Digital technology is transforming just about everything, and fast. Yet just 33% of organizations say their top-level managers understand and support digital initiatives. If you’re not working on transforming your L&D and HR function for the digital age, too, then maybe you should.

The reality is, the world is changing constantly. And according to major startup investor Paul Graham, it creates not just threats, but also huge opportunities – if you recognize the signals in time and adapt appropriately.

McK quote Digital CLO

The threats that come with being a chief learning officer (CLO), or working for one, are real. Reality is getting more virtual. Intelligence is getting more artificial. Data is getting bigger. It will take a new breed of chief learning officer that can adequately adjust to meet the needs of today’s workforce. Say hello to the Digital CLO.

The formula for success as a Digital CLO in learning and development (L&D) – which is essentially the algorithm for developing capabilities and driving business performance – is well-known:
Alignment + Efficiency + Effectiveness = Outcomes

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Most CLOs struggle to get or stay aligned. Almost 60% of the workforce’s skill sets don’t match changes in their companies’ strategies, goals, markets or business models.

Many CLOs also have a hard time being efficient. As much as 70 cents out of every dollar invested in L&D is wasted on irrelevant, redundant, low quality or unused training.

Most importantly, too many CLOs aren’t actually effective where it counts. Nearly three quarters of CEOs say that a lack of critical expertise is a threat to their businesses’ growth.

Some CLOs, however, are adapting and evolving – even thriving – in the face of all this digital disruption. To find out what the 3 things are that successful CLO’s do differently, join Intel and Degreed for the Digital CLO “playbook” webinar on January 31st. Register for the event here.

When we talk about the value of learning, it’s commonly linked to increasing the capabilities of the larger organization to drive performance, productivity and business outcomes.

But as the workforce becomes more saturated and diverse, employees are finding out that their ability to get new and improved jobs aka employability, is based on their skills. And to keep up, worker capabilities need to be improving all the time. Rightfully so, workers are demanding opportunities to learn and gain new skills.

The smartest CLO’s realize that if they don’t enable continuous growth in-house, and offer a variety of learning experiences and opportunities, employees will leave.

culture

At the Degreed LENS event in November, learning analyst Josh Bersin shared that career development and learning are almost 2x more important than compensation and benefits to employees. “When high performers leave your company, it’s usually because they felt they could find a better opportunity, more growth, more development by going to work for another company. It wasn’t for more money; it’s rarely for more money,” said Bersin.

And for those specifically interested in reaching millennials, lack of growth opportunities is the number one reason they will leave your company.

millennials

Though a key factor to employee satisfaction, only 18% of the people Degreed surveyed said they would recommend their employer’s learning and development opportunities to a colleague. This is a big missed opportunity and an important issue.  Building a meaningful learning experience has become more than job productivity –  it’s your brand, your ability to attract people, your ability to retain them.

At the LENS event, Bersin revealed there are 20 different things that contribute to an employee’s sense of mission, purpose and engagement with your company– almost half of them relate to learning.

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“Learning owns probably 30 or 40 percent of the employment brand in your company. The issue of how we learn and how we share information in companies is very essential to the employee experience at organizations,” shared Bersin.

People are a big expense – up to 70% of operating costs in many organizations. Investing in them through learning, keeping the workforce engaged is more vital than ever, and treating L&D as a core part of your brand’s success is essential to making that happen. Take the first steps to making learning part of your brand at Degreed.com.

The average person leaves university or college in their early 20’s and retires in their mid 60’s. For those of you like me that aren’t math wizards, that’s about 45 years where most of your learning happens in a professional setting, i.e. while you’re on the job.  And most of that on-the-job learning happens outside of training classes, in the job-related information you consume and tasks you complete each day.

That’s a huge amount of informal learning over the course of a career. While the lack of formality and classroom hours sound great, there’s a problem. Typically, the valuable time you’re spending growing your skill sets isn’t being captured.

Think about it. Almost every day you are reading articles, watching videos, searching online to find an answer. But where are you tracking that time spent or what knowledge you gained? My guess is it’s not being recorded anywhere.

At the organizational level, very little data, if any, is captured on what employees are learning in the course of doing their jobs. Regularly, measurement ends when the course or training program is over, and the details that were captured are minimal – typically only a record that you’ve “completed” the learning.

“This lack of data represents an enormous missed opportunity to increase an organization’s human capital, by tailoring learning resources and initiatives to the specific topics people don’t understand well enough,” said Lev Kaye, Founder and CEO of CredSpark.

Worse, this lack of data on informal learning carries a huge risk for the business.  Organizations can operate impaired, or even close down as a result of bad decisions or investments stemming from knowledge gaps.  In certain industries, if an employee doesn’t understand a critical technology or a regulation, there may be legal, financial, and market implications.  “It’s not just that people don’t know–it’s that they don’t know they don’t know,” added Kaye.

It’s crucial that both the employee and the employer knows which skills, strengths and weaknesses are present in the organization.

The solution is to start assessing and capturing metrics around informal learning.

reporting

“Informal learning by definition demands informal assessment that’s nothing like formal tests for certification, licensure, or hiring,” commented Kaye.  “Rather, informal learning assessment means short, highly-targeted knowledge checks that are used first and foremost to engage people then quickly check their knowledge of these topics.”

It’s important to note that when talking about informal learning, assessments are not meant to be an evaluative tool but another method of engagement to reinforce the learning that’s taking place. These knowledge checks are of highest value to the individual, not her manager or business, because the best learning and growth is driven by individual initiative.

The findings from assessments will provide the learner specific opportunities where they can increase their skill sets, and improved insights into the learning happening and identifiable skill gaps for the organization.

To begin gathering informal learning data and using it to reduce the risk of critical knowledge gaps, visit get.degreed.com.

 

Technology is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, from how we get groceries, to how we get around our cities, to how we get answers to everyday questions. People who are in the business of providing information–like L&D training organizations–probably feel this disruption more than others.

Learners are now empowered to find answers on their own, without the help of L&D. According to 2016 Degreed research, almost 85% of workers said they learn weekly by searching online, and nearly 70% learn from peers or by reading articles and blogs. Think about much things have changes, how far we have come, even in just the last 10 years!

It might surprise you that 45 percent of companies report that digital disruption is not being taken seriously by senior management and only 38% of learning and development professionals think they’re ready to meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. What’s holding everyone up?

It’s important to begin by understanding digital disruption. When talking about the changes in technology, the term is commonly interpreted to mean the impact technology has on the way we conduct ourselves and our businesses everyday.

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iScoop takes it a step further, defining digital transformation as,“the profound transformation of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact across society in a strategic and prioritized way.”

The key here is the word “opportunity” and the ability for organizations to fully leverage the possibilities that new technology brings: quicker delivery, more personalized information, more content. To learn more about the current state of digital disruption and how it might affect  businesses  the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation surveyed 941 business leaders around the world in 12 industries.

The study showed 43 percent of leaders fail to see the risks associated with not taking a more modern digital approach, and don’t have strategies in place to address the issue. When this mindset is applied to the learning functions in our companies, it stunts the growth of both employees and the organization . As mentioned above, learners rely heavily on themselves and easy sources of information; and without guidance or facilitation on the systems and sources from which they are getting the content, they are choosing sources outside the purview of L&D systems, such as Google or YouTube.

Author and business leader Daniel Newman is well known for his take on digital transformation. He offers this analysis: “Digital disruptors and tech innovators are emerging in different industry sectors, threatening to overthrow conventional business models faster than ever. The implications are clear—you either embrace digital transformation or stagnate and perish.”

Bersin by Deloitte quantifies digital tools for the learning space, adding, “HR leaders and learning must adapt to a world where employees demand continuous learning opportunities through innovative platforms tailored to their individual schedules.”

The most successful CLOs know embracing digital disruption in today’s always-on economy takes more than just investing in the newest technology. “What separates the disruptors from the disrupted is how you put those new tools to work,” adds Todd Tauber, VP of Product Marketing at Degreed.

For CLOs and learning leaders, overcoming digital disruption includes a strategy that shares responsibility with L&D, managers and employees. This new strategy also includes an investment in tools and systems that empower: continuous growth, informal and self-driven learning, curation, collaboration, and behavioral data.

Embracing digital learning solutions that mirror the way the workforce already gets their information is no longer a luxury, it’s a marker of success. Our diverse talent market and competitive business landscape makes “learning an essential tool for engaging employees, attracting and retaining top talent, and developing long-term leadership for the company.”

It’s time to embrace digital with a learning solution that curates and tracks all learning experiences. Find out more about what this could look like at your organization at get.degreed.com

Many learning leaders are re-thinking their strategy and want to incorporate more digital components to what they are doing with learning.  This means thinking beyond traditional models of classroom training, e-learning, and the limited functionality of an LMS. The reality is that people have information available at their fingertips and there is an abundance of tools to choose from.

The key is relevance, context and helping your learners effectively navigate the explosion of content. As you are thinking about creating your digital learning strategy and incorporating digital learning assets and tools into what you offer your employees, it’s imperative you consider and are able to answer the following three questions:

  1. What is our digital learning strategy?

A digital learning strategy means that you are going to incorporate digital learning assets (videos, online learning, courses, blogs, articles, books) into how you help people learn. But, it’s really more than that – it’s actually thinking about learning differently.  There is so much content for learning available to people now, and the rate of change is so fast, that we can’t be bound by old models of learning to satisfy how quickly people need to keep up on the required skills today.

digital-strategy-1

In the old model, a central learning group would get requirements for what people needed to learn (say Java programming), design and develop the “training,” and then set up classrooms, register people, and have them leave their job to attend a class.  That process takes time (sometimes a lot of time) and by the time all that happens, your company has moved on and now needs Python programming skills instead.

Instead, embrace a digital learning strategy. Now you can use the over-abundance of available content to your advantage.  You can help direct people to digital assets that you have developed, or that already exist, and give them on-demand access.  Having a variety of digital asset types also takes into account all the different ways people like to learn – I personally love to read books or listen to podcasts, but others may like to take a multi-week online course.  A digital learning strategy is your plan for how you want to conveniently offer all these digital learning assets to your employees.

  1. Why do we need a digital learning strategy?

One of the reasons it’s so valuable to have a digital learning strategy is that you can provide learning to all your employees – not just the chosen few.

When a digital learning strategy is deployed, it is instantly a global, scalable benefit for all of your people.  So if you have employees around the globe, or across the country, a digital strategy can help show all employees you are investing in them and in their skill development – all the time – which is key to employee engagement, especially millennials. Workers will have all types of learning assets at their fingertips whenever they need them.  So instead of asking the learning department to develop a particular type of learning, people can access thousands of learning assets that can help them right away.

Many companies spend the majority of their budgets on leaders and managers or high-performing employees and leave the rest of their employees to fend for themselves.  But how can “the rest” succeed without support and guidance, too? Having a digital strategy can help you reach all of your employees and help you have a competitive advantage in terms of retaining people. Employees want to build their skills and want you to invest in them, so if they feel your company will do that and others won’t, that gives you an edge.

  1. Which digital content should we include?

Here’s where a little analysis as well as iteration comes into play. At my last company when we were trying to decide which content to include in our digital strategy, we had just begun creating the learning organization, so we didn’t have any of our own content yet. In order to get learning to people quickly, we partnered with a few leading content providers that have libraries of digital content (examples include Plural Sight, BigThink, SkillSoft, Lynda.com, Safari Books, and Harvard Publishing, although there are hundreds out there).

Strategy_Degreed_2016_Learning_Landscape

We chose three content partners and tracked the usage of providers content to see what our employees were needing and using.  We also included some of the free content out there (such as Ted Talks and YouTube videos).  That worked well for creating our first digital strategy, but over time, we dropped some providers and partners and added some of our own company-specific digital content into the mix as we learned what was working best for our employees.

Unfortunately, many online learning strategies start with buying technology – generally an LMS – and then people build the digital strategy around the technology.  To be really successful, though, you need to create your strategy first and then see what technology will support what you really want it to do. New technology is making new things possible.  The key is just to make sure you know what problems you are trying to solve and then you can make the magic happen.

 

 

bb_TrumanAs sad as it is, being snubbed is part of life. But we can’t let that derail us from doing our best work. What if Dicaprio would have given up after one of his many Oscar snubs? Recognition is nice, but it shouldn’t be the reason you do something. You should do things because you love to do them, because it brings you joy. Otherwise, you’ll inevitably find yourself snubbed one day, and have nothing to measure your success on. Success shouldn’t be measured on awards anyway.

Rosalind Franklin was a scientist who got snubbed in the 50’s—pretty significantly might I add—and not many people know about her as a result. So I’d like to tell you a little bit about her story and what we can learn from it.

A Future in Science

Rosalind Franklin was always a bright girl. She excelled in science, math and language from a young age. Her parents were also pretty well off so she never had to worry about finances. She was always able to pursue a good education, and she was determined to excel. In the words of her mother, “Rosalind knew exactly where she was going, and at sixteen, she took science for her subject.”

Rosalind Franklin

In college, Franklin majored in physical chemistry. By the time she finished her undergraduate studies in 1942, World War II was still raging on so she decided to focus her PhD work in an area that would be helpful to the war efforts. She spent the next four years studying coal and carbons. In her research on the subject, she identified micro structures within coal and learned how to utilize that knowledge to more accurately predict the performance of different coals. Her findings were considerable.

After the war ended, Franklin began learning x-ray crystallography, which is the process of taking x-ray photos of crystallized structures. Some of her first work using that method yielded discoveries that would form the basis of carbon fibers.

Later on, Franklin was given a research scholarship at King’s College to improve their crystallography efforts in the study of DNA. Maurice Wilkins, her colleague, was already working with crystallography, but he arrogantly assumed that Franklin was just his assistant. The rift in their relationship would ultimately lead to Franklin’s greatest snub.

 

The Mystery of DNA

Franklin wasn’t just any crystallographer, she was exceptional at it—one of the best in the business. She was able to get some of the highest resolution photos that had ever been taken of crystallized DNA.

In fact, it was because of her images that the well-known duo of James Watson and Francis Crick were able to definitively prove their answer to the DNA mystery. They had theorized that DNA was a double helix, but were missing the piece of the puzzle that would confirm their theory. Wilkins, who knew Watson and Crick, leaked Franklin’s images to the duo. In addition to the images, Watson and Crick also benefitted from some of Franklin’s unpublished research. With those pieces of the puzzle in place, they finally had the evidence they needed. Their published announcement of their discovery gave no direct mention of Franklin or her images.

 

Precision and Patience

It is believed that Franklin probably understood the implications of her photos and that she had her own theories about the double helical shape of DNA. From her research, she photographed two forms of DNA, wet and dry.

Franklin was careful and precise as a scientist. Though she had evidence of a helical structure from her images of wet DNA, She didn’t want to publish her theory until she had worked out the math for dry DNA. She wasn’t going to rush things and risk missing a vital piece of information. She wanted to be absolutely sure. She was diligent and cautious by nature. By 1953, she was finally able to conclude that both forms were double helices. However, that’s exactly when Watson and Crick’s announcement was published.

After her work in DNA, Franklin made substantial discoveries as she shifted her studies to viruses. She published 19 papers on viruses and helped lay the foundation of structural virology. Franklin would have likely made more strides in science, but she died from ovarian cancer only a few years later at the age of 37.

Franklin’s contribution to the mysteries of DNA was only made public in later years. However, that wasn’t until after Watson, Crick and Wilkins has been awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in DNA in 1962—with no mention of Franklin’s contribution.

Though Rosalind Franklin had her share of snubs and controversy, she loved what she did. Her belief was that by doing her best, she “would come nearer to success, and that [her] definition of success (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining.” So she always did her best, even after she was denied the recognition she deserved.

And so should we.

Steph-Curry-Patt-Riley-Gradual-Change

 

The most intriguing part of the quote above is not that excellence comes from wanting to do better—that’s pretty obvious—but that excellence comes from consistently making gradual changes.

Merriam-Webster defines the word gradual \ˈgra-jə-wəl\ (adj) as moving, changing, or developing by fine or often imperceptible degrees.

Steph-Curry-Gradual Change

I know that’s the recipe for the opening line of every high school graduation speech ever, but it works here. And I’m a sucker for words.

What Mr. Riley is saying here is pretty remarkable when you ponder it. How is it that something gradual—seemingly undetectable—can create anything substantial?

This is an idea that I could dwell on forever and still not completely wrap my head around. You could take a grain of sand out of the desert, and no one would be the wiser. You could do the same with a drop of water from the ocean. As humans, we are only one in a sea of billions. We’re literally just fibers in the fabric of the world. All but imperceptible.

Yet, thinking that each little piece of the greater whole has no meaning is flawed. Each little piece matters. It builds on the other little pieces around it and eventually becomes something great. Try to watch a movie on a TV with a missing pixel and tell me every tiny piece doesn’t matter.

The Compound Effect

I recently read a book by Darren Hardy titled The Compound Effect. In the book, Hardy essentially tries to break down and explain exactly how small pieces add up over time and lead to monumental results.

One of the most common explanations of this is the example of the compounding penny.

If you don’t know what that is, here’s the synopsis: say someone offered you the choice between a million dollars right now or the final sum of a penny doubled every day for 30 days (.01, .02, .04 etc.), which would you take?

The knee-jerk reaction is to take the million dollars. It seems like a no brainer. However, if you double a penny every day for 30 days, you end up with 5.3 million dollars. More than five times the amount you would have had if you took the million up front.

At first, you don’t really see any change. On day five you only have $0.16. Big whoop. You’ve waited five days and you still don’t even have enough to get a gum ball. Even at day 15, the halfway mark, you only have $163.84. Compared to $5.3 million, that’s miniscule. If you stole $163.84 out of someone’s bank account who has $5.3 million, it would be almost imperceptible. But through the power of the compound effect, the final 15 days are astronomically more lucrative than the first 15.

This idea works because gradual change is powerful when paired with consistency . At day five, you’re probably pretty discouraged. But if you stop doubling, you lose out on a big payout. The penny example is a little misleading because we can do the math and find the exact final outcome. But if you don’t know what the end looks like (as is that case with most things in life) it’s hard to feel like you’re making any progress.

Have you ever started a new diet or exercise routine and got frustrated after a week when you stepped on the scale and saw little to no change? It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t see effort right away. That’s the poisonous nature of the human desire for instant gratification. But you have to keep at it. Every effort matters if you are consistent..

Going back to Hardy’s book, he says, “Your only path to success is through a continuum of mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and sometimes difficult daily disciplines compounded over time.”

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There is no quick fix for success. The only way to the top is through gradual and consistent effort. There are no shortcuts. And you may not see the results you’re looking for until you’ve kept at it for years.

 

The Success of Steph Curry

As outsiders looking in, successful people may appear to have fallen into their results overnight. That’s because there’s nothing newsworthy about a small change. The only way gradual effort becomes newsworthy is when it is maintained consistently over time. And that’s when everyone takes notice.

Let’s take one of the best athletes in the world right now as an example. Even if you know nothing about basketball, you’ve probably heard of Steph Curry. You have surely seen his amazing athletic feats on videos in your Facebook and Twitter feeds. But it wasn’t like that even two or three years ago.

Hardy talks about this as well.

“Don’t try to fool yourself into believing that a mega-successful athlete didn’t live through regular bone-crushing drills and thousands of hours of practice. He got up early to practice—and kept practicing long after all others had stopped.”

Out of high school, Steph Curry was overlooked by schools in big conferences. All the critics said he was too small. But he kept pushing. By the time he decided to go pro, scouts had all but declared him worthless in the NBA. Those draft reports are laughable now. Especially while read by Curry in a video touting his 2015 MVP and championship honors (something CoachUP did recently).

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Image by Keith Allison, Hanover, MD, USA

But Curry kept at it. He kept perfecting his craft.

“He practiced like a demon, hyper-focused on his weaknesses.” – Washington Post

Curry worked tirelessly on fundamentals—and he still does—making sure he has mastered every monotonous movement that happens in a game. That consistent effort on the simple components of the game has paid off.

“…staying on top of that simple fundamental makes you a little bit faster, a little bit more creative, a little bit more efficient on the floor.” – Steph Curry via Sports Illustrated

It’s hard not to watch in awe as Curry has dominated the game this year. Next time you watch him play, try not to see him only as he is now, but, like Under Armour puts it, as the sum of all his training. And don’t discount the power of gradual change made consistently over time, instead, try putting them to work towards your own goals.

In honor of International Women’s Day we’ve gathered 10 stories of women who have changed the world with their expertise. It goes without saying that this doesn’t even come close to a comprehensive list because, well, we’d be here forever. These women are powerful examples of leading, creating, and changing the world. Here are some of our favorite game changers:

 

1. Laura Hillenbrand
Photo: Washington Post

Photo: Washington Post

We know and love the amazing stories of Unbroken and Seabiscuit because of Hillenbrand’s writing. What many don’t know is that Lauara has successfully brought these amazing stories to life while battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome- a disease that at times has left her bedridden.

Hillenbrand is a woman who inspires us to commit more time to our dreams, by living with incredible focus and dedication to the hard work it takes to accomplish amazing things.

2. JK Rowling

For anyone who’s experienced failure, JK Rowling is an example of following your own path to success and believing in yourself.

Rowling was living off welfare as a single mother, writing all day in a coffee shop with her baby by her side, before she brought to life some of the most beloved books of the century. JK Rowling’s success exploded to make her the richest author in the world.

What advice does JK Rowling have for the rest of us? We all carry magic. In a Harvard commencement speech she said:

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

Here’s how failure helped guide her:

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3. Oprah Winfrey

A woman who needs no introduction. Oprah rose out of poverty in rural Mississippi, she teaches us to work hard and believe in our personal callings- here’s what she has to say about offering our personal callings to others:

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4. Zhou Qunfei

Zhou is the world’s richest self-made woman. While not fond of interviews, the details of her personal story are quite remarkable. Zhou worked long hours in a factory in China making $1 a day, work she didn’t enjoy. After 3 months she quit and penned her boss a letter of resignation stating her complaints with long hours, yet also writing about how grateful she was to have the job and her desire to have an opportunity to learn more.

Her boss was so impressed that he gave her a promotion- which gave her the step up to start the leading glass screen production company, Lens Technology.

Her cousin has this to say about her: “We call women like her ‘ba de man’ which means a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do”

Zhou’s example shows us how to speak up, seek opportunity, and dare to do great things.

5A. Kat Archibald

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We can’t make a list of women who inspire us and not include one of our own at Degreed. Kat is our VP of Product, a leader in the community, a mom, a snowboarder, and really good at her job. Kat helps lead us on the path to accomplishing our mission, listen here for her take on diversity, growth and opening up opportunities for women.

5B: All women at Degreed

Here’s a snapshot of some of our amazing women:

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6. Temple Grandin

Temple has autism, and successfully turned what could be perceived as a weakness into a strength. By using her unique ability to understand animals to help her, Temple became one of the world’s most respected advocates for the humane treatment of livestock. Grandin sees the world differently, and though she struggles with communication she has an extraordinary visually gifted mind that helped her be extremely successful in turning her passion into her life’s work.

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Temple’s autism doesn’t define her, and your weaknesses shouldn’t either.

7. Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr pioneered the idea of a Secret Communication System through frequency hopping- the idea was so groundbreaking that many patents piggy backed from it, making GPS and Bluetooth possible. Hedy wasn’t merely an inventive genius, she was also an actress and was often called “the most beautiful woman in the world”

Hedy shows us we can be whatever we want to be, we don’t have to fit a particular mold.

8. Diana Nyad

At the age of 64, Diana Nyad stumbled out of the ocean onto the beach of Key West, Florida after a grueling world record 53-hour swim. Surrounded by her team, fans and press, her first words were: “You can chase your dreams at any age, you’re never too old.”

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It took Diana 4 years and 4 failed attempts until she completed her goal of swimming 110 miles from Cuba to Florida. You can accomplish hard things too. Here are the 3 things Diana has to say about accomplishing dreams. 

9. Aung San Suu Kyi

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A rebel with a true cause, Aung San Suu Kyi has stood in the face of enemies to fight for Burma. Time magazine has named her one of the 16 most rebellious women in history.

She spent 15 years under house arrest in Burma after she spoke up against brutal killings, and started a nonviolent movement for democracy and human rights. Aung shows us how to stand up for what we believe in.

10. Harriet Tubman

Champion of the underground railroad, Tubman led roughly 13 trips to rescue family and friends from slavery. After arriving in the free state of Pennsylvania, Harriet had the difficult choice to make: stay free and start a new life, or risk losing it all by going back to save her family and friends? She chose the latter.

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Harriet was a firm but loving leader who knew what needed to be done and executed it with precision. Her decisions combined with her skills and leadership qualities led to the freedom of roughly 70 slaves via the Underground Railroad.

All the women on this list have taught us important lessons about how to live, create, lead and change the world. We salute all women and want to hear about the ones you look up to, tweet us at @degreed to help us celebrate International Women’s Day!

Don’t forget to add this article to your Degreed profile by clicking the button below.

Expertise takes imbalance

 

The year was 1938. America was still suffering in the Great Depression. Hitler was gearing up for war. Amidst all that, on November 1, Franklin D. Roosevelt took a break from the stresses of running a nation and tuned into a radio broadcast with 40 million other listeners. War Admiral, a dominant race horse and the previous year’s Triple Crown winner, was lined up next to a small but determined horse named Seabiscuit. It was a match race. A one-on-one duel. Seabiscuit was far and away the underdog. But everyone loves an underdog story. Winning the race by four lengths, Seabiscuit sealed his fate as an American legend.

In the same ink-smeared newspapers that chronicled the races of Seabiscuit, stories of a man who was poised to become an American legend in his own regard peppered the sports pages. In the late thirties, the four minute mile had not yet been achieved. In fact, that barrier wouldn’t be broken until 1954. Up until World War II, Louis Zamperini, an Italian kid from Torrance, California, was among the favorites to break the four-minute barrier. In fact, he ran a 4:08 in college, which stood as a collegiate record for 15 years. But Zamperini would never get the chance to beat that mark. After enlisting in the Army Air Corps, he was in a plane crash, which became the start of a harrowing story of survival at sea and in Japanese POW camps.

Many of us know these amazing stories because of the writing of Laura Hillenbrand in both novels Seabiscuit and Unbroken. However, as the story of Seabiscuit filled us with awe and the story of Zamperini took us on an unfathomable journey, the remarkable story of the woman behind the pen has gone mostly unnoticed.

An Unfortunate Disease

CFS or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as explained by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is characterized by debilitating fatigue that can be triggered by minimal activity. People with severe CFS find it all but impossible to do even the most basic of everyday tasks. Hillenbrand seemed to have the odds stacked against her. At one time while in the process of writing Unbroken, she suffered a particularly bad spell of the disease. Things digressed to the point that she was unable to leave her home for two years. Some months she never left her bedroom.

Hillenbrand didn’t always suffer from CFS. She was basically blindsided by it at the age of 19. Too weak to continue attending her college classes, she moved in with her mother in Maryland. So little was known about the disease at the time, doctors didn’t believe her when she would explain her symptoms. They tried to convince her it was all in her mind or that it was an eating disorder. Even her own mother was skeptical. Eventually she was well enough to move to Chicago with her then boyfriend, but on a trip back to Maryland to visit her mother, she collapsed. Unable to regain enough physical strength to fly back home, she was forced to make her permanent home in nearby Washington D.C. 

Unparalleled Success

Just how good is Laura Hillenbrand? Well when you stop and think about it, how does anyone write in so much detail about places they have never been? Journalists get their stories by going on location to survey the surroundings and talk to the people involved. Hillenbrand never had that opportunity. Everything she did was via phone or email. She never even met Zamperini in person until after Unbroken was published, which took her almost ten years. Zamperini didn’t even know she was sick for the first seven years she interviewed him. Her focus was on the story.

Hillenbrand is also exceptionally adept at research. When she first reached out to Zamperini about writing Unbroken, he shrugged her off. He was just about finished writing his own memoir. He didn’t think there was anything left to cover. On top of that, there were already three other books written that told Zamperini’s remarkable story. But Hillenbrand was relentless, and Zamperini eventually relented. For the next decade, Hillenbrand dug up a trove of new information. So much so that Zamperini admitted it got to the point where he would call her and ask what happened to him in certain prison camps.

Both Seabiscuit and Unbroken have become enormous successes. Combined the two books have sold more than 10 million copies. Unbroken, her most recent success, was on the New York Time’s best-seller list for 185 weeks straight. To put it in perspective, only three other books have outdone that. In a New York Times article, Sallye Leventhal, who is one of the book buyers for Barnes & Noble, had this to say about Hillenbrand’s success, “There are other phenomenal best sellers, but not this phenomenal. Not with this velocity, year after year after year.”

Focus and Balance

Laura Hillenbrand is a fascinating example of focus. In the depths of painful and incapacitating illness, she somehow mustered the physical strength (some days it was all she could do to pick up a pen) and the mental perseverance to complete two incredible works of art.

As I ponder on Hillenbrand’s story, I can’t help but think about the focus it must have taken to do what she did. CFS was literally keeping her bedridden, yet her focus was on something bigger than herself, something she excelled at that helped her escape the pains of her disease.

In talking about focus, I think I also need to bring up balance. I’m not entirely sold on the notion of having balance in life. At least not all the time. When things are balanced, you’re not giving your all to anything. Everything gets an equal amount of attention, but nothing gets your full attention. In many circumstances, I think there is nothing wrong with that. However, there are instances where balance could be synonymous with complacent. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want to become an expert at something, you’re going to have to throw your life off balance. You’re going to have to focus on the thing that you want to be great at. You can’t give less than your full attention to something and expect to excel.

For instance, I would very much love to become a master woodworker or gain expertise in wilderness survival. But at this point in my life, I’m focused on excelling in writing. That means that the shelves and desk that I want to build sit undone as I spend my nights writing and researching.

I’ll be the first to admit that focusing on one thing when you enjoy many things—whether you choose to, or like Laura Hillenbrand are forced to—is not easy. But no one ever said becoming an expert would be easy.

 

Tweet me at @bradensthompson, and follow me on Degreed here. Click the button below to get credit for reading this article.

Career Advice From Self Made Billionaires

The first time I truly grasped the magnitude of a billion was while reading Tony Robbins’ book, Money: Master the Game. He explains a billion relative to time. One million seconds is roughly 12 days. And how about one billion seconds? That’s 32 YEARS. The difference between a millionaire and a billionaire is massive. So I think it’s safe to say that becoming a self-made billionaire is quite an impressive feat. The following career advice comes from six individuals who rose up out of less-than-stellar conditions and into incredible wealth.

John Paul DeJoria

First up we have Mr. John Paul DeJoria. This guy didn’t just stop after his first billion-dollar success, he took things a step further and built a second billion-dollar company. As a child DeJoria sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family, but he eventually ended up living in foster care. Later in life he had to live in his car while he went door-to-door selling his shampoo products. Not only did he grow that little business into the billion-dollar Paul Mitchell brand, he also started Patron Tequila—another billion-dollar endeavor.

As a man who began his career doing door-to-door sales, it’s unsurprising that a lot of what DeJoria has to say is about powering through rejection. The following piece of career advice in particular is a solid representation of the determination it took for him to build something great through great adversity.

“You’re going to run across a lot of rejection. Be prepared for the rejection. No matter how bad it is don’t let it overcome you and influence you—keep on going towards what you want to do–no matter what… You need to be as enthusiastic about door number one-hundred as door number one.”

One other piece of advice from DeJoria that I thought was worth sharing has to do with the kind of work that it takes to become successful.

“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people do all the things the unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

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J.K. Rowling

First things first, I have to admit that I’m not much of a Harry Potter fan. Though I do respect the talent of Rowling. For those of you diehard fans, you probably know everything there is to know about her. But for those who don’t know everything, Rowling had some pretty rough patches on her way to fame and fortune. At one point she was living off welfare as a single mother writing all day in a coffee shop with her baby by her side. I can’t imagine that sitting in that coffee shop she ever imagined she’d become the richest author in the world.

So what career advice does Rowling have for us? The following quotes come from a commencement speech she gave at Harvard in 2008. Like DeJoria, she has some enlightening thoughts on failure, and she also believes in the power of imagination.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

“I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution.”

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

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Howard Schultz

If you enjoy pumpkin spice in any kind of hot beverage, you’ve probably been to a Starbucks recently. The multibillion-dollar company has a storefront on seemingly every street corner in America. But for Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, things weren’t always so good. As a child, Schultz didn’t have a lot of money. Because of his predicament, he felt a strong desire to prove he could become successful in spite of his limited resources. Schultz now has a keen understanding of what a business needs in order to grow. Here are a couple thought-provoking snippets of advice from Schultz on authenticity and conviction.

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”

“There are moments in our lives when we summon the courage to make choices that go against reason, against common sense and the wise counsel of people we trust. But we lean forward nonetheless because, despite all risks and rational argument, we believe that the path we are choosing is the right and best thing to do. We refuse to be bystanders, even if we do not know exactly where our actions will lead.”

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“This is the kind of passionate conviction that sparks romances, wins battles, and drives people to pursue dreams others wouldn’t dare. Belief in ourselves and in what is right catapults us over hurdles, and our lives unfold. ‘Life is a sum of all your choices,’ wrote Albert Camus. Large or small, our actions forge our futures and hopefully inspire others along the way.”

 

Zhou Qunfei

According to a New York Times article Zhou Qunfei is the world’s richest self-made woman. Zhou’s story is quite remarkable. Apparently she isn’t fond of interviews so particular pieces of career advice from her are hard to come by. However, within the details of her rags-to-riches story are beautiful examples from which we can learn about success.

As a young person, Zhou worked long hours in a factory in Shenzhen, China. She made the equivalent of about $1 a day. “I didn’t enjoy it,” she says in the NY Times article. After just three months she had to quit. But Zhou didn’t quit in a way most of us would. She penned her boss a letter of resignation. In the letter she stated her complaints regarding the long hours. But she also wrote about how grateful she was to have had the job, and that she wanted the opportunity to learn more.

When her boss read the letter, he was so impressed that he gave her a promotion and the opportunity to do other work in the factory. That experience gave her the step up she needed to start the leading glass screen production company, Lens Technology. Chances are pretty good that the glass screen you are reading this blog post on was made by Zhou’s company.

When it comes to Zhou’s demeanor, her cousin has this to say about her: “In the Hunan language, we call women like her ‘ba de man,’ which means a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do.”

In addition to being daring, Zhou is meticulous and exact in her work. She often walks the factory floor to make sure everything is in order. She’ll step in and work the most menial jobs just to make sure the process is seamless and optimally effective. This level of detail stems from her childhood. “My father had lost his eyesight, so if we placed something somewhere, it had to be in the right spot, exactly, or something could go wrong. That’s the attention to detail I demand at the workplace.”

 

Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, came out of the projects in east Brooklyn. His father was a postal worker and his mother a receptionist. Blankfein sold sodas at Yankees games. It took a ton of work, but Blankfein eventually rose out of poverty to the top of Wall Street.

In a video for the Goldman Sachs summer interns in 2013, Blankfein gave some solid career advice on how to rise to the top no matter what cards you’re dealt.

“By the way…there are advantages to growing up in a place with a lot of access to a lot of privileges and there are burdens to that also. And the burdens of that are the insecurity that comes from having had things more easily….Whoever you are, wherever you are stationed, these are the cards you got dealt. You can’t spend your time wringing your hands about it. You play the cards you have. You accept the burdens in the context of which you came from and enjoy the privileges and don’t be guilty and either one of them.”

Here are two more powerful pieces of advice from Blankfein that have to do with accepting failure and building relationships.

“If you’re on a beach and a tsunami hits, you’ll drown whether you’re a small child or an Olympic swimmer. Some things will go bad no matter how good you are.”

“You have to, in your own life, get people to want to work with you and want to help you. The organizational chart, in my opinion, means very little. I need my bosses’ goodwill, but I need the goodwill of my subordinates even more.”

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Oprah Winfrey

When I was first researching people for this article, I had no idea that Oprah came out of poverty. All I really knew about her up to this point was that my mom used to fold laundry while watching her show when I was a kid, and in December the audience got all of her favorite things.

What I didn’t know was that she grew up in rural Mississippi wearing clothes her grandmother made out of potato sacks. On top of that, she had to deal with unimaginable emotional trauma from sexual abuse. Now a billionaire media mogul, Oprah’s work has influenced the lives of millions of people.

The following are just a few of the many pieces of advice she has for success and happiness. From courage to personal responsibility, she touches on some powerful stuff.

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.

Career Advice from Billionaires

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

“The reason I’ve been able to be so financially successful is my focus has never, ever for one minute been money.”

“I don’t think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who, from an early age, knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”

 

I hope you found at least one piece of advice that you can take to heart and apply in your life. I know I have. Let me know what you liked the most. Tweet me at @bradensthompson, and follow me on Degreed here. Click the button below to get credit for reading this article.

 

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