In times of change, learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

~ Eric Hoffer

If these words were true in the 1940’s you can only imagine how true they are today.  I wonder if even the great philosopher Eric Hoffer could have anticipated how fast the world would be changing only 70 short years after he penned these words.

Disruptive technologies and disruptive industries are transforming sectors and jobs at a pace never experienced before in history. Consider this:

In his best-selling book, Exponential Organizations, Salim Ismail writes that in 1995 it cost approximately $15 million to build a software startup company based in the Silicon Valley.  Today, with now-established capabilities such as cloud computing and social media, that same effort costs less than $100,000.

According to American entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon, the most important change for entrepreneurs today versus a decade ago is the ratio of reach to capital.  Today the reach of a startup is 100 times larger, while the capital needed is 1/10th that of a decade ago – a thousand-fold improvement in just ten years.

This means it will be even easier for entrepreneurs to challenge the status quo and start disruptive companies.

Because of these shifts, in 2011 Babson’s Olin Graduate School of Business predicted that in ten years, 40 percent of existing Fortune 500 Companies would no longer exist. And Richard Foster of Yale University estimates that the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has decreased from sixty-seven years in the 1920s to fifteen years today.

What do all these facts mean to leaders and entrepreneurs?

Opportunity! 

Change and innovation are the new normal. Today’s leaders must learn how to change, innovate and seize on the new opportunities presented by this new world so they don’t find themselves perfectly equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

In addition to your traditional competitors, today you must also be prepared for the guy or gal in Silicon Valley or in a garage somewhere in Mumbai using the latest online tools to design and cloud print their innovations.

Do you really think Ford was worried about a technology startup from Palo Alto California developing an electric car?  Of course not.  But today, that technology startup has a bigger market cap after only 14 years than Ford has developed in its 113 year history.

What can you do?  How can you be prepared for the constant change and the threat of innovation?

Become a learner.  Invest in yourself.  Consider personal development as a “must-do” rather than a “someday” activity.

Following are five things you can do right now to become a learner and create or strengthen the habit of personal development.

Decide and then do. Real growth starts with first deciding.  But it cannot end there.  Think about this:

Five frogs are sitting on a log.  Four decide to jump off. How many are left?

Like most of you, the first time I considered this question I answered one.  It seems obvious.

Then I realized that all five were left.  Why?

Because there is a difference between deciding and doing.

Decide right now that you are going to develop the habit of personal development.  Decide now that you are going to feed your mind in a way that inspires you and allows you to gain knowledge that you can use to innovate.  Then do it – take step two and three and four.

Identify your strengths. We are all gifted with unique strengths. Identify your strengths so you can further develop them.

Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on weaknesses.  Imagine you looked at your handwriting and compared your handwriting from your dominate writing hand with that of your non-dominate hand.  If you wanted to improve your handwriting which hand would you start with?

Wouldn’t it make sense to further develop your dominate hand since this is the hand where you are already strong with your handwriting? Starting with your non-dominate hand would take countless hours to perfect.  Developing your strengths works much the same way.

Find your purpose and passion. What is it that fuels you? What work gives you the most energy?  What goals and dreams are the most inspiring?

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, observed, “The race will go to the curious, the slightly mad, and those with an un-satiated passion for learning and daredevilry.”

What if your current organization or role doesn’t match your passion? It may be that you have the option – or take the risk – to pursue something that does.

But it may be that you have to look for ways to bring your passion into your current role.  Or that you look for other ways to pursue your passion.  Volunteer…be a mentor… the options are endless.  But finding your purpose and passion will help you determine where to focus your personal development while renewing your energy.

Be creative. A common objection to personal development is the time it consumes.  We are busier now than ever before.  But it’s very likely that you have time that is not being utilized in the most efficient manner.

Audible, podcasts and other on-line training formats are great formats.  Identify the authors and subjects where you would like to grow and download books, blogs and other resources.  Smartphones are equal to or superior to the CD players of years gone by.  When you get in your car to drive to work or a meeting, take that time and use it to learn something new.

I call this NET time.  No Extra Time.  Look for pockets of NET time where you can add in five, ten or 30 minutes towards your personal development.

Attend events – There is nothing that can duplicate the collective energy of like-minded individuals immersing themselves on a subject for a few hours or a few days. The ideas and inspiration that can come out of great events can compress years into days.  Plus, the relationships can help you build an inner circle that can transform your learning, opportunities and performance.

The great Jim Rohn asserted that we become the combined average of the five people we hang around the most. Rohn would say we could tell the quality of our health, attitude, and income by looking at the people around us. Members from my inner circle who have made the biggest impact on my success can all be traced back to individuals I met through seminars, events or training programs.

Personal development is not easy, and it’s not a quick fix.  But I promise it is worth the effort.  Apply these five steps and you will put yourself in position to seize opportunities and overcome obstacles.  Start today by deciding and doing – you won’t regret it.


Looking for a place to get started?  Each year, Rise Performance Group hosts Live2Lead, a leader development event by The John Maxwell Company.  All proceeds fund STEM scholarships through the Irving Schools Foundation, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to network, be inspired, and invest in your personal and professional development.


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