Balancing learning and doing for professional growth

Upskilling July 30, 2019
Balancing learning and doing for professional growth

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Balancing learning and doing for professional growth

As a college student, I loved learning just for the fun of it.

As a working professional, I need to use my time wisely. 

As a marketer, I can’t stop upskilling or I’ll be left behind. 

The marketing industry, like many others, is in such a constant state of disruption that even time-honored best practices can become obsolete overnight. That makes our jobs exciting and challenging but it means that we must be brutally efficient self-learners. We have to keep moving forward to avoid becoming obsolete ourselves.

In today’s marketplace, upskilling–in any career–isn’t optional. 

How should professionals gain the skills they need to keep their businesses and careers moving forward? And, how can we support one another’s efforts? 

Busy professionals must learn and do

Seth Godin says effective skill-building requires both learning and doing, or “learning that embraces doing.” One is not effective without the other. 

Think about it. 

You could learn everything about how to swim from the best methods for controlling your breathing to the most efficient stroke. But you aren’t really going to be able to swim well until you’ve spent time in the water.

On the other hand, you probably shouldn’t go diving into the deep end without knowing a few swimming basics. Learn and do for best results. 

For even better results, learn from others who share the same goals. Building not only on your own knowledge and experiences but those of your network is at the heart of tribal self-learning and what gives this type of learning its strength. 

It is only with execution that knowledge yields results

I love gaining knowledge and have pretty broad-ranging interests (which is a good thing since I have four children each with their own set of interests.) Learning is fun.

But professional learning is more: it is knowledge-building with a purpose. Without execution that purpose goes unfulfilled. Gathering knowledge then failing to put it into practice is an incomplete exercise. 

“Ideas need execution to grow.”  


~Yam Regev, Harnessing company culture to achieve stellar growth
Marketing consultant Sura Rosenberg


Emphasizing the importance of doing as a part of learning, educator and marketing consultant Sura Rosenberg points out that,

“Theory is not reality. Things often sound good in theory but disappear into dust upon application.” 


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Even if you could learn to swim perfectly without ever touching a body of water, of what use would that knowledge be?

You have to dive in. 


Successful upskilling by learning and doing requires commitment. Self-learners must be willing to invest time to gather knowledge and then apply that knowledge in real-world settings. 

We asked members of the Zest tribe to tell us how they manage to strike the right balance between theory and practice, and this is what they told us.

Set aside time to learn

Algorithms change, policies get updated, consumer preferences shift and we as marketers must rapidly adapt to each new development. Yet we still have to make time for learning and resist the temptation to just keep doing.

How do Zest tribe members make time to learn?

Create a checklist

David Hoos, director of marketing at  The Good

David Hoos, director of marketing at The Good, ensures that his learning becomes doing by creating an actionable checklist. He prioritizes his to-do list using a scoring system that takes into consideration the ease of the task, how long it will take to execute and the anticipated benefits. 

Set weekly goals

Bronwyn Kienapple, content marketer at Venngage

Bronwyn Kienapple, a content marketer at Venngage, shares that every member of the Venngage team has a personal development plan that includes upskilling goals. Team members assign themselves weekly personal development tasks using Trello cards to ensure that they are continually learning and experimenting with new ideas. 

Bronwyn makes learning a priority by tackling her learning tasks at the beginning of each week when her energy levels are high.

Schedule time to catch up

InnercirclesTamir Passi schedules time for learning each week as well. He calendars 30 minutes every weekend to review the content he has saved throughout the week to ensure that he doesn’t miss out on valuable information.

Tamir transitions from learning to doing by creating an action list from his weekend review sessions and sharing it with his team. 

While the methods may have changed, this passing along of knowledge to one’s tribe, er team, is as old as time. 

Move from knowledge to practice

Marketing is not a theoretical endeavor. As marketers, we have to be willing and able to experiment. 

Here are a few of the ways that members of the Zest tribe put the ‘doing’ in learning by doing. 

Test ideas and challenge assumptions

Stephanie Baiocchi marketer at Impact

IMPACT’s Stephanie Baiocchi says that marketing and social media are changing so fast that if you aren’t applying what you learn by doing, you will quickly fall behind. 

Stephanie recommends putting theory into practice using an incremental process approach: testing a few theories, analyzing the results, then, using those results to fuel further testing. 

She also encourages her team to challenge past assumptions and look for ways to improve upon long-standing practices. 

Solve problems and share with others

Leah and Oscar Hovland of Kogger

Leah Hovland of Kogger writes that she too commits to “learning new things” regularly and relies on Zest as one of her go-to sources for up to date information. She also calls on her virtual tribe, participating in online forums and subscribes to newsletters to help keep her knowledge up-to-date. 

Her husband Oscar, the founder of Kogger, is a dedicated self-learner, doer and teacher. He started Kogger because he couldn’t find a solution to his business problem and has since gone on to research and develop an entire set of solutions which he now shares with other business owners through his website and workshops. Tribal self-learning in action.  

Accept the risks of the unknown

Moving from theory to practice is essential to benefit from the knowledge you gain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little scary. Instant success is rare and outcomes are hard to predict.


Upskilling by doing requires courage. 

Mistakes will be made.


Embrace the do-over

Dave Wilson, digital marketing specialist at AgilityIO

David Wilson, a digital marketing specialist at Agility IO, says that joining the fast-paced world of a tech startup has taught him to appreciate the value of learning by doing (and re-doing). 

Dave explains that he is willing to take risks when trying new ideas because campaigns that fail to yield the hoped-for results are just test runs that ultimately lead him to success.

“I’ve come to understand that to iterate fast, test the response, learn from my mistakes and try again often leads to a successful campaign.” 

Keep your eye on the prize

Barak Shachnovitz, head of bizdev at Two Heads Consulting

When asked about how he faces the risks of learning by doing, Barak Shachnovitz, head of business development at Two Heads Consulting, shared his experience of being a 15-year old tasked with learning a new language. 

How did he deal with inevitable mistakes that occurred as he practiced his new language skills? 

By keeping his focus on his end goal. To succeed at any learning endeavor, he advises, you must not be afraid of the little failures you encounter along the way. 

Distill learning and doing into knowledge through reflection and reiteration

Finally, to truly learn from the knowledge that you have put to the test, you must pause and reflect upon your experience. Experiences and the knowledge we can gain from them are not static. 

Researchers tell us that this gathering of feedback through doing is the key to deep learning. Through doing you gather the data you need to analyze, reiterate and improve. “You can relive past experiences, reflect on them, and discover new insights,” writes George Hallenbeck of the Center for Creative Leadership

The members of the Zest tribe agree. 

Dive in and embrace the challenge

Neta Dror, full-stack marketer at Elementor

Discussing self-learning as a part of her career plan, Neta Dror, a full stack marketer at Elementor, writes,

“How do you learn? By taking one huge dive into the world of knowledge that surrounds us. By learning from other people in the industry, reading articles, blogs, listening to podcasts… and by not being afraid to take risks (and fail many, many times.)” 

Dig in and get your hands dirty

Russ Johns, founder of NextStepNext

Russ Johns, the founder of NextStepNext, notes that “learning, testing and doing is always a balancing act.” But at some point, you must stop gathering information and go and do, gain feedback, test and “get dirty.” 

Experiment and share the results with your tribe

Rodrigo Nogueira, growth marketer at Martinique Digital

Review and feedback are important parts of Rodrigo Nogueira’s learning process as well.  The growth marketing manager at Martinique Digital says that he engages in small experiments to try new ideas and strategies. Then, he participates in group discussions with fellow marketers and self-learners to reflect on and share what he has learned. 

Learning, doing and reviewing in a continuous loop is the secret to upskilling success

The authors at Farnam Street call the process or review and reflection double loop learning. By considering and reconsidering our experiences–the successes and failures–those experiences are distilled into learning.

This distilled learning, based on the experiences of other professionals and examined for actionable takeaways and advice is the type of knowledge-building content that members of the Zest tribe love to consume and share.

Through creating and sharing content about the lessons we’ve learned, we benefit not only from our own experiences but from those of our peers. 

That’s the beauty of Zest community curation process. As tribal self-learners, the knowledge we share is magnified by network effects. 

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College is a distant memory but I still enjoy learning for fun, sometimes. 


I regularly remind myself that learning something new is an efficient use of my time.


Upskilling part of the flow of life keeps me from being left behind.

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Taking the time to learn new skills and reflect upon past experiences may seem like too great a sacrifice to make when you are a busy marketer dealing with deadlines, clients, and KPIs.

But failing to continually learn and adapt is far more costly.

As Seth concludes in his article, 

“In the middle of all this doing, this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.”


So tell me, how do you balance learning and doing in the flow of your life?

How do you decide when it’s time to dive in?

How does your tribe help you make the most of every minute you spend learning? 

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve turned short-term failures into long-term learning victories and the techniques you and your team use to make time for upskilling.

Share your knowledge by getting in touch with me at Tonya@Zest.is