The Only Skill That Really Matters

I bet if you thought about this long enough, you could come up with the same idea.  But instead of asking you to guess, I’ll just tell you what Matt Charney suggests it is.  In his post, “The Only Skill That Really Matters for Recruiting and Sourcing,” Matt suggests the skill is “learning agility.”

Read his post to get the gist of his message.

I have been immersed over my adult life with “learning.”  In the olden days, learning has meant you go to school and get some quantification (like a degree) that you learned. When I started my career in information technology, there was a lot of buzz about the uselessness of IT certifications. I heard more than once that someone had a certification, because they went to an intense week-long certification boot camp, but they didn’t even know how to turn a server on. Book learning, and classroom learning, didn’t prepare them to actually do the job.

I have my MBA from Idaho State University, but I don’t credit hardly any part of my career “success” to (1) having an MBA (2) from ISU.  The best thing about having an MBA is that I don’t have to wonder if I’d be a better entrepreneur or businessman if I were to have an MBA.  I can check that off the list, and move on.  That was a very expensive (with regard to time and money) checkmark.

I’m not saying that classroom, or school, learning is completely useless. I’ll let smarter pontificators talk about that.  I’d like to argue, like Matt, that there is a skill that we can, that we should, have, that can impact our success in many areas of our life.

Agility is defined as the ability to be “quick and graceful” with regard to learning new things. Or, to learn things “quickly and easily.”

Can that happen only in school?

NO, of course not.  It can happen from reading magazines, books, blogs, etc.  It can happen by talking to people who have expertise in an area that you don’t.  It can happen by hanging out with people who are smarter than you are. It can happen by exercising your curiosity muscle, self-discipline, and being more creative.

Learning is a life-long skill that we need to embrace.

Many years ago, before I was settled on a major, a friend of mine said I should go into programming, or IT, because I would “get to learn new things every day.” I was not excited about that because it mean if I wasn’t learning new things, I would fall behind.  My plan, at that point, was to major in business and Spanish, two things that didn’t change a whole lot (at least, not every single day).  Fate happened, and I majored in Computer Information Systems, and got a job as a web developer. The rest, as they say, is history.

And here I am, learning new things every single day. I have my favorite magazines, I fit in a few classics each year (I’m finishing Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens), and I read blogs and such with a voracious appetite.

I think when when Matt is talking about learning agility, he’s specifically referring to learning certain things quickly and easily, but I think that being curious and hungry for information, or for truth (one of Pluralsight’s three pillars is that they are “truth seekers”), involves any learning. As we learn how to learn, we can apply learning techniques to what our day job, or career, is. It’s a life skill that can help us adjust as the world, the market, and our day job adjusts, evolves and changes.

That’s one reason why I spend time with Pluralsight (and you can too).  This, in my mind, is the new learning. It’s one reason why I muscle my way through some of the classics that don’t grab me, and don’t seem interesting.  I once picked up a classic that I put down, in disgust, after 185 pages. I only had about 1,200 more pages to finish the book, but I just couldn’t read another page.  Three months later, I picked it up again, and loved the rest of the book.  I remember the part in the unabridged version of Les Mis, going through the sewers, thinking “do we really need this many pages of walking through the sewer? SERIOUSLY?”

But something happens when you read, and learn, and discipline yourself.  Something magical.

When you finish those books you can say “I DID IT.”  I can read Dickens. I can read Hugo. I can read Shakespeare.  So when I get a new project at work, and I have to do something, by golly, I CAN DO IT.  Figuring out my current project at work is not as hard as figuring out why a Shakespeare play is important, classic, or even what the plot is.

This, my friends, is exercising your learning muscles.  This is how you become an agile learner.  Quick and easy, quick a graceful… as you want to learn, and you practice learning, you’ll improve your ability to be an agile learner.  And this might be the most important skill that will serve you through the rest of your career.

Don’t you agree?