Mentoring

Mentoring is an extremely valuable way to speed up learning. Getting the opportunity to get feedback and glean knowledge from more experienced people who have been through what you’re going through is an incredible opportunity.

I think that sometimes we over-formalize it, though. I’ve experienced many of what I call “mentoring moments”– short, casual interactions where someone helped me learn something new or gain perspective.  Likewise, I’ve been on the mentor side of these experiences as well, sharing knowledge and perspective with others who could immediately benefit.

I don’t think we pay enough attention to these great opportunities. I remember about 15 years ago, when I first learned about all the different selection tools in Photoshop.  I wanted to make someone a new userpic for their LiveJournal (shut up, it was 2002) and I was painstakingly erasing a background, zoomed in, pixel by pixel. A designer I knew jumped in and said “Oh geeeez, you can do that so much faster, let me help you.” and he showed me how to easily select and delete just what I wanted.

Definitely a mentoring moment!  Coming away from that, I knew to always check for an easier way if I found myself hip-deep in something detailed and tedious in Photoshop. And I watch for those opportunities now, much more closely.

I’ve also participated in formalized mentoring programs. While I get huge benefits from these (shoutout to my mentor Heather from 4 years ago!) I think they’re just part of how people can really strap their advancement to a jetpack.

Over the next couple weeks, keep an eye out for these mentoring moments. Can you show someone how to set the speed on the treadmill faster? Did someone help you get your WebEx session set up properly on the first try?  All these go into making you and others smarter, more capable, and more awesome.

Learning new things

Learning something new can be incredibly frustrating. There’s a period at the beginning of learning a new skill where you just suck and it can be really hard to get past that. Indeed, it’s a really easy place to decide you don’t want to learn that new thing after all.

But if you can structure your learning in such a way that you’re picking up enough useful bits to progress early on, suddenly you can make it over that initial hump and start to really become proficient, even highly skilled.

While it feels like it can take forever to get past that initial barrier, it’s not really that much time that you have to invest to get there.  In fact, some research suggests it takes only about 20 hours.

Reassuring!  Here’s a TED talk video to get you thinking about this:

Public library awesomeness

I had a bit of time to kill this morning and decided to hit up a local public library for a while. What a great idea!

Aside from having lots of books and magazines to get lost in, I’ve also got a comfy chair, WiFi, and power to charge my phone (on which I’m writing this post!)

A great place to spend a few hours for sure. Since the library was renovated, it’s better than ever for accessing great programs, music, and more. I also love that cardholders get access to Lynda.com, Ancestry, and a bunch of other cool things, all for free.

Gonna hunt down a book or two! Happy Tuesday!

 

 

Curiosity

I‘m relentlessly, hopelessly curious. I can’t help myself. When presented with interesting questions or situations, I can’t help but dig in and figure out more. Why can’t we do it that way? What is the barrier here? What might cause a rash like that? How frequently does it actually rain in Portland? Why does the staple box say 2000 on it when there’s definitely more staples than that in there (I checked)?  What cool things will this software do for me? How could I make this process less painful? I’m always faced with interesting paths to take and things to learn.

The internet is a limitless playground (and time-sink) for people like me. I’ve often wound up down the wiki-hole, realizing at 2am I’ve been reading about maritime disasters for an hour because I looked up Shirley Temple 5 hours ago.

This leads to me picking up and remembering all kinds of information and skill that I might not otherwise.  It turns out the staples often fall off the ends during the packing process and 2000 leaves a bit of a margin to allow for that. Sometimes the answer to “we can’t do it that way” is “decades-old politics” and not a physical or economical reason. Solar activity made once made tv satellites fail such that people had to have their dishes pointed differently. This is the kind of ridiculous stuff that I will always have in my head.

All this random information often helps when presented with really weird problems, though. Knowing how things work makes it easier to figure out how to fix broken things. Reading about weird happenings makes it easier to jump in and try something crazy when it just might work.

There’s some research that shows that curiosity can predict problem-solving ability as well. It’s becoming a key skill in the workplace. I’ve learned to embrace it rather than limit it- if finding out Wilford Brimley is still alive means that I discover (through a series of about 7 hops) that there’s a cool Entrepreneur’s Guild in the UK, and one of their members is Jenny Garrett who has great things to share, then that’s awesome and probably a resource for me in the future!

Where has your curiosity led you?

Institute for Performance and Learning conference, day 2!


Good day wrapping up the conference! The keynote this morning was Dr. Mary Donohue, who the attendees enjoyed. I didn’t agree with some of her statements and conclusions, but they seemed to resonate with others.

Four sessions again today, covering microlearning sprints, executive-ready presentations, virtual reality, and taking charge of professional development.

Some great conversations with new and old friends about authoring tools, design, and workplace cultures. I look forward to more in the future!

For now, headed home on the train. More to share tomorrow!

Institute for Performance and Learning Conference, Day 1!

Great day at the Institute for Performance and Learning conference today!

First up this morning was a brilliant talk from Ajay Agrawal: How Machine Learning can Transform the Economy. Some fascinating examples and ways of thinking to help us understand how AI is going to change the way things are done, and how the value of different skills and tasks will change.

Read more on Twitter.

After that, I attended 4 sessions today: The ABCs of xAPI, Scenes from L&D, Confidence Based Assessments, and Grand Theft Marketing.  Check out this Storify from the day!

Taking charge of your professional development

87% of millennials (as much as I hate the term) rate professional development as important to them on the job. I would hazard a guess that most employees would agree with this. Despite this, many organizations are less and less willing to invest in professional development for their staff.

As a insatiably curious person, this can be challenging for me. I constantly want to learn, to network, to share knowledge. Professional development is extremely important to me and has been throughout my career, though I’ve frequently been in the position where development budgets are cut and support is restricted.

Rather than let this discourage me, I’ve taken charge of my own development. If I’m not willing to invest, why would my employer be? Knowing I like to attend events and conferences, I’ve started to seek out low-cost ways to do this. I’m involved with industry organizations and frequently volunteer time in exchange for passes to events. Some industry conferences provide free registration for speakers, so I propose sessions to conferences I’d like to attend. I program PD events in my area and am able to attend these at no monetary cost. I’ve found my companies more willing to give me a PD day here and there than they are to approve budget for tuition or registration feeds. I make use of free resources at the library, read LinkedIn voraciously, join open slack channels, buy books on sale, and constantly seek out new low-cost opportunities to learn.

Even with all this, sometimes I do still want to attend an event or course where I can’t get a discount. To cover these things, I have a personal PD budget. I set up a separate savings account, and auto-deposit 3% of my pay for professional development. I’m able to draw from this fund to cover costs that I can’t cover other ways. It’s a big priority for me, and so I invest in this area. I have found that since I started doing this, I’ve been able to advance significantly in my career. If you’re struggling with getting the development you need and want, give this approach a try!

Jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords- oh my!

Communication challenges are the basis of so many business problems. At the same time, businesses and the people who work in them are incredibly attached to their jargon, acronyms and buzzwords.

The idea behind these things is making communication among those “in the know” more efficient- why would I say “Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation” when I could say “ADDIE”?  But for whatever small efficiency gains among a small group- it causes much bigger challenges for those outside the group.  I do my best to limit my jargon and buzzword usage, but I still struggle with this!

In order to help facilitate better communication, here’s a list of 15 buzzwords, jargon, and acronyms that come up frequently in my day-to-day:

ADDIE: Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation, a widely used instructional design framework

Agile: Methodologies for (software) development that involve requirements and solutions evolving through collaborative effort and adaptive change

Asynchronous: Learning that combines self-study and asynchronous interactions (discussion boards, etc) to achieve objectives

Buy-in: Approval and support of an idea or action

BYOD: Bring your own device- meaning content may be accessed using any number of different devices or methods

Cloud: a tech term referring to external configurable resources that can be used for software, storage, or other computing needs

Design Studio: A method for early designs that speeds up initial design processes

Gamification: The application of game principles in non-game contexts

Kirkpatrick model: A commonly used “4-level” model for learning evaluation.

Microlearning: Comparatively smaller learning units and activities

RACI: Responsible-Accountable(Approver)-Consulted-Informed, a common method for illustrating responsibility assignment

ROI: Return on investment

SAM: Successive approximation model- a framework for instructional design project management that draws from agile methodologies

SWOT: Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats, A structured planning method that evaluates these four elements of a particular team or venture

Universal Design: designs intended to be accessible to the largest possible population of users

Training Industry has a more instructional/learning related glossary to check out. If there are any plaguing your daily life, add them in the comments!

 

Universal Paperclips, engagement and visual design

I played a game this week, called Universal Paperclips. On the surface, it’s a simple clicker game. But through the course of playing it, I kept thinking about engagement.  What had me coming back to make more paperclips? What about this game was so irresistible?

There are an awful lot of articles and studies out there that talk about increasing engagement, and one of the strategies to do so is adding more visuals. Visual design is one of the main vehicles for communication. Some say, without visuals, experiences fall flat.

But Universal Paperclips isn’t much to look at.

It’s just text, a couple lines and buttons. As you play through the game, there’s a bit more complexity that is added, but there’s no color, and the bulk of the experience is text. So what keeps it so engaging? Here’s a few techniques that the game employs that reeled me in:

  1. It provides constant feedback. You always know how many paperclips you have, and if you click “Make Paperclip”, ta-da! Another paperclip. That instant feedback is incredibly engaging and kept me coming back to adjust, optimize, and buy in order to make that number go up faster and faster.
  2. There’s no rush. While you are timed (a little notice appears in the black bar with your time when you complete each phase of the game) there’s no countdown clock, no push to sort things out more quickly other than your own sense of urgency. If you walk away, you can come back later and make sure everything is running along smoothly, and then progress to the next inputs required from you.
  3. There’s no artificial pacing. There’s no mandatory tutorials or obastacles designed to slow you down- you can (and do) pick up the pace as you go.
  4. It keeps you guessing. Each time something new appears in the game, it presents more questions than it answers. As with a well-written short story, your creative mind will fill in the blanks, identify patterns, and develop a story that’s far better than anything more prescriptive.
  5. You have a clear goal. Throughout, you’re always making more and more clips. There’s various steps you have to take to achieve this (including spending clips!) but that number is always there at the top of the screen, incrementing ever upward.

These same techniques can be used in your learning experiences- keep those goals front and center and build in opportunities for frequent feedback!

 

 

Mindset and adoption of technology

Technology adoption.  That has been one of the biggest and most important challenges I’ve faced throughout my career. For nearly all of the enterprise problems I’ve worked to solve, the solutions incorporated some kind of technology- a software platform, hardware device, web application, database, automation, cloud service, the list goes on and on.

But the biggest challenges to overcome in effectively implementing these solutions tend not to be the technical challenges, but the people ones.  No matter how elegant the technology and well-designed the solution- if people aren’t using it, it can’t fully succeed. Resistance to adoption of technology can come from anywhere, and sometimes it’s not the people you expect that present these challenges. It can often be folks who have quite a lot of technical skill, but for various reasons are operating with a fixed mindset.  If you haven’t already been fully exposed to Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindset- here’s a video with some background:

Resistance can come from the user audience, from project stakeholders, contributors, but the most challenging resistance comes from people in leadership positions. When project leaders or sponsors aren’t embracing tech solutions, the obstacles grow to 10 times their height. Important to remember when you’re in a position of leadership!

So what can you do, if you are in a position of leadership and you’re faced with adopting a new technology you’re not quite ready to jump in with? Here are a few tips to help you build your own growth mindset and get ready to tackle your problems using technology.

  1. Recognize that you have a choice in your approach and actions. You can master new technology, you can try doing things you haven’t seen work. It’s your choice to build new skills or not. It may mean some temporary setbacks or failures, but ultimately you can (and should) embrace tools and technology that have the potential to help you reach your goals.
  2. Recognize when your resistance is holding you back. If you’re pushing for a “same-old-way” solution because you’re worried you won’t know how to function with a new tool- acknowledge that. You may find there are more supports than you thought for gaining the skills you need to adopt new technology. Remember, the cost of not changing is often higher, and there are so many resources to learn from!
  3. Change your inner monologue.  When you hear that inner skeptic going “sure, but I’m never going to figure out how it works”, start inner-talking-back to it.  “I can figure out how it works, I learn new things all the time, and skill comes through practice and effort”. With effort and time this will become easy!

Working through your own resistance will pave the way for your team to innovate and get better access to the competitive advantages that come from early adoption. As you begin to embrace the growth mindset and take on new challenges more readily, your team and colleagues will benefit, and follow your lead to success.