Thanks for the great feedback on my first blog post. I enjoyed the interaction and your thoughts on The Culture You Deserve.

One piece of feedback came from an employee of mine. We went back and forth via email about who is best positioned to succeed when a company changes culture and strategy, and moves boldly in new and different directions.

He sent me this quote to emphasize his point:

“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, 1973


Getting ahead with active learning
His point was simple but thought-provoking: Those best suited to thrive during significant organizational changes aren’t necessarily the smartest, most critical thinkers, or those who have found success and parlayed their brainpower into big jobs. I was a bit surprised, since I consider the person who shared the quote with me a top-of-the-class, high-ACT score-type guy.

The quote – and the concept behind it – stuck with me. There’s a lot more to getting ahead these days than just good grades and smarts. It actually hits home with what I’ve been keenly aware of over the past few years. The tell-tale trait that’s invaluable right now – and gaining momentum daily in people who are poised for advancement – is active learning.

Unlearning and relearning
The willingness to change and embrace new ideas and actively learn every day is critical to positive movement and momentum. Success from things learned five or ten years ago – or older – is simply outdated. Maybe some of those who are succeeding today are actually the best at unlearning what helped them succeed and are better at relearning in the new world.

The quote above is 40 years old, but it has legs today. The author points out – very succinctly – that some of the brightest people are the least adaptable to change. It’s what I call “very bright blind spots.”

By that, I mean the brightest of the bright can sometimes get derailed by what they’ve learned and how they react to change. Their past success just doesn’t wire them for winning today. Given the rapid rate of innovation and change we’re experiencing now, if we aren’t adapting and learning, we are falling behind.

Active learners ask lots of questions. They read more – about things like business – but also about current events, people and history. They are naturally curious about technology, innovation and change.

Many active learners have solid smarts from STEM-related areas (science, technology, engineering, math). But active learners have figured out how to incorporate that all-important “A” into the equation moving STEM to STEAM with the arts … with creativity and with innovation. These traits are the foundation for active learners in today’s rapid pace of technology and business change.

By no means is this a knock on those with good grades and high ACTs on their resumes. Your pedigree positions you for success – provided you can unlearn some of the past. Let it go and move quickly into the new world.

How? Be curious and embrace change. Look for opportunities to pursue innovation with an open mind. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and try new things. Let yourself fail along the way – a tough concept, I know, when you’re accustomed to success.

And for those who weren’t top of the class? Opportunities have really never been better. Being an active learner willing to embrace and lead change will provide you with great opportunities to grow and succeed – especially now.