I recently almost didn’t attend a Conference in my hometown. I almost didn’t go because a) it was not necessarily in my field (lawyer) and b) it was in my hometown (no one is a prophet in their own land, right?). (The Conferance was actually put on by the Louisville Digital Association, a local organization that’s more or less about all things digital and the Conference was really more about digital marketing and media than anything else).

But I did go and something remarkable happened…I learned things. New things. And my head immediately started applying the things I was learning to my field. It was magical. Even one of the speakers who I introduced myself too afterwards said “I saw you sitting there. Your head was going a hundred miles an hour. What energy you brought!”

So often we do a benefit cost analysis on things we don’t know enough about to fairly assess

And it was true. So often we do a benefit cost analysis on things we don’t know enough about to fairly assess. We think: well that might be interesting but then again it might not be. Or that would be interesting but I really don’t necessarily see how it applies to me or my profession. The ROI is not clear. It’s a boondoggle and a waste. Quickly we revert to risk aversion and decide its not worth it. And organizations and bureaucracies are particularly adept at learn killing.But the strange thing is we can’t know the future value of something when we make the assessment. As Steve Jobs put it, you can only connect the dots looking backward. If Jobs had said to himself, you know that calligraphy course looks really interesting but I’m now sure it will help me with my major and it might be boring so I won’t go, we might never have had Apple. If Mark Zuckerberg had said it would really be fun and interesting to do the Facebook but I can’t really see the ROI, we might not have Facebook.

Learning is a funny thing. We have it in our heads it is something we do when we are young and in school. We mouth cliches like “life long learner” but then dismiss the value by in practice downplaying that espoused value. But its through learning that energy and passion come, from energy and passion come ideas and application, from ideas and application come innovation. I think this may be why the so called young digital natives seem more adapt at things like technology. It’s not that they know more necessarily, its that they are willing, excited learners. They take risks.

Learning, particularly life long learning, involves taking a risk with our time and treasure

 

And make no mistake, by its very nature, learning, particularly life long learning, involves taking a risk with our time and treasure. We don’t want to take the risk that learning something new will create no value and waste our time. But I don’t think that’s every really totally true. All learning is good—and risky. But if my life experience has thought me one thing it is that while learning new things may not pay off now, it will someday and often in ways we often can’t even imagine. Some of the best ideas I ever had came from unexpected sources while being exposed to new things. Not to mention the fact that learning new things is exciting, inspiring and often just plain fun.

So go to conferences. Stretch. Get out of your field and comfort zone. Learn something new. Apply and innovate. Get excited. I almost didn’t go…. but I did. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photo Attribution: Denise Krebs via Flickr