Deliberate Learning - Key to Effective Growth Strategy

Ed Marsh | Aug 31, 2018

Do You Have a Formal "Learning Plan?"

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to episode

  1. Entertainment isn't learning
  2. Effective innovation and strategy are products of broad learning and awareness
  3. Deliberate learning only happens with a plan, diverse sources, and time focused on cognitive activity
  4. We are what we read and how proactively we learn

Transcript follows

Hi, I’m Ed Marsh. Welcome to this episode of Signals from the OP. I use these periodic video blogs to provide early warning on topics that are strategically important for middle market industrial manufacturers. 

Rather than worrying about detecting enemy in the wire, I pick at topics which management teams should be tracking, but might not as they manage day to day challenges.

Today’s topic fits in perfectly to that context – because it goes to the core of that activity involved in recognizing and detecting trends early enough to capture the opportunity or avoid the pitfalls. 

Significant Learning Only Happens Deliberately

Most business people I chat with don’t block out time to learn. 

And my experience is that if you don’t block it out, it doesn’t happen. 

Sure, they may read the sports section for entertainment. They may read industry trade journals to keep current on what competitors are up to. They probably read some news to keep current on politics and policy. But those are just keeping up with current events. 

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.William Pollard

I’m going to assume that most business people believe it’s important to innovate. But innovate how? I’d predict that the change that’s going to impact their industry in the next 2, or 5 or 10 years is actually brewing in another industry or area right now. And they’re missing it…because their limiting the information they consume.

Now, I get why that’s the limit of what they’re consuming. I mean we’re all drinking through a fire hose. Just keeping up with the flow of information we have to manage to handle the critical tasks and priorities is tough. The idea of taking on a whole other set of obligations feels overwhelming.

In fact it’s not just reading more, but it’s identifying gaps in information and perspective, and finding, vetting and engaging sources. It’s thinking strategically about what fields/disciplines/industries could be a petrie dish for yours to study and learn early. 

That is a bunch of brain work that takes time and energy – and that’s before you even start to do any other reading.

Let me quickly point out that I use reading as a catch-all term. I think that most of what folks should be doing is reading, but there are audio books, some great podcasts and other formats as well. So when I say reading – I’m not excluding those. 

Blocking out Time to Learn

So what’s really involved is a learning mindset. And deep, impactful, cognitive learning doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a mindset. It takes blocking out time. And it takes goals and objectives. It’s just not enough to listen to a fun podcast while you walk the dog. And it may mean impinging on Game of Thrones binge watching in the evening.

Diverse Sources

So how can you go about doing this? I suggest first you need diverse sources – and that diversity is in format (like reading vs. podcast), it’s in perspective (like Economist vs. Wall Street Journal) and it’s in industry. That includes thought leaders, periodicals, books and more. 

I don’t claim to have this figured out – it’s a process and I’m always hearing about great resources – and you can’t use them all. But my list includes:

  • Geopolitical Futures
  • Wall Street Journal (including a couple of their topical eblasts)
  • A number of marketing and sales related blogs
  • Some innovation and disruption blogs
  • Springwise for innovation ideas
  • Wired
  • Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review
  • The Economist
  • John Mauldin for macro social and economic ideas
  • Farnam Street podcast and member site – that’s all about how to think and make decisions
  • Some podcasts including Wondery BusinessWars, Freakonomics, Hidden Brain, Tim Ferris
  • And then books – my goal for this year is 25. Not sure I’ll make it. And some I just don’t bother to push through if I’m not getting value form them. I often have several underway at once – across hard copies, kindle and audiobook. And I look for books that are diving into disruption and innovation in various industries – and then look for intersections with the space where I work with clients

This takes time – up early, making trade off decisions. And I don’t feel like a slave to every episode, article, chapter, etc. I’m quick to move on. But I know the sources I find value in.

Ask What People Have Read

I’ll often ask people what the last book they read was. Many can’t remember. I find that aksing someone what they read is a great proxy for how broadly and strategically they think about their business. The people that don’t are often smart, hard working etc.

They’ll even often tell me that they’re strategic observers of their industry and think about change that’s happening. But then when I look at their calendars I see back to back calls and meetings – 5 days a week.

The two are fundamentally incongruent. It takes time to learn. You have to cut other things out. And it takes time to think about what you’ve learned, and most importantly, more time to process the information, roll it around in your head, see how it fits with what you know or believe and let it work into revised mental models.

Learn Like a Grunt

I’ll leave you with an interesting insight from the military. Often in a 20 year career about 1/3 of time is spent in long-term learning environments – 3-12 month course. And on a daily basis there’s development and training professional and personal – beyond skills training.

Compare that to most civilian jobs where you may be 1 week or 2 months of onboarding, then have to proactively submit a justification for a day long seminar at some point several years after working there.

So not a perfect comparison, but imagine if you had 4 months this year set aside for learning. What creative innovations and disruptions would you envision? How about if you spent 1 hour/day and a half day block a week? The point is, that you have to explicitly commit to learning if you want to see around the corners of disruption. 

I’m Ed Marsh. Thank you for joining me for this episode of Signals from the OP. If you enjoyed it, please share it and subscribe – either to my youtube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog