Never Stop Learning

never stop learning

Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive

 

Almost every conference I have attended in the last ten years has highlighted the rapid changes that we are experiencing in every aspect of society. Companies need to evaluate digital futures, new technologies, and global strategies. Individuals need to develop plans to keep developing their skills.

How do we best deal with this constant pace of change?

Brad Staats is an associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. His new book, Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive, provides the framework to help all of us become dynamic learners. He says that, “If we fail to learn, we risk becoming irrelevant.”

He also says that we aren’t so great at learning.

I recently spoke with him about his extensive research into learning.

 

“One of the most powerful ways we can learn from others is to ask, ‘What do you think?’ and be open to the answer.” -Bradley Staats

 

Learning is a Key Differentiator

Why is learning more important today than in past generations?

Learning has always been a key competitive differentiator. What has changed is that things are moving faster and increasingly we are in a winner take all (or at least most) environment. There are four factors I’d highlight that are driving these changes. The first is routinization. Through the use of technology (information and otherwise) we can knock out repeatable tasks. That means our attention can turn to new things where we can innovate. If one looks at job changes in the US over the last 30 years, the data reveals that routine jobs are flat and growth has only occurred in the non-routine settings.

jobs

The second driver is specialization. Knowledge around us is increasing, often exponentially. It is estimated a physician would need to read 29 hours a day to stay current on all the necessary knowledge. So we are forced to pick areas to dig in. The third driver is globalization. In the 1990’s, in particular, the global economy opened up as countries like India, Russia, Brazil and China flooded the global labor market with talented individuals. Success is no longer a local affair, it is a global one. Finally, we have digitization. We can capture knowledge digitally and share it around the world. All of these factors mean that great products and services can quickly capture markets and squeeze out others—so we have to learn if we are going to stay relevant. As Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has said, “Ultimately, the ‘learn-it-all’ will always do better than the ‘know-it-all.’”

 

“Whatever we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” -Otto Rank

 

Why are we so bad at learning?

How the Best Companies Stay Relevant

shift

How to Stay Relevant

The number one reason for organizational success or failure is the ability to stay relevant. Staying ahead of the continual marketplace changes may seem an impossible task. How do you continually evolve at a pace that keeps you ahead of the curve?

In SHIFT AHEAD: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World, authors Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel explore why some organizations can continually evolve to meet the times and the marketplace, and why others struggle to keep up. Allen is co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce and brings over thirty years of experience in building iconic brands. Joel is an expert on marketing research and branding. He is currently Vice Dean for Doctoral Education at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

I spoke with Allen about the book and their research.

 

“Focusing too much on the competition can lead to inappropriate shifts. It’s the customer that really counts.” -Adamson and Steckel

 

The Case of Blackberry

You share many examples and case studies about companies that just plain missed some key changes. Some ended up obsolete and others struggled for years. Would you share an example and what went wrong?

One of my favorite examples of “what went wrong” is the story of the rise and fall of Blackberry. For those who may not remember, Blackberry was once the indispensable mobile communication device of choice for heads of corporations, heads of state, and the Hollywood elite. It was an easy, secure and effective device that allowed workers to send and receive emails and phone calls while away from the office. The functionality of its tactile keyboard made typing easy, and it built its initial reputation on the concept of security. This was all before Apple and Android smartphones had taken hold.

The quick answer about why it fell so precipitously is that Blackberry’s inability to shift and move forward was caused by its own sense of invincibility, inward group-think, and general arrogance. With the rise of in popularity of iPhones and Androids, those at the helm saw only what they wanted to see. They considered these new devices not as significant competition, but as toys, a passing trend. They arrogantly laughed off the threat that was materializing in front of them instead of figuring out how to defend against it.  As we all know, not only were these smartphones built for ease of communication on multiple platforms, they were beautiful to look at. They became just too much to resist for even the most security-centric audience of users.

Too-little-too-late is what Blackberry eventually did in response, which was exactly what it shouldn’t have done. It began to chase the market with subpar versions of the competitors’ brilliant models, wrongly assuming that its core customers would follow with them. That did not happen. The producers of Blackberry should have doubled down on what made the product so vital to its initial loyal audience. It should have kept its focus on its point of relevant differentiation in the marketplace – security – and capitalized on it. No brand, product, or organization is invincible, especially when it dismisses the needs of its most loyal audience.

 

Shift Ahead

How to Stay Relevant and Ahead of the Competition

 

In any given day we receive thousands of messages.  Our inboxes explode with email.  Our social media accounts are never-ending streams of new information and updates from friends all over the world.

Staying relevant in the midst of all of it is an ongoing challenge.  Breaking through the noise and standing out whether personally or professionally is a constant challenge.

 

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” General Eric Shinseki

 

RelevanceAndrea Coville is the CEO of global public relations agency Brodeur Partners.  Paul B. Brown is a best-selling author and contributor to The New York Times.   Together they have written an excellent book called Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about the concept of relevance.

What do you mean by relevance and why is it so important?

Let us start with why it is so important. Worldwide, organizations spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually to get people to buy a product, embrace a brand, follow a candidate, or join a cause. And yet we can all agree that these marketing campaigns, ads, public relations initiatives, communication programs, and social media and change efforts are—to be kind—often less effective than they could be.

Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.

 

Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.

 

Okay, so what do we mean by relevance? We mean your offering is practical and especially is socially applicable.

We have found that most people misread the definition, putting almost all their emphasis on the practical.  That’s understandable.  It is certainly true that what you are offering must solve a customer need and do it well, but you need to do more.  And that is where the emotional part of relevance comes in.  If your product/service/idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to him in addition to being utilitarian, then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.

 

Avoiding Irrelevance

 

Let’s flip to the counter.  Irrelevance.  When you think about becoming irrelevant, it paints a whole different picture.  Would you share an example of a company becoming irrelevant?  What can be done about it?

Unfortunately, it is easy to come up with examples of companies that became irrelevant.  Think of a technology company that had THE hot product five years ago and now is a distant also-ran. Or think of entire industries—the makers of payphones and print encyclopedias spring to mind—that are no longer relevant.