Are you building enough knowledge capital at work?
During my MBA, I wrote a paper about “slave labor” in consulting firms and investment banks in Gary Becker’s PhD Human Capital Economics class. My co-author and I found that consultants and bankers make less per hour than their General Manager counterparts immediately after business school. Cash payments tell one story, but there is another very important form of compensation we earn at work: knowledge.
Consider two kinds of knowledge capital – specific and general.
- Specific Human Capital evaporates when you leave the company. Stuff like how to use the billing system, where the copy machine is, political chains of command and communication.
- General Human Capital follows you for life – critical thinking skills, excel modeling, PowerPoint storyboarding, effective meeting management, etc.
The power of general human capital is why an MBA costs so much these days and why people will continue to pay for it. The knowledge capital you build in those two years in most cases pays off. It's also why, post-MBA, people love consulting and banking despite their notoriously terrible worklife balance. Because those jobs pay way more general human capital than do most other roles, increasing your potential for long term earning and success. This is why I still advise clients to consider consulting if they aren’t sure where they want to end up in the long term.
But this isn’t a post about the merits of consulting. It’s about you and your knowledge base. The amount a company will be willing to pay you is a function of how much your human capital is worth to them. Especially early in your career, make sure you are getting paid in general human capital. It is more valuable than cash in the beginning because it is the base upon which you will build the rest of your career.
But go beyond your duties to cultivate your knowledge capital. When people say “working hard is key to success,” this is part of what they mean: Earn your knowledge and your wisdom. Be general human capital greedy.
More to chew on
Here are some ideas to help you grow your general human capital.
Set learning goals each quarter by doing the following:
- Choose three areas of interest that you want to learn more about and plan a few actions to dig deeper (take a class, start a related book club, find a mentor who’s an expert on the topic, e.g.)
- Join an organization that aligns with an area of interest. Learn from the other members of the organization and seek new experiences.
- Find three news media outlets, magazines or blogs that will help you get smarter about the things you are passionate about and add them to your daily routine.
Consider where you will specialize.
A natural consequence of progress/age/maturity is specialization. If you keep at something for a few years, without even trying, you will become an expert in that topic. Start thinking about the long term and where you would like to be an expert. Here are some questions for contemplation:
- If you could be an expert in any subject, which one or two would be most fun and exciting to you?
- How can you make steady progress in becoming more knowledgeable about that field? Make an annual plan. Don’t overthink it; just take a few steps at a time.
- What are the three or four areas you want to be sure remain a part of your work life (e.g. data analysis, public speaking, scientific experimentation, writing, coaching people, visual depiction of information, travel, etc.) and how can you do more of those things this year?
- How could you use your social media to establish more expertise in this subject matter? Could you start a journal or blog, tweet articles, publish on LinkedIn, create a Facebook group, or use your other favorite social media tools to share your knowledge and what you are learning?
Turn the specific into general.
Even if your job has a lot of specific knowledge to master, be sure you are thinking generally and strategically about what you are learning. Are you learning how to learn? Are you learning how what you know maps to the rest of the world? To different problems? To different industries? Are you getting better at communication, networking, and relationship management? Ensure you are growing in general ways every day. If you keep working for the next few decades, you are going to become an expert in SOMETHING! Better make it something you like!! Choose wisely.