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What Does Learning Mean To You?

Written by Lynette Lim, Co-CEO of Phillip Capital Inc.  

Attending an executive MBA program at the University of Chicago Booth School can be quite an intense experience. Imagine a room full of intense type A personalities with decades of management and professional experiences under their belt. I sometimes wonder how we managed to get through the program without too much scaring.

There was one fellow Singaporean in my class who had the perfect resume: he had graduated from Oxbridge, had master’s degrees from other pedigree US universities, and was working in corporate finance at a top hedge fund. I observed he always sat in the back of the class with a look of apathy in his eyes. I asked him why he never asked any questions or participated in class discussions. He replied very matter of fact: ”I don’t think I will learn anything.”

I was more than flabbergasted at his answer; this still haunts me even though I have graduated more than a decade ago. If he felt that he couldn’t learn anything from a consistently top-ranked MBA program which boasts of having the largest number of professors with Nobel Laurate prizes in their faculty, who and what can he learn from?

When I googled “learning”, to my surprise the answers that appeared were all related to test scores, and how to “learn” better in order to pass the test scores. In this context, my fellow Singaporean’s logic (that he won’t learn anything) was sound, since he could already pass his exams with flying colors.

In my opinion, this is an extremely narrow and outdated view of what learning is. Obtaining good grades in school does not guarantee success in your career. And even if it does get you through the door, it does not guarantee success in your relationships and other parts of your life. Unfortunately, many Asian parents today still focus a lot on getting good grades as the only recipe of success. While it teaches children good discipline and the virtues of hard work to success, getting good grades is not the most important thing in the world.  Sadly, I have also witnessed many misguided adult “career” students, who focused all their energy on chasing after degrees and professional affiliations at the expense of their contributions to the companies they work for.

The Webster dictionary definition of learning is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.” In the age of exponential growth of digitization, robotics, big data, and machine learning, is the acquisition of knowledge necessary when we can google anything or ask Alexa?

Back in the 1930s, my grandma was considered as a “sage” in her village in Melaka. She was one of the rare ones who could read and write and had a photographic memory. She was an invaluable member of society, as many of the folks who were illiterate relied on her to remember their IC numbers (equivalent of social security numbers here in the US) and bank account numbers etc. In addition, they would ask her to be their scribe and write letters on their behalf.

As the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, we no longer need an individual to remember our personal information; we have our iPhone app to do that. If the ability to read and write is no longer enough to obtain employment, what is?

The World Economic Forum issued a new report this week entitled ”The Futures Of Jobs Report 2018.” It’s free and I do recommend that you download it:

It is a very detailed report detailing how the job market will look in 2022, across sectors and across countries.  In essence, jobs that entail routine administrative work (e.g., data entry, cashiers, administrative tasks) will have lesser value in the future. Instead, the newly created jobs will emphasize imagination, creativity,  and analysis. People will need skillsets to manage new technology like cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence, digital marketing and solution designers. The stable roles will be CEOs, general managers, human resource specialists, compliance officers, and engineers.

While no one really knows how the future will pan out, one thing I know for sure, we need to keep learning or upskilling to embrace this new world. We need to be open to learning new skillsets, and not rely only on the knowledge we attain when we graduated from college.