Get out of survival mode by learning on the job

In the early days of We Are Mammoth, we took every project we could get our hands on. Our first project was to create a CD-ROM presentation (somewhat antiquated, even for 2006). We created an animated Abraham Lincoln avatar explaining Cook County’s new electronic balloting system to senior citizens. It took 4 weeks to finish and paid us 2 weeks of cash.

What did we get out of it besides a little hit on our egos? Not much. It was survival mode time. We brought in the cash to keep the business afloat. Survival mode sucks. It’s the world telling you where to go and not the other way around. At some point in your web business, survival needs to turn into thrival.

The best way to start thriving is by learning. It’s simple math. Two people that have learned more are more valuable than two people that have learned less. Each person uses the same amount of resources – time, money, energy – but can produce more, better, and faster.

Where do you find the time to learn? Use your client work as your R & D time. Learning has to become a natural component of your client work. Build it into your costs. Find projects that pay and give you the opportunity to learn something you’ve always wanted to.

Big companies have the luxury (and I’d argue, the unfortunate option) to separate their services from R&D. Small companies need to make it part of the same thing. When you decide to learn something new while working on the very thing that’s keeping your business alive, you don’t need extra motivation. There is no other option. You’ll also learn more because you’ll be applying your newfound knowledge to something immediate and real. You’ll know when you’ve finally figured it out. I’ve rarely learned anything well when there wasn’t much on the line.

Learning on the job is the only way you can really grow without growing. It’s the only realistic way to get from surviving to thriving.