The Importance of Learning: Random Musings from a Coffee Shop


We all know that continuing to learn new things over time is important.

I arrived a few minutes early to a coffee meeting this morning I had booked with a fellow entrepreneur, and found myself with a few extra minutes to look out the window at Balzac’s on Ryerson University campus.

There have been few times in my life that I’ve had an opportunity just to sit and watch the movement and body language patterns of people about a university campus. Looking outside at the students walking to their first classes of the day, it’s interesting to see the sense of urgency in some and the casual pace of others, carefully balancing the need to go to class and their hangover from the weekend; a loose metaphor for outcomes in life.

What’s amazing is that each person holds almost infinite potential to change the world in some way. The problem is, many of them don’t know (or realize) and/or believe that they have the capacities and capabilities to do so. Some people attend a university because they think it’s the right thing to do without knowing why, some think it will help them get better jobs yet are following the continuum of life rather purposefully, and then there are the small few who see it as an opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as possible and use that knowledge to do something truly transformational.

I wish more people were part of this last category. Like this person sitting at the table next to me at this coffee shop, working on a document. As he alternates looking down at his document and up at the ceiling, I can see his intense will to create, solve, improve – or whatever he is doing – as if trying to infuse and inspire his mind with answers from his surroundings. The look in his is eyes was almost ferocious, suggesting strong drive – a key trait of many successful entrepreneurs.

It’s amazing. Virtually 100% of university students start out at the bottoms of their industries, and need to learn as much or more than their current industry counterparts to be competitive enough to get jobs, succeed, and then surpass those already in industry for decades. No small feat. Yet it happens daily. Those are the fruits of hard work, drive and commitment to a purpose.

Or is it simply that others have become more comfortable in their jobs and became okay, over time, with delivering mediocrity?

Largely, I think the cycle works because most people don’t bother continuing to learn with the same tenacity as freshly minted students. As a result, they become lackluster at delivering results as industries, businesses and technologies change, and their contributory value to their employer or industry declines proportionately. This inability of most to remain at the cutting edge of their industry fuels the opportunity for the next generation.

This is why large companies constantly infuse themselves with fresh, young talent (yes, they are also typically cheaper hires too). An analogous, yet more “proven” approach to attract the smartest young talent commonly seen in the tech industry is acqui-hiring, which Marissa Mayer is now all too well known for using. In addition to Yahoo!, the largest performer of talent acquisitions are Facebook, Twitter and Google.

If you’re not ready to throw in the towel, keep learning and growing. Don’t assume all you’ve learned today will carry you forwarded indefinitely. Go to a university campus, and have a cup of coffee and look out the window… think about each student as somebody looking to take your job in just a few short years, and you’ll be reminded of the essential need to keep learning; heck, it might even energize you.

Photo credit (above): Temple University.