16. September 2022

Be open to learning!

Knowledge-hungry people in Adlershof are shaping the future

Curious and open to change: communications expert Jenni Haberland © WISTA Management GmbH
Serial entrepreneur Wolfgang Gries © WISTA Management GmbH
Fit for the future thanks to old technology. EBK Krüger’s management team: Sebastian Nädtke, Martin Lehmann, Daniel Heidrich (from the left)
 © WISTA Management GmbH

Many talk about lifelong learning. But what does that mean exactly? Why is it more necessary than ever? And what are its effects? We asked people in Adlershof who are shaping the future about what they think.

Lifelong learning? For Wolfgang Gries, this is not just a buzzword but everyday practice. Gries is a serial founder. He has reinvented himself countless times throughout his career, most recently, by getting VigorHydrogen off the ground, a company for decarbonisation and production of green hydrogen. He was able to do so because he always was – and is – open for new things, always curious.

“I've worked in different positions that required very different skills, which I had to acquire on the job,” says Gris, “from being a start-up entrepreneur in small companies with rudimentary structures, to being a general manager at listed companies in the US.” Those positions included marketing tasks to acting as head of development, responsible for budgets worth millions. “If I wasn’t curious for new things and willing to learn, this would have been unimaginable,” he underscores. Gries studied both physics and philosophy.

His studies were helpful in more ways than just to acquire knowledge: “In reality, physicists only know the theoretical backgrounds and have to work their way into every new area,” explains Gries. “So, I had to learn many new things with every new task.” In retrospect, this wasn’t always easy, but it gave him the freedom and independence he had always wished for: “This way I was able to pick the jobs I liked and wasn’t forced to look for one just to make a living.”

Jenni Haberland, too, works in her dream job – and continues to develop her skills all the time. She is part of the communications team at the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) and is enrolled in a Futures Studies course at Free University of Berlin. Why? Out of curiosity. Because the (working) world is constantly changing – and she is changing with it through lifelong learning. “This, to me, also means changing perspectives and ways of thinking, to find new answers to new questions,” says Haberland.

Future Studies seemed consistent with this. “Over the past 15 years, I was able to look at the various facets of communication and was keen to add another perspective that goes beyond the communication science discipline,” says Haberland. “I see great potential in the combination of both fields, especially for science communication.”

This, too, has changed and continues to change. It is moving away from shouting down a one-way street, from disseminating knowledge, towards more interaction, dialogue, and participation. And: Instead of announcing the results following long-term projects, now the path leading to those results is communicated, too. “We highlight the relevance of our research for the great challenges of our time, present the people who work on them, try to offer a glimpse into the everyday work and the laboratories, and thus make (abstract) topics more approachable and comprehensible”, explains Haberland. “The main mission is to show how research makes people’s lives better and safer – and to strengthen the trust in science.”

To stay up-to-date professionally and mentally, it was necessary to “consciously observe and to comprehend the permanent progress of technology and society,” says Martin Lehmann, co-manager of EBK Krüger GmbH & Co. KG. The company, one could say, makes sure old technology stays fit by producing discontinued components and spare parts, especially for the automobile industry.

For Lehmann, lifelong learning means “to become intellectually acquainted with the present that used to be the future.” This is part of the company’s daily bread, which offers its staff skills development measures in all areas. What was important, says Lehmann, was to tailor advanced training to the skills and capabilities of the staff: “In our experience, ‘compulsory qualification’ only leads to frustration and therefore to inefficiencies for the company. Not every qualification suits every person and vice versa.”

However, everyone must be ready to develop. Due to rapid technological progress, employees and their companies are constantly busy responding to a changing work environment. Against this backdrop, those students and career starters are well-equipped, according to Lehmann, that “are able to think the future in different scenarios.” This is the basis for targeted further development.

Haberland recommends an “open mindset and a general curiosity, to be interested in topics beyond the subjects one chose for university or one’s everyday working life: This also includes talking to people from other fields, disciplines, cultures.” To reflect on one’s own thoughts and actions again and again.

“One of the most important requirements for well-being in a future profession is a commitment to teamwork, empathy, openness towards people of any culture, a healthy dose of self-criticism, and a desire to better oneself,” says Gries. “Most importantly: openness to new things.” Later, in the working world, the requirements are rarely the same as the ones learned at university or the skills learned during an apprenticeship.

Chris Löwer for Adlershof Journal