The Personal Development Commute

Activities like reading books and learning new skills are usually some of the first things to fall off someone’s to-do list. Unfortunately, they are also the very things that can change our lives. In relation to that, I often hear and have previously given the excuse of “I don’t have enough time”.

The trick then is finding time that you’re already spending and making it more productive and efficient. For instance, when I go into the office, I have a long commute in the car. Years ago I decided to use this No Extra Time (NET)–as Tony Robbins calls it–to do something productive.

Over the years, I have “read” hundreds of personal development and other books while I’m driving to work through books on tape, CD and now iPhone. I’ve learned Portuguese and refreshed my German language skills while driving the NJ Turnpike. I’ve picked up skills on  DIY projects while driving to the shore. The possibilities are endless.

The newer world of podcasts has opened up an entire new content universe of learning. Podcasts have been the biggest change in my personal development commute in the last ten years. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series – a classic where amazing people come to share in a class at Stanford.
  • Entrepreneur on Fire, John Lee Dumas – quick and a high level of energy, John address issues through conversation and interviews
  • Ask Altucher – James Altucher’s daily Q&A podcast
  • The James Altucher Show – Jame’s longer form weekly podcast interview series.
  • The My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast – great stories about the beginnings of online businesses, inspiring to hear about different people ‘starting.’
  • The #AskGaryVee Show –  I loveGary Vaynerchuk’s stuff and this has a great range of digital info and business insight in general.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – a little on the longer form side but Tim always comes at things from an interesting perspective.  Plus, just hearing Tim reminds me to think+do his other teachings.
  • Mad Marketing by Marcus Sheridan – the Sales Lion is one of my favorite finds in that he has absolutely amazing digital / business related content, but isn’t one of the  “brand names” in the field so it is even more real.
  • Accidental Creative – always great stuff about creativity, digital, etc..
  • Bigger Pockets Podcast – all about real estate investing.  I thought I knew about real estate and this is inspiring me in completely new ways in regards to real estate investing.

Next time you think to yourself, “I don’t have time to learn X,Y,Z” download a few podcasts or open a YouTube video and listen while you commute. 

Don’t Let the Big Picture Stop You

Recently, on two separate occasions and for two different reasons, I was asked to thoroughly explain how the tasks different people were being asked to do were connected to a bigger picture or master plan. On many occasions this makes total sense, but I believe in these two situations the people were using this as a way to escape from doing the work.

Sometimes you just have to start the task or project and get work done. Finding new and more creative ways to try and stop yourself from getting work done (like making it seem you’re trying to be strategic) is only hurting your progress.

In certain cases, you have to do one of the following:

  1. Remember that the person asking for the work understands the higher purpose
  2. Recall the discussion about the higher purpose at the beginning of the journey, or key it in to the organization’s mission
  3. Call bulls&^t on yourself and discover if it’s a hiding tactic

Climbing the tree and ensuring you know you’re headed in the right direction is important, but being on the ground and chopping through the woods efficiently and effectively is also important.

Know which role you play on the team and when you just want a break from chopping, that’s when the real magic happens if you can push through.

The Power Of The First Project

During a social network analysis class (not the Facebook type of social network), we were breaking down how work actually gets done in organizations when the instructor said,

“People in new positions fail because they don’t have the network needed to do their new job”

The quote meant a lot for me because I had just started a new role and because I have led groups that had new people in it many times. Finding out why some people in new roles fail and others thrive is very powerful information.

Relationships are key to getting work done in many organizations.

Here’s a great way to set up someone in a new role for success: make sure that the first couple projects they work on will increase the number of people they get to meet and start to build trust with in the new organization. Help them build a great network.

Maybe it’s not the most crucial project to the bottom line, but it could be the most crucial project to future success of the person you just hired, or yourself.

On Choosing A Path

Ten years ago I was coming back from a business trip and found my self waiting at the baggage claim for the bags to start coming out. I had just spent 2 weeks inside an office in the beautiful mountains near Grenoble, France.

It was an overnight flight, so I was a little groggy when all of a sudden two paths for my life became instantly clear. It was like a fork in the road, with brightly-lit signs for both paths, had appeared right there at baggage claim. Each of these paths were being represented by two distinct groups of people.

Path 1
To my left, two men and a woman were returning from the some major sporting event in Switzerland. They were waiting for their athletic equipment to come around the baggage carousel. They were in sneakers, athletic type wear, and appeared to be in the best shape of almost anyone I had seen before. They appeared to be older in age, but looked better than most people I knew who might of been 20 years younger. They were animated while they talked and laughed and were playing off of each other’s energy and had a camaraderie that was so strong it was apparent from even 20 feet away where I stood.

Path 2
On my right, three gentlemen were returning from some type of corporate business meeting. They were waiting for their bags, with their heads down staring into their blackberries (this was so long ago it was when blackberries were just starting to be ubiquitous). They didn’t seem to want to talk to each other, and they had slightly miserable scowls on their face. They seemed drained from the overnight flight. They had on these horrible 90’s type camel hair blazers on top of the standard corporate guy’s outfit of slacks and a blue button down shirt.

That’s when it hit me, without consciously choosing, I was more likely to end up down Path 2 than Path 1. 

I’m not even talking about the choice between being a top athlete vs. a corporate businessperson–I’m talking about the level of energy each group exhibited in their lives.

For years, I thought about having to choose between those two paths and used that story to talk about going towards one vs. the other. I know I didn’t want to end up the begrudged corporate miser staring at my blackberry (or iPhone) in a camel hair blazer, but I didn’t necessarily think it would be possible or even desire to train for the upper echelons of sport everyday, like I did for a period in college.

Not until very recently have I started to think “why not be both.”

What would it look like to have endless energy and engagement and focus of a Olympic-type athlete, but still engage in the work and opportunities of someone building a business?

What is the fork in the road that you’ve been thinking about for a while? Could you take the best parts of both and make something new?

Don’t have one or the other, have it all.

The Power of Small Comments

People often ask me how I was able to make the first switch within my Company from one group to another.  I had been in the IT group for about eight years at that point and then switched over into our Consumer Products Marketing group. Up until that time, going from IT to the Marketing group was not common and there might have only been one other person to do it before me, even though many talked about it.

While I’m sure my amazing abilities and born greatness for marketing had everything to do with it (sarcasm), one of the main factors was actually much simpler.

Shortly after starting to be the IT relationship leader for the Marketing group that I would eventually join, I went to an after-work happy hour event with the Marketing team.  While I was there, one of the senior leaders in the Marketing group and I started talking. I mentioned to him that “I had always wanted to try a position in the Marketing group.”

A year later, that same person called me up, reminded me of our conversation at the bar, and asked if I wanted a Marketing role within his team.

Because of that, I always try to remember the power of small comments:

  • never underestimate the power of a random / inconsequential conversation.
  • always seize an out of office conversation opportunity.
  • realize that the comments I make may have power, even if not immediately.
  • understand that people do remember what you say.
  • remember to communicate and tell people things that I want to happen.

So what can you tell someone about today?

Are You Living What You Expect In An Interview?

What questions did you ask the last candidate you tried to hire? What expectations did you have about what they would bring to the table and the types of leadership and results you expected to see? What were the things that made you want to choose the person you actually hired?

Now ask yourself, are you performing at the level that you expect or hope for in your job candidates? Are you expecting something from a new hire that you aren’t even doing yourself?

No, I don’t mean the actual tasks that are being performed by that new person, because it doesn’t mean that you should just take on more tasks. Didn’t you focus on more than just task execution in your interview?

Maybe it’s time to interview yourself.

Business Boot Camps

There are plenty of programs for students  to learn more about career choices and industries in their field (think internships and co-ops).  Why do businesses stop doing that for experienced people?

What if you could build a bootcamp / externship-type program for your business where you bring in talent from other industries to work in your space for a while?  What if you could even do this between the different groups within your company?

Do you think skills you have from working in one industry could be useful in another? There’s an easy way to find out once you find a company with this type of program embedded in the organization.

How else could you benefit from the knowledge someone else has in another field?

Learning How to Learn for A New Role

Taking on a new role in an organization or a new company is an interesting opportunity that can make people experience a myriad of emotions ranging from being charged up and motivated all the way to feeling imposter syndrome.

When the role is out of the traditional field or work that the person has been doing, or even in a new company, one of the key challenges the person faces is learning how to learn.

After being in a role or place for a while, a person develops the ability to know where to go for information, how to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what’s next in their respective field, or even where to start when they doesn’t initially know something.  When starting something or somewhere new, that usually has to be learned all over again.

The key then is knowing that, while initially obtaining certain specific information (like laws, codes, or processes) could be important to hit the ground running,  the focus for longer term success and growth in a new domain or place is really figuring out where to go to get the right learning.

Some of the vital places to look are standard industry or internal group resources that are readily available, but there are a myriad of less obvious resources as well. I like to search for people on twitter that have conversations or are well known in that field, and then see where they re-tweet information from or list as their sources. These types of resources are the ones that aren’t as obvious, but more valuable.

So, how do you learn where to learn from?  Who could benefit if you wrote out exactly how you’re learning in your current field? And would that process even surprise you? Any good tips on hacking the on-going learning process for a specific field?

Measuring Your Career Through Nervous Excitement

Are you taking the right risks in order to progress your career and your opportunity for learning?

When looking back at your career, can you remember the times where you were nervously excited because of a decision you had to make? Originally, I was going to call this post “measuring your career by gut wrenching moments” but I wanted to make the clear distinction between the negative insinuation of gut-wrenching vs. the positive excitement of nervousness, even though the right level of nervousness can still make your stomach churn.

When I’ve switched roles in my career I experienced a wide range of nervous excitement that occurred with every opportunity–all the way from zero to that feeling you get when you are sitting in the first car of a roller coaster and are about to take off.

Looking back, I can say that the times where I’ve had the highest levels of nervous excitement are the opportunities that generally led me to places of great learning and growth.

At first, it was hard to make decisions that generated a positive uneasy feeling. That feeling made me question the opportunity and take a harder look. Over time–thanks to the impact, learning, and growth from those decisions–I’ve learned to embrace that feeling and take it as a good sign.

Secondly, I examine what it is about certain activities, jobs, or project opportunities that generates that feeling, compared to the seemingly same activities or opportunities that don’t give me that feeling so I can be more aware of what motivates and interests me. It’s interested to discover which opportunities initially interest me vs. ones that don’t. I’m learning more about what drives me and where I can have the most impact.

So, how many times have you been nervously excited by an opportunity? How did it turn out?  Even if it didn’t work out great, did the learning from that help in the long run?  Could you base your next career move off of what scares you?

Being Positive or Negative in an Interview

Did you ever get the type of interview question that asks for your opinion on what that company could do better or what you would change about XYZ product?

As I’ve asked that question to someone I’m interviewing and have been asked that question as the person being interviewed, I’m always interested to see whether the answer comes across as positive or negative.

And I still debate in my head about which one is “better”.

Don’t get me wrong, when I’m interviewing someone I don’t want them to be all pie-in-the-sky and disingenuous and say everything is perfect and we should just keep doing what we’re doing (too positive), but when I’m answering the question and going into detail about things I would change I can’t help but to feel like I’m too negative.

Once, an interviewer from Amazon asked me how I would change a particular category at Amazon. Instead of commenting on the actual things that were implemented (both ideal and not ideal), I described how I would try to make the category better through entirely new services and offerings.  In this case I felt like it was a win-win because I wasn’t necessarily critiquing something that existed but it was something to improve overall. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it seemed to work at that moment.

What’s your strategy when answering those types of questions?  What do you prefer to hear when you’re asking those questions?