Honestly folks, we really, really, really need to get over the memorization model of learning. It’s good for spelling bees, trivia games, Jeopardy, and passing multiple choice tests. But it’s BORING if not torturous! And cramming more and more facts into our brains isn’t going to help most of us thrive in real life — especially in the 21st century.
As an employer, I don’t care how many facts are in your head or how quickly you can memorize new information. I’m looking for talent, applied expertise (not just factual or theoretical knowledge), and the following skills and attributes:
The ability to tell the difference between memorizing and understanding
I won’t delegate responsibility to employees who can’t tell the difference between memorizing and understanding. Employees who can’t make this distinction don’t know when they need to ask questions. Consequently, they repeatedly make decisions that aren’t adequately informed.
I’ve taken to asking potential employees what it feels like when they realize they’ve really understood something. Many applicants, including highly educated applicants, don’t understand the question. It’s not their fault. The problem is an educational system that’s way too focused on memorizing.
The ability to think
It’s essential that every employee in my organization is able to evaluate information, solve problems, participate actively in decision making and know the difference between an opinion and a good evidence-based argument.
A desire to listen and the skills for doing it well
We also need employees who want and know how to listen — really listen. In my organization, we don’t make decisions in a vacuum. We seek and incorporate a wide range of stakeholder perspectives. A listening disposition and listening skills are indispensable.
The ability to speak truth (constructively)
I know my organization can’t grow the way I want it to if the people around me are unwilling to share their perspectives or are unable to share them constructively. When I ask someone for an opinion, I want to hear their truth — not what they think I want to hear.
The ability to work effectively with others
This requires respect for other human beings, good interpersonal, collaborative, and conflict resolution skills, the ability to hear and respond positively to productive critique, and buckets of compassion.
Awareness of the ubiquity of human fallibility, including one’s own, and knowledge about human limitations, including the built-in mental biases that so often lead us astray.
A passion for learning (a.k.a. growth mindset)
I love working with people who are driven to increase their understanding and skills — so driven that they’re willing to feel lost at times, so driven that they’re willing to make mistakes on their way to a solution, so driven that their happiness depends on the availability of new challenges.
The desire to do good in the world
I run a nonprofit. We need employees who are motivated to do good.
Not one of these capabilities can be learned by memorizing. All of them are best learned through reflective practice — preferably 12–16 years of reflective practice (a.k.a VCoLing) in an educational system that is not obsessed with remembering.