What is a good foundation for career satisfaction?


John Hagel, an author, Silcon Valley veteran and management consultant with some very well known names, writes about the learning pyramid in an article on his blog.

The idea in his post is that we spend too much time focusing on the skills needed to survive in a world where artificial intelligence (AI) takes on more and more jobs.

Instead, we need to think about how we can learn faster to learn what is needed at the moment – and the learning pyramid model helps with that.

Looking for a source for the learning pyramid model, however, tends to bring up a model of how different activities influence learning – and focuses on the narrow question of how to learn something new.

Looking at Hagel’s learning pyramid through a different lens might help us approach the AI vs human question asking what makes us human – perhaps it should be a humanity pyramid that we use to ask questions about whether the work we do is sufficiently human.

At the top of the pyramid sit Skills. A skill is knowing how to something – wield an axe, write a piece of news copy, manage an unhappy customer over the phone.

We need to hone our skills throughout our career and quite often we do this just by doing what we do. A craftsperson gets better the longer he or she works at a task.

Early in our careers, we need to focus on acquiring skills – reading, writing and arithmetic among others such as drawing, woodwork and martial arts.

But these are the areas where technology and AI will also look at first – text processing, robot news writers, Excel spreadsheets, computer controlled laser cutters and drones will do more of the reading, writing, arithmetic, machining and defence we need.

I’ve written here about the skills that are more likely to stay in demand but in essence they are the more human ones of empathy and social engagement and the practical ones of dexterity and manual manipulation.

Going down the humanity pyramid brings us to knowledge, knowing what to do.

That comes with experience and learning – as we do more, reflect on what we do, learn from the successes and failures of others – we develop models of what might work and when that we can use to make judgements.

Knowledge is a collection of mental models about different situations.

These two, knowledge and skills, will take us a long way in a career.

In the early days, to some extent, which skills we focus on matters less than whether they are going to clothe, feed and house us.

Eventually we’re going to want more about life and work, and that’s when we start questioning whether what we’re doing is aligned with our capabilities – the next level down on the pyramid.

Do we feel good about going to work? Are we working on something that engages us and gets us into flow?

If we are in a fairly secure position, but dislike what we do – then this is the point where we need to question and change things, perhaps get a side hustle or a hobby that gets us to use our natural capabilities more.

Finally, at the base of the pyramid, Hagel puts Passion.

That’s a difficult word – sometimes tortured in general usage – a little like authenticity. Can you really feel passionate about customer service? Some people say they do, and who are we to argue…

In the context of work and life, however, I take this more as feeling fulfilled – experiencing peace of mind, as in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

So, in summary, the learning pyramid or humanity pyramid, is a useful structure through which we can view the work and career choices we have made so far, and question whether we have our skills, knowledge, capabilities and passion aligned.

And if not, what can we do about it?

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