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Never stop learning: how continuous development can change your world

By Cranfield School of Management


Being in the business of providing learning and development courses, it isn’t really surprising that, here at Cranfield Executive Development, we believe that you should never stop learning.

We meet many people who tell us that they have passed the point in their career or their life that they feel willing or able to expand their knowledge or skill-set. Others tell us they don’t have the time to dedicate to improving themselves. Some managers and high-level executives are happy to sign-off on training courses for their team, but don’t believe they could benefit from further learning and development too.

To the doubters, we say that learning should be a continuous process and that professional development can bring a range of benefits: not only improved career prospects, but also boosted self-confidence, enhanced capabilities, increased enjoyment of your work and better leadership skills. To the managers and high-level executives, we say that – if they want their team to value the importance of learning – they should set a strong example.

And we aren’t alone in valuing the importance of life-long learning. One of our favourite quotes comes from Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and pioneer of mass production, who said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

He was not alone in his thinking. Jack Nicholson is quoted as once saying: “The minute that you’re not learning, I believe you’re dead”, while his actor compatriot Bruce Lee claimed before he died that: “Life itself is your teacher and you are in a state of constant learning.” Mahatma Gandhi advised: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

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So, why is learning so important? Albert Einstein hit the nail on the head when he said: “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Investing in yourself by undertaking continuous learning and development is about much more than just acquiring new knowledge and skills for the workplace. By getting out of the workplace and meeting and working with other people with different perspectives, you’re likely to gain a fresh understanding of the work you do in context, and look at situations differently than you did before, even if the work you do day-to-day doesn’t change.

Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Now, you might think: “I’m not going to change the world just by going on a few training courses”, and that could be true, but by going on those courses you might end up changing your own world. Maybe just a little bit, maybe a lot, because those benefits of learning and development that we mentioned earlier (boosted self-confidence, enhanced capabilities, increased enjoyment of your work and better leadership skills) can have profound effects if you let them.

Finally, we should mention that word that often lurks at the back of people’s minds when they are reluctant to invest in their learning and development: failure. What if I don’t understand the course? What if I can’t do the work? What if I do the course, get new responsibilities at work as a result, and can’t cope with my new workload?

Let us reassure you, if you’re willing to try and to work hard, you will understand and you will be able to complete any training course you choose. Learning and development providers are in the business of breaking down sometimes complex topics into manageable chunks so they can be grasped by people with no prior knowledge of the topic.

If you’re still worried, take heart from some of the most famous “failures” out there: these people thrived on the difficulties they faced.

Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old, and was described by his parents as “sub-normal”. He was expelled from school and his teachers described him as “mentally slow”. He went on to develop the theory of relativity.

Michael Jordan was dropped from his high school basketball team after displaying an apparent “lack of skill”. He is now widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Bill Gates was a Harvard University drop-out and his first business was a failure. He went on to found Microsoft, one of the world’s largest software companies.

The Beatles were rejected by Decca Recording Studios, who said “They have no future in showbusiness.” They became one of the most influential bands in history.

Colonel Harland David Sanders’ chicken was rejected by more than 1,000 restaurants. Today, KFC is the world’s second largest restaurant chain.

J.K. Rowling’s first novel “Harry Potter” was rejected by 12 publishing houses. To date, the Harry Potter series of novels has sold more than 500 million copies worldwide.

Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching!

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