Tag Archives: Skills

Formal Learning Meets Life Long Learning

(This post is my take on the Daily Prompt Back to School.)

 

I keep a long quote, spoken by Merlin, which is from The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White that I won’t reproduce in entirety here, but starts out telling us that “the best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn”.  Merlin goes on to expound about the way that life ages us and difficulties peck at us but our response should be to “learn why the world wags and what wags it”.

 

Clearly I keep this quote because it speaks to me.  I was raised to seek out knowledge and this was nurtured by my own personality as well as by engaging and inspiring teachers throughout my school years.  I understand that others may have had very different experiences which have made their achievement of knowledge through formal learning very impressive indeed.  I build nearly every day upon that foundation of learning that was started very early for me, not often in a formal learning setting.

 

public domain: Socrates & Plato

public domain: Socrates & Plato

Though I did just go back to school this past spring to earn a certificate in Project Management.  And last fall I took my first credit class, in Supply Chain, in more than a decade.  It is very helpful to combine knowledge gained on my own and through doing with knowledge gained through formal learning.  With the weight and importance placed on testing and metrics, it is not surprising that somehow formal education is considered ‘better’ and more worthy than knowledge gained on one’s own.  But is it appropriate?

 

There are a number of people from the past whom we revere, rightly, but who were mainly self-taught in some manner or who expanded well beyond the parameters of their initial core area; Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Danny Kaye… I wish some women would come to mind, but I know that there are many more people of both genders.  Would these people now be rejected because they didn’t have lots of letters after their names to prove their worth?

 

I gain great benefit from learning, different kinds of benefit when I curate the information myself or join a formal class, but always there is great benefit in continuing to learn.  This is why I keep this quote close to mind always.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Absorb, Assess and Analyze

After keeping pace, firing on all cylinders, digesting information and bringing forth coherent responses my brain has been stuttering along at ‘duh’ the past couple of days.  I’m going to blame the cumulative effect of the heat and humidity.  Or perhaps just a bit of what Herman Melville termed a ‘silent grass growing mood’ necessary to internalize information, which is oh, so necessary for writing.

 

We are told that the earth is bombarded without let up by all sorts of space debris, which mostly burns up or what have you.  Modern life does the same to our thought capacity, but perhaps not so modern.  I found out over the weekend that Sir Francis Bacon gave us the phrase that knowledge is power back in 1605.  Interesting that this concept goes back so far into history, and yet not really.

 

But knowledge is much more than exposure to information, we must internalize that information; absorb it and then start to figure out where it fits in with the knowledge that we already hold through assessment and analysis.  Sometimes absorption is quick, sometimes laborious and at others – like for me at this moment, it gets backed up because we expect too much.  Like when you overtax a sponge in the attempt from keeping a spill from expanding past the kitchen counter to the floor.

absorb

It starts with knowing what you are trying to learn and why.  If it is for someone else, that hampers absorption right off unless you can figure out an angle that makes learning meaningful for you.  And you are not going to be interested in pursuing the rest – assess and analyze – to make it your own, admit it.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Tracking Your Progress

Every year at performance review time do you sit and stare blankly at the cube wall while you try to remember what you have done in the preceding months that is noteworthy?  How about your resume or LinkedIn profile, when was the last time that you updated either one with your latest achievements?

tracking

“The past actually happened.  History is what someone took the time to write down.”

~A. Whitney Brown

 

I know, I know, it’s just that one more detail that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back if you found a means to document these things at the time, or shortly after the time.  Ok, but you are only hurting yourself by not making the time.  If it isn’t up to you to remember and document, then who?

 

Trust me, it is easier shortly afterward than months or even years afterward.  Details only get murkier with time, but even just a quick couple of sentences into a notebook or on a sticky note sketching out the scenario will be well worth it at review time or when it is time to really polish up your work history.

 

The idea of something going into our permanent record was threatening back in school because it was associated with some misstep or peccadillo.  Wipe that association from your mind and get a mantra that your permanent record is the progression of all of your work achievements; therefore worthy of regular maintenance.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Get Their Attention

attentionStop me if I’ve told this one, but I’m pretty sure that I haven’t told it here, at least with this intent.  This is my go-to story about the importance of appropriate email subject lines (and good diplomacy).  Fairly early on in my corporate learning curve I had an email exchange with the principal (read owner, responsible party) of a distribution company regarding a customer account that was my responsibility.  The subject line was a one word job, the main name of the customer in question.

 

We went back and forth as I clarified and then resolved his question.  At the end he came back and wrote that I should do a better job of naming my emails.  Huh?  Just to be sure, I scrolled to the beginning of the email and sure enough he had originated the string.  Still, he was right – the subject was entirely too generic and didn’t offer any reference points to the specific topic at hand.  I briefly answered back that I agreed that the subject line of this particular email was not very clear and left it at that.

 

So began my mission to improve my own email subject line protocols.  Which included renaming an email that had a vague heading at my first reply.  (Be careful in renaming an email when there were multiple recipients because that can lead to further misunderstanding.)  When I moved into supervisory and then management roles, I made this a frequent topic within my team.  A big part of our job was clarity in communication – the first step is appropriately naming a thing.

 

Email volume is high for most people, so your naming protocol should be short and to the point.  Sometimes a little lyrical helps to get noticed, but utilitarian is best.  Get a feel for what is best for you by reviewing the subjects of the emails that land in your inbox – which ones draw your eye and why?  Are the subject lines that are used suitable for the actual email content?  Also consider your recipient – what speaks to them?

 

I hope I got your attention.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Accepting a Compliment

This post isn’t for the narcissists among us, unless you have an interest in seeing how the rest of us feel about compliments.  We are taught to say please and thank you as children, and perhaps some parents include the niceties of accepting a compliment.  The rest of us not only turn varying shades of red when complimented, we get tongue tied.  (I still have reading Peggy Klaus’ book, Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It on my to-do list.)

 

I don’t remember my exact age, but it would have been in the 12-14 year range when my method of dealing with compliments was abruptly altered.  Prior to this incident, I would argue with the person offering the compliment.  (Sound familiar to anyone out there?)  One day a well-meaning but sharp tongued adult told me that I was being rude by contradicting the compliment.  I was taken aback and hadn’t yet found my more vocal current style.

 

Luckily the adult went on to say that if I felt uncomfortable with a compliment, the best response was always to say thank you.  And leave it at that.  No explanation necessary, certainly no need to contradict the compliment.

photo credit: Wikipedia, public domain

photo credit: Wikipedia, public domain

 

Since that day I mostly only continue the practice of hedging a compliment in my head.  I have to qualify that because people who know me well read this blog and might feel the need to bring up a time or two when I didn’t just graciously accept a compliment.  On an off moment, or couched in a weakness – like my lack of style.

 

Would any of you like to share an experience of giving or receiving a compliment?  I have found as I get older that the more specific compliments are the most memorable and likely to impact the quality of someone’s day for the better.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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My CANDLE Concept and the Candle Problem

There is a psychology test developed by Karl Duncker in the 1940s called the Candle Problem where a test subject is at a table with a box of tacks, a candle and a book of matches and told to fix the candle to the wall so that wax won’t drip on the table.  The solution is to take the tacks out of the box and affix the candle to the box and the box to the wall using the tacks.  This solution requires creative thinking because literal thinking will not allow for an alternative use for the box holding the tacks.

 

When the test is conducted with all the same items, but the box and tacks are laid out separately, the correct solution is deduced more quickly by most test subjects because the preconceived use for the box is not established.

 

candlesYes, you say but what does this have to do with my work day?  Plenty if you work with any level of complexity because problem solving in a complex environment requires the worker to engage in conceptualization.  The best solution is not always readily apparent with the information at hand.

 

Ok, that provides an overview of the second half of today’s title, so let’s backtrack to the first half: CANDLE, which is an acronym that I developed, standing for:

  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Decision Making
  • Lead the way
  • Education

 

The business model where I spent my corporate time was a complex one and newer people were at a bit of a disadvantage because the learning curve was pretty steep and the consequences for making a bad decision could be harsh.  So I developed my acronym to help the people on my team to focus.  These were their main skills, or tools in their mental tool box.  If you can name the tool that you need, then you have started to put some familiar context to a potentially unfamiliar situation.

 

Context and identification of familiar parts get your brain headed in the right direction for a solution.  Who knew candles were still so useful?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Defining Done

Has it ever happened to you that you happily turned in a completed project only to have the other party sort through it and respond with, ‘oh, but’?  The one or two of you out there who said no don’t have to keep reading, unless you want to that is.

 

If you verified the exact expectations of the completed project before starting, then good for you and shame on the other party for changing their mind after you thought your work was done.  The current word for the expectations, or results that should come out of a project is deliverables, buzz word if you like.  It is actually descriptive and clear enough that I agree with its usage in this context.

 

If you did not get clarity on expectations from the other party and proceeded with the project based on assumptions, well – live and learn.  And then adopt project management best practices, without having to pursue a PMP (Project Management Professional certification from Project Management Institute).  Defining the exact meaning of done, in agreement with the stakeholder is part of the PM’s early activities.

How do you know when a chain is complete?

How do you know when a chain is complete?

 

Think how much easier your life around the office would be if you picked up and used this little nugget.  Back a few years ago, after I had started to think about studying up on being a Project Manager, but before I had started to actually do so, I had a meeting with my team where we white boarded our definition of a project and here is some of what we decided:

 

We put the definition of a Project up on the white board as follows –

  • Anything outside your normal routine
  • Requires a deadline
  • Requires focus or analysis
  • May require outside sources to complete (internal NSC, member, customer, etc)
  • Can be initiated by various constituents such as: customer, sales, or internal staff
  • May require measurement
  • Often requires specialized communication (can set up templates for frequently used requests like price audits)
  • Should develop a process for repetition and sharing best practice
  • May need to be tracked

 

Preparing to complete a project request –

  • Are all necessary questions answered by the requester – who, what, where, when & why?
  • Have reasonable expectations been set?
  • Do you understand the final outcome that is expected?

 

ALWAYS document the date received and determine completion date based on complexity and other activities on your desk + customer/requester needs.  If you cannot complete in the time requested, you should come to me ASAP to discuss solutions.

 

When responding to requester to set parameters use the phrase, “In order to provide complete and accurate information, (and then set a reasonable deadline).  You then MUST meet this deadline.

 

The PMI definition component that we missed above is that a project is temporary, but we sort of covered that in the first bullet point.  And that is defining done.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Mise en Place, Not Just for the Kitchen

I’m getting ready to make a presentation to a fairly large group, one that I had offered to make some weeks ago and have been refining since.  (I want to use a theater phrase in my intro that simply won’t come to the forefront of my mind, but that is a story for another time.)  I enjoy presenting (remind me I said that just minutes before I go on, would you?), and like to be prepared – shooting for that sweet spot where it can be interesting and clear without seeming practiced.

 

Anyway, I wanted to go into Chicago to the Lit Fest to watch other presenters and got my son interested by showing him the list of activities in the Good Eating tent.  I have cooked since my pre-teens and occasionally managed to do it well, but I have learned much more about the art of cooking since he became interested a few years ago.  It is his interest that brought me to DSC03390the French phrase in the title, which literally means everything in its place, relating to completing all prep work before actually starting on a recipe.  (You know when the chef just easily pours this little bowlful or that into the big bowl and tells the audience what is in the bowl.)

 

Put in terms for the rest of us:

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”

~A.A. Milne

 

The carpenter who takes care of his tools and puts each one carefully back into a dedicated section of his tool box after wiping it clean from each use spends more time on the actual carpentry, purportedly the part of his (or her) work that is most enjoyable.  The same for the cook, and the office worker.

 

Not liking to do the clerical filing type tasks of keeping templates, manuals, etc. in the proper place means spending more time thinking about them and searching for them, in the meantime possibly losing the stream of the project or idea that is your actual task.

 

Our skill at managing these thankless mise en place tasks deeply affects our effectiveness at the tasks we were really hired to complete.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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What is Your Favorite Skill?

I would love to conduct an experiment that would provide enough willing volunteers to teach each child in a classroom to read using materials from the child’s favorite topics. If you had learned to read using materials on say sports or horses or whatever interested you at that age, how much deeper would you cherish the opportunity to read itself? How much more likely would you be to read on your own, for pleasure and enlightenment?

Well, you can guess by the above paragraph that reading is my favorite skill. I like to ask this question of the children that I know, but just realized that it would be interesting to ask adults as well. We adults often stop thinking about our skills, except when we have to list them on our resume. But we shouldn’t just dryly list them this way.

Take out your skills and look them over. What have these traits done for you? Quite a lot, even the ones that you just do automatically like walking. Even the ones that you don’t care for, like math. Where would you be if you had not mastered these skills?

think

What if there were a complimentary skill that you could attempt? What if this new skill might be a key to the next step in your work journey? What if you brushed off an old and rusty skill? What if you found a way to share one of your skills?

What if, indeed.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Training or Learning?

“I sincerely believe that the only way we can learn is through our deductive process.  Presenting us with final conclusions is not a way that we learn.   At best it is a way that we are trained.”

~ Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement (a business novel, what a novel concept)

lesson

I keep a list of books that I want to read.  I add to the list regularly through newspaper, magazine and other sources which reference books.  I don’t recall how I heard about this one, and I haven’t gotten very far in reading yet, but I was captured by this above quotation.  A man after my own heart, at least in regards to acquisition of knowledge.

 

Up until starting this book, I have always thought of training and learning as interchangeable concepts in education.  I have always preferred the pursuit of the why behind any concept rather than a dry recitation or memorization of facts, (or worse, acceptance of facts without presentation of corroborating information) but still these words have been synonymous in my view.

 

I have certainly encountered my share of people who would prefer to be trained – ‘tell me what you want me to know’ – as opposed to people who want to learn – ‘I want to understand the why and the how’.  There is room for both concepts, depending on the role and task but companies will grow more strongly when they hire the person who likes to learn and then give them some space.

 

Most of us, once we get warmed up, appreciate learning new things particularly if we can start to see the value – how we can use the new skill in our day to day.

 

Perhaps I will follow up once I finish this book.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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