December 13 marked a special day in the Association for Talent Development’s history and for its Dutch twin, NVO2. Because that was the date of the first ever European ATD summit, held in Amsterdam.

So, how should we define the logic of today? Change as a constant fixture, perhaps? Maybe, nonlinear growth of technology in every shape and form? Possibly, that jobs are being augmented, replaced and changed by robotics and algorithms? In short, we can say: welcome to the fourth industrial revolution, or the second machine age.


Tony Bingham, ATD CEO, made a strong case for the huge transformation that’s taking place behind the world of work. As he’s fond of saying: “if there’s ever a time that learning was vitally important, it’s this time. It’s now.”.

The former head of Carlsberg Beer’s learning department, André de Wit, picks up where Tony left off. Starting up his presentation with a wonderful painting by Rembrandt … wait a minute. Rembrandt? No, not really, the painting was completely generated by an algorithm, by an artificial intelligence, that had taught itself to paint like the Dutch Old Master.

According to André, the key requirement for future success is what’s known as learning agility. The ability to quickly learn new ways of working and new skills. If technology augments our work, we have to be able to learn to embrace this. If technology usurps our job, we’ll need to re-skill, or up-skill to transform who we are and what we do.

Right. So, to sum up: the world of work is changing ever faster: get over it and get learning!

Okay, I got it: so, what do we look for in people to determine whether their learning is agile enough? This moment in the conference where I had the privilege to take the stage. Joined by Stefaan van Hooydonk and Shannon Tipton and hosted by David Smith, we had the opportunity to enlighten the audience on the neuroscience of learning. My key take-away for them was on spotting the characteristics of the potential for continued growth. These characteristics have been uncovered and researched by Aráoz at Harvard.

If we see these five characteristics in our people and leaders, we be assured that learning agility will follow. I’ll go one step further for the purposes of this article. If, and only if, we see these signifiers of potential in our people, can we let go of push learning and whole heartedly embrace pull learning instead. People with potential will access L&D on a self-service, basis where they can find what they need from performance support or any other online platform and get what they need to learn at any of the five moments of need.

The question in my mind, first and foremost, is how to instill or ignite potential in others. Leaders that are both humble and hungry will help. Leaders, in other words, who are multipliers, not diminishers, who offer opportunities and challenges, who add value. Leaders who speak the language of effort, praise, process, approach and determination and (not only) the language of results.

More effort, more determination, more stamina, more grit will deliver more results. The talent’s invisible twin is always effort. We all have to learn to ignite it, to invest in it and help people improve on it.