The pace of change in the business world is accelerating as consumer behaviour evolves, new technologies come to the fore and competition grows fiercer.
As a result, recruiters and employers are looking for people who are fast learners and agile thinkers – chameleons who are proficient with technology and who relish change rather than fearing it.
Developing the ability to, in Alvin Toffler’s words, “learn, unlearn, and relearn” is one of the most important skills you will need as you embark on or advance your career. The ability to rapidly develop new behaviours and skills in response to new experiences, technologies and business requirements can give you an advantage when you’re applying for a job or promotion.
We can refer to this idea as ‘learning agility’ and it is all about showing an ability to be a quick study and having a passion for learning. This is all about being actively seeking out new experiences and challenges, welcoming feedback that improves your skills and knowledge, and developing an ability to recognise patterns in unfamiliar situations.
According to consulting firm, Korn/Ferry Lominger, there are five components to learning agility:
1. Mental agility, which is about applying out-of-the box thinking to complex problems;
2. People agility, which is about relating to and understanding people from different backgrounds or with different perspectives;
3. Change agility, being ready for the unknown and comfortable with change;
4. Results agility, which is about looking for new ways to succeed; and
5. Self-awareness, which is about understanding your own skills and behaviour, as well as your impact on the business and others.
The good news is that there are a number of actions you can take to improve your learning agility. Here are a few ideas:
Read and research outside your field
Many of the best ideas in business today come from multidisciplinary thinking – for example, great mobile apps are built with a deep understanding of human behaviour, aesthetic design principles and technology. As such, agile learners are comfortable reading outside their fields to get new ideas and perspectives.
Look at TED talks, seminars or courses that are outside your area of expertise. Adding a course in UX or project management to your CV might make you look even more interesting to future employers when you are applying for jobs as a developer.
Make time to experiment
Companies value and seek people who are looking to grow, learn and innovate. So build some time for experimenting into your work day. For example, spend an hour or two looking at a problem or challenge you face, and rethink all your assumptions as you try to come up with a solution.
Treat failure as a learning opportunity
Treat each failure – be it a bug in your software code you didn’t spot or a client deal you didn’t manage to win – as an opportunity to learn. In fact, you should even volunteer for tasks where there is a high possibility of failure because they involve using unproven tools or techniques. Embrace opportunities to fail and learn as stepping stones in your career.
Reflect on your behaviour and results
Look back at how you handled various challenges and opportunities in the past. What can you learn from the failures and successes? Are there any patterns that recur in the challenges you face today? Apart from anything else, these are favourite questions in job interviews, so reflecting on them might help you the next time you’re applying for a job.
In a time of seismic technological change and digital invention, smart people are using the smartest technology to reinvent and simplify business processes. This means that you need to be agile in your thinking and quick to learn to keep up. It’s an exciting time to be working people who embrace the need to learn and innovate.
Heidi Duvenage is the Head at Sage Talent Solutions.