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WorkingTheFuture

Our future of work blog 

10/10/2018, 09:31



EMBRACING-LIFELONG-LEARNING-AND-THE-STORY-OF-BOOBY-CAT


 



Two summers back, before heading off on holiday, my daughter and I were on a last-minute dash around Tesco, picking up some groceries. En route, Erin snuck a learn-to-knit magazine into our basket, proudly announcing her intent to learn to knit. Not wishing to discourage, I took a deep breath (how much do these magazines cost?) and said magazine was acquired. 

As soon as we were settled in France, she unpacked the kit that came with the magazine and set about knitting a toy cat. Imagine my dismay when within the hour she came to me, needles in hand - she was stuck, and could I help? 

At the time, I’d recently read Mindset by Carol Dweck. Its core premise, backed up by research, is that how you approach learning significantly impacts both your ability to learn and your ability to succeed in life.  

Because of the book, I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t knit, in spite of the sinking feeling I got when I looked at the instructions. I wanted to be able to model the growth mindset Dweck says is so important to lifelong learning and development, and so the challenge to knit a cat was on. 

Bluntly, it was painful. My ’knitting’ was full of dropped stitches, unpicking and starting again; I made so many mistakes. But the kids were eagerly watching my progress and so I persisted. Bit by bit, the constituent pieces of Booby Cat amassed. 

While the project was far more an effort to role-model a learning mindset than anything else, I can’t describe my sense of accomplishment when I finished. Booby Cat (so named because the final product was so hotchpotch, it would only ever win a booby prize), was, for me, a major achievement - I’d taken something I had no experience of and given it my best shot. While the results might not look aesthetically impressive, the ’feelgood’ that came from completing something complicated is hard to understate. 

I tell you this story because I think it’s relevant to the subject of lifelong learning. 

The future of work narrative is accompanied by a sub-narrative highlighting the need for mass re-skilling. As automation transforms the workplace, we humans will need to radically adapt and learn new skills so as to remain relevant. The pace of change before us is unprecedented, with many suggesting that life in the future will render us all perpetual newbies.  

Collins Dictionary describes lifelong learning as: 

"The provision or use of both formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed for employment and personal fulfilment." 

I don’t consider lifelong learning necessarily as a set of ’learning opportunities’, rather than as an attitude towards learning that incorporates a growth mindset. This means having the belief that through commitment and focus, abilities can be developed and enhanced. 

Most of us have been on an uninspiring workplace training course. Most of us too can remember the boredom of school. Those who actually enjoy learning are probably in the minority; there’s something about the way learning has traditionally been delivered that sucks the joy out of it. 

And yet lifelong learning is about to become the new normal.  

But here’s the thing. We all have the potential to dig in and persevere, even when new stuff seems super complicated.  Learning obviously becomes much easier when we have an underlying interest, and whilst certain learning objectives in our emerging and future workplaces might be borne of necessity rather than desire, if we can assume a growth mindset, workplace learning will become much easier in the long run. 

One of the best ways to learn is by getting things wrong. We retain far more detail about our mistakes; remaining mindful of our errors helps us avoid making the same mistakes later on.  If I’d knitted Booby Cat without having to unravel and restart bits that had gone wrong, I wouldn’t have learnt half as much.  And in effect, my most significant learning takeaway was that I can get to where I want to be with a bit of determination. 

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed explores how learning from failure can yield transformative results. 70% of learning comes from trying things out and we should acknowledge that aiming for "right first time" is both unrealistic and exhausting.    

Knowing that our work lives are about to become increasingly disrupted can feel acutely stressful. When we re-frame this however and embrace the notion that ’perpetual newbie’ brings with it a cascade of opportunity to learn new things and do things differently, then, in fact, the future of work can be seen as a transition away from the routine and mundane towards a new world of growth and personal development. 

Mindset will be all important in the future of work. Our ability to accept instability and continuous change and to embrace learning will determine our success. If I can do it with Booby Cat, then so can anyone! 

References: 
1.     Dweck, C. (2006).  Mindset - How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, New York: Random House 
2.     Syed, M. (2015). Black Box Thinking - Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance. London: John Murray (Publishers)
13/09/2018, 15:45



FROM-STRATEGY-TO-CULTURE:-THE-FUTURE-OF-WORKPLACE-LEARNING-AND-DEVELOPMENT


 Lifelong learning is the new normal. It’s no longer enough to think that your career is safe based on past credentials or delivery. We should all now be consistently scanning the horizon to see what new tools and techniques...



In 1996, I was sent to London to attend a two-day recruitment training course. I can’t tell you a thing about what I learned, but I can tell you I was in London the night that England was knocked out of the semi-finals of Euro ’96.

Back then, to be sent on training of any kind, certainly in my industry, was a novelty, and I remember feeling ahead of the game in so many ways. If only I could remember what that course was about.

Learning and Development (L&D) has become big business since then. A report published in 2017 estimated that there are over 4,000 training providers in the UK alone, and so the size of the professional L&D sector isn’t to be under-estimated. With the arrival of (almost) ubiquitous high-speed broadband, digital or e-learning has exploded, making it far easier for organisations to provide training to employees.

A key challenge for organisational L&D however is the way in which it is currently approached and delivered. With so many changes already impacting our workplaces, and so many more on the horizon, the requirement for continuous workplace L&D is only set to amplify, and for us, we sense an imperative need to shift L&D from strategy to culture.

What do I mean by this? Up until now, workplace L&D has largely been business-led. Where learning needs are identified (and it should be noted that this is far from the norm; at the CIPD Show 2018, the CIPD’s Andy Lancaster referenced survey results reporting that 66% of employees felt they’d gone two of more years without any training), it is usually the business that sources a suitable training product to try and fill the skills gap. 

The future of work, however, will be full of complex challenges that will fundamentally alter the way we work and what most of us deliver to the workplace. As technology becomes ubiquitous and embedded into both our consumer and work lives, we will increasingly recognise the value that digital brings to the work that we do, and how it impacts our customers.

Moving at breakneck speed, the applications used to deliver the best commercial results will be subject to continuous evolution and upgrade. As Kevin Kelly so succinctly wrote in his 2016 book, The Inevitable:

"Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or your experience."

This has significant impact on workplace L&D. As no business exists without customers, customer experience becomes mission-critical, with a core focus on finding innovative ways to build loyalty and commitment. Innovation requires baked-in continuous improvement, to ensure that product and service offerings remain consistently relevant.
 
What does this mean for business?
In order for business to survive these tough new commercial landscapes, L&D must become fully embedded into corporate culture; simply ’the way we do things round here’. Continuous L&D is the flip side of innovation, and only organisations that continue to remain relevant to users or customers, through innovation cycles, will survive.

Incumbent L&D practitioners should, if not already, now be transitioning their approach towards that of digital curator, providing both the platform, and stimulating content, to encourage and enable workers to take charge of their own learning. Workplace learning is about to become highly customised and bespoke.

Successful learning will combine a blend of digital (’show me’), social (’let’s talk about this’) and experiential (’let’s try this out’), with coach-facilitators on-hand to encourage the process and resolve any blockages.

What does this mean for individuals?
Lifelong learning is the new normal. It’s no longer enough to think that your career is safe based on past credentials or delivery. We should all now be consistently scanning the horizon to see what new tools and techniques we can embrace to remain relevant and add value to our work environments.

Fortunately, the range of low-cost/no-cost resources is growing. Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide an amazing variety of free learning opportunities, and the explosion of the Internet has seen a vast array of ’how to’ blogs and videos.

In parallel, peer and experiential learning aren’t to be underestimated; in fact, evidence suggests that learning through your friendship or professional network, or ’on-the-job’ learning are two of the most effective methods of learning. As long as business provides an environment of psychological safety, the sky is the limit to try out new things.

When business adjusts mindset from L&D strategy to L&D culture, workers automatically gain a sense of autonomy in their work lives, which in turn builds engagement and loyalty. Returning to the survey results mentioned by Andy Lancaster in April at the CIPD L&D show, 84% of respondents said they would feel more loyal to an employer if they were offered training opportunities more regularly. Gallup also recently revealed research results highlighting that the most talented workers will move on if they feel they’re not being exposed to the maximum amount of development opportunity. This may be particularly the case among younger cohorts.

Once business revises its approach to workplace learning enough to encourage learning beyond the workplace, our guess is that it will benefit from enhanced loyalty AND a freshness of perspective that truly accelerates innovation, evolution and commercial resilience.

References:
Kelly, K. (2016) - The Inevitable:  Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York: Penguin Random House
07/08/2018, 20:18



LET’S-JUST-SLOW-IT-DOWN,-FOLKS:-OR,-THE-MINDFUL-ART-OF-FOCUS...


 On a weekly basis, the information we analyse about the future of work feels mind-boggling. Sometimes it feels like “trying to drink from a fire hydrant”, as a former client of mine would say. The complexity of change facing our...



On a weekly basis, the information we analyse about the future of work feels mind-boggling. Sometimes it feels like "trying to drink from a fire hydrant", as a former client of mine would say. The complexity of change facing our workplaces is such that I find that, as I try to make sense of it, I need to take regular breaks to allow my brain to process what I’ve learned.

This is a massive issue for business leaders as they start trying to get to grips with, and respond to, the future of work. Making sense of so many complicated, concurrent and interconnected issues, that sit on the horizon, while trying to address the operational challenges of right now, is very often too much; it’s simply easier to focus attention on today than it is to take time to consider the future.

Yet make sense of them we must, otherwise we risk sleep-walking into a future that we didn’t plan for and that we didn’t want.

Taking time out from day-to-day business is increasingly important, both for optimal mental health and also so that we can positively approach complex commercial problems and create commercially relevant future products and services.

Let’s re-think time out
Noise and disruption are now so commonplace that it can be hard to discern what time out actually is. Our mobile devices are continuously flashing and beeping, alerting us to another update, message, or call to action.

In this ’always-on’ world, we need to be clear about the kind of time out that will best benefit the human brain, and feed our creativity and our ability to think critically and solve complex problems.

Good time out is most definitely NOT having a spare half hour to catch up on social media/news/favourite websites. Those will always lead you down rabbit holes, with their endless clickbait. I don’t know anyone who is focused enough to be able to look at or read what they want to read and log off. Time out is also NOT about sitting down with the latest box-set, iPlayer catch-up or Netflix.

Good time-out is a complete disconnect from anything that can disrupt our free flow of thought.

Left alone with your thoughts? Scary, right? We appear to be living in an age where we’re increasingly afraid of our own subconscious and what unpredictable thoughts lie within. Hence our societal addiction to ’busy-ness’.

Solitude and problem-solving
But in truth, being able to sit alone in the presence of our own thoughts, and being able to show an awareness of them, lies at the heart of effective mindfulness and meditation, and if we can allow ourselves to sit in the solitude of our own thinking, amazing thoughts start to emerge. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people report that their best ideas appear when out running, when swimming, or taking part in another activity that allows us to get into "flow"

In his book Focus, acclaimed psychologist Daniel Goleman explores the neuroscience of concentration and attention. He talks about "a mind adrift" and says:

"A mind adrift lets our creative juices flow. While our minds wander, we become better at anything that depends on a flash of insight, from coming up with imaginative wordplay to inventions and original thinking."

He goes on to say:

"Among other positive functions of mind wandering are generating scenarios for the future, self-reflection, navigating a complex social world, incubation of creative ideas, flexibility in focus, pondering what we’re learning, organising our memories, just mulling life - and giving our circuitry for more intensive focusing a refreshing break." 

So day-dreaming has its benefits, and we shouldn’t feel bad about taking time out to just sit and ponder.

recent MIT SMR article reported that business leaders increasingly struggle to take time out to think about the critical issues facing their organisations. This is bad. If our leaders aren’t able to think critically, then we’re really in trouble.

Taking deliberate time out to think must, as a matter of urgency, become embedded into our commercial DNA if we are to survive and thrive in the future of work. Daniel Goleman talks about our brains having two "largely separate mental systems". He talks about the "bottom-up mind", our involuntary and automatic, emotive brain, and our "top-down mind", which is voluntary and effortful.  Whether we are day-dreaming and allowing our "bottom-up mind" to aimlessly meander and suddenly stumble upon a hitherto unsurfaced insight, or whether we are using our "top-down mind" to consciously focus on our complex challenges, both types of thinking require the space and tranquillity for ideas to flourish.

As we relax into the summer break to take much-needed time out, let’s be mindful of what needs to be in place situationally to foster deeper thinking.

Without doubt, positive and restorative time-out involves consciously stepping away from our always-on and hyper-connected world. We need to acknowledge, and step away from what social health expert Julia Hobsbawm refers to as ’infobesity’. Digital detox comes into its own.

So my challenge to you, this August, is to take time each day, even just 15 minutes, to switch off, head outside and enjoy the beauty of the world around you. You’ll be amazed by the ideas that surface when you do.

References:
Goleman, D. (2013). Focus - The Hidden Driver of Excellence. London: Bloomsbury
Hobsbawm, J. (2017). Fully Connected - Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload. London: Bloomsbury


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