The New Metric: Compound Learning Rate

A few weeks ago, my nephew asked me what the word “expert” means. I told him it was a person who knew a lot about something and learned more everyday. When I answered, he nodded and asked “so am I an expert about superheroes yet?” It made me think about how that question would translate into the companies with which I consult.

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, wrote recently about “neotony”, the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood. This ability to learn is like the compounding interest on an investment; after two or three years, a relentless learner stands head and shoulders above his peers.

“Relentless Learning” is a quality that is an essential element of success. It is the hallmark of leaders of successful companies. I realized that it needs to become one of the new metrics against which an individual leader, a team and even a company is measured. I’ve heard it referred to as the compound learning rate.

Here’s an example. Try asking your team this question at your next end-of-week wrap-up meeting: How did you get 1% better this week? What did you learn from our customers that is valuable? What change did you make to any of our products or services that drove better results? What specifically did you learn this week?

You can start by putting in your own 1%, and telling the team what you learned.

As your team gets into a learning rhythm, you can review this as a group each week. It definitely makes for a more valuable use of people’s time in meetings. It replaces the boring and usually repetitious serenade about their numbers which they already reported.

Plus it’s not inconsequential – 1% per week per team member adds up. Like compound interest in a mental savings bank. And on the weekly call it’s the sum total of that learning shared with the entire team.

If you wanted to take the compounding even further, you could start capturing the learning on the web as part of a shared learning collaboration portal. Everyone on the team and other similar teams would be responsible for sharing at least one thing they learned every week.

It reminds me of the idea I’ve always had that a company or corporation is equal to the sum total of the brains that walk around, sit in offices or cubicles, talk on the phone, attend meetings, and more. If you took away the bodies you can envision the brains floating around the office. Now add the bodies as the instruments that these brains need to communicate with one another.

Above all remember that a higher corporate IQ equals a smarter company. And in today’s Idea Economy, only the smartest companies win.

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