You can’t do everything, or so i’m told, but the trick is to know what to leave behind. As we progress, as we learn, we take on new responsibilities, new roles, learn new skills, it’s important to learn what not to do anymore, what to hand over, what to stop doing. It’s not something we often teach in formal learning, but if we don’t do it right, we stagnate, we get swamped, we sink in the detail. In the Social Age, it’s not just knowledge and skills that we have to pay attention to: we may also need to do some housekeeping around our networks, working out where we need to strengthen them, where we might need to disengage. If we can’t contribute in a meaningful way, maybe it’s time to move on?
In our world of constant change, new demands often lead to the development of applied skills, at the cost of developing longer term reflective capability. Sometimes though, we need to take time out to review whether our networks and skills are appropriate to the job at hand. Starting in a new role is a good time to do this: it’s a natural time to take a break from old responsibilities and a chance to shape and influence new ones. But do we do it effectively? And when we design programmes for learners that run over many months, do we encourage them to do it at all?
We need to be agile learners to survive and thrive in the Social Age. Agility is about having the right skills but also being able to create relevance and meaning from the feeds that come in to you. To do that, you need the filters of your social networks and the analytical ability to do something with it.
Personal learning networks can act as filters if you choose the groups carefully: it’s about quality, not quantity, about having people in your network who are superb as finding out great information but then presenting that with layers of interpretation. Instead of someone who just posts every article they find on Leadership, it’s better to see two articles a month that you know will have a good commentary, preferably one that’s relevant to you.
Many of the communities we join may start out like this, but can expand or extend beyond their original clear remit: if i look at my own groups on LinkedIn, i am a member of over forty, but only five or so am i really active in. Many of the others are simply no longer relevant or don’t say anything relevant to me. Some have simply grown too big, others have stagnated. Time for me to do a spring clean!
Curating your learning networks is important, as is curating your own skills and learning. Look at all the things you do right now: diary management, coordinating meetings, writing reports, reading, making recommendations, running one to ones, coaching, working with your mentors. Which of them add value? Which don’t you get round to doing as often as you like? Which don’t you get round to doing as often as you should? Did anyone ever teach you to do this, to reflect on where the gaps are? If something is no longer adding value, if you’re just doing it because you’ve always done it, now’s the time to manage it away from you. If you don’t push it, nobody else will pull it and you’ll have it forever.
From the organisational perspective, we need to develop this reflective capability into programmes: just this morning i’ve been working on the design of a nine month programme for a global pharmaceutical business, but nowhere is there space for reflection, for diagnosing what you need to stop doing, for encouraging learners to examine how to find the space that they will need in order to enact change. If we don’t teach people how to do this, how to clear out the wardrobe, they’ll have no space for the new suits we’re giving them. You’ve got to look at what has sat there for years, unworn, and give it away.
From my own perspective, i used to run a business: but it added no value, i got nothing from it. I was doing things that needed to be done, but none of them made me better at what i wanted to be, none of them were to do with designing better learning, to do with sharing ideas, to do with developing new models. They were all to do with process, to do with repetition, to do with trying to be the same as everyone else. But nobody succeeds by hiding in the grass: you have to differentiate yourself to succeed in the Social Age. You have to curate your skills, abilities and communities to be relevant today.
And to be relevant again tomorrow!
Agility comes through being prepared to give things away, and to learn new things in their place, from being able to disengage from communities that no longer add value, but to use your energy wisely to engage with new ones. For organisations, agility comes from empowering people to curate their skills, encouraging them to share, supporting dissemination of knowledge and creating social learning spaces where new meaning can be created. That’s where innovation and creativity will thrive: that’s how you become magnetic, that’s how you succeed.