Learning Is Not a Luxury

While researching how to inbuild learning into our Psychological Safety Works Emotional Intelligence Trainer we came up with a rudimental "book of the month" suggestion solution as well as a sophisticated machine learning equivalent that matches what the leader needs with what one of these books suggests for faster, more efficient takeaways, but it also got me thinking about what it will take to get our leaders to allow themselves to learn again and whether the speed of acquiring knowledge doesn't mean leaders needs to "sneak it in".

Not enough has been written about the paradoxical effect of taking actions to improve oneself enhancing one's impostor syndrome in our world obsessed with speed and efficiency but I think it ought to be worth a lot more exploration.

There is honest dialogue on learning led by some amazing visionaries out there but the mere fact that they have to fight a battle speaks volumes. Over the years, there have been some rumblings around the topic when Google publicized their 20%-80% rule allowing employees to spend time on what they deem necessary to satisfy their curiosity and passion for 20% of their paid time as well as whenever we read reports on how leadership spends their time but overall, there seems to be this perception that at work, they pay us to do work not "other things".

Tragically, this "other things" umbrella lumps a variety of things to do with learning, passion, interpersonal relationships, emotions and all varieties of improvement.

My personal theory is that this occurs because we have grown to believe work has to be a stiff, unpleasant if not painful exercise or else we wouldn't get paid to do it. As a result, we associate all unpleasant tasks and unwanted activities with our work-life and anything that is even remotely pleasurable with our leisure time and if anything happens to feel good at work it must be cheating the company out of an honest dollar if we don't do it "on our own time".

This has far-reaching and stupendously negative implications in how leaders treat people-issues because, to effectively lead they need to strive to spend masses of time on thinking of the humanity of it all - the emotions and interactions of their teams, their peers and their own and let's face it, who feels like they get paid to think?

Another big theme few of us feel they are being paid to do is learn in general. There's no DevOps nature to our perception of life. No CI/CD pipeline of thoughts and actions. Because of the sequential, waterfall-like way in which we have been taught to view the phases of our existence we expect to first accumulate knowledge in our formative years, then download that accumulation by utilizing it in our work life. Step 1 - learn. Step 2 - use the knowledge. Step 3 - if you survive it - relax and then you can do anything pleasurable like say learn or take care of yourself.

It is because of this rigid subconscious mental demarcation that we have phrases like "going back to school" or "affording to do a PhD" etc. Once you're in the work field, you feel the sum total of your knowledge and skills have already been acquired in your hiring phase and you are now expected to demonstrate just those. Nothing less but nothing more either.

Why would employees ever think they are expected or at least entitled to keep learning?

Nothing in the hiring interaction led them to believe that is valuable, no one asked them how, when and what they read, or where they want to improve themselves and once in, every time they wanted to go to a conference, buy a book or listen to a podcast on the company money they've been made to feel like it's a perk they hardly deserve.

The entire system is geared to reinforce these sequential steps that leave no room for learning in our adult work lives.

Of course, humans can't stop being curious and if they have the least amount of passion for their work they will keep learning but reading has become something they do "on the side" or "on their own free time" irrespective of how what they acquire they give back to the company.

How unfair of an exchange and how short we sell ourselves when we allow that!

How many of us reading this have negotiated at least the Google 20% in our work practice? To read, do some Yoga or code on the side. To daydream about how the world will be once machines take over, or consider why Jane in accounting has been quiet lately. To open a book or listen to a podcast. At our desk. In plain view. During working hours. And get paid for it.

Few is the answer. We need to stop thinking work is doing us a favour by empowering us to be better versions of ourselves. Why would they be paying for less?

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