Hackathons for People

I love Hackathons and think they should be used for everything from IRS forms to anti-bullying solutions.

So how can hackathons work for people themselves?

A hackathon for people is to find help amplify or find solutions for one person’s work, because it’s great and you want to help spread or deliver their idea.

The idea of a Hackathon for People took shape as a friend and I were talking about someone in our community that has done a ton of good for other people but always let his needs or desires take a back seat.

What if we could get all kinds of people together from different expertise areas where he might be able to benefit and work to create outcomes for his long-term benefit?

This isn’t fundraising or anything – this is helping him do what he might not know how to do (build a website, edit a video) help him build momentum.  It’s also about teaching throughout the process so it isn’t just fishing for someone, but teaching to fish also.

It’s almost like Extreme Home Makeover, YC, TechStars, Trading Spaces, the Apprentice and Shark Tank all combine in service of helping someone that deserves it.

Who would you help, who else might want to help them?  Get to it.

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?

The Question Recorder

You can tell a lot about a group from the questions they ask each other and/or ask others outside the group.

Think of the power of uncovering insights based on the ability to document every question ever asked by or to a group/brand/person/etc and tracking all the context and meta data attached to it.  Being able to record the solution as well would make it even more powerful.

The potential builds off of the data–like an automatic FAQ creator or a prioritized list of focus areas based on number or type of questions–would be incredibly valuable as well.

At the end of the day, the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people that we will become.

-Leo Babauta

What else could we do with this data?

 

The Most Valuable Skills a Co-op or Intern Can Learn That You Help Create

What’s the most valuable skill you can learn as a college co-op on a six month assignment at a big company while you’re still early in your college career?  As a leader, what’s the experience you hope your co-op gets while they are in your group for those six months?

Let’s talk quickly about these types of positions then I’ll tell a quick story about the most important skills.

First let’s explore a few factors.

  • Co-op positions are great ways that both the student and the company can benefit.  Because they’re generally longer and have more depth than an internship there is the opportunity to develop, contribute, and learn more.
  • Co-op and intern programs are great ways that companies can start to develop future talent and build its incoming talent pipeline. Students with already in-company experience through internships and co-ops can sometimes hit the group running even faster because they have some prior experience in that type of environment.
  • Finally, co-ops generally provide a great resource for the team because they can help balance the workload of the other team members and take on lower level, yet important, work that would of usually been handled by more senior resources or just not done at all.

All that being said, would the most valuable skills that the co-op learned over her/his time be the day to day how to do this particular job skills?  No.

Would the skills and experience of “being professional” and working in an office environment and things like email etiquette be the most important? Good, but I don’t think they’re the most important.

The most important skills came to light for me thanks to a recent experience.  During the final week of a recent co-op’s last assignment (let’s call the co-op Bob for privacy’s sake) I had the fortune of having lunch and saying good bye to Bob. We talked about all he had experienced during his time at the organization, what it was like to be on certain teams, and what he thinks he learned during his time here.

After listening for a while I couldn’t stop smiling.  Not one of the things he talked about had anything to do with the particular day-to-day aspects of his job. He didn’t talk about how he now knew the internal homegrown system we used to track support requests and how happy he was to learn this random system. He didn’t talk about how he learned to use our conference room booking software and how excited he was to now use that software wherever he went. He did talk about things like learning about how big companies do things and about some important more tactical or traditional lessons, so that covered us on the common sense aspects.

The things he talked about that had me smiling had to do with what he learned about himself and what he was capable of.  He talked about gaining confidence and trust in himself and also about seeing the world in a whole new way.  He also talked about being given the seemingly impossible (in his mind) and working on making it happen.

He recounted examples of being given some ridiculous-sounding challenges (oops, opportunities) like “see if you can find a radio station in this particular area that we can take over for 4 hours with content of our choosing, 4 days from now, for free.”  Or, “it’s December and we need one of those jersey shore type banner trailing planes to fly right next to one of the busiest airports in the country with a customized message, while the sun is coming up.”  Now, to put this in perspective, co-op Bob’s role was for website-related stuff.

The way he summed it up was that when he was asked to do those ridiculous things (note: they were “business necessary”, just in an odd way that would take a whole different post to explain) he originally thought to himself “I have no idea what you’re even talking about, how the hell am I supposed to do that, where do I even start?”  By the end of his six-month experience, he said he felt like he could do anything.

He had been given the experience and, more importantly, the expectation of taking something seemingly ridiculous or impossible and making it happen. Thankfully, he also connected the last dot when he said “if I can do that, I feel like I can do anything.”

Learning about yourself and pushing the limits on what you’re capable of, building confidence and trust in yourself, and pushing to make the impossible happen are important skills for co-ops and interns early in their professional lives. Important things to make sure you’re trying to create for those you work with, with a safety net if things don’t work out completely.

I wonder if working on those types of skills would also be important for yourself as you progress further and further in your career?

A Different Kind of Niche Learning Site

Want to know a quick way to stand out in the increasingly crowded marketplace for online classes?  Get smaller, go niche.

Sure, you could take niche to mean “we’re only going to offer classes in this particular subject and be the absolute best source for online classes for that subject”.  Or you could take a page out of The Amazings and focus your niche on who actually provides your content.

The Amazings is a great site that is built on the idea that society has always learned from its elders and therefore is focused on having teachers that are over 50 years old.  A great niche concept that is sure to standout in the marketplace.  Hopefully it’s also going to be a site that helps get even more experienced expertise into the public.

So, what’s your niche?  What aspect of your online learning concept will you “make smaller” and focus on?  

How about a site where people in Corporate positions at large companies can teach others looking to excel in those types of positions?  Hmmmmm.

Stop Hoarding Your Work

A few days ago, I got an informational handout from a company that made me laugh. Basically, the bottom of the page featured the disclaimer: “Reproduction by any means is prohibited without permission. If you’d like to purchase copies of this handout please…”

This was from a consulting company that makes all of its money from in-person engagements with medium to large companies.

If you were running a consulting business and wanted to get more leads and help other people share how great you were as a company, wouldn’t you let people copy and distribute simple handouts? But let’s be clear. I’m not saying they should allow folks to steal their copyrighted information or intellectual capital.

The more your name and information is out there, the more chances you have to book an engagement.

What are you giving away?  What are you not giving away?  Worse yet, what are you scaring your existing customers from not sharing by means of your outdated policies?

Making Short Term Decisions to Long Term Problems

If the phrases “we just have to get through this next quarter” or “we just have to stabilize until the customers return and it goes back to the way it was” enter into the conversation when you’re about to make business decisions,  you should realize that you’re already starting your decision making process from the wrong place.

Many music companies and newspapers thought their customers were coming back and in order to survive all they had to do was “hold on” until things turned back to the way they were.

The customers aren’t coming back, it’s never going to be like it was, and the things affecting your business aren’t going away.

Relying on things to go back to the way they were is short term thinking. It’s easy to fall into that trap because the answers to short term problems are easy (layoffs to make a number for wall street, cutting R&D or relationship building expenses).

The challenge and opportunity is to focus on the real issues and plan how to survive long term. Long term thinking presents hard problems and forces harder conversations because it demands that you challenge what has made you successful in the past in order to thrive in the coming future.

You’ll only be in business for the long term, when you start to think and design for the long term.

Who’s Learning From You Right Now: Life Lessons from My Grandfather

They say the older you are, the wiser you get.  Luckily, I got to spend a good amount of time with my Grandfather when he was older and, after reflecting on what I learned during that time, it seems like he was incredibly wise.

Some of these lessons were reinforced in the summers I spent with him down the shore, but they all were consistent throughout my experience of his life.  That consistency and always being his true self was probably the main lesson.

Here are some of his most influential life lessons that you might be able to apply to your life as well:

Instructions and directions are optional.  No matter what it was he bought, he would never read the directions on how to put it together. He took the time to picture how something might work or be put together, then try.  The act of figuring something out on your own is much more rewarding and educational than following every direction.  I can’t tell you in how many ways this has influenced me, from being able to do an impromptu presentation at work, to being able to cook dinner out of whatever is in the fridge, or even feeling comfortable being dropped off in a foreign country without any set plans.

If you don’t know something, admit it and say you’re willing to learn. I vividly remember the phrase “I don’t know but I am willing to learn” being drilled into my head by my Grandfather as the right response when someone asked me a question about something I didn’t know.  I  believe the second part of that phrase, “I am willing to learn” is what stoked my lifelong passion for learning and my willingness to listen to people that know something I don’t.

Knowing how to build something will serve you for a lifetime.  He took the traditional apprentice route to learn his trade and by the time he had moved up in his career my Grandfather could build machines (for various things like ice making or refrigeration) out of almost anything.  When accidents and health issues forced him out of the formal workplace, he was able to continue to build and add value even without his employer giving him the tools.  Whether it was renovating our family’s house, fixing cars, or building furniture he continued to be building, fixing and piecing things together until the last days of his life. Just goes to show that learning how to build something means you’ll always be able to add value.

Be memorable. It wasn’t one specific thing or one trait of his personality that did it, but the combination of his genuine interest in other people, his ability to do something remarkable (or stupid and crazy like plunge over a dam… twice) and his overall good attitude that made him someone lots of people took the time to remember. It’s the series of interactions you have with someone over your entire experience with them that forms the impression, so make every one count.

Be a role model of hard work and don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do.  I hated when he would make me do hours of manual labor around the house or yard. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I never had an excuse or felt resentment because he was right there next to me doing the same thing. Don’t ask somebody to do something you wouldn’t.

Have rules. There were rules when we spent our summers down the shore, and when I broke them I was in trouble.  Sure, I hated many of them at the time, but now I can’t imagine what I’d be like today without some of that discipline.  Simple rules, like finishing all of my chores before I could go up the boardwalk, now show their face when I’m working on projects or need to get something done and keep working till it’s all done.

Be resourceful. This one is a little like “knowing how to build something” but it expands into having the ability to always find a way to create a positive outcome.  When a specific toy I wanted for Christmas was too expensive or sold out (as I later found out), he would figure out ways to create it.  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I now cherish a picture I have of a wrestling ring for my wrestling action figures that he made out of stuff around our house.  It reminds me that there’s always a way of making something happen or getting what you want – even when you have to find a new way to create it.

Label everything. This was just funny; he would put labels on everything.  Picture having the words hot and cold spelled out in marker above your shower faucets or when you walk in your basement there’s an index card hanging from every pipe labeling what it was and where it went.  If anything, it taught me to find little ways to make your life more efficient and not waste time trying to figure something out.

Do something satisfying or fun every day and find joy in it.  He played the lottery and did the dishes in our house every day I can remember.  He wasn’t doing it to win money or because he had some special dish washing skill. To him it was just something that he enjoyed doing and a chance for him to have a couple special minutes set aside each and every day.  With today’s constant barrage of changing demands and pressures, it would be nice to have those simple, routine, enjoyable things each and every day.

Think back on someone who influenced you growing up.  What did you learn from them without even knowing it?  How about today–are you taking the time and being a positive example for someone else in your life?

Improving the Annual Performance Review with Linkedin

As part of many companies’ annual performance review process, employees are asked to submit the names of people they have worked with so their bosses can ask for feedback. Cross-pollinating that with the Linkedin recommendation section may be an interesting way to add value or participation to the overall experience.

How would using a recommendation-like process and making the business partner feedback public on Linkedin as part of an annual review process

  • change how the employee works with that partner all year?
  • change how well or thought through the person giving the feedback comments?
  • change how much the employee takes and acts upon the feedback provided?
  • change the conversion rate of people asked for feedback vs. actually provided?
  • change the overall value of the recommendation section on Linkedin for people searching for potential hires?
  • change the type of people that wanted to work in your organization?
  • change if it’s viewable to all others that person has worked with that year vs. public?

It seems like an interesting experiment to increase the overall value of the feedback process for everyone involved. Of course, it might have some real pain points in the short term but if it doesn’t get “gamed” it could work out very well in the long run.