When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time reading tales of extreme adventure–mountaineering and rock climbing were common themes. From the comfort of my bedroom in Michigan, I scaled the infamous north face of the Eiger, I crawled out of snowy valleys in Patagonia after breaking my legs, and I suffered a great many deaths and dismemberments trying to light fires and survive the harsh Alaskan winters.
The one book that has, perhaps, most impacted my internal vernacular is Feeding the Rat by A. Alvarez. The book tells the story of British climber Mo Anthoine through harrowing adventures with the author. If you have a pulse, you should read the book.
Rats constantly look for food. Their life is consumed with the frantic search for their next meal. Through the book, we realize that Mo is the “rat” and he is frantically and constantly searching for his next “meal”…adventure.
Some of us, like Mo, are driven by a hunger for adrenaline. In our industry, any person worth her or his salt is passionate about learning new things. We hire great people. These people are driven to discover and invent smarter ways of building amazing things.
Learning is good. Working smarter instead of harder is good.
How should we best provide opportunities for our people to learn when our bread and butter is billing consulting hours to our clients?
We began with an expectation that smart, motivated people are going to find time to learn. We soon realized, however, that learning together is fun and, often, more efficient.
We started with Foraker buying lunch for a weekly “Hacklunch” during which we worked on code katas and other programming challenges. It was a blast but this was decidedly one-sided in a company full of designers, user-experience engineers, and other non-developers. Trying to program something meaningful and fun while eating food and limited to an hour was tough too.
Enter our “Lunch and Learn” program. Foraker continued to buy lunch once a week, but we took turns presenting to our colleagues about something interesting (and not necessarily work related) instead of working on programming challenges. We learned about flying airplanes, building bigger muscles, twerking, using nail guns, mixing cocktails, and a great many work-related topics. This fed our hunger for learning new things but didn’t provide enough time for deep dives on work-related topics. Furthermore, deeper dives into specific topics would often leave half the room a bit lost.
Our people couldn’t be held down! Small (open) groups started to form around more specific topics–Friday afternoon tech presentations, a weekly Ember reading group, a weekly HTML/CSS training group. This was great! We were pushing each other to expand our horizons. Nirvana? Not quite…
These events littered our calendars along with the other team and project meetings and before we knew it, we were struggling to schedule anything. Argh. Worse yet, we were wasting hours and hours each week with the small chunks of time between all the scheduled meetings.
Inspired by others in our industry, we decided to more formally support internal learning by dedicating a whole day every other week for learning. “Foraker Friday” is to be spent individually or in groups learning new technologies, building tools to help us work faster, and giving back to the world through information sharing and open-source software. We put away email, billable work, and other distractions to focus 100% on making ourselves and Foraker better.
We expect the following benefits:
- Smarter and more inspired employees
- More value delivered to our clients
- Better and more efficient internal tools
- Making a bigger difference in the world by sharing information (blog) and tools (open-source)
How do you drive learning and constant improvement in your organization? I’d love to hear!