March 1, 2023

Propelling Your Career: The Significance of Continuous Learning in Today’s World

Shailja Sharma

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Intentionally expanding your skill-sets and knowledge for professional, personal, and organizational improvement has become a necessity in our competitive world. As mankind continues to advance the frontiers of knowledge, tackles new challenges, and adapts to change, continuous learning has become a prerequisite for success and long-term survival.

Business leaders are arming themselves with the latest skills and upgrading their knowledge on a continuous basis to remain at the top of their game. Organizations are tapping into their intellectual capital in order to remain competitive. Some of the greatest minds of our generation claim to read a book a day and attend seminars and workshops to polish their already legendary skills. Vast reservoirs of knowledge are expanding daily.

In a fast-paced and continuously evolving world, there really is no room at the top for people who can only draw from the knowledge they gained from degrees completed decades ago. The winds of change are constantly blowing. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic left the shreds of many strategic plans floating in its wake. Indeed, the best laid plans often go awry. But, one thing is certain, the ability to adapt is critical. The alternative is to become extinct. Just look at all the businesses that were buried during the pandemic.

In this ever-shifting business landscape, can you really afford to be complacent and not try to ‘up your game’? Will your company remain relevant in its industry? Will you remain relevant in your organization? Industry best practices and trends are constantly evolving in our fast-paced world. Can you really foster a culture that promotes cutting-edge innovation without continuous learning?

You might argue that one can learn from experience. But those that spout the philosophy that ‘life is the greatest teacher,’ whilst refusing to engage in any form of structured continuous learning are doing themselves a disservice. Yes, experience is a great teacher and we can learn from our mistakes. After all, failure is a stepping stone to success. But what if you can learn from the failures and successes of others? What if you can gain knowledge that will fast-track your success rather than plodding along your own path waiting for life to teach you lessons and hoping to finally succeed one day?

To ‘up your game’, invest in your success and the success of your employees. A learning workforce is a stronger workforce. Start by identifying skills gaps. The business environment is constantly demanding new skill-sets. For example, look at the impact of climate change and digital disruption. Leaders that understand how to re-engineer their work processes to become eco-friendly and reduce their organization’s carbon footprint are in demand. As artificial intelligence and other technologies come into vogue, technologically savvy employees have a greater edge when it comes to new opportunities.

When you assess your own personal skills gap and your organization’s skills gaps, think about skills sets that will be needed in the future as well. Start preparing for the future now. If you really want to build a competitive edge, keep your eye on the horizon. Understand how society and technology are evolving. Recognize nascent mega-trends before they become mainstream and exploit them.

Another point to consider is that, as your career progresses, the weight of responsibility you will have to bear will increase. Where are you on the leadership ladder? Every rung of that ladder comes with unique challenges. A new manager will be navigating delegation and performance management issues for the first time. A middle manager will be trying to manage all their stakeholders in the ranks below and above them as well as their peers, as effectively as possible. A senior manager will be tackling larger organizational challenges and trying to break down silos. A CEO will be crafting and communicating a compelling vision for the company. Each leadership stage requires new knowledge and skills. There are courses that can help you excel on every rung of the ladder. In fact, they can help you climb the ladder faster, build a lasting legacy, and inspire others to do the same.

Perhaps you have decided that you are more academically inclined, and you wish to pursue higher education so that you can conduct research, or develop the minds of the younger generation? There is no reason to stop learning and pursuing your career progression. As you grow and develop yourself, your progression will have a ripple effect on others. They will also grow and develop because of you.

You can also choose to be stagnant and stunt your growth. However, if you never try to develop your potential, there will be a time in the future when you will be forced to ponder what might have been. Les Brown said, “the graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

As you strive to become the best version of yourself, remember that the goalpost will continually shift. This is because you are constantly learning and developing. There will always be higher and better versions of yourself to aspire to become. That is the journey of life. Step out with courage and faith and make your dreams come true. Continuous learning will help you to make those dreams a reality. The greatest asset an organization can have is the intellectual capital it has built. If you are in a position of authority, use your influence for good, open doors and unlock opportunities for others to continue their journeys to becoming the best versions of themselves.

Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach

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