Learning is a Treasure That will Follow its Owner Everywhere

Aug 4, 2014 1:00 PM ET

Mark Shamley
President & CEO

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”
Chinese proverb

Back to school shopping, back to school ads, school buses, that look on your child’s face that says “summer’s over”, these are all a ritual part of our seasonal lives. While those of us living in the Deep South may not have the changing color of the leaves to give us that fall feeling, those back to school reminders certainly signal autumn.

As I watch my own kids get ready to head back to school, as I am sure many of you are doing as well, I thought it was a good time to reflect and share some thoughts on the value of learning.

There was a time, and it wasn’t all that long ago, that education was something you did to get a job. In today’s knowledge based economy, the ability to continuously expand your skills is critical to your success and to your employability. Perhaps even more important, the commitment to lifelong learning actually improves your quality of life.

A few related facts – the highest paid people in the US work an average of 59 hours a week. They spend 2 to 3 hours reading every day. Additionally, they belong to organizations and associations that enable learning opportunities.

In general, the information and knowledge base of any given field doubles every 2 to 3 years.  Think about that for a moment. What that means is just to stay current, your knowledge base needs to double every 2 to 3 years. That is a staggering thought.

So let’s balance it with some good news.

Learning is proven to have some significant personal advantages. Learning:

  • Boosts your confidence and self-esteem
  • Makes you less risk averse and more adaptable to change
  • Creates a more satisfying personal life

And if that’s not enough reason to learn, there is a school of thought and some limited research to support that having an active mind may delay or even halt the progress of some forms of dementia.

From a pragmatic point of view, those who focus on continued learning are more likely to be promoted and reap greater financial rewards. And of course, the more skills you have, the more options you have.

The opportunity to learn has never been easier. The internet has put research, taking a class, learning a language, even getting a degree quite literally at our fingertips. The proliferation of content has enabled the cost of learning to decrease dramatically. I am continually amazed at the quality of information you can obtain on-line for little, sometimes even no cost.

Let’s bring this closer to home.

The field of corporate responsibility has changed enormously over the past ten years. Rather than slowing down, I believe that evolution is going to accelerate. As industry looks for ways to attract and retain the best employees, ensure that the resources vital to the business are sustainable, and respond to a customer base that expects corporations to contribute to solving societal problems, industry is looking to you, its corporate responsibility team to address these mandates.

So, as you send your kids back to school, or if you don’t have children, as you readjust to the new traffic patterns that occur this time of year, take some time to take stock of your own learning needs and objectives.

As you do your self-assessment, please consider thinking outside your department. Understanding grant-making, cause marketing, how to measure impact, or how to build a matching gifts program are critical to your job. But so is knowing how to tell a story, how to read a financial statement, or how to create a business plan. So, consider that social media course your marketing department is hosting, or the course being offered by the local community college on the stock market. You never know where learning will take you.

One final thought from W. Edwards Deming, noted management guru, “Learning is not compulsory, but neither is survival.”