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The Seneca effect in Learning and Development

A few years ago, Ugo Bardi, an Italian professor at the University of Florence, found inspiration in the works of the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca, who famously said: “Fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid.” In other words, growth is slow, but collapse is rapid.

As a professor of physical chemistry and an advocate of new resources of energy, Bardi started his book with a chapter on the fall of Rome and extrapolated the Seneca effect to current societies with a focus on human impact on ecosystems and the reckless usages of finite resources (such as oil and other fossil fuels).

The solution Bardi identifies goes back two thousand years ago, in the stoic outlook on life: we need to build resilience if we want to manage the inevitable rapid collapse.

Read more: 5 Tips for building your resilience in trying times

In our opinion, this model can be extrapolated to most human activities. It applies to the current situation in the learning and development industry that is undergoing a paradigm shift due to the disruptive impact of technology. Let’s see how we can be more resilient and manage collapse both at macro and micro levels.

The collapse of the traditional model

There is no doubt that the “traditional” learning and development model, with face to face training programs in a specific room and during a specific time interval is rapidly collapsing. The disruptive effect of the technology had a massive impact on the learning and development industry; clients and training providers have embraced online and blended training models for some years.

This will only accelerate during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. In a widespread WFH environment, it does not make too much sense to attempt to gather people from different parts of the country (or of the world) in a training room. Some employees will be reluctant to travel, as they may not feel safe during the pandemic. Not to mention that it wouldn’t make too much sense from a financial point of view to spend money on flights and hotel bookings especially in these uncertain times.

Read more: Working from home – good for both companies and employees
What can we do to manage this collapse? Bardi says we should become more resilient. In this context, the expression “adapt or die” is more relevant than ever. It applies to both providers and clients. All those involved should understand that technology is here to stay and use an LMS as a key element in their training strategy. It saves time and money and it can adapt to the flexible training needs of any customer.

Read more: Providing personalized online training to remote workforces

The collapse at the individual level

At a micro level, we believe that collapse is closely linked to the reluctance to lifelong learning or in the embrace of a fixed mindset that is not adapted to the fluid reality of the labor market. Any fixed mindset cannot lead to good results and we can become rapidly unemployable if we refuse to reskill or to upskill.

Read more: Why having a growth mindset is the basis for learning and development

Several industries will probably face mass unemployment in the near future due to the rapid growth of technology: administrative repetitive work (AI can perform better at repetitive tasks), fossil fuels (green energy is on the rise in many parts of the world), so lifelong learning will be crucial for workers who need to find jobs in other industries.

Therefore, an adaptable mindset regarding our professional career is essential in a fluid, ever-changing reality. The idea that we can have the same job or that we can work in the same industry for decades (as our parents or grandparents did) is definitely a thing of the past.

Read more: Why developing an agile mindset is crucial for business success

Final remarks

The Seneca effect is pervasive in many industries and societal processes. It involves slow growth and rapid collapse. According to Ugo Bardi, becoming more resilient is the proper way to deal with collapse effectively. In learning and development, we are experiencing the collapse of the traditional model, based on a fixed mindset about education and training.

With technology and globalization as major disruptive factors, it becomes obvious that a fluid/flexible mindset is the best tool to build resilience in a changing environment and manage collapse.

Keep in mind that water carves its way into solid rock and not the other way around, so be as fluid as possible to carve your way into the new challenges of the business world.