#Lifelonglearning – How to get the best out of it


Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, recently said that in order to be successful we need to transform from ‘know-it-all’s’ to ‘learn-it-all’s’. And that is true for us individually, as well as the companies we are creating and leading.

While I am a ‘Learning Professional’, – meaning that I get paid to learn (and teach and design learning interventions), it is becoming clear to most of us that the half-life of our knowledge is getting shorter and shorter.

So here are my top tips of how to engage in this new sport called ‘life-long learning’:

  1. Stay curious and ask beautiful questions
    2. Develop a Growth Mindset
    3. Realise that learning can look very different
    4. Find your tribe
    5. Ensure that tribe is diverse

1. Stay curious and ask beautiful questions

While it might seem that your employees and investors are only after answers from you, there is no substitute for a powerful question to open up the imagination. It is not just critical to learning, but also to innovation and success more broadly.

If you would like to measure how well you are doing with this, try this simple experiment during one of your next meetings:

Make a dash every time you answer a question or make a statement on one side of your paper. On the other side of your paper, mark every question you are asking. At the end of your meeting, compare your two lists to establish your question – statement ratio.

Alternatively put one of these ‘beautiful questions’ in front of your team:

  • How can we become the company that would put us out of business?
  • In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • Who uses our product in ways we never expected?
  • What one word do we want to own in the minds of our customers, employees, and partners?
  • How differently would we approach this problem, if we had no money to spend on it / 5 million to spend on it?
  • And pretty much any question starting with “What if . . . “.

If you are interested to learn more, check out Warren Berger’s book ‘A more beautiful question’. In there he describes how businesses like airbnb, Google, Nike and Netflix are fuelled by the ability to ask fundamental, game-changing questions.

2. Develop a Growth Mindset

One of the ways Nadella has pushed Microsoft to become a more learning-focussed organisation was by introducing Carol Dweck’s research on the ‘Growth Mindset’. Put simply, Dweck found through her 30 years of study, that individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset, who believe their talents are innate gifts.

Different mindsets tend to show up in different situations. I for example believe, that I am quite creative, but I freeze up when it comes to mental arithmetic. However, the more I would practice math in my head and put in the ‘hard work, good strategies and input from others’, – the better I would eventually get. Sounds obvious, – but it is surprising how often we label ourselves as ‘good at’ / ‘bad at’ and how that influences how we perceive challenges, receive feedback and how much effort we are willing to put in.

3. Realise that learning can look very different

If your idea of ‘learning’ dates back to your school days and having to sit in a stuffy room with 28 other pupils, think again. The incredible variety of sources available to us today from online universities, to YouTube videos, blog posts, local networks and clubs is incredible. Almost overwhelming, some would say.

So mix it up. Find out your preferred learning style (for example by taking this quiz), and see if you are more of a Reflector, Activist, Pragmatist or Theorist and what that means for how you prefer to take in new information.

4. Find your tribe

While some of us might prefer to take in new information in the solitude of our own 4 walls, most research suggests that we need others to be successful at learning over time. The average completion rate for Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS) hovers between 5-15% and one of the main reasons for that is that we feel alone in our endeavour to learn and make sense of what we have learned. There is no opportunity for collective sensemaking, no drum-beat or incentive to keep us going and no discussion to help us understand how we can use what we have learned in practice.

So try to be kind to yourself and find others, who are looking to learn the same thing. Build a support network to discuss concepts and cheer each other along in the process of learning.

5. Ensure that tribe is diverse

And the more diverse that tribe you have chosen is, the more diverse your insights will become. We can all learn from each other, whether that is during your Friday night at the pub (once we are allowed out again) or attending a ballroom dancing class, because your partner asked you to come along. Questions to your friends, parents, spouses and colleagues about how they see the world and what problems they are currently solving, can be a source of insight. The more you are able to think laterally and connect these new insights to old problems, – the more innovative you can be.

So stay open, connect with others, find new hobbies and ask beautiful questions in order to stay fresh, creative and plugged into life.

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Marieluise Maiwald is Head of Learning Development of Estonian cybersecurity-as-a-service provider Cyttraction and a faculty member at Headspring by Financial Times and Duke Corporate Education. With her extensive background in designing and delivering learning programs for 15 years, Marieluise knows best what buttons to push to make informational content fun and memorable.