Re: Proper Rate of Learning LO1376

Michael McMaster (
Thu, 25 May 1995 11:13:05 +0000

Replying to LO1367 --

Robert's comments on" being paid for learning" in the marketplace
provide an opportunity for some constructive deconstruction. He says:

> The concept of "learning, and being paid
> for it" is almost antithetical to the current work ethic, let alone the
> competitive marketplace. The marketplace does pay for "expertise," but
> rarely for the learning needed to get there. Learning is something that
> one develops on one's own time, and not at the expense of the company's.

The payment for expertise is the payment for its development. It's
true the buyer doesn't care how it was obtained or the cost of
attaining it. But they pay for it for their own reasons and thus pay
for the acquisition of it. It's merely a matter of the way we think
about it.

> Exceptions to this are becoming rarer, I believe. Why is it that business
> and the "arts" are so far apart on this? I believe it has to do with the
> value businesses place on time and money.

I suggest that it's the way _we_ think about it, not merely a matter
of business nor "time and money". The implication in Robert's
statement is that customers pay for "time" or any other thing. I
suggest customers pay only for results that they want and they pay
what they consider a market price to be for that result. How it is
produced is not relevant to them.

Let me illustrate with two very different cases from my experience.
The first is a contractor who builds oil platforms for the North Sea.
They protest that they can't afford the cost of
learning/practice/soak time "because the buyer won't reimburse them
for the costs". The first instance of this argument was under
cost-plus, the second was under fixed bidding (which, of course,
couldn't contain the cost of education within it). But, when they
finally did a bit on their own, they reduced the cost and increased
their profits in both circumstances by substantal amounts.

The second case was a production line for car parts manufacturing.
They protested that they had to run the line at certain rates to
maintain cost levels and that nobody would pay them for "educational
downtime". This one too finally relented and saved more than the
cost in enough time so that no one complained.

The problem is one of thinking and, of that bugbear I mentioned in an
earlier conversation, the linear and reductionist accounting that
goes with that thinking. If costs are seen as linear, then there can
be no learning.

Imagine the coach (or players) of a professional sports team saying,
"We can't practice because we don't get paid for practice time." No.
They get paid for winning. And to win, you need to practice. So
who's thinking is pathological here?

I don't think it's the "work ethic" that's the problem. I think it's
the anti-intellectual (or laziness in the area of thinking) that is
the problem.

Michael McMaster