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Unlocking the power of learning agility

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If you have a strong commitment to seeking new challenges that allow you to acquire new lessons to apply later, you’re what experts call “learning agile”. Let’s decode that anatomy of learning agility.

You know the type – the one where you give them a fresh challenge and somehow, they find a pathway to success. Setbacks are never an issue for them. In fact, they bounce right back from failure time after time, and often come back better than ever. Learning-agile individuals are distinguished by their willingness and ability to learn from experience.

But they also excel at applying that learning to perform successfully in new situations. While it is no easy feat to define what makes learners agile, we have decoded four traits of lifelong learning that can lead to endless possibilities.


Developing learning agility requires an intentional willingness to immerse yourself in challenging situations that broaden your experiences. Think of it as the opposite of getting stuck in a rut. The successful track record of learning-agile people means they are often sought out to take on fresh challenges to which they invariably say, “yes!”

Embracing learning agility is both a tremendous gift and a heavy responsibility. It is not for the faint of heart. But the diverse and exciting challenges it brings and the wealth of learning you acquire makes it all worthwhile.

Sense making

As with most endeavours, what you get out of it is determined by what you put in. This trait is all about asking “why?”, “how?” and “why not?” and is essential to gaining the perspective that fuels learning. Failed experiments and criticisms are just part of the ongoing journey. In fact, try using multiple techniques, engaging different senses, and even tapping into your emotions


Whether you’re seeking to mine insights from a hardship experience or a breakthrough success, internalisation starts with the right mindset. Agile learners who learn from hardship resist the temptation to put the blame on the situation or others’ shortcomings; and are able to step back from the situation to recognise where their own mistakes contributed to the outcome.


A lesson is only truly learned when it is applied. By integrating past learnings with new challenges, applying a lesson involves flexibility, creativity and intuition.

Application is essential to being learning agile. It represents that all-important shift that occurs when learning is put into action. It’s what allows you to eventually say, “I am now different because …”

Embracing learning agility is both a tremendous gift and a heavy responsibility. It is not for the faint of heart. But the diverse and exciting challenges it brings and the wealth of learning you acquire makes it all worthwhile.

Busting the myths around learning agility

Myth No.1: The all-around, go-to talent
Given the versatility of high learning agile people, it’s easy to assume that they should be called upon for just about any challenging situation the organisation faces. Not quite. Learning-agile people thrive in many new and unexplored challenges where both problems and solutions are ambiguous. Alternatively, some problems are more precisely defined and require a specific solution. These situations are better suited to an expert with a refined set of technical abilities.

No.2 Among the very best
Learning-agile people are better than most on a lot of things, but seldom among the very best at any one thing. In fact, learning-agile people tend to distinguish themselves as generalists rather than specialists. Once they’ve gotten a grasp of the skills they need to address the current challenge they’re facing, their curiosity and restlessness lead them onto the next challenge and the next set of skills to be developed.

Reference / Learning agility: Unlock the lessons of experience, by George Hallenbeck. The Center for Creative Leadership.

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