First of all, I’m SO sorry for the terrible Top Gun reference in the title. The best title was already used and this one is less than awesome. OK, now on to it.
Recently Jim Benson (author of Personal Kanban) asked that I provide him some feedback on a piece he is writing called “Reading is (Still) Fundamental” (said title from above). He wanted to know my thoughts on reading, and encouraging reading in the workplace. I thought it was an interesting topic so decided to share my response.
A staff that is willing and equipped to read is a staff that understands the need for continuous improvement. In that regard, reading, reflecting, and learning is crucial. To understand why, let’s simply look at one of the most common reasons given (to me) for why some don’t read.
“I learn enough through experience! Everything I know I’ve learned through the school of hard knocks. What could a book *possibly* tell me that I can’t get from experience?”
While it’s true that experience is likely the most powerful means of learning, the sad truth is that we don’t have as much experience as we think we do. As I’ve learned (in books no less) most of us rarely have “20 years of experience”. We typically have one year of experience FOR 20 CONSECUTIVE YEARS. That’s right. If we reflect on our past, occasionally we have brand new experiences that indeed teach us quite a lot. But for the bulk of our past, we tend to repeat what we know over, and over (and over) again. In that way, I would argue we need to step outside the boundary of experience-based learning and learn from others collective experiences. You do that in books, articles, websites, blogs, and yes, tweets.
As you might guess, it’s important that your teams are “willing” to read. Just as important, they need to be “equipped” to read.
As employers, we can help control the second of these two statements. Our obligation while building learning organizations is to model behavior, challenge assumptions, infuse an attitude of curiosity, and generally create conditions that allow (and encourage) people to read and reflect. After all, as adults, quiet reflection is critical to our growth. We are therefore obligated to not only “allow” people to read at work, but to encourage and incent them to read at work as well. In that way, each employee becomes a wellspring of “new” ideas, and a potential catalyst for infusing those ideas in our organizations.