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Anybody who thinks that by simply going to the occasional professional development event they will develop their capability to any significant extent is kidding themselves.

Maximising professional development is all about what you do with what you have learned. Knowledge, just sitting inside your head, very quickly dissipates, as the research proves.

The research on retention of learning goes back to the nineteenth century with Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist (1850-1909), who created a way to assess the rate at which people forget.

Ebbinghaus found the rate to be highly predictable, and completely dependent upon repetition and reinforcement. Psychologists now call this the ‘forgetting” curve’.

Ebbinghaus discovered that when we acquire a new idea, much of our forgetting occurs right away. A significant amount of information is forgotten within twenty minutes of learning it; over half the material learned is forgotten within 60 minutes. Almost two-thirds of what we learn within a day is forgotten.

In other words, if information is retained for a day, you have given yourself a good opportunity of retaining that knowledge in the long term.

Even better is when you revisit the material for consecutive days to reinforce the learning. This maximises your chances of retaining that knowledge long term.

Jim Rohn, one of the acknowledged pioneers of the personal development industry, more eloquently stated the issue like this:

We intend to take action when the idea strikes us. We intend to do something when the emotion is high. But if we don’t translate that intention into action fairly soon, the urgency starts to diminish. A month from now the passion is cold. A year from now it can’t be found. 

So take action. Set up a discipline when the emotions are high and the idea is strong, clear, and powerful.   

If somebody talks about good health and you’re motivated by it, you need to get a book on nutrition. Get the book before the idea passes, before the emotion gets cold. Begin the process. Fall on the floor and do some push-ups.

You’ve got to take action; otherwise the wisdom is wasted. The emotion soon passes unless you apply it to a disciplined activity. Discipline enables you to capture the emotion and the wisdom and translate them into action.

Sounds simple but it’s not necessarily easy.

I have worked with over 100 individuals undertaking personal coaching programs with me. The overall success of each coaching program in generating improved performance is easy for me to predict; the clients that take immediate action after a coaching session, based on their insights and commitments from that session, are those that gain maximum benefit from the coaching program.

Those who attend each session but have taken little or no action between the sessions, gain only a fraction of what is possible had they taken consistent action each week.

The major discipline I have in place to maximise my own learning is a simple one – to write it down. My weekly blog is, of course, about keeping my personal brand front of mind with existing and potential clients but it is also a strong and powerful habit that forces me to review my learning for the week and capture it in a way that is useful, for both myself and you, the reader.

You may have noticed that after attending any conference, I write an article about that conference based on a specific theme or what a speaker has shared (e.g. Social Media: The future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades).

If I read a book then I write about the insights I gained from that book (e.g. Lessons from Linkedin’s Reid Hoffman: The future’s in network literacy, and Thin-slicing: How Malcolm Gladwell demystified one of my skills)

If I read a piece of research or an interesting report then I articulate how that research or report might be relevant to my readership (e.g. Australian swimming review: How an unchecked ‘star’ culture destroys a team and The grass is not greener: Why star recruits rarely shine).

When I work with my clients I often find myself working with them on an issue that has broader relevance beyond their own business. This prompts me to write about that issue (e.g. Are you overworking your jobs? and Should they stay or should they go?).

If I have a personal experience that I think contains some lessons for other people then I will share my emotion/insights/lessons from that experience to help others to whom it is relevant (e.g. How not to use LinkedIn: Lessons for recruiters (and other self-promoters) and Email marketing: Are you annoying people and trashing your brand?).

Here are my suggestions as to how you can reinforce your own learnings:

  • Keep a professional development journal (handwritten or soft copy)
  • Write a regular blog
  • Share with your colleagues (informally at a meeting or formally by running a training session)
  • Record your learnings (voice memos or video on smartphones is an easy way to do this)
  • Have a regular time scheduled in your week to ‘have a coffee with yourself’ to review training, conference notes and other learnings
  • Some managers and owners have shared with me how they use the weekly structure of my blogs as a prompt for their team’s weekly professional development. Each team member is required to attend a weekly team meeting having read the nominated blog with a view as to what (if any) action should or could be taken by themselves (or the team as a whole) to improve their own performance or the overall team performance.

What should you do?

It all boils down to one thing; to repeat the wisdom of Jim Rohn:

So take action. Set up a discipline when the emotions are high and the idea is strong, clear, and powerful


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Schadd Montgomery

Good stuff Ross. I continually talk to our consultants right from their induction training and at each subsequent session about installing the information learnt by repetition and practice (reading, speaking and doing) My analogy is thinking of your favourite song. The first time you heard it you didn't know the lyrics so you listened hard…after the hundredth time you can now sing along word for word…even without the song playing. American Pie on Kareoke anyone? @SchaddM

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