Why Active Learners Own Our Future

We used to derive our security from a job. Today we find our security from growth.

If that’s true (and it is), consider what a vast change in consciousness and outlook this represents for most of us. In my upcoming book The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press), I have interviewed some of America’s most respected leaders and hiring managers. It has become clear the active learners is today’s single most sought after candidate. Without that trait, the probability of having a long and effective future with any up and coming organization is practically nil.

According to Cathy Sandeen, the Chancellor from The University of Wisconsin, today’s average college graduate will change careers (not jobs) four to six times. There are other futurists who predict even more frequent transformation. The new era of work is turning generations of rote cultural behaviors upside down. For example, for hundreds of years, we went through the educational factory culminating in a degree. Once that happened, the education stopped. Now, static education is obsolete before the ink is dry. Learning content needs to be updated almost as quickly as it is written.

Today, higher education isn’t an endgame, it is another opportunity to learn how to learn. Developing muscle in that practice is key for remaining competitive in our rapidly changing environments. Those of us who understand this dynamic are changing as quickly as the world around us. There are numerous payoffs from embracing constant learning. We grow in unimaginable ways. We are renewed. We develop confidence in finding the opportunities in the waves of change rather than being swallowed whole as we look to the past. We change our outlook. Instead of stagnating we are renewed.

God help anyone with a decided lack of curiosity. The world’s most successful people read an average of 2-3 hours per day. They go to learning programs, conventions and watch Ted Talks. They pursue any session that could increase their awareness and knowledge. They cruise the Internet and read articles. I have a personal belief that reading Harvard Business Review and Atlantic Monthly increases my IQ by at least a perceived 30 points.

Right now, our politicians (on both sides of the fence) are doing more harm by promising jobs rather than telling America to get off its butt and reinvent, learn, explore, take courses and, become aware of what is actually happening in the world. We make a lot of noise about lowering unemployment but little is said about underemployment, which is a far greater scourge in our country. Most of these individuals are mired in place waiting for things to get back to normal. As candidates, they are impeached within a few minutes because if the organization has any savvy will ask questions like:

  • What have you learned about our market recently?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • Please tell me the most impactful thing you learned this past year?
  • Where do you go to get information?
  • How is learning impacting you today?

In 2011, I sent out an e-mail to several hundred readers we knew were looking for work and asked which employer was hiring more people in new jobs than any other organization in Los Angeles? We asked for a 24-hour turnaround to verify or give the right answer. One came back with the correct answer: Google. The rest didn’t know the tech giant had arrived in LA. In fact, Google was leasing huge blocks of commercial space in Beverly Hills, taken the Binocular Building in Venice, purchased three blocks of land behind that iconic building including Gold’s Gym and built a state-of-the-art post production complex in Playa del Rey. I found out by looking.

My colleagues send articles, books, websites, e-learning opportunities to me all of the time. They read them. At a time when some of my peers are starting to retire or slow down, we are excitedly looking at how to use virtual learning, sophisticated digital platforms and welcome the future into our business. Candidly, I don’t think we are doing anything special because this behavior ought to be the norm for most everyone.

Here are my favorite recent reads. Each one offers a learning experience unlike others:

  • The Inevitable – Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future, Kevin Kelly (Viking)
  • Defenseless Under the Night: The Roosevelt Years and the Origins of Homeland Security, Matthew Dallek (Oxford)
  • How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims, (Henry Holt & Company)
  • The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley, Eric Weiner (Simon & Schuster)

This summer, look for The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) from yours truly.


David Harder
David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.

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  1. I agree with Larry. An open mind is essential. I have found that everyone I interface with knows something that I don’t know. Certainly reading, seminars, classes are important. But, for many people, those sources are not as available as for others. Learn from those around you.

  2. We should strive to learn something new every day. Learning is physical and spiritual. Learning keeps us curious and saves us from the mundane. What we know provides us with opportunity to use the knowledge to be gainful and the gift of generosity to give and share knowledge with others. It brings value to who we are and allows us to contribute to society. Knowledge is infinite and as long as we desire we can learn. Knowledge is awe inspiring so as to keep us humble. Inspire yourself to learn something new every day then inspire others by sharing. Listen to others with an open heart an open mind and together you can do amazing things.
    Great article David. Thank you for witting it and sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us.

    • Good Morning Larry,

      Thank you for contributing to the conversation and for your kind words.

      David Harder

  3. Hi David,
    My life is a tribute to the value of being a life-long learner. When I want to learn more about something I act on the impulse. As a child, the rule was that when we went to the library I couldn’t bring home more books than I was able to carry. Mom thought she had to put a limit on it. When it came time to buy my engagement ring, I learned a lot about diamonds. Later, when I was expecting my first child, I bought more books than I could carry to understand how to provide the best possible environment to create the body my child would live in for the rest of his or her life. In my career, I took industry related classes and earned designations. One of the first indications that I was “different” was when I earned my FLMI and the other person at the company who earned it that year had begun taking the series of courses before I was born. I had just turned 21.
    My new career, my passion career, came about because I was told I was far more resilient than most people and asked how I’d done it by an expert. I didn’t know the answer then (I do now) but I decided that if I could figure it out, I’d be able to help a lot of other people, which is so much fun to do! From ’95 — ’11 I researched and when I knew the answer fully, I took the leap and founded Happiness 1st Institute (because when you’re happy 1st, you do better in every other area of life).
    Books were my original source for information and I still read many books, but I also read publications with good reputations on the Internet (not mainstream BS) more like HBR. The primary source of information I use now is journal articles from scientific journals. Since it takes about 22 years for knowledge research to reach the classroom I like going to the source. I also enjoy reading dissertations and thesis’s that are published online. We have a wealth of information at our fingertips. I will occasionally take a class via on online resources such as EdX and Coursera.
    I can’t imagine not knowing what I know. I do know that life would be much harder without the knowledge from a life of learning.
    We need to begin teaching children “this is what we know so far” instead of “these are the facts” because many of the facts I initially learned in school are now wrong. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (you have to add in Lamarick), Atoms are the smallest thing, we only taste with our tongue, and so much more.
    Good article. It doesn’t matter what is coming in the future. Learning has great value and knowing how to learn is a skill worth developing.

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