#44: Learning

In this episode I wanted to start talking about learning. Learning is one of the singularly overlooked concepts in running a business.

I believe every business is a technology business. For a business to thrive in the modern world it must be able to adapt and change rapidly.

That ability for a business to adapt and change quickly, comes down to how well the organisation learns

And when I say organisation, I actually mean every part of that organisation - be that an individual right the way through the organisation as a whole.

So in this episode I'm going to talk abut why learning is so important to me.

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Published: Wed, 10 Jun 2020 16:05:50 GMT


My LinkedIn profile currently includes the following:

"I invest around 15-20 hours per week in keeping current with technology - be it through podcasts, books, training courses or exams."

Its probably about the 3rd line down.

Why would I give that line so much prominence when most profiles wouldn't even touch on learning?

The reason for investing that time and then sharing what I do are two fold.

I've always been active in keeping abreast of technical changes.

Even early in my career, before the availability of the internet with courses and knowledge at my finger tips, I would invest.

At that time it would have been through spending a reasonable percentage of my monthly salary on a two inch thick technical book - then working my way through it.

It was always a priority for me to learn - it was how I got into my first jobs and built my technical reputation.

It also helped that I enjoyed it.

And that desire for learning has stayed with me.

And now 27 years into my career, I find that I'm investing more than ever in learning.

With technology, and indeed the world, moving as a constantly accelerating rate there is always more to learn.

And having that wide base of learning helps me in my work.

Having such a wide base of knowledge helps me to drop into a variety of situations and be up and running quickly.

Take a look at some of my LinkedIn recommendations to see that at play:

"I have been very impressed with how quickly Mark got to grips with what can only be described as a complex environment. Part of this is Mark has the experience, knowledge and a strong natural ability to get technology and how it works for the business."

"Mark has a wealth of technical expertise, with a great understanding of software development and associated processes - with a breadth and depth of knowledge around the Microsoft development stack that made him a go-to person when dealing with these technologies."

"Mark is a strong leader with excellent technical, architectural and problem solving skills. I could always rely on Mark to throw himself at major incidents and find solutions to the most complex problems."

I've always prided myself in my abilities to pickup and understand technical systems faster than most.

Part of that is through the luck of have a "knack for it".

But I do find the more I learn the luckier I get.

And the reason I share that I'm doing this?

Its common for there to be an almost negative connotation to learning.

Its almost saying "I'm not good enough at what I do, I need to learn".

I remember an inhouse training program I was part of early in my career;

I was there eager to learn and take advantage of the companies investment in me.

Yet at the same time, my colleagues where managers and leaders of many years experience. And they felt themselves above the need for the training.

They has been doing their job successfully for many years. To them they felt that the any training program was unnecessary for them - below them - even demeaning.

And this really struck me as strange.

Here we where being given the opportunity to review topics that where important to our individual careers and the growth of the organisation.

Ok I'd probably question the quality of some of the teaching.

It was largely being delivered by inhouse teams who, in some cases, had less experience in the subject than those they where teaching.

But even then, it provided a opportunity for lively debate on how to best approach and deal with the topic at hand.

To me - at the very least - even if I didn't learn anything - there would be the value of confirming that I already understood the relevant topic well.

A way to re-enforce my current knowledge and put additional credibility behind it.

As it was I actually learnt considerably more than that.

It was actually a wonderfully valuable and useful experience for me.

Even if years later, I have probably matured and adjusted much of the knowledge gained.

That inhouse training had been based on very traditional management techniques. Many of those same techniques I now actively promote against using.

However, if I hadn't that original traditional management knowledge then I would have struggled to understand the problems inherent within it.

And one of the most memorable moment of that training was the reluctance of those that believed themselves better that it.

They didn't need it.

They felt that they had been successfully doing their job for many years.

To expect them to have to attend a training course - to learn - well for some, I honest believe they felt insulted.

They took it as a slight on their abilities. That they where being told that they weren't "good enough".

And I think that is common in a lot of people once they reach a level in their career - they feel they are "good enough". Or at least they need to portray they are.

Anything less would be seen as them not being good enough for their role.

Not good enough for that next promotion.

Not good enough to lead that organisation changing initiative.

To admit that you active learn - to admit you don't know everything - it is seen as a weakness.

Something very few people are comfortable with admitting.

The reality of course is something entirely different.

Without constant learning and bettering ourselves, then we do not grow. We do not gain the additional skills needs to take ourselves and our organisations forward.

Somewhat ironically, this message is not going to be new to you dear listener.

The very act of you listening to this podcast shows that you have some interest in learning and growing as an individual.

You are obviously investing your time. Something that so many of your colleagues and peers are not.

The irony is that the people that most need to hear this message are the ones that will level listen to it.

My first boss, early in my career told me that "if you don't learn something everyday, then you've wasted the day" - and that has stuck with me throughout the years.

If you take a look at my LinkedIn or Twitter feed you will see I post a weekly infographic on what I've been up to over the past week.

My weekly retro is a summary of the past week - and a lot of it is to do with the learning I've undertaken.

I summarise the current book I'm reading, the hours of podcast episodes I've listened to and the online courses I've watched.

I freely admit that part of the reason I publish the infographic is self promotion.

I use it as a conversation starter with the agencies I interact with.

They can see what technical skills I'm actively using and what I'm currently learning.

Yes there is definitely an element of selling myself through that infographic.

But behind it there is so much more.

Its a way of keeping me motivated to continue to learn.

I'm currently recording this during the Covid-19 lockdown - a strange time for everyone.

With everything going on, it would be very easy to forgo my learning.

It would be very easy to just watch another episode on Netflix.

I know my running has suffered.

But, as silly as it may sound, that infographic gives me that little nudge to spend that time on learning.

By making that public commitment, I find that additional motivation. Something I find incredibly powerful.

Even the original act of creating that infographic was an incredible learning exercise for me.

Behind that infographic is a considerable amount of automation.

I've built an Android app to monitor my podcast usage.

I've built integrations into Twitter, Slack and a handful of online services.

I've built a chat bot.

I've used various cloud services and Serverless technologies to then stitch it all together.

Many geek hours have been spent to pull the data together.

Was it a lot of work to produce a pretty picture once a week?

Well yes.

But the learning I achieved from the use of those various technologies was invaluable.

These are additional skills and experiences I have added to my capabilities.

Even this podcast is another example of me learning.

Back in January of 2016 I wrote a brief article titled "Have an opinion"

The article espoused the value of putting your opinion out there. And then, most importantly, listening to the feedback you received.

And from that, further growing your understanding and maturing your opinion.

I'm a great believer in the term "Strong opinions, loosely held"

I do have strong opinions on how to do things better.

Each and every week I record those opinions in this podcast. I work hard to provide a convincing argument for my opinion and provide backup from personal experience and industry.

But I'm open to dissenting argument - if anything I welcome it.

What is there for me to lose?

I either come out of it more convinced in my opinion or change my opinion for the better - it is simply a win/ win.

I hope in this episode I've conveyed just how important learning is to me personally.

In the next two episodes, I will continue to look at learning.

First an episode of Organisational learning. And then an episode on Individual learning.

Thank you for listening.

I look forward to talking to you again next week.