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How do we stay relevant in a fast changing knowledge society?

By G. Balasubramanian

In a fast moving world, the increasing irrelevance of our knowledge and skills is emerging as an important concern. This appears to be causing not only a sense of fear and insecurity about the future, but also low self-esteem, poor performance, decreased productivity, unhealthy relationship issues in workstations and sometimes some withdrawal symptoms in senior people. This also seems to be promoting concerns about loss of job, loss of promotions and growth, appraisal conflicts and resistance to change. Among senior citizens, it seems to be promoting a sense of self-defeat, a sense of shame and emotional conflicts in self-management and relationship managements. But, let us not take it to our hearts, in a social dynamic, where innovation and creativity is a daily routine. All of us, whatever be the profession we practice, whatever be the age group we belong to, whatever be the background of our knowllede and skills, irrelevance will be a part of the regular challenge one would face, whichever country one belongs to. It really calls for effective, well-researched self-learning practices to remain current, competent and contributing.

The main fuel to speed the world’s progress is our stock of knowledge and the brake is our lack of imagination” said Julian Simon. It is indeed true. Talking of knowledge society Peter Drucker, the Management Guru observed “In the knowledge society, there will be no poor countries, but there will only be ignorant countries.” The poverty of a country, according to Drucker, will be decided by the level of ignorance of the people of the country. To stay relevant, is therefore, the basic requisite of a committed citizen of any country. In a world haunted by the knowledge dynamics, where knowledge is becoming irrelevant in an exponential speed, every human being is challenged with both the need and the urgency of being relevant. While the scope and the tools for the acquisition of knowledge are plenty and are accessible, there are several other factors that act as roadblocks to anyone who wants to stay relevant.

1. Fear of the unknown

2. Fear of getting aged

3. Fear of exposure

4. Fear of competition

5. Fear of loss of self-esteem

Oftentimes, the fear of the unknown pushes down the spirit of the people “What would happen?”, “What happens if...?” “Why land in a problem?”; thus, the sense of insecurity about the future and possible loss of existing structures holds them up from further growth, often forcing them to a “chaltha hai” attitude. Alongside, they raise questions: “Why should I?”, “What will happen if I don’t? What will I get, if I do?” and also “Let us see, if someone else does..” and the like. Thus, many try to seek justifications for their not engaging with a futuristic perspective. There are others who suffer from some kind of “learned helplessness” like – “that is not my cup of tea”, “I don’t think I have such competencies”, “I am not made of that stuff”.

Age is never a roadblock to further learning, but the fear of displaying one’s ignorance, fear of competition with the younger generation, the fear of loss of locus standi, the fear of loss of self-esteem and such other feelings hold them up. “Well, my innings is over” “What am I going to do learning at this stage?” “This is the time to insulate yourself from the greed of knowledge and engage into spirituality alone” – and there are several other syndromes that push us out of action. Rather, they chose to remain irrelevant, possibly with certain amount of happiness. “If knowledge can create problems, it is not ignorance through which we can solve them” said Issac Asimov, the popular Russian author.

In a world, where existential styles are fast changing, rather day in and day out, it appears important that one has to stay in the zone of relevance of knowledge and skills, ( zone of proximal development, if it could be rightly put in the words of cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky) not because of its profitability, but because of its immediacy to an operating universe. “I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue” said William Shakespeare. Coping with speed of change is indeed a challenge. What strategies could we adopt to cope with this changing dynamic?

1. Nurture your Belief systems

Unless you believe in yourself, unless you take cognizance of your competency, capability and skills, you will never be able to take the first step forward. The fact that one has been successful in life all along, is good enough to prove that you are still capable of learning. “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words; Your words become your actions; Your actions become your habits; Your habits become your values; Your values become your destiny”, said Mahatma Gandhi.

2. Trust your learnability

Every human being can learn. The learnability is directly linked to the fact that your brain is still active, engaging and is capable of delivering a number of things. The learnability is catalysed by the curiosity, attitude, passion and willingness to grow. Your learning curve may be slow or fast, never mind, but the urge to learn can continuously drive your learning curve.

3. Choose your passion

It is not necessary that you need to spread your wings to encompass the entire universe of knowledge, but you can certainly choose a passion, a field of your exclusive choice and start engaging yourself. This attempt itself, will be good enough to drive you to trust your ability to experiment with certain other essential fields of knowledge that are relevant for a meaningful life. Defining passion, it is said “when you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see how you burn.” Your passion gravitates the entire universe towards you.

4. Engage into action

Oftentimes, we are satisfied by being passionate, but don’t really engage into action. Engagement helps you to identify with the roadblocks to learning and acquisition of knowledge and skills. Engaging into action relieves the fear of the unknown, the fear of learnability and takes us towards possibilities infusing a sense of confidence. It is said “one piece of action is worth a thousand words.”

5. Play with your knowledge

Being quite serious with the content and the skills initially might some amount of stress, trauma and furtherance of inabilities. Hence take learning as a play, a process of identification with knowledge as an input of joy and share your mistakes, your foolishness and your inadequacies with other who are empowered. You will be surprised that they reach out to you in praise of your ardent attempt to learn. Learning will be enriched through human collaboration.

6. Don’t seek professional competence

Coping with knowledge is one thing and seeking professional competence is another. Initially it is enough to stay focused on coping with knowledge gaps, basic operational skills and familiarity with the knowledge domain rather than seeking professional competence. So, do not try to compete or compare with others with professional skills. Respect them for what they have and seek their help just to understand the universe of professional operations, the concerned knowledge domain has. May be, you develop appropriate professional skills over a period of time. Don’t either suffer or suffocate for it.

7. Never defeat yourself

In experimenting with new knowledge, it is exclusively as an exercise in ‘bridging the gaps’; no element of success of failure is involved, only continuous effort to your learnability is required. So never underestimate yourself or defeat yourself with what is not known; rather pat your back for what is known. It is said that “Nobody can defeat you unless you are willing to get defeated. “ So, ask yourself often “Am I willing to give up and get defeated?” Even if you fail, doesn’t matter, get up. “True greatness lies not in never falling, but rising everytime we fall” said Oliver Goldsmith.

8. Grab every opportunity for self-learning

Learning is strongly empowered, when it is self-learning; because it facilitates in helping one to move from ‘unconscious incompetence’ to ‘unconscious competence’. Though it may take time and effort, it calls for personalized efforts. Hence extend your universe of self-learning slowly but steadily, so that you are able to synergize your past experiences with newer experiences. It helps you to position your knowledge in the current dynamics of growth.

9. Stay Positive

When you are engaged in new ventures, there will be a number of people who would belittle you, scoff at you, brand you and intimidate you, either in the family or in the circle of friends. Normally, these are people who have succumbed to their own incompetence and feel the growth of others a social challenge to them. Hence learn to ignore the negative sentiments all around, be your own motivator and stay engaged with your learning with a positive note. I saw a wall paper with two kites flying high along with a note “They do so, because they believe they can.”

10. Make learning a Habit

Learning is an indication of a powerful life system, organically, emotionally, psychologically and socially. In a world multi-dimensional changes happen at an incredible speed, opportunities for learning are continuous. Learning doesn’t happen exclusively for a personal need but for a social need. As a vibrant socially-conscious individual, it is vital that you make learning a habit. The habit becomes a useful, meaningful, productive hobby that would keep you relevant in all your existential domains. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”, says John Dryden.