Robert Davis

OPINION

Don't skimp on your knowledge base

Long-term survival demands continous learning

There is a saying in marketing that people under 35 years of age live in the digital world and those over 55 live in the paper world.

While this expression obviously affects how an organization communicates with its stakeholders and clients, it has another meaning that is subtle and foreboding.  When I meet with people in my professional network (yes, I am over 55) we often discuss the paper (and e-) books that we are reading: their meaning, application to our lives and how they inform our work.  In other words, we share how we continue to expand our knowledge base.   Great books are recommended and shared between us.

Most of my network knows that we are working longer than we planned to work years ago.  Many of us feel a need to keep our understanding of the economy, technology, current management topics, strategy development, or marketing up-to-date.  Taking formal college-level courses is not an option these days, for some people, for various reasons.

This process of maintaining our knowledge base entails reading books, including textbooks, articles, peer-reviewed journals, research findings, newspapers, credible blogs, Web sessions that offer real content, listening to interviews with respected subject matter experts and more.  I do not include popular management du jour books that attempt to provide simplistic methodologies for solving complex organization problems in my reading list.   On occasion, I attend day-long seminars even if I have to pay for them. 

We intuitively know that our knowledge base loses value over time, a form of information inflation.  We have to be ready to consider a new challenge, unexpected action by a tough competitor or solve an intractable management problem by thinking out of the box.  New thinking requires new knowledge.  Of course, as time goes by, knowledge continues to evolve; standing still is not a learning option. 

How are under-35 year old employees keeping their professional knowledge base up-to-date?  When I ask this question of fellow employees and young people I meet in my travels, in this age group, the answers I receive are alarming.  Many do not read books these days especially books that delve deeply into a subject. Very few subscribe to a daily newspaper or professional publications to seek deeper analysis/understanding.    

Many people are still paying off college loan debt and think little about signing up for further courses.  Of course, you can always sign-up for one of the many, free online courses that are offered these days.  Most will not attend a seminar unless their employer pays the cost. 

With 24X7 access to Wikipedia and Google, with their unlimited information sources, ‘keeping up’ appears easy to some.  Knowledge development is not about quick searches; it is about having a framework for life-long learning.

As work today continues to evolve into project-oriented jobs meaning that people will be increasingly hired for periods of ‘months’, with minimal benefits, to complete a specific task or contribute a needed skill, those whose knowledge is not up-to-date will be left behind.   Since many young people today will work for 50 years or so during their careers, how do they plan to stay in demand by employers?  What is your framework maintaining your knowledge and well-being

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