This past Friday I was invited to speak about the Future of the Internet to nearly 800 individuals. This included topics like Web 3.0, Metaverses, Crypto, NFT, Wallets and more. After the presentation, I heard from quite a few attendees who in addition to finding the hour enlightening and educational queried me on how I had "figured out" and “made clear and enabling” versus “confusing and intimidating” a complex topic. They were asking how one learns to learn.
Upgrading Our Mental Operating Systems.
My book Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data includes a chapter called "Upgrade Your Mental Operating System" which ends with these key takeaways:
1) Regardless of how senior or established employees are, they all possess the capacity for growth and relevancy in changing times.
2) Organizations need to set aside time for people's mental self-improvement. They can encourage employees to escape digital routines and engage in tasks and conversations that stretch their minds.
3) Today there are many amazing new ways of self-learning and improving of which every person can take advantage of.
The book was written before the tragedy and challenges of COVID-19 which we are still grappling with two years later. Today, in a world of unbundled and distributed work, the great resignation, the need for meaning and a hunger for skill and personal growth, to remain relevant these key takeaways are even more resonant.
Three things all of us can do to learn.
1) Be committed to learning and set aside time for it.
All of us should set aside an hour a day (or seven hours a week) to learn. Understandably, when so many of us are stretched with responsibilities and job pressures and family challenges it may sound unrealistic to set aside an hour to learn. The reality is that we do not have a choice, since the world is changing so fast that a failure to upgrade our mental operating systems will sooner or later result in failure and setbacks that will cost us years because we did not find an hour a day! (Chill an hour less with Netflix, scroll a little less on TikTok or Facebook, watch summaries of sports games on YouTube versus watching the entire game.)
We cannot outsource learning. Yes, people can help guide us, but we must exercise our own minds just as we cannot outsource physical exercise to someone else to keep our body healthy.
2) Build a case for the opposite of what you believe is true.
Nothing makes you think differently and truly see from a different perspective as building a case for the opposite of what you think or believe is true. At minimum it helps you make your case better by seeing the opposite side and fixing the weak spots in your argument, and sometimes you may see things differently and change your mind.
Today we really need to do this since a combination of who we spend time with, the media we choose and algorithm-driven feeds that are optimized to re-enforce our convictions can lead us to lose our grip with reality.
This is true for all of us, but particularly for seniors and powerful people who may be surrounded by sycophants or people worried about saying things that will displease the “boss.” Sooner or later because of these filter bubbles, self-re-enforcing loops or carefully massaged and edited communications we make the mistake of believing that our flatulence smells like Chanel 5!
If you want to learn how to be a good writer, you cannot stop at reading great writers and books on writing. You must write and get feedback and then write again.
If you want to learn Web 3.0 reading Scott Galloway, A16Z or others is interesting and important but sooner or later you must get a wallet, mint an NFT or put on an Oculus 2 or a HoloLens if you can access one and much more.
Only then will we realize that so much of what people are promoting, boasting, fearmongering, moaning or screaming about is utter BS and why Web 3.0 and the Metaverse are not the same and one can do very well without the other! And the real sleeper here is how the wallet could change everything about identity, privacy and data ownership!
Only by doing can we learn enough to understand and lead.
Fresh perspectives. Fierce provocations. Feedback.
To ensure learning it is imperative that one have a diversity of not just faces but voices. By looking at things from different perspectives and from perspectives of different people we grow.
In addition, one needs to think provocatively and question all ongoing assumptions and first principles. Too many of us believe we are more limited and have less agency than we do. One does not know where the line is until one crosses it.
Finally, continuous or regular feedback helps us learn. Here are some best practices on receiving and giving feedback.
The Journey Ahead.
The future is important because we are going to spend the rest of our lives there.
Regardless of what your news channel and your digital stream may indicate we are not all doomed, things are not all dark and the days of the past were not the halcyon days they are made out to be. Rather, we are at the cusp of the most amazing time for humanity where a combination of all of our learning to date, breakthroughs and interconnections between technologies such as AI, Biotech, Blockchain, 5G, Robotics and a total re-think of education, finance, mobility and health care in a global world where billions of people have access to technology with “God-Like” power is going to unleash a bright future.
We can be better, and we can do better, even if it is just us as one single individual ... because after all a society and a company is nothing but a collection of individuals.
Arthur C. Clarke, the writer of 2001 a Space Odyssey, is buried in Sri Lanka. His tombstone can serve as an inspiration to us all to keep learning and growing:
“He never grew up, but never stopped growing.”
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