In an age when technical innovations are automating many jobs out of existence, how can humans make sure we stay relevant? The short answer: Be more human. Our unique, flesh-and-blood ability to discriminate, use good judgment and learn from our own experiences will become increasingly valuable as the world of work evolves.
These skills fall under an umbrella called metacognition. Metacognition, the ability to think about one’s own thinking, helps us to extract meaning, adjust and be flexible, as well as use self-awareness to further our own goals. For example, engaging in scientific research can help a person understand the broader principles of science, or playing a sport to build athleticism can serve an individual in other ways. In this way, metacognition transforms employees from simple information workers into knowledge workers and wisdom workers.
To get people to improve their own learning using metacognition, elevate training. Consider the following learning strategies to help keep your business competitive today and tomorrow:
Use what works. Employ proven learning strategies. People tend to think they’re far more competent than they are, and tend to fall back on poor study habits. For example, cramming and rereading are the two most commonly used learning strategies but among the least effective. Practice techniques such as spacing, interleaving and overcoming ineffective patterns are better. Even asking, “How can I make this stick?” is an act of metacognition.
Talk it out. Don’t just consume; consolidate. Humans are mass consumers of content but nearly nothing sticks. Learning by reading and watching videos are both more effective when learners discuss the content, engage with it, and share it with co-workers and friends. This is a form of spaced practice that helps consolidate the memory. For learners to extract takeaways and better apply training, have them talk it through with others.
Check your gut-check. Note confidence level when making decisions. There’s evidence to show that when making business decisions, if confidence level is high, it pays to stick with your gut. When certainty is low, you’ll get better results by re-examining the options. It’s best to make note of how you feel right away, though. Later on you’ll have forgotten how sure or unsure you were. Help managers and employees recognize when to trust their instincts, when to source a better answer, and when to second guess.
Forecast like a weatherman. Get good at calculating outcomes. Paint a more realistic picture of the future by knowing what actually happened and why. Businesses can benefit greatly from daily, weekly or quarterly objectives and key results, annual reviews and public displays of confidence, transparency and accountability. Regularly plan and commit to an outcome. Compare those predictions against reality; stated intentions help everyone iterate over time.
Dump as you go. Encourage note-taking. When the brain needs an outlet, it needs it now, and it won’t wait for a meeting to end, for you to stop for a bagel or to say hello to Jarvis in accounting. Encourage employees to bring good, old-fashioned paper to meetings, or at least a device to get those “to do’s” and brainstorms down quickly. Even items that seem unforgettable can slip from memory hours, minutes or even moments later.
Play to strengths. Use an employee’s self-awareness to guide behavior. We all work better under certain conditions — maybe it’s early morning, or only after coffee — but a metacognitive approach puts employees’ preferred work habits front and center. Use tools like the Gallup Strengths Finder to identify personalities and aptitudes. At the same time, demand a heightened sense of self-awareness from workers. Ask them reflect on their energy, mood, stress and health. Observing and self-monitoring can positively affect productivity.
Get emotional. Help employees find their “happy place.” The more employees care about a subject, the easier it is for memory consolidation and transfer. Besides that, effective learning just feels good. People like being good at their jobs, and they enjoy work when it’s frictionless. Eliminate daily headaches with skills training, and develop deeper skills with advanced career development. Skilled practice helps workers enjoy yields far better learning results.
Distract, percolate, repeat. Turn distraction into action. The more invested and engaged an employee is — or the more they have on the line, like not looking bad in front of their colleagues — the more their brains will continue working on a problem even while doing other things. For some, this kind of distraction is not only beneficial but also necessary. The workplace might offer short, strategic bursts of diversion — and a culture that doesn’t frown upon using it — for this very reason. When it’s important, employees’ priorities are never far from mind.
The more employees can weave these strategies into their work, the more they become accustomed to extracting useful information from the day’s fleeting moments and the more they’ll be able to transform data into information, and information into knowledge and wisdom. And wisdom, meta-wisdom — and whatever the heck comes after — has the power to make business more human, and humans all business, for centuries to come.