudden, the “technologies” came alive. The theories and fundamentals behind the technologies became much clearer. It also helped me realize that the “digital threat” is real and learning how to self-learn has become crucial.
How to Start Now?
(1) Continue to consume information.
(2) Find the social media that fits you best for your creative output.
(3) Don’t get distracted by “likes,” etc. Remember it isn’t a beauty contest. It’s about the life-long learning process.
(4) Be consistent.
(5) Find one or more partners.
Be curious, creative, and never stop learning.