Why employees should learn from people that have nothing to do with their industry

Chris Rawlinson is the co-founder of 42courses, an e-learning site that fast-tracks your understanding of a wide range of subjects, from FinTech to behavioural economics.

For me, education was the sound of doors slamming shut. Like all UK kids, I was forced to begin dropping subjects when I was sixteen. Geography and history? Tough. Choose one. Chemistry and French? Can’t do both. For some kids, that works perfectly well. If you’re the type of teenager who knows they want to be a coder or a currency trader, then the UK system will let you study nothing but maths and physics, and you’ll leave school at 18 with the kind of knowledge that would put an MIT grad student to shame. But if, like me, you’re fairly curious about everything, then it’s painful. And if, also like me, you’re dyslexic, then it’s torture.

Even if you overcome these education challenges, many people start at the bottom of a ladder in a company that may or may not be their idea of a dream job.

And that’s where education hits a pothole. Or, in the case of some companies, a crater.

When EdTech started to grow, many saw the Internet as education’s saving grace. The Internet, where all human knowledge can be housed, couldn’t possibly hinder people’s opportunities to learn a little about a lot, could it? Employers could enrol staff onto online training courses without having to pay costly travel fees and have them take time out of the office in the process – it must have felt, for businesses, that they had finally found a winning way to teach staff. Sadly, online courses just seemed to be replicating the university degree model online, and had a 94% dropout rate.

When IDEO’s Tim Brown wrote that he was crying out for ‘T Shaped people,’ employees who knew a little about a lot, he hit upon a very real problem with the UK’s education system. In Britain, we seem obsessed with pumping out specialists who know a lot about a little, leaving people and their employers unsatisfied across the board. When HR directors and managers do push for L&D in the workplace, it’s often linked directly to an employee job title and area of specialism, as opposed to something wider, and therein lies the problem.

In a previous life, I helped set up Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy. While our original brief was to help Ogilvy staff and clients become more digitally savvy (something directly related to their day job), we soon noticed there was an opportunity to broaden their horizons while also benefitting the company. So, we organised talks on Friday mornings where I invited the most interesting people I could find to come and give us glimpses of their worlds. We heard from brain surgeons, startup founders, graffiti artists, and even an Arctic swimmer. Those glimpses seemed to change the mood of the whole company. It wasn’t as if people ran off to medical school or dove into freezing water, but it seemed like it gave them new ways of seeing their own work. Creatives and strategists became more adventurous, more likely to try something that didn’t look like the stuff in last year’s award books. Isn’t that what every business wants from its staff?

We’re proud to be helping people to know enough to be dangerous across a wide range of subjects.

The reason we’ve found this to be so effective is because the broader your horizons, the more amazing the world looks.


Author: editorialassistant

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