Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Peak Interest: The learning and sharing curve

The interest curve of learning and sharing at work and its eventual peak are partly responsible for higher turnover of staff and reduced productivity if not managed well. 

When you learn and share what you know at work you enjoy it. You also contribute to a very productive environment. However when you no longer learn nor share then you are not enjoying it anymore and become negative and a liability. And then leave. 

About a year ago I read an article that explains everything in this blog post in a much clearer and scientifically researched way with references to specific companies. I haven’t been able to find it again, but when I do I will add a link and note to read it instead.

The problem

When you start a new role you have lots to learn. (Although sometimes you may have too much to learn and you are simply out of your depth and not able to keep you head above water).

At the same time you may have a lot experience and new thinking to share with the others in your team and company.

This learning and sharing is usually very enjoyable and rewarding, and you quickly become more and more productive in your role.

This productivity over time can simplistically be viewed in a graph like this:

However after a while in a role you learn less and less. You have absorbed the majority of the domain knowledge, you know all the people involved, and you are familiar with most of the technology stack (if in a similar line of work as me). 

Your team members and colleagues have already heard most of your experiences and you are starting to even repeat yourself. The rewards for sharing are reduced. So your productivity could be viewed as flattening out:

However what tends to happen is that you enjoy your role less due to not learning and not sharing as much as before, and over time you start to not like your role and become quite negative.

This in turn start to have a negative effect on your productivity over time:

This is what I call peak interest.

The consequence

With this negative productivity trend you may start to become negative person at work. This might then spread to your colleague and the whole team starts to suffer.

In the end you probably will change jobs. So the company will have to recommence the expensive recruitment process to replace you and will loose all your knowledge.

Even if you leave quickly it affects the remaining employees negatively. Naturally they might be upset if you leave on a personal level, but also upset with the company for letting you leave, jealous if you leave for a better package elsewhere, depressed that your knowledge and capacity is gone and they have to figure out how to compensate. If many employees leave quickly all the time then the company will have a bad negative culture.

Known problem

This is in fact a known problem, and whilst I can not refer to any scientific research, I have read about this issue many times. 

Major companies are fully aware of these peaks and take many actions to delay and counteract this curve for their employees.

Not applicable to all

The magnitude and curve gradient are definitely different for everyone and for every situation. And not quite as smooth. Some are quicker learners, some in a difficult role, some join a company where there is little to share, etc.

And then there are some sets of people that this hardly applies to at all. The "lifers". Not meant as a derogatory word but I fail to find a better description of this common characteristics of a set of people. 

These are the people that rarely changes jobs, that are not that interested in learning anything new, nor as keen share what they know. They just get on with their job, and stay there for a long while.

Their interest curve whilst perhaps not entirely linear are certainly very much less curved. And may never peak. However my unscientific opinion is that they also make a much less productive contribution to the company over all. 

Every company will have some lifers. There are many roles where this is a good trait: in jobs that are very 9-17 and never really change. 

However it can be frustrating if you mix lifers and “peakers” in the same team. Developers, artists, any creative or knowledge workers need to work together, learn together and share together. If some are then learning and producing at different speeds you will have conflicts.

That being said, mixing peakers with "ninjas" is a recipe for disaster as well. Ninjas and rockstars do not have an interest curve, they have an interest seismograph. But that is for a different blog post.


Companies do try to resist and reduce the effect of these peaks. They try to stretch out the length of the peak and create further peaks.

They can ensure the work environment is nice and comfortable. That bureaucracies are not frustrating, latest tools are available and most of all avoid stressful tasks, overtime and other counter productive situations. This will make the peak last longer and post peak decline slower.

Even then the major peak will eventually happen. Companies can then create further peaks by changing team focus, changing project, changing people, changing teams or changing role type completely. Basically avoid status quo for too long.

What they can then achieve is multiple peaks that keep you at a company for much longer.

So this avoids you having to leave the company to find another enjoyable role. However I do think eventually that undulated curve will start to fade and you might leave your role in the end.

The critical bit is then though that instead of leaving after for example 1 to 2 years you might stay for 5 or 8 years. (Time being relative to personality, industry, culture, etc).

Solution faults

Even if the company is aware of interest peaks, and want to mitigate their effects they might not always be able to.

In a small company there might not be any other team or project to move to. In a big company you might be insignificant or just too many to cater for so you are not moved around as often as needed.

Due to deadlines, business restrictions etc there might not be possible to move at the appropriate times.

Different people will have different gradient of curve and peak and companies will struggle to individually predict this.

These might lead to the negative cycle setting root and you resign.

Other issues are of course that changing everything around all the time is not appropriate either. 

It may not be good to do it too often, to do it to too many people at once, to unevenly change roles for some compared to others.  

People and teams do need some sort of stability so constant change is not good either.

Personal experience

I know that I go through these interest curves, and I have especially been taking notice of mine and others lately.

Whilst I do not like to change projects too often as I like to get a thorough knowledge of the domain and project, I know I also need new challenges once I have mastered a domain, technology and/or team to a sufficient level.

When I have worked with startups the curve has always been very steep, the peaks very high, but also the peaks come quickly and the need to change status quo come sooner.

When I worked with large enterprises the gradient was less steep as there was many things that took a long while to do, the technology was less challenging and pace slower. However I also reached the peaks later. But I think the productivity magnitude was much less.

As a consultant these peaks are not so much of an issue due to the normal change of clients and assignments. Some long term clients have even been helpful by moving me to new projects with them in the same assignment although perhaps less on purpose for my benefit, more for their business reasons. 

My beautiful better half reminded my last year when I was moaning about being bored at work. She pointed out that exactly a year before I had told her that I really need to step up my game as there was so much to learn in my new role and that I was loving it. I had clearly reached and passed my peak for that role. 


Peak interest happens to most people and companies. It is nothing to be ashamed about. It is in fact a nice and beneficial trait which needs to be managed.

Company need to embrace interest peaks. Let people move around the company. No questions asked. Encourage it. Better than haemorrhaging good employees, or let a bad vibe fester.

Avoid status quo. For instance make sure technology stack and skills keep continuously evolving even if not always great business value. Staff will stay interested and not need to leave find new challenges.

As an individual if you start to get bored in role, quickly request a change in your role. New project, new technology, new people, new role, whatever it is that will be a nice new challenge.


Of course productivity and reasons people leave jobs are very much affected by other factors. I do believe however that peak interest of learning and sharing does contribute to both enough for it to be a significant factor.

I do not have any specific scientific research (atm), just a personal opinion backed by reading over time of similar material. If you agree, disagree or have have any research to back it up then feel free to comment or link back.