I Spent Some Time This Afternoon Wiping Down a Whiteboard, Here's What I learned

| 3 min read
#leadership #knowledge-work

Nothing. The Correct Answer is Nothing.

I've wrote before about the benefits of working in public (and not) and whether or not you actually have to pay attention to every (or any) trends. But I want to spend some time talking about the value of learning.

So yeah, I was in a conference room with some coworkers and we had to wipe the whiteboard clean. In a normal interaction, that would in fact be the end of this. But I am someone who writes, so I decided to write about it. (God bless you for reading this)

If you're one of the people who I was in that room with hi! :wave:

One of the problems about writing and cultures of writing (especially about learning) is that you end up spending a lot of time and energy on stuff that aren't actually about learning at all.

There are so many hacks that attract people to articles. Things like

  • bullet pointed lists
  • diagrams
  • Large images
  • Snappy concepts that can be easily repeated

Man Stairing at Whiteboard

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

But, fun fact, these things don't actually help people retain the information you're sharing. The framing is more about capturing attention than it is about sharing knowledge. It's fluff. And more than that, the types of insights that are catchy tend to either highlight or run against current trends. If you write an article that's like "Why AI is the greatest thing since sliced bread" or "Here are 15 things wrong with AI" you're way more likely to gather attention than an article about a bunch of boring, immediate changes that aren't catchy.

And that's ok. That's perfectly fine. Lots of writers try to balance the need to write things that will draw attention with actual words of actual merit within their writing. It's a real tension. But it's also not particularly helpful to mistake catchy hooks with good writing, or trying to plumb life for interactions that could be worth sharing for their business value.

You Do Not, In Fact, Have to Learn

I remember my first (and second) years of college. I attended freshman orientation, first as a freshman and then as a counselor. And I remember hearing the exhortation that part of being a good citizen meant being informed and aware of the issues. It meant being connected and in touch.

But frankly, that paradigm existed in a world where you could reasonably read "the takes" of the day and still have plenty of time left over to do your job and live. That's simply not even remotely the case anymore. And more so, the "publish or perish" model seems ever present in every industry. You have to constantly be promoting yourself so you can stand out and edge out your competitors.

This is the part where astute observers will wonder if I have any sense of irony remaining. I do. But my desire to wrench thoughts out of my mind outweighs my sense of self-consciousness.

It's really worth asking if you writing/sharing something because you think it will "gain traction" given the current moment or if you actually believe and have interest in what you're writing/sharing. Does spreading that thing have meaning to you? Or are you trying to validate some vision of being a well-connected "informed" individual.

Life, Can Actually Be Enjoyable, With Accruing Knowledge

But every action you take doesn't have to get bucketed into learning/growing or decaying. You can actually go out on a brisk walk with your dog and simply enjoy the look on her face as she jaunts along in the middle of a business day because it brings you joy. You can enjoy spending time with your coworkers because you like being around them. You can spend time alone because you want to (healthily) be alone. Not everything has to be bucketed into good or bad.

I like coming into work because I like being around my coworkers. They're smart, funny people and being around them makes me happy. If you're still reading, hi again! :wave:

It's ok to let that be enough!

Learning Is Hard

If I have (ugh) learned anything it's that learning things is actually quite hard. It requires a lot of focus, time spent not knowing if you're learning things, and ultimately seeing your knowledge in a new light before you can even begin to unpack what you've understood. That means when you decide to learn, to actually learn, you should commit to it. You should be willing to forgo other opportunities because you want to learn something from that thing.

Choosing when not to learn is important because it means you are choosing to experience and choosing to live life. There are some estimates that you have about 4-5 hours a day of meaningful focus Make them count.