The Haught guide to “learnings”

Image: Ben Tyers, 2014

Learnings the game

In the hours following a staff training session you may encounter managers or senior colleagues asking what your “key take outs” were. Key take outs are just like “important things”, except they’re encased in thick linguistic puff pastry. They’re like corporate beef Wellingtons.

Your responses to questions about key take outs have the potential to be career-defining moments.

Let’s say by some miracle you’ve managed to capture a fragile butterfly of enlightenment during a recently-completed PowerPoint presentation. If you can bring the glorious insect forth without finding that, like a Steinbeckian dim-wit, you’ve squashed it dead, the way in which you present it matters. It matters a lot.

As you prepare the questioner for your take out menu, whatever you do don’t say that you “learnt” anything.

In the corporate desert, “learnt”, “learn” and “learning” are like spindly, dessicated bushes; nobody takes any notice of them. “Learnings”, on the other hand, is like an eight foot, English-speaking, double-wattled cassowary wearing post-apocalyptic leather body armour, riding a steam train and singing memorable songs from Broadway musicals. Nobody understands what it is, how it got there or what purpose it serves, but oh my word do they love it.

I haven’t got the vaguest idea what learnings is… or are. See, I don’t even know if it’s a plural or a singular. Nobody does. And that’s what’s so good about it. Everybody does this weird, Emperor’s New Clothes dance around it, nobody daring to take on the role of the precocious child and tell their colleagues “That word isn’t even part of the English language.”

And because it doesn’t really exist, it has no accepted place in the grammatical ecosystem – that means you can chuck it into sentences however you bloody well like:

“I’m going to jot down some of my learnings.”

“I learningsed vigorously during that PowerPoint presentation.”

“You’d know Stefan if you saw him – he’s learnings.”

They’re all perfectly legitimate.

From there, it’s just a matter of time before you’re promoted.

So, let’s practise. What were your key takeouts from this article?

An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the BusinessDay section of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and the Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)

Read more Haught newspaper columns

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It’s not weird to say that all primary schools smell exactly the same. They just do. You should feel entirely comfortable making that statement in any company and at any time.

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    • Do you know what I love about the word “deliverables”? The fact that it sounds so take-it-or-leave-it.

      There’s no urgency.

      “How important are these points you’ve just mentioned?”

      “Oh, extremely. They’re all capable of being delivered.”

  1. Yes. Just finished “Death Sentence” by Don Watson, for the third time. He calls it managerialism. I call it corporate turdspeak. Linguistic faecal matter in the form of the digested shit of our language flows out of these people’s mouths. They are the Satanic harbingers of The Apocalypse. Actionable, deliverables, KPI, focus points, dot points (is it a point, or a dot? Make up your mind, imbecile!), parameters, playing fields, stepping up to the plate, in the ballpark, hitting it out of the park (you pusillanimous, weak-shinned cultural traitors!), going forward, “committed” – you know that when the players of football codes parrot a verbal trope to the cameras, it’s sunk right down to the bottom of the settling pond, and is being consumed then regurgitated by the human equivalent of carp. Pfah! I’m off to my cabin in the woods. Don’t call me unless the Apocalypse turns up early.

  2. Please….synergy, dovetail and connectivity must also be looked at! Moving forward is another one (well hello, are we moving backwards?)

  3. Honestly, a little part of me dies every time I am asked whether or not I ‘have capacity’ to ‘action’ these ‘key items’ before getting ‘buy-in’ from the client, lest I get significant ‘push-back’ from management, given we had discussed those ‘key’ ‘action items’ when we ‘touched base’ last week. Given those dates have already been ‘diarised’, I think ‘going forward’ we’ll really only need to ‘tweak’ our ‘key strategies’ in time for the ‘webinar’ to ensure the ‘key’ ‘deliverables’ are ‘actioned’.

    I wish I was making this up.

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