As the famous saying goes: change is the only constant thing in our lives. Indeed, the rate of change has accelerated almost in every aspect of our lives. This includes climate, technology, economic, as well as political and social changes.
The Half-Life of Knowledge
One important effect of this rapid rate of change is the shrinking half-life of knowledge. The “half-life of knowledge” is the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete. The concept is attributed to Fritz Machlup (1962).
Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD).
In fact, the half-life of engineering knowledge has been estimated to be around two years. That means that half of what you know today as an engineer will be obsolete in two years’ time.
We Need to Become Constant Learners
So what must we do in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change, or better yet to increase our knowledge and value?
I believe the answer is to become constant learners and faster learners. This is true for individuals as well as for companies. Companies need to become learning organizations. Knowledge is the most critical competitive resource that companies have.
Thus, companies need to continuously create and acquire knowledge. It needs to be part of the company culture and its priorities.
However, it’s not enough to simply hire smart people with vast knowledge. As pointed out earlier, knowledge shelf-life is becoming shorter and shorter. There is a need for an entirely different approach.
I believe it starts with recruiting. When I recruit people, one of the most important skills I look for is their ability to learn independently and fast. Their specific knowledge has short-term value. However, their ability to acquire knowledge has significant long-term value.
Create a Learning Culture
Furthermore, companies need to create a learning culture. Leaders define the culture of their organization. The actions and behavior set an example for others to follow. Therefore, leaders need to prioritize, encourage, and reward learning.
This includes both formal and informal learning. Formal learning may include courses and training, as well as lessons learned sessions at the conclusion of every project, event, or significant activity.
Informal learning can happen anytime and anywhere. It can include the sharing of information from customer visits, conferences, and independent learning (books, articles, etc.). It also includes mentoring and coaching within teams and groups.
In addition, we need to develop systems and processes to facilitate and ease the sharing of information within the organization. Including, via Internet portals, knowledge databases, online video libraries of courses, webinars, as well as social media tools.
If we are to stay relevant and increase our knowledge and value we need to become constant and better learners. As we were all once taught: Learning is Fundamental!