“You’re now running a software business,” my chief technology officer exclaimed. My immediate reaction was, “I always thought I am running a learning business and software was to enable it.” He continued, “You will be a constraint if you don’t learn tech, the conversations with you will always take more time.”
“Ouch…” and yet a realization set in, “I do need to learn tech, understand it and communicate effectively with the tech team.”
I am not a tech person. My 13-year-old son installed an app to protect my phone. I resisted changing my Macbook for 5 years for fear of starting my emails and programs from scratch. Can I learn tech effectively?
I have been in situations where I need to learn new skills. I am sure you have as well. Yet the speed required in our learning has intensified. Do you believe you can learn skills that are very different from your training or experience? Can you believe we can teach old dogs new tricks?
Well…with the emphasis on upskilling and reskilling, we actually don’t have a choice. World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced while 97 million new jobs may emerge as work is done differently by humans, machines and algorithms.
In my interviews with 25 career switchers, there is good data that people can learn new and different skills when they have the motivation, mindset and process to learn. Some examples here - a musician who self-developed as a coder. A sales director who went to law school in his 40s and is now a legal counsel. A tax auditor operating by black and white rules became an executive coach delving in the grey complexity of human thought and emotion. These people are polymaths – someone who excels in a diverse range of areas.
To learn new skills effectively, here are some questions you need to answer:
What - What exactly do you need to learn?
Deloitte’s research shows that 42% of their survey respondents do not know what skills they need to develop. Specify what exact skills and knowledge you need and how they will help you at work.
Start by talking to experts or someone more skilled to create a map of what you need to learn. In my situation, I spoke to my CTO to scope out the specific knowledge I need, e.g., to know the architecture, data structure, front and backend, the scope, boundaries of what change requests and the language to communicate effectively with tech people. This map will change continuously as you discover new areas in the course of work or through reading or Googling.
Why - What is the compelling reason that will lead you to spend weekends on it?
Learning takes effort, time and strategy. Knowing what drives you sets your GPS towards a destination. You can begin by marking your overarching career goals, and then map it to how that meets your sense of curiosity and strengths.
By knowing how learning this skill develops your career or how it will help you grow, you create the motivation to get through the traffic lights and jams along your learning journey. These might be frustrating, but at least you know you're getting closer than you were yesterday.
How - What is your strategy for learning new skills?
Learning is so much more than merely attending a workshop or consuming online content. Learning involves enablers - where can you look to for a learning community, and are there experts who can walk with you along the way? Learning involves experience - how can you find opportunities to apply your learning, and how can you receive constructive feedback? Learning involves reflection - what are some tools and ways of thinking that can help you milk your experience for an even deeper learning?
Adaptable learners map their learning journey to take stock of where they are, and to continuously steer themselves towards their end goal of mastering the new skill.
Ask yourself - what do you want to learn, why is it important and how will you learn. So as our world gallops towards a technological marketplace, we can deepen our mastery of digital skills and our capacity as human beings at the same time. Over time, we too become polymaths.