Daily Endeavor Blog

This blog is about leading a work life worth living.

This blog is about leading a work life worth living.

Posts tagged “learning”

You are what you learn

Scott Adams has a great post up, consistent with what we teach every day at Endeavor Prep and baked into the tools at Daily Endeavor:

You are what you learn. If all you know is how to be a gang member, that’s what you’ll be, at least until you learn something else. If you go to law school, you’ll see the world as a competition. If you study engineering, you’ll start to see the world as a complicated machine that needs tweaking. A person changes at a fundamental level as he or she merges with a particular field of knowledge. If you don’t like who you are, you have the option of learning until you become someone else. There’s almost nothing you can’t learn your way out of. Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You’re free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it.

The Most Important Curve

Politicians in the US have begun the annual budget debate, and by extension chatter on the staggering national deficit. All of this of course is measured in economic terms — how many dollars the economy generates, are we spending more than we’re generating, how much we need to borrow to pay the bills, etc. Even though the US deficit is mind-bogglingly alarming, it’s not the biggest crisis we face. There’s another more fundamental deficit that holds every country, and every individual back — how much we learn every day while we’re alive.

In a TEDx talk about this time last year, I raised the idea of a curve that describes how much people are growing. Instead of GDP, it plotted daily individual growth. As a shorthand I defined growth as the percentage of waking hours where we’re learning, or more specifically, trying something new. The claim I made at the time, and still stand by, is that this curve is the best underlying predictor of almost everything we care about.

If you show me a buzzword someone wants to increase (income, skills, profit, relationships, domain expertise, scale, leveling up, innovation, national competitiveness…), this curve would be the best predictor of achieving it.

How would we build such a curve, and what would it look like? In lieu of actual data on the 300MM people in this country, I estimated the curve based on a few assumptions. On the X-axis is age. The Y-axis is percentage of waking hours we’re trying something new. My back of the napkin would look something like this:

dailyendeavor_daily growth curve

In the earliest days and years, learning is off the charts. Everything is new, everything is interesting, we’re trying new things almost every second, as my son’s wiggling limbs can attest. As we enter formal schooling, it drops. This is in part due to the fact that we’ve thankfully learned some stuff (tie shoe? check), in part due to efficiencies of play and the inefficiencies of school, and in part due to introducing the notion of negligible-learning time (e.g. watching TV). The school years are still quite high as predominantly we learn to negotiate our social environment.

Notice the exit from the college years, based on my experience with advising tons of people during this transition, there’s a huge drop. At first, the new job brings trying a lot of new things, but it’s quickly replaced by autopilot. This is in part due to individuals’ acclimation (close the monthly accounting books? check), the low pace of new responsibilities or challenges, the inefficiencies of learning at most places of work, and overwhelmingly, staying in the same type of job and doing it the same way for years and years. There are a few upticks along the way for negotiating new social environments, parenting, new leisure activities (I wonder if I can paint that? I wonder if I can hack that together?). But given the amount of time we spend at work (8 to 12 hours/day), our work life is a huge influencer.

This curve isn’t an estimate for everyone. In fact I’d argue for all of the outliers, for everyone you know that’s crushing it, their curve looks different. But I suspect this curve may be the mode.

Why does it matter?

The area underneath the curve is responsible globally for generating what’s new and making sense of it. It’s where we find new ideas, novel approaches to problems, new words and new ways to participate in relationships. It’s where every scientific experiment is located. It’s even behind all of comedy. It’s where we’ll find all the human tinkering that’s going on globally.

When we’re not trying new things, we tend to keep not trying new things. Said differently, if we’re not growing, we’re stagnating.

My experience is that when people are experimenting on a daily and weekly basis, they’re more flexible and adaptive, they have more ways to respond to good and bad situations, they participate more and they’re more in the mix, so they tend to stumble across more opportunities, all of which leads to more opportunity for growth (GDP included).

I want to see this curve pushed up! If the area underneath the curve represents all individual growth globally right now, can you imagine what could be unleashed if it moved up, even a little bit?

Even without country-level data, each of us can estimate our own daily growth curve. How many hours are you awake every day on average? How many of those are spent on things that are so well known they’re on autopilot? How many are spent on trying something new, or trying the same thing in a different way?

Maybe percentage of time isn’t the way to go. It’s a handy constraint for estimating big blocks of time, like pitching a client in a slightly different way, but it’s not so great at picking up smaller moments, like looking the cashier in the eye the next time you buy something.

Maybe things are much better than this chart depicts. Maybe they’re much worse. Either way, I want to help push the curve up and here’s an estimate to work with.

Internships Don’t Have to Suck

While we’re hard at work making descriptions and insights available for 100,000 types of jobs so you can learn about them without first needing to know 100,000 people…when it comes to identifying actual job opportunities, there’s still no substitute for the people you know.

facebook - social map of the world

Contrary to job board claims, the simple fact is most job opportunities travel through word of mouth, which means they travel along professional and personal relationships. Your social networks determine more than anything else whether you’ll hear about an opportunity.

This week Paul Butler, an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team, posted a graph that shows the ties that bind. It’s a data visualization of the friendship relationships between cities. Paul photographed a sampling of our social networks. Righteous.

Why should we care?

Paul’s infographic reminds us of a few things. Opportunities are everywhere, and fortunately it’s as easy as ever to make and maintain relationships everywhere. Weak ties improve your reach. Strong ties improve your references.

Internships don’t have to suck. In fact there are real benefits. Internships are opportunities to show what you can do, to build something or help solve a need. They’re a way for you to try a company out (people, culture, types of work) and a way for a company to try you out. Even though “internship” has a connotation of unpaid and entry-level, it pays to think more broadly about them as lightweight, short-term contract roles for any age and any stage. Perhaps it’s time for a new term.

To learn we need experience and the data from it. Paul not only built something based on skills he had, he built something discoverable which has led to a lot of feedback — data points he can use. Right on Paul.

How the Resume is Being Replaced…by You

What hiring managers use as your “resume” is changing. It’s becoming less backward-looking and more about the present. It’s not just where you’ve worked, it’s a deeper look into you. Very quickly, it’s becoming the conversations you’re in and what you have to say. If they can find you, the person considering you wants to know: what are you really into?

Bryan Wright's Human Evolution?

Why the Resume Exists

While most people think of resumes as something indispensable for job seekers, it’s in fact the hiring managers who initiated and have come to depend on them.

As originally conceived, the resume played a critical role for a hiring manager — a sorting mechanism for their time. The resume does not determine whether someone should be hired. The utility of a resume is as a filter. A resume answers whether a person should be considered — Is this person worth spending more time on?

The resume excels at being the quick look in the rear-view mirror. We all know it well — it’s a list of employment, usually full-time. Within that skeleton, there are three types of information that a hiring manager can use to sort people into worth-more-time or not.

  • Area of work (subfield experience, functional expertise)
  • Reputation of what you worked on (company, project)
  • Results (numbers, measures)

In other words, resumes are a short-hand for the arc of a story. They answer in brief: What did you do? With who? How did it work out?

If you’re considering someone for a team, and you know nothing about them yet, it’s easy to see the utility of a resume. It provides an initial reference point for comparison. It can start to give a sense of patterns over time. It can begin to answer the amount of growth required of the person in order for them to thrive in the new role.

What Hiring Managers Really Want to Know

Hiring managers face two hard problems that resumes can’t wholly solve:

  1. they need to discover talent, and
  2. they need to distinguish between them once they’ve found them.

Since they’ve been around, resumes have always been necessary but not sufficient on both counts.

Besides the most well-known complaints (easy to spoof, keywords are grossly inadequate, they’re free to replicate so thousands can show up for an open job), resumes have always had structural limitations in the questions they can quickly answer. After getting a historical baseline, hiring managers have filled the gaps in other (time-intensive) ways, usually through interviews and references.

So if you were going to make a hiring manager’s job easier for them, let’s figure out: what else do they want to know? (Or better, put yourself in their shoes — what else would you want to know if you’re considering someone to join your team?)

Even more helpful than the potential hire’s full-time role 3 or 10 years ago, when distinguishing candidates TODAY it’s immensely helpful to know what they’re really into right now. Where someone is investing their attention now is the best proxy for what truly motivates them, and as a result, a more distinctive predictor of whether they might thrive in the specific role at hand.

Think: what is this person so into that they’d talk about it even if they weren’t getting paid? What’s something either they’re learning quickly or teach a lot about? Hiring managers are looking for a fast and reliable way to gauge a candidate’s intrinsic motivation.

Current genuine interest is not the only input for a hiring decision, but it’s a huge one. Current genuine interest fuels a person’s willingness to expend the real effort required to grow and get the hard work done. It also helps signal what else — people and insights — they can bring to the table.

Beyond the historical list that a resume provides, hiring managers want to know:

  • What are you genuinely interested in?
  • What have you learned about it lately?
  • Who are you learning from (and who’s learning from you)?
  • How fast do you learn? Is it superficial or is there clear-thinking that’s leading to a point of view?

The hiring manager faces the needle in the haystack problem — and if you want to be readily hired, part of your job is to help them solve it. They’re trying to find a very specific person for a very specific role. Put another way, once they find you, the person considering you for a job is trying to discover if what you’re really into is what they really need.

As a job seeker, your job is to help make your answers to these questions as easily discoverable as possible. Your resume, built for a different purpose in a different era, isn’t going to get you there. Here’s what will: showcasing what you know, a few sentences at a time, around a very specific job (i.e. in a way that makes it easy for hiring managers to find you).

Remember, hiring managers are awash in a sea of resumes. They’re trying to separate the wheat from the chaff — they want to discover the few bits you’ve said online that are relevant to their open role without wading through the noise of all the other conversations you’re in. They want to quickly see who’s sharp at being an analyst in management consulting or doing curriculum development for new teacher development.

This is by the way precisely how Daily Endeavor and our partners can help you. At Daily Endeavor you can showcase what you know.

The main question for you: what have you done recently to make your interests and insights discoverable for hiring managers with a very specific job in mind?

Good News: People Want to Leave Their Jobs

In FORTUNE (print) this week Jena McGregor, based on a survey by the Corporate Executive Board, reports that 27% of “high-potential” employees plan to leave their current job in the next 12 months. It’s 1 in 5 for the general employee population. Some may think that’s bad news. It’s not. In fact it’s good news for employees and companies.

Corporate Executive Board study

McGregor continues to explain that perks hold some sway in keeping people around, but the potential for growth is the powerful motivator: “They want a mix of recognition and challenges that stretch them without completely stressing them out.” I had a conversation with Fast Company about this very topic 10 years ago.

Many people take jobs for money, but when they leave, most go when they quit learning.

One way to read the finding is that about half of us want to change our job every 2 years. Why is that?

People leave jobs when the no asshole rule is triggered, or when someone makes them an economic offer they can’t refuse, or most often, when they’ve learned 80% of what they can in a role and it’s time to take on the next challenge.

People stay in jobs when something about their current role affords more growth and learning, or when their personal expenses require them to stay.

There’s an assumption, really a mindset at this point, that changing roles is a bad thing. The refrain: It shows a lack of commitment. It signals low achievement. It’s disloyal to the company. It shows a lack of focus, the kind that comes from someone who doesn’t know what they want.

In my experience, not true.

In fact the opposite is more often the case: people who have an idea of what they want, even if not crystal clear, work their way toward it through trying on different responsibilities, creating results, then importantly moving on to do what’s next.

These people are the ones I want in my company. They see the work we can do together in part as a means to their own personal learning end. I can provide income and perks and a healthy culture, but there’s no motivation that I can provide that will ever be greater than the individual’s motivation to pursue and learn about something that fires them up.

The fact that people want to leave their job is a strong signal they’re taking their professional growth seriously. That’s as commitment- and achievement-oriented as I could wish for. Yes, there are exceptions. Some people perform poorly, some approach the relationship solely for maximum personal value extraction, and some aren’t ready to complete the work we need (which means I made a bad hiring decision).

Nevertheless, I look for someone who walks in and says “over the next two years, I want to see for myself whether I can X.” My job as a manager is to pair our needs with theirs — it’s to help them get the kind of experience they’re looking for while they’re creating the results we need.

Remember, changing jobs does not need to mean changing companies. At the end of two years, the best next step may be to do more work together but in a different capacity, or it may be for them to go get different experience elsewhere. The road is long, if the relationship is good, there’s always a chance we’ll meet up again.

I’m glad to see people want to leave their jobs. I can’t wait for the number to be higher.

Jonathan Harris: Once you have learned how to speak, what will you say?

From a danah boyd tweet I ran across the work of Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar. It’s smart and visually mesmerizing. The bread crumb trail led me to a talk (“Beyond Flash“, slides) that Harris gave in October where he poses a powerful question:

Once you have learned how to speak, what will you say? This is really the central question. If I can leave you with one idea from my talk, this would be it.

It’s this question I have to believe Mary Oliver had in mind when she was writing a Summer Day. It’s also the central question we’re pursuing with Endeavor Prep. Jonathan’s is a potent question because it has two assumptions embedded in it that are significant for every person alive.

Good to Know

The first is a recognition that we’re all learning how to speak — that is, becoming individuals who can participate in the world, do things, partner, contribute, and, sure also in a literal sense, say things so as to engage and involve others. When people realize this about themselves, if I’m lucky enough to be around, it’s a great moment to be a part of. Their face (or voice) says, “I’ve actually learned all this stuff, and when I go out into the world, you know what, people respond to me.” It’s an a-ha moment that sometimes happens in college, sometimes after. The world at once gets much smaller because now each other person is accessible and just a few hops away, and also much bigger because of the staggering variation of interests and action happening out there.

Don’t be Daunted

Second, once people realize they have a voice and can cut their own path, the real question becomes What do you want to do with it? On one hand, the pure freedom and potential is exhilarating. On the other, it’s also a big hairy weighty question.

For some people it feels monolithic, as if it needs be answered all at once. So choosing, no wait, supposedly optimizing among every option is overwhelming. It’s like there’s one shot to pick from the menu and that’s what I’ll be eating, and known for eating, for the rest of my life.

Fortunately, picking “one time” is a false choice. Discovering what you will say is an iterative process. Even when you make a choice to try something out, you can still make another choice at another time to try something else.

If you want to be an gold medalist in gymnastics and you’re just starting 25, then yes, you may have missed the window. But for 99.9999% of the options out there, you can prototype your way towards it.

Learn by Doing

I’m glad I ran across the Jonathan Harris talk (there’s more here at TED). His projects and tips are really worth looking into. Here are few more:

You will become known for doing what you do. This may sound obvious, but it is a useful thing to realize. Many people seem to think they must endure a “rite of passage” which, once passed, will allow them to do the kind of work they want to do. Then they end up disappointed that this day never comes. Find a way to do the work you want to do, even if it means working nights and weekends. Once you’ve done a handful of excellent things in a given way, you will become known as the person who does excellent things in that given way. And that’s the person you want to be, because then people will hire you to be that person.
The personal is powerful. Trust your own experience. It’s the only thing that’s really yours, and that’s really unique. Putting yourself in your work can be powerful.
Do your own thing. If you imitate, you’ll only ever be a bad example of the thing you’re trying to imitate. An artist I like very much, Donald Judd, said that what you have to do is to find the same level of inventiveness as the person you’re trying to imitate. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate elements of other people’s work. As Picasso said: “Bad artists copy; great artists steal.” What he meant is that it can be OK to steal an idea from somewhere else, as long as you steal the idea and do something new with it, make it your own, and move on. If you copy it outright you’ll only get stuck in the past.
Experience is the only way to learn. Pain, joy, fear, risk, love, firsthand experience. You can learn so much from these things, and the experience will end up affecting your work in ways you don’t even realize. But it’ll be based on a real thing.

Right on.

Every Generation Refreshes the World

It’s more than a Pepsi pitch jingle. It’s true in countless ways. Young folks try more new stuff than anyone else. And the world is better off because of it. If only we could increase the percentage of people trying out something new at every age.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about what Generation Y is and is not, who it is, how it’s different from Gen X and The Boomers, and so on. Dealing at the generational level is always risky business because of the inherent generalizations at work.

Even so, I’d like to make a generalization that’s particularly of interest to me — not about the differences between periods in which we grew up in (& how they shape our world view), but about the similarities of age cohorts.

Simply put, people who pass through their twenties share a lot in common with all of the other 20-somethings of years past. They have a higher appetite for learning, or said in the language of older folks, a higher appetite for risk.

This is not news. The bullet points are rattled off all the time:

  • They have fewer responsibilities so they have much more time
  • They have less wealth, and less to lose, and fewer responsibilities that would be impacted by loss
  • They have less opportunity cost for trying something new because the thing they’re doing now isn’t providing tremendous material returns
  • They have more time to adjust course, re-start, learn anew

Ok, that’s the conventional wisdom. Feels really rational and economic, doesn’t it? It’s missing the I-don’t-live-in-a-box human aspects to it.

Social, Momentum

In my experience, people are much more social (part of and impacted by the folks around them, for better or worse) and also more prone to momentum (or lack thereof). I think it’s important to add in a few more likely reasons

  • They learn more because they’re recently practiced at learning, the fulfillment and sometimes rush it brings isn’t a memory out of reach, it’s a feeling that’s on hand
  • They’re more willing to ask for help; there are fewer hang-ups with “should have it all together by now” which leads to more iterations, and more learning from each one
  • They remember explicitly to have fun; instead of fun being a luxury now and again, it’s a must-have that’s top of mind (this one my friend Katie reminded me of recently, something she’s been doing while writing her book; she’s having fun in her job and it’s making a real impact on her life)

People in school, and people coming out of school and in their 20s, are at such a phenomenal moment. They’re steeped in learning (having just completed a hard core two decade primer), the joy of it is still coarsing through their veins, as is the craving of it, and now for the first time they have a 10x step up in freedom to explore whatever they so choose. It’s no surprise they unleash a blast of new on the world.

Some Old Dogs Love New Tricks, But Too Few

To be sure there are individuals at every age for whom the three social aspects of learning mentioned above are true (and I’d argue they’re the happier ones, or the “high performers”). However, as people turn the calendar, they on average grow less and less. Sometimes precipitously less.

Again, the common responses have become refrains:

  • They’d love to have more fun and grow more if taking responsibility seriously didn’t crowd out every minute of the day
  • That the same things that were fun just aren’t so fun after you’ve done them 1000 times

There’s more than a kernel of truth on both counts. But still I wonder, Really? I suspect one of the main reasons people quit growing is because they view it as optional, and once they slow doing it, they atrophy at it, then it becomes hard or even scary. Both the social and the momentum bits showing themselves again.

The Pepsi Stimulus Package

If the people who are learning and growing, led each year by young folks, weren’t refreshing the world, who would be? How would the world, or to get local, your neighbors and office mates, be different if more people at all ages kept growing like they were in their 20s?

I think it just might be a better place.

So yes, it’s a commercial for a drink with Bob Dylan and Wil.I.Am. But it adds another twist on the phrase “may you stay forever young.”

Career Search Roundup 2008-12-16

Wisdom: You Get Old Because You Stop Doing Things

Andrew Zuckerman released a book and short film called Wisdom not too long ago. It’s a sincere achievement that captures the intellect and emotion, not to mention the lessons, of some truly remarkable individuals like Nadine Gordimer and Jane Goodall. He introduces it:

Inspired by the idea that one of the greatest gifts one generation can pass to another is the wisdom it has gained from experience, the Wisdom project, produced with cooperation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, seeks to create a record of a multicultural group of people who have all made their mark on the world.

In his portraits, Zuckerman highlights, among other things, that learning is what makes people come alive. His subjects are testament to it.

To say it even more bluntly: at any given moment, you’re either learning, or your decaying. Each moment may be small, but they accrue over time and to great effect. Why not seek out work that turns you on?

Here are a few of my favorites.

Your best work is your expression of yourself – Frank Gehry

You don’t stop doing things because you get old. You get old because you stop doing things. – Rosamunde Pilcher

Who I am and what I need are things I need to find out myself – Chinua Achebe

One of the reasons I haven’t slipped into some kind of retirement is that I feel I’m learning something new all of the time – Clint Eastwood

You can’t get to wonderful without passing through alright – Bill Withers

I think you’ve got to learn to love something deeply…it sounds sentimental as hell, but I really think it is – Andrew Wyeth

Pick up the book for someone you’d like to see keep growing. Thanks to Mac for the pointer.

Don't settle. Do what you love.

Lead a work life worth living