Edward Hess, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Administration, has a profound question for you: How will you – and your children and grandchildren – pursue a meaningful work life when smart technologies take over most of the jobs and skills humans currently do?
Staying relevant in the workplace will become more and more difficult. Some jobs are supposedly safe, others under threat, but none of us really know for sure.
He urges you to commit to hyper-learning: Continual learning, unlearning and relearning.
“I believe we can continue to have meaningful work in the digital age only if we can add value by doing the tasks that technology can’t do well,” he writes in his book Hyper-Learning.
Before you rush to meet the challenge, however, you must slow down. He argues to be successful at hyper-learning requires inner peace: Quiet and stillness, being fully present in the moment with an open and non-judgmental mind. Serenity, humility, openness, reflective listening, and, more generally, reflection are key elements.
He says you will also have to redefine what smart means. Our old-school understanding of smart traces back to days in school: Knowing more than others and making fewer mistakes. But smart technology has you beat on those two factors. It knows more and makes fewer mistakes than people. So we have to respond by thinking in ways computers can’t, notably exploration, discovery, imagination, creativity and morals.
That means displaying the five principles of what he calls NewSmart:
- I’m defined not by what I know or how much I know but by the quality of my thinking, listening, relating and collaborating.
- My mental models are not reality – they are only my generalized stories of how my world works.
- I’m not my ideas, and I must decouple my beliefs (not my values) from my ego.
- I must be open-minded and treat my beliefs (not values) as hypotheses to be constantly tested and subject to modifications by better data.
- My mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn.
You may be silently nodding as your read those. Or they may seem, at first glance, abstract – eyes-glaze-over material. But he argues they are essential to success these days, opening up the pathways of hyper-learning. He urges you to consider what those principles mean. Which ones encourage open-mindedness? Which dampen down ego? Which makes it easier to have a thoughtful debate? Which make you a better learner?
At the core, the principles are aimed to prevent you from not personally identifying with or having your ego and self-worth all wrapped up in what you think you know. If you do that, it’s difficult to update your thinking and be a hyper-learner. He shares the six deadly P’s that can derail you, from William Turner and Delane Chappell’s book The Learning of Love: Pride, prejudice, position, popularity, possessions, and power. Guard against those.
Hyper-learning, he stresses, is behavioural. Good intentions are not enough.
He advises studying the following list of behaviours that hyper-learners exhibit: Curiosity, exploration, and imagination; embraces uncertainty and ambiguity; open-mindedness; challenges the status quo; humility and a quiet ego; emotional and social intelligence; mindfulness and being fully present; stress-tests one’s thinking; empathy; effectively collaborate; courage and candour; uses data-driven decision-making; resilience; reflectively listens; manages self; trustworthiness and integrity.
Add your own factors to the list and then pick out seven that are key, digging into them to identify the observable actions that would show you are following these behaviours. To change your patterns, you need to measure yourself and hold yourself accountable.
Hyper-learning sounds like you sit down with a hyper-library or a pile of YouTube videos and imbibe. But it’s bigger than that – less precise and more wide-ranging. It’s about constantly upgrading rather than relying on knowledge from past schooling or experiences that is decaying.
- To increase the chances of your e-mails being read, use ellipses instead of a full stop in your subject line. Harvard Business Review senior editor Vasundhara Sawhney says the ellipses leave the reader feeling there’s more to be learned in the e-mail and they will open it.
- Career-advice author Ryan Luke recommends using this line in your cover letters for jobs: “If I am offered this position, I will be ready to hit the ground running.”
- Be selectively ignorant, advises author James Clear. Ignore topics that drain your energy. Unfollow people that drain your energy and abandon projects that drain your time.
- Over the next week, consultant Art Petty suggests in his newsletter you keep a tally of the number of times you use questions when you are tempted to make a statement. Your questions to comments ratio is a key indicator of success.
- When someone says no, the most important thing – odd as it may seem – is to give them positive feedback, consultant Krister Ungerbock writes in his book 22 Talk Shifts. A sample response: “Thank you for being honest. It takes courage to say no, and I respect that.”
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