Calling on Leonardo’s mindset for lifelong learning

In recent generations, we grew up with the belief that life consisted of three stages: studying, working hard then, retiring. With our Bachelor’s in hand, our continuing attachment to the academic life consisted solely of attending executive training programs, often of a similar nature to our degrees.

Experience has shown us that such a linear and predictable path is no longer viable (indeed I wonder if it ever was). The contemporary learning stage is now so protracted it could be considered a lifelong Master’s course.  The “working hard” period has evolved into a “work smarter” mantra that obliges us to keep our thinking mode permanently switched on. And… as it is now difficult to predict whether I will have the chance to retire, I have decided to adopt Stefan Seigmeister’s advice to divide my dreams for later years into small portions. This way I get to enjoy them throughout my life.

Our technical knowledge built upon years of blood sweat and tears, is not always an advantage in today’s competitive workplace, where facts are quickly superseded, and our information may be proved obsolete, insufficient or inaccurate. What makes the difference now is creative intelligence, our ability for analysing complex information, making unique connections and creating new knowledge. We are called to become Knowmads, to develop and master a new set of skills for the future, to think creatively, learn faster and make change happen. The message is clear but… how?

We all know that we cannot learn these new skills through traditional learning programs and many questions arise in our minds. How are higher education institutions addressing the implications of this paradigm shift for education? Are they training professionals to meet the evolving needs of the market? What alternatives do we have for shaping our personal learning experiences to overcome these challenges?

It is true that we are responsible for orchestrating our personal learning paths to achieve the best version of ourselves, but our support systems (educational and professional) should provide the enabling context, opportunities and tools. Business wise, it is not only a matter of sending your brightest executives to an expensive University, it is about taking a holistic and strategic approach to talent management. It entails introducing a learning culture, to unleash the individual and Collective Intelligence of your people. This is a critical factor for business success.

On top of that, most learning methods used in formal education are outdated.  They train students for a comfortable world that is no longer there and fail to close the gap between theory and reality. Fortunately, a significant evolution is taking place in higher education, with the emergence of complementary learning programs to address the changing needs of students. These new programs provide a wide range of opportunities for adult learning and go some way towards bridging the gap left by formal education. Nevertheless, the path ahead is still long and challenging.

With all this in mind, we should not rely solely on formal education or companies’ talent strategies to teach us these new skills. We need to take responsibility for seeking out all the available options for learning, creating new opportunities and realizing our personal transformation. Change and uncertainty are here to stay so our ability to learn and adapt is the key to our survival.

In my Innovation workshops I encourage participants to adopt this new learning mentality, calling on one of history’s greatest geniuses: Leonardo, taking him as an example of wisdom and personal lifelong learning. His Renaissance values offer an invaluable guide to developing a continuous learning mindset, a unique and precious lifelong asset. Here are some tips by M.Gelb to start thinking like Leonardo:

  • Curiosità – An insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous improvement
  • Dimostrazione – Learning from experience
  • Sensazione – Sharpening the senses
  • Sfumato – Managing ambiguity and change
  • Arte/Scienza – Whole-brain thinking
  • Corporalità – Body-mind fitness
  • Connessione – Systems thinking
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