Keep learning

May 08, 2017

If you rely solely on what you thought you once knew to be true, you run the risk of being an obsolete relic of yesteryear.

Not too long ago, when my son was a senior in high school, I went to a local photography studio where my son had his senior pictures taken. While a great studio, equipped with all the latest gadgets and gear, they were still intent on selling me print copies, and every package included a set of wallet-sized photos.

When was the last time you pulled out your wallet to show off exactly one picture of your child? If asked, you would likely pull out your smart phone and scroll through hundreds of pictures in your gallery, Facebook account, Instagram page, or some other trendy social media app. But not your wallet.

Technology has evolved and what this photographer thought was still in vogue has been gone for years. What he remembered was out of date.

I’m certainly a rememberer. I enjoy the satisfaction of pulling information from the hidden recesses of my brain, long ago forgotten. However, there’s a downside to that. As we age, some of what we thought we knew to be fact may have become outdated, obsolete, or downright wrong.

I remember the smallest things in nature being atoms. I only recently began learning about quarks and leptons. It has changed my whole perspective on the construct of the universe and has inspired me to search for more answers.

Remember that famous quote by Bill Gates, that “nobody would ever need more than 640K of computer memory?” I remember hearing that years ago. The problem is, he never actually made that statement; something I just learned while writing this article, despite my repeating it all these years.

There are countless examples of what some people still assume to be correct. Here are just a few that stand out to me.

  • Marketing. For decades – I’d even go as far as to say centuries – marketers pushed their products and services to the masses without understanding who was paying attention. It worked to some extent, but it wasn’t the most effective use of a marketing budget. The most effective marketing messages are targeted to specific audiences. The difference between these two marketing tactics is found in the return on investment, but only those that have kept up with societal and cultural changes would understand the difference.
  • Leadership. Another common belief was that to be effective as a leader, one had to rule with an iron fist. I’ll never forget a piece of advice I received decades ago: “You have to make them hate you before they’ll respect you.” I never followed that then, and I surely don’t believe it to be true today. I did my own research and learned there are better ways of motivating people. Unfortunately, there are those who still believe that’s the best way to run an organization, as evidenced through the draconian policies enforced in some of our industry firms.
  • Learning. The one-size-fits-all approach to education and training used to be king. If you didn’t understand the material, that was your problem and not the educator’s fault. The reality is we all learn in different ways. Some are visual learners, some are auditory, while others are experiential learners. Design your firm’s professional development program with that in mind. Seek a variety of learning methods.
  • Generational differences are real. Early leadership theory essentially ignored differences in generational upbringing and assumed anything can be overcome with “good management.” Studies in recent years have highlighted adaptability as a key attribute to being a successful leader. The leaders who have evolved to understand that everyone is different, with different expectations, life experiences, and learning preferences, will stand a better chance at succeeding.

Only through continuous learning can we continue to grow intellectually and personally, and keep our memories updated. Accept that what you thought you once knew to be true may have been revised or made obsolete. Do you think you know everything there is to know about the tensile strength of all composite materials? Perhaps there’s some new research you’re not yet aware of. Keep learning.

Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.