Are you learning to see around corners?

With the way things are changing in our VUCA world, it’s time for people who want to effectively embrace the future to look at the way they learn.

Have you considered that the way we have learned for the past five thousand years or more may not be good enough to take us into an increasingly uncertain future?  

Ever since human beings have been learning, they have learnt in one way only – from the past. While new knowledge is discovered by people who explore and experiment, those who learn the skills the explorers and experimenters have discovered, learn what has already been established. Think about it. There was a time when certain people discovered how the laws of Nature and Science worked. Unless you and I are one of those explorers or experimenters, everything we learnt during our formative years at school, we learnt from the past – from knowledge that already existed and that had been included in our textbooks. When we were at school, our Maths, Science, Geography, English and other textbooks contained information which already existed, information from the past. I’m not saying that all past information is no longer valid although, in some cases, in the light of new information becoming available, some information does become redundant. I believe that we have to learn from the past in order to understand the future, but learning from the past is now no longer enough.

Because the future is arriving at an increasing speed, the present is no longer as long as it used to be. We therefore have to make sure we learn about the future in new ways. And you don’t really learn much about the future from the past. We therefore have to learn about the future by teaching ourselves to learn from the present and from the future.

Now that takes very different learning skills from what we’ve been used to until now!

So how does one learn from the future?

Obviously, explaining such a seismic shift in learning in a short piece like this is impossible. What I want to give you, therefore, are three tips to get you thinking in a new direction. The rest is up to you!

1. Learn to see around corners

Up until recently, events happened in a linear manner. You could, for the most part, see what was coming. Now we can’t see what’s coming so we have to learn to see around the corner. You’ve heard the expression “connect the dots”, well you now have to start connecting dots that you previously never thought of connecting. But even that’s not enough. Spotting the dots is the easy part. You now also have to start looking at the spaces in between the dots and making sense of those spaces. Now that’s something no-one has told you to do before. Broadly speaking, that refers to context. Learn to interpret context because that will give you clues as to what’s coming next.

2. Understand how people think

In his book Hacking Leadership, Mike Myatt says that, in order to understand the future, you must genuinely understand people. He points out that the best view of the future is found through the lens of the people. If you want to know what the workplace of the future will look like, look at the Millennials. Consider how they think and work, what motivates them and what is important to them. That will give you an understanding of what your company will look like in a few short years when they have moved into positions of influence.

3. Look and listen differently

Not only must you learn to see around corners, but you must also learn to look at things differently and listen differently. The signs of what’s coming are actually in full view if you’re prepared to train your eye to recognise what you’re looking at. Any success or failure is not a surprise. There are very clear signs as to what is going to happen – if you know how to spot them. A number of key things happened in the run up to the Titanic hitting the iceberg in 1912, but no-one spotted them. There were a number of events that led up to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, but no-one spotted them. I’m not blaming anyone, I’m pointing out that, when we examine the events leading up to a success or disaster, we see that there were very clear signs indicating what was going to happen, for better or for worse, which no-one spotted.    

These three tips are but a few that will get you started in learning from the future. They introduce a very different style of learning from the one we’ve been used to. If you can expand your learning to include other styles rather than just learning from books and Google, you will put yourself ahead of the crowd. And when it comes to leadership, that’s where a leader should be!  

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine,, @HRFuturemag, and a professional speaker. He assists business leaders to lead their people into the new world of work.

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