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Lifelong Learning

In a sluggish economy and a workplace that is transforming at a speed that can make your head spin, how can entrepreneurs ride out the uncertainty and the changes?

Monique Verduyn

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In the Future Work Skills 2020 report, the Apollo Research Institute found that the future workplace will require ongoing education to master new and emerging skills, and gain knowledge of disciplines outside our own area of expertise.

According to the report, longer lifespans will enable us to experience multiple careers over our working lives. That means adults in their middle and later years will become more common faces at business schools and universities. Staying on top of technology and new media is also critical in a technology-driven world. As clearly stated in the Future Work Skills report, the workers of tomorrow will need to be adaptable, lifelong learners.

Short courses

When it comes to short courses at universities and higher-learning organisations, Professor Amanda Dempsey, Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences Executive Dean at University of Johannesburg, says it’s important to choose an established organisation. “Avoid fly by night institutions which offer questionable courses. Universities are safe and regulated environments where content is proven and up-to-date.”

She notes that economic development is a much needed area of expertise in the country, which makes courses in finance and accounting very popular.

“Short courses are attractive options for people who are in the workplace and either want to beef up their skills or make a small shift in their careers,” Dempsey says. “It’s important to do some homework and ensure that you know the NQF level of the course you are interested in. There is no point doing a course which is at NQF level 4 when you already have a university degree, for instance.”

She also advises prospective students to be aware of the demands of their work environment. “You may have the best of intentions, but if you cannot come to class or complete your assignments on time because of work demands, you will not be successful.”On the whole, she notes, adult learners are far more likely to succeed than first-time students as they tend to be focused in what they want to do and have a more mature approach to their studies.

Going online

Many working adults who cannot afford to ignore their ongoing professional development, can’t just quit their job and complete a full-time course. Nor do they have time for evening classes. That’s where online learning makes sense.

“Online courses offer all of the benefits of a physical classroom, without the rigid limitations of classroom scheduling and travel requirements,” says Rob Paddock, MD of online education company GetSmarter. “The popularity of online education in South Africa is growing exponentially. Most of our students haven’t studied since they finished University, but once they get started, they find the experience of completing an online course and learning new skills deeply satisfying.”

Paddock says there are significant benefits to going the online route: “You can continue your studies without quitting your job. You can engage in a rich and interactive learning experience with access to a subject expert and a community of fellow learners, and you get access to support and motivation to help keep your studies on track.”

He advises people to seek proof from students who have studied with an online learning provider before signing up. “Make sure you speak to a past student who can give you feedback on the institution’s administrative and academic service. Also, ensure that the provider offers courses which are accredited by a reputable institution.

Working with a coach

Professional coaching focuses on using a person’s strengths to enable them to achieve their goals or overcome challenges. An experienced coach uses tools to get straight to the fundamentals of your success or your problems, instead of trying to cure the symptoms.

“A professional coach will help you to identify which skills to develop,” says Axel Rittershaus, president, Cape Town Chapter, International Coaching Federation. “It does not make sense to develop skills for the wrong reason, which often happens with training. If the real goals and needs are identified, your coach will keep you going towards your goal and help you to improve with every interaction.”

Harry Welby-Cook, head of ActionCOACH SA, says coaching is not a quick fix, but it is an excellent choice for people who feel they may have reached a plateau in their personal development and want to move to the next level. “Our clients have often seen their turnover double or triple following their engagement with a coach. One client achieved 600% growth. A lot depends on how invested you are in the process.”

Coaching is not regulated, so make sure you engage with someone who has an education and a verifiable qualification. “The ICF recommends at least 60 hours of coaching training,” says Rittershaus. “Don’t settle for someone with business experience only, as they will not have coaching know-how.”

He also recommends finding a coach who has ‘real world’ experience in business.

You have to be able to trust your coach. It’s essential to meet with them and get an impression of the person to see if he or she is right for you. “Empathy and trust are critical as you will be sharing information about yourself and answering some tough personal questions,” Rittershaus adds.

Top Tips

Never stop learning
Turn knowledge into experience.

Long-term business success relies on continuous personal growth. Achieving that means being better today than you were yesterday, and being better tomorrow than you are today. A common mistake for many entrepreneurs is that they “just don’t have time” to work on the things that will make them better at what they do. They get caught up in the daily operations of their business and can’t see past that. You may have heard the old saying that some things are urgent and some are important, but few things are both. Many business owners spend their time on the urgent things because their lack of planning and long-term perspective continually creates additional urgent things. Self-education is a good example of something that is extremely important but not at all urgent.

What you must do is immerse yourself in data and make it your goal to absorb and understand that information, turn it into knowledge and then use that knowledge to gain experience. This, of course, is a long-term task, and the main reason most people fail to stay with it is because the feedback loop is so long. It often takes months of hard work before you start to see positive changes — you won’t see the changes as they happen, but you’ll look back one day and be amazed at how much your judgement and business skills have grown. You’ll feel yourself start to think more clearly, you’ll understand more of what you see and hear, and your entrepreneurial vision will become clearer.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

Ongoing Learning

15 Of The Best And Most Unusual Online Courses For Entrepreneurs

Improve your outlook, boost your marketability and get a leg up on trends with these digital lesson sessions.

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Real-world experience is the world’s best teacher, but there’s a wealth of knowledge online to help teach ourselves what we don’t have the opportunity to learn from a mentor or navigating life itself. With the help of online courses, we can apply some structured guidance to how we approach our interpersonal interactions, entrepreneurial pursuits and even the way we think. These hyper-focused, organised lesson plans can help us hit refresh and streamline our paths to success.

The following list of online courses covers a range of subjects, some but not all of which have a direct tie to running a business. From AI to VR to happiness to time management, entrepreneurs need to master a wide range of skills.

Most of the courses below come at an cost (often low), though some offer free temporary access to videos and other materials. Read on for an overview of 15 of the best courses out there for entrepreneurs who are lifelong learners.

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Ongoing Learning

6 Free Courses That Can Help You Become A Successful Entrepreneur

Outlined below are some of these courses you can take that will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur.

Amy Galbraith

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Becoming a successful entrepreneur is something that takes a lot of hard work and requires unique skills. However, it can be difficult to achieve this if you are unsure of where to start in building your career as an entrepreneur. You should look into taking courses from skills development companies that can help to develop your entrepreneurial skills and other qualities.

Outlined below are some of these courses you can take that will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur.

  1. Finance and accounting
  2. Business management
  3. Marketing
  4. Business writing
  5. Time management
  6. IT courses
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Ongoing Learning

Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.

Allon Raiz

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I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.

The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.

I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.

All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.

So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?

1. Opens your mind to new concepts

We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.

2. Reinforces old concepts

We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.

Related: Why You Should Be Reading More Fiction And Watching Less News

3. Apply what works for you right now

The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.

4. Cheap learning curve

It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.

5. Great way to connect

Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.

Pulling it all together

Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.

“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”

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