Lifelong Learning

July 17, 2019 •

7 min reading

Lifelong Learning: the 5 Benefits of Keeping a Sharp Mind

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Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow - William Pollard

This quote speaks to us all.

I was speaking to a Professor of Innovation the other day. We were discussing our weekends, and he told me about making pizza with his sons. I can summarize his experience in one sentence: ‘A Margherita pizza is the base: What you do after is innovation’. I decided, then, to use this analogy for this ‘piece’ (sorry for the pun) on lifelong learning. Yes, I am going to suggest that lifelong learning is like a Margherita pizza.

Lifelong Learning is Like Pizza

What we learned in primary school provided the dough for our pizza. Who doesn’t remember clay models, playdough, mud pies, or cookie dough? Each of these tasks involved getting our hands dirty and having fun. We were supervised and safe. We felt the ingredients, mixed them, and made them stick together. It was a trial and error process. When we eventually found the right consistency, the dough held together and hardened into a statue or baked into a cookie.

In secondary school, we learned about the rest of the base of our pizza. Transformation of basic products like tomatoes and herbs into a sauce was not just a bit of fun, but a challenge to create something that was esthetically pleasing and tasty. We began to compare our talents and competencies to those around us. Although the final product may have been the same, the process of getting there differed greatly.

In higher education, we began to see the potential of pizza as a business venture. We focused on our interest within the business, i.e. human resources, service, finance, strategy, or marketing. Our knowledge about the specificities of starting a business both narrowed into a specific area and widened when considering how each area links to the others. Connections were made between marketing and finance, between human resources and smooth service. And while some of us stopped at the undergrad degree to open our business, others continued on to a Masters level to further hone the skills necessary to succeed. By the Doctoral level, we started to question if a pizza is indeed limited to a savory tomato and cheese blend. Does it have to be that way? We hypothesized what makes pizza so popular. We tested variables such as taste, texture, size, and origin. We sought other inspirations and other recipes. The original base evolved into a chocolate or fruit pizza. It changed in size and dimension and became more or less elaborate depending on our mood.

Lifelong learning is both personal and social. We learn for ourselves to improve our skills or make ourselves more marketable, but we also learn for and with others. Think about our pizza analogy: We rarely eat pizza alone. It is the quintessential food to share. We order pizzas when we can’t be bothered to cook, when the kids deserve a treat, or when we are celebrating anything.

5 benefits to lifelong learning as a philosophy and a strategy:

  1. Improving skills: When we are in the workplace, we rely on the skills and competencies acquired in both academia and our previous experience. But sometimes, doing a task the same way as we learned it or did it in the past, no longer suffices. Lifelong learning allows us to continue improving by finding new ways to do ‘old’ tasks.
  2. Making yourself more marketable: Listing new skills and competencies on a CV makes you more marketable. You do not have to have a university degree in all areas you have dabbled in. However, a future employer could find shorter courses or training sessions an advantage for your candidacy.
  3. Staying young: Lifelong learning keeps you young. If you are a parent, you know exactly what this means. Discovering the world through the eyes of your children is like beginning your learning journey all over again. You can touch bases with your childhood learning experiences and help direct your children toward ‘better’ choices, or at least try to avoid the mistakes you might have made.
  4. Being innovative: It is easy to get into a rut in a job or career. We can become almost robotic in our motions. When the job is no longer fun, when Sunday night is depressing, it may be time to find new challenges. While we can’t all quit our jobs and seek fun, we can take courses in an area of interest. Testing our brains can make a ‘boring’ week an exciting adventure.
  5. Staying humble: As the years pass, we have earned the right to be considered a ‘master’ in our area of expertise…until a younger employee comes along and shows us another way, a different way, a better way. We may insist on doing things our way, the traditional way, the way we have always done it until we accept that this new, ‘other’ way is actually better. We don’t know what we don’t know until someone else points it out.

Lifelong learning is a state of mind. It can be an official course or training session or it can simply be engrained in our daily lives. So who can we learn from? Everyone. From our customers, colleagues, community, and children. Keep your brain active and you will find the ‘fun’ in your job. Then, at the end of long day, order a pizza.

And that is some food for thought!

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PhD, faculty member at EHL Lausanne