Home
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.

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +82
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
Mar 4, 2014
I just learned that if a minor celebrity offers writing for free and dares to mix in a little self-promotion, a portion of his audience will be offended.
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 4, 2014
Okay. Within the last year I learned:
- What a wasteful time-suck Facebook is
- That I need to dress better
- How to self-publish a short book to Amazon (seriously Scott, you should consider this as an experiment. Self-publish a short story or two to Amazon KDP. Priced at $2.99 or above you earn 70%. It's a way to get content out there in ebook form on YOUR timetable, not your publisher's. Unless you signed a silly non-compete clause! But you can always use a pseudonym.)
- That it is possible to like a boss a lot
- That hours and hours at the gym won't do !$%* for my waistline if I'm not eating properly too

 
 
Mar 4, 2014
In the last year I learned...

TheCareerClinic.com was not a good place to promote my public speaking, because people who might have otherwise considered hiring me to motivate their employees will worry I'll try to talk those employees into changing jobs.

Doing What Works is a better way to describe what I'm trying to inspire -- so I changed the name of our radio talk show to that, and learned a lot about web site redesign in the process of switching over to MaureenAnderson.com. I had so many dreams during the launch about working on the new site -- putting an image somewhere after changing it in Paint, then making it a link to a video ... like a badass!

The reason I'm able to eat as much as I want whenever I want and maintain a healthy weight is that I accidentally -- or instinctively -- followed the principles outlined in How to Fail at Almost Anything, before I knew what those were.

A recurring snag my husband and I were having was my fault! http://huff.to/1eMUA42
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 4, 2014
I learned
-how to replace a motorcycle transmission
-how trees are processed into lumber
-about adapting a Chevy transmission to a Jeep engine
-how to install tile, a bath tub, lighting
-how to do a stoppie on a motorcycle
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
In general this is probably a great feel-good exercise to get your energy up. It's always encouraging to think about your accomplishments.
- Learned a lot about how routers work while setting up two wireless networks in my home, one on VPN and the other not.
- I learned how to take a slap shot and get it up off the ice.
- I learned a good chunk about the history of Judaism and Sikhism (I'm neither)
- I had a kid. Soooo... yeah. Bit of a learning bonanza there.
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
Totally on board with learning just to learn something new. I just set up a home network backup system by installing Linux on an old computer and linking active computers to it via SambaServer, despite having no relevant skills. I could have bought an external drive that automatically connects to the network and automates backups, but I just wanted to see how it was done. Who knows if I'll ever use that again, but I can at least feign knowledge when talking to my techie buddies.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 4, 2014
Great question!
- Started learning flamenco guitar, which as a pianist I'm finding very difficult
- How to Tweet effectively
- Finding out what works, and doesn't, on Google
- Learning R for statistical modelling and forecasting
- Applying systems thinking to weight loss
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
Scott: nope, I am past 60
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
Delighted to hear about the drumming! Would love a blog post or two on the experience.

I'm a music therapist/musician and have a number of long term projects - this year made great progress on:

Playing French horn (did the Brahms Requiem and had a big time flow experience).
Arranging jazz standards and Americana (e.g. Mancini) for small ensemble.
Playing jazz chords on the guitar (previously was mostly simple folk chords).
Learning how to play the alto flute.
Learning more deeply that giving the audience what they want makes performing easier.
Started working with a copyright lawyer to see what's possible about self publishing music learning materials.
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
"Most people are intrinsically motivated to do good work."

I disagree with this. I think there are quite a lot of people, and maybe even most, who are motivated to get as much money/recognition as they can with the minimum amount of work required. To a certain extent this can be good, as it promotes efficiency and all that. To another extent, it isn't. If you let employees be like Wally and sit around and drink coffee all day, many of them will. I mean, the reason Dilbert is funny is because it's based on reality, right?

That said, I agree with your overall message about learning. I quit my last job almost entirely because I felt like I had learned and mastered everything there was to know about it. So I was bored. I started over, all the way at the bottom, in a new career path, taking about a 75% pay cut in the process. I'm pretty content though. Because there's loads of new stuff to learn. It's fun. My old job was fun too, but the fun was in the learning, not really the "doing."
 
 
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 4, 2014
I learned how to live with a woman again, after having lived alone for twenty years. At least I THINK I learned that. The jury may still be out.
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 4, 2014
Within the last year I have learned how to:
1. Not kill a Blog by injecting copious links to my commercial efforts
2. Not write with a focus on interweaving those links

[Are you in your twenties? Serious question. -- Scott]
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
I try to "keep learning" things, but after looking at Scott's list, I'm feeling like an underachiever. Kudos for an impressive year.
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
Within the last year I have learned how to:
- play acoustic guitar (although I am severely limited in my mastery of the instrument, I can play several songs quite well, so I call that a win.

- develop for Android. I followed a couple of tutorials online creating a couple of silly little apps/games and used the knowledge gained to create an even sillier checkers game. Don't see that making me a million on the play store, but who knows (I guess I should actually get it up there some day).

Within the next year I will learn a lot more. I will be a first-time Dad, look for a much longer list at that point in time if you do it again.



 
 
Mar 4, 2014
I learned how to create an universe from nothing, but I'm tangled forever in the math of the hypothesis. I also learned why we are here. The answer is: There was no option when infinity has everything
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
I learned that I have a knack for interviewing/hiring good people (which is surprising since I'm a terrible interviewee). I have a system that greatly improves the odds that a candidate I select will work out well. I also think I've learned that a big part of the reason I'm bad as an interviewee is that most interviewers are focused on the wrong things (& are trained to do so by most HR people).
 
 
Mar 4, 2014
Let's see, I learned
- how to create a stencil in Visio to simplify creating network drawings.
- how to use SharePoint more efficiently
- what the limits are of a wire closet system when my entire wardrobe hit the floor, and how to assemble a nice wood closet organizer
- how to paint furniture and decorative objects that I kind of like, to make them things I really like
- I'm currently taking classes to learn to sketch better, and to expand into painting

Regarding the website, I'd like to request that mashers don't get logged off when then want to submit a comment on someone else's mashup.
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog