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? 

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. 

Future Skills 2020 and the Implications for Professional Development

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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

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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. 

How Do You Know When You're Stuck?


I've been writing a lot lately about positive professional development, trying to think differently about how we approach our own learning and growth. But it occurs to me that for many of us, thinking about career and professional growth can be tough if we're feeling stuck in our current careers. All this "positive" stuff can start to sound like the manic ramblings of a crazy person. Who has TIME for positive professional development when you're just trying to keep your head above water? 

Having been in the "stuck" place (I accidentally typed "suck" place and think that might have been more appropriate), I know how it can feel to be around people encouraging you to be positive. In fact, experts suggest that random "Be Positive!" stuff can actually be toxic. So it can help to first know when you're stuck and to acknowledge what that might be doing to you before you launch into anything else. 

I've shared in the past the times when I've felt stuck, as in in this post. Re-reading it, I can see that for me, there are always clues to when I'm feeling burnt out. See if these ring true for you:

  • Bored
  • Work is a chore that I have to slog through. I find myself devising weird little incentives, like "if you do this task, you can do mindless web browsing for 15 minutes." And I dread sitting down at my desk in the morning. 
  • Isolated and wanting to withdraw from people around me. I tend to go into my little cave when I'm in stuck mode. Of course while I'm in there, I think I'm the only person in the world who feels stuck and I can also go on a pity party for myself. 
  • Anxious and stressed out. Often I will wake up in the night with 5 million things on my mind that I can't shut down. The more I think about these things, the more anxious I feel. 
  • Difficulty focusing on one task. Multi-tasking becomes the norm, but in a very scattered way, disconnected from any real strategy. It's activity, not action

The thing that I've found is that "stuckness" can sneak up on you. It's a sort of quicksand that you wander into indavertently and don't realize is killing you until you're up to your neck in it. You become the frog in boiling water

The trick I've found is to try to pay attention to when you're getting stuck, so you can act sooner, rather than later to derail things. For me, the best way to tell is to keep daily journals so I can see when I'm trending toward stuck. I also try to monitor myself for some of the symptoms I described above. 

So here's my question for the day. How do you know when you're getting stuck? Is this something you try to monitor on a regular basis? And how do you monitor it? 


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. 

Positive Professional Development Online Day Camps

Girl Scout Day Camp

UPDATE! The Postivie Professional Development Online Day Camps are filled as of July 13, 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. 


Last week I was exploring how we can use positive questions to support professional development. I wrote a post here on how to prime the pump and another one on how to use positive questions to decide what you want to learn about. Then I looked at some strategies for exploring positive questions and how to translate insights into action

I've been wanting to experiment with doing online "day camps" where we use visuals, positive questions and a community of like-minded learners to engage in professional development and it occurred to me over the weekend that these questions offered a perfect opportunity to do that. 

So. . . here's what I'm planning. 

The Process

For both online day camps--described below--we will be using the Exploring New Options Image Center to consider some key questions. For each camp, we'll log-in to the Image Center and call in to a conference line (which I will also send out to you). We'll have the chance to create our images in response to the prompts and then talk about what we've created. I'll also send out some follow-up information and exercises you can use to dig more deeply into the topic. 

I'm not trying to make this super-complicated. I just want to experiment with using the Image Center and the positive questions to see where it takes us. I'm also really interested in the conversational aspect--what happens when we share our ideas and how can we move from vision to action? 

Positive PD Online Day Camp 1: Priming the Pump

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 from 7-8:30 p.m (EDT)

In this session, we're going to explore what we can create for ourselves in terms of a learning environment that best suits our needs. We'll use some of the questions from this post on Positive Questions for Professional Development: Setting the Stage--which ones will be a surprise!  We will then identify how to move from insights to action and what we can do to move forward. 

Postive PD Online Day Camp 2: Defining a Vision for Learning

Thursday, July 28, 2011 from 7-8:30 p.m (EDT)

In the second camp, we'll use the questions from this post on Developing a Vision for Learning--again, the specific questions will be a surprise. The goal will be to come up with an inspirational learning plan that supports where we want to go with our professional development. Again, we'll end by looking at how we can move from insights into action and what steps we need to take to implement our visions. 

UPDATE--Since I posted this, the class has filled up. I have created a waiting list, however, so if you want to join it, you can fill out this form. If someone drops out of the class, I will go to the waiting list and notify you. Also, if you are interested in the Day Camps but couldn't participate on these dates, then use the form to let me know you're interested in future sessions. 

Positive Professional Development: Insights Into Action

ready for action

This week I've been exploring using positive questioning strategies to drive professional development. Previous posts included: 

In today's post, I want to explore ways to translate insights into action. How do you move from creating a vision for inspired learning into enacting that vision? There are a few things we can do that I'll describe in greater detail below. 

Action, Not Activity

Before getting into specific strategies, I want to go back to my post last week on action vs. activity. As I discussed then, action is something that is inspired by a deeper strategic vision for what we want, while activity is action with no real connection to purpose or goals. 

As we look at ways to move from the insights we gained in exploring positive professional development questions, we want to make sure that the steps we take to enact this vision are tied strategically to what it is we're trying to create. We want to keep asking ourselves, how will this action take me closer to the learning vision I've created for myself? If it doesn't do that, then I should reconsider the activity because it won't be connected to real inspired learning. 

Changing Habits

 As we look at how to enact in our professional lives a more positive approach to professional development, I think it's useful to consider changing our habits, rather than trying to enact some full-scale "Learning Plan." Reality is, when we treat learning as an event, something we pay attention to only once in awhile, we are much less likely to achieve our professional goals. We need to see learning as a habit--like exercising or making good food choices--that can lead us to a healthier professional life. Lasting change often happens incrementally, not in one fell swoop.  So, how do we instill in ourselves the small habits of learning that will inspire us and keep us fresh? 

Moving from Insight to Action

This exercise is adapted from an activity in Appreciative Living, an excellent primer on how to use appreciative inquiry practices in your life. It focuses on enacting small, but significant changes in habits that bring you closer to your vision without you having to make major overhauls. It's like changing one eating habit at a time, rather than going on a full-scale diet. 

Start by going back to the insights you gained in responding to the questions about developing a positive learning environment for yourself and creating a vision for what you want to learn. Answer this question:

As I step back and reflect on what I really want and where I am today, what do I see as one of the most significant changes I could make that would help me to get to what I want? What ONE change would have the greatest impact in helping me achieve what I really desire here? 

Once you've achieved some clarity, then ask yourself:

What one small change could I make now, no matter how small, that would align with this high impact change? What could I do today that would get me a step closer to this larger vision I want to create? 

When you've identified this change, then take that step. See what happens. Modify what you're doing as appropriate. Use these questions to identify new steps you could take to keep moving forward. 


Run:Swiftly Tech SS & Run:Speed Shorts

Some Small Steps You Can Take

Here are a few "learning habits" you might want to try. Let me suggest that you only pick one or two at a time to see how you can incorporate them into your life, how well they work for you, etc. Once they become ingrained as habits, then look at adding something else when you're ready for a new challenge or to change things up a bit. 

  • The One Sentence Journal--This is a small, easy habit to incorporate into your daily life. Each day, at a regular time, write one sentence that is tied to your learning vision. It could be something you learned that day or a question that came up for you or something you want to try out. You'll find more in this post. You may want to consider signing up for Oh Life for this practice. It's an email-based journaling option that will remind you daily about posting with the added bonus of including a random entry you've posted previously.
  • 20 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Sunday--This is a great list of questions that you can adapt for enacting your professional development plan. Take 30 minutes at the beginning of the week to work your way through some or all of these and see what impact it has on your learning. 
  • 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days--Scroll down this list to items 8-13 in the Learning/Personal Development section. There are some great ideas for small changes you can make. I particularly like the idea of setting your alarm 1 minute earlier each day, so that by the end of the 100 days, you're getting up an hour and 40 minutes earlier, thus giving yourself a nice chunk of "me" time for learning. 
  • Debrief Yourself--Take a look at some of these questions and see how you might use them to reflect on various professional and learning experiences on a regular basis. 
  • Incorporate Reflective Practice--On one level, learning is a continuous cycle of "act/reflect." Many of us have the "act" part down pretty well, but don't always take the time for reflection. This post includes a link to a great 4-pager on reflective practice. You may also want to check out this post on incorporating reflective practices into the organization. 
  • Connect with Like-Minded Peers--One of the best ways to learn is with the support of others. Although there can be obvious value in connecting to people within your industry or occupation, I actually think that some of the greatest growth comes simply from connecting to people who also want to become more adept at learning. You don't have to be around people who want to learn about the same things, necessarily. You just need to be connected to people who love to learn.  It's much more fun with a buddy. And you may find that people from different walks of life who share your love of learning can offer you new perspectives and ideas to learn from as well. 

Some Final Words

So what are some of the take-aways from this week that I hope you get?

  • Learning should come from inspiration, not desperation. Finding ways to inspire your learning, rather than to goad yourself into it will always be more effective. 
  • Positive questions can take us in new directions in our professional development. They can ignite our passions and interest and give great energy to our professional development process. 
  • Learning is a habit--we have to look for ways to build it into our lives so that we become the learners we want to be. Focusing on events and "big plans," can be a recipe for failure. Like losing weight, learning is really about finding the habits that work for us to inspire our learning and keep us learning for the long haul. 
  • Focus on creating a learning lifestyle. What we're really talking about here is creating for ourselves a learning lifestyle, incorporating into our lives healthy learning habits. We are trying to become learners, not simply participating in learning activities. It's the difference between being a healthy person and a yo-yo dieter. A healthy person has developed small healthy habits for living, making choices in food, exercise, etc. that support his/her vision of the self as a healthy person. A yo-yo dieter is someone who eats well and exercises only to gain the short term advantage of losing a few pounds. When that goal is reached, slowly the old habits creep back in and the dieter finds that more weight has been gained and the cycle starts all over again. We don't want to be "yo-yo learners." We want to be healthy learners.  

So what are your thoughts on this post and the rest of the week? Has this series provoked your thinking on professional development? Would love to hear more!

Strategies for Exploring Positive Questions for Professional Development

Journal Entry

I've been writing and thinking over the past few days about using positive questions for professional development. First I looked at some questions for creating an internal and external learning environment and then I looked at questions to use in exploring what you want to learn

Today I'm thinking more about different strategies you can use to explore these questions. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Frankly, I've found that at different times, different strategies may work better, depending on the person. I've also found that it can make sense to use multiple strategies to explore the same question. Sometimes I get more from that experience. 

Reflective Journal Writing

Readers of my blog know I'm a big fan of reflection and of journal writing. For me, it can be really helpful to use old-fashioned pen and paper to write down my thoughts, but some people may prefer to open up a Google doc to reflect on these questions. Another thought is to use the Oh Life tool, especially if you're interested in exploring several of these questions over time. And, of course, a blog can be another way to do this. 

Story-telling and Conversation

Another strategy I encourage is to find a trusted colleague or group of colleagues and to try responding to these questions out loud, by telling the story of your response to someone else. This can be incredibly powerful for a few reasons. First, many of us (especially the extroverts among us) do best if we process things by talking. Just the act of saying our stories out loud can get our thoughts flowing. But I think it's the act of telling the story to another person, who is paying focused attention to you, that can really get the thoughts flowing. They can also reflect back to you some of the themes and ideas they hear that maybe you miss as you're talking. If you can record this conversation as it's happening, even better. That way you can go back to it later on. 

Visual Tools

I've had great success using visual tools to explore positive questions. My favorite right now is the Exploring New Options Image Center. But you could also use a vision board technique, visual journaling, or even mindmapping. The idea is to free up your verbal left brain, which can take you down well-worn paths, into your right brain where more creative solutions may be available. If you're someone who usually writes, I actually encourage you to try a visual technique. It will open doors that you didn't realize were there. 

Combining Strategies

It can also be helpful to combine several strategies. A process that has worked well for me is to first use a visual tool to explore the question(s) and then to talk about the story I've developed visually to another person. The process of me talking and the person reflecting back to me some of that they've heard and the themes that have emerged, gives me new ideas. I often take notes during this conversation so that I have a record of it and, if possible, will record the actual conversation to listen to later. I will then journal in a written journal about the image I've created, my conversation and any new insights I've found. Sometimes I'll listen to a recording of my conversation if I have the time and I think I will get more info from the experience. 

I've worked with other people who may journal first, then talk about it and then return to their journals to record additional insigts. 

The idea here is to tap into multiple strategies that may help you dig deeper into what you want to learn and how you want to learn it. While one strategy may be all you feel you need, using multiple strategies can definitely help you dig more deeply. 

Thoughts? What other strategies could work? What works best for you? 

Positive Questions for Professional Development: Developing a Vision for Learning

Tablica do badania wzroku z reklamy Vision Express

This week I've been exploring the power of positive questions in professional development.  Yesterday I looked at some questions for setting the stage for learning. Today I want to propose some questions that can help us better define what we want to learn.

Professional Development Action vs. Activity

This is related in some ways to my earlier post on action vs. activity. I've found that it can be easy to engage in professional development activities that give us the illusion that we are developing ourselves because we are learning something. But if that learning isn't tied to a larger strategic vision of how we want to develop ourselves and in what ways we want to grow professionally, then we can find that our efforts don't really get us anywhere. So for me, taking the time to really look at what I want to learn and how it ties to a larger vision of where I want to go for my career is the difference between engaging in professional development activity vs. professional development actions. 

Asset-Based Learning

While we're on the subject of positive questions, I think it's also helpful to focus on our assets. That's the premise of Marcus Buckingham's First Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths and I think he makes a great case for building professional development on the notion of playing to your strengths, rather than trying to overcome your weaknesses. Clearly in specific occupations you will need to develop specific skills. At the same time, I think there can be a lot of latitude for looking at finding your niche within your occupation, assuming that you're working in something that plays to your strengths, of course. 

Positive Questions for Deciding What to Learn

Again, some of these questions come from the excellent Encyclopedia of Positive Questions. I've also been using Appreciative Living for inspiration. As with yesterday's questions, feel free to pick and choose. In some cases, the questions are pretty similar--just taking a slightly different look at things. 

  • Find your positive core--list every professional strength, skill, experience and attribute you can think of. What are the BEST things about you  as a professional? What themes do you see? How could you develop on and expand those strengths? What additional skills could you develop that would make your positive core even better? 
  • What do you feel are your greatest strategic advantages professionally? Which of these gives you the greatest sense of pride and purpose? How could you further develop these? 
  • Imagine your career 5 years from now. What are you doing? Where are you working? Who are you working with? How does it feel? Once you have a clear picture of your career, describe the steps you've taken to develop yourself professionally to get there. What have you learned? How have you learned it? With whom have you worked?
  • What are your personal learning challenges--the things you're curious about, that you'd like to learn more about, that will help you to become a bigger, better person? How do you see learning about these things fitting into your vision of yourself and your career? How do you see these things contributing to your organization or to your business? 
  • What are the important questions in your industry or your line of work? Which of these important questions get you excited and passionate and filled with energy to learn more about? 
  • Think about the shifts happening in your profession, your industry, your personal and professional life. Which of these shifts generates the most hope for you? Which of these nurtures your hope for building a better world and a more positive future? How could these ideas fuel your learning? How could you learn more that would help you take advantage of these changes? 

The goal here is to look for those things to learn in which you find energy and passion. Professional development that's driven by inspiration is necessarily about finding learning opportunities that get you excited to know more. You want to engage in inspired learning, not desperate learning. 

How do these questions work for you? Are there other questions we could ask? How could we use this in the context of an organization?