What have you learned today?
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Will Sampson is the Editorial Director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine.

We talk a lot about training and education in the woodworking industry, especially in light of everyone constantly complaining about not being able to find skilled workers. In that context, training and education seem like a one-way street with information flowing only from the experts to the novices. But I think the other direction is just as important.

If experienced people in the industry don’t continue to learn throughout their career, not only will they be left behind by technology, but also, they will have increasingly less to pass on to the next generation of workers. There’s a buzz phrase in the education establishment about “creating lifetime learners,” but in practice it’s more talk than action. Since the public education system is predominantly built on regurgitating information to earn a grade on a test and move on, the joy and intrinsic value of learning becomes an accidental side effect if it happens at all.

There’s very little in established training programs that is not targeted at specific outcomes. If you don’t come up with the answer that achieves that preplanned outcome, the buzzer sounds, and you lose. There’s little room for serendipitous discoveries, for achieving more than was expected, or for taking an exciting detour down a path of unprogrammed learning.

I get that there needs to be some structure in most learning to achieve a higher percentage of positive outcomes. But I think a lot of our learning takes the excitement and the treasure hunt, if you will, out of education. The thrill of discovery is a powerful tool to promote more learning, but if discovery is limited to finding only the “right” answers, much of that power is gone.

YouTube is a great example of the power of education not directed at a specific outcome. Oh, sure, if I need to find out information to do a specific project, I’ll likely be able to find it pretty fast. But the chances of my being attracted to some entirely unrelated learning paths are very high. Now, maybe all those detours are not entirely or immediately productive. My wife considers me a font of a never-ending supply of useless (in her eyes) and trivial (to her) information that fills up my brain and keeps me from remembering important things like what I was supposed to get at the store.

But the excitement of learning something new — anything — usually leads to seeking more knowledge. That leads to unexpected results that expand horizons and enrich everyone around you. I have friends who are focused on improving business efficiency. They are all true lifetime learners, always looking for new information and reexamining their own long-held beliefs. Very little stands still in their world. That often irritates people around them, but everyone in their orbit learns to travel a little faster.

When you are focused on learning new things, you become adept at creating new things. It’s the entrepreneurship of ideas, and it’s what powers the future. What have you learned today? Did you share it?


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.