Out of Disruption, Personal Transformation
5 Steps for Breaking Through


2020’s health and leadership crises are accelerating the inevitable. Whatever your job is today, it will change. It may even go away. You can count on your work, career, and life taking  different shapes than you’ve planned..  As Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 during another time of crisis, “These are the times that try men’s (and women’s’) souls.”[1]


Just look around. Notice how work has changed since March this year.


You may be dealing with a temporary disruption  – doing more work at home, on the computer and mobile devices, via video conferencing. If so, your work life may initially return to some kind of normalcy, with periodic telework, online learning, and more.  But the 20th Century normal where you take daily trips to the office or factory may not come back.  In one recent survey,[2] prominent organizations said that 50% or more of their staffs will probably be mostly remote before the end of this decade.


Maybe for you, the impact is more severe. You’ve been laid off, lost your job. If you are a small business owner, the shop or service business you’ve spent your life building may be on the brink or closing. If you are a contractor or consultant — a gig worker – you’ve probably lost clients and maybe your entire portfolio of work is gone.


And let’s not forget the “necessary workers.”  If you are in health care, transportation, food-related work, government services, your work is certainly more stressful and how you do your job has probably changed. You’ve faced a variety of challenges and there will be lasting changes to the policies and practices related to your work.


All these dislocations make it clear that stability is an illusion (always has been!). Business-as-usual is an illusion. For as long as you work and live you must change and adapt. Sometimes you have to pivot in a flash (as with COVID). Other times you can prepare for the changes that will rattle your life. For example, you know that technology is getting smarter and may soon be capable of doing more of the work that you currently perform – including if you are a supervisor or manager.  You know this; you can prepare and not let the future surprise you.


Today’s crises and uncertainties are a wake-up call to a be more powerful self-developer and change agent in your own life and work. Here’s how:


  1. Empathize with your own feelings right now. Like most of us, you are probably worried about how to cope in this strange 21st Century world. Maybe you feel overwhelmed or scared, and wonder if you have what it takes to move forward. A small virus has shaken your world. Some things you took for granted are now unavailable. You’ve maybe taken a big financial hit. Worse, you, your family, your friends may have been infected.  Maybe you have lost someone to the virus.


You’ll be able to do little that is constructive if you don’t grieve the losses of even the smallest things.  It may not be macho, but it is actually a sign of emotional strength to face into, cry, name, even write out and talk with others about what you are feeling. If you don’t, these feelings will lurk somewhere inside you, making it hard for you to move into a future you can handle and where you can thrive.


  1. Acknowledge the “YOU” that you are. You are one-of-a-kind and a person who’s been learning and changing throughout your life. You have experiences, you’ve learned from crises, failures and successes. You’ve learned jobs, a trade a profession. You have unique qualities (yes) to bring to the next phase of your life and work.  Don’t let anxiety, stress, depression, worry undermine the YOU that you have been developing.


Sit down, create an imaginary room in your brain where negative feelings and fears can live in a sort of “retirement.” Then,  describe the YOU that you’ve created so far. Make lists. Start with areas where you have some expertise – knowledge you’ve accumulated. Then, list your skills: what are you strongest physical capabilities? what special thinking or problem solving skills are you known for? what are you good at when you work with or help others (your interpersonal skills)? what about personal qualities – like persistence, or friendliness, or being trustworthy, being kind?  What do you like most about yourself?  This is not about being the “best”, or perfect. It’s about the qualities that you have built so far that will be your foundation for moving into the future and may bring value to others, including employers. Spend some time appreciating where you are, what you know, what you can do: WHO you are. Ask others what they see as your best qualities.  Add them to the list.


  1. Update your learning skills. We all must face this fact: we can’t stop change. The challenge is to evolve yourself as fast as the times are changing. For this to happen, you need to upgrade your learning skills. It takes new learning approaches, mindsets, and to keep up with job changes and opportunities, to avoid falling behind, to stay on top of information that is doubling in the blink of an eye.


Learning is the skill that affects ALL OTHER skills.  So, develop yourself as a learner. You will be less stressed, more confident, less likely to be manipulated. And you will be the first in line for new opportunities.


Learning is the Mother of all Skills! With advanced learning skills you won’t be left behind. A terrific use of any quarantine time is to sharpen your ability to learn at the speed of change. Technology, with artificial intelligence, is becoming a smarter learner. So should YOU.


  1. Be ready for personal transformation. Until very recently, companies, schools, medical systems, religious institutions were designed for member dependence. The formal leaders were supposed to think and you to follow.  At the extreme, populist and authoritarian societies and enterprises actually do their best to keep their people in tow.


Of course, organizations need people to play different roles and have different kinds of authority. But, that doesn’t mean that you are a pawn in any institution where you are a member.  Psychologists who study human development agree that it is human nature to mature toward greater self-management, fulfilment, contribution. You are supposed to change throughout life, becoming more knowledgeable, wiser, self-creating. You are not meant to be fixed in your thinking, capabilities, or even attitudes. You are meant to continually develop, right to the end of your life.


With wisdom, maturity and your amazing 90 billion neuron brain with its 100 TRILLION connections, you have the ability to transform yourself. Now is the time to tap into this spectacular birthright.  It is your evolutionary right to own who you are and what you become.  It is both an opportunity and responsibility to yourself and people you care about and who care about you.


  1. Take a step forward every day – any step. One secret of successful people is that, although they have a vision of the life and work they want, they take one step toward it at a time.  Imagine how far you can walk in just an hour by putting one foot in front of the other.  I am constantly amazed at the power of one small step!!!  A step could be to call someone who may support you in some way. Or to find a course or read something that relates to a  capability you want to build. It could be to invite yourself into a Zoom meeting where you could add value and expand your network. It could be to take some time to meditate, to start a new hobby, to do some exercise, to take a class, to reflect on your week.  Or just rest.


Many years ago, as I started my career in adult and organization development, I taught a course to help recently returned war veterans to “learn how to learn” for success in college. Yes, there were learning skills to spruce up and to add. But that wasn’t enough. They also needed to acknowledge what we now know is PTSD. They needed to take time appreciating who they were – their gifts and talents.  They needed to go deep inside to find the ability to manage and transform themselves that would be key to entering “normal” life. And they needed to feel the daily success of one step forward at a time.


These five steps apply to all of us today. We are entering a new world that is trying to transform and is on the cusp of new ways of working, relating, being. You have the power to transform yourself for a better future for yourself and your family.  But it starts with YOU.



Pat McLagan is an award-winning, global thought leader for adult and organizational learning, development and change. Her books include the recent book for everybody, Unstoppable You: Adopt the New Learning 4.0 Mindset and Change Your Life.

Contact pat@unstoppablelearners.com. Learn more at www.unstoppablelearners.com


[1] Thomas Paine, The Crisis, Dec. 23, 1776. Published in the Pennsylvania            

[2] CNBC Global CFO Council survey, May 14–28, 2020



Upgrade Yourself As a Learner: Reason #2 (of 5) Thrive (Survive?) in an Information-Saturated World

According to IBM, it won’t be long before human knowledge via AI and the Internet of Things will double every 12 hours! Let’s go back in time at how this compares to earlier information doubling rates.  In 1982, a genius inventor, Buckminster Fuller documented and then anticipated this information speed-up. Here’s what he saw:

  • 1800-1900 Information took 100 years to double
  • By 1945 Information was doubling every 25 years
  • By 1982 The doubling rate increased to 13 months

IBM anticipates information will soon double every 12 hours!

What does this have to do with learning?  Information is what feeds learning. But it is easy to feel overloaded. Too much of it can lead to stress that reduces learning! As a 21st Century learner there are few ways you can avoid the vast information haystacks containing what you want and need.  You also have to process data in whatever form you find it (A meeting? Report? Article? Conversation? Virtual Reality? Class? App? Podcast?).  And…as you process information, you also have to recognize and adjust for bias and manipulation. After all information is power, and various degrees of distortion and corruption always lurk in power’s shadows.

Your dealings with the information world don’t stop there. You still have to bring what you need into your working and short-term memories, and then convert it into the memories, skills, and attitudes you want to preserve. No need for despair, though. Thanks to insights from neuroscience, psychology, and adult learning we know more about how to better use our brains to process information and turn it into something useful. And there is an increasing array of practices, tools and services to help sort through the fog for better learning results.

Think about it.  How sharp are your information processing and learning skills in the face of this information proliferation? What are you doing to keep yourself vibrant and to cope with the information saturated world around you?

Next up: Reason #3 (of 5) to upgrade yourself as a learner: To co-evolve with technology



Upgrade Yourself As a Learner: Reason #1 (of 5) Ongoing Work and Career Success

It’s clear by now that the skills and knowledge you bring to work today will be insufficient or even obsolete tomorrow.  This is true for professional and specialist skills as well as manual or service skills, which need continual upgrading and adaptation. It is also true for broader capabilities – like decision-making, communicating, thinking creatively – and learning itself.  Complex challenges and relationships continually up the ante and change the rules.  And most companies want to be agile, innovative, fast-learning from failure, and able to sense trends and opportunities in early stages.

This fast-changing skills scene is why executives say they are looking for lifelong learners. Meantime, employers try to find out whether you are a quick learner, a person who will adapt to and help shape change; somebody who will notice opportunities and have the courage to learn about and grab them.

“The skill of learning skills is a lifelong advantage.”  Seth Goden

The changing job skills scene today is one reason why learning is important.  But learning is also vital for career success into the future.  It is not the old days where you could follow reliable career path within a company – or any predictable career path, for that matter.  The life span of companies today is shorter. McKinsey reports that 75% of the companies listed in the S&P 500 won’t exist by 2027. In addition, many large and small new companies will arise, along with opportunities to gig-it alone. The World Economic Forum predicts that 65% of the kids currently entering primary school will have jobs that don’t exist today. That means that, as your career unfolds, the work available to you will require skills that you can’t easily predict today.  

An advanced ability to learn is and will be critical to your ongoing work and career success and fulfilment. 

Think about it.  How would advanced learning skills and confidence affect your success and agility at work?  Your Career?

Next up:  Reason #2 (of 5) to upgrade yourself as a learner: To thrive in an information saturated world.



5 Big Reasons for Upgrading HOW You Learn

There is a learning crisis both at work and in the world. It affects our ability to thrive in fast-changing times – at work, in careers, at home — lifelong.  It’s a crisis because our ability to continually evolve is essential for quality decisions and creating the future of society, organizations, and our and our children’s quality of work and life. Having worked globally on massive change initiatives in companies and agencies, it’s clear to me that the most essential ingredient in change – each individual’s ability to prepare for and thrive in it — is NOT up to today’s challenges. We need a new focus and, beyond that, a way of thinking that helps everyone, as psychologist Robert Kegan says, to move out of dependency into a way of life and learning that is self-authoring and self-transforming.  Learning is the fuel for this shift.                      

The most obvious implication of a world that requires learners to constantly adapt and grow is the need to build the capacity and motivation for lifelong learning.  (PEW Report,  2019)

Many adults are stuck in the learning Dark Ages, tackling 21st Century learning situations with 19th Century mindsets and practices. This in spite of major advances in neuroscience, developmental psychology and adult development that everyone should know and use in their personal lifelong evolution. It’s time for better learning. Technology is getting smarter and we are at risk of becoming “dumber” in response.

To survive, to THRIVE, we must be better learners!

Learning is a meta-skill that affects everything you do, what you are able to achieve and contribute at work and in life, and more .  First and foremost, it is a personal capability.  It determines how fully you will evolve, how you think, how you read and listen, how you interact with others, and even your confidence to thrive in fast-changing times. It includes your ability to notice when there’s an opportunity to learn (we miss many each day).  Concentration, memory, bias detection, skill-building, attitude change, even creativity and innovation are part of or depend on your learning prowess. So does your ability to follow through on goals and dreams, to implement the habit changes important to you, and to get what you need from the vast array of resources that seem to overwhelm today.

Is it time to upgrade your learning based on these new insights and to meet today’s learning challenges?  Let’s go a bit deeper. 

Here are 5 big reasons why, no matter what your job or age, it’s critical to expand and sharpen this most important human capability– your ability to learn.

  1. For ongoing work and career success
  2. To thrive (survive?) in an information saturated world
  3. To co-evolve with technology
  4. To help others learn
  5. To evolve yourself; be the most you can be in life

In the next five posts, I’ll focus on each of the above reasons, hoping that your awareness of yourself as a learner (continually developing person) will increase and that you will want to master the advanced capabilities you will need as we accelerate toward the Singularity: the time (sometime before 2045) that futurists predict computer smarts will exceed ours.

Hopefully, these posts will seed conversations that bring learning out of that closet where we store meta-skills like decision-making, interpersonal communication, and (of course) learning, that we think we’ve mastered, but have taken for granted and not updated for the times.  


Next up:  Reason #1 (of 5) to upgrade yourself as a learner: For Ongoing Personal and Work Success




SMART Learning 4.0 — a Learning Upgrade for Our Times

Our brains need a learning upgrade today.  It’s an upgrade that must draw on practical, advanced, and science-based approaches we can use when we are learning alone, learning with others, and when we support others’ learning. It also has to be powerful enough for drawing lessons from past experience, learning in the present moment, and achieving longer-term development goals that require reliable processes and persistence.

Learning 4.0 is this upgraded learning approach for our times – a fourth revolution in learning and a framework that applies in virtually any learning situation. It relates to today’s unique learning challenges and draws on what  neuroscientists, developmental psychologists and adult learning specialists know about how our brains work and how learning happens.  We can and must bring these advanced and sometimes surprising insights into how we learn and help others learn.

The Qualities of a SMART 4.0 Learner

What’s it like to be a 4.0 learner – a “smart” learner?  Try on this description.  As a 4.0 Learner…

  • you have an enhanced imagination where the future you want to create for yourself — the future that drives and motivates your development — is so real that you rarely miss any learning opportunity that will accelerate you to that goal
  • you easily access relevant, and often hard to access, parts of your brain/body to help you learn— e.g., your feelings, conscious and unconscious self, short- and long-term memory, your brain’s executive functions, even brain waves and other physiological processes — to help you learn
  • you recognize bias and distortion
  • you find patterns, key points, deeper meaning and messages use different techniques for different resources; manage your attention and concentration.
  • you step outside yourself to monitor your assumptions, and you take sometimes difficult steps to change a belief, attitude, or intention.
  • you are a change agent — changing your own habits and influencing people and things around you so that you can bring your learning to life in the real world. 
  • you learn confidently and competently anywhere, anytime, with any resource.
  • you help individuals and teams learn, using advanced learning practices.
  • you use new technology to serve you at work and at home; you co-evolve with it. As technology gets smarter, so do you!
  • you are confident in your learning methods and capabilities


Learning 4.0 Practices

Being the 4.0 learner described above, means being expert in advanced learning practices. The seven practices of Smart Learning 4.0 reflect the current understanding of how learning journeys proceed into and through your brain and ultimately into your behavior.  We can say with confidence that your desire and ability to excel in each of these practices determines how efficiently, effectively, and enthusiastically you can keep up with change and develop yourself throughout your life. The practices range from noticing the first glimmers of a learning opportunity (Practice #1) through to using what you learn in life and work (Practice #7).

  1. Hear the Call. Learning opportunities are everywhere. They call to us from the past (a failure or success?), the future (your career goal, the business strategy), outside (a water cooler opportunity), inside (a regret, discomfort), and arise from wonder and random curiosity. 4.0 learners notice more of these calls.
  2. Create Future Pull. Our views of the future affect our motivation and what we pay attention to. 4.0 learners create compelling visions of the future they want to create, knowing that this will help set and keep them on track for success.
  3. There’s a lot of information in lots of formats out there. 4.0 learners take some time scanning for the best ways to learn something. And they know how to use search tools and  access experts and services.
  4. Connect the Dots. Sometimes learning journeys are preplanned. Other times, they unfold from one step to another. Sometimes a journey to a new or updated capability combines the two. 4.0 learners see their learning as a  connect the dots process, with some dots planned, and others added as learning progresses.
  5. Mine for Gold. Information has to come into the brain before it can be processed and sent to long-term memory. 0 learners muster the concentration and attention to bring that new information in. Then they expertly extract the “gold” it contains for their needs. They know that what often seem to be memory problems are actually concentration and attention problems. You can’t remember what you don’t bring into your brain!
  6. Learn to Last. We know that without extra steps to “file” information in long-term memory, most of what we bring into short term memory disappears after 24 hours. 4.0 learners take additional steps to ensure they convert new knowledge into memories, skills, attitudes and even creative ideas.
  7. Transfer to Life. I’m sure you can cite many examples of things you know and can do, but don’t use or do.  0 learners recognize when they need to take additional steps to change a habit or to make or influence changes in their environments so that their learning converts to action.

Everything we learn happens as part of a learning journey that includes most or all of these 7 practices.  Some journeys are very quick — happening only in a minute or two. Others may take years to complete. Also, when you are helping others learn or are learning with a team, it is useful to decide which practice is most relevant at the moment. Then focus your help there.

Learning 4.0 is a science-, psychology-, and adult learning-based framework for designing and managing your own learning.  It is an important brain process upgrade that will help you thrive in a fast changing world of work and life.

Click on the book to order.  And take a look at the SMARTInside Course and App on this site 


It’s Time to Upgrade Your Brain’s Learning Software

Everything is changing around us. It was challenging enough to deal with the “then normal” pace of change before COVID19. But it’s clear, even bigger changes in work and relationships are on the horizon.  This creates a massive learning challenge (opportunity!). We all need upgraded and new skills and attitudes about work, family, careers, social interactions, personal change and more.  But most people approach these changes with outdated learning mindsets and skills.  It’s like using a car to “drive” into space!

Think of Learning as a program that runs in your brain and body (yes, your body is part of your learning system!). This critical program runs on the equivalent of neurological and social hardware.  From time to time in your life you have to upgrade to a new version of this critical software.

You have updated your internal learning “programs” two or three times in life. It’s now time for a fourth upgrade that is equivalent to what in business is often called Industrie 4.0 . In the world of I4.0, the things around you are “smart” – sensing, communicating, cooperating, making decentralized decisions).  These create the need for a matching learning program for all of us.

Here are the three internal learning programs that are in use today but need an upgrade:

  • Learning 1.0 (Search). This is the learning programming that you were born with: to develop through trial and error and imitation.  Learning 1.0 comes with a massive built-in human capability that provides powerful basic neurophysiology and also makes learning intrinsically rewarding.  We were designed with the potential to be learning dynamos. 
  • Learning 2.0 (Social and School): This is the learning programming and discipline that teachers and parents helped you develop so that you could succeed in the school environment. With L2.0 you internalized the value systems, models, and information you needed to join society as an adult informed by knowledge amassed throughout civilization.
  • Learning 3.0 (Self-Directed): This is the post-school programing that, with little or no guidance (maybe with the help of a periodic mentor, coach or course)  you are inventing and cobbling together to deal with adult responsibilities at work, at home, in all aspects of personal life.  For most of us this L3.0 version is a kind of survival upgrade that we invent as we go along.

These internal “programs” are not good enough for learning  today. Success at work and in life requires a fourth upgrade:  Learning 4.0.

  • Learning 4.0 (Smart): It’s early days for this learning upgrade which draws on neuroscience, psychology, and other relatively recent discoveries about how we as humans transform through our lives. L4.0 is an advanced capability that enables us to be active, skilled and successful lifelong learners in this rapidly changing, connected, digital, knowledge age.

How up to date is the internal program that drives and guides your personal learning and change? Is it time for you to upgrade your learning “software? Without this new Learning 4.0 software to guide learning, it will be very, very difficult to keep up with the increasing complexity and speed of change, to match wits with technology, or to become all you can be in these complex times.

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