Learn Something Unrelated. Kick Your Career Up a Notch.

Learning something new gets our attention. It reminds us we have skills to build on,

By: Alan L

dormant interests ready for the light, and talents (latent or otherwise) screaming for an outlet.

It you want to build self-confidence and give your career trajectory a shot in the glutes, find something unrelated to your job and learn it.

Embrace the counterintuitive.

We’re told at work that we need to develop our skills and expand job knowledge. We’re scheduled for training classes, assigned reading, and sometimes told to find a mentor.

We do all that, work hard to master tasks, and wonder why we don’t feel like we’re really growing.

The sad fact is that most employee development programs aren’t geared to releasing our creative energies, raising self-awareness, or expanding the reach of our experiences.

Expansive growth comes from realizing more about ourselves by learning something new, with all the discovery and surprise it brings.

Learning opens gates of knowledge, skill, and awareness. It’s liberating. You decide and commit to what you want to learn, how, and when. Every piece of it reveals something important to you and about you:

  • Can I learn this new information or skill? Do have the aptitude?
  • Do I like doing what it takes to learn it?
  • Is it what I thought it was before I got started? Do I want to stick with it?
  • I never thought I could learn about or do this.
  • I wonder where this new knowledge might take me.
  • I’m meeting new and interesting people who share my interests.
  • I’m developing transferable skills and experiences, building self-confidence.

Each of us brings to our jobs creativity, insight, and connections that complement the performance skills our work requires. To enrich that, we need to keep learning and exposing ourselves to worlds outside of work.

Get started.

Learning is a forever part of our lives if we want it to be. If you’ve been a bit lax, there’s no time like the present to restart your learning engines.

It’s often easier to say, Just do it, than to act. We often feel awkward about committing to a direction when it’s not what our friends or family expect from us.

You can’t let the opinion of others get in your way. After all, learning is about exploring. It’s not like you’re quitting your job to join the circus. You’re just deciding to learn about or how to do something new, something you’re curious about, have always dreamed of trying, or something that takes you out of your comfort zone.

Hey, if you don’t like it, just move on to something else. The key is to pursue something that makes you feel like you’ve added a new component to all that is you.

Learning is about head and heart. It adds insight, experience, connections and even uniqueness. In terms of your career, you’re differentiating yourself, making yourself more interesting, revealing yourself as creative, adventuresome, inventive, and multidimensional.

If you’re still a bit fuzzy about the possibilities, here’s a wildly ranging list of new things to learn that might spark your imagination. Consider learning how to:

  • Play the accordion
  • Use power tools
  • Show cats/train dogs
  • Grow orchids
  • Fossil hunt
  • Write a memoir
  • Raise bees/make honey
  • Become a storyteller
  • Make sushi
  • Learn a foreign or computer language

Each one of these ideas is an opportunity to build one or more career-essential skill outside of your job like: attention to detail, dependability, communication, safety, technical know-how, process management, planning, organizing, and risk-taking. There’s nothing better than growing your skills doing something fun.

Stay committed. Keep reaching.

When I sign copies of my book, Business Fitness, this is my standard inscription: Stay committed. Keep reaching. That’s what your commitment to learning helps you do. Your career is a product of your efforts to expand  yourself and to capitalize on all that you bring to your job. Learning is a faithful friend. Partner up and enjoy the rewards.

 

 

 

 

Just Not the Creative Type, You Say? Don’t Believe the Myths.

Since, as a writer, I’m fascinated by creative expression, I jumped at the invitation to read Myths of Creativity 9781118611142_p0_v2_s260x420and blog about the new book by David Burkus, The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, released today. It’s a fascinating and liberating book.

Our bosses are famous for asking us to come up with:

  • A better process for handling customer complaints
  • New copy for the company’s “About” page
  • A promotion to increase sales
  • Ideas to improve morale

They tell us we need to be innovative if we want to advance, get good performance ratings, and be rewarded.

You say to yourself, “I’m not the creative type. I just do my job…on the phones/in production/in tech support.”

Then your boss says, “I need your contribution by Friday.”

End of conversation. Beginning of panic.

Relief arrives.

David Burkus provides the oxygen we need to clear our heads about creativity. In his new book, The Myths of Creativity, he debunks what we have come to believe about creativity and creative people. He shows us that we’re all creative and how.

He writes:

We don’t need to rely on belief in an outside force to generate great ideas. We have everything we need inside ourselves.

Most of us think of creativity as being the domain of painters, musicians, writers, and movie makers.

Burkus reminds us that:

Creativity is …the process of developing ideas that are both novel and useful.

You do that…me too.

But he also reveals something very important about what it takes to tap into and realize our creative potential at work.

Creativity in the form of innovation requires four things that are aligned:

  • Domain-relevant skills (…expertise)…the knowledge, technical skills, or talent an individual possesses in a given domain [area]….
  • Creativity-relevant processes…the methods people use to approach a …problem and generate solutions….
  • Task motivation…the willingness to engage…passion….
  • Social environment…[which] can either positively or negatively affect creative expression….

Think about how much freer your thinking is at work when you can draw on what you’re good at, using good problem-solving methods around a task you care about, in a work environment that suits you. Heaven!

Burkus adds:

Both expertise and creative methodology can be taught….Everyone can generate great ideas.

Debunking myths

Creativity myths exist because we let them. Sometimes we actually want them to be true to get us off the hook or give us an excuse to stay in our comfort zones.

Some myths have been so ingrained  that companies adopt and perpetuate them, not to their benefit.

The myths Burkus covers erase our excuses and relieve our anxieties. He explains them straight up and provides eye-popping, real-life business examples that stick.

The ten myths are the:

  • Eureka Myth
  • Breed Myth
  • Originality Myth
  • Expert Myth
  • Incentive Myth
  • Lone Creator Myth
  • Brainstorming Myth
  • Cohesive Myth
  • Constraints Myth
  • Mousetrap Myth

The Expert Myth strikes a loud chord. If you think you need to be the smartest one in the room to come up with the best idea, then heed this Burkus point:

The Expert Myth argues that the hardest problems are solved by the brightest minds in the field, but the evidence counters with a different argument. The people who solve tough problems are often from the edge of a domain. They have enough knowledge to understand the problem but don’t have a fixed method of thinking..[so] they possess the creative ability to find the right solution.”

If you also think that creative ideas are the product of individuals touched by the Muse, Burkus  challenges that too:

…the Lone Creator myth…[is]…the belief that creativity is a solo performance and that the story of innovations can be told as the story or a single person working fervently on the new idea.

He shares little known information about Thomas Edison, more promoter and team leader than lone inventor, to make his point:

Too often…we prefer to recognize only one person for an outstanding creative work. This isn’t just a selective revision; it’s a fabrication.

Free yourself up

The Myths of Creativity frees us from our self-imposed limiters. Burkus’ myths can be found in nearly every company and are felt by most of us–mere employee mortals doing our jobs.

By discarding the myths, no matter what job you do, you can better use your creative, innovative thinking to make a process, a product, or a system better. Kudos to you!

Prepared for the Job Interview Finale? Getting Caught Off-guard Can Kill Your Chances.

It’ll get you every time. That last question in a job interview that catches you off guard.job interview 131426

Serious job candidates spend lots of time preparing what they’ll say to make a positive impression on the interviewer.

They work hard to:

  • Anticipate the questions to be asked and the experiences they’ll draw on to answer them
  • Master the behavioral interview process (those situation, steps taken, and results/outcomes responses)
  • Deliver concise and precise answers, clearly articulated
  • Conduct themselves in ways that respect the company’s culture; dress appropriately
  • Demonstrate a calm and comfortable demeanor, even though they’re nervous

You do this because at least 80% of the interview is about you presenting yourself as the candidate of choice.

And then, when you least expect it, there’s one more question. Your answer becomes the tag line of your interview.

Nail it and raise your value. Blow it and wonder.

Seize the moment

At the end of your interview, anticipate that the tables will turn. In a blink, the control will switch from the interviewer to you.

It happens when the interviewer poses this simple question to you:

Do you have any questions for me?

The second you have a deer in the headlights look, you’ve set yourself back. It will be plain that you haven’t given a thought to anything beyond the vacancy itself.

If you recover like a slingshot by asking about salary, benefits, time off, training, and promotional opportunities, you’re cooked. The interview isn’t the time for those questions. You ask them when you’ve been given an offer.

The interviewer’s question can feel like a kind of sucker punch. It quickly reveals whether or not you see the job only in the context of your personal needs or as an opportunity for you to  contribute to the success of the organization.

Consequently, the questions you ask the interviewer have the potential to differentiate you from other candidates in a big way. If your questions are lame, shallow, or vague, you   won’t learn much and the interview will end on a flat note.

The object of your questions is to demonstrate your interest and intelligence while getting valuable information about the company’s culture, competitive challenges, and/or role in the community.

The best questions will engage the interviewer in the kind of conversation s/he would likely have with a business colleague. In short order, s/he may forget you are a candidate and momentarily consider you a coworker. That may very well give you a serious leg up.

Nail it.

In order to nail that last question, you have to prepare for it by learning all that you can about the company before the interview.  Then come to the interview equipped with your questions.

Have them ready when you are asked. But if you are NOT asked at the end of the interview, pause and say, “I have a few questions for you. Do you have the time to answer them for me.”

If the interviewer’s answer is no, that tells you a lot about the company. If it’s yes, you’re gold.

Your questions should specifically fit the company and the opening. Here are a few to give you an idea of a direction to take:

  • I understand that the vision/mission of the company is XYZ. Are there specific organizational performance goals that have been established for this fiscal year that  you can share with me now?
  • What is required by your employees to achieve those goals?
  • In what way does this vacancy, when filled, help the company achieve one or more of  those goals?
  • In order to help the company grow, are there specific projects that would be a natural outgrowth of this job?

There is a sequential progression to these questions which demonstrates your intelligence, insight, and strategic awareness.

You may, in fact, catch your interviewer off guard with your questions more than likely, in a positive way.  When you’re given an opportunity to step up to the plate. take a big swing. Then go ahead and knock it out of the park.

Photo via freedigitalphotos.net

Get Ahead by Getting Over Yourself | Perceptions Count

sad businesswomanSelf-awareness is your friend.  Self-absorption your enemy.

Being fully cognizant of your skills and behaviors as they play out in the workplace is empowering. Being excessively involved in your own self-interests isn’t.

Self-awareness starts with humility. At work, it’s not all about you or me. It’s about the value you bring, with the needs of the work being more important than your needs.

If this sounds harsh rather than obvious, then you may want to rethink the way you see yourself in your job. It may mean the difference between getting ahead, going nowhere, or heading out the door.

Replace ego with we-go.

Jobs can be hard to come by these days, even though it’s been shown that we change jobs every 4-5 years. Reasons for changing are many, but usually it’s because advancement opportunities seem unlikely or we don’t “fit” what our jobs require.

Too often no one is leveling with you about why you’re unlikely to advance or giving you the feedback you need to “fit” the work successfully.

Sometimes you don’t get that feedback because your boss or coworkers sense that your ego–your self-absorption–is impenetrable. They suspect you’ll get defensive, resistant, or so emotional that their message won’t get through. So they take the avenue of least resistance and say nothing, assuming you’ll just self-destruct.

Workplace success is about “we,” as we-go, you go.

Self-awareness begins the cure for self-absorption. Looking at your behavior as it appears to others can be difficult, but if you want to build a sustainable career path, it’s essential.

Ask yourself and then others whose opinions you respect (not just those who will tell you what you want to hear) if you may come across as:

  • Needy–always wanting others to assist you
  • Insecure–continually asking for approval, praise, reinforcement
  • Superficial–caught up in what everyone will think about you
  • One-upping–stealing the show, taking credit, puffery
  • Shallow–being thin-skinned, over-reacting, defensive
  • Self-centered–making everything about you, selfish

None of these behaviors are terminal for your career. You just need to know how to wean yourself from them, since they aren’t doing your career any good.

Bring it.

We’ve gotten accustomed to living in a so-me world. Social media was lured us into creating our own personal celebrity on line. We are constantly out there telling the world to:

Look at me. Listen to me. Read me. Follow me.

The fact is that at work:

It’s not all about you. But a part of it is.

You were hired because you’re especially good at something important to the job.

It may be:

  • A skill–modifying software, writing snappy marketing copy, organizing documents
  • Subject matter knowledge–operating procedures, compliance regulations, PR
  • Abilities–writing, public speaking, defusing conflict, sales

Zero in on your strengths and knock yourself out developing them to their fullest. Bring those strengths to your work, volunteer to contribute them to other projects, and tell your boss that you’re more than willing to help out whenever those capabilities are needed.

Now it’s not about you; it’s about what you’re contributing to the company, your colleagues, and your boss. That’s the personal brand you want.

Be ready.

You get noticed for what you do well and consistently without complication or drama. You get ahead when others come to depend on you for your expertise, ask for your help, and recognize the value you bring.

As you build your core skills, you’ll also be developing new ones which will add to your arsenal. When what you’re about is not about yourself but about work, you’re career will soar. Be ready.

Photo from inspiredgiftofgiving.com

Getting Nowhere In a Hurry? Take a New Route. | Manage Your Day-to-Day

It’s wonderful when a book moves me to recalibrate my routine and reclaim my creative goals. That’s what happened when I was invited to read and blog about Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U. This book delivers the goods as  the structure, content, and style harmonize. I keep it within reach.

We work hard to find the right job and even harder to progress in it. manage_book

So, it’s discouraging when our days feel:

  • Harried or unsatisfying
  • Repetitive or fragmented
  • Controlled by the needs of others
  • Menial and incomplete

The hours can be long and the unrelenting demand for information exhausting.

There’s an edge to our days when we’re concerned that we’ll miss something and inadvertently disappoint the expectations of others.

Working your way

You’re the one who controls the way you use your work day. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. It comes down to setting boundaries, adopting right habits, and managing the expectations of those around you.

Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U, targets the drags on your time and psyche through short, tightly focused articles by 21 accomplished business people, writers, and academics who get at the heart of big issues and provide realistic ways for change.

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, writes in the foreward:

No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind and energy are yours and yours alone. You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.

The book unfolds in four sections that become the routes for a career going somewhere.

Route #1: Build a Rock-Solid Routine

All routines aren’t necessarily productive. We can spend a lot of time checking devices, meeting with people, and walking the floor, believing that somehow we’re capturing essential information we need for..well…something.

Mark McGuinness, author and creative professionals coach, advises:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

Reactive work is all that checking.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project,  reminds us to protect the time needed for creative work if we want to produce something of worth.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently…frequent work makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality….    

Route #2: Find Focus in a Distracted World

Differentiating ourselves is essential to our career growth. It’s how we stand out from the crowd to demonstrate our uniqueness and creativity.

Consider this point by Jocelyn K. Glei:

In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge–and an opportunity–to keep your eye on the prize.

Our ability to manage distraction to enable our creativity to flourish means we’ve conquered the paradox noted by Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University:

Increasingly, creative minds are torn in two opposing directions. We’re asked to apply our intellectual capital to solve hard problems….At the same time, we’re asked to be constantly available by email and messenger and in meetings…..

Route #3:Tame Your Tools

In every career there are tools of the trade; pros know how to use them effectively. Technology, both a social and practical tool, challenges our decision-making and self-control.

Jocelyn K. Glei reminds us that:

Technology should be a tool, but if we do not keep our wits about us, it can easily become our taskmaster…It’s easy to blame the tools, but the real problem is us.

So each time you reach for a device, ask yourself: “Why and why now?”

Route #4: Sharpen Your Creative Mind

What we want from our work most often is the freedom to make a difference, to produce something useful, and to be creative.

Design professional, Stefan Sagmeister says it best:

If you want to do projects that you really love, you have to be aware of how difficult they are to do. For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think….we don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have the time, because we don’t want to challenge ourselves.

Re-claim your time

Time is precious and limited. What we do with ours is our choice. It’s time to break our bad habits and dig into the work that will ultimately fulfill us. Taking control of our time day-to-day is immensely empowering.

The Pain of Being Singled Out at Work. | Ending Ridicule As Entertainment

Being singled out for our flaws can become our worst nightmare.single out 73348258_07c1515a72_m

Self-criticism is bad enough. Consider how often you  tell yourself that you’re:

  • not smart or likeable enough
  • too quiet and socially awkward
  • too young or old to fit in
  • too self-conscious to lead

It gets worse when others single you out for the differences they see:

  • You don’t look, talk, or act like them.
  • You have work habits that are different (solitary, serious, or scattered).
  • You’re too chummy, chatty, or distant with others.
  • Your eating habits, work station appearance, or break time routines are atypical.

What you see as uniqueness can be dubbed a “flaw,” depending on who’s watching and judging.

Everyone’s watching

We live in a world where everyone’s watching us, often recording our actions for any number of reasons. And we’re watching back.

Some people like the attention and others don’t. With all this watching comes judgment.

Over the years, it’s somehow become okay to form and express opinions about people at work and elsewhere based on snapshot observations intended to “portray” them. Social media has provided broad and instantaneous platforms for this.

It’s become easy to express disrespect, demean, and label our coworkers by “sharing”  and re-sharing snippets of conversations (“Here’s snarky Grace at it again.”), forwarding emails (“Bert’s stupidity about how to make quota is so obvious.”), or posting images (“Can you believe that Myra wore this horrid outfit to the meeting?”).

Opportunities for ridicule abound and it’s time to stop it.

Be aware of yourself.

As our deficiencies are being noticed and judged, we’re unwittingly judging others.

At work, we want to secure, protect, and/or advance our position in the organization.  We can see our coworkers as either supportive teammates or threats to our status, even when they may not be.

Fear, insecurity, and desire to feel powerful often lead coworkers to undermine their colleagues. It often starts as teasing before it accelerates into direct or indirect ridicule, bullying, or harassment.

When we observe someone else being ridiculed, we can feel a few things:

  • Relief that it’s not us
  • Humor or justification depending on the situation
  • Horror at the unfairness
  • Compulsion to stop it

What we do in the moment or even afterward, tells us a lot about ourselves.

Ridicule reveals our dark side: Its unfairness is made evident when knowing the other side.

Case in point:

Recently, a  muscular man attending a major league baseball game was captured on camera  trying desperately to open a plastic water bottle.

He  struggled mightily with the bottle, even using his shirt for a better grip, to no avail. He eventually returned the unopened bottle to the vendor.

Sportscasters on ESPN and many other news outlets played and replayed this tape incessantly, laughing at, and yes, ridiculing this fellow’s:

  • Workout regime and gym
  • Actual strength/muscles
  • Attempt to use his shirt for a grip
  • Struggling attempts and then giving up

This was a very nice guy who you can see in this video from his Today Show appearance. He was simply trying to:

  •  enjoy a baseball game
  •  help the water vendor who couldn’t open the bottle

For his trouble, he got a heap of mockery and ridicule plus numerous Google listings, all at his expense. He became entertainment because others, who were not as muscular, had an opportunity to demean his physique. It made the ridiculers feel stronger, I guess.

The sad reality is: At any time and on any day, that man could be you at work or elsewhere.

Ridicule as pastime

It is painful to be ridiculed. The price paid is a cut to your self-esteem. There is no place for it at work or anywhere else.

It’s become so easy to turn each of us into a picture or a video, exposing us to ridicule and violating our desire to work and play unimpeded. Let’s all commit to doing better.

Photo by emdot via Photoree

Excuses–Self-Inflicted Career Wounds | A Pro Knows

You can run but you can’t hide. Mistakes, poor decisions, sub-par performance, rafa 5888490595_395af05248_munbecoming behavior, and unmet expectations stalk even the most skillful among us.

Performance missteps will happen spite of our best efforts to avoid them. In every case they belong to us. We own them and it’s in our career best interest to admit that.

Excuses cut deep.

We don’t want to goof up at work. It feels bad. When it happens our knee-jerk reaction may be to think, it’s not really my fault:

  • It just looks like my fault on the surface.
  • It’s the fault of my coworker, company policy, the customer, or the situation.
  • I’ll accept it as my fault, but I really don’t think it is.

Looking for a way out of blame is a pretty natural reaction, but routinely making excuses can become a damaging habit that’s hard to break.

I suspect you’ve worked with people who have an excuse for everything they do that doesn’t measure up like:

  • That work isn’t in my job description.
  • I was never trained for that.
  • No one ever explained that policy to me.
  • John said he was taking care of that job.

Those excuses get old fast and start to chip away at your regard for those coworkers.

Your integrity and credibility at work are a function of your trustworthiness. The more your colleagues know they can count on you to be honest, even when you were wrong or ineffective, the better their esteem for you.

It takes courage to tell the truth, own up to your faults, and face up to your shortcomings. Most coworkers and bosses find courage admirable.

Listen to the pros.

Professional athletes, as a rule, don’t make excuses when they’ve lost crucial games. What they say about themselves and their opponents demonstrate how not making excuses raises our regard for them.

In his 2013 Wimbledon first round match, fifth ranked Raphael Nadal, lost to Steve Darcis, ranked 135, in a stunning upset. When asked by a reporter whether his once injured knee contributed to his loss, Nadal answered, in an SI.com article, it’s “‘not the day to talk about these kind of things’ and that it would sound like ‘an excuse.’”

In the same article, Nadal owned his defeat when asked what he did well in that match: “Not a lot of things.”

The same no excuses standard was demonstrated by Tim Duncan, champion pro basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs after their 2013 Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat  in NBA Finals.

Washington Post writer Michael Lee quotes Duncan after the game:

We didn’t play well. We didn’t shoot well. And I played awfully…Whatever it may be. They responded better than us….They outplayed us.”

As Spurs team captain, Duncan gave voice to the team’s ownership of their loss as well as his own contribution to it.

Both Nadal and Duncan, historically, have shown and articulated respect for their opponents in victory and in defeat.

Gregg (Pop) Popovich, future Hall of Fame coach of the Spurs, sets his own example– one that we would hope our workplace bosses would emulate.

In an article at ESPN.com, Marc Stein quotes Hall of Famer Chris Mullin on Pop:

Pop is incredibly humble. He gives out all the credit for the wins and he takes all the blame for the losses. He’s a prototypical leader.

There’s an old adage that says if you aren’t making mistakes at work, you aren’t doing anything.

In pro athletics, it only takes a few mistakes to lose a game, so when we see them, their impact becomes bigger than life. Fortunately, that’s not so in our jobs.

Stop the festering.

Excuses are obstacles to your growth, your reputation, and your confidence. If you don’t avoid making them, there will be a career price to pay.

Pro athletes know that recovery from poor performance means committing to getting better, not making excuses. That strategy works for us too. When you under-perform, acknowledge it, ask what you need to do to get better, and then work at it.

It’s time to go like a pro.

Photo by Caronine06 via Photoree