Keeper Trait #13 – Learn-ability

BrailleLife teaches us a lot of lessons. Some people learn slowly. Some not at all.

It’s a sad fact that the majority of us never learn much of anything new after leaving the structure of formal education. This is not to say we don’t acquire a new skill or deepen existing ones, but the broadening experience of learning happens too seldom.

Learning should be a lifetime pursuit and for some it is – not in the formal sense but in the deepening, broadening, enlightening sense. In the context of business and organizational management and leadership, the times are changing at a much faster pace than ever and it is imperative that we keep up.

Our competitors will. When I worked at a major home improvement center, the corporate suits launched the company into a brave new world (for them) of technology because they “learned” that their customers were moving into different modes of buying. And they were losing market share to their competitors, among them Amazon.com.

Organizations, like people, soon discover that no plan, no strategy, no intent ever survives contact with the real world without alteration, major or minor, because the plan, the strategy, the intent is subject to unforeseen events and the independent will of others. Others, in this context, are either your constituents who demand new or better products and new or easier ways to buy them, or your competitors who will certainly be creative and ambitious.

Apple made their price control strategy work because they have a unique project available nowhere else. When a former Apple exec tried the same strategy at JC Penney, it was a disaster! Why? Different constituents and different competitors.

So keepers are those associates and employees who can read the ground, learn what it says, and respond appropriately.

On a smaller scale, the second principle applies. The employees of that major home improvement center were captive constituents. I mean that in a positive sense. They worked within the corporation but they live in the real world. They own homes, rent apartments, have families, and buy stuff. They also embrace technology and contemporary means of shopping by using I-phones, I-pads, and on-line search engines. Brand loyalty and store loyalty is foreign to them as it is in the marketplace. No longer do people shop at Sears because they or their parents did. They look for the best at the cheapest price and will readily buy it.

I myself shop a great deal on Amazon, just bought a new garbage disposal to replace our leaking old one. Within 2 miles there is a Home Depot and a Lowes. I could have bought from either because I drive by them a few times every week. Why Amazon? Because the price was less and because it was over $25, Amazon shipped it at no charge. It comes to me; I do not have to go to it.

I have learned the best way to acquire a new product.

Ok, so let’s bring this home to the keepers in your organization or company. There are skills, attitudes, and insight that will accelerate your company’s profit margins, your organizations viability. Those skills, attitudes, and insight will need to cover tasks and processes within the company or organization and they will need to cover the changing landscape inhabited by your constituents and competitors.

We often use the term “learning curve” to describe the process of acquiring a new skill. For many, perhaps most tasks, skills, attitudes, or abilities the learning curve can be a challenge.

Therefore a learn-able associate will possess these attributes:

Stamina – the capacity of endurance to see a process through. Some people just give up, keepers don’t.

Adaptability – the capacity of pivoting when necessary, of making immediate changes to facilitate ultimate objectives.

Courage – the bravery to leave the comfort of familiar processes and systems to embrace new ones. Analysts tell us as many as 70% do not have this attribute.

Problem-solving skills – the ability to find a way when there seems to be none. Since I’ve discussed this elsewhere I will not belabor the point here.

I suppose I should ask if the other leaders and managers in your organization possess learn-ability. It can be a trap to feel secure inside your comfort-zone and rest on your successes. If I may, just look at Sears, JC Penny, and soon-to-be gone Best Buy.  All of them once vibrant, now all on life support. For car buffs, look at the mighty Packard and Studebaker car companies. Their demise now readily understood as the result of an incapacity to learn. But we all know that corporations, companies, and organizations are not robotic entities possessing artificial intelligence. They are comprised of people who make the decisions based on what they know and should be learning every day.

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