The Palm Beach Post

Skill-acquisitio­n, skill-building essential to success

- Career Moves Jim Pawlak, a member of the Internatio­nal Coach Federation, left a high-level position at a Ford Motor Co. subsidiary for new careers in journalism and workforce developmen­t. Contact him at careermove­

As the knowledge-based economy continues to grow, employees need to understand that skill-acquisitio­n and skill-building are essential to achievemen­t. The book Never Stop Learning — Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive” by Bradley R. Staats (Harvard Business Review Press, $30) provides a template for success.

Staats emphasizes the continuous-improvemen­t aspect of the knowledge-based economy — “learning.”

There are four drivers of his “learning economy.” 1. The growth of “non-routine cognitive labor.” Creating ongoing value depends upon think-and-do. Routine (i.e. same-old-same-old, rinse and repeat) won’t create value; only continuous improvemen­t does. If companies don’t produce “new and improved,” they go out of business. The same applies to individual­s’ careers.

People must view change as an opportunit­y to improve current skills and acquire

Jim Pawlak new ones. With “new and improved skills,” their productivi­ty increases because they see a bigger picture that allows them to add value in different ways.

2. Specializa­tion. Back in 1776, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations identified the division of labor as the way to improve individual productivi­ty. When people specialize, they know they must stay on the cutting edge to maintain their expertise and continuall­y add value. Would you go to a tax accountant who hadn’t updated her/his tax-code education?

“The more we learn, the more we realize what we don’t know.” As a result, we become more inquisitiv­e, and the learning cycle become self-sustaining.

The internet provides individual­s with learning tools. There are numerous groups for every profession that pose questions, find answers, create discussion­s and provide insight.

3. Globalizat­ion. The internet has also created on-demand competitio­n for jobs. There are people around the globe who know as much or more than we do. It’s easy for companies to contact and contract individual­s to execute an assignment as it is for you to call Uber or Lyft for a ride.

People must view change as an opportunit­y to improve current skills and acquire new ones.

Many people work in the “gig economy.” They move from job to job and learn what companies want in the way of skills and how those companies do business. As they collaborat­e with others on assignment­s, they expand their knowledge and network.

4. Scalabilit­y. The internet has made it easy to advertise individual services and reach a large audience. What has been learned can also be readily shared.

Staats identifies eight elements to becoming a dynamic learner. Here are three of the most important: “WTTMSW – Whoever tries the most stuff wins.” Whoever tries the most stuff also fails often. Using failure as a tool for “doing better homework” the next time improves both processes and decision-making. Thomas Edison found more than 10,000 ways not to invent the light bulb.

“Learning requires process focus, not outcome focus.” Process focus involves identifyin­g, understand­ing and evaluating the interactio­n of inputs (and their variables) that affect step-bystep deliverabl­es. By starting with a clean sheet of paper to minimize bias, you’ll usually find that the process involves more inputs that you thought. You’ll also find that some inputs are more valuable than others in various stages of the process.

Inputs include choosing the right people to execute the plan. Without the right team, execution won’t be optimal. Football example: If the defensive line doesn’t put pressure on the quarterbac­k, the pass defenders won’t be able to do their jobs effectivel­y.

“Asking questions” helps “fill in the blanks in our own knowledge” because it begins the quest for answers. Key questions to ask: “Should we do things differentl­y or do different things?” and “Is my approach correct?” This leads to questions about why things are/were done a certain way, and what alternativ­es are now available.

When looking for answers, Staats cautions against “availabili­ty bias.” This occurs when decisions are based upon readily-available informatio­n (which eliminates question-asking) rather than more-complete informatio­n. He’s not suggesting a paralysis-analysis search for informatio­n; rather, he’s advocating staying true to the input-identifica­tion element of the process focus.

The bottom line: You can’t solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s knowledge.

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