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Article Title:
The Ultimate Survival Skill for the Information Age

Article Description:
We're living in incredibly turbulent times. The well spring 
of this uncertainty lies in one of the characteristics of 
the newly-arrived Information Age.

Additional Article Information:
1876 Words; formatted to 65 Characters per Line
Distribution Date and Time: Tue Apr 11 11:01:12 EDT 2006

Written By:     Dave Kahle
Copyright:      2006
Contact Email:  mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED]

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The Ultimate Survival Skill for the Information Age
Copyright Ā© 2006 Dave Kahle
The DaCo Corporation

We're living in incredibly turbulent times.

The well spring of this uncertainty lies in one of the 
characteristics of the newly-arrived Information Age. Business 
people are being buffeted by an increasingly rapid rate of 
change. Consider this. In 1900, the total amount of knowledge 
available to mankind was doubling about every 500 years. In 
1990, it was doubling about every two years.

Imagine the implications of that kind of increase in the rate 
of change! It means new products, new regulations, new market 
configurations, new customers, and new technology in almost every 
industry. It's no wonder that we're confused and uncertain about 
what to do.

And the growth of that knowledge continues at an expanding rate. 
One futurist predicts that today's high school students will have 
to absorb more information in their senior year alone than their 
grandparents did in their entire lifetime. And Nesbitt is on 
record as predicting that in the year 2020, the rate of knowledge 
will double every 35 days!

That incredibly rapid pace of new knowledge is driving the forces 
of change at an unprecedented rate. And that rate of change is 
continuing to accelerate. The effect of that snowballing rate of 
change on our businesses and our jobs can be cataclysmic. It's 
almost as if a malevolent spirit were stalking our economy, 
rendering all the wisdom of the past useless, and casting a spell 
of confusion and uncertainty over the land.

The indications are that this rapid state of change will not be 
a temporary phenomena we all must live through. Rather, it will 
be the permanent condition we must accept for the foreseeable 
future. Rapid change is not a phase we're passing through, it's 
a process we're entering into.

That means it is likely that the conclusions, paradigms and core 
beliefs upon which we based our decisions just two or three years 
ago are likely to be obsolete today. Even more sobering, the 
conclusions and strategies which we develop today will be 
obsolete in a couple of years. We can count on this continuing 
obsolescence of our best ideas and strategies to be the constant 
state of affairs.

One of my clients recently told his employees, "The only thing 
you can count on is that you won't be doing this job in three 
years." His point was that the job will change in that period of 
time to such a degree that it'll be a different job. The 
technology used will likely change, as will the customers, the 
systems and the focus of the job.

The insightful person will accept that rapid change is now a 
defining characteristic of our economy, and plan to deal with it 
effectively on an on-going basis. Instead of thinking we should 
just persevere until it's behind us, we should prepare for rapid 
change to be a way of life.

What's the best way to go forward in the light of this rapid 
change? What mind sets can we adopt that will equip us to survive 
and prosper in turbulent times? What skills do we need to survive 
and prosper in the information age?

I believe there is one core skill which will define the most 
successful individuals. It's the ability and propensity to engage 
in self-directed learning. The only sustainable effective 
response to a rapidly changing world is cultivating the ability 
to positively transform ourselves and our organizations. And 
that's the definition of self-directed learning.

In the face of a world that is different one week to the next, 
our most powerful positive response is to cultivate the ability 
to learn. By "learning," I don't mean just the acquisition of new 
information, although that is a necessary prerequisite. Rather, I 
mean the kind of "learning" that requires one to change behavior 
on the basis of an ever changing understanding of the world. 
Learning without behavior change is impotent.

The individuals who become disciplined, systematic self-directed 
learners will be the success stories of the information age. 
Likewise, those organizations that become learning organizations 
will have the best chance of surviving and prospering.

Read what other have said about it:

"...the key thing as we go forward is the ability to learn. You 
can not arrest the pace of development in the marketplace, in 
the world, socially and technologically. It is coming at an 
increasing rate. You've got to be able to learn and adapt..." 

Because of the forces surging through our economy, it's safe to 
say that tomorrow will be significantly different from today. It 
will be more complex and somehow significantly changed. And that 
will be true of all the tomorrows in the foreseeable future.

The most skilled employees, therefore, will be the ones who can 
continually access the changing facts and growing complexity of 
their jobs, and then change appropriately.

That's "self-directed learning."

"We understand that the only competitive advantage the company 
of the future will have is its managersĀ“ ability to learn faster 
than their competitors." Arie P. DeGeus.

In a world that is rapidly changing, today's hot new product is 
tomorrow's obsolete dinosaur. More important than any one product 
is the ability to continually create new products. Today's 
strongest employee could very well be tomorrow's employment 
problem. More important than any one employee is the ability to 
find and maintain employees who are constantly growing. Today's 
closest customers could be out of business tomorrow. More 
important than any one customer is the ability to attract and 
retain customers.

All of these are applications of the ultimate competitive 
advantage -- the ability to learn faster than your competitors.

"In fact, I would argue that the rate at which individuals and 
organizations learn may become the only sustainable competitive 
advantage." Ray Stata.

As the economy becomes more and more global, competition will 
increase. Few businesses will enjoy a secure market position. The 
quality of competition will also improve as competitors strive to 
out do one another in providing customer service and value added 
products and services. In this new economy, those who survive and 
prosper will be those who know how to learn, and who do so faster 
and more systematically than their competitors.

And those organizations that become learning organizations will 
be those who fill themselves with people who regularly engage in 
self-directed learning.

How, then, do you instill this "self-directed learning" in your 

Here are three tactics to begin the process.

1.   Wipe the Slate Clean.

Imagine that you have written the history of your company or your 
career on a blackboard. You have every decision, every strategy, 
every success and every failure noted in detail. The sum of this 
experience provides the rationale for why and how you do 
everything that you now do.

Now, take a wet towel, and wipe the board clean. Erase the past. 
As you do so, you eliminate the unspoken acceptance of the way 
things are, and replace it with the new understanding that things 
may not be the way they should be. Just because something is, 
doesn't mean it should be. The reason you started doing something 
may no longer exist. Remember, with a world turning over more or 
less completely every two to three years, any decision or 
procedure which had its roots in a situation that three or more 
years old may not be justified today.

This little exercise provides a mental image for a change in 
thinking that needs to take place if you're going to become a 
learning organization. You must begin to think about things that 
you do, not on the basis of the past (three or more years ago), 
but rather on the basis of the present and the future.

It's a way of eliminating one of the biggest barriers to learning 
and changing. That barrier is the mental obstacles that we put in 
our own way. Here's an example. One of my clients was frustrated 
with his continuing inability to motivate his sales force. He 
spent much of his mental energy and financial resources 
attempting to get his force of largely independent agents to 
spend more time with his product. Yet he never thought about 
going to market in ways other than through his traditional 
methods. When we broke down that barrier of relying on the past 
and wiped the slate clean, we discovered a marketing method which 
holds tremendous potential for his business. However, it took a 
change in thinking, a thought process that wasn't tied to his 
past in order to look at the situation on the basis of the 
present and the future rather than the past.

That principle can be applied in every area of your business, 
from something so fundamental and important as your method of 
reaching your customers, to something as mundane as the way you 
answer the phone, or fill out a receiving document.

2.   Give Learning a Strategic Emphasis.

Build in the need to become a learning organization in the most 
fundamental building blocks of your business.

Write it into your mission statement. Get the board to pass 
a resolution advocating it. Display your commitment to it 
predominantly in your personnel manual.

Talk about it at your employee meetings. Make it an agenda item 
in your executive meetings. Articulate it as an initiative in 
your strategic planning sessions. And, begin to model learning 
behavior yourself.

3.   Make self-directed learning a part of everyone's job 

Begin to create learning expectations for yourself and all your 
employees. Talk about their need to learn and grow. Include it 
as an item on every job description.

Then encourage, develop and support learning opportunities 
throughout your organization. Here's some things other 
organizations have done:

ONE:   Require every employee to attend a certain number of 
outside seminars per year.

TWO:   Create "Learning Groups" within your company. These are 
temporary groups of people who come together for a short period 
of time to learn from and with one another. One of my clients, 
for example, has a weekly manager's lunch where everyone brown 
bags lunch and discusses one chapter of Steven Covey's book, 
Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. The principle of short 
term, small group meetings conducted around the free-flowing 
discussion of some body of content, can be used throughout your 
organization. We organize and train sales people and sales 
mangers to enter into this process, for example. People on the 
shop floor, service technicians, customer service reps, etc. 
can all enter into short term learning groups. Since they are 
temporary, the configuration of the groups constantly change, 
thus exposing everyone to diverse perspectives. The groups can be 
homogeneous (people from the same department or job title) or 
heterogeneous (people from different departments and job titles). 
The important thing is that your employees are expected to engage 
in self-directed learning, and you're encouraging and 
facilitation that process.

THREE:   Reward the effective application of learning. In other 
words, when someone finds an effective way to change things, 
reward them. One of my clients holds a monthly employee meeting, 
where the employee who has made the biggest positive change in 
the way things are done is rewarded with $150.00 cash bonus.

Begin to implement these strategies and you'll take the first 
steps to transforming your organization into a learning 
organization. You'll begin the process of mastering the ultimate 
skill for the information age.

About Dave Kahle, The Growth Coach(r):
Dave Kahle is a consultant and trainer who helps his clients 
increase their sales and improve their sales productivity. 
His latest book for sales managers is Transforming Your 
Sales Force for the 21st Century ( ).  You can also 
sign up for his sales ezine called "Thinking About Sales" at . You can reach 
Dave personally at 800-331-1287 or by emailing him at 



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