Our access to information has skyrocketed in the advent of the internet, fundamentally changing the way innovate. Today, new ideas are born in dorm rooms and on paper napkins, says Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab—not always in board rooms beholden to a legacy chain of command. Thanks to the internet, innovation is fast.
And because of the speed in which innovation now happens, the cracks are beginning to show in the old approach to learning, where proficiency is developed over a long period of time and classroom-based learning reigns supreme. In today's world, preparing for the future with specific skills is almost impossible because of how quickly it'll be upon us, Ito says. According to him, being an adaptable learner and "nowist" that solves problems and learns new things as needs arise is the only way to thrive in the workplace.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.
"Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do to yourself."
When an earthquake hit Japan back in 2011 and the government wasn't providing enough information on how much radiation a local nuclear reactor was giving off, Ito turned to the internet to help him build technology to provide the answer. Using forums to put out a call for fellow scientists and data experts interested in developing an app, Ito hoped to amass a team of experts that could help measure radiation and make the information easily accessible to anyone.
The unprecedented project was a massive undertaking and required a great deal of learning on the job—the team had to become experts in measuring radiation, understanding its impact and finding ways to collect meaningful data via crowdsourcing. Ito's team gathered 16 million data points and developed an app to measure radiation. In part do to the urgency of the project, they were forced to learn as they iterated. The lesson? Learning shouldn't be a passive process, Ito says. When it's born out of curiosity and necessity, learning has the potential to make a massive impact.
"The internet caused innovation to go from an MBA-driven model to a designer-engineer-driven model, and it pushed innovation to the edges."
An MBA is no longer a prerequisite for innovation—anyone, in any role, in any industry, can create something new and exciting, Ito says. Massive companies like Google have started out in garages. But for that level of creativity to happen, individuals must open themselves up to learning in real time, and not be afraid to innovate, regardless of their level.
Gone are the days when a full-fledged company had to form before new products and services hit the market. We are in an era of "deploy or die," Ito says. For workers, that means being unafraid to bring new ideas to life—learn what you need to as you go, and involve the right collaborators to help you and make innovation happen.
"You don't need to plan everything. Focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware and super present."
It's impossible to learn everything, or even fully anticipate everything you'll need to learn in the future, Ito says. New needs and accompanying skills arise constantly, and the best way to thrive in such a fast-paced, unpredictable environment is to be good at learning. In other words, to succeed, individuals need to be open-minded, inquisitive and honest with themselves about what they don't know.
Hyper-awareness of the surrounding environment and an ability to learn what's needed to adapt to that environment are critical for success in the workplace. It's also the only way to clearly see opportunities for innovation, Ito insists.
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