You Shouldn’t Have To Ask Your Boss For Permission To Learn

learning how to learn

A few weeks ago I chatted with a group of students about what a culture of innovation looks like, and the conditions that have to exist for it to happen at work. Many of them were taken aback because I explicitly told them that they should look for an employer that values curiosity; the cornerstone of innovation. It’s important because they have to take a deeper look at the culture to identify those who only pay lip service from those who do innovate.

I was reminded of our chat after coming across a recent article on Harvard Business Review that lays out a six step plan for making a persuasive request to ones boss to make time for learning new things. Good try, but you shouldn’t have to ask your boss for permission and time to learn new things if you work for an innovator.

There are many factors that drive a culture of innovation, two are collaboration and exchange of ideas; which means you’re in the wrong place if you have to ask for permission and time to do these.

Learning new things is normal for innovators

When I was younger I knew that my mindset would rub people the wrong way, so I deliberately scanned employers to meet my own conditions because I can’t stand rules and processes that limit people from being their best everyday.

If you read my Twitter profile you’ll see that I use the #IfItIsntBrokeBreakIt hashtag. There’s a reason for this. When I was an employee I stood out because I never asked for permission to do things better, I didn’t wait for things to be broken to act, I just did it and let the chips fall where they may; this is the innovation mindset at play.

With that said, why should I ask my boss for time to learn? I couldn’t imagine myself asking one of my bosses for permission to better myself; it doesn’t make any sense to me.


Leaders are learners, it holds true for individuals and organizations. An organization will never lead if it holds people back; it’s are recipe for stagnation. It only leads if it unleashes the best from their people.

Innovative organizations understand that employees who better themselves will better the business. Instead of trying to manage an employee’s everyday activity they should aim to empower them; Google’s well known 20% time was created specifically for this reason.

Google even looks for what they call “learning animals” when hiring, people who are naturally driven to learn on their own, because they recruit for learn-ability. Google is well prepared to drive and be relevant in the future because it values and nurtures the one skill that will always be relevant in the future: continuous learning.

Like Google, employers who want attract innovators have to understand that you don’t manage innovators, you unleash them. They understand that people have to make mistakes to learn; those that don’t are explicitly dismissing innovation.

Choose an employer that will welcome your best everyday, because you’ll be in the wrong place if you have to ask for permission to make things better. You want an employer that understands that curiosity and empathy are the foundations for innovation. If they don’t, you’re better off doing your own thing because you’ll feel lost if your employer doesn’t value this mindset.

Also published on Medium.

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