What does Learning Agility look like?
“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had—every day I’m learning something new.”
—Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group
Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial career path has been the opposite of linear. Virgin originated as an alternative music magazine, but from there the company—driven by Branson’s curiosity and zeal for new challenges—has followed a course that is anything but ordinary. It grew from a recording company, to retail music stores, and then a leap to airlines, railway, telecommunications, banking, and even space travel.
Branson’s decision to start Virgin Atlantic Airways illustrates his drive to explore, experiment, and as he puts it, “create new things.” Virgin Atlantic was not conceived from an intense vetting process of poring over business scenarios and financial models, but from a burst of inspiration. After a particularly frustrating incident when he waited on hold for hours for an airline customer service representative, Branson decided he could do a better job of this himself. Of all the challenges he had taken on, this was arguably the riskiest and farthest from his music-media comfort zone. But he did it, he founded a new airline. As with all his ventures, there were stumbles and setbacks, but today Virgin Airlines is a force to be reckoned with in the airline industry.
By his own account, Branson is an avid reader and has “gotten involved with a lot of different things” that have allowed him to expand his perspective, stretch himself, and grow as a result. Branson continues to amass learnings and lessons from his experiences. No one today is really surprised when Branson announces his latest venture or idea—he’s made a brand out of pushing himself and Virgin into unexpected places.
Learning something new. Pushing himself. Looking at things differently. Deliberately seeking out the unfamiliar. Confidence in one’s ability to handle a new challenge. These qualities—in Branson and others like him—are characteristic of an agile learner. And with the world becoming increasingly complex with each passing day, Learning Agility can be the crucial difference in success.
Developing this ability can equip you for the change and complexity that is inevitable in today’s career.
In the next installment we’ll delve into what exactly Learning Agility is—and what it is not, and explore where this important method for thriving in a complex and ambiguous world originated.