Just in time learning

Issue #

Hey there, I’m Lesley. Welcome to the latest issue of Failing Forward — A weekly newsletter where I share my experience as a bootstrapped co-founder.

There’s no bravado here. I fear failure, just like you. I write this newsletter to remind us both that failure is not just okay, it’s often the best way forward.

Just in time learning

I first heard the term just in time learning while listening to Canva founder, Melanie Perkins, on How I Built This with Guy Raz. Simply put, it’s the idea that you only learn something new when you need it.

Delving deeper into the etymology, the term just in time comes from Toyota car manufacturing processes in the 1960s. By manufacturing car parts just in time, space-constrained Japanese car factories were able to build more efficiently and worry less about warehousing excess parts. This enabled greater flexibility in the manufacturing process, cost savings, and less upfront capital. I learnt this term from Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup.

Being a founder = perpetual learning.

As a founder, I operate in a constant state of learning. It’s my responsibility to learn how to execute stuff now, while also paving the way for the stuff we’ll need to tackle in the future.

At any given point in time, I’m probably learning how to do 10 new things for right now, learning the basics of 10 other things for the future, and executing on 2 things I have actual experience with.

It’s overwhelming.

Enter just in time learning.

The concept of just in time learning helps me focus. Applying it forces me to only learn the things I need right now and forego the rest.

I use JITL as an information filter. Either it’s immediately useful, or it goes into my mental “for fun” pile.

For example, I’ve been mentally occupied with pricing packages and promotions for the past two weeks. The closed beta for our plugin is ready and we’ll start selling pre-launch packages next week. As a result, figuring out how to price the pro plugin has been at the top of my mind.

Hence, anything to do with pricing and promotions for fledgling or competitor WordPress plugins get my full focus 👀. Beyond that, I also give partial focus to general WordPress plugin pricing articles as they give me context and a broad upper and lower bound.

Finally, there’s everything else. No matter how useful and interesting the article, if it doesn’t pass the filter, it gets unceremoniously sloshed into the leisure reading bucket.

In practice, the JITL filter is kinda chill.

Now, if you’ve been reading my newsletter for awhile, you’ll know I’m not dogmatic about this sort of thing.

Hence, I still read generously from my leisure reading bucket. I try not to restrain myself because that requires too much willpower; and sometimes I just want to read what I like, dammit! To compensate, I simply don’t put in any effort to sense-making or mental categorising these leisure articles.

In contrast, I’m more focused and keyed in when reading about WordPress plugins pricing. I’m constantly categorising, applying frameworks and filtering everything.

In short, it’s the difference between reading actively versus passively.

Sorry to interrupt, but if you’re enjoying this post, you might want to subscribe and receive new issues (just like this one) via email.

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Just in time learning is the perfect excuse to let go of my baggage.

Just in time learning can be quite reassuring.

As a bootstrapped founder, I need to know how to do a million different things. And I often end up hoarding articles and resources about topics I think might come in handy in the future. But the more I hoard, the more I drag along with me, and the slower I’m able to move.

Just in time learning is the perfect excuse to let go of my baggage. It’s the reassuring thought that I’ll simply cross that bridge when I get to it.

Counterpoints to JITL.

People often give advice that worked for them in one specific situation, while failing to explore when the advice shouldn’t be applied. Occasionally, this is me. But not today!

Strap in, we’re not done yet.

JITL shouldn’t be used if:

1. You don’t know the lay of the land.

Just in time learning basically advocates operating with blinders on. You become a greyhound chasing a rabbit. This works if you have a roadmap, and have already pointed yourself in the right direction, but it can be dangerous if otherwise.

Similarly, if you don’t have a validated product, JITL is dangerous. At this stage, you should be hellbent on uncovering what you don’t know. In contrast, JITL encourages you to ignore what you don’t know.

2. You don’t have the critical mass of knowledge, connections and experience to learn quickly.

This is a thought within a thought within a thought. You’re a smarty pants, so stay with me. Let’s break it down:

  1. Just in time learning is not effective if you can’t complete your learning in time. Similarly, just in time manufacturing wouldn’t have been useful for Toyota if the parts were always delayed as a result. It worked because the factory was able to consistently manufacture the parts in time.
  2. At first glance, you’d think that consistently learning on time means you need the ability to learn really quickly. And while I agree it’s a key skill, it’s unfortunately quite a commoditised one. And holds no weight if not for…
  3. A critical mass of knowledge, connections and experience to facilitate your learning. With the right foundations, you’re able to quickly source for and fit in the pieces you need to learn quickly. If not, no amount of speed can make up for the size of the mountain you have to tackle. In other words, Toyota doesn’t just have really really fast workers, they have the systems, processes, experience and culture in place to enable workers to work quickly.

You got all that… Right?

This is important because founders consistently fail to account for the importance of knowledge, connections and experience, and the time it takes to amass them.

In fact, we have a term for this chronic oversight. You might have heard of it: Overnight success. 😉

These days, we’re a lot better at acknowledging overnight success as a myth when we hear this label used on other founders. Hilariously, I think many of us still secretly hope this fairytale becomes true for ourselves.

I’m starting to stray off topic. What I’m trying to say is this:

Just in time learning is useful if you have the foundations to ensure you can indeed learn in time, and not later. Building these foundations takes time.

In contrast, just in time learning is not useful in the beginning because you need the time and space to explore, fail, and do things poorly. Operating with blinders on isn’t a great way to build foundations. It’s an execution strategy, not one for when you’re just starting out.

This ended up being a lot longer than intended. So let me quickly summarise…

Just in time learning is a catchy phrase for a simple concept:

Only solve problems that need solving right now.

And I’ve written many words on a topic, when everything I want to say can simply be distilled into this:

If you’re clear on what problems need solving right now, be ruthless about only solving those problems.

If you’re not clear on what problems need solving right now, figure that out first.

I’m building Newsletter Glue — an email newsletter platform on WordPress with a Gutenberg-first approach.

Here’s what I got up to this week…

🔥 Highlights from this week
  • Built my features page. Quite pleased with it. Only a sneak peek for now. You’ll see it next week when I launch the whole website.
  • I’m on the Pressing Matters podcast! Listen to me chat about Newsletter Glue and the business behind it. Big thanks to Iain and Jack who were absolutely lovely hosts. Head here to listen.
💔 Lowlights from this week
  • So much to do! Oof!
✅ Completed this week
  • I’m annoyingly at 80% at every single part of the website:
    • Home page
    • Features page
    • Pricing page
    • About page
    • EDD set up (this is for managing payments and downloads of the plugin)
🎯 Goals for next week
  • Finish the remaining 20% of everything!

Also, I went and submitted myself for Post Status’ mega list of Black Friday deals. So now I’m forced to finish the website this week. Not complaining, this is a good kick in the butt!

Worth a thousand words


Worth your while: Here are my favourite links from this week

Read: Here’s What Really Happened To The Cars From ‘Pimp My Ride’

I grew up watching MTV and enjoyed Pimp My Ride. It’s a little sad to burst my bubble, but interesting to learn how most of the cars were just “pimped up” for the show. Many broke down shortly after. In fact, some of the fancy electronics were not even hooked up. Also, most of the cars were away for months, not days like the show would have you believe. Read article →

If you’re interested and would like some further reading, check out this reddit thread on how home makeover shows cut corners (and costs), resulting in shitty renovations and new homes for owners who can’t afford to maintain them.

Watch: How Oprah and Obama filmed an interview “in the same room”, while miles apart.

Despite being in two different places, Oprah and Obama were able to use advanced green screen technology to make it look like they were in the same room at the same time. I know this is child’s play in comparison to The Avengers, but it’s still cool and worth the short 45s video. I think getting the lighting to match so perfectly is the trickiest part. Watch video on Twitter →

Read: Elon’s visions are in the clouds – literally. But his implementations always start small.

I discovered Will’s blog on Friday and am already a big fan. In this short post, he shows how Elon’s visions might be large, but his early executions are always small. SpaceX started with putting satellites into orbit, but plans to colonise Mars. Tesla started as an electric car company, but plans to create sustainable transportation for all. Read article →

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