There is no substitute for performance. Your fundamental responsibility at work is to master the work you’ve been given. Once you master that work, it is your responsibility to continually suggests ways that you can improve the work for yourself and others; otherwise, you risk becoming a complacent master of mediocrity.
If you ever become too good or too smart to learn, you are in serious trouble. In his book “Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager.” Gary Latham has this to say about the difference between performance and learning goal orientations:
People with a performance goal orientation paradoxically lack a high performance mindset, because they focus too much on their performance. Their goal is to look good in the eyes of others. As a result, they actively avoid situations in which they run the risk of seeming incompetent. Instead, they seek assignments in which they can perform effectively. On the other hand, people with a learning goal orientation seek to master new skills and knowledge. Consequently, they enjoy challenging, difficult projects. They even seek constructive criticism…Constructive criticism enables people to learn from the errors they make. (p. 71).
Encourage your people to take on new projects or otherwise work in ways where they are continuously trying new things. Don’t accept an approach to work where people never make mistakes. When people try new things, never punish them for the mistakes they make. Instead, help them learn to see the mistake as a beneficial opportunity for improvement.
You are never relieved of the personal responsibility to continuously learn and improve. Working for someone that does not encourage you to learn is certainly an obstacle, but never an excuse.
“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage” (Peter Senge quoting Arie De Gues). Take care not to perform yourself into a hole so deep you forget how to climb out.