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Learning with the Speed of Change

It is with a great sigh of relief that 2020 is over. It was the year no-one predicted, and while (in restrospect) there were some silver linings, for the majority there have been more challenges both professionally and personally. Bring on 2021 is the cheer I have heard from most people - please let 2020 be over!

It is true to say though that the world has changed literally overnight, and we have all learnt new skills - from learning how to harness virtual technology, to creating new business models, to more deeply understanding customer needs. All valuable skills - especially for marketers. Yet, upon interviewing 20 senior marketing leaders during 2020 to understand the deeper impact of Covid-19 , it's not the new functional skills which have stood out to them as most valuable. Time and time again people came back to attitude and mindset. How the same situation was perceived and responded to quite differently by individuals, depending on their mindset. Softer skills related to mindset, such as resilience, creativity and agility were mentioned frequently. Even the World Economic Forum in their updated Future of Work Report (released October 2020 in response to COVID-19) listed "resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility" as a top 10 skill for 2025 (the first time this skill has entered the top skills list).

Which has led me to ask the question: what are the critical factors that will enable us ongoing to learn with the speed of change?

Considering the comments from the interviews, I thought it would be valuable to explore mindset, and how this affects how we learn.

So what is mindset? After googling extensively to consider official definitions, I felt the best definition was "mindset is an individuals thoughts and beliefs, that shape their behaviours." In essence, mindset affects how you think, what you feel, and what you do. Hence how you respond. Over time, thoughts lead to beliefs, and to behaviours, which if reinforced consistently become unconscious or automatic, and part of what we perceive as "normal". This cycle is continuous - your mindset impacts how you make sense of the world, and your role within it.

So why was this highlighted as so important during 2020, and why is it important to the future?

1. Mindset is at the core of how we cope with change.

There is now extensive literature on the value of mindset. The field of positive psychology, defined as “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living” (Peterson, 2008) identifies mindset as a critical influencer on how we perceive the world, and the value of what we experience. The expression "is the glass half full or half empty" refers to a persons mindset. In the field of learning, the most influential research done on mindset is by Carol Dweck, who showed there were 2 different types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

  • People with a fixed mindset believe that their qualities and abilities are inborn, fixed, and unchangeable.

  • People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that these abilities can be developed and strengthened by way of commitment and hard work.

To simplify, 2 people can have roughly the same skills and capabilities, and be in the same role within an organisation. However, when faced with a difficult problem to solve, a growth mindset accepts with hard work and effort you can learn and develop the skills you need to succeed over time. So they accept the challenge, and focus on how they can solve it - bit by bit. In other words, they are "glass half full". They lean into the challenge. In contrast, a person with a fixed mindset feels overwhelmed and judged, believe the problem is outside of their knowledge and abilities, and in many cases give up, or withdraw. In other words, they are "glass half empty". They can feel overwhelmed, and may say things like "that's not my problem". The 2 mindsets and their characteristics are simply visualised below.

Hence, the references in my interviews in many ways were describing a growth mindset, where people acknowledged the challenges thrown at us all in 2020, and embraced them. They didn't necessarily have more skills or more answers, but they accepted the challenge, stepped up and figured out what needed to be done. Their mindset was a growth mindset. Given no-one knows when Covid-19 will end (or even if it will), and as technology is forecast to change the world even faster - bringing even more change, it becomes clear that managing our mindsets to cope with change - to even embrace it, will be absolutely critical in the future.

2. Mindset will be integrated into learning models to rapidly develop new skillsets

Marketing has been at the forefront of technology driven change, as digitisation, automation, data and now AI are transforming customer / consumer behaviours, and business models. And the pace and scale of technology change is projected to move even faster. The marketing community has experienced this more than most other functions over the the past decade, due to digital transformation. Digital transformed fast - from starting as specific platforms and specialist skills (think websites, SEO / SEM and the early days of social media), to underpinning the world we are part of: products, services, channels, operations, behaviours, and business models. So as an industry I think marketing understand how critical it is to develop new skillsets, and fast.

One of the fundamental learning models - now established and embedded in most organisations is the "70 20 10" model, developed by Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo in the 1990's. This has become widely known because it offers a simple way to explain how learning really happens at work. The research they did showed that:

  • 70% of learning occurs as people engage in informal learning processes such as watching others, participating in workplace routines and undertaking challenging tasks

  • 20% arises from mentoring and coaching (mostly from a manager or supervisor)

  • 10% is the result of formal courses and reading (Lombardo & Eichinger, 1996).

This was transformational in demonstrating that people don't automatically move from knowledge to experience in one event - in fact each type of learning contributes to skill building and capability in different ways. I think most people can relate to this - we have all been on some incredible training courses, then back at work the manual has been put down and without meaning to we have gone back to doing what we did previously - the new knowledge forgotten as it was not practiced on the job, and hence did not get adopted as a behaviour or new way of working. The principles behind mindset (thoughts beliefs and behaviours) are also very consistent with the 70 20 10 model as both are ultimately about the psychology of behaviours.

However, as discussed above, mindset is also a central, influencing factor. A growth mindset, leads you to positively embrace change and new learning. Again, many of the challenges organisations cite as barriers to skill building and capability relate to a fixed mindset. People are late to training, or don't turn up. It's not practiced on the job - because it was easier to do it the old way. The reality is building new skills requires doing work in new ways - which requires effort, practice and perseverance. It requires a growth mindset.

So how do these 2 models - both critical to skill and capability building - come together?

The Rapid Capability Model (above) integrates mindset, learning and capability development, recognising the various stages required to achieve this.

From my observations of learning in the workplace, mindset is most often overlooked because it is not broken down into thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, required to genuinely cultivate a growth mindset within organisations and teams. Dweck's research suggests that people are capable of changing their mindsets and leaders can help by recognising efforts, perseverance and resilience, not just short term results or outcomes. In other words, the journey is as important as the destination. How often have you heard an employee say they have to leave an important training because there is something urgent? Or they didn't have time to follow the new process, designed to improve effectiveness for everyone? My point is not that people aren't busy, it's that a growth mindset in learning is not prioritised or consistently cultivated. With the change and disruption predicted to come - it needs to be.

Secondly, organisations need to think about how they can turn knowledge into experience through learning journeys. Quite often skill building is seen as an "event" rather than a learning journey. Think of it like ecommerce - attracting consumers to click on a link is the start of the journey - you then need to serve up the relevant products or services, have the customer add it to their cart, and then finally checkout. At any point, they can abandon cart in one click - and in that moment the whole sale is lost. No value is realised. Skill and capability building is very similar - organisations need to design a learning journey which reduces friction, and makes it as easy as possible to apply the new knowledge to the business so it becomes an actual capability and the organisation realises the value. If we could accurately measure how many "abandoned carts" there are in skill building, then I fear we would be horrified by the cost and low conversion. The organisations who understand how to turn knowledge into skills and on the job capability will win, and develop an extroadinary competitive advantage.

3. Learning itself will be a skill to learn

So what are marketers facing into in the next few years? What more will we need to learn, unlearn and relearn? The WEF Future of Jobs Report October 2020 estimates the top 5 skills most in demand across industries in the next 5 years are below, which are strongly integrated within marketing.

1 Data Analysts and Scientists

2 AI and Machine Learning Specialists

3 Big Data Specialists

4 Digital Marketing and Strategy Specialists

5 Process Automation Specialists

Even more importantly, the second most important skill in 2025 is active learning and learning strategies, second only to analytical thinking and innovation. (see top 15 skills for 2025 below)

Learning will be a critical skill, in and of itself, recognising that the skill of learning will enable people to upskill and reskill as close as "humanly" possible with the speed of change. The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is sometimes called learning agility, and will become a high value skill as exponential technology transformation creates new needs and demand for new skills and jobs. In fact, technology is predicted to transform so fast that it will require reskilling the existing workforce, resulting in learning agility to be the most in demand capability, rather than the specific skill execution.

If we thought learning and upskilling was important in marketing in the past 5 years, it will increase in importance even more in the next 5 years. With this level of speed, and complexity, it also can't be reactionary and tactical. Organisations will need to place bets on their vision, strategy and evolving business model, so they can develop rapid learning capability strategies, which inform and enable operations, so the value is realised in execution. As leaders know, strategy improves your opportunity and chance of success, but execution is what you bank, and so getting the right skills and capability in place operationally - to actually deliver the vision is where businesses will succeed or fail. People capability will be the glue that brings this together.

So as we all look forward, let's reflect on what 2020 has taught us. Covid-19 has been a global pandemic and disruption, perhaps waking us all up to what is here. Technological change is accelerating, and in 2020 we saw how fast we can all pivot. Now is the time to think about how we will do it again (and again), perhaps with abit more insight and wisdom, because we have learnt....


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