With Martin G. Moore

Episode #263

How I Keep Learning: My 5 Hot Tips

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of addressing a group of postgraduate Executive MBA students.

As I spoke to this group of high achievers about my career journey, my educational choices, and what I consider to be the determinants of my modest success to date, it gave me pause for reflection.

If I really distilled the key things that have helped me to grow rapidly over the years, what would they be? I’ve often said that leaders are learners, but you could spend a lot of time these days consuming information, without getting traction: and by traction, I mean gaining the wisdom and insight that would differentiate you as a leader.

Although I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they try to emulate my career path, by the same token I think I’ve managed to maximize the potential of my learning opportunities over the years.

These learnings made me better, and I guess that’s really the only yardstick you can use—what’s the relative improvement in you. It’s not about anyone else, it’s about taking responsibility for becoming better over time. If you’re a leader, your people’s welfare will depend on it!

In this episode, I give you my top 5 tips for maximizing your learning opportunities, so that your leadership career can thrive.

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Episode #263 How I Keep Learning: My 5 Hot Tips

knowledge is a commodity

I want to start with a reminder of something I say fairly often. If this is the first time you’ve heard it, please have a think about it and take it to heart: Knowledge is a commodity.

Any learning you do is only useful in so far as it helps you to be better. This requires interpretation and integration of any knowledge that you happen to acquire. For example, you can read every book on parenting that’s ever been written, but if you don’t understand how to take those learnings, adapt them to your situation, and actually use them to become a better parent, you may as well have spent that time watching reruns of Seinfeld: at least that might improve your mood!

Any learning you undertake, whether formal or informal, needs to be applied for some ultimate end. This principle of “the ends v. the means” crops up all the time in leadership. At the center of the No Bullsh!t Leadership framework, is value.

It’s not enough to do something with the hope that it will result in a positive outcome somewhere down the track. Before you invest any resources into any activity, it’s critical that you understand two things: When will I see the value delivered from this effort, and where will this value appear?

An example I use fairly frequently is modifying and upgrading processes and procedures in large organizations. Many larger businesses spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and focus on improving their processes, but what value does that actually create? How would you know if that effort has been worthwhile? Where will the results show up? Will it reduce your risk? If so, by how much? Will it have a tangible impact on your cost base or profitability?

In the types of industrial businesses I led, I was always very mindful of this in terms of safety procedures. As I said, you could spend a lot of time, effort, and money fine-tuning the safety procedures to within an inch of their lives. But if the outcome of that work isn’t either reducing the number of injuries or experiencing fewer incidents, then you may as well have used those resources to paint the rocks in the yard.

Now, let’s apply this principle to your own education and learning. You need to be quite deliberate about what you consume, and what you’re going to do with the information once you have it. It’s so easy just to wait for the media feed (either traditional or social media) to direct your attention and tell you what information you should consume at any given point. It’s lazy and it’s dangerous, and we all do it.

My tips today will reveal how I direct my learning so that I’m choosing it, rather than having it chosen for me. A big part of this process is the constant awareness of how I can use the information I’m consuming to improve my performance, whether it’s as a leader, a business owner, a husband, a father, whatever.

We are so inundated with information these days that we need a plan for what to consume and what to do with that knowledge once we have. It’s easy to say, “I’m a curious leader who’s constantly learning.” But it’s much harder to execute this intent in a way that maximizes the limited time you have when you’re trying to absorb an endless stream of information.

my 5 hot tips…

Okay. Today I have five hot tips for maximizing your learning opportunities:

1. Plan your big chunks of career learning.

I’ve observed many leaders over the years who’ve simply failed to realize that, to achieve mastery in anything requires dedicated focus, effort, and education. Mastery won’t somehow magically come your way through osmosis. And it stands to reason that this would be the case.

If you want to master anything from leadership to pickleball, you need to focus on learning and then applying that learning to the practical environment you need to perform in. The big tip here is you’d be well-served to think about your whole career the same way you thought about the start of your career.

For the most part, you wouldn’t just come out of high school and expect to become a financial analyst in a bank, without going through some fairly intensive training… or become an electrical tradesman without undertaking an apprenticeship.

But despite the fact that the nature of our role might change several times throughout our career, we just don’t seem to apply the same effort as we did in our original discipline. Many of us start out by attaining four-year degrees, and then we add a postgraduate master’s on top to boot. Still, when we move from say, a finance role to an operations role, there’s often little formal learning or training. We’re meant to just pick it up on the job.

The most common case of transitioning from an individual contributor role to a leadership role often occurs with little training, and the boss is often too busy to lead us through that transition. So we muddle through, doing what we think needs to be done without any conscious effort to acquire (and more importantly, to apply) the leadership tools, techniques, and methods that would really make a difference.

To have a successful career, you need to master the basics of business, finance and economics in the context of your technical discipline: this is the foundation of your competence in any role. But you also need to develop leadership skills if you intend to have anyone else reporting to you during the length of your career.

So, when I say my first tip is to plan your big chunks of learning, I approached that challenge in the following way:

  • After dropping out of law school in the early 1980s, I had to change tack quickly, so I studied a diploma in software development to get my ticket to play. It wasn’t a four-year degree, but it was enough to get me in.

  •  When I decided to transition from my background in technology to broader business-focused roles, I decided to study an MBA, which I attained in 2003 during my first big executive role.

  • When I wanted to reach the rarefied air of C-suite roles and really drive additional value for the companies I worked for, I took the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School in 2007, and

  •  Just before my first CEO role, I graduated from the Australian Institute of Company Directors with a Company Director’s Diploma. Now, mind you, I had no interest in actually being a non-executive director, and I still don’t to this day, but I needed to know how the board worked, what its focus should be, and how to manage those relationships from the CEO’s office.

All the other learning I undertook was built around those pillars… but none of these gave me even a fraction of the practical leadership tools that I discovered through my own practical experience. And when I scoured the market, there was nothing that looked like it would develop my leadership beyond what I’d already learned.

Which is why Em and I decided to create our own program, Leadership Beyond the Theory.

2. Establish your critical areas of development

Once you’ve thought about what big chunks you might need to sustain your development, the next step is to consider what ongoing capabilities you need to integrate with those.

Let’s think of this using the metaphor of filling up a jar with rocks. The biggest rocks, which we’ve just covered (the MBAs and other formal education), go in first. It might look like those big rocks have filled the jar, because they reach the very top, but there’s still plenty of empty space inside. So this next part is about adding smaller rocks and gravel. This is essential if you want to fill your jar with wisdom and insight.

For me, what this meant was keeping up with ever-changing business trends; understanding the dynamics of the industry my company was competing in; becoming more knowledgeable about things like macroeconomics, and how businesses interface with government policy and global trade.

I also had some hobby interests in a few other things that I think just made me a more rounded person: behavioral psychology, exercise physiology, body chemistry, human endurance… and my favorite: high performance, in as many contexts as I could find it written about.

I took a pretty disciplined approach to this process. The first thing I set out to do was to find the most credible sources of information I possibly could. So, of course I read all the standard books.

When I say “credible”, I had a few criteria. Most of all, it had to be relatively independent so that it at least attempted to provide a balanced view of issues. There’s a really cool website called, www.mediabiasfactcheck.com, which rates both publishing and broadcast media based on how factual the reporting is, which way the bias leans (left or right), and even provides a credibility rating.

My preference is to read stuff around the center right and center left. Let’s face it, I get enough batsh!t-crazy stuff on the extremes at either end through my Twitter feed.

So my subscriptions include The Economist, which I’ve subscribed to for over 20 years. I know that every article that’s published in those pages at least strives to provide a high-quality balance commentary.

But I’m also acutely aware of the nature of the newspaper: it’s socially liberal and it’s economically conservative. It’s a huge proponent of free trade, and it extols the economic benefits of globalization, but it’s also progressive on social issues where there’s a base of credible evidence and research.

When we consult the ratings on www.mediabiasfactcheck.com, The Economist is rated as:

  • Least biased

  • Factual reporting is rated as high, and

  • The credibility rating is high.

That’s good to know, because it’s probably my baseline, go-to information source. But my other subs include:

  • Harvard Business Review (which I love even more since the editors recently chose to publish one of my articles in their Fall Special Issue on decision making

  • The Wall Street Journal

  • The Australian Financial Review

  • The Atlantic

  • Fast Company

  • Business Insider

  • The Washington Post, and

  • The McKinsey Quarterly.

Now add to this a few of my favorite sporting reads, and there’s not enough hours in the day to consume everything. So like most of you probably do, I rely on alerts. I set them up, and I get pinged every day with the critical stories so that I can cherry-pick what I want to read depending on my mood, the criticality of the information, and its intrinsic value.

My big tip here is to set up the alerts as a filter and follow the breadcrumbs to the information that’s most useful to you at any given point in time. This is going to put a bunch of small rocks and gravel into your jar.

3. Run low-cost learning experiments.

There is so much free, readily-accessible content these days. It’s just hard to know where to start. This is the sand that’s going to fill the rest of your jar where the rocks and gravel have left some room.

I make it a point of sampling loads of podcasts. And, as I found out, some podcasts that look incredibly interesting on face value only captured my attention for 10 minutes and I promptly deleted them from my library. Others, which I stumbled upon quite by accident, have become staples in my weekly listening.

The point is, it’s so easy these days to scan the horizon for content on pretty much anything you could ever want to know. So just treat it like an interesting experiment. Sample everything, with the attitude that you aren’t obliged to commit to anything.

You’ll find all sorts of useful information that you didn’t know you needed, but sometimes it just ends up putting a critical piece of the jigsaw puzzle in place for you.

4. Go out of your way to engage with people that you wouldn’t naturally come into contact with

This is so vital in your quest to develop broader perspective. Travel is obviously a great way to experience this, but you don’t actually need to go very far afield to find people with different experiences, different cultural backgrounds and ethnicity, diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and of course people who’ve been brought up in different locations.

I’ve learned over the last few years that the USA truly is 50 unique states. Some are very different from others. But even the differences in attitudes, beliefs, and values between someone who was raised in a big city environment, as I was, and someone who was raised in a small town or rural community can be extraordinary.

Because there’s just so much information available now, ignorance is less about lack of exposure to information, and more about exposure to only one source of information. Ignorance is now a symptom of insularity, not neglect.

So, try to find ways to expand the breadth of information you consume, rather than trying to go deeper all the time on the things you already know. This mimics the natural flow of your career: you start out as an expert and your focus is an inch wide and a mile deep… but as you move up to more senior roles, you eventually have to live in the world where you’re a mile wide and only an inch deep.

5. Link learning to outcomes.

This is probably the most critical element of trying to integrate any knowledge. It’s the rinse and repeat cycle. Any knowledge you acquire has to be applied in some way, otherwise it’s largely wasted.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the first step is to apply what you’ve learned.

This is something that very few people do well. They gain knowledge and they increase their understanding, but then they don’t know how to apply it. So, they keep doing exactly what they did before the new information was absorbed.

Just think for a moment about the worst leader you’ve ever worked for. I can almost guarantee that if you ask them to describe their leadership approach, they would be able to wax lyrical on their cutting-edge, high-performance leadership philosophy, which they employ every day to lead their team to victory.

Except… they don’t.

The gap between what leaders think they do, based on what they know, compared to the reality of their actions is sometimes a cavernous gap. But even for those leaders who do commit to changing their habits and developing the leadership disciplines that will actually make a difference, they often don’t question whether what they’re doing is working optimally.

A Harvard Business School academic by the name of Chris Argyris described the principle of double-loop learning back in the 1970s. This takes the normal single loop of learning–solve a problem, make a decision, and implement the solution–and it expands it to provide a second loop of observation and modification.

Some problems arise as a byproduct of the solution itself. So, it’s critical to monitor the outcomes from any decision you implement, and then go back to examine the mental model, as you learn from experience.

As Argyris explained,

“A thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 69° F is a good example of single-loop learning. But a thermostat that could ask, Why am I set to 69° F?, and then explore whether or not some other temperature might be a more economical way to achieve that goal (i.e. heating the room), then that would be double-loop learning.”

And even though he made that observation in the 1970s, it’s a very timely one, given that we’re now in the dawn of artificial intelligence.

From the perspective of your career, as you take on more and more information and sort through it to work out which pieces you’re going to choose to integrate into your leadership repertoire, don’t just implement and then keep moving. Always come back and ask yourself the questions:

  • Is this giving me the results I expected?

  • How could I improve this?

  • Is there a better way to achieve the same result?

This double-loop learning approach will improve your ability to get true value from the effort you put into acquiring the knowledge you need… and your chances of long-term success will increase tenfold.


These five tips for maximizing continuous learning can each be regulated so that you put more or less effort into each one of them at any given point, depending on your current circumstances.

For those of you who are trying to fill your jars with gravel and sand, make sure you’ve got the big rocks in place first. It’s much harder to get those into the jar once it’s full of gravel.

I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that Leadership Beyond the Theory is the big rock that you need for your leadership career. So if you’re ready to get serious, the cohort starts next Monday, 18th of September.


  • Ep #21: Education vs. Experience – Listen Here

  • Ep #45: Leaders Are Leaners – Listen Here

  • Ep #259: The Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier – Listen Here


  • Explore other podcast episodes – Here

  • Take our FREE Level Up Leadership Masterclass – Start Now

  • Check out our 8-week online leadership program, Leadership Beyond the TheoryLearn More


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