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Why we’ll need to evolve from ‘know-it-alls’ into ‘learn-it-alls’ in 2020

28 Nov 2019

What will 2020 bring to the workplace? We spoke to LeeAnn Renninger of LifeLabs Learning to learn more.

We’re just about to enter the final month of 2019 and, as we get set to embark on the next decade, it’s time to look forward and prepare for what the world of science and technology work will look like.

To gain some insights into the top skills and priority areas for workplaces in 2020, we spoke to co-CEO of LifeLabs Learning, LeeAnn Renninger.

Renninger holds a PhD in cognitive psychology with a specialisation in idea transfer, rapid skill acquisition and leadership development. And, according to her, there’s no time like the present to starting refocusing our ways of thinking and our measures of success.

“It’s time to recognise that we have gone beyond the industrial era and even the knowledge era and are now moving into the learning era,” she told

“The most successful organisations will be the ones that can out-learn others. We need to evolve past being know-it-alls and become a culture of learn-it-alls.”

LeAnn Renninger of Lifelabs Learning is smiling into the camera with her hands on her hips, wearing casual clothes.

LeeAnn Renninger. Image: LifeLabs Learning

Cultural dexterity

Renninger discussed the concept of cultural fluency – something that needs to be remembered as we become more distributed across multiple locations around the world.

“This trend toward being distributed is exciting, because it broadens our hiring pools and allows for more diversity of perspective and experience. But it’s also really hard for people who are not used to collaborating with people from different cultures. And even experience alone isn’t enough.

“The most successful distributed organisations equip their employees with cultural dexterity skills and shape a company culture that moves toward difference with curiosity, versus moving away from it in fear.”

‘We can’t get good at predicting the future, so we have to be good at adapting to it’

Skills in cultural dexterity fall under two categories, Renninger explained. There are relating skills, which give people the capacity to bond at a distance. Through learning relating skills, employees can develop more agile communication.

Then there are articulation skills. According to Renninger, these are “all about making the implicit explicit”, which includes “setting clear expectations, establishing norms and extracting learning”.

Critical skills for 2020

Aside from cultural dexterity, what other skills will workers need to hone moving into next year and beyond?

Renninger stressed that it’s a case of breaking down the silos that often exist within companies, hampering agility and adaptability to change.

“In 2020, the focus has to be on building more agile, nimble organisations,” she said.

“We have to think of organisations more like organisms, constantly evolving to handle the increasing pace of change and uncertainty. We can’t get good at predicting the future, so we have to be good at adapting to it.”

So, what areas are especially important for the future of work? “In this ecosystem, the most important skills are those that enable rapid learning, including feedback skills, coaching skills, relating skills and super learning – learning how to learn,” Renninger explained.

“As companies become flatter and more agile, we also see more and more need for managers to become the hotspots of growth and change at their organisations, so leadership skills are more important now than ever.”

The role of HR

When asked whether HR staff should put particular emphasis on shaking things up in 2020, Renninger said “without a doubt”.

“We have to see our role in HR as the futurists within our organisations, not just looking at what skills are needed today but what skills and culture we will need for the long arc of the future. Our job is then to advocate for these skills and drive these cultural changes.”

And though best practice is a good place to start, sticking to the status quo won’t necessarily cut it anymore, Renninger said.

“We also have to move beyond copying common practice and ask ourselves, ‘what are we actually solving for here?’, then be willing to experiment and learn from the data,” she explained.

“Not only are these steps critical for businesses to thrive, they are also the behaviours that earn HR leaders a seat at the executive table.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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