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The Gap Between Education and Work That Kills Performance

Key Terms 💡

Just in case = amassing reams of knowledge in multiple topics with the hope that you might need it later.

Just in time = acquiring the knowledge to serve a specific task, challenge or new skill acquisition for the now.


Much of our education system is built on the ‘just in case’ model, and it kinda makes sense if you have no idea what students will go on to do.

They need a foundation of some sort.

However, this conflicts with the world of work, where we flip to a ‘just in time’ model. It’s compounded by the fact that we don’t recognise this and address it when people make the transition from education to work.

As a society, we continue to solidify the ‘just in case’ model in the work environment, which I believe inhibits real-world skills and devalues an individual’s skill stack (I’m just a guy on the internet, what do I know!).

I get that’s quite a bold statement, so let’s unpack it.

‘Just in case’ requires investing huge amounts of time to absorb lots of information which you may or may not ever use. It’s the approach that a very risk-averse person might take. Mitigate risk by knowing everything, right? Wrong! ❌

Allocating time to the task of knowledge acquisition of the wrong things with the tasks you face today, takes you away from focusing on the right things.

Hence my line of skill devaluation.

You’re basically hoarding everything in your mind like an overflowing drawer stuffed with paper and hoping for the best. Good luck with that!

Just in time is the other side of this equation.

The art of acquiring the right content when you need it most. It’s what I call an actionable application with measurable success. That sounds very corporate and I wish I could think of another way to say it, but it’s not coming to me right now.

This isn’t school: The corpo L&D conundrum

Fellow L&D pros might call this ‘learning in the flow of work’ as famously coined by industry analyst, Josh Bersin, in 2018. It is a phrase that, imo, has been misinterpreted and misrepresented by a number of technology vendors.

Nonetheless, it’s core represents for JIT cause.

The power of JIT is in its ability to produce tangible results with tactical resources to support the daily flow of workplace performance. JIC enables none of this. You’re most likely to forget the thing you learnt 10 years ago one day to use right now.

Corporate organisations would do better in focusing on JIT, which enables the delivery of critical tasks and the building of critical, business priority skillsets. JIC is the equivalent of learning about unicorns in case they magically become real one day and you ‘might’ have to know something about that.

Yes, I really wrote those words.

Sadly, due to our model of ‘education vs learning’ in corpo land, too much time and money is invested in JIC strategies, and not with JIT in the working world.

Thus, the results of performance improvement are often poor because we don’t create enough adaptable models to simulate the evolutionary flow of work and life. You’re given a book of thousands of things to access for a limited time only and expected to remember it all like a computer hard drive.

Just in time (alone) is not a good strategy

I know this might feel like a cliffhanger shock from your favourite tv show, but stay with me.

I’ve spent most of this article praising the JIT vs JIC approach. True. Yet, JIT alone is not an effective learning strategy. If you were building your skills only with a JIT approach you’d be playing a very risky game of Russian roulette.

You’re going to fall at some point.

We learn every day through what we experience, but this doesn’t always mean we acquire the right level of knowledge or behaviours for long-term growth.

We might learn something in the moment to solve a problem right there and then, but that’s often just one piece of the puzzle. To scale that skill and work towards mastery, one must intentionally seek out more knowledge and practice in that area.

In true me fashion. I’ve written about this before when championing the perfect balance of just-in-time learning with intentional learning strategies. (TL;DR – use the resources to navigate challenges you face immediately, but spend time deeply mastering the skills, tools and behaviours you need for long-term growth).

Your takeaways ✍️

1️⃣ Bridge the gap between education and the corporate world with better strategies for the ever-changing workplace.

2️⃣ Work is not school, the education model is not optimal here.

3️⃣ Don’t rely on just in time alone. Blend with intentional learning strategies for maximum performance and skill development.

4️⃣ Unicorns aren’t real.

Before you go… 👋

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