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. 

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?

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?

 

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?

 

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?