Chapter 4 Pg’s 112-114 Lead With Love By: Gerry Czarnecki
Lifelong learning has been a popular concept in academic circles for a long time, yet the reality of its application to the work world has been recent. Too many leaders have completed their formal education and then assumed they knew all they needed to succeed. The 1990s proved otherwise as thousands of employees throughout corporate America found themselves downsized and out-placed. Many of them were highly paid middle managers with knowledge and skills limited largely to what was required by their previous jobs. We are probably going through a similar period during the later part of the first decade in the twenty-first century.
As these leaders found then, and will find to be true again, the pace of change in the world had accelerated to such a phenomenal rate that within a decade they had fallen behind. And the rate of change will continue to accelerate even further. Anybody entering the workforce today will face the prospect of several different careers during a lifetime. This prospect can be either frightening or exciting, depending on how people prepare for the change. Those who choose to be leaders will also need to renew and reinvent themselves several times during their working careers. Lifelong learning is essential to survival in the new millennium.
The Japanese have a word for this concept, Kaizen, which means continuous improvement. From Masaaki Imai’s book Kaizen: The essence of Kaizen is simple and straightforward: Kaizen means improvement. Moreover, Kaizen means ongoing improvements involving everyone, including both managers and workers. The Kaizen philosophy assumes that our way of life—be it our working life, our social life, or our home life deserves to be constantly improved.
A commitment to this core principle was the heart of the total quality revolution that swept through the manufacturing sector during the last decade. In the United States, we have almost always had a strong bias toward innovation and breakthrough thinking. No doubt this is at the heart of much of the success we have had in leading the world of change, but the concept of continuous improvement added a significant dimension to the production equation. Instead of a focus on hitting home runs every day, the Kaizen approach calls for tiny little improvements that add up to significant change. When we in the United States began to combine our capacity for innovation with that of continuous improvement, we managed not only to catch up to the Japanese companies, but we began to pass them.
The same concept must hold true for us as individuals. We must continue to focus on major breakthroughs in learning, but we must also deploy continuous improvement through daily learning. The breakthroughs can be as small as completing a single distance learning course online or as large as completing a master’s degree program. Continuous learning can be as complex as learning a new processing system being implemented at work or as simple as learning about a new Intel chip that has more processing speed. New knowledge is essential if we are to keep up with the pace of change, and we must look for it in many different places. By continuously learning, you are investing in yourself. Almost all of us have some type of investment program. We put away capital for the future, and that is a wise move; however, how many of us have a firm plan to invest some of our savings in our own development? One of the best ways to learn is to take advice—wherever you can get it. The smartest people are always asking questions. We all have something to learn from others. For some, the thought of asking a question is an admission they do not know something. For others, asking a question is the start of an exploration of ideas. Instead of always giving your opinions about issues, try asking others for theirs. Thinking “outside the box” is a popular concept, but you will probably find it is almost impossible to do alone because sometimes our own minds are the box we are trapped in. It can be extremely useful to have somebody else state a point or ask a question you would not even have thought about.