Tag Archives: economy

3 Things To Know About The Learning Curve

the learning curve

In my workplace, we’re fighting over our learning curve (of course, we don’t call it that).

It has to do with our pay scales and job categories. To make a long story short, if we can prove to our employer that it takes our rookies two years instead of just one to be fully autonomous, we’ll move up a category and get a 5% raise. Yes, there’s excitement in the air.

In any job or human activity, efficiency increases with repetition, and a learning curve is the best way to quantify and graphically show that improvement.

Here are three things you should know about this curve.

First, the learning curve can either go up or down. It goes down when it measures the decreasing time, energy or number of trials needed to perform a task (vertical axis) as experience increases (horizontal axis).

But usually, the first image that comes to mind is a curve that goes up. In this case, we measure the increasing scores or amount of learning (vertical axis) that result from increasing experience or study (horizontal axis).

By the way, when people speak of a steep learning curve, they actually say the opposite of what they think, because a steep curve really means rapid progress.

Second, the learning curve usually follows an S-shape (see image above). When you start something new, you typically struggle at first; after a while, you quickly improve; but as time goes on, your rate of improvement decreases and even levels off.

This last phase derives from the law of diminishing returns, which says that making progress becomes more and more difficult as you get closer to a high level of expertise. Each unit of input will produce less and less output.

The S-shape is especially true for skill learning. My daughter is currently learning to play the recorder, and I can testify to that.

Third, the learning curve is used in many industries, not only to assess the progress of workers but also that of the organization as a whole. Each time the production quantity is doubled, the rate of improvement can increase from 5% to 30% depending on the type of work.

Here are some industries’ average rates of learning.

  • Raw materials: 5%
  • Electronics manufacturing: 10%
  • Aerospace: 15%
  • Shipbuilding: 20%
  • Electrical operations: 25%

As my story above shows, my employer pays us according to some preset categories of difficulty rather than considering individual improvement. But variations exist not only among tasks, but obviously among people too.

Do you know how to recognize peak learners’ learning curves? Well, look for curves that are steep, straight and that seem to go on forever.

Economic growth is impossible without learning

cause of economic growth

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” as a former president of Harvard University famously said.

Whatever its primary purpose is (or should be), education has a huge effect on any country’s productivity and economic health.

When you look at the data, you see a clear correlation between the education level of a population (enrollment ratio) and its country’s GDP. Today, let’s go further and explore how learning is actually the main driving force behind current economic growth.

First off, how does an economy grow?

If you remember your economics class, you know growth usually depends on the increase of the four traditional production factors, namely

  1. Land
  2. Labor
  3. Capital
  4. Entrepreneurship

But in reality, these inputs are typically hard to change in developed economies. Instead, as some recent theories have proposed, economic growth comes down to two things:

  1. Working smarter (human capital)
  2. Using better tools (technology)

So, in knowledge economies, getting better beats getting more. Of course, working harder, using more machines, and extracting natural resources from more land will generate some growth. But that’s not where most of our productivity gains have come from in the last decades.

Rather, it has come from working smarter and using better machines. In other words, it’s been the result of a more efficient use of existing assets. Let’s look at the two ways of achieving that.

Human capital refers to the knowledge, skills and experience of a country’s workforce. By and large, the more trained and educated workers get, the more productive they become. The general principle behind this is the specialization and division of labor, which has been one of the most powerful economical force since the Industrial Revolution.

Technological innovation refers to the development and adoption of better processes and products. Even if they disagree on how much of the growth can be attributed to new technology, all economists agree it plays a major role. For example, Nobel Prize winner Robert Solow pegged it at more than 80%.

Now what drives the increase of knowledge and technology?

Effective learning, of course. In a world where change is ubiquitous, there no better way, sorry, there’s no other way to succeed.

Therefore, peak learners are really the core of economic growth.

The 5 Types of Knowledge Workers (or 5 Ways to Use Knowledge)

who is a knowledge worker

What’s the objective of my blog? Help knowledge workers become peak learners.

Our environment is now changing so fast that knowing (static) has become less important than being able to know fast (dynamic).

But before looking at the how, let’s settle the what. What is a knowledge worker?

Here’s the definition put forward by the famous Peter Drucker: “Someone who knows more about his or her job than anyone else in the organization.”

Insightful, but a little vague.

A good way to grasp what defines these workers is to inspect their relation with knowledge. According to the knowledge management expert Tom Davenport, knowledge workers deal with knowledge in five different ways.

They can:

  1. create it
  2. find it
  3. package it
  4. distribute it
  5. apply it

Knowledge creators are the prime movers of all knowledge work. More than the four other types, creating takes place in the worker’s brain. Examples include researchers, authors and inventors.

Knowledge searchers are expert at quickly finding the right information for other users. Examples include librarians, intelligence analysts and head hunters.

Knowledge packagers put together the knowledge generated by creators. Their main purpose is to make other knowledge workers’ tasks more efficient. Examples include publishers, editors and designers.

Knowledge distributors communicate knowledge or create systems and processes to improve access to it. Examples include teachers, journalists and managers.

Knowledge appliers are at the end of the knowledge line. Their job is to use and reuse knowledge to accomplish specific goals. Examples include doctors, accountants and lawyers.

Before finding strategies to improve your performance and become a peak learner, you should first clarify what you generally do with knowledge at your job.

So what kind of knowledge worker are you?