February 2010

Learning ability

Learning ability is obviously a very useful thing to have if you’re a student. But far more decisive to long-term success is what’s been called “learning agility”—a reflection, not of what your IQ happens to be, but of how you exercise your mind.

Regularly updating one’s skills is an important part of that, of course, which is why our Medical Center is so committed to continuing education. But I’d say learning agility is above all a mindset—a determination to constantly revisit old assumptions and stay open to new ideas.

Whenever there’s a period of rapid change, as is happening now in healthcare, learning agility is what separates the “victims” from the victors. While everything around it was shifting, the U.S. car industry, for instance, kept on doing exactly the same things that once made it so successful…and we all know where that strategy led. Several consumer electronics companies, on the other hand, have never stopped trying to anticipate what the next challenge might look like or where the next opportunity might lie, and as a result have consistently earned success in the marketplace.

Our own emphasis on continuous quality improvement is, as you know, a quest to keep doing better. But it’s also a kind of “cerebral fitness program,” designed to keep us alert and help us avoid stagnation—the inevitable consequence of always using just the same old furrows of the brain.

I firmly believe that learning agility is crucial for each of us, as well as for our institution as a whole. We need to strive for the mental equivalent of the gymnast’s flexibility and the dancer’s prowess at making what’s hard look easy.