An automobile can either travel forward, idle in neutral, or slip into reverse. The same applies to human beings, because even if we think we’re sitting in the driver’s seat, there is always the risk that the next shift in gears will be backward, not forward. That’s why we always have to apply ourselves to increasing our knowledge base and honing our skills.
Reading is a skill that most of us acquire in grade school, but it seems like many people “drop out” along the way.
Some 42% of college graduates never read another book after receiving their diplomas. Only 10% of European adults participate in any type of lifelong learning. These startling figures come courtesy of the Professional Academy in Cambridge, England, an agency that distinguishes itself by “turning professionals into exceptionals” via continuing education in sales and marketing.
Advancing in one’s chosen profession is, and always will be a challenge, especially when so much of your time is absorbed just in keeping up with your current workload. But the business world, and the competition, don’t know or care about how busy we are.
However, a major prerequisite to any type of advancement is eternal optimism, not paying heed to the doomsayers.
In this vein, I got a kick out of a recent review of Robert Bryce’s new book: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong.
The Boston Globe’s Hiawatha Bray starts out by writing: “You’re lucky to be reading this. According to a horde of pessimistic prognosticators, a whole lot of us ought to be dead by now.”
He then proceeds to cite men like the 18th Century English economist Thomas Malthus and the 20th Century Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, both of whom predicted the threat of mass starvation without stringent population controls. “Brilliant men, both of them. Yet they somehow got it wrong. Humans haven’t just survived; there are more of us than ever — roughly 7 billion. And most of us live far healthier, safer, more comfortable lives than any previous generation.”
Bryce’s book delights in mocking the pessimists, both past and present, who dwell on their anxieties of environmental collapse and resource depletion.
In the world according to Bryce, mankind is enjoying the necessities of life in far greater abundance, and at much higher quality, because we’ve gotten so good at making things smaller, faster, lighter, and cheaper, and also through discovery and utilization of new energy sources that power our factories and laboratories.
“Our farms produce massively more crops per acre, fending off those dreaded Malthusian famines,” writes Bryce. “Efficient oil-fueled jet engines quickly and cheaply shuttle millions around the world each day. Ever-faster ever-smaller computers are now so small and light we tote them in our shirts and embed them in our washing machines and microwave ovens…. and handheld medical testing gear could soon provide life-saving diagnoses in seconds.”
My main takeaway from Bryce’s new book was how truly fascinating it is to watch the ongoing development on the Ribbono shel Olam’s planet; fully aware that we are not running out or room or resources. Optimism is not a novel concept to Yated readers who know the world is heading toward the ultimate Geulah Shelaimah (B’karoiv!), in spite of all of our current trials and tribulations. In Birkas Hamazon, we say “…mazon l’olam va’ed.” Hakadosh Baruch Hu provides sustenance for seven billion people, and counting, as easily as he provided it 5,774 years ago for Adam and Chavah.
This is not to say that every technological development is 100% positive. There’s an old joke that the optimist invented the airplane, while the pessimist invented the parachute. The truth is, both inventions are complementary. Risk-management will always remain an essential business practice.
But to be the next airplane or parachute inventor, we must keep reading and learning. Constantly adding to our own personal information and data bases will enable us to put our newfound knowledge to the benefit of the world, or at least our place in it.
Whether you are a business owner, an integral team player or a freelancer, there is no limit to what you can do to grow in your position, either by improving your current skills or learning a new one, thus making yourself more valuable to your clients and your company.
This applies no matter whether our jobs are technology-based, or whether we are doctors, lawyers, yeshivah administrators, accountants or sales and marketing professionals. Being a student of your profession is the first step to becoming a master over your craft.
This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Don’t just be professional. Be exceptional.