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December 2011

Getting Comfortable with Incompetence

A tweet from Stephen Downes that's been hanging in my head for a few weeks:

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This may be the biggest challenge to ongoing innovation. Most humans are not good at feeling perpetually incompetent. It is frighening and a blow to our egos to think that we may not have a firm grip on our work. 

We tend to fight situations that make us feel like we don't know what we're doing. If we feel like we're floating on a sea of uncertainty and confusion, we do everything we can to return to the dry land of our familiar skill sets. 

But if we are to be innovative, we must learn to embrace those feelings of incompetence. We have to learn to reframe them as opportunities for  learning and growth. 

We also have to change what we regard as "competencies." The skills we need to fully engage in continuous innovation are meta-skills, not necesarily grounded in the kind of narrow technical skills we've come to see as expressing our competence at work. 

Our competencies have to be larger than our current job or industry.  Innovation comes from having a larger vision for what we do, from heterogeneity and cross pollination. 

To thrive in a world of uncertainty and continuous innovation, we need to:

  • Embrace learning in all its forms, including learning from mistakes. Becoming a better learner should be our major focus. It is the one competency we can count on in a constantly changing world. 
  • Fight homophily and expose ourselves to a broad array of ideas, people and strategies. 

I'm still learning to be comfortable with incompetence. It's an ongoing challenge to put myself out there and to say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know." The perfectionist in me can really put up a fight.

But I've come to believe that when it comes to learning, growth and career development, those may be very important words for me to say. Each time I utter them, I'm forced to embrace yet again that I'm in uncharted territory. And that's where all the discoveries are made. 

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Stepping Back to Move Forward

Backwards Man / naM sdrawkcaB [035]

Fifteen years ago, after a weekend career retreat I ran for myself, I walked into my full-time job and quit.

I realized that for a variety of reasons, the position was no longer working for me and I wanted to move into something else. With two kids heading into summer daycare that would eat up a good portion of my check, it seemed like quitting to work full-time on new opportunities for myself was the best option. I would actually save money at that point by not working. 

I spent the next several months reading books across a variety of fields, engaging in deep conversations with some incredibly smart people who challenged my thinking and gestating some ideas for how I wanted to shape my business. It was my own intense professional development course and it allowed me to build and sustain my self-employment for the next several years. 

One thing I've learned from my own experience is that sometimes taking a step back is the best way to move forward. I was reminded of this when I saw an article in CNN Money on turning underemployment into a new career opportunity. I was particularly struck by one story in the post:

Some readers report they've deliberately taken a step down in status and pay in order to move their careers in a different direction. "I've done it more than once over the past 30 years," writes Mike Frederick. Most recently, in 2007, when his department was eliminated, he turned down a couple of promotions to take a lower-paying staff job in his employer's corporate university.

"No one could promise me I'd ever get back to my previous level of management in that department," he recalls. Not only that, but the job called for tech skills that Frederick lacked. "I had a lot to learn and the odds against my success seemed daunting," he recalls. Even so, his employer funded a series of courses he needed to take: "What clinched it was the chance to learn a new career at no expense to me."

Fast-forward three years and, "after many long nights of studying on my own and hard work during the day applying what I learned", Frederick is "at the point where I wanted to be," he writes: In a management position in an IT training department.

What the experience taught him, he says, is that "taking a step down may be your best bet for ultimate success." Frederick's advice: "Find out if your company is willing to provide the training you need or will pay for college courses. Don't be afraid to ask and, after you make the move, don't look back. Focus on the possibilities ahead of you."

It's very easy for us to get caught up in feeling that the only way to move forward is by . . . moving forward--or up. But when it comes to our careers, it's often the steps backwards or sideways that can generate the most momentum and satisfaction. 

In my case I left full-time employment to build a business. I've known other people who had side gigs that helped them explore new opportunities and identities that eventually turned into full-time work. And there are plenty of people who have been laid off and then use that time to re-think their careers, re-tool and move off in a different direction, happier than they'd been before. 

Don't always assume that the best career moves for you are going to be through advancement or "moving up the ladder." Often we do this without thinking and find out it isn't what we wanted at all.

Instead, be open to the lateral moves and the moves backwards. Like me, you may find these give you a chance to re-tool and refresh your career, moving you in a direction you hadn't even considered before. 

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Trying to figure out your next career move? Check out my upcoming 4-week Career Clarity Camp, starting January 9, 2012. You'll get 4 weeks of activities, 5 live events and lots of support as you figure out where you want to go next. It also makes a great holiday gift for someone in your life who could use some clarity!


Side Hustle Boot Camp with Rosetta Thurman

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For those of you who may be thinking about going out on your own, I highly recommend Rosetta Thurman's upcoming Side Hustle Boot Camp. It's a day-long, live online event scheduled for November 11. 

All who attend the Side Hustle Boot Camp will experience and receive the following:

  • A powerful message from keynote speaker A‚ÄôLelia Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the first black female millionaire
  • Practical business and marketing tools, tips and information from successful women entrepreneurs as well as expert speakers who understand you and your journey
  • One-Page Business Plan that will help you clearly define the next steps for moving forward in your business
  • The Side Hustle Workbook, a copy of all training materials put together in a downloadable workbook format with worksheets and resources for you to take action on both during and after the live event
  • Recordings of all sessions for you to continue to learn from after the live event (these recordings are downloadable to your computer for you to listen to whenever and wherever you want!)
  • A supportive online community to nurture your entrepreneurial spirit and foster valuable connections with other like-minded business women
  • . . . all from the comfort of your own home or office! (all sessions will be held live via webinar from your computer)

I've known Rosetta for several years now and she provides nothing but high quality, inspiring stuff. It could be just the jumpstart you need to get moving in a new career direction. 

You can see the agenda here and register here. Don't think about it--just do it!


Using Images to Find Your Career Vision

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One of the most powerful ways to bypass our thinking brains is to use visuals. Images have a way of opening us up to different stories and information in ourselves that our verbal, logical brains tend to block. I've also found that images can get us talking about the issues that may be more difficult for us to discuss and they provide us with great metaphors for developing deeper insights. 

One of the tools I've enjoyed using the most is the VisualsSpeak Image set. It's been an invaluable asset to me in face-to-face workshops I've done on careers, leadership, learning and teambuilding. It helps us have interesting conversations and gain greater clarity about the situations we are discussing. 

VisualsSpeak has now added an online version of the tool that allows people to select and arrange images into collages through their web browser. I use itwith  clients who want to explore issues around careers and leadership and in my online workshops. Amazingly, they're offering free access to people who want to to explore their vision for their career, so you get a chance to try it out!

How it Works

1. To use the tool yourself, go to the VisualsSpeak Image Center and sign up to do the free "Exploring Your Vision for Work" Image session. Note--you must be using the Firefox, Chrome or Safari browsers. You can download Firefox here and Chrome here--both for free. (You should be using these anyway--much better browsers than Internet Explorer!) There's also a beta version for the iPad. 

2. You will then receive instructions via email on how to log-in to the Image Center and create your collage. 

3. Once you've complete the collage, you will receive an email on how to work with your image.

My favorite strategy is to print it out, glue it into my career journal and then write down keywords, thoughts, etc. that occur to me related to the image. 

It's also been helpful for me to discuss the image with someone I trust. I get into a sort of stream of consciousness story about what I'm seeing and the person I'm talking to is able to identify key themes and patterns they may hear in what I'm saying. They may also be able to ask my questions or make their own observations. 

My Vision for My Career

To give you an idea of what you're collage might look like, I went in and did a career visioning session for myself, which I annotated and uploaded below. Note that I added the notes using Jing, just to give an idea of some of the ideas that came to mind after I'd completed the exercise. I have much more complete notes in my career journal. 

Vision for My Career

Working with the Image

For me what's helpful about using the visual process is that I am able to get a richer vision than when I just write. Images are about metaphor, so they help me hit on some key insights that I would have missed otherwise. 

For example, in my collage there are a lot of nature images--more organic, holistic pictures. It wouldn't have occurred to me that this was important, until I noticed it in the collage. Once I did, I became aware of how that's a feeling or experience I want to incorporate into my career. 

Also notice that I have several circle/spiral/rounded images. Symbolically, circles can indicate many things, including unity, wholeness, cycles and focus. When I saw the circles, I realized that these were additional insights that wouldn't have occurred to me in just writing about my vision, but that are important to me nonetheless. Seeing them in my collage, I'm able to explore and incorporate them into my overall vision. 

Want to Try It For Yourself? 

If you want to try the Image Center for yourself and then do some more exploration and discussion with a group, I'm running two free webinars in November you may want to join. The sessions are on November 15 and 29 from 8-9 p.m. EST and you can get more information and sign up  for the webinars here

I've found that working together with a group to debrief on your image can be a really powerful way to gain greater insight than just working alone. In the webinar I'll walk you through some key debriefing questions, show you examples, and give you some ideas on how you can keep working with your image to shape and refine your vision. You'll also get a free workbook you can use to record your insights., as well as some additional links. 

Even if you don't want to join us, I strongly encourage you to try out the tool. It really can give you some amazing insights into what you want to do with your career. 

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Want priority registration for events, special discounts and other goodies? Then sign up for The Bamboo Project newsletter!

If you sign up before January, 2012, you'll get my free "Looking Back/Looking Ahead" activities. Each day for 15 days, you'll receive an email with a specific question that can help you reflect on what you've learned in 2011 and get you started planning for 2012. It's a great way to jumpstart your career for the New Year!

 


5 Questions to Assess Your Company's Professional Development Opportunities

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Yesterday I posted on a new reality  we need to accept--that we can't leave professional development up to our employers because they aren't providing it. This isn't true for everyone, of course. You need to evaluate your personal situation. So I thought it would be helpful to come up with some key questions to ask. 

One word of caution--don't assume that because your organization talks about professional development and the importance of learning that this is actually happening. We can easily get caught up in thinking that we work for a company that values learning because we keep hearing about how much they value it. But then we look at the reality of the organization's actions, we realize that they aren't walking the talk. That's why you need a reality check. 

Another thing to pay attention to is the type of training and development taking place. If the only learning you are able to get access to is very company-specific, this should be a red flag. This means that if you only take advantage of organizational learning you will not be preparing yourself for other opportunities outside of your organization. Look for learning that is transferable, that provides you with skills that can be used in other jobs and companies. Also look for learning that is "in demand" in your occupation or industry. What are the particular skills that will make you most marketable

So here are some professional development reality check questions for you:

1.  What training and development opportunities are available through your company?

Let's start with the basics. What formal learning and training is available through your company?  Does your organization provide development in transferable skills--skills you could use in other places? Is there a tuition remission/reimbursement program available? If so, what are the requirements? What training can you receive? 

If your organization provides a way for you to develop skills that make you more marketable in the larger job market, then take advantage of those opportunities. If they don't, then you need to make those opportunities for yourself. 

2.  What training or professional development has your company sent you to in the past 12 months?

If the answer is "none," then you need to pay attention. If the training you've received is very company-specific--how to implement company policies and procedures, for example--you also need to pay attention. Neither one of these is going to keep you marketable. 

3. What informal learning are you able to access through your organization?

Much of organizational learning is on-the-job training. How does your company support these opportunities? Are you able to access social media at work so that you are able to tap into knowledge networks and skills training from outside of your organization? Can you easily connect with colleagues and other departments to share knowledge and information and develop new skills? If the focus is on "keep your head down and just do your job," then this is a problem. 

4. What reflective practices does your company have in place?

Reflective practice is about weaving opportunities into the organizational culture to learn from work experiences and projects. Does your company conduct After Action Reviews to learn from its experiences? Are there structures in place that allow you to ask questions like "Why is this happening?" and "What can we learn from this?" Are you encouraged to surface and learn from mistakes? If not, then these are practices you will have to incorporate for yourself

5. What mentoring is available to you through your organization? 

Some companies do have formal mentoring programs, but these are few and far between. If you work in an organization that provides mentoring, then see what you need to do to take advantage of it. If it doesn't, you may need to find a way to create an informal mentoring arrangement for yourself. 

It's worth it to ask yourself these questions and to examine the reality of your particular situation. Don't fudge it and try to make it better (or worse) than it is. When you have a clear picture of how your organization supports your professional development, this gives you valuable information for your own planning. Use it to decide how you can develop yourself if your receiving little internal support for what you need. 

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Want priority registration for events, special discounts and other goodies? Then sign up for The Bamboo Project newsletter!

If you sign up before January, 2012, you'll get my free "Looking Back/Looking Ahead" activities. Each day for 15 days, you'll receive an email with a specific question that can help you reflect on what you've learned in 2011 and get you started planning for 2012. It's a great way to jumpstart your career for the New Year!

 


Reality Check: Companies Aren't Developing Their Workers

reality hurts huh ?

An interesting article  in last week's Wall Street Journal by Peter Cappelli from the Wharton School on why companies can't find the employees they need: 

With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time.

In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already

As Cappelli reports (and I've been saying for awhile now), companies aren't developing their employees anymore:

Unfortunately, American companies don't seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand. Much of that includes what vendors do when they bring in new equipment: "Here's how to work this copier."

The shortage of opportunities to learn on the job helps explain the phenomenon of people queueing up for unpaid internships, in some cases even paying to get access to a situation where they can work free to get access to valuable on-the-job experience.

The Employment Contract Has Changed

This is one of the fundamental ways in which the employment contract has changed that I'm not sure we've truly absorbed. Many of us are still living with the illusion that our companies will provide us with the development we need to maintain employment. But this is an illusion, a denial of reality. 

Increasingly we see that the responsibility for development is falling to workers, who must monitor their industry and occupation to see what skills are in demand and then seek out the training and work opportunities that will help them develop those skills. Doing this is a skill in itself, requiring us to be much more aware of larger market forces beyond our own company and how these impact our own professional development. 

We can't just pay attention to what is needed for us to be marketable within our own organizations. We must also pay attention to what the larger market is looking for. And we need to look at how our strengths intersect with that market. 

I do a lot of work with people who have been laid off and one of the things that we consistently discover is that those who are out of work the longest also seem to be the people who paid the least amount of attention to their own ongoing development. Often this is because they were so focused on the work they were doing for their company, they had little time to think about themselves. Sadly, they were rewarded with a lay-off. 

Other workers find that while they may have had access to training in their companies, this training was very company-specific, preparing them to be good employees of XYZ Company, but not for much of anything else. 

I know that it's easy to trust in our organizations to provide us with the development opportunities we need, but for most of us, this is a dangerous and misplaced faith. It's also easy to get so caught up in the present work that we forget to pay attention to the future. This, too, is risky. 

For us to be truly empowered and in control of our careers, we must first and foremost be actively managing our own professional development. We must be aware of what is going on around us and be preparing for new opportunities. There's a new reality we need to accept so we can plan accordingly.  


On Passion

I am writing this on a MacBook Pro, listening to music on my iPod, which seems fitting, given that I am posting about Mona Simpson's eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs

Certainly in the days following his death, there was much attention paid to Jobs' business acumen and success. But I'm far more moved and inspired by what Mona had to say about who he was as a man, as a person, trying to live his life as we all do. One aspect, in particular, stands out: 

Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him. . . 

His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still. . . . 

He tried. He always, always tried, and always with love at the core of that effort. He was an intensely emotional man.

What strikes me about Steve Jobs is that he achieved success not in spite of this intensely emotional core, but because of it.  Passion seems to have fueled him in all aspects of his life, both at home and in his work. 

For many of us, "success" seems to come at a very high cost. We are asked to give up this intensely emotional and passionate side of ourselves in service to "corporate culture."

Passion is sucked from us, I know. But if we are honest, we also know that we surrender our passion at the door. To be emotional at work is to be "unprofessional" in most workplaces. We give it up willingly in order to have what we believe is the safety and security of employment. 

Yet it is this very emotional core that feeds our creativity and our ability to do great things. Without it, we are dried, dessicated husks, going through the motions of working and living. And, ironically, it is this lack of emotion that can make us less effective at what we do, bringing down upon us the very thing we fear. 

There are many ways we could emulate Steve Jobs at work. The most valuable, it seems to me, is to cultivate our passion and emotional core. With it, we can achieve greatness. Without it, we go nowhere.

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Sign up for my newsletter! You'll get priority registration for events, discounts and other special "Members Only" stuff.  And if you sign up now, you'll also get 15 days of activities to help you reflect on 2011 and plan for 2012.