In my last article in this series about learning, I talked about the difference in business between a top-down and bottom-up scenario, and that the bottom-up scenario is the only one which will, in the end, really work in global digital commerce.
This concept neatly crosses over into education. If you look back in history, knowledge wasn’t broadly accessible, and was very “top-down.” In some cases knowledge was so fiercely guarded it became like the Freemasons—you had to be part of some secret society to obtain it.
Over time, knowledge has become available through colleges and universities—although they certainly have their issues, too, such as the scandal over bribing college admissions testing personnel.
In the digital age, knowledge has become increasingly accessible. There are many learning platforms out there, such as Pluralsight for learning different aspects of development. We use Learning Management Systems (LMSs) ourselves, and a number of SaaS vendors have developed their own “universities” with their own certifications.
Thomas Friedman, in his excellent 2005 book The World Is Flat, points out the trend of the world increasingly becoming a level playing field (“flat”) for everyone, and this has certainly happened with knowledge.
With knowledge so readily available, it now comes down to a willingness to learn, a dedication to actually putting in the time and energy to focus on learning new things. We do know that more and more people are indeed engaging in learning—simply look at the astounding 40 million programmers now an open-source repository GitHub. The number of programmers there has roughly doubled in the last 3 years.
With access to all this knowledge, another interesting trend has been occurring over the last 50 years or so—that of specialization. Just check out your local hospital, and you’ll see that for every type of malady there is a specialist: pulmonary, ear-nose-throat, dermatology, and so on. My son has a retainer for his teeth, and for that, we must take him to an orthodontist. But for regular dental care, he goes to the dentist’s office, where he may see a dental hygienist for cleaning or someone else for another service
We see this widespread specialization in technology as well. Enterprises often have a need for a database administrator, a CRM administrator (although not needed with Pipeliner CRM), a helpdesk administrator, or one of many other functions that all used to fall under the single function of the system administrator or IT director. An example from my own company is the need for a specialist in SEO optimization. We also have the need on a regular basis for someone who optimizes video for SEO, as this is different than written content.
Back in the old days, a single person would cover multiple workflows. But today these are absolutely separated, and require more and more specialized knowledge, simply because every second there is a new development in just about every area.
The Knowledge Chase
For everyone, then, it becomes a chase after knowledge into the future. Knowledge is moving ever faster and is ever more complex, and we must increasingly race to catch up. The best example is computer programming. We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and one amazing achievement that made that landing possible was the cutting-edge computer programs developed by Margaret Hamilton and her team at MIT. We have come so far since then that this can be viewed as practically back in the Stone Age when it comes to programming, but it’s only 50 years ago.
Because of having to chase and capture all this increasingly complex knowledge, today people work together in coordinated knowledge bases, and knowledge is published and is immediately accessible. That certainly didn’t happen back in the day of, say, Albert Einstein, who carried his theories across the Atlantic by ship, and it was years before they were broadly known.
The Radical Shift in Learning
In former times, a person went to school—grammar school, middle school, high school, university—went into the workforce and generally worked for 30 or 40 years, then retired. This pattern was really well expressed in a song by Supertramp called “The Logical Song” —we were basically formed for a system and then pushed into it. You are schooled, then worked like a machine, and then when the machine is too old you’re pulled out and you get a little money, and hopefully, you die soon because otherwise, you’re too costly on the society.
Today everything is different. Because of advances in medical science, people live easily to 100 years. People used to retire at 65, but if people do that now, they’re only retiring a little over halfway through their lives. Hence they tend to keep on working. (Note that “retirement” is a fairly recent invention historically—up to about 120 years go, there was no such thing. People worked until they literally could not any longer. Ben Franklin, for example, worked well into his eighties. More recently, my wife’s grandfather, Dr. Michael Stern, worked until he was 92 and actually died in his office. That’s just how things were.)
Because of the constant changes in technology and many other areas, if someone is going to continue working over a long period of time, they must often continue their education. They end up going back to school.
This has an interesting meaning for the mind, which was geared to learning all throughout school—but when school was over, those mental “learning muscles” were turned off. When one returns to school after many years, those muscles must be put back into use. Today, so that we can survive, we’re almost forced into a lifelong learning process.
It’s a whole new world. Today, all of us must be constantly open to learning and adopting. It’s a process that is crucial to every profession—and certainly to sales.