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Learning how things are done

Seth Godin, in his latest podcast, talks about podcasts. If you're remotely curious about the podcasting industry, you ought to give it a listen.

One of the topics he covered in that podcast was the role of advertising in podcasts and the challenges that go with it. He says, and I paraphrase, "If you're working at Kraft foods or Pepsi, and you go tell your manager that you will spend all your marketing budget on sponsoring podcasts, you'll probably not get promoted and lose your bonus. Instead, if you tell her you're spending it on a superbowl ad, you'll be in their good books. Because that's how they've always done it and that's what they understand."

While I'll leave you to listen to the podcast on the advertising impacts of this behaviour, I want to draw parallels to how we learn at the workplace.

This sort of a behaviour is not just restricted to how marketing budgets are spent at traditional companies. This is how we learn how things are done in any role.

When the manager has experience doing it a certain way, more often than not, they expect their reports to do things the same way. This could be how product ideas are validated, how problems are sized, how experimentation is done, how team structures are created, etc. And the reports learn to do things in this manner, whether it is right or wrong.

This is where good managers and a good company culture plays a key role.

Good managers constantly update themselves on new ideas and changes in the market. They constantly question the status quo with an intention of making it better. Not so good managers only try to copy paste what they have done before into the current scenario, because that is what they understand.

A good company culture is one where reports are encouraged by their managers to try out new ways of doing things and prove objectively whether that worked or not to their managers. A good company culture doesn't penalise negative outcomes coming out of good intentions and experiments. Instead, they find a way to add guardrails around such experimentation so that the downside is mitigated. This allows employees to learn new things by doing and making mistakes. A not so good company culture penalises negative outcomes, making the employees extremely risk averse where they learn to do things only in a way that will be seen positively by their manager, and not the right thing.

This applies very much to students in a school and kids at home and their upbringing.

Learning how things are done is essential to keep getting better at what we do. But, we need to ensure we aren't learning the wrong things.

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