I once watched a boss tell a subordinate to keep an eye on new technologies so he could envision what the network would look like in a year. He told another to think 3 years out. It’s good advice. We work in tech, things change rapidly and with the right attitude and priorities any one of us can be a powerhouse for progress in our corner of the universe.
The problem is that boss never included either employee in any discussions on the future of the network, let alone the decision-making process. He tended to go into a room with his boss and shut the door, emerging when all the planning was finished to hand out assignments. Whether it was advice or a formal request, telling his subordinates to devote time to planning the network was reminiscient of telling them to learn Gaelic. Their lips pursed into tight smiles that stopped well short of their eyes, and they nodded. But it’s not relevant to their lives. Even if they wanted to learn Gaelic, they had 900 other tasks standing in the way.
If a busy person manages to find a spare hour to learn about something, the rational choice is to pick something that absolutely tickles them, or something they need to stave off immediate pain. You may want them to learn about Software-Defined Networking (SDN), but that busy person instinctively understands that their one hour is a precious resource and if there’s no SDN on their network it makes no sense to read about it.
The solution isn’t to chastise your direct reports for reading blogs about Blacksmithing instead of Packet Pushers, it’s to engage them. People are phenomenal at figuring out when they won’t be held accountable for knowledge, at which point they’ll forget it or skip learning it in the first place. That’s not a flaw, it’s an evolutionary trait that kept us alive for 10s of thousands of years. If you want someone to pay attention to something you have to make it relevant to them.
In this case that means scheduling planning meetings, explaining what the business needs and wants from IT, and asking for their input. The type of person who can configure BGP is the type of person who will reflexively begin untangling problems you drop in their path. Use that. Don’t use them, use their curiosity. Don’t hand down decrees, tell them what you want to accomplish and let them run with it. The result will be an employee who unconsciously commits to their job.
Telling a busy worker to go study things they’ll never use is a lose/lose proposition. You won’t get what you want from them, and they’ll feel like you’re assigning them frivolous homework. Tell them you need a mock up of a solution in a lab (and free up some time for them to accomplish it) because it could dictate what the network looks like next year and you’ll get your results.