Sometimes I think the only dimension of performance that a manager should measure is how much each employee is learning. Most people are intrinsically motivated to do good work. The trick is in knowing how. So the more you know, the more likely you'll perform well. And people who are proactive learners probably have the most potential even if they aren't yet superstars.

How relevant to the job does the learning need to be? I would be generous about that. The nature of knowledge is that everything you learn stimulates and strengthens your mind. And what we experience as creativity is often little more than our brain's natural impulse to combine and compare knowledge from diverse fields. So the more you know, the more powerful your creative potential.

But beyond all of those benefits is my observation that employees who are still learning are almost always happier on the job. I haven't seen any studies on this point, but I'll bet you'd see low turnover among people who feel they are learning. Learning makes people feel connected and engaged. It feels like improvement and growth, and it's good for the ego.

As a manager, you'd still need to fire the total screw-ups and toxic employees. But among the good-enough performers, an appetite for learning probably separates the best from the average.

I've blogged before that I pick projects based on what I will learn. This year was especially educational for me. A few examples...

-          I wrote and acted in a promotional video for my book. I learned what works on camera and what doesn't. I learned how the audience reacts to different approaches. And I learned a lot about the actual technique of short video production. If you asked me to make another promotional video tomorrow, I'd be far better equipped.

-          I created a Slideshare presentation with Rexi Media and learned a great deal about the science of making things memorable and interesting. Every bit of that has crossover usefulness.

-          I went back on the speaking circuit, but this time with a useful message (success) as opposed to my old just-for-laughs speech. Delivering a motivational message is an entirely different skill. (See a video of it here.) My old speech was essentially stand-up comedy with comics.

-          I went on a book publicity tour and learned what types of publicity work best in 2014. For example, these days a book signing has little impact on book sales whereas doing a Reddit AMA is a big deal.

-          I'm starting a Dilbert.com redesign project and learning about the best ideas in website design for 2014.

-          My partners and I launched CalendarTree.com this year. I was hands-on for every phase, including concept, design, user interface, testing, redesign, setting up the corporation, funding, online marketing, A-B testing, and tons more. And I picked up a lot of technology knowledge by osmosis. (And because I know you are wondering, yes, the experience is a source of Dilbert fodder.)

-          I finished writing my latest book (How to Fail...). The "success" genre was new to me as a writer. And I had to learn a lot to tie it all together with research and references. I worked with a medical doctor who specializes in science research to get the science parts right.

-          I tried out a new comic strip on this blog (Robots Read News) and learned a lot by experiment. For example, I learned that readers didn't care that the art in each panel was identical.

-          I'm teaching myself to play drums. (Technically, a stranger on Youtube is teaching me). I have no end goal. I just enjoy hitting things with sticks, and I have discovered that it lights up a part of my brain that I don't normally stimulate. Five minutes of drumming feels like two cups of coffee.

-          I experimented with becoming a well-dressed person, just to see what that was all about. Historically, my normal look would have been described as sort of an athlete-turned-homeless vibe. But thanks to a clever Macy's salesperson I upped my game. Result: Yes, people treat me differently (and better) when I'm stylishly dressed.

-          This week I've been researching hardware to split a component video signal and convert one output into a wireless HDMI extender to another room. It doesn't matter why. All that matters is that I learned a lot in the process.

-          Blogging is an ongoing learning process. I learn (usually the hard way) which writing approaches work and which ones get me in trouble. And after almost every blog post readers send me links to related and fascinating topics. The entire process is hugely educational.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. For me, learning is living. It's how I feel connected to the world, and I think it's my best strategy for being a productive citizen. Best of all, as a cartoonist, each of these experiences fuels the creative fires.

I'm curious to see what you learned this year. Please list a few things if you have a minute.

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Apr 14, 2014
Please blog about what I should buy from Macy's to look nice.
Mar 18, 2014
I learned that I can enjoy job hunting and job rejection (well, not the actual rejection moment) and that it is a hugely instructive exercise. I still have my same ill-fitted job, but I feel better about it having put the energy into changing it. The effort continues.

I learned how to keep rats away from my bird feeders.

I learned that I can profoundly change my serum triglycerides with intense aerobic gym-cycle exercise that, coincidentally, has made me an awesome hill climber on my bike.

I learned to eat shrimp with their shells still on. Crunchy!

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Mar 18, 2014
I read and buy A LOT of books every year. I like most of what you do. I think the reason the book is not selling is the cover. When I read it on my ipad you can't read the title, not that I haven't come to put you together with a big foot, and I just think the layout sucks. Content good.
Mar 12, 2014
I've learned to ask a simple question...
Who planted this story? And what have they got to gain from my believing it?

We live in a world of lies, spin and misunderstandings. Our whole worldview is based on stories which weren't true originally and have been embellished with time.

We also live in a transition.
Our print media is dying. People don't buy newspapers any more. Only 3 newspapers in the US have circulations of over 1 million - together those 3 reach 0.02% of the population. The rest are down below 1/2 million each - the top 100 adds up to under 0.05%, even if there is no overlap.

With plummeting revenues, media companies cannot afford powerful columnists, true investigative journalism and in-depth research. They have replaced it with celebrity columnists, minimum wage reporters and what I call "Twitter scrapers" - people paid to find news on Twitter and write it up as a story. They also copy other newspapers and this becomes a spiral of "I copy you and you copied them and they copied me".

Meanwhile the TV media never tried to be good journalists - they take their lead from the print media and simply read it out on air. On their own they simply have the grisly picture and a few sentence description - nothing in-depth.

Our government, corporate and not for profit systems, however, still work on releasing stories to the press to influence the public.

Fed into this void of journalism, many of these stories take on life way beyond their merit.
We have three days coverage of one missing plane.
A week on one shooting in South Africa, where hundreds happen every day.

And we have planted stories.
The health person who suddenly discovers that sugar is addictive (Duh) and decides this means that the government must tell all soft drink manufacturers to reformulate their product.
The GM crop producer who shows how population growth means a food crisis.
The central bank which plants a story about stolen Bitcoins.

Now health Tsars want to influence government policy and get budgets for their programmes.
GM crops want to create a crisis for which they are the answer.
Banks want to protect their monopoly over the world's money (and power, and prestige etc.)

But they are being a mandate by a pliant, unquestioning media. A media trained, of course, to present everything as a crisis and newsworthy. And it becomes a merry-go-round on planted non-news with everyone copying everyone else in a feeding frenzy.

Where it gets nasty is that these minor non-stories played into a vacuum become mainstream. And they do influence opinions. Most people believe them unquestioningly.

I set up Challenging Concepts. Simple premise - "to challenge the ideas holding your business back". To take on the pre-computer ways of working and thinking about companies and move thinking on so we can leap forward.

I scratched a pimple and found a cancer.
We are being manipulated by a few powerful people taking advantage of a media vacuum.

So, everyone, make one change to your behaviour.
Every time you read a story ask -
"Who planted this and what have they got to gain from my believing it".

You'll be surprised how often news is subverted.
Mar 8, 2014
Started gardening this year. I began the process with the idea that it would be easy, and that seeds plus water would equal product. Although technically that's still true, I didn't anticipate all that I would learn in the process of planting a garden.

Just learning and watching my vegetable garden grow has been really rewarding. I still have yet to have a big harvest yet, as things are still growing, but it's rewarding in a different way.

I like your 'learning view' on life. Learning might be the most rewarding thing we can receive out of experiences, which is a nice way to look at life.
Mar 7, 2014
I learned the the U.S. values education a lot more than the U.K. does. I learned that corruption in local government is rife here (I only found out that one yesterday). I learned that incompetent management will always overcome a competent workforce and the workforce suffer (apart from toxic employees who thrive). I learned I should take up drumming.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014

I learned that toilet flushes can throw fecal matter 6 feet or more. So now I always close the lid when I flush at home. Gotta keep that bathroom fresh!
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
In my experience, I feel exhilarated whenever I learn something that fundamentally changes my perspective or model of the world for the better.
I usually know when I've struck gold, because the item of learning instantly clicks with me, seems to be painfully obvious, but is among the last things to try because well...I feel like I've tried everything else which hasn't worked. And still from the outside it looks totally counter intuitive.

But just like Scott, learning non-fundamental skills and engaging in activities I don't normally partake in is still essential though, because its a 'system' of improving my chances of stumbling across such findings.
I often find myself drawing connections between activities that really don't seem to have anything to do with each other. I reason this is because nature employs fractal patterns wherever it can. When you discover a pattern one place, you should be able to apply that same pattern a million other places. The simpler the pattern, the more prevalent it will be.
This also means, that when I learn something one place, I'm learning 10 other places as well.

So for instance, when I watch some dogs sniffing each others butts, I learn how to do conflict management at work.

I usually keep that sort of stuff to myself.
Mar 6, 2014
This year I've been learning how to manage hardware projects ( normally i just do software). I don't have a clue about hardware but I'm learning ways to get around that lack of knowledge and ensure the project gets managed.

After reading Scott's book i've been making an active attempt to learn more about psychology, specifically the stuff that applies to negotiating as I'm trying to improve my skills there via books and practice at work.

I'm learning new technology as a website I'm a forum admin in needs to change it's backend from one system to another.

I'm expanding my skills by interviewing a broad range of people for a podcast I'm on, including several actors and writers. This also helps my confidence as it was initially a daunting task.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 5, 2014
I learned years ago that work performance has a lot to do with access to information. Brilliant contributors often just have more data to work with. I've been working as a contract writer for the last couple of years. I spotted an opportunity to work with a good company - in a position that involved interviewing leaders in just about every business division and then doing stuff with that information. I was willing to drop $10/hour off my usual rate because I saw the potential. Fast forward five months and I'm in a great place. Folks look to me for insight and value my contribution. People talk about how darn smart I am. I'm no more or less smart than I have been in any other position. This time around I just happen know more stuff...and I'm good at making connections. And yes, I'm finding ways to leverage that.
Mar 5, 2014
If you like playing drums to hit things as opposed to creating music or playing in a band, buy Rockband 3 for Xbox 360 TODAY, an electronic drum set, and the MadCatz Midi pro adapter. I like Roland and have a TD-9. You have more money, so go all out and get a td-30. Keep taking your lessons, but man this "game" is a blast.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 5, 2014
I would love to say I learnt how to connect to my emotions, speak sanskrit and divide by 0 (ala Alice).

Instead, I've learnt micro and macro economics and econometrics, that economists struggle with much more than a straight line mathematically and that the real world is often wrong and is not truly reflective of most economic theories
Mar 5, 2014
Also learned last year ...
that there likely is a long term clandestine anti-humanity movement afoot, for at least the last 50 years. Yeah, yeah. Sounds crazy to me, too. There seem to be "useful idiots" legislating for this in most, if not all, government bureaucracies, even though nobody seems to be publicly behind the end goal. Not a left versus right thing. The long-term strategy seems to be to legally get us off the open land and into very high density unsustainable communities, like a round-up, where the equivalent of attrition warfare will eventually finish us off. Good grief. Is it followers of Malthus "making it happen"? Perhaps the Daleks (Dr. Who reference) do affirmations, too?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 5, 2014
PS...what's up with all the people in the responses contemplating suicide...ina and MTBob?
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 5, 2014
I've enjoyed doing carpentry projects for many decades now but have never worked with metal. Thanks to Youtube, I know how to work with metal and build guns in my garage...especially the types they are trying to ban.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 5, 2014

Slow year Scott?

I turned 50.
Learned that turning 50 is a little like going through puberty again.
Things are leaking and I don't have control over them.
It feels like someone else's body and mind, losing control of coordination, and memory. I don't quite fit in my skin anymore.

I asked my wife to go to couples therapy, to start getting some of the things I want out of life.
I learned I was the one who is wrong and I need to put aside what I want.

"Most people are intrinsically motivated to do good work."
I've been working with some high school students this year. Some are unmotivated and looking to just get out of working at all, some are driven and interested, most are just floating in the middle somewhere. Students and teachers alike.
Many need attention they are not getting.
How their home life, and the examples set for them at home, are very important.

Our educational system is broken and focused on the wrong things.

>>I am seriously contemplating suicide,
Are you just seeing if anyone reads these or are you seriously serious?
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Just in case)
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 5, 2014
Took a degree in physics and pure math over last few years - part time for my own interest only. It is tough but interesting. It causes looks of astounishment in work when I am able to contribute to administrative and legal problem solving using those techniques, most of them rudimentary. - Worth it just for the looks on people's faces sometimes.
Mar 5, 2014
A little over a year ago I learned I did not like my job. I quit.

In the past year I went into business for myself. I have been learning a lot. There is no end to the learning and I'm having a blast.

The extrinsic paycheck (money) took a hit.
The intrinsic paycheck (feelings) got a raise.

Learning new things is what is so rewarding. I've learned that I like to learn.
Mar 5, 2014
This week I learned a lot about Arthur Dove, and American modern painting in general by helpng my son with his thesis. Since January my wife and I have been taking dancing lessons so I learned to Salsa, Bachata, Merengue and Hustle. I've been learning to read and write Japanese. I wrote my first Novel and learned to pitch agents and publishers. I finished my 5th CD as a songwriter and musician and I learned (again) how hard it is to get things right, nevermind perfect. I also learned when travelling around the world it's a lot cheaper to book flights a la carte than to buy a single "round the world" ticket. Etc, etc, etc...
Mar 5, 2014
Well, I've just learned Phantom II can write an interesting and amusing comment on this blog, if he tries ;-)
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