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Career Simplicity--Paring Down to the Essentials


We live in a complicated world, getting more complex all the time. I've come to believe that our best--really our ONLY--strategy for dealing with this on an individual basis is to look for career simplicity. How do we pare things down to the essentials so that we're able to focus and build on what really counts? 

Beth Kanter had a great blog post a few years ago about the need for organizations to adopt a policy of simplicity in dealing with social media. I think this same strategy is necessary for our own career development. For Beth, simplicity boils down to:

  1. Identify the essential.
  2. Network the rest. 

I think that these two ideas can also be used in our careers. 

1. Identify the Essential

We start with ourselves. What are our core strengths and talents? When we are operating at our very best, doing the things that we feel passionate about and that feed our growth, what are we doing? What is our essential core? 

We can't all be great at everything, so why bother? It's worth figuring out where and how we truly shine. Then we start looking for ways to build on those essentials, making ourselves even more amazing in those areas. 

This means, of course, also having to let go of those things at which we are "good enough," but not great. It also means letting go of those activities that are meant to build up our "good enough" qualities. It's about identifying our chief assets and then doing what we can to build on and utilize those. 

It's about understanding those essential strengths and looking at where they intersect with the opportunities before us. 

2. Network the rest.

One person's greatest weakness is another person's greatest gift. Instead of constantly finding ways to shore up our weaknesses, how can we connect with others who may be able to complement us in the places where we are not strong? What networks can we form? How can we work with others who are focused on their own essential strengths so that we can do things that are even more amazing? 

 We live in a world where many of the "best" jobs are about adding value in new and innovative ways. The only way we can truly add value, though, is if we focus on those parts of ourselves that are the most valuable--knowing our essential strengths and building a career based on those. Paring down to the essentials may be our best strategy for thriving in an ever more complex world. 

Connecting the Dots

Netti's "Connect The Dots"

A few years ago I posted about one of my favorite Steve Jobs' stories: 

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life (my emphasis). But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later." (My emphasis)

There was a time when clear career paths and stable work meant that we could see a clear progression in front of us. If I get this degree and this job and follow these rules, then I will have a clearly-defined path in front of me.

But this is no longer the case. There is too much uncertainty in the world and we know less and less about a what a future 5 years down the road may look like. The only certainty we have is ourselves, our core strengths and passions, and how we apply those strengths and passions to the opportunities that present themselves. 

A clear career path now can only be seen in the rear view mirror, the thread holding it together our vision for what we want and the opportunities we pursued. Our key career management strategies are knowing our strengths, following our passions and seeing the opportunities in ongoing change. Our career goal is to keep finding the intersection between who we are, what we love, and the experiences we encounter along the way. This is both insanely easy and amazingly hard. 

Are You Prepared for the "Internet of Things"?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the fundamental shifts in our economy that are going on and how they impact our career and professional development. Monday I asked if you were ready to treat yourself as a start-up. Today I'm wondering how the Internet of Things may start changing our work. 

What is the "Internet of Things"?

When real-word objects--buses, water mains, cows--are connected to the Internet, this is called the "Internet of Things." It's possible because RFID, bar codes and other technologies now allow us to tag and uniquely identify real-world objects so that they can feed all kinds of data into networked systems. So we have cows wearing sensors that communicate with farmers when the cow is ill or pregnant. And the ability to control all devices in your home (like lighting, heat, appliances,etc.) through your Android phone

Earlier this week, Cisco, published an infograpic that illustrates the growth in and potential of The Internet of Things. This article in McKinsey (requires free registration to read) also does a nice job of explaining what it is, as well as laying out 6 distinct types of applications. And IBM's "Smarter Planet Initiave" is all about expanding the Internet of Things:

Three Big Ideas

  1. Instrument the World's Systems
  2. Interconnect them
  3. Make them Intelligent.


At this point I don't think it's a question of IF this will have an impact. It's more about how soon and how will it impact? 

Why Should I Care?

The Internet of Things is going to automate a ton of jobs that have never been automated before, reducing the numbers of workers needed for many occupations or eliminating jobs altogether. At the the same time it will create new jobs in areas we can't even predict.  It will also change the nature of many jobs--the skills and knowledge, the processes, etc--in ways we can only imagine. 

Paying attention to how technology and other trends may be shaping the new world of work is incredibly important. It allows us to see where old careers may be dead or dying and where new opportunities may await us. It can show us how our current jobs may change and what we need to do to take advantage of change, rather than letting it happen to us. 

As I think about Positive Professional Development and what it really means, it occurs to me that it's partially about always scanning the horizon to see what changes are coming my way. Positive PD is also about asking the right questions--like, "how can I build up my core strengths so that I'm prepared for these new opportunities"? It's about catching the crest of a wave, not waiting for it to wash over me. 

So are you prepared for The Internet of Things? How do you think it will impact careers and work? 

How Prepared Are You For "The Start-Up of You"?


Tom Friedman had an interesting op/ed piece in the New York Times last week entitled, "The Start-Up of You," in which he makes the very compelling argument that one of the fundamental changes we are experiencing in work today is the need for employees to think like entrepreneurs:

Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.

Just as entrepreneurs have had to function with unstable, ever-changing conditions, now job seekers find themselves faced with the same uncertainties in employment. As Friedman points out:

Indeed, what is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying more automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. That is not going to change. And while many of them are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

Today’s college grads need to be aware that the rising trend in Silicon Valley is to evaluate employees every quarter, not annually. Because the merger of globalization and the I.T. revolution means new products are being phased in and out so fast that companies cannot afford to wait until the end of the year to figure out whether a team leader is doing a good job.

The money quote here is that employers are looking for "people who can invent, adapt and re-invent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever." In other words, people who are investing in their own professional development and looking at how their skills and abilities can add value on a regular basis. 

Four years ago I was talking about "who's in charge of learning," arguing that individuals need to be responsible for their own professional development, rather than leaving it to their employers. This is even more critical now. Businesses are assuming that you will add value from day one and that you will continue to add value throughout your employment. Those people who focus on honing their skills and their networks of contacts will come out the winners in this game. Those who wait for their employers to "train them," will be left in the dust. 

How prepared are you to be your own start-up? 

A 30-Day Experiment: Appreciating Team Members

As I look at my own professional development and my ability to implement the things I'm "learning" all the time, it occurs to me how often I learn about some new skill or idea and then end up doing nothing with it. This is a problem for the learners I work with, too. It's that pesky transfer of training that we all struggle with. 

With that in mind, I've begun thinking about ways to run 30-day experiments with myself, where I try on a new behavior to see how it fits into my life. What impact does it have on whatever goals I'm setting for myself around it?  How does this one change cause a shift in my thinking or work success? As Matt Cutts points out in the video above, we are more likely to find success when we look for ways to make small sustainable changes that we can maintain over a period of time. It's the difference between having healthy eating habits and being a yo-yo dieter. 

Since I'm deep into exploring appreciative inquiry and creating an environment of positive professional development, I've decided that I want to experiment with an idea I saw in the Harvard Business Review on The Happiness Dividend. The article maintains that happiness at work pays off in greater productivity, creativity and teamwork. One of the ideas it suggests to increase your sense of happiness is to write one quick email first thing in the morning praising a teammate or colleague. 

This appeals because I know that I can be very "task-oriented" and aware of the problems with people and situations. I'm trying to see how my approach to work changes when I take the more positive approach of identifying and appreciating the strengths in others in a very deliberate way. 

So for the next 30 days I'll be sending out an email each morning, thanking someone for something. Since I work for myself, I'm planning to broaden my idea of who to thank to my larger network of contacts. I want to see for myself what happens if I send out unsolicited appreciative notes. How does it impact my relationships wtih people, my thinking about work and the quality of my work? 

Stay tuned. . . . 

Future Proofing Your Career


Lynda Gratton, author of The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here, has an excellent post that summarizes the key points of her new book and outlines the 10 things you can do to future proof your career:

  1. Know the trends that are shaping work and careers.
  2. Learn to be virtual.
  3. Search for the valuable skills.
  4. Become a Master.
  5. Be prepared to strike out on your own.
  6. Find your posse
  7. Build the Big Ideas crowd.
  8. Go beyond the family for support.
  9. Have the courage to make the hard choices.
  10. Become a producer, rather than a simple consumer. 

While all of these are important, a few are particularly critical

Become a Master at the Valuable Skills

I'm combining two from Lynda's list, but think there is real potential here. The key to career success in the future is going to be understanding the kinds of skills that will really be in demand and then becoming a master in those skills. I would start with this list of skills and think long and hard about which of these plays to my core strengths. I would then look at ways I can develop my skills in those areas, possibly for some specific high growth industries, so that I become a hyperspecialist

Be Prepared to Strike Out on Your Own

Lynda calls this being a "micro-entrepreneur."  We are seeing incredible growth in contract work/freelance opportunities that I think is only going to speed up as companies see ways to get more work done better, faster and cheaper by going to freelancers. Just as companies have begun outsourcing key functions that are not core to their business, I think they are going to start thinking about how even core business processes could be outsourced intelligently.  Again, this HBR article on hyperspecialists is well worth a read because it lays out a future that I think is just around the corner and that lends itself to contract work.

Learn to Be Virtual

This is a biggie. Work is global and the rise of tools that allow us to work from anywhere is having a huge impact on how things get done. The recession only accelerated this process as companies and individuals looked to reduce travel costs by using video chats, instant messaging and other social media tools to fuel collaborative work across space and time. Those people who understand how to use these tools effectively will be in the best position for the future. 

Build Your Networks

Lynda suggests three networks that will be necessary for the future--your "posse," the "Big Ideas Crowd" and those "deep restorative relationships" that will support you throughout your life and career. 

I think we're looking at a couple of different types of people in your "posse." First are those people who can mentor and advise you. The second are people with skills and knowledge that complement your own. This is particularly important for micro-entrepreneurs. Find people who have complementary skill sets so you can work together to find opportunities. This is the way that virtual ad hoc work will be done and the better you are at forming a network of people who complement your skills, the more opportunities you will have. 

The Big Ideas crowd is also important. These are people who stimulate your thinking, who can be a crucial source of inspiration. This crowd should ideally be people who are NOT in your line of business. They should be people who think differently and come from different industries and occupations. Don't fall into the homophily trap

Keep Learning

Although not specifically on Lynda's list, lifelong learning is critical to future proofing your career. It is the learners who are going to rule the world because they will be in the best position to see trends and find opportunitities in those trends. 

Additional Resources


The Positive Professional Development Day Camps are filled as of yesterday but I'm starting a waiting list in case anyone ends up dropping out. If you're still interested in attending, fill out this form and I will add you to the list. You can also complete the form if you are interested in attending, but can't make these particular dates/times. Depending on interest, I may look at scheduling additional sessions

When Do You Pay Attention to Your Professional Development?

As I'm thinking about positive professional development and working on my upcoming Positive Professional Development Day camps, I'm wondering when people tend to think about their careers and their ongoing professional development. Anecdotally, it seems that most people think about it because of external factors, like needing PD to maintain a professional certification or because a boss suggests it, but I want to check my assumptions, so. . . 

Take a second to respond to this quick little poll. And if you have longer thoughts or ideas you'd like to share, please drop a line in comments. Curious to see what people have to say. 

Is Morris Lessmore the Future of Elearning?

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore iPad App Trailer from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Ex-Pixar Designer William Joyce has created a stunning children's book/i-Pad app that should be a wake-up call to those of us who work with adult learners, especially in designing/developing e-learning. 

Based on the video above, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a stunning piece of work that draws you into a story that includes subtle interactive features on every page:

In fact, the interface design is so subtle it wasn't until I was about six pages in that I realized that every page of the app has some delightful feature embedded into it that you have to find for yourself. This is the key to a successful children's book -- inviting them to play and explore and be curious, not just jab buttons to activate cheesy visual effects. 

This is what adults want, too--something that engages and draws them in, inviting them to explore and be curious, not just answer quiz questions or "jab buttons to activate cheesy visual effects." There's a story here and the opportunity to interact with the story in meaningful ways. I find it hard to believe that we can't achieve something similar in e-learning. At the very least, this seems to set the bar much higher than before, because after you've experienced something like this as a bedtime story with your child, it's going to be hard to slog through some PowerPoint tutorial. 

I'm also struck by the pricing of this extraordinary piece of work--$4.99. Really?! Less than $5 for something that is this interactive and beautifully done when I'm spending $9.99 for e-books on my Kindle? Not that I don't love to just read, but this pricing differential suggests to me that I'm lining someone's pockets, not paying for great design work. 

It occurs to me that if this kind of creativity and talent could be harnessed for e-learning, we could make tremendous leaps forward in using technology to enhance our professional development. Imagine learning with an app that could bring this kind of magic to adults?


I'm running two free Positive Professional Development Camps on July 26 and 28. Check out this post for more information and to sign up. There is just one spot left in each session, so I'd encourage you to sign up quickly! And if you can't attend, go ahead and fill out the form anyway, just to let me know you're interested so I can see about scheduling additional sessions. 

Future Skills 2020 and the Implications for Professional Development

Picture 4
Over the weekend I ran across an interesting report in The Atlantic from the for-profit University of Phoenix. It looks at what they consider to be the six major drivers of change and the skills that will be necessary to thrive in this environment. 

Six Drivers of Change

According to the report, there are six drivers of change:

  • Extreme Longevity--an aging population worldwide.
  • Rise of Smart Machines and Systems--workplace automation is nudging workers out of rote, repetitive tasks.
  • Computational World--a massive increase in sensors and processing power that turns just about anything into a programmable system, requiring us to see patterns and use data in ways we never have before. 
  • New Media Ecology--the rise of communication tools, which require new literacies beyond text. 
  • Super-structured Organizations--social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation.
  • Globally Connected World--increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations. 

The 10 Skills

Based on these drivers, the report then suggest that 10 new skills will be required:

  • Sense-making--ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed.
  • Social Intelligence--ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions. 
  • Novel and Adaptive Thinking--proficiency at thinking and coming up with responses and solutions that go beyond rote, rules-based thinking. 
  • Cross-cultural Competency--ability to operate in different cultural settings. 
  • Computational Thinking--ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning. 
  • New Media Literacy--ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media and to leverage these media for persuasive communication. 
  • Transdisciplinarity--literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines.
  • Design Mindset--ability to represent and develop tasks for desired outcomes.
  • Cognitive Load Management--ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.
  • Virtual Collaboration--ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team. 

First question here, then is do we see the need for these skills? Based on my own observations, reading and anecodotal experience, I would say that these are right on the money. I've already been seeing increased need for these abilities in my own work and the work that others are doing, although not necessarily seeing increased skill levels. 

Implications for Professional Development

So what does all this mean for professional development? Donna Svei points out that it means 1) learn to learn and 2) learn something useful to someone with a checkbook. I agree completely, but have a few additional thoughts. 

First, I continue to believe that we are going to have to transform our notions of who we'll be working for. Increasingly we are going to be freelancers, looking to sell our skills to companies on a contract basis. A few years ago I wrote a post, "Who's in the Market for Learning" in which I quoted some stats on the rise of freelancers. The recession has only accelerated this process as many employers are finding that when they do start to add to their workforce again, contract workers make more sense. This means having to think like an entrepreneur when it comes to developing these skills. 

Two recent articles also have me wondering which is better--becoming a generalist or becoming a specialist in one or more of these areas? 

USA Today reports that employers are looking for generalists who are skilled across a variety of disciplines. In the same week, I also ran across this Harvard Business Review article on the rise of hyper-specialization, suggesting that the way to go is to focus on becoming super-specialized in particular niches. 

It may be that all workers will have to develop reasonable competency in each of these areas, but there will also be a need for workers who are super-skilled in only one or two of the skill areas. This hyper-specialization may offer the best opportunities for freelance/contract workers who are able to apply these skills in particular industries or occupations. 

What are your thoughts? Do you agree that these skills will be necessary in the future? What impact do you think that will have on your professional development? Is it about becoming a generalist or a "hyper-specialist"? 


I'm running two free Positive Professional Development Camps on July 26 and 28. Check out this post for more information and to sign up. There are two spots left in each session, so I'd encourage you to sign up quickly! And if you can't attend, go ahead and fill out the form anyway, just to let me know you're interested so I can see about scheduling additional sessions. 

Professional Development from the Growth Mindset

Picture 3
A few years ago, I wrote a post about Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's research into fixed vs. growth mindsets, in which I briefly explored the implications of her research. As part of my own personal professional development, I've been reading more books, so finally got around to reading Dweck's excellent Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and can see even greater implications for the positive professional development I've been thinking about of late. 

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

The premise behind Dweck's work is the idea that the view we adopt of ourselves can have profound impacts on our lives, relationships and careers. These views can be classifed as either "fixed" or "growth" mindsets. 

Fixed mindset people believe that our qualities are carved in stone. We have a particular level of intelligence, particular traits, particular behaviors that define who we are that can't really be changed. 

The growth mindset says that our qualities, traits and behaviors can be cultivated through our efforts. Although we can differ in terms of our aptitudes, interests or temperaments, we can change and grow in most areas through our efforts and experiences. 

Dan Pink describes 3 rules of mindsets (as laid out in a Dweck lecture) that nicely describe the differences between the two:


Fixed mindset: Look clever at all costs. (“The main thing I want when I do my school work is to show how good I am at it.”)

Growth mindset: Learn, learn, learn. (“It is much more important for me to learn things in my classes than it is to get the best grades.”)


Fixed mindset: It should come naturally. (“To tell you the truth, when I work hard at my school work it makes me fee like I’m not very smart.”)

Growth mindset: Work hard, effort is key. (“The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be at it.”)


Fixed mindset: Hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d spend less time on this subject from now on. I’d try not to take this subject ever again, and I would try to cheat on the next test.”)

Growth mindset: Capitalize on your mistakes and confront your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d work harder in this class and spend more time studying for the tests.”)

Implications for Learning

The implications for learning of these two mindsets are fairly obvious---the fixed mindset is clearly antithetical to real learning. It is primarily about proving what you already know. What's a challenge, though, is ferreting out where you may be ruled by a fixed mindset when you think that you are actually operating from a growth mindset. Just because you think that in general you are a growth-oriented person, you may be surprised to see that there are places in your life and career where you clearly are operating from a fixed mindset. 

This may be a particular problem when it comes to learning from experiences, as opposed to participating in formal learning events. I know that for myself, I will generally be open to learning when I get the signal--"you are entering a learning situation," like a workshop, classroom, etc. I will also enter a growth mindset if I'm confronted with a situation where I clearly don't have a particular skill. (Right now I'm in growth mode over my participation in Google+)

But how open to learning am I if I'm in a work situation where I think I already know how to do the work, where I'm the "expert" and have done this many times before? Getting into growth mindset for reflective practice, where we are learning from our daily experiences, is much more of a challenge for many of us. Yet this is precisely where we may need that growth mindset the most. 

Getting into Growth Mode

Adopting a growth mindset is something that we can deliberately choose and its directly tied to the idea of positive professional development, which asks us to always be thinking, "What can I learn from this situation or experience?" 

Just noticing when you are moving into a fixed mindset can be a powerful way to switch back into growth mode. For example, I'm paying more attention to those situations where nothing seems to change--where I'm continually facing the same problems and challenges. These tend to be places where I've adopted a fixed mindset and basically given up on doing anything about them. But by asking myself, "What learning is available in this situation and how can I be open to it?" I've been able to begin devising new and better solutions. I've also felt less stressed about dealing with them. 

I'm also making greater attempts to seek and learn from criticism. This has been a challenge at times when the person delivering the criticism is less than constructive, but I'm trying to ask probing questions that help me to understand what the person is really trying to communicate that I may be able to learn from. 

I'm also trying to learn more deliberately from mistakes and failure. When things don't go as planned, I'm trying to approach the situation with a growth mindset, looking for the information in the experience that I can use to refine my approach for the next time. 

Consciously incorporating a growth mindset can create huge shifts in your awareness and work habits, I'm finding. It has me constantly looking for the learning opportunity and feeds my sense of purpose. Even the frustrations in my life can be opportunities for learning. 

How do the fixed and growth mindsets operate in your life? Can you see places where you have more of a fixed mindset and would like to move into growth? How do you keep that growth mindset going? 

Some Additional Resources

UPDATE--here's a link to some additional resources, including several videos. 


I'm running two free Positive Professional Development Camps on July 26 and 28. Check out this post for more information and to sign up. There are only a few spots left, so I'd encourage you to sign up quickly! And if you can't attend, go ahead and fill out the form anyway, just to let me know you're interested so I can see about scheduling additional sessions.