Earlier in our careers, we often came across organisation leaders who believed that people didn’t need to learn anything new once they had graduated from college and that any subsequent training and development was a waste of time.
In their opinion, a career should be spent putting into practice what had already been learnt at school and university. Investing in development was pointless. Learning was for the young.
These ideas are now seen as typical of leadership’s Generation ‘D’ – the Dinosaurs. Mainstream thinking has moved on considerably. In the 1990s, Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, talked about the importance of developing a learning organisation as a primary source of competitive advantage – one that is open to new ideas, innovation and encouraging learning.
It’s an approach which has been embraced enthusiastically by many of the world’s top organisations. It implies encouraging a development ethos and ‘growth mindset’ throughout an organisation.
Formal training is a part of this. Those who take part in training courses are usually there because their organisation values them sufficiently to support their learning and invest in their development. So far, so good. But is it the whole story?
It’s a question we ask every year to the dozens of people we take through the ACI World ‘Airport Human Resources’ programme. We’ve run courses in locations as diverse as Bucharest, Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg and Kuala Lumpur. Participants say formal training broadens their perspective and gives them new skills. Yet when we talk deeply with them about how they actually learn, change and develop in practice, it turns out that training, while important, is just one part of a bigger picture.
Our participants report they learn through a wide variety of routes in addition to formal education and training. For example, work experience in different roles; involvement in projects; having to face up to unexpected change and crises at work and outside; dealing with personal challenges; voluntary work, sports, hobbies and pastimes; managing difficult family situations; watching films, TV, theatre; interacting on social media; observing others; and from reflecting and learning from experience and their own successes and mistakes.
This fits with current research on neuropsychology that shows how the brain has the ability to form new connections and pathways, and hence learn new things, throughout adulthood. There are always learning opportunities and we are never too old to learn. We just need to keep our brains exercised. How can we best do this?
- Have a ‘growth mindset’ – an attitude of ‘Yes, I can’ and ‘You’re never too old’
- Try new things. As we get older, we can become so worried about making mistakes and looking foolish that we restrict our opportunities to learn
- Make time for it. A few minutes each day reflecting on what went well and what might have been done differently is time well spent.
Organisations should invest in their people, and people should invest in themselves.