Become a Hyper-Learner and Adapt to the Speed of Change

How can we stay relevant in the Digital Age?

In the midst of technological developments ranging from advanced AI and machine learning to robotics, it may feel like we will soon lose the battle to stay relevant. Professor Ed Hess asserts that the answer is to become a hyper-learner.

Not only do I think he is right, but I believe that the most successful people in every generation are hyper-learners. Those who continually cultivate a spirit of curiosity find that they have more opportunities. It’s the heart of personal development.

In fact, those of you who regularly read this site will find that you distinguish yourself because of your love of learning. It sets you a part. It’s easy to scan an article, but it’s equally easy not to.

I was fascinated by Ed Hess’ approach to the topic and his book Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change is a must-read for aspiring leaders. Edward D. Hess is a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. He has written thirteen books and been featured in hundreds of global media outlets. I welcomed the opportunity to talk about his research.



What is hyper-learning and why is it critical?

Hyper-Learning is continual learning, unlearning and relearning. By hyper, I do not mean the modern connotation of being excitable, manic, nervous or fidgety. I use the term to reference the original Greek meaning of “over” or “above.” Hyper-Learning is learning that is over and above what is typical. It is an overabundance of continual high-quality learning.

Being a Hyper-Learner is how we stay relevant in the workplace. It is how we will have meaningful work in the Digital Age. The Digital Age is going to fundamentally change how we work and who works. The continuing advance of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, virtual and augmented reality, quantum computing, and big data will lead to new knowledge creation at a much faster pace, and it will result in significantly more automation – tens of millions of jobs in this decade. Automation will occur in all types of jobs, including professional jobs — law, accounting, management, consulting, medical, and so on. To stay relevant in the workplace, we must continuously update what we know in order to keep pace with change and to learn new skills as technology continues to get smarter and smarter. We will have to continuously update our mental models of how the world works just like we update the software on our computers and phones. Change will be the new constant and we have to be able to adapt and that means excelling at Hyper-Learning. Hyper-Learning is how we stay ahead of the smart machines.



What does a “hyper-learner” look like at work or in a meeting?

Hyper-Learning is cognitive, emotional and behavioral. One can identify a Hyper-Learner by her or his behaviors and by how they think, how they listen, how the emotionally connect and relate to people, and how they collaborate. They behave in ways that evidences: curiosity, open-mindedness, having a quiet ego, being mindful (being really present), empathy, the courage to try, resilience, and a positive caring demeanor. They are reflective people. They are not auto-reactive. Hyper-Learners embrace uncertainty and ambiguity; they seek to “make-meaning” with others; to listen to understand not to confirm; and they are not emotionally defensive when their views are challenged.  Hyper-Learners accept the science that clearly shows that we all are suboptimal learners and they engage in daily practices designed to become a better learner.

Hyper-Learners frequently ask questions like: “Why? What if? and Why Not?. They seek to be additive: “Yes, and” as opposed to “Yes, but.” They use checklists to think critically and innovatively. They use phrases like “my hypothesis is” leaving themselves open to change if better data is available. They do not generally interrupt people. They ask questions to make sure they understand the other person before advocating or telling.  They do not identify with what they know but rather they focus on improving the quality of their thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. They are emotionally intelligent, authentic, transparent, trustworthy, and they embrace “otherness” as opposed to being very competitive with a “survival of the fittest” mentality.



Why is it difficult to become a “hyper-learner”? What blocks us?

We all have two main obstacles to becoming hyper-learners. First, our wiring. The science of adult learning clearly shows that our brains and minds are geared to be fast efficient thinkers. We naturally seek to: confirm what we know or believe; affirm or defend our egos; to interpret what is going on in the world in ways that it makes sense with the stories we already believe about how the world works.  We operate much of the time on autopilot. We are creatures of habit, and as for our thinking, psychologist and Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, says in his 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow; ‘Laziness is built deep into our nature.’

Also, we all struggle to manage the two big inhibitors of learning: our ego and our fears. Our ego can get in the way of learning because it can lead to: close-mindedness, arrogance, defining oneself by what one knows, poor listening skills, and ineffective collaboration. Fear hinders learning when people are fearful of making mistakes, fearful of being wrong, fearful that they will look bad or not be liked, or fearful that they will offend someone by asking hard questions. So, our “wiring,” and our ego and our fears are usually the three big problems (“The Big 3”).

This book uses the best science to provide the reader with a practical behavioural and practices roadmap of how to overcome “The Big 3” enabling one to become a Hyper-Learner.



What are some of the best ways to cultivate inner peace?

Inner Peace is achieved by having a Quiet Ego; a Quiet Mind; a Quiet Body; and a Positive Emotional State.

Inner Peace is the foundation that helps one overcome “The Big 3.” Inner Peace is a process of taking control -ownership – of YOU – how you think, how you manage your emotions, how you behave, how you influence your body chemistry and how you overcome your ingrained reflexive responses.

The best ways to begin that process is to adopt some proven practices that you use every day to train yourself to become better at achieving those states of being.

The first thing is you have to do is buy-in to the science that clearly says we all are suboptimal learners. And then you have to create your “WHY”:  create your personal reasons – your motivations as to why you want to do the daily work needed to make yourself a better learner. Many people want to increase the probability that they will have continuous meaningful work in the Digital Age. Their motivation is the fear of having no work or meaningless work. Other people want to become the best person they can become and understand that achieving human excellence in the workplace is no different than achieving excellence as an athlete or a warrior. It takes deliberate practice every day.

The foundational beginning daily practices are generally: Mindfulness Meditation; Body Scan Meditation; Deep Breathing Exercises; Gratitude Practices; Visualization; and creating and affirming your Daily Intentions (how you want to behave today). If you are new to these practices you should start out meditating 2-3 minutes every morning and doing 5 minutes of deep breathing and do deep breathing several times a day when you feel your body or mind racing.  Each night review your day and how you behaved as compared to your Daily Intentions – how you wanted to behave. Start small. Get in the habit of daily practice. You will progress to where you will spend 20-30 minutes meditating every day and 30 minutes reflecting on how you want to behave and how you did behave.

Secondly, in Chapter 2 of the book focus on the NewSmart Mindset which is designed to help you change how you identify yourself as a learner. This helps you reduce your self-centered ego hijacking your ability to learn.

Then, take the Hyper-Learning Behavioral Diagnostic in Chapter 3 of the Hyper-Learning book and follow the instructions carefully to illuminate the sub-behaviors that you need to improve. Pick one or two behaviors to improve and create your Improvement Plan using the Template in the book and start working on improving that behavior.

Then, embrace the tools in the book to manage your emotions. How to generate positive emotions and how to manage negative emotions.  It is all about you taking ownership of your thoughts, your mind, your ego and your emotions so you can manage yourself by making good choices as to how to behave. It sounds like a lot. That is why you start small and you buy in to the reality that self-improvement never ends. I have been on this Journey for decades adding new practices as I learn and progress. Does it work? YES! I call it being on The Journey to Your Best Self. I invite you to join that journey.



There are many reflection times built into the book, and yet many people will say that they don’t have the time. What have you learned about the power of reflection?

My cognitive psychology mentor taught me years ago that all learning comes from either deep reflection or having conversations with others. Deep reflection occurs when you have learning conversations with yourself. Reflection is how we “make-meaning”; it is how we create our stories about how the world works and how we want to be in that world. Reflection time is necessary to learn and for self-improvement. One has to invest the time – to make the time to take ownership of your ego, your mind, your body and your emotions or you will likely be a human robot without a job.

If you do not have time, I suggest you have the time, but you do not have a compelling “WHY.” Why should you make this a priority? That goes back to one of the earlier questions. Without you having a compelling “WHY,” you won’t be motivated to do this work. You have a choice. Choose wisely.


Early in your book, I love the “change how you define yourself” section. Talk a little about why a NewSmart identity can increase your peace.

One of the big obstacles to becoming a Hyper-Learner is our ego. Many of us have defined ourselves in part as “I am smart” and to succeed, I need to be the smartest person in the room. That probably started in elementary school when we learned that being smart was determined by the grades the teacher gave us. The smart people got the highest grades and they got they highest grades because they made the fewest mistakes.

So fast forward to the work world.  Many people as they age become heavily invested ego wise in “knowing.” That can lead to close-mindedness, arrogance, poor listening skills, and viewing collaboration as a competition. All of that gets in the way of being a Hyper-Learner. So maybe we need a new way to define ourselves.

That is the purpose of NewSmart which has five principles. The #1 Principle is: “I’m defined not by what I know or how much I know, but by the quality of my thinking, listening, relating and collaborating”.  Think about what that could do for you. It could make you less defensive when people disagree with you. It could make you more open-minded. It could require you to become a reflective listener. It could help you embrace the reality that the magnitude of your ignorance so far outweighs the magnitude of what you think you know. All of which helps you approach learning better. NewSmart helps you quiet your ego.


What are some of the hyper-learning practices that will help us continue on the journey?

In addition to the practices talked about in the earlier questions, the book is a “how-to” book – a “learn by doing” book that has many templates, checklists  and processes that one can use to: be a better critical thinker; be a better innovative thinker; be an explorer able to go into the unknown and figure it out; be a Reflective Listener; positively emotionally connect with others; build trusting relationships; discover new insights; be a better collaborator; unpack and stress-test  your assumptions that underlie your beliefs, etc.


You share many personal stories of becoming a meditator, cultivating inner peace, and hyper-learning. How about the process of writing this book? How did that change you?

This book was a joy to write. The foundation was strong from a science viewpoint and from an experiential viewpoint because the concepts, practices and “making-meaning” approach had been honed over a seven-year period with students and consulting clients. I knew the content and approach worked. What was different was this: I had to figure out how to have “making-meaning” conversations with the readers – people I did not know and people I could not talk to or see. That was my big challenge. That was a writing challenge and a book design challenge. Thankfully I had a great partnership with my personal Editor and my Publisher which resulted in imbedding a “workbook” into a content book and the creation for readers of a free PDF “My Hyper-Learning Journal.”

So, how did I change? The process of writing this book required me to take my visualization and empathy skills to a much higher level because it required me to put myself totally in the shoes of the reader. For example, I had to take the reader through many questioning processes to help her or him “Make-Meaning” of the content. And I had to engage the reader in behaviorally operationalizing many concepts or words such as: “Caring”; “Trusting Relationships”; “Collective Flow”; “Psychological Safety”, etc. That required me to have make believe “Making-Meaning” conversations with the imagined reader. That daily process over months enhanced my connecting, relating and collaborating skills real-time and it has increased the quality of my self-reflection (the way I talk with myself) and it has taken my emergent thinking skills to a much higher level because I can access much faster today real inner stillness as compared to the time to get to that state before I wrote the book. The process of writing this book has enhanced the quality of my conversations and it has changed the words that I use – I am more vulnerable sharing more of my heart.

You do not want to miss Skip’s podcast, Aim Higher!


For more information, see Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change.

Photo Credit: Isabella and Louisa Fischer

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