This is part of my Thought Piece Series where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward.
Waaaay back in the day, when I was a student of industrial economics (now I know this makes it sound like it was all about factories and machines and such but really it was business economics. It was Coventry University and I think they were still paying homage to their industrial rejuvenation after being flattened in world war 2. I’m pretty sure they have a better name for it now).
Oh yes, what was I saying? Industrial Economics. Student. At my graduation, the Dean spent some considerable time talking about how we were an Applied Sciences University, unlike Oxbridge. At the time, I thought she had a chip on her shoulder about the conferred rankings on certain universities over others. I thought she had something she needed to get over.
I was right.
There was tone in her speech that spoke volumes.
In my first job, where I was actually doing coding, I was hired for my skills and experience in business (I’d been working in the family business since I was – whatever the legal age for child labour is cough cough). But, they didn’t want me to apply all that knowledge, even though I’d been doing stock replenishment orders for years already. They even wanted “make the tea’ to be in my job description. I was home within an hour of that conversation.
In my second job, in a plastics manufacturing company, I was a business analyst and we were embarking on my first ever business excellence program: transform the way that we do business. I expected to see strategic discussions based on things like Porters Five Forces model etc (I told you it was way back). I didn’t. There was so much I had learned about in my business degree and nobody was using any of it. So knowledge gained but not used.
My young self thought – the universities are so out of touch: no one uses these things.
I was wrong
But, I was also coming to realise that I was wrong about that Dean. She was telling us all about the importance of APPLICATION.
At that second job, we did a lot of really cool work within the manufacturing plants: automate production planning, reduced product lead times, cut out inefficiencies, redesign warehousing to reduce how much people had to walk (thoughtless design leads to so much wasted time). My favourite part was involving people from all the roles – who actually did the jobs – and developing them so that they would share their knowledge, and continue the work integrally to continuously improve.
We had task groups and we would learn and apply. Learn and apply.
Learn and apply.
When I became a coach I also went out into the world and met lots of people. And being a lover of improving, making life easier, doing something worthwhile and fun, that’s the kind of event I went to. Naturally I’ve met a lot of learners.
And I’m continually astounded and in awe of the capacity for learning that some people have. It’s like they are learning machines with infinite brain capacity, and amazing recall. And the insights! So many insights, about themselves, about the world.
Yet I’m not like that. Maybe there’s a limit to how much new knowledge I can store in my brain at any one time. More likely, it’s because I’m an applier at heart.
If I’ve learned something, then I want to put it into practice. While I appreciate the concept of learning for the sake of learning, I’m also lazy. Or put constructively: when I expend energy, I have a purpose. The purpose can be to get better at something, it can also be to chill out and relax. But my actions usually have a purpose.
So what’s the point in learning something, if you’re not going to use it?
But why am I talking about this right now?
- My own learning but not acting on it. I learned about Start With Why a few years ago. But did I apply it to myself? kinda. Did I apply it in my daily life and work? No. Recently I realised this about myself and finally took action. Also, I know that getting up earlier each day would have a positive impact. And I’m a night owl and dislike mornings. Yet today I finally did it: got up earlier than I needed just to apply the idea. It’s working pretty well so far.
- I see people have insights every day. In my work as a coach, as facilitator with groups, in the world in general. And with covid19 changing our daily lives, people are having insights about the world in general, and their world in particular.
So many insights! So life-changing! But only if they do something with those insights. Only if they apply those insights. The application of an idea, in micro-actions, on a regular basis, can change the world.
“Whoops there goes another rubber tree plant….” that song is looping in my head right now. Sorry if I just put it in yours.
- If you are human like me, you have learned something that rocked you and gave you amazing insights, and got you really excited. Maybe not this week, but somewhere in your life, and I bet at least in the last year.And if you are human like me, there is at least one thing that you have learned that you haven’t actually applied yet. It’s still in the “I know this” part of your brain, and hasn’t moved to the “I’ve used this” part.
I know that now is the time for you.
Take that piece of knowledge that you gained, take it beyond insight. Go beyond the “gather knowledge” mantra of tradition and the past. Go apply.
Then you will start changing your world.