Everwise: Building a Learning Culture

Do you have a learning culture in your business? The Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) can help with building a learning culture your business. Below is a blog from Everwise by Melissa Fleming: (Reading time is 6 minutes.)

Building a Learning Culture

Last month, Everwise hosted a webinar on “Building a Learning Culture” with Jeff Diana, the former Chief People Officer of Atlassian & Success Factors. A seasoned executive with 20 years of HR experience, Diana serves as a strategic HR consultant and sits on the boards of progressive HR companies including Everwise. He shared his expertise with our community on how to build a learning culture, rooted in the belief that individual growth improves organizational performance. Here are key takeaways:

Focus on career development

One of the most important factors in whether or not an employee recommends a company as a great place to work is career advancement, not compensation. This marks the continuation of a steady shift over the years. It’s true that compensation and career level are correlated, but today’s employees assign a lot of value to how a company helps them develop their careers, not just compensation at each career level. Focusing on career advancement as a company relies on creating a culture of learning, where employees feel they can grow as individuals and in their jobs.

Getting it right is critical to talent retention and attraction, which is increasingly important as many organizations struggle to attract and retain top talent fast enough to keep pace with the markets. “The number one limit on an organization’s success is people’s capability,” says Diana. “In order to get the most out of your people you have to first put in the right cultural foundation.” Diana compares laying the groundwork for a culture of learning to properly equipping your sales team with the tools to crush their numbers. Without a solid foundation that supports people achieving their potential, an organization’s progress will be limited.

Make a case for greater investment

Organizations that are committed to creating a culture of learning have a real competitive advantage. According to Diana, the four primary benefits of putting resources into building a culture of learning are: 1) increased employee engagement, 2) higher retention, 3) streamlined business processes, and 4) higher ROI/organization success. The best way to make the case for increased spending on Learning & Development (L&D) initiatives is to directly link them to specific business outcomes.

“When you look at the business objectives for a three-year period and you tie that to what capabilities the business needs to have, you can see very clear lines that say why we need higher retention,” says Diana.

What we know for certain is that an organization won’t succeed without the right talent. “Supply is lacking,” Diana says. “We have to help people learn on the job within the context of what they are experiencing today to meet the pace and dynamic nature of business.” One way to make the case for increased L&D investment is to identify capability gaps and how L&D programs can help develop the supply chain of skills needed to reach an organization’s desired business outcomes.

Measure your culture to determine development needs

“One way to grab everyone’s attention is to assess culture,” says Diana. “No leader wants to be at the helm of a culture or a team that isn’t deemed healthy and something they can be proud of leading.”

Having employees assess the health of an organization’s culture can help galvanize efforts to create more learning opportunities. Getting employee input also serves the dual purpose of creating a culture that values transparency and its employees’ opinions. Diana suggests starting with a culture quiz that contains 8 to 10 targeted questions. For example, Do you have rituals that regulate and reinforce values? If you have values around learning and growth, do you have rituals that signal that growth? Does your CEO regularly ask for ideas on strategy? Does your company internally publish mistakes and share learnings from mistakes? Is your physical space driving collaboration? Do you have the tools in place to effectively collaborate? Do you have the ability to give feedback? From those questions, strengths and gaps will emerge, making it easier to take action.

Start small and simple

Diana breaks down the process of enabling a learning culture into four steps: process, culture, L&D investment, and measurement. The best way to start is small and low cost. Find a leader who can pilot a program and generate results that could lead to an expansion. Make sure the language within the company – from performance reviews to the handbook to all-hands invitations – reflects a culture of learning. Find internal success stories of high-performing teams of active learners to help you make the case for L&D investment.

While Diana points out that there are many ways an organization can invest in L&D, the most important one is to build learning into the organization’s culture. The four levers that HR professionals can utilize to drive a sustainable culture are values, transparency, rituals and tools. Having a good set of values conveys the message that learning, self-development and risk-taking are part of the company’s mission and an employee’s daily life. A culture that values transparency and access will breed trust and loyalty. Rituals signal learning and the right tools will empower employees to be curious, collaborate and learn and grow on the job.

Putting it all together: Design learning experiences that impact positive behavior change

Learning today is much more about context than content. Simply put, people are more likely to learn if they can easily recall the information and apply it to their day-to-day jobs. So the challenge for HR professionals is to incorporate the social and experiential side of learning into their programs. You’ll see the best results with initiatives that are intimate and collaborative. “Like anything else we’ll participate more in it, we’ll recall it better if the experience itself touches us in a deeper way,” says Diana.

The best learning happens on the job, where the context is clear and the application is immediate. In order to shorten the loop of trying something, gaining insights and putting those different behaviors back in action, Diana says to think about the actual work that is being done. Having the ability to apply that knowledge to what someone does every day is the best way to turn knowledge into capability.

According to Diana, employees want learning experiences to be highly personalized, more social and collaborative, and rooted in real work. Over 70% of managers want their digital experiences to be more adaptive, 60% want the experience to be more social and collaborative and 55% want more experiential learning included.

It’s important for managers to encourage learning on the job to leverage a team’s capabilities and motivate team members. Diana suggests managers encourage learning by providing the content foundations, mentors/coaches, practice in real work situations and performance feedback from teammates. All of these are learning experiences that offer employees opportunities to practice by doing.

With the right combination of people, resources and feedback, all employees can achieve their full potential. To do this Diana advises that you find role models of high-performing teams within the organization and point to internal success stories to make the case for more L&D. Start small and low cost with a pilot program. Make it easy for people to provide feedback. And most importantly, tie the L&D experiences to business outcomes. The investment in building a learning culture is valuable to both employees and management, and will allow you to tap into the potential of your workforce and improve your organization’s performance overall.

View a recording of the webinar here.

Advertisements

HBR: How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things

Are you making time for personal development?  Have you ever used NRLA’s Learning Management System (LMS) for online technology training? Do you have your Certified Building Materials Specialist (CBMS) designation? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rachael O’Meara:

How to Ask Your Boss for Time to Learn New Things

We all want to learn and grow. Improving our skills and being exposed to new ideas not only makes us better at our jobs but makes us happier and more engaged at work. But with a full-time job, it can be tough to find the time and resources to dedicate to personal development. Some people, like me, are lucky to work for companies that encourage and even fund classes, sabbaticals, or fellowships. But if you work for a company that doesn’t have an official policy, how can you make the case to your manager (and the necessary higher ups) to support you?

In researching my book, Pause, and learning from my own experience of figuring out how to take time off for my own growth, I’ve come up with a six-step plan for how to negotiate for personal development.

  1. Identify how you want to learn and grow. If you don’t yet have a clear picture of what you want to develop, spend time honing in on exactly what you need. Do you want to build your emotional intelligence skills to be a more attuned business leader? Are you interested in going on a yoga or meditation retreat? Set aside a specific period of time, such as one evening or even a week, to explore ideas and research what appeals to you. Write down what you want to learn and how you would grow from the experience you’ve identified. Research shows that the physical act of writing has a neurological effect on the brain which tells the cerebral cortex to “wake up and pay attention.” Writing stimulates a bunch of cells in the brain called the Reticular Activating System that plays a key role in being more conscious and alert. The more you can write down, the more aware and real your ideas become.
  1. Own it. You may be under the impression that building an underdeveloped skill means you lack a competency or have a particular weakness. This isn’t the case. Rather than being embarrassed or nervous about asking for this time, own it as part of your commitment to becoming a better leader. If you aren’t willing to consider it a growth move for you and your company, you can’t expect others to support you.
  1. Create your vision statement. Ask yourself, “Who will I become as a result of this investment of my time and resources?” Be specific and descriptive. Keep it in the first person. One sentence is ideal. Use descriptive adjectives. Will you be more engaged, influential, or mindful? Visions are a great way to orient and stay on track before, during, and after your development work. As I’ve learned from my mentors, Bob and Judith Wright, your vision should be constantly evolving as you do. The vision I created for my leadership training this year was: “I fully engage as a more authentic woman leader.” Add whatever details you feel necessary to convey your vision to those who will approve the time and resources you need.
  1. Connect your goals or outcomes to what the business needs. To get buy in from your manager, team, or company to support your development, you have to connect what you’ll gain to the business goals. Ask yourself:
  • Are there issues at work that you could better resolve as a result of this training? In what ways will your company benefit from your improved performance, skills, or knowledge?
  • What specific skills or knowledge can you share with your manager, team, and/or company from your training or experience?
  • Can you provide a recap (verbally or visually) based on what you learned or how you plan to apply this at work or in your career?

 

Time Off

  1. Prep and practice. The next step is to get ready for the conversation. Think through: What’s the worst and best case scenarios? Anticipate questions or concerns from your boss. I have yet to meet someone who was let go for asking to expand their horizons. Often times our fear holds us back from negotiating, and we miss out on the opportunity to explore alternatives, or worse, receive a yes.

Make a list of what is negotiable – things like timing, budget, and activity. Is partial or full reimbursement possible? Can you avoid using vacation days? One colleague of mine negotiated time off for a week-long leadership retreat where her manager agreed to her taking vacation for only 50% of the time she was out. The other 50% she was on the company clock.

When preparing for the conversation, think about what each person involved in making the decision has to gain. Do your homework and read up on your HR policies. Know how educational reimbursement works in your company.

  1. Make your ask. When you’re ready to sit down with your manager, don’t catch them off guard. Give them ample notice and consider adding it to the agenda for your next one-on-one meeting. But it doesn’t have to be a formal meeting. If you’re catching up on how the weekend was or plans for the evening, share the class that caught your eye and why it personally matters to you. Better yet, share how you think it could help you be a better employee. Then you can schedule more time to discuss it further.

Share your vision and goals. Be clear what exactly you’re asking for — is it for time off, compensation (expenses), or some combination of the two? What will they get in return? Refer to your notes if needed.

When the conversation is over, consider following up in writing, emphasizing how this would benefit you and your manager, team, or business.

There are three likely outcomes: getting what you’ve asked for, getting some of what you asked for, or getting a flat out “no.” By following these steps, you’ll increase the chances that you get a favorable outcome but that’s not always the case. Even if you don’t get what you asked for, start thinking about ways you can reshape your request in the future.

Spending the time to form a logical, careful request can be rewarding in itself because you’re getting clearer on what you need. And you’re contributing to, maybe even igniting, a corporate culture that supports individuals to learn and grow in ways beyond what’s traditionally done.

Over the past four years I’ve used the above process to request and win support for a coaching certification, graduate and non-accredited courses, week-long emotional intelligence leadership retreats, and a two-day class influencing. In each case, it felt like a leap of faith but I always reminded myself that the worst they can say is no.

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Does your company provide a learning work environment? Is your company helping you improve your customer service and/or productivity skills? Another resource is Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) for educations seminars and online learningLMS.  Below is a blog from Everwise by Nicole Beckerman:

Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

Successful organizations emphasize ongoing professional development and gaining new knowledge. A learning culture benefits companies by enriching the employee experience, boosting productivity and innovation, and curbing turnover. It is an essential priority to remain competitive in today’s rapidly-changing landscape. Employees must be prepared to learn and adapt to rapidly changing conditions and new technologies. Employers would do well to provide an environment for doing so internally.

While modeling curiosity and prioritizing a passion for knowledge starts at the top, growing an organization-wide learning culture requires on-the-ground efforts. Though employees are busier than ever, there are simple, cost-effective ways to integrate learning into their work experience. Here are seven tactics to get you started:

  1. Learning lunches: Change things up at lunch time by giving employees a chance to increase their knowledge. Mid-day is an ideal moment to shift gears from active work to take in an educational presentation. As this is typically a break time and people will be eating, it’s a good time to present knowledge directly rather than with interactive formats. If employees need extra enticement to attend, offering free food or dessert is always a crowd-pleaser.
  2. Staff presentations: Having employees share their expertise is a great way to capitalize on in-house knowledge and make people feel valued. Setting up presentations where your employees educate each other in person or via online tools is a powerful way to foster connection and learning. This is also a chance to expose people to new experiences outside of their department. Even simply having staff share with each other what it is that they do and what they are working on helps build interpersonal relationships and a clearer picture of the organization for everyone.
  3. Speakers: Industry experts are a valuable source of the latest trends, and inviting them to work with your employees brings a useful outside perspective. If they are physically visiting an office, get the most out of their presence with an interactive format such as a workshop or a small group activity. Make sure to prepare employees to take full advantage of guest speakers by promoting their arrival, distributing background information in advance about them, and sharing related learning materials to spark questions.
  4. Webinars: As a useful way to spread information among a large group of people, webinars are an essential part of efficient learning. They can be one format option for delivering a presentation from an employee or a guest speaker as discussed above, but to keep it more engaging consider putting together a panel discussion. This way, even if employees are passively watching the webinar or are engaged in another activity (like email) at the same time, they will still take in a variety of perspectives and insightful questions.
  5. Distribute resources and news: Most professionals have a genuine interest in their field and want to stay up to date, so employers can facilitate learning by bringing news and resources directly to them. This might look like an organized list of resources for learning that employees have easy access to, or even a more dynamic method like periodic emails with news, relevant articles, and links to short-form video clips.
  6. Stipends: A direct and straightforward way to promote learning is to simply subsidize it. There a variety of ways to provide funds for education, so organizations should consider how predictable they would like this expenditure to be, and how much direct control they would like over the learning process. Some organizations offer an educational stipend as a simple cash bonus add-on to the employee benefits package and let people use it as they see fit. Others will pay for particular courses from approved providers. Another related option is to pay for employee’s’ membership in professional organizations so they can continue to network and learn via a trusted third party.
  7. Office Library: If you have an open office plan, chances are the environment can get noisy and social, which might be great for morale but not conducive to learning. Consider designating a space or specific room as a quiet area, and supplementing it with learning resources to create an office library. Create an employee book exchange or facilitate monthly book clubs. This separate space can be a strong part of emphasizing learning culture by making it clear in a tangible, visible way.

This list is a place to begin your journey towards a learning culture and spark ideas. However, change efforts should always be tied to an organization’s large-scale development strategy. In implementation, make sure these efforts are also tailored to the unique style and priorities of your staff. Finally, modeling learning culture from the top is essential to reap the full benefits, so leaders must walk the talk.

Culture evolves when an entire organization gets on board, and producing a company of nimble, motivated learners is a worthy goal for everyone.

 

HBR: A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

Take time to reflect on the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Learning to write more clearly, improving meeting skills, or learning to manage your time more productively? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Marc Zao-Sanders.

A 2×2 Matrix to Help You Prioritize the Skills to Learn Right Now

So much to learn, so little time.

The world is bursting with learning. There are several million business books, 3,000 TED talks, 10,000 MOOCs, hundreds of thousands of e-learning courses, and millions of self-published articles on platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. The article you’re reading right now is just one of thousands of articles on HBR.org. Picking the best and most relevant from all this is hard.

Yet it’s essential. The modern worker has very little time for learning — less than 1% of their time, according to Bersin, a division of Deloitte. And it’s more important than ever to learn continuously as the shelf life of skills shorten and career paths meander and lengthen.

So there’s a significant pressure on us all to learn the right stuff. How do we identify what that is?

One approach is to apply a time-utility analysis (similar in form to a cost-benefit) to the subjects you’re interested in learning. “Time” is time to learn. It’s effectively the opportunity cost to you of achieving competence. “Utility” is how much you’re likely to use the desired skill. For example, today’s manager spends a lot of time emailing, gathering data, running meetings, and making spreadsheets, so the utility for improving at these activities is especially high.

Combine time and utility, and you get a simple 2×2 matrix with four quadrants:

  • Learn it right away: high utility, low time-to-learn
  • Schedule a block of time for learning it, ideally in your calendar: high utility, high time-to-learn
  • Learn it as the chance arises — on a commute, lunch break, and so on: low utility, low time-to-learn
  • Decide whether you need to learn it: low utility, high time-to-learn

2x2 Learning.png

Once you’ve decided what you want to learn, you can use this same framework to zero in on specific skills to focus on.

Let’s illustrate the method with a single workplace activity with high utility: spreadsheeting. Knowledge workers spend almost half an hour in a spreadsheet every day. And in major corporations, this is almost synonymous with using Excel: there are almost a billion users of Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, and more than four-fifths of businesses globally use Excel. A time-utility analysis might suggest you want to get better at it.

But Excel contains over 500 functions and many more features; that’s a lot to learn. Where would you even begin? For a time-utility analysis to be of any use, we need it to help us at this level, down here in the weeds. To get a sense of utility, we reviewed dozens of articles written by Excel experts about their preferred Excel features. We used this analysis to compile a list of the 100 most useful Excel functions, features, tips, tricks and hacks, ordered numerically by utility. We combined this with our own data on how long each of these features takes users to learn, and plotted the two against each other. (Yes, we got a little excited about this project. Don’t worry, you don’t have to delve into this level of detail when you’re prioritizing your own learning.)

Exel Learn.png

As you’d expect, there’s some correlation (r=0.3), so the more useful items take longer to learn in general. But the scattered effect gives rise to some useful, tangible pointers for prioritizing what to learn.

You’ll find the quickest wins in the bottom-right quadrant, which we’ve labeled “Learn it right away.” In here we have time-saving shortcuts that can be applied frequently, like Ctrl-Y (redo) and F2 (edit cell) and a nice combination formula that cleanses your spreadsheet of errors (IF(ISERROR)).

The quadrant “Schedule a block of time for learning it” hosts the highly useful but more complex features, such as conditional formatting and pivot tables — these were deemed the two most useful on the entire list.

Bottom-left is those less useful but quick-to-learn items like Ctrl-5 (strikethrough) and Show Formulas (Ctrl¬).

Finally, in the top-left quadrant are the theoretically least appealing items, such as Get External Data and Text to Columns.

But for all of these, you, the individual learner, will impose your own opinions and experience on an analysis like this: “Actually, I already know Ctrl-Y, and I’ll never need to get external data.” And that helps filter out even more items, leaving you with an even more manageable list.

How would you apply this to your working, learning life? You probably don’t want to learn only about spreadsheeting, and you’re unlikely to have the kind of data we’ve used above at your fingertips. But you may have an idea of some of the skills you’d like to acquire or develop.

Consider the mix of activities in your working day. What would help you the most? Finally being able to use Photoshop, getting a grip on Agile or Waterfall, learning to write more clearly? Are there meta-skills that would help you do all of these things better — like coming across the way you intend to in meetings, or learning to manage your time more productively? You could assign approximate scores for time (to learn) and utility for each of these and plot a scatter chart like the one above. Or you could just estimate: Classify the skills on your list as either low or high in utility and time to learn, and place them in the corresponding quadrant. Either way, what shows up in the bottom-right quadrant? You may discover some learning bargains.

You can use this approach just for yourself, or across a team, department, even your entire company. Since you probably don’t have much time to learn, learn to make the most of what you have.

 

HBR: Good Leaders Are Good Learners

Are you setting learning goals? Is your company helping you identify your learning opportunities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Susan J. Ashford, Peter Heslin, Lauren Keating:

Good Leaders Are Good Learners

Although organizations spend more than $24 billion annually on leadership development, many leaders who have attended leadership programs struggle to implement what they’ve learned. It’s not because the programs are bad but because leadership is best learned from experience.

Still, simply being an experienced leader doesn’t elevate a person’s skills. Like most of us, leaders often go through their experiences somewhat mindlessly, accomplishing tasks but learning little about themselves and their impact.

Our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers.

Building on Susan Ashford and Scott DeRue’s mindful engagement experiential learning cycle, we found that leaders who exhibit a growth mindset diligently work through each of the following three phases of the experiential learning cycle.

First, leaders set challenging learning goals in the form of “I need to learn how to…” For some leaders, the goal might be to become more persuasive or to be more approachable. With a goal in mind, leaders can identify opportunities to make progress toward it. These could include a new project, an international assignment, a job rotation, or simply striving to approach routine encounters in a fundamentally different way.

Next, they find ways to deliberately experiment with alternative strategies. A leader interested in increasing their persuasiveness, for example, might experiment with sitting in a different place or speaking first or last in a critical meeting. Creating and capitalizing on learning opportunities can be bolstered by having a coach or peer provide feedback and act as a sounding board.

Finally, leaders who are in learning mode conduct fearless after-action reviews, determined to glean useful insights from the results of their experimentation. Candidly reflecting on what went well, what did not go so well, and what might work better in future are essential though often neglected initiatives for learning from experience and discerning what to focus on learning next. Understanding these principles is important for organizations not just because it means that leadership development doesn’t have to be expensive, but also because it means that leadership skills can be systematically learned and practiced.

How can leaders enter learning mode? Leaders can construe setbacks as meaning they have not yet developed the required capabilities, rather than them being just not cut out for the task at hand. They can also avoid the trap of constantly seeking out places and tasks to highlight their strengths, as well as feedback that affirms their innate talents and self-esteem. Simply asking themselves, “Am I in learning mode right now?” can be a powerful cue to wholeheartedly focus, or refocus, on their leadership development, as well as their leadership performance, and thereby truly learn from their experiences.

How can organizations help leaders enter and remain in learning mode? Organizational leaders can help rising leaders focus more on being progressively better than they were in the past, rather than on constantly benchmarking themselves against others. They can model construing mistakes as potential learning opportunities rather than as indicators of leadership inadequacy. In hiring and promotion, organizational leaders might give priority to those most likely to grow and develop in a role. Finally, they might conduct an audit of fixed mindset cues in their organization — such as the use of psychometric testing to select the most “innately qualified” high-potential leaders; forced ranking performance appraisals; and winner-take-all reward systems — and tweak them to focus more on developing than diagnosing leadership capabilities.

The bottom line is that by supporting leaders being in learning mode, organizations can develop the capabilities that leaders need to anticipate, respond to, and continually learn from the stream of emerging challenges to organizational prosperity.

HBR: Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life

As we age, though, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees or attending storied institutions. Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts, and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning. Every day, each of us is offered the opportunity to pursue intellectual development in ways that are tailored to our learning style. So why don’t more of us seize that opportunity?  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by John Coleman.

Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life

In 2015 Doreetha Daniels received her associate degree in social sciences from College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, California. But Daniels wasn’t a typical student: She was 99 years old. In the COC press release about her graduation, Daniels indicated that she wanted to get her degree simply to better herself; her six years of school during that pursuit were a testament to her will, determination, and commitment to learning.

Few of us will pursue college degrees as nonagenarians, or even as mid-career professionals (though recent statistics indicate that increasing numbers of people are pursuing college degrees at advanced ages). Some people never really liked school in the first place, sitting still at a desk for hours on end or suffering through what seemed to be impractical courses. And almost all of us have limits on our time and finances — due to kids, social organizations, work, and more — that make additional formal education impractical or impossible.

As we age, though, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees or attending storied institutions. Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts, and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning. Every day, each of us is offered the opportunity to pursue intellectual development in ways that are tailored to our learning style.

So why don’t more of us seize that opportunity? We know it’s worth the time, and yet we find it so hard to make the time. The next time you’re tempted to put learning on the back burner, remember a few points:

Educational investments are an economic imperative. The links between formal education and lifetime earnings are well-studied and substantial. In 2015 Christopher Tamborini, ChangHwan Kim, and Arthur Sakamoto found that, controlling for other factors, men and women can expect to earn $655,000 and $445,000 more, respectively, during their careers with a bachelor’s degree than with a high school degree, and graduate degrees yield further gains. Outside of universities, ongoing learning and skill development is essential to surviving economic and technological disruption. The Economist recently detailed the ways in which our rapidly shifting professional landscape — the disruptive power of automation, the increasing number of jobs requiring expertise in coding — necessitates that workers focus continually on mastering new technologies and skills. In 2014 a CBRE report estimated that 50% of jobs would be redundant by 2025 due to technological innovation. Even if that figure proves to be exaggerated, it’s intuitively true that the economic landscape of 2017 is evolving more rapidly than in the past. Trends including AI, robotics, and offshoring mean constant shifts in the nature of work. And navigating this ever-changing landscape requires continual learning and personal growth.

Learning is positive for health. As I’ve noted previously, reading, even for short periods of time, can dramatically reduce your stress levels. A recent report in Neurology noted that while cognitive activity can’t change the biology of Alzheimer’s, learning activities can help delay symptoms, preserving people’s quality of life. Other research indicates that learning to play a new instrument can offset cognitive decline, and learning difficult new skills in older age is associated with improved memory.

What’s more, while the causation is inconclusive, there’s a well-studied relationship between longevity and education. A 2006 paper by David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney found that “the better educated have healthier behaviors along virtually every margin, although some of these behaviors may also reflect differential access to care.” Their research suggests that a year of formal education can add more than half a year to a person’s life span. Perhaps Doreetha Daniels, at 99, knows something many of us have missed.

Being open and curious has profound personal and professional benefits. While few studies validate this observation, I’ve noticed in my own interactions that those who dedicate themselves to learning and who exhibit curiosity are almost always happier and more socially and professionally engaging than those who don’t. I have a friend, Duncan, for example, who is almost universally admired by people he interacts with. There are many reasons for this admiration, but chief among them are his plainly exhibited intellectual curiosity and his ability to touch, if only briefly, on almost any topic of interest to others and to speak deeply on those he knows best. Think of the best conversationalist you know. Do they ask good questions? Are they well-informed? Now picture the colleague you most respect for their professional acumen. Do they seem literate, open-minded, and intellectually vibrant? Perhaps your experiences will differ, but if you’re like me, I suspect those you admire most, both personally and professionally, are those who seem most dedicated to learning and growth.

Our capacity for learning is a cornerstone of human flourishing and motivation. We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for learning, creation, and intellectual advancement. Have you ever sat in a quiet place and finished a great novel in one sitting? Do you remember the fulfillment you felt when you last settled into a difficult task — whether a math problem or a foreign language course — and found yourself making breakthrough progress? Have you ever worked with a team of friends or colleagues to master difficult material or create something new? These experiences can be electrifying. And even if education had no impact on health, prosperity, or social standing, it would be entirely worthwhile as an expression of what makes every person so special and unique.

The reasons to continue learning are many, and the weight of the evidence would indicate that lifelong learning isn’t simply an economic imperative but a social, emotional, and physical one as well. We live in an age of abundant opportunity for learning and development. Capturing that opportunity — maintaining our curiosity and intellectual humility — can be one of life’s most rewarding pursuits.

Harvey Mackay: The 7 Cs of Success

Below is a blog post from Harvey Mackay . Mackay’s Moral: Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people because they are determined to.

The 7 Cs of Success

On the road to success, you may take a few detours, hit some roadblocks and arrive at a different place than you’d planned. I’m still on my journey, and I’m offering you my map for smooth sailing, traveling the Seven Cs of Success.

Clarity: 80 percent of success comes from being clear about who you are, what you believe in and what you want. But you must remain committed to what you want and make sure those around you understand what you’re hoping to accomplish.

A young mathematician was commissioned during wartime as captain of a submarine. Eager to impress his crew and to stress how important it is to strictly observe all safety procedures, the young captain called them all together for a meeting. His instructions went like this:

“I have developed a simple method that you would all do well to learn. Every day, count the number of times the submarine has dived since you boarded. Add to this the number of times it has surfaced. If the sum you arrive at is not an even number—don’t open the hatches.”

Competence: You can’t climb to the next rung on the ladder until you are excellent at what you do now.

Just remember two more things: 1) The person who knows “how” will always have a job, and 2) the person who knows “why” will always be the boss.

Constraints: 80 percent of all obstacles to success come from within. Find out what is constraining you or your company and deal with it.

The Gallup Organization conducted a survey on why quality is difficult to achieve. The greatest percentage listed: financial constraints. Often our lives and careers are shaped by kind of surroundings we place ourselves in and the challenges we give ourselves.

Consider, for example, the farmer who won a blue ribbon at the county fair. His prize entry? A huge radish the exact shape and size of a quart milk bottle. Asked how he got the radish to look just like a quart milk bottle, the farmer replied, “It was easy. I got the seed growing and then put it into the milk bottle. It had nowhere else to go.”

Concentration: The ability to focus on one thing single-mindedly and see it through until it’s done is critical to success.

Great athletes are known for their concentration and focus. As golf great Ben Hogan once stood over a crucial putt, a loud train whistle suddenly blared in the distance. After he had sunk the putt, someone asked Hogan if the train whistle had bothered him.

“What whistle?” Hogan replied.

And let’s not forget Yankee great and America’s favorite philosopher Yogi Berra, who said “You can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.

Creativity: Be open to ideas from many sources. Surround yourself with creative people. Creativity needs to be exercised like a muscle: If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Studies indicate that, between ages 5 and 17, there is an extreme drop in the creativity level in both male and female students. As you grow older, your creativity level decreases proportionally. The good news is that this trend is reversible, as long as you keep challenging yourself. Consider Grandma Moses, who didn’t start painting until age 80 and went on to produce more than 1,500 works of art.

Courage: Most in demand and least in supply, courage is the willingness to do the things you know are right. Courage, contrary to popular belief, is not the absence of fear. Courage is having the heart to act in spite of fear. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Continuous learning: Set aside some time every day, every week and every month to improve yourself. To stay miles ahead of the competition, read trade publications or books, or listen to business CDs during your commute to and from work. Go back to school and take additional classes, or join groups or organizations… Whatever it may be, just never stop learning.