#KeepLearning – No big deal, right?

As an HR professional in the tech industry, it is part of my role to share with employees, leaders and customers how we at SAP are preparing for the future and how the workplace might be shaped over the coming decade. Most companies have realized that we are living through a fundamental transformation, where automation, artificial intelligence and ‘thinking machines’ are the new reality.

Life-long learning

When I speak to different audiences, I always highlight that employees need to focus on their ability to continuously adapt, acquire new knowledge and skills, and to embrace the life-long learning mindset.

What have I learned lately?

Recently, after one of those talks, a young colleague asked me what new skill I had recently learned and how I would describe my own learning journey. I doubt that this person was aware what a profound reaction her question had triggered in me.

Time to go back to basics

In that moment it dawned on me: I need to learn a new skill – as a kind of self-experiment. I immediately decided to learn something that I had never done before. What activity or skill would make me want to invest a portion of my valuable family time – as time is worth its weight in gold.

For years, I’ve dreamed of playing steel drums. I had this image of myself playing the theme song out of The Little Mermaid, but I never had the desire to go through the learning process to get there. After my experience as a child of taking many years of piano lessons with only mediocre success, I knew it would not be easy.

Nevertheless, my goal was set! Before I knew it I got two pre-owned steel drums on ebay. So, there I was – now I had to tackle this new bulky instrument. No more excuses!

There’s no fast track here

The first few days, I read every article there was and I watched every tutorial posted on YouTube, until I realized that I kept putting off my first lesson. Why? Because it felt uncomfortable to be a complete beginner. I had hoped that reading might help me skip a few levels and fast track. But, I had to start with practicing the basics. After slowly learning the technique and starting with playing scales, I was able to see progress.

After the second lesson, I was ecstatic while playing a bumpy version of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’. With more practice, and a lot of endurance, I started improving every day. It was fun to give a little ‘concert’ in front of my family. It will still be a long time before I reach my ultimate goal: being able to play ‘Under the Sea’.

Interestingly, during my self-experiment, I have learned many essential things about learning and acquiring a new skill.

You have to want to learn and need time

Firstly, nobody can just make you to acquire a new skill. You have to have a strong, intrinsic desire to learn. Otherwise, you will never develop the drive and passion to invest the required time and energy.

Companies need to offer employees the opportunity to find the time for learning. Ideally, they must make learning easy by offering the right infrastructure and environment.

You have to be passionate and enjoy the content

Secondly, there needs to be a strong interest in the subject. Otherwise it will be very hard to stay focused, bring up the endurance and persistency to go through all the frustrating beginner stages.

The content must be interesting and presented in an engaging and appealing way – ideally ‘YouTube’ style. Appealing and engaging methodologies using different types of multi-media is key. In today’s world with a variety of learning solutions this should not be a problem. However, it is an investment that pays off and is scalable. 

You have to practice and need space

Thirdly, you have to practice. If there is no tolerance at the workplace to help beginners and learners practice every phase of their newly reached skill level, they will lose interest.

Companies need to create a ‘practice ground’ where learners come together and practice together. This can be physical or virtual. Ideally this is done in a gamification kind of way to spark extra practice due to competition.

You need support

Lastly, there needs to be encouragement, coaching and support during the different learning stages. Progress is not always obvious. It is much easier to give up than keep going when things get hard. A supportive team that cheers you on can make all the difference.

When we look at today’s business world, it often sounds like employees need to learn everything on their own. The role supporting colleagues and managers can play is underestimated. An online coach or virtual support group can make a difference.

I know, of course, that I will never become a gifted steel pannist. However, since I started this little self-experiment, I have changed my perspective and view about the future of work and the importance of learning agility. I have developed true empathy for learners and know that it is easier said than done. Companies can help create the perfect learning environment with the help of technology, encouragement and empathy.

When was the last time you tackled a new skill?

 #KeepLearning ,#hrpunks, #lifeatSAP , #momentsthatmatter, #learningexperience, #learningtechnology, #successfactors