Learning and work are becoming inseparable in the knowledge economy: what it means for professionals

People will need to learn constantly and increase their skills. It is no longer reasonable to expect that a large upfront investment in schooling will pay back over a lifetime. The economy and technology now change too quickly for students to keep up: a computer language learned in a four-year degree programme might be obsolete by graduation. Young adults will need to prepare themselves for a lifetime of continuous up-skilling and development.

Despite the breathlessness of this 2013 report on higher ed “and the Revolution Ahead” (MOOC’s OMG!), it inspired me to draw these three present-day conclusions:

(1) The excerpt above says it all: “lifelong learning is a survival technique in the “knowledge economy” as Michelle Weise from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation pointed out at her SXSW Edu 2014 talk on the place of liberal arts in the innovation age. I’ve taken this to heart: we may have a successful graduate degree program for professionals keyed very tightly to market realities, but we’re also launching an online certificate program this fall — extending our reach to those wanting a nimble download of our expertise. It may explain why I was recently approached by two globally-recognized institutions that seek to craft custom curriculum for its leaders. It’s about relevance and currency.


(2) Which also means, attitude can trump aptitude in the 21st century workplace. Platitudes aside, it means we need to teach people how to think creatively and and give them the skills to extrapolate solutions in the face of an unexpected challenge. It’s one reason why I’m so proud of our program’s groundbreaking foundational class in leadership and creativity taught by my colleague Anita Verna Crofts (who was also featured at SXSW Edu earlier this month). As Mozilla’s Megan Cole-Karagory accurately declared at an SXSW Edu panel that tried to answer, Is Being Tech Savvy the New MBA?, a degree can no longer serve [exclusively] as a proxy for qualifying for a job. “You need to learn how to adapt.”


(3) According to the aforementioned report on higher ed revolution, there’s a “global war for human capital.” When it comes to where professionals work, learn and live — place matters. As I read through the most recent round of applicants to our graduate program, I’ve noticed how attractive Seattle is to them: it’s considered cool and prosperous. Last week, I met with Amit Fulay, who runs Google Hangouts in nearby Kirkland, and saw two large cranes ready to erect more buildings on its lakeside campus. Thanks to Microsoft and Boeing, Silicon Valley is keen to hire even more of the long-established engineering talent here.


This week, I’m emceeing the annual Microsoft Hosting Summit where international leaders in cloud computing will  discuss this burgeoning industry (it’s no wonder why “Cloud City” was such a popular response to a recent Seattle Needs a New Nickname article). Later this month, I’ll be leading various conversations with the CEO’s of DreamBox Learning, Zillow and the co-founder of Xbox — all transplants to the Pacific Northwest. I’m thrilled with all this success, but given cutthroat global competitiveness, we can’t take it for granted. I’ve even endeavored to “embed” the essence of storytelling into our innovation economy, through last year’s partnership with the Bezos Center for Innovation, and hopefully this year with the University of Washington’s new Startup Hall, as well as by supporting an application to the National Science Foundation to make the UW an “innovation node.” As I heard from Diversity International’s Catherine Crago at SXSW Edu this year, “ The companies that innovate best are the ones that find the right mix between liberal arts people and STEM [Science Technology Engineering & Math] folks.” Further music to my ears, was her belief in storytelling as an essential skill as people inspire through analogy, “The most successful folk I’ve seen know how to tell stories,” she said.

Bottom line? Keep learning, stay nimble and live somewhere that can resist the crush of globalization. And tell stories.