Expert Commentary

Learning Can Increase Your Bottom Line

There is appropriate emphasis placed on the value of an education in the United States and in our business culture. Learning helps you to get ahead. Getting an adequate education elevates your status at work and in your community. Economic downturns aside, education has a value all its own, and whether or not it gets you a better job or bigger salary can't negate the personal improvement that it brings.


Leadership at All Levels
October 2014

Theoretically, learning makes life easier for you. After all, if you have a better education, and you know the proper way to produce results, those results should be simpler for you to accomplish. These are pretty well established concepts.

Learning for Learning's Sake

What about learning just for the sake of learning? Can the process alone help us generate creativity? Could we, as leaders and managers, elevate the profit margin as well as the culture of our firm if we supported, and even paid for, educational pursuits outside the realm of our selected vocation? How could classes in art or music or beekeeping help a construction or restaurant business?

We now know that the brain thrives on activity of any kind. Some research shows that to actually be creative, we must engage both sides of our brain. The findings are that the two sides of our brain are intertwined, and creativity comes from engaging the whole brain. Scientific American's website has information about the neuroscience of creativity that debunks the whole idea of left brain versus right brain thinking. The two sides do have different ways of processing information, so parts of the left brain/right brain theory are still valid. The two sides do function differently. Modern technology allows us to watch the brain in action, and the new science is finding that it takes the whole brain to engage creativity. It's no longer thought, at least in some circles, that one side or the other governs the creative process.

Thinking Outside the Box

So, would it be appropriate to provide employees an opportunity to paint by numbers or create clay sculptures or learn needlepoint during office hours? Would we consider using corporate dollars for these pursuits if it stimulates the creative portion of the employees' brains, whether left or right, which may make them more effective, innovative, and even happier at work as a result? What if this could actually make everyone more money?

There is need for a disclaimer here. This could get out of hand, and rapidly. As leaders, as managers, as keepers of the resources of an organization, we do have to take great care that excesses are not encouraged and that productivity actually improves. As with anything in business, metrics must be kept, and measurements must be unbiased and methodical.

Carefully structured and planned creativity outlets are a bit unusual in any field except in the technology world, but I'm not talking about playtime. For example, if you read about Google's playroom or Apple's lounges, you'll find there is a measured goal to generate teamwork, provide areas for the brain and eyes to rest, and help employees see things from another perspective. The suggestion in this article is for actual educational pursuits, even classroom study, in areas that are not normally stimulated by our day-to-day work or activities. These could be group sessions with the teacher and maybe even homework (oh, the horrors!) as a pure learning experience, just not in the same academic area of the work at hand. So, this concept isn't just a way to get employees more time on the pinball machine, even though that does also have its value, according to some research.

What we're learning about brain functionality is going to be very important to the development of the human species, not to mention the development of the profit margin of just about every business in the United States. More enlightened companies allow for creativity and innovation and will structure such time into the workday and into the training and education budgets of their organizations. We're creating better human beings, better citizens. Better people make better employees. So, if this is properly managed, how can this hurt us? The grumpy folks who don't want any staff to ever lift their heads up from their desks are going to be overcome by the competition. They will adapt or die.

Embracing Change

Great minds are developed, exercised, and challenged. Change is happening too fast to ignore it. In my humble opinion, the old saying "The only two things you have to do in life are die and pay taxes" is not accurate. The new saying might be "The only thing you have to do is change or die." While not paying your taxes might land you in jail, that's still a choice you make; you don't have to pay the taxes, but you have to pay the consequences. The consequence of not changing is death of the business.

With the dearth of quality employees available to us, anything we can do to find, hire, and retain good people should be considered. Many industries are putting recruiting of the next generation at the top of their strategic plan. The need is vast because of the dip in the employable population due to lower birth rates in our history. According to www.infoplease.com, in 1910, the US birthrate was 30.1 per 1,000 citizens. Today, it's less than half that rate and has generally been on a steady decline ever since. Outsourcing to other countries is only part of the answer, and, for some things, that won't work at all. Competition for quality staff will continue to be fierce for the untold future.

Conclusion

Allowing for learning in new and creative ways will help everyone and provide the type of workplace that many crave. The fact that you might have a little fun in the workplace can't hurt either, can it?


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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