We have all heard it said: money is king. There’s a song about it, a miniseries about it and even its own Facebook page. But no more. Move over money; there’s a new kid in town: knowledge. 

Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler foretold that the ability to acquire knowledge would be a key differentiator. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Michael Simmons, in a story on Medium.com titled “5-Hour Rule,” calls knowledge the new money. He says we are beginning a period of rapid demonetization, a term coined by futurist Peter Diamandis.

“Technology,” he says, “is rendering previously expensive products or services much cheaper or even free.”

A device for video conferencing in 1982 cost $586,904. Today, we video conference for free. A video camera cost $2,600 in 1981, and today it comes free with your phone. The encyclopedia cost $1,300 in 1989, but today it is free online.

“While goods and services are becoming demonetized, knowledge is becoming increasingly valuable,” according to Simmons. The great part about knowledge is that, unlike money, when you use it, you don’t lose it! Moreover, it could convert into things like authentic relationships and a feeling of well-being, the kinds of things money can’t buy.

There are some great side effects to acquiring knowledge. It helps you think bigger and better as your brain works more effectively. It expands your vocabulary, making you a better communicator. You could become more interesting and charismatic and possibly even more independent and handy, depending on what you decide to learn.

So how can you cash in on this knowledge economy? Apparently, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama know the secret. It’s called the “5-Hour Rule,” devoting five hours a week to learning and increasing your knowledge. Warren Buffett spent 80% of his time reading and thinking. Bill Gates reads a book a week and takes a two-week reading vacation each year. When he was president, Barack Obama spent one hour a day reading. Simmons says if you are not spending at least five hours a week learning something new, you are being irresponsible. Even if you work hard, if you don’t take the time to constantly and deliberately learn, you will be part of a new “at-risk” group simply because it’s hard to keep up in our rapidly changing world. Simmons is so serious about this he has created a webinar to help you, called “Learning How to Learn.” There is also a “Learning How to Learn” course on Coursera taught by Barbara Oakley, from the University of California San Diego, and Terrence Sejnowski, from the Salk Institute.

If the busiest people in the world find one hour a day to learn, shouldn’t you? As motivational speaker Simon Sinek says, “The hardest part is starting. Once we get that out of the way the rest of the journey is much easier.”

Simmons explains starting your learning ritual begins with three easy steps:

  • Make time to read even when you are overwhelmed and too busy
  • Stay true to your learning time—don’t procrastinate or get distracted
  • Apply the learning right away to help you remember what you learn.

In “Why the Best Leaders Are Full-Time Learners,” in Forbes, Kelsey Meyer, president and co-founder of Influence and Company, suggests:

  • Plan out your learning and have goals for what you want to learn.
  • Set aside time each day just for learning.
  • Read, read, read—including publications in your field as well as topics outside your area of expertise.
  • Reflect on your day—this is an important part of learning.
  • Listen to podcasts or books on tape. (Go to The Council’s Resource Center and watch a micro learning at ciab.com/talent-development/resource-center.)

Simmons likens continuous learning to the habits we form for our physical health. “Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins and steps per day and of aerobic exercise for leading a healthy life physically, we should be more rigorous about how we, as an information society, think about the minimum doses of deliberate learning for leading a healthy life economically.”

Knowledge is more important than ever, but lifelong learning is not a new idea. In a recent biography of Leonardo Da Vinci, his passion and commitment to lifelong learning is always apparent. He never considered his paintings finished, and he never saw an end to acquiring new knowledge. For him, the biography says, “Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears and never regrets.”

We may feel we can’t afford to take the time to learn new things, but the truth is we can’t afford not to! So take five!

McDaid is The Council’s SVP of Leadership & Management Resources. elizabeth.mcdaid@ciab.com