According to New York Times writer and author Thomas Friedman, the only way to “retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.” I had the pleasure of listening to Friedman speak at an event recently, and his point was that you can no longer just go to college, get a degree, find a job, and never learn another thing. Why? Because the job you are preparing for likely won’t exist in its current state for your entire worklife.
Friedman argues that we should learn how to solve problems and use that problem-solving ability over and over to adjust to the changing work world. This may or may not occur in a traditional school setting. I am a huge cheerleader for this approach and try to live it out both for my own benefit and in an attempt to shape my children’s attitudes towards life. I thought it might be helpful to share what this approach looks like for me right now.
Because my commercial real estate practice is focused on corporate space users and law firms, my learning presently centers around workplace innovation as well as the evolution of the legal industry. As many of my blog readers know, in order to learn more about workplace innovation, I invest a significant amount of time traveling to various workspaces and interviewing occupiers and architects. I blog about what I see and hear because I find that through the writing process, I am better able to distill the significant lessons learned.
I also spend time reading books (actual paper ones, I admit) written by change makers like Friedman, including LinkedIn-founder Reid Hoffman’s The Start-Up of You, Zappos-founder Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and Jacob Morgan’s The Employee Experience Advantage.
To learn more about the legal industry, my approach is fourfold: (1) attend industry conferences such as the Law Firm COO& CFO Forum in NYC twice a year and actually go to every session I possibly can; (2) conduct independent research on various issues to learn more about the industry’s challenges and different approaches to addressing those challenges; (3) interview law firm leaders and general counsel about their firm structures, challenges, opportunities, and innovations; and (4) read every relevant book I can get my hands on.
For legal industry knowledge, the books I recommend include Heidi Gardner’s Smart Collaboration, everything by Bruce MacEwen or Richard Susskind, David Galbenski’s Unbound, and Bright Ideas, edited by E. Leigh Dance. I am such a fan of Smart Collaboration that I have probably sent out fifty copies and if I were a managing partner at a law firm, I would buy it for every partner. I am about to dig into Law Is a Buyer’s Market by Jordan Furlong. [Update: I finished this book and it is must-read. The whole book is now highlighted and underlined.]
I am very often asked by people who read my blog if this approach to learning and marketing pays off. In short: absolutely. I have developed an amazing network of experts in the fields and subject matter in which I am interested. Along the way, I (almost incidentally) built a reputation among my law firm clients as knowledgeable and, more importantly, extremely interested in their industry and its challenges. And I am able to help clients and prospects by using my knowledge and interest to add value to their businesses.
And not once have my kids said “Why do I have to read this book? You never read books.”