The concept of Learning Agility dates back to 1970, when American author Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock, investigated the move from the traditional industrial age to a new age dominated by Information. He crafted a new definition of what literacy meant, anticipating by a decade the more complete definitions of Learning Agility:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearnAlvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970
The switch from a concept of Literacy based on the simple accumulation of “stocks” of information, changes into a fluid model where the learning and unlearning have the same relevance. It’s this dynamic element that is the innovative portion of this skill’s definition.
Today this skill is in high demand and has been strongly associated with Leadership. Put simply, “it’s the ability to be in a novel situation, not know what to do, and then figure it out anyway. Individuals who learn the ‘right’ lessons from past experiences are high in learning agility, meaning they’re able to identify the most important info in one situation and connect it to the right context in a new situation”.
Learning agility is finding yourself in a new situation and not knowing what to do – but then figuring it out.
Learning agility is often linked to innovation, but also to the capacity to anticipate trends, and operate in situations marked by uncertainty. All these elements are key in the modern scenario for companies. Strongly supported by Curiosity, this trait allows leaders (but from my point of view also other Knowledge Workers) to constantly improve. It is a key feature of what Francesca Gino calls “Rebels”, and an asset for companies like Pixar. And it is linked to one of the key motivation drivers identified by Daniel Pink.
Korn/Ferry has developed a model for measuring Learning Agility. This model measures learning agility through four separate factors and one transcending element: self-awareness. This last element strongly affects the other four.
What’s interesting is that by looking at the full model above, Korn/Ferry has discovered that a mere 15% of leaders have a strong level of Learning Agility, making this a scarce competency among talent.
Probably a first step is to understand where you stand today. If you want to measure your own levels of LA, there are three online testings available: Mettl Learning Agility Assessment, Korn/Ferry ViaEdge Self-Assessment and Burke’s Learning Agility inventory. This will probably allow you to establish in which area there are Gaps, that you can fill in by focusing on the relevant behavior.
The Center for Creative Leadership has developed a simplified model, that focuses on behaviours grouped into 4 “enablers” and 1 “derailer”. You can use this model as a self-reflection mechanism:
Whatever model you pick, several of the dimensions of Learning Agility depend on the openness to being wrong. This aspect, which is key in the unlearning process, is a key success factor that as a manager you can enable. Too often corporate cultures discredit errors, a situation that in the long term becomes a derailer for the development of Learning Agility. Something we have read extensively in Ed Catmull and Laszlo Bock books.
We have found that learning ability is the leading predictor of success, number one above intelligence and education!Laszlo Bock
As usual, there are three steps that you should take to focus on the correct behaviours.
Let’s do a pulse check on how you personally are doing in terms of Learning Agility. Think about the last week at work or at home, how many of the following statements are true?
And you? What do you think about Learning Agility?
What Skills for the Future of Work?
This post is part of a series of articles on Skills and Competencies required to succeed in the Future of Work. Read the main article, and access all the other available posts.
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