Make progress with a personal learning agenda

Nashville Business Journal

March 31, 2017 

October 27, 2017


The world is changing faster than ever. Just 10 years ago, cell phones weren’t that smart—and media wasn’t very social. Now retail sales are quickly shifting from brick-and-mortar to online, while automation is reducing U.S. factory head count quicker than low-wage countries can take away the jobs. Most everything around us is changing faster than ever, which means just to keep up we have to be learning all the time.

The importance of continuous learning—especially maintaining a solid grasp of major world trends—became more acute recently while reading Johan Norberg’s “Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future.” Did you know, despite what we hear, violence worldwide is hovering near the lowest point in recorded history? There has also been huge movement toward greater freedom and equality across the globe. For starters, consider the impact these three trends may have on your professional life: 

Life expectancy: Worldwide it has risen from 31 to 71 in the last 100 years and is growing all the time. Your peers are working longer, which might mean a longer path to that dream job. Or you might wind up hiring 80-year-olds—a thought that may not have crossed your mind a decade ago. How will longer lifetimes impact your particular workplace or industry?

Global literacy: Worldwide 86% of people are now literate, up from just 40% in 1950. That means the work you do may now see competition from around the globe, not just the next town over. What new competition is your profession, company or industry facing today? How will you meet those challenges in the future?  

Declining poverty: In 1981, a remarkable 44% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty; today that number is less than 10%. How can your company capitalize on this positive change? What impact will this socioeconomic advancement have on the products and services your company delivers?

The importance of a learning agenda

These are just a few of macro trends that you should know about to stay current. To excel—and maybe just survive—leaders would be well served by making a proactive “learning agenda.” 

Mine includes reading newspapers, magazines and books; going to as many trade and educational events as I can; and, perhaps most importantly, networking with a wide variety of professionals who know more than I do.

As you build your own learning agenda, think hard about how larger cultural shifts may affect your life—and your career. 

  • How will the products and services you produce and provide change in the future?
  • What skills do you need to develop to keep up? 
  • What else do you need to learn?

Here’s your five-step challenge: 1) Read “Progress.” 2) Examine how trends may impact you personally. 3) Craft a learning agenda. 4) Anticipate your future. 5) Prepare yourself for change. 


Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company
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