What Have You Learned Lately?

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso

Companies are always on the hunt for the best talent. But how to define talent is different for every hiring manager. Experience and technical skills play a role in defining talent, of course, but for global professional services firm Accenture, which employs over 700,000 workers worldwide, the most important quality in a potential hire Is neither experience nor skills. It’s the ability to learn.

Julie Sweet is CEO of Accenture. In a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review, she says, “One of the most important things that we look for actually, no matter who you are, is your ability to learn, learning agility. Because we know that while we may hire you for a certain set of skills, the rate of change and the need for skills is quite rapid. So there’s lots of research on this, that skills that were around in the Fortune 500, for example, in 2017, that approximately 40% are no longer relevant.”

Accenture hiring managers ask a question that gets to the heart of learning agility for every candidate, whether they’re a recent graduate or experienced senior professional. “What have you learned in the last six months that was not part of school (or work)?”

The answer doesn’t have to be big or impressive, Sweet says. What Accenture looks for is organic learning that happens naturally when a candidate needs information or satisfies curiosity. “I learned how to change a tire.” “I learned how to cook my favorite Indian dish.” “I’ve been learning German for a trip we plan to take next year.”

Julie Sweet says one of Accenture’s core principles is to “lead with excellence, confidence, and humility.” Humility starts with understanding you have a lot to learn. I once listened to a discussion between two global talent managers at a conference. The topic was the importance of knowledge versus learning. I’ll never forget the answer from one of the talent managers. “The minute you know something, you develop a vested interest in making sure it stays true. You may not even be aware you’re doing it. But as long as you know it and it remains true, you’re the expert. So you work to maintain the status quo. Because if the facts change, you’ll be reduced to a novice along with everyone else.”

Do you enjoy learning? Do you seek it out in your everyday life? Or is it a task assigned to you by your employer? Does it feel like work – or like fun?

As a career coach, one of the ways I determined whether someone was in the right career was how they approached learning. When you love what you do, you’re hungry for anything you can learn about it. You subscribe to as many sources of information as you can find; you read extensively, try out new tools and techniques, and are eager to connect with other professionals in your line of work. If you don’t love your work, learning feels like a burden.

Learning is exhilarating and humbling at the same time. It takes courage to try something you have never done, and it takes courage to admit there might be things you can learn about work you’ve done for a long time. But being open to learning is also the greatest gift you can give yourself. And your employer. And your craft.

Here’s a link to Udemy, a site that offers thousands of hours of affordable courses on almost every subject. Enjoy.

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