What Will You Learn This Year?

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” – Julia Child

While perusing a past issue of The Economist, I encountered an unfamiliar term: deep learning. According to “Now We’re Talking,” (The Economist, January 7, 2017), deep learning is “an artificial-intelligence technique in which a software system is trained using millions of examples, usually culled from the Internet.” The article describes the incredible evolution of voice computing and how ‘deep learning’ has led to the ability of machines to ‘recognize speech more reliably and talk in a less stilted manner.’ According to a recent article on Forbes.com, sales of Amazon’s “Echo” grew by 400% last year (compared to the prior year), with Google Home activations growing by a similarly astonishing rate.

Learning Truths

Owning a device capable of deep learning is no substitute to becoming a leader who yearns to learn. As you plan your journey of learning for the coming year, consider the following simple truths about learning:

  • Learning is an investment in you. When you set aside time from whatever you’re doing at work right now to read an article, finish a book, or participate in a workshop, you’re making an investment in you. The most valuable investments in perspective and skills are likely to be those that require attention, effort and participation. At the Center we’ve been reflecting on the need for immersive learning by leaders who feel called to become Risk Champions at their organizations. To address the desire for deeper learning in nonprofit risk management, we have designed an immersive risk learning opportunity: the Risk Leadership Certificate Program. Details on the program are available here. Apply today to explore six core competencies of risk management during three on-site programs at the Center’s headquarters.
  • Mistakes are potent learning opportunities. You’ve heard the expression, ‘we all make mistakes,’ countless times. But if you’re like many leaders, you’re inclined to move on to more pleasant matters rather than taking time to understand your little–and not so little–missteps. When leaders accept and own their mistakes, it sends a powerful message to staff that learning from miscalculations and errors is a vital organizational value.
  • Learning opportunities come in different sizes. Some valuable learning opportunities require a small investment of time and attention. For example, during the past year we have re-tooled our monthly live webinars to offer informative content in a 30-minute format. The live programs are available exclusively to our Affiliate Members. Not an Affiliate Member? There has never been a better time to join. Contact Kay Nakamura at 703.777.3504 or Kay@nonprofitrisk.org, or apply online. Affiliate Members enjoy unlimited Risk Help–answers to general risk management questions posed by phone or email–and unlimited access to our online Webinar Vault packed with more than 175 recorded educational programs.
  • Learning is multidirectional. The nonprofit sector’s most effective leaders are voracious learners who learn from their mentors, peers, and colleagues at all levels in the organization. If you’re learning from the higher-ups, but not from your direct reports and front-line staff, then you’re shortchanging your learning potential. During the past year we have worked with several organizations that have undergone CEO transitions. In one particular organization, the new CEO conducted a listening tour with small groups of staff in all functions and departments. The tour provided an opportunity for staff to get to know their new leader, but an even greater learning experience for the CEO.
  • “I loved this book” is a precious gift. When my daughter left for college in the Fall I wanted to send her off with a few relevant, pithy words of wisdom. In the end, I left her with a single suggestion: treat book recommendations as a precious gift. Over the years I’ve consumed many ‘book reviews’ written by one of my mentors, Felix Kloman. I’m proud to say that I’ve read every book to which Felix has awarded high marks, and I’ve thankfully avoided a few that he deemed a waste of time. Although I sometimes pause before answering some of the tricky Risk Help questions we receive, I’m never at a loss when someone asks, “What book would you recommend?”

Learning is fundamental to our sector’s most inspirational and effective leaders. None of us is truthfully a ‘know-it-all’ with respect to the subjects that hold our interest. Instead of believing that you don’t have time to read, sign on to a webinar or attend an in-person or immersive learning program, reflect on how seizing these opportunities could kindle your interests in new areas of study.

Melanie Lockwood Herman is executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. She welcomes your questions about Center learning programs and your reading suggestions at 703.777.3504 or Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org.


For additional information about Executive Onboarding, see: Drinking from the Hose: Is Your Executive Onboarding Program Effective (and Sane)?

For insights on learning inspired by Jamie Holmes’ book, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, see Live and Learn.