A group of people gather in the work kitchen for a conversation.

How To Be an Active Learner and Why It Matters

adidas’ Senior Vice President of Talent and Organizational Development, Robin Pring, outlines how being an active learner will give you the competitive edge in today’s changing workplace.

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Career Development at adidas

To me, an active learner is curious, open, and willing to try new ways of working. They show courage by challenging themselves to explore opportunities for personal and professional growth. Active learners recognize that some of our greatest lessons come from setbacks or failures. They proactively expand their skills and capabilities. In short, they have they have a mindset of courage, innovation, and ownership necessary to navigate today’s workplace.

In our business, and the world in general, the speed of change has created dynamic challenges for employers. The results of these conditions are workplaces that are in a constant state of adaptation and transformation. While the approach for some companies may be to ride the wave in the hope that some form of normalcy will return, at adidas, we are positioning ourselves to be ahead of the wave. This is where learning comes in. Learning is not reactionary, it is exploratory; it is not about surviving, it is about flourishing.

Robin chats with colleagues in the kitchen at adidas HQ.
In a positive work culture, ongoing learning is expected and supported.

Growth is on the mind of an active learner

While learning has an undeniable impact on our ability to innovate and succeed, it also positively impacts how current and future employees view adidas. Current studies show that employees rank opportunities to learn and grow as the most important factor in a great work culture. This evidence along with my experiences leads to a clear conclusion: Cultivating a growth mindset will prepare us for any current and future challenges and is vital to accomplishing our Own the Game strategy.

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck – author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – uses the term ‘fixed mindset’ to describe people and organizations who don’t challenge themselves or are stuck in the way things used to be. In contrast, those with a ‘growth mindset,’ according to Dweck, see “hard work, good strategies, and input from others” as key drivers of talent expansion. In the end, people and organizations who adopt a growth mindset and seek to learn inevitably achieve more than those who see the world as static.

Robin Pring sits on a bench in the locker area of the adidas Arena building.
A growth mindset keeps us in a constant state of exploration.

Here are some of the questions that I use to keep a growth mindset. I’ll include some of my own responses with hopes of provoking yours. 

1. How do you like to learn?

We all learn differently, and one of the most important steps in each learning journey is figuring out how we like to learn. I like learning on the job – by observing and listening to others. Reading is another favorite way for me to learn. I gravitate toward articles, books, and my bedtime read is a quick flick through LinkedIn. In my feed, I find a stream of posts that allow me to keep up with what’s going on and trigger my curiosity to learn more.

It’s useful to identify a range of learning methods because we often need to adapt how we learn based on what we need to learn. For instance, gaining software skills might be best done through a tutorial, and an online course might support increasing data analytics capabilities. On the other hand, building leadership skills will likely require greater time investment, interaction with others with practical applications and knowledge gathering interspersed. Taking the time to reflect on your learning style is critical to being a successful active learner.

A group of people stand together engaged in conversation at adidas HQ.
Discussions with colleagues deepen and enliven the learning process.

2. How do you know what to learn?

Curiosity and noticing what sparks your interest will help guide your learning journey. While day-to-day demands can push learning to the background, discovering what excites you can be a true source of inspiration. When we let authentic curiosity take the lead, it tends to give us the energy to explore, ask questions and dig into what is possible.

These observations can inform what to learn next or simply give us the humility to understand how much there is to learn. While introspection and self-reflection can be a robust source of inspiration, sometimes focusing on the needs of others can have the same outcome. Our colleagues and managers likely have useful feedback. “How can I be a better partner?” will initiate a conversation that opens a world of exploration and can lead to new and innovative ways of working. 

Though we can’t rely on leaders to tell us what to learn, they do have an important role in the process. Over 90% of employees say that their managers have a key role in inspiring learning. Our managers are positioned to create the space and safety for open and honest conversations. They also play an important role in promoting exploration and supporting the career advancement of their team members. These sorts of generative interactions are instrumental in establishing a nurturing work culture.  

People sit together on sofas in a break area of work chatting with each other.
Curiosity is a promising guide for enquiry.

If your ambition is to be an active learner, don’t wait to be told what or when to learn. Seek guidance, invest in self-improvement, and find inspiration in your natural curiosity and desire to have a successful career.

3. How can you incorporate learning into your routine?

Learning is a skill, and like many skills if not actively used it can diminish. I find that making learning a regular practice keeps this skill strong and helps me maintain a healthy learning habit.

In addition to my bedtime LinkedIn habit, I have a few other ways of ensuring that learning is featured prominently in my day-to-day life. Every Friday evening before I shut my computer for the day, I ask myself two questions. “What could have gone better this week?” And, “What would I do differently next time?” It takes five minutes, but it is such a rich way of reflecting on what I want to improve next and learning from as I go.

Robin Pring sits at her desks writing post-it notes to track her thoughts and ideas.
I capture my thoughts throughout the day (and night) on Post-It notes.
Woman looks at Post-It notes arranged on her desk.
Looking through my notes offers a chance to reflect and reinforce new ideas.
Post-it notes arranged in a black and white notepad.
The notes offer momentum when I need it.
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Post-Its are another important part of my routine as an active learner. I have them with me most of the time, and when an idea strikes, I write it down. I catalogue these Post-it notes in a notebook that I look at on a regular basis, especially when I feel a little stuck. Scanning the notes brings me the inspiration I need to move forward.

4. What do you do when things don’t go well?

Having the ability to self-reflect and acknowledge when things don’t go as planned is a real strength and quality we need to nurture in ourselves. It’s a muscle that should be used more often to recover from setbacks and challenges. The best learning always happens from things that didn’t go to plan. When we try new things, we cannot predict how they will turn out, and we should be eager to get feedback, reflect, and try again. At the end of the day, this is the essence of what learning is.

It’s true that this process can be uncomfortable. And when we are outside of our comfort zones, as learning requires of us, we sometimes need to adopt tactics that help us to move forward again. Simon Sinek is someone I turn to for a bit of inspiration when I need to refresh my perspective. Listening to him speak for even a few minutes can renew my sense of purpose.

Two women sit on a bench in an office environment reading together.
Sharing a light moment with a colleague can be a rich source of inspiration.

5. Are you in an organization that supports you as an active learner?

“Never stand still, always be willing to learn,” is one of our adidas standards put into place by our founder, Adi Dassler. Learning is so important to us at adidas that it is one of the key pillars of our strategy.

This commitment to learning is good news for those of us who want to continue developing our skills and capabilities. As the world is changing from hierarchical and linear growth models, the greatest opportunities will go to the people who continue to reinvent themselves by upskilling and reskilling. Here at adidas, providing the resources, space and safety needed for people to change and thrive is a priority. Those of us who persistently bring value, relevance, and adaptability are already powering the present. And the future is certainly in our hands.

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by Jorge Cortes 15.02.2022
Great Read, Summarizes so much critical value needed to thrive in today's Society and Global matters. - Jorge Cortes - Adidas Employee Store
by Gerard Griffin 16.02.2022
great article
by Miika Tervonen 21.02.2022
Really good tips to get forward and ideas of learning
by Elise 01.03.2022
I appreciate this article’s concrete recommendations for integrating learning into one’s daily and weekly routine.
by Mike Kepnes - USA 07.03.2022
Right on target Robin! Regarding how to "know what to learn" and "incorporating learning to your daily routine" I find go hand in hand. The more focus you put into learning something each day no matter what the topic, always spawns additional curiosity in areas you didn't imagine in the first place. I keep a fresh stack of books by my bed and crank through them one at a time. That habit helps me focus on new things though the next day. I'd be happy discuss how to incorporate "learning engagement" to your hiring practice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
by Mike Kepnes - USA 07.03.2022
I love the insight! Adding focus around your learning is helped through repitition. Making time each day to learn stimulates spontaneous thought. Thanks for putting these thoughts into words!

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