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Future-Proofing Your Career, Through Learning Agility

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Future-Proofing Your Career, Through Learning Agility

"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live...

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"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists." – Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition

Some trends in the past decade have been accelerating, changing the way work happens:

  • the superabundance of information and knowledge requiring us to have the ability to filter signal from noise quickly
  • the fiercening of competition in our globally-connected world, hyper-stimulating product releases and driving ever shorter innovation cycles of products and services in order to take advantage of emerging opportunities – meaning we have even less time to produce results
  • the commoditization of digital communication and collaboration has completely changed how, when, and where we work


Fig 1: https://pixabay.com/en/luzern-museum-signs-traffic-town-

These trends have left most of us overwhelmed, distracted, and even frantic. Each of us is aware that these trends mean we need to bring our best selves to work in order to apply our skills and judgment to be part of the solution. And most of us recognize that we need to make the time to hone our current skills and to explore and learn new ones. But how?

I’m hoping that this post, and this series, helps to offer some guidance in a world of work requiring continual rerouting. The short answer: we need to dedicate more energy and attention to learning, individually and together.


Fig 2: DIKW Pyramid

Learning, and Its Role in Creating Knowledge and Wisdom

A well-known professor of organizations, Russ Ackoff, once suggested that the purpose of organizations in the post-industrial economy is to perform two types of learning. The first type takes information about a client, a product, an opportunity, and learn how to make the most of it in different contexts. The second type of learning takes all the knowledge the organization has assembled (about clients, products, opportunities) and understand where, why, and when to apply it as a form of wisdom. Known as the DIKW Pyramid, its meant to help clarify the core work in the knowledge age, which is to convert information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom through the four forms of learning: Fig 2: DIKW Pyramid

  1. Learning from Others (Peers/Colleagues, Experts)
  2. Learning by Doing (Practice, Simulations, Activities)
  3. Learning by Structured Reflection (Microblogging, Micro-assessment)
  4. Learning by Teaching/Sharing (Cohort Discussion Leader, Leader-As-Teacher)

In other words, as business generates increasingly more revenue and profit from intellectual labor, the organization needs to be more focused on learning by individuals and how to connect that learning to collective performance.

Improving Performance through Learning Agility

A recent Harvard Business Review piece, points out that learning agility – which was first defined in 2000 as “the willingness and ability to learn new competencies in order to perform under first-time, tough, or different conditions” – is a good indicator of whether someone will continue to perform well and thus be future-proofed. As the article suggests, learning-agile employees are able to jettison skills and ideas that are no longer relevant and learn new ones that are. Learning agility is so important to us at Cognizant, that it serves as Academy’s vision of success by 2020, by “Accelerating Learning Agility.”

That Sounds Great. How Do You Work on Learning Agility?

The HBR article offers a five places where you can see learning agility in practice:

  1. When innovating, people with good learning agility seek out new solutions by asking questions like, “What else?” and “What are more ways I could approach this?”
  2. On the job, people who demonstrate good learning agility tend to listen and ask questions before reacting, as well as look for patterns or similarities when approaching complexity look for similarities
  3. Ask for feedback and input regularly, and reflect on whether you understand the context of the feedback or input as well as what you can do right now to apply those ideas
  4. Finding ways to take calculated risks, whether looking for “stretch assignments” in which success isn’t a given or testing hypotheses out in safe-to-try ways
  5. Approaching failure with what Stanford University Prof Carol Dweck labels a growth mindset, by paying attention to the process of performance itself, and looking to learn from each effort, mainly by recognizing setbacks, acknowledging failures and identifying what you can learn – or have learned – from the performance

How Learning Needs to Change, or Skills to Pay the Bills (Apologies to the Beastie Boys)

Learning agility is taking a more active role in one’s growth and development. There are two parts to this change: the first is the part that Cognizant is taking to support each of our individual growth and development, from actively encouraging certain courses and skills to massive investments in the learning technology infrastructure to improve searching for and receiving recommendations about materials, assets, and courses to pursue future-ready development on our own inside our company’s learning portal. Many of us already have moved from being a passive consumer to being active stakeholders in upgrading our skills, and, in turn, the collective knowledge, wisdom, and judgment across Cognizant.

Mike Pino, Ph.D.

Global Director, Strategy and Innovation, Cognizant Academy

Mike Pino is a globally recognized learning leader in technology and strategy. In May 2017, Mike joined Cognizant to help drive digital transformation through the learning function as the Global Learning Partner for Cognizant Digital Business. He was recently promoted to lead strategy and innovation for the Academy learning function. Prior to joining Cognizant, he was part of GE’s world-famous Crotonville Leadership Development team focused on innovating GE’s strategy and learning technologies by launching the award-winning Smartbits micro-blogging network and the BrilliantYOU learning experience platform.  With 20+ years of experience in the industry, he has worked with more than 30% of Fortune 500 companies and more than 10% of the Global 2000.

Mike has presented, moderated, and keynoted at numerous global conferences, has served as adjunct faculty at Providence College, Queens College (CUNY), Far Eastern University (Philippines), and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and holds a Ph.D. from the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). Mike co-founded Littlemore Innovation Labs, a firm dedicated to developing learning technology for higher education in India and globally, and he holds patents in several learning technologies. Mike considers himself a teacher and mentor above all else, and he takes seriously his charge to help people reach their fullest potential through developing performance through learning, practice, and reflection.


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