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.