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. 

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.

The Benefits of Serving Others

As I write this I’m sitting on the famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil about to go watch the World Cup 2014 match of Spain v. Chile at the fan fest down the street. In a few days I’ll attend the Russia v. Belgium World Cup Match in Maracana Stadium in Rio. My trip here, my hotel on Copacabana beach and all the World Cup games were completely free for me. The only reason I am here is that 22 years ago I decided to join the Community Service Corps in my high school and it has impacted every part of my life ever since.

Doing things for others is what has given me everything I believe is great in my life.

Doing community service is the way I met my wife, is how I paid for my college, taught me almost everything I know about working with people, showed me elements of the world I would have never of seen, taught me countless life and day to day lessons, helped me appreciate what I have, and way too many other things to name.

The lessons I learned helping others through community service are the lessons I use every day at work and at home. It’s even helped me learn how to organize a great party. Here’s a few more things it helped with:

  • The skills I learned building homes for Habitat for Humanity help me fix things around my house, and recognize how lucky I am to even have a house.
  • The tactics it took to teach a group of kindergartners on a Navajo reservation are things I use to keep my kids engaged.
  • The organizing principles of fundraising and organizing I learned organizing Dorney Park trips in high school are what helped me start a non-profit group.
  • Starting a non-profit group has helped me learn what it takes to run a small company, and how to engineer programs that have sustainable impact not reliant on one person or funding source.

Marketing, finance, leadership, quality, human resources, creativity, innovation, sales, and just about every other “business skill” I’ve wanted to develop in life have been presented as an opportunity from the different community service programs I’ve been involved in.

Most importantly, throughout all my experiences I’ve learned to be incredibly grateful for what I have, to care for others, and realize that the world is a lot bigger than what I might see everyday.

Given all this, I wonder why it’s not more popular. Why do more kids sign up for little league vs. girl or boy scouts? Why do more parents prefer their kids to be on the school’s sports team vs. the school’s community service group? Why do professional sports players make more than non-profit CEO’s?

And yes, I didn’t play many sports throughout my school years and do believe there are good qualities to being on those teams, but in comparing it to what I know about sports in terms of developing young people, I would say that community service is much more impactful. Yes, sports teaches many valuable lessons, but usually the opportunity to be involved with organized sports wanes after high school or college years. You can continue serve others forever.

Also, many people get involved with sports in the hopes that they, or their kids, will get some type of scholarship or end up on a professional sports team. Well, there’s only so many members of professional sports teams so your chances are pretty slim. However, there’s no limit to the number of people who could be doing something to change the world, so you have a great chance of being able to do that.

I’m even thankful for how I was introduced to the idea of helping others. My mom volunteered for the Red Cross and would help families get back on their feet. When I was just a little kid, I remember my mom getting calls at night when a home would catch fire or some other reason a family needed help. I distinctly remember her trying to collect clothes (by taking some out of her closet) for some people who just lost all of theirs. I didn’t necessarily ‘do’ anything related to Community Service for a number of years after that, but having that type of role model is what led me to do the things that have built the rest of my life.

How will you be a role model for helping others? Where will it take you, and where will it take the person you influence?

As for now, I’m off to the beach to watch the game–which I happened to win during a contest at work that celebrated people who did caring acts for others. Sure, the material type things that you can get out of doing acts of service are nice – like the random contest win – but the things it’s changed in me are worth a million times more.

Get involved. Go Serve.

Using Urgent for Urgent’s Sake

One particular summer Friday a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be working from a remote location at a beach town.  I wasn’t supposed to be working that day, but an “urgent” (in quotes because it was someone else’s definition of urgent) project meeting came up that was four hours long that I “had” to attend.  We were told to have the meeting urgently because it was described as a critical meeting to get something designed and moving that HAD to be completed immediately.

Beach towns aren’t always the greatest at WiFi connectivity (thankfully) so I had to ride my bike around town till I found a spot with internet connectivity. I sat on a rickety chair in the town library for the next five hours taking part in the meeting. Thankfully, because I was already at the beach, I could put the meeting out of my mind about ten minutes after it was over as next steps could wait till Monday.

Fast forward to that same weekend, one year later, and as I drove into that beach town again for the first time in the season I saw the library building and immediately had flash backs to that meeting–the meeting that had to get done on that particular day, because we had to get the project moving immediately.

Quickly my flash back turned into a great teaching moment as I realized that while it was now a year later, that particular project had still not started and was still having “urgent” meetings.

I just drove by that library again this season, and now every time I see it it becomes a great lesson in building trust with a team and how taking action to move a project forward is usually better than just talking about doing something.

Online Learning Team Building Platform

I’ve been thinking about how to strengthen online teams… Many online courses require participants to form teams to complete some of the work. There are two ways to go about this:

  1. Create a team of people you already know
  2. Join a diverse team of strangers supplied by the platform

If you’re with your friends and colleagues, team building aspects may not be an issues. But if you’re on a new diverse team, you might benefit from some additional team building activities.

Instead of nesting team building activities into each separate online platform, why not build a platform that specializes in creating stronger bonds between online teams for the purposes of coursework? Then the teams could utilize this new team building platform for becoming a better team, and the learning platform can focus on being a better learning platform.

What would you do to help online teams get stronger?

 

Instant Meeting Feedback

Have you ever ran a half day, all day or multi-day meeting and wanted to get better live feedback about how it was going? Would you like to receive real time feedback about your performance, without disrupting whatever was happening?  What are some ways you could receive this type of instant feedback, and make it as simple and non-disruptive as possible?

What if…?

What if you handed everyone a red, yellow and green card at the start of the meeting and asked that at any point in time a participant would put one of the cards on the table to indicate their feelings.  What if everyone vote at every break?  What if it’s an app that people can click their feedback and it gets aggregated to a continuous monitor on your screen?

Incredibly simple ideas, but the start of what could be very powerful and even more elegant ideas to immediately improve your process and outcomes.

The main idea is that you should start to ask for more instant feedback.

 

Student Learning Profiles

Increasing the effectiveness of learning is a major opportunity to improve the entire world. There are many great ideasprograms, leaders, and schools working towards making education better for the future but there are many more ideas and opportunities to try and amplify that work.

Here’s a simple one that could improve learning for each and every child.  In the school system I attended for the first 6 grades we stayed in the same classroom all day, for the next 2 grades it was basically a rotation between 3 teachers. Therefore, each kid in the class spent a lot of time with one specific teacher and the teacher got to know each student closely. Even through four years of high school, my teachers had the opportunity to get to know specifics about each of us in the one or two classes we had with them.

Great teachers recognize that each kid in their class may have a different learning style and offer multiple ways of explaining a lesson so that each kid has the opportunity to absorb it in a way that makes most sense for them. Also, over the course of a year that teacher gains very valuable insight into the learning style, ability, and many other factors that contribute to a kids performance.

Sure, there are charts and records that each student has on file with the school and teachers fill out information about each student – but how about a more open and collaborative approach?

What if the child had an online profile, with all of their teachers over the years as contributors to build a profile of the child’s individual learning styles and insights.

This way, when Teacher P finds out that Student J is very visual when it comes to math they will contribute that knowledge to Student J’s learning profile. Then Student J’s parents could understand their child’s learning style, the next year’s teacher will know that from Day 1, and eventually the child could know that themself.

Once presented with information like that it would be easier to link to methods and use styles that related to that student individually, thus accelerating their performance.

We’re already tracking tons of useless information through online profiles and websites, why not track learning information and use that to provide resources to help all those involved in educating a child?

What else would you add/do to this type of system? How could this transfer to work opportunities?

 

The Hard Question Finder

One of the best ways to improve anything is to find the right and hard questions to work on addressing. The toughest part of that strategy is identifying what those hard questions are. Too many times the person that needs to address that question is so bogged down in the actual thing that wants/needs to be improved that they are blind to what the hardest questions are.

Instead of a suggestion box, we need hard question boxes.

What if the group/person/organization had a way to specifically ask for insight into what those hard questions could be from reputable sources?

Suggestions mean that the person submitting thinks they know the answer, a hard question box gives the actual owner(s) of the thing being addressed the chance to see the areas that could be addressed then decide what/how to address them. Of course, they could always open up for suggestions, too.

How else could you identify the hardest things to work on, because chances are those are the most important as well.

**This is related to the The Question Recorder

Failure Awards

Very similar to Beg Forgiveness Cards

How about creating an awards program in your group specifically to highlight failure.

Celebrating success is great, but celebrating failure could just lead to better success.

What else do you need to celebrate in your group to help entice more of that behavior?

 

Beg Forgiveness Cards

Getting your team to believe that failure is an option or that taking prudent risks are OK is sometimes hard.  Most people in a work environment are trained to believe that things need to work out correctly all the time.

If you’re trying to get your team to live into the phrase “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission” maybe you can help accelerate their adoption of this with “Beg Forgiveness Cards.”

Think of little business cards that simply say “I took a risk and it didn’t work out. I am begging for forgiveness.”

Give out 2 or 3 to your team per year as a way to signal that they have a free pass to try something they think is risky, even if it does fail.  Maybe even include a line on the back like “and the thing I learned was ______.”

This shows that even when someone messes something up they can learn from it as well. After some time, you can display the collected cards for everyone to see what was learned and increase the overall risk tolerance of your group.

What other types of cards could people use at your office?  What could this little piece of “permission” unlock in your organization?