How improving your learning strategy will help your career

If there’s one thing in my career I’ve regretted it’s not pouring some strategy into my learning processes sooner.

Here’s the thing: I was a fast learning kid. No plodding for me. Sounds great, right?

Career Hurdles and Learning Strategy

Women’s Final of 80 meter hurdles, Olympic Games, London, 1948.
Daily Herald Archive at the National Media Museum [Click to view image on Flickr]

Wrong. The one thing you need to consider – I’m now looking at it as a parent – is that if your kid is (or if you are) very fast on the uptake, part of all that learning capacity should go into the strategy of learning. Don’t wait till your kid is 16 years old.

Questions for your learning strategy

Starting small, explore questions like these:

  1. What is learning?
  2. How can you learn something new?
  3. What different methods of learning are there?
  4. What works for learning different topics?
  5. How can you tell how you should go about a new task or a new subject? It’s ‘meta’ time 🙂

Most importantly, you need to take the whole concept of learning to a level where the task in hand no longer matters. Only when knowing how to perform a specific task is no longer enough does your need to know #5 become apparent.

How can being a fast learner spoil your learning?

That’s easy. My default learning strategy was: “You read it. You read it again. You’re ready.” Sophisticated stuff, I know. It worked for me most of the time.

Oddly enough, it didn’t work with maths after a certain point. Of course now I know that I was trying to memorize everything without understanding any of it.

There’s nothing like a crisis to revise your learning strategy

When did I finally revise my learning ‘strategy’? After I failed big time in my first year at university. I had four exams and failed two. How did that happen? Actually this is a bit embarrassing in retrospect. I failed because I couldn’t read and memorize everything in that foot-high pile of … well, stuff about art 😉

This was an eye-opener. I had skipped maths before my grades reached embarrassing levels. Getting really poor grades for the first time in your life makes it painfully clear you’re doing something fundamentally wrong. It is, as they say, a great learning opportunity. Yay!

It worked. I learned.

How does a learning strategy help you in your career?

Whenever you’re faced with a new task, new job, new career, you’ll find yourself having to figure out what will work best in that particular situation. Doing what you always did will lead to good results in some cases, or it will leave you in a smelly bog wondering what went wrong.

Bringing a strategic approach to your tasks means you will do things like:

  1. come up with a rough guide or plan for a new task,
  2. consciously opt for a general direction that’s most likely to get results,
  3. finetune your actions as you go along.

Take a learning approach to your career – starting today.

More reading:

How do you approach new tasks? Add your thoughts about learning, plodding, career, and school issues in a comment. I will, as always, reply to anything non-spammy 😉

Advertisements

X is for Change. Making good ideas work in big organizations

This is a bit of an odd one out in view of all the knowledge management posts I’ve written lately. Yet there is a common background to them: change in organizations.

Apart from knowledge management, there is social business, and probably a couple of other great change initiatives I’m not aware of, but that you’ve witnessed from the enthousiastic launch right down to the moment when the last “new way of thinking” motivator turned their minds to different activities – or launched the escape pod to another company in hopes of finding converts there.

Change in Big organizations

Change for the better? – Image by HikingArtist.com

Big change is bad news in big organizations

Getting an existing company to change the way it does its work may involve changing the organization chart. It’s messy and people tend not to like that. Employees don’t like it because it could be their job on the line. Managers and the people with jobs that start with a C don’t like it because change, real change, could backfire in a big way. That would leave them looking rather silly in terms of return-on-bonus 😉

But they can’t do nothing. So they hire someone to handle the new project. This one person may even grow into a small team. They target groups of people at once, trying to make as many converts as possible.

After a while, budget is moved elsewhere and the expert or team may move along with it to another department. The bar may be lowered because things don’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Small change is… very small change in big organizations

In a big organization, small changes look like background noise. They may still be fundamental changes, but it takes a while for any change to come up to the surface to get some fresh air.

Most people who try to change the organization (or at least parts of it) are experts in their own field: knowledge management, social media in business, or anything else. Unfortunately it looks as though the cash cow is grazing on a different field: that of change management. Knowledge management, social business, and the like, give you something to aim for. Lack of knowledge and skills to help you get there frustrates your whole project.

Good ideas in big organizations need change management

What is change management? If done right, the recipe contains organizational theory, strategy, ideas about how to deal with the human resources side of it all, possibly some other herbs and spices, and psychology (quite a lot of that actually).

Suppose you’re trying to get someone to fly to the moon. Or to abandon their cart in favor of travelling by train. You need to convince your intended converts:

  • that the goal is worth working towards.
  • that your contraption won’t break up, explode, crash or simply grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere.
  • that they can actually operate the vehicle – that they will be trained thoroughly.
  • that they will get real help quick whenever they don’t know what to do next (I just got a flash of the Apollo astronauts calling the helpdesk…yikes!).
  • that they will benefit from their effort – not chucked out into the cold.
  • that there is no true alternative, even though they think they’re sitting on it – that there is no comfort zone.

Make any change look too insignificant, and people will be so slow in moving you’ll barely notice their progress. Make it look too big and scary, and people will freeze up and wait for you to leave and leave them alone.

Disruptive change? No thanks.

Steer clear of the organizational terminators if you really want to change anything.

X is for change

In the course of your working life you may have read articles calling for a CIO, a CKO, or a CMO – and I just remembered a CCO too. Some of them even exist in a couple of companies, though rarely on a par with the “big C”s: the CEO (boss) and CFO (finance).
Based on my own experiences my vote would go to a CXO: a change leader. Just to get the good ideas going on a strategic level. I can’t guarantee it’ll work – but I have the impression it might just make things that little bit easier.

Read more:

Have you ever initiated what would have been a welcome change (for the better) for your organization, or part of it? Or, have you ever wished a co-worker success with their attempts to change anything wondering how long they’d last?

Social business: why you should add strategy to your content

One aspect of social media in a business is something I’m just about starting to ‘get’. It’s not just social media. It’s how to get your message across to potential customers at all, now that social media are becoming part of the business habitat. Everyone is suddenly in marketing. And my discovery (tah-daah!) is that many of us suck at it.

Social media: knowing how it works is not the issue

I don’t mean we can’t do marketing no matter what you do for training. I mean that right now, even if we know our way around social media, we have not been trained yet in (the basics of):

  • Risk management
  • Content marketing
  • Social media for business purposes.

Add strategy to your content. Image: Thinker - ContentRambler avatar

Thinking up a content strategy [OCAL image with alterations]

This may result in (m)any of the following:

  1. Your colleague has been told that social media is all about personal. She does a meet-the-whole-family blog and discusses details of her private life you don’t want to know about – depending on your interests 😉
  2. Another colleague (I’m assuming you have many of them) uploads an 86-page presentation to SlideShare, assuming she’s done her sharing duty this way. Description: “this is a presentation I did two weeks ago, enjoy”.
  3. A third colleague likes to rant about telecom services, airlines and so on which he had bad experiences with. Unfortunately one of these companies is a customer of yours.

Since I’m confident that you can spot the issues in the first and last example at once no matter what your professional background is, I’ll move on with the second example. Why? Because this is at first sight the least damaging thing anyone can do. And for that reason, it probably happens more often than the other two.

How to handle professional content

From a risk perspective, I’d really like to know if there are things like customers’ names in that presentation. If there are, you’re in trouble.

Let’s assume that it’s ‘safe’ content though, meaning it’s not about private stuff, nor does any customer of yours look bad or have their information shared on the internet. What are the downsides?

  • Your colleague’s description doesn’t really tell anyone what those 86 pages are about… that’s a missed opportunity. Possibly half a dozen opportunities, depending on what is in that presentation. I’ll get back to this topic later.
  • Here’s the good part: if the title of the presentation is as nondescript as the description, no-one is going to read it. Unless your colleague is, say, Seth Godin.
  • The bad part is that no-one will read it. But at least you’ll have a chance to improve the way your content is presented before it’s been downloaded and possibly put to good use without you ever seeing a dime in return. Or getting a “thank you”, or a new contact with an invitation you might have used for a spot of networking.

Optimizing your content for different learning styles

Depending on the content of a single presentation you could get up to half a dozen blog posts out of it; make a couple of video interviews; do a web chat or two about the subject. And I don’t mean either-or: you could do all of them. Why?

Learning styles

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a colleague repeat the basics to me just yesterday. By typing pages full of words, I’m basically catering for a specific type of person. I’m probably writing for people who learn in a way that is similar to my own.

I used to have books for breakfast. When I got to read my first ‘grown-up’ book in English – Dune, by Frank Herbert – I didn’t do any homework for three weeks (goodbye Math results). If I woke up in the middle of the night I’d read in bed.

Adding examples, especially about people and situations you can relate to, makes a (long) text more digestible for people with a different learning style. The same goes for adding a picture – preferably one with a personal touch, or with warm colors. Pictures that reach out to the viewer.

Time pressure and content guzzling

Another colleague told me that, because he spends so much time in the car, he prefers to listen to podcasts of blogs – especially by those bloggers who are real storytellers. The fact that some professions have people on their feet and in their car at all times of the day gives you yet another reason for trying different media.

Your social business needs a content strategy

For your (future) business, being on social media without knowing how to market your content doesn’t make much sense.

Note that I’m hardly saying this as a die-hard, veteran, marketing blogger. Needless to say I know I’m missing a big portion of my ‘potential audience’ by not using every available medium but just writing what’s on my mind. If you’re blogging like me and you’re not getting the most from your writing right now, that’s fine – if you’re fine with it. If not, you have work to do.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I wrote it today, in two or three sittings (I have a job and a family!), which is about the fastest I’ve done so far for anything that isn’t actually a “Blogging impressions” post 🙂

If you’ll add your thoughts on the subject of social business, content strategy or anything related, I would appreciate it and I’ll reply to any (non-spammy) comment.

Blogging impressions: the road to a content strategy

Congratulations! You have been blogging for a whole… 2 weeks? 3 months? A year and a day? So… what have you written about, and why?

Blogging impressions: the road to a content strategy

Congratulations on your blog!
[OCAL image]

In this post I’d like to talk about blogging and your content strategy.

It’s not about my personal experience in content marketing or business content strategy, because I haven’t tried to use this blog to get you to buy my stuff. I haven’t asked you to register so you get access to my most brilliant contributions to the improvement of human kind.

For now, I’ll be quite happy if you buy my ideas in stead of chucking them in the bin 🙂

Blogging without a content strategy

If you started out like me, you’ll have tried the whole blogging idea on for size. Questions you may have asked yourself when you started up your blog:

  • Do you still enjoy writing when you ‘have to’, in other words if there are readers out there and you feel you should publish new content on a regular basis?
  • Does anyone even care what you write?
  • Can you come up with enough ideas to get beyond, say, 10 posts? Or will the creative juices dry up in no time at all for whatever reason?

They’re all legitimate questions when you start out. If you start blogging to find the answers to these questions, you don’t need much of a plan beyond:

I’ll write about subjects X and Y because they’re interrelated and I run into issues a lot and maybe other people will like to read about how I view or solve those issues.

The subject and issues you decide to write about can be either your toddler’s tantrums or trends in social media. I’d advise against putting them in the same blog: I’m told Google doesn’t like it.

Why you may need a content strategy – or something like it

Once you’re blogging for a while you may find that sometimes ideas for new posts just roll in faster than you can find the time to write about them. At other times you’re stumped for ideas because they all whizzed past your head in the previous days and now they’re gone. This happened to me a few days ago. I had a great idea – I think, at some point the text was taking shape right inside my head. By the time I had a moment to sit down and take notes it had escaped me completely.

Sometimes daily life is a regular pain in the backside. That includes grocery shopping, hairdressers and pans boiling over (and your adorable kids, too).

It pays to just face it: letting content creation (blogging) depend on creative flashes like that won’t work if you want to produce new stuff every day or week. Unless you blog about your own life – even if you forget everything you meant to write about you could still blog about your ‘senior moment’ 😉

What happens if you chuck a stone (a plan) at your blog?

Here’s the good news: it won’t break. I’ve spent the past few posts writing about aspects of social business with the titles and subjects more or less ready. And it’s been all right in the sense that I knew exactly what I would write about, and was able to read up where necessary.

On the other hand, writing about a single main subject has made me extremely critical of my own writing. Publishing several posts in a series has exposed the limits of my knowledge about the subject. I spend a lot of time reading because I’m still looking for ideas that are not basically hot air balloons: amazing to look at (which I can do for hours) but basically nothing inside with a sleek outfit and lot of noisily burning gas underneath.

Blogging to a plan: feeding a newly-fledged content strategy chick

If you start planning subjects you may find the idea of treating a subject in a series of posts attractive. If so, you may run into the following:

  • You get the strong impression you’ve written something already in your previous post. This can happen even if you’ve planned the main subject for each post in advance. I find this effect is stronger if you write a series on a single subject because you planned it that way.
  • You start over-editing as a result. You may want to improve single posts in a series because you feel you’re repeating yourself. Do you find yourself chucking bits out, re-ordering and rewriting?

These are my tips to counter these effects of topic-related series:

  1. if you commit to writing a number of posts about a single subject, it really helps if you’ve read or experienced so much that you can easily write from memory.
  2. Being boundlessly opinionated on the subject is also a great way to churn out one post after the other 😉
  3. Less frequent publishing. This way you can concentrate on the core of your subject and spend lots of time on research. Or do the exact opposite:
  4. Publish more often – if you don’t post every day already. Frequent posting:
    • Prevents rereading endlessly.
    • Means you’re not forcing yourself to hang on to your drafts until ‘publishing day’.
    • Your posts are fresh rather than stale.
    • You’re not tempted to write new articles that relate to your topic into an otherwise finished post (don’t ask).

So there, I’ve solved the beginners’ content strategy puzzle – for now 🙂

Have you got bits and pieces of content strategy from your own blogging experience – what works for you and what doesn’t, then let me know by leaving a (non-spammy) comment – I will reply!

Social business: what we need is a plan

If you’re interested in ‘going social’ you need to know why your company should do so. Do you have an answer ready?

Good 🙂

In this post I will ask a few (impertinent) questions and hope they help you decide what to do about ‘social’. In other words, my aim is to make you think. All right, now I’m in trouble 😉

Social business: what we need is a plan

Chocolate inside and out
Social business mixes social media in – inside and out.

While reading some recent articles I noticed that several of them mention the ‘checklist approach’ to social media (I’m borrowing the word from Steven van Belleghem).

It’s a tactical approach: are you on Twitter? Check. Facebook? Check. So you’re ready. Right?

When you ask businesses ‘why’ they are on social media, chances are they’ll tell you something like “the whole world is there, so our customers are somewhere in there with the rest of the world”.

I’m not arguing. But that’s just one step on a long journey.

How does your content strategy connect with your social media strategy?

Yup, this non-strategist is talking strategy for once – but only to ask you more questions.

How will you connect with (not just ‘reach’) people on social media – or even on your own blog or web site?

Does every piece of content you create help your customers in some (small) way? When you read an article it really helps if it’s well-written and either amusing, or interesting, or both. Add a comment below if you disagree with me 🙂

You need people within your company to want to achieve this connection with customers. What value you aim to offer to customers should be clear to all. It shouldn’t be up to each individual employee (or team) to imagine where the link between the ‘top blah’ (vision, mission statement) and your company’s customers might be found.

How will becoming a social business help you help your customers?

An article by Adi Gaskell refers to a recent report by IBM stating that three main approaches have proved successful as starting points for the journey to social business heights:*

  • Creating valued customer experiences
  • Driving workforce productivity and effectiveness
  • Accelerating innovation.

Whichever starting point you choose, you need to integrate ‘social’ into the entire process. It’s not something a few isolated employees can do for you. It takes a plan that involves everyone at some stage, in order to achieve anything above the bare minimum.

In other words, if you want to become a ‘social business’, social media is not the cherry on your chocolate cake. It’s not just the chocolate that glistens on the outside and makes you want to eat until you burst. It’s firstly the cocoa you mixed into the dough. And it’s the chocolate icing. And, possibly, it’s also the cherry – although that’s optional. You get my drift 🙂

Social media creates valued customer experiences

Funnily enough, I wrote most of the above before reading a post which to me seems the perfect inspirational example when it comes to customer experiences (even if you feel there’s no way you’ll ever measure up to this stuff).** Read it, enjoy it, ask yourself what is in there that you could use in some way. How will your use of social media make a difference to your customers?

A few thoughts about social business – and why you need a plan for it

  1. You can’t add social media to an existing business as an afterthought and expect to become a social business.
  2. You need a plan so you don’t get distracted by the latest hype all the time.
  3. Without a plan, you could end up out of breath by going nowhere at all.

Social media has been called ‘disruptive’. I take that to mean it creates a healthy imbalance in places where everything used to stay more or less the same. You need to think about business basics, and see how social media fit into your business.

You need a plan to let social media influence your entire mix of activities in a structured way.

Social business is not a thing – it’s an emergent property of the way you handle the potential of social media.

References

* Adi Gaskell, IBM reveals the secrets to social business success, Business2Community, November 10. Adi refers to this report by IBM, The business of social business: what works and how it’s done.

** Matt Wilson, 3 essentials that power Disney Parks’ social media strategy. PR Daily, November 12.

Hoping I’ve managed to make you think, even for a moment, about the essence of social business – if so, please let me know by using the comment box below!