Continuous Learning: The Strategy of the Future

by Richard E. Winder

Copyright 1994, Richard E. Winder.  All Rights Reserved.

At the entrance to the university where I received my Bachelors Degree is a sign that bears the slogan: "Enter to Learn. Go Forth to Serve." As an undergraduate student, I often joked with my colleagues that the sign really should read: "Enter to Serve. Go forth to Learn." As I graduated from college, I realized that there was perhaps more truth in our revised version than I had originally thought. I realized that the value of my undergraduate education was not what I had learned, but that I had learned how to learn.

The events of the past two decades since my graduation have reinforced this continuous learning philosophy. Tom Peters says that the focus of our companies today has to be on "strategic capability building"--developing the skills and capabilities that will permit us to respond to the needs of customers and to the environment in which our company operates. Peter Senge says that our companies must become "learning organizations" in order to respond to the needs of our customers in fast-changing markets. These skills and capabilities not only help build customer and employee loyalty, but they also protect the company from costly mistakes. For example, being up-to-date on recent developments in employment laws or taxation issues can ensure that our company has the skills it needs to remain in compliance with laws and regulations that could otherwise result in costly lawsuits.

The fact that we live in a fast-changing world underscores the need to be constantly learning in order to keep up-to-date with what is happening around us. This is one reason that typical college courses, while providing basic skills and background, normally do not provide us with real corporate-world training. The very structure of the college system makes it a far better source of background education than specific skills training. Consequently, once we are on the job, a whole new, on-going learning process has to take place.

Many people look to their position in the organization or to the structure of their organization for their security. The events of the past decade have shown that there is no security in position or structure, as thousands of managers have lost their jobs through restructuring of organizations and even markets and industries. As suggested by Tom Peters, real security in today's world comes from the ability to flexibly respond to our changing world. This responsiveness can only come from a rigorous continuous learning process. Continuing education provides better job security, offers potential for advancement, and provides options for other job opportunities.

In today's world, through works of masters such as Stephen R. Covey, companies are realizing more and more that people are not just machines or assets, but are living, breathing, feeling human beings who have a need for fulfillment in their work and a need for meaning in their life. Continuing education is an excellent means of instilling a sense of personal accomplishment, achievement, confidence and pride--not only from the learning process itself, but from successfully applying the concepts learned. The company which promotes personal growth among its employees is generally the benefactor of that growth. Fulfillment and meaning in an employee's personal life often translates into better customer and employee relationships and, in the long run, continued growth and success of the company.