Learn, Unlearn, Repeat

To be successful, one must constantly learn and be open to learning.  Not only do case law, statutes and regulations change all the time, technology has drastically changed how law is practiced and how a law office is run as a business.  I was just telling my son the other day that in the late 1980’s attorneys were still researching the law “by hand” and Shepardizing cases to make sure cases were still good law based on a sliding scale of different-colored pamphlets to determine how current was the law cited by them or their opponent.

By the early 90’s law students were learning the “by hand” method alongside computer-based Boolean logic searches on LexisNexis.  Fast forward past my son’s eye roll and the reality that today, non-attorneys and elementary school children alike are “Googling” references to the law.  If you don’t have an appetite for learning your career choices might need to be adjusted.

Learning: I enjoyed Margie Warrell’s February 3, 2014 article in Forbes and encourage you to read her perspective on re-thinking the learning process.  For students in college now, Warrell highlighted a frightening statistic —according to adult education experts, up to 40% of what college students are learning now will be obsolete in a decade when they’ll be working in jobs that don’t yet exist.  Frightening but we know from our daily lives that a colleague may not be in the office down the hall, he or she may be located across the country or even in a different country. The internet has made talent ubiquitous and app-friendly.  Your ability to proactively adapt and change could make a crucial difference to what you’re doing in a few years and how successful you’re doing it.

Unlearning – perhaps the trickiest of the three-part recipe for success: Many of us were good students in school but as time passes we become a bit more reluctant to learn.  We tend to stick with what we know and may avoid situations or challenges where we may make mistakes or be forced to learn something new.  This is a comfortable approach right up until the point technology passes us by. Evolving how we think about ourselves and our jobs is a good starting point. Practice new tasks, new software, new skills and be prepared to fail a few times, you just might learn something new.  The key verb

Relearning:   Not to put too fine a point on it, if we resist unlearning things that are no longer relevant while failing to learn relevant information your options narrow greatly.  Delaying adaption to change will become expensive as you find the world leaving you farther and farther behind.  To succeed today Warrell reminds us that “learning agility” is the key and her advice is clear: Unlearning is about moving away from something, not acquiring something.  This we need to do before learning new things.

What do you need to learn, unlearn, and relearn about your field or career so you can be more productive and successful in the future?