Five Ways to Make Learning a Part of Your Company Culture

by Jon Follett

I don't think there's any question that the creative class jobs that drive our innovation economy — designers, engineers, scientists, architects, entrepreneurs, writers, etc. — are all positions that require constant learning and evolution. In a larger sense, our economy, the companies that survive and thrive, the types of jobs in demand, and the skill sets required to successfully compete for these positions, are changing at a rate faster than we ever could imagine.

The Fast Company article, "This Is Generation Flux: Meet The Pioneers of the New (and Chaotic) Frontier of Business", has an interesting take on this phenomenon, framing the current economic environment as a system caught in the throes of creative destruction, brought on by rapid technological innovation and radical business model changes. A related article, "The Four Year Career", examines the imminent demise of the long duration job and the well defined career path.

For all of us who must contend with this tumultuous environment that's remaking our economy, it seems evident that there's no way we can remain stagnant in our skill sets and hope to be successful in the long term. There's a need then for companies to facilitate the intellectual growth and development of their employees, so that the organization itself can remain agile. It's one thing to pay for an employee to attend the occasional course or training seminar; It is something far more difficult to encourage a culture of learning with a strong commitment to daily growth.

The following are five ways we've tried to foster this culture of learning at Involution. While they are neither magic bullets nor universal solutions, they've proven effective for us in the field of software design.

Cross Pollinate Your Core Team
In software design, there's no telling from where the next great idea will come. At the studio, we're fortunate to have a multi-disciplinary team of designers, artists, animators, engineers, and writers from varied backgrounds who bring different perspectives to the table. When we conduct a "design swarm" where we work intensely as a group on software product brainstorming and sketching, there's a sometimes startling confluence of ideas that generates creative energy and learning.

Adopt New Technologies (as a Matter of Principle)
We're advocates of sharing relevant and exciting new technologies within the studio soon after they're available. For instance, we're early adopters of personal monitoring systems for health metrics like the BodyMedia FIT and the Nike+ FuelBand, and are actively acquiring new alternative controllers for computer systems, like multi-touch pads for musical software and neuroheadsets for mind-to-machine interaction. The personal experience our designers get with these technologies not only provides inspiration for current projects, but exposes them to the possibilities for future products.

Encourage Active Experimentation and Risk Taking
At the studio we're lucky that we're able, as a part of our design process, to always be experimenting. But it's a choice of our creative team to actively encourage experimental thinking that may result in an unorthodox solution. It's an environment that forces us to learn by doing. The results vary, but each solution gets analyzed whether it's successful or not, so we can do better the next time.

Present Outside Your Walls
We look outside our walls for other perspectives as well, encouraging our team to write up their experiences and present them at conferences and meet ups.

Design books at the Involution library

The Involution library is chock full of design books.

Design an Environment Conducive to Learning
If you want to make learning a cultural habit for your company, you'll want to invest in physical areas that encourage it. A well-stocked and regularly updated library and quiet places to read are must haves. Our studio library is overflowing with design books. And if you don't have time to read while you're at the shop, we have audio books to listen to on your commute home.

What are some things you company is doing to encourage a culture of learning? We'd love to hear about them.

Topics: Design, culture of learning, Ideas, Analysis, Blog, company culture