Computers as Catalysts for Humanizing the Learning Experience

This TED Talks Video by Salman Khan is perhaps the most compelling case for technology-assisted learning, peer-to-peer learning and learning communities (and by extension, communities of practice) that I’ve ever seen. In fact, educational philanthropist Bill Gates liked Khan’s idea so much, he invested 1.5 million dollars into it.

This 20 minute video is truly inspiring and entertaining to watch. It focuses on K-12 students but I’m sure you’ll all make the leap on how this works with adults and professionals.

What is truly inspiring is his message of computers as a catalyst for humanizing the learning experience, which is a refreshing change from the message that it dehumanizes learning.

Extreme Productivity: Secrets of a Very Busy Man

Justin Fox interviews Bob Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author for HBR and HBR Blogs, who shares with us his tips and trips for being more productivity in and HBR IdeaCast. The following are the key points discussed:

  • Focus on results, not on time spent. For a long time, and perhaps still in many organizations, much value is placed on the employee who works long hours to complete a project. It is seen as a sign of dedication, devotion and commitment. The problem is that it’s completely inefficient. Pozen suggests that  finding efficient ways of getting results should be the focus and priority. He mentions that in the past, he has told clients that he worked work twice as fast but charge them double his time and they had no objections. In the organization that I work for, more often than not, we charge by deliverable and by results rather than by time, which is another way of tackling this issue.
  • Know your comparative advantage. Most of us are familiar with the notion of competitive advantage: what it is that we do better than our competitors. But in an organization, our peers are not our competitors, or at least, they should not be. When thinking of an organization as a system, being competitive within the system is inefficient. Rather, according to Pozen, you should be thinking about your comparative advantage, that is what does your organization needs most from you. Management-level individuals need to focus on the question: “What are the functions that I and only I can do” and delegate the rest. Even in work teams, individuals need to focus on their strengths and unique abilities.
  • Think first. Read or write second. This one really hit home. I’ve been applying this principle since as early as I can remember, instinctively. I always hid it, thinking it would be seen as taking shortcuts, which in turn could be perceived as laziness. Now I’m so thrilled to learn that this is simply efficiency! Pozen explains that when you think before you read and think about what it is that you are looking for, you know better what to focus and know what to skip over. Thinking before you write means developing an outline as soon as possible (which can be revised) to steer your research and what arguments you want to write.
  • Prepare your plan, but be ready to change it. What are the highest priorities you need to achieve today? Whether you plan these the night before or early in the day, identify what it is that you absolutely need to get done today. If you start the day with that approach and something comes along to disturb your schedule, which for extremely busy people is very likely to happen, you’ll know what are the key things you need to focus on getting done and you’ll be able to defer the less important things. An additional note on this last point: My professional coach Nancy gave me an extremely helpful tool designed by Stephen Covey:  The four-quadrant matrix for importance andurgency, which is an amazing tool for priority management.
  • Naps are also high on Pozen’s top tips for productivity. The benefits of reenergizing through sleep are well know, and it’s a wonder we aren’t better equipped in our modern offices to allow for this. According to Pozen, research shows that a 30 minute nap can let you refresh and be more productive. He does this by putting his feet up on his desk and dozing off.
  • Being boring, or perhaps what I like to call having a routine, such as having the same simple breakfasts and lunches, is a way to take away some of the non-necessary thinking out of your day. Again, this is something I instinctively do because he’s right, it is a huge time saver. I spend a lot of time thinking of what I should be eating in general, that is what kinds of foods I should be buying for nutritional and health reasons, but very little time being creative about breakfasts and lunches on weekdays. That said, I keep the creativity for supper when I’m relaxing.

You may want to listen to the podcast on the HBR site or download this podcast in mp3 format. For more blog posts by Prozen, check out a list of blogs on productivity which he co-wrote with Justin Fox on HBR Blogs.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Tips to Not Suck as A Presenter

A few months ago, I wrote a post on Tips to Stop Sucking at PowerPoint. But as we all know, you may have the  snazziest presentation on the block, but you’re only half-way there. You, yourself, have to bring your A game. In other words, you have to offer the total package.

Clive Shepherd shares with us his 50 tips for better presentations, a little gem he found in his archives and a fantastic list that cover all the bases with a touch of humour. In addition, I’ll share another resources from my bookmarked archives that compliments Clive’s post: The TED Commandments.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Dressing the Part: A Strategic Skill for Individuals and Organizations

When providing training and information to new and existing employees, ideally, we’ll focus on providing them the requisite tools for optimal performance in their jobs. But how much emphasis is there set on how the employee appearing polished, proficient, and professional?

In her article focussing specifically on organizations and dress codes, Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes how following UBS’s publication about how the Swiss Bank envisaged it’s employee’s appearance, there has been some mocking but also a lot of reflection on just how important someone’s appearance is in business. The focus has shifted to assessing the value in organizations establishing a dress code and/or providing guidelines on how the individuals they have hired to represent them should appear. Let us not forget that even Canadian Banks had policies up to 30 years ago preventing their employees from wearing red or female employees from wearing slacks, going as far as indicating the types of establishments that could be frequented outside of business hours.

The article also points out on how women may have a greater challenge then men in setting the right tone in appearance, in that we are asked to conform to a business code and subvert all elements of sexuality, all the while urged to not come across as masculine. I’d add that this is perhaps also quite cultural, highly influenced by the level of conservatism of a region. Then again, should I be dressing differently for a meeting in Abu Dhabi then a meeting in Montreal?

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Which Content Curation Tool is Right for You?

Managing all the content that comes at us can get overwhelming. We can set up systems to tag, categorize, filter, sort, organize and essentially manage content at various levels. And once we’ve sifted through all the content that is sent to us, and we’ve decided what it is that we want to share, how do we select the system we want to use to curate it?

Pawan Deshpande has compiled a good Pros and Cons list of select content curating tools. Though the list does not cover the myriad options available, it does a good job at describing how certain tools work and why their functionalities may or may not work for you.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

2011 Resolution Reality Check

As I gleaned my Google Reader for interesting things to report to the Workplace Learning Today readers, I noticed a few predictable patterns in early January posts. I found could classify about 50% of the blog posts I surveyed into 3 categories: the past year in review, predictions for the new year and of course, new year resolutions. The latter category was the one that really caught my attention, as it seems to be the one area where I see many people, myself included, shooting themselves in the foot.

The following are a sampling of the well intentioned personal and professional improvement 2011 resolutions posts that I found:

There are even smart phone apps that claim to help reinforce new year resolutions. But I couldn’t help wonder if making resolutions is such a wise thing to do. So I kept searching.

I came across a post by corporate consultant Stephen Shapiro who discovered in his research that New Year’s Resolutions just don’t work.

According to our study, only 8% of Americans say they always achieve their New Year’s resolutions. The way it seems to work now, setting a New Year’s Resolution is a recipe for defeat.

He goes on to write that people eventually put an end to the misery of trying to keep up the resolution and call the whole thing off. One of the core issues, according to Shapiro’s research, is that when making a resolution, people focus on where they want to be rather than enjoying where they are right now.

We sacrifice today in the hope that a better future will emerge — only to discover that achievement rarely leads to true joy.

Now Shapiro isn’t against self-improvement, but rather provides detailed guidelines for making more sustainable resolutions. The headlines are:

  1. Choose a broad theme rather than specific measurable goal.
  2. Choose an expansive and empowering theme.
  3. Reflect on the previous year.
  4. Develop your theme jointly.
  5. Remind yourself of your theme.
  6. Remain open to new possibilities and to changes in direction at any point in the future.

Personal growth blogger Tina Su echoes this type of resolution in posting how she will approach and envision her 2011 year:

The commitment I will make today is to relinquish an idealistic definition of perfection that has bubbled up empty goals, with only a façade of meaning. I can, then, wholeheartedly make room to embrace true commitments that honestly serve who I am; even in all of its imperfection.

These are truly phenomenal tips for steering resolutions down a more successful path. In addition, I’d add the following bit of advice from Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself.

I guess that I already broke that rule once, stating that one of my resolutions was to blog more.

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Rules and Incentives are not a Substitute for Practical Wisdom

In a recently posted Talk on Ted, Barry Schwartz shares his reflections and finding on the power of virtue, or what Aristotle called practical wisdom, and how it is the key element required for real change and the betterment of our society.

Through poignant examples, he demonstrates how in today’s society, the change agents must work against the current system managed by a script which is tightly controlled by rules and incentives. He also claims that this way of making small, incremental change is not only slow but that it isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Let’s see if some of Schwartz’s wisdom might rub off on all of us in 2011.

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Dare To Be Unrealistic

Jacob Sokol asked the following question to 48 online experts:

What is the most “unrealistic” thing that you’ve ever accomplished and what did you learn from the process?

I highly recommend reading through the whole post but here are a few of the most inspiring highlights for me:

When you choose the “unrealistic” choice every day, you’ll be surprised how uncrowded and welcoming it is.
Derek Sivers ··· CD Baby

I learned that if you REALLY REALLY REALLY want to do something and you’re committed to going for it and willing to work on it thru the inevitable “WTF am I doing moments” you can pretty much do anything.
Brian Johnson ··· Philosopher’s Notes

What I learned (or rather, an affirmation of what I knew before that): Focus on value, and money will fall in place itself. While I track my income, I have never once set income as a primary goal and have always focused on coming up with best ideas that will bring the best value for my readers instead. This has translated itself into results in all areas.
Celestine Chua ··· the Personal Excellence Blog

You have to take the first step. Then, do that everyday until you reach your goal. If you keep moving, you can do anything – write a novel, be a good parent, quit your day job, get out of debt, lose weight. Just focus on one step. Repeat.
Melissa Gorzelanczyk ··· Peace and Projects

As for myself, I feel some unrealistic things brewing. Last year, my Master’s thesis was reformatted and published as a book. Now I have the desire to author more content. I got more serious about blogging and found myself as a guest blogger on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today. This is just the beginning for me and it has opened up other opportunities which I am exploring.

Another relatively unrealistic thing I did was a few years back when I lost a great deal of weight, 75 lbs in fact, and I felt fantastic. Unfortunately, life took over and I lost that focus and I gained quite a bit of it back. But I’ve done it once and I can do it again. But this time, I’m wiser, I’m stronger and I can anticipate hurdles. I’ve got practice and experience on my side and there is no reason why I cannot do this.

The most common question I get is: How did you manage to accomplish this? and the answer is simple: I set a goal and just do it. I combat resistance daily, but I keep my eye on the prize. Also, I reflect regularly on what kind of person I want to be. The following quotes are some of my mantras:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
― Seneca

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
― Gandhi

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
― Steven Pressfield

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Reading Breeds Success

“I wish I had more time to read.”

Do you find yourself saying the above? I definitely do. It seems that when I make the time to pick up an article, a book, anything, I become engrossed in it and can’t put it down. Though conversations and interactions have the power of being enlightened, nothing pushes my analytical buttons like reading a well developed argument. But I have to remind myself to make time to do it. Too often, when I get home from a long day at work, I want to just “shut off my brain”. But the reality is that reading is like exercise for the brain, it reenergizes it.

In his blog post entitled The Most Important Thing You Can Do…, Mitch Joel explains how some of the most successful people he encounters are avid readers, and even writers. I particularly appreciate when Mitch shares the following observation:

The majority of newspaper and magazine articles are probably right on the edge of valuable reading, but the guts of reading that will truly make you smart and successful comes from the high brow stuff. The books, periodicals and longer thought/research pieces.

Mitch goes on to write:

The depth, the journey, the time alone that allows your own brain to wander and think is a critical part of where creativity and originality come from.

Kudos Mitch! I truly relate to this statement and feel too many people become satisfied with surface knowledge of things and neglect to dig deeper. Granted, we cannot be experts in every field, but specifically in our professional field, we must ensure that we include quality pieces in our reading diet.

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This post is cross-posted with Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Getting Ideas Off the Ground

In yesterday’s blog post, I wrote about how one must work at becoming successful, presenting Doug Belshaw’s reflections. Rosabeth Moss Kanter made a post along the same lines that presents five powers that successfully get ideas of the ground, which are:

  1. Showing up: the importance of being there in person.
  2. Speaking up: the framing the debate and articulating the consensus.
  3. Teaming up: the importance of partners, teams and communities.
  4. Looking up: the importance of seeing the picture, articulating setting strong values and setting sights high.
  5. Not giving up: the importance of persevering and being optimistic.

I can personally speak to the importance of these five powers. The first power, in particular, is an important one to remind ourselves of. In this era of digital communication and Web conferencing, there is nothing like being face to face with someone to foster strong relationship building.

The blogger concludes by reminding us that:

Achieving goals is always a matter of hard work, and success is never guaranteed.

And of course, as W.C. Fields put it:

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Every effort brought forward, every attempt is a learning opportunity and valuable experience.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today