Establishing a Habit of Learning

In 5 Steps

Establishing a Habit of Learning

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

to Empower Your Learners

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

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Isentia, headquartered in Sydney, with offices in 12 countries from China to New Zealand, is Asia Pacific’s leading media intelligence company. Staying on top of industry trends is a high priority for the business, because their environment changes rapidly.

 

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The Challenge

Isentia’s media intelligence services range from software-as-a-service products to highly customized media insight, digital and content agency services. This translates into a wide range of skills across sales, client servicing, media operations, analysts, creative, IT, and HR. These team members work together to deliver media monitoring, intelligence and insights to over 5,000 clients across the Asia Pacific region.

The nature of Isentia’s business means its people need to be at the forefront of media and current events. The previous learning and development program was a series of generic classroom-based courses. This approach grew ever more challenging (logistically and financially) as Isentia became more geographically diverse and the needs of different functional areas moved beyond the standard suite of soft skills training.

Additionally, Isentia had purchased content from several top content providers like SalesDNA, Pluralsight and Lynda. There wasn’t a central location where everyone could access this content, or track usage across content providers. Isentia needed a solution that could restructure and group this training in a way that worked best for learners.

The primary challenge: find a cost-effective and impactful way to deliver relevant and tailored learning to diverse functional groups spread out across 12 countries.

 

The Solution

Helen Thomson, the Executive Director of Human Resources at Isentia, was looking for a better solution. Isentia wanted a way to empower every employee in the organization to be able to learn what they want, when they want, both for their current role and their future career aspirations – in a cost effective solution.

Helen became interested in Degreed because it offered a cost-effective, centralized learning solution that could meet the needs of the decentralized workforce at everyone’s own pace, and time zone.

With Degreed, Isentia would have the ability to:

  • Provide on-demand learning content to all of its team members regardless of their location.
  • Organize and structure learning content in meaningful ways for the team.
  • Provide a tool to their team members that genuinely empowers them to take control of their own development.
  • Crowdsource the creation of content and learning pathways using ‘experts’ within different functional areas within the organization.
  • Enable leaders and team members to recommend learning to each other and their peers.
  • Track and give credit for all learning, whether an online course, article, YouTube video, seminar attended, formal education and even on the job experience.
  • Tap into an existing ecosystem of learning content from around the world, including in content areas Isentia never would have had the capacity or funding to develop itself.
  • Create blended learning experiences that enhance the application of skills and knowledge while on the job.
  • Integrate and manage access to existing organization subscriptions to content from other online learning partners such as SalesDNA, Lynda and Pluralsight.
  • Enhance their value proposition as an employer by providing access to learning in almost any area that interests a team member.

The goal was to promote self-directed learning, and empower employees to find what they need, when they need it – giving employees the tools they need to grow and progress in their career.

Degreed’s ready-made ecosystem of content was a key solution for Isentia’s needs. Because Degreed provides content for diverse job functions, Isentia could start offering learning resources to support diverse skillsets- without breaking the budget on dedicated L&D resources to build content. Degreed also offered the ability to aggregate content from any source in a way that made the most sense for Isentia employees.

 

The Impact

Isentia now offers a new approach to learning that isn’t focused around generic classroom training. They’ve transformed themselves into an organization that values all learning and promotes career development, on all levels.

 

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In the first three months, 36% of the Isentia workforce is active on Degreed. Collectively, they have completed 1800 pieces of learning content and 12 full learning pathways. Contrast this to the previous quarter where in the same period they were only able to deliver 28 classroom sessions to 17% of employees. Clearly the platform is opening up learning opportunities for the team.

In addition to opening up learning opportunities, employees are sharing their expertise with each other. Degreed Pathways are curated collections of content focusing on a particular topic or skill. Pathway creation is being crowdsourced at Isentia. Experts in every department are building pathways of learning content and sharing them with the rest of the organization. Content for these Pathways are being pulled from a variety of sources and content providers. Pathway creators are able to mix classroom-based training with online content plus proprietary content made by Isentia employees, and combine it all into one learning Pathway.

 

The Takeaways

Isentia successfully embraced learning as a competitive advantage. Here’s what you can learn from their experiences:

1. Embrace the learning revolution. Classroom-based training alone isn’t enough for today’s fast-paced industries, or to capture how employees are really learning. Go beyond classroom training and give your employees more options to grow and progress in their careers while closing the skill gaps in your organization. Accomplish this goal with the same budget you have today by leveraging the tools of the future.

2. Enhance the ROI of your organization’s talent development activities by leveraging tools that amplify your efforts.

  1. One central location for all learning.
  2. Leverage the power of the Degreed network, the largest learning network on earth, instead of trying to buy or build all the learning content yourself.
  3. Remove the bottlenecks to learning and create new channels to meet the diverse needs of your organization.

3. Transform your organization into a learning culture that values all learning. Empower employees to find the learning that is most interesting for them by giving them the keys to the library.

Learn more about how you can make learning a competitive advantage here.

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. 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.

Here’s the thing: at Degreed we’ve created an awesome learning platform that gives people the power to track, validate and find learning from any source. We wouldn’t be able to do a really good job at building that without being obsessed with learning ourselves. We were thinking, what if we gave you a clear picture of how real people actually learn at Degreed? So we’re doing just that- by diving into our own habits and learning goals.

Before we start, you should know that at Degreed, each employee receives $100 a month to learn whatever they want, and unlimited additional dollars if the learning is job related. This benefit is called FlexED, you’ll hear more about that below. Without further ado,  let’s meet Taylor.

 

How we learn at degreed

Taylor Blake is a product manager who’s been with Degreed for 3 years. Taylor lives in Salt Lake City, and is interested in innovation, politics, history and solving complex problems. This is how Taylor learns:

What topics or skills are you interested in learning about?

Effective learning and product management

How do you like to learn? 

I learn with books, podcasts, audio books, traditional classes, MOOCs, articles, online reading, hands on experience, and conferences.

As a Degreed employee, you receive $100 a month for learning as FlexED, how do you like to use your FlexED? 

I buy the occasional book, but mostly save it up for MOOC certificates.

Favorite Expert:

I quite like Clayton Christensen. He has a way of uncovering insights through developing strong theories and frameworks.

What’s the biggest takeaway from what you’ve learned in the last 6 months? 

I’ve been trying to learn a lot about learning.  I’ve learned a lot about how to learn more effectively which mostly comes down to using recall and schemas to solidify learning. For example, I’ve noticed the time I spend reading things online is less effective when I don’t take the time to reflect on or incorporate the things I’ve read. Using the ‘skills’ on Degreed helps me summarize and retain to make it more effective.

I also really enjoyed a book I read recently called “How to Measure Anything” which was really thorough in outlining how to measure things you previously thought weren’t measurable and how to calculate the value of information so you know where to spend time measuring. I also just finished a prototype course module from HBX on effective decision making. In the past, when faced with a team decision, it seems we often just wing it and use our intuition to come to a decision. I learned that there are clear, well researched methods for improving decision making.

How have your learning habits changed since joining Degreed? 

I consume more information and am always looking to learn more things. I’m working on retaining more of my learning by summarizing and saving the most important things I learn. I use skills on Degreed to summarize things I learn, and I use pathways to organize the most important articles and videos related to the skills I’m trying to develop.

Favorite problems to solve: 

I like solving big system problems. I like the macro view. I also like solving problems that will really help other people.

How does making the effort to learn something help you personally and at work? 

When you’re trying to learn something you are forced to be deliberate, be self-aware, and get outside your comfort zone. While those things can be exhausting they also create rewarding, memorable experiences. I’ve seen that be true at work and personally.

What’s the most useful skill you’ve ever learned?

A skill I’ve been working on recently, which I think will pay big dividends, is to learn how to create and break habits to make the most of each day. Certain things I try to accomplish during the day suck a large portion of my willpower such as cleaning the apartment or exercising. Making those a habit so they don’t drain my willpower or mental energy would be great.

Similarly, the are certain things that I don’t want to be routine, such as the activities I do with my family when I get home from work. By breaking those routines it helps slow time down, helps you make more and deeper memories, and helps you appreciate each moment. It’s still a work in progress.

Learning goal for 2016:

Retain more of what I learn. Complete a Coursera specialization or Edx X-series.

Taylor’s Degreed Stats:

49 courses

56 books

3,161 articles

343 videos

Most active skills; business, product management, education.

 

You can follow Taylor on Degreed here. You can also get credit for reading this article by clicking the button below. Throughout this “How We Learn” blog series we’ll be giving you a closer look at how we learn at Degreed, but we also want to know how you learn- so tweet us at @degreed and tell us what works best for you!

A few years ago I flipped my whole world around when I decided to run a marathon. Up until that point in my life, I had never run more than three miles at any given time. In fact, I hated running. But this was a goal that I set for myself to prove that I could do something difficult. So to make sure I followed through and actually completed the marathon, I made videos and blogged about the entire process.

I wanted to learn what it took to go from essentially zero to completing a marathon. And when I was successful, I would have a solid paper trail established for anyone who wanted to do the same.

However, as I made my every move publicly known, I experienced motivation atrophy. Essentially, as the likes, favorites and comments piled up on my social media posts, I began to feel the gratification that should only have come from finishing the goal. I was absorbing compliments from friends and family based on the idea of accomplishing the goal, not the actual accomplishment itself. If not kept in check, all that hollow gratification could easily collapse.

I found that all I had to do was post a picture on the trail and everyone would just assume I was out running and being amazing.

Mot

While I did complete my training and eventually the marathon, there were days when I definitely spent more time talking than I did actually doing. Yet, I still felt the same gratification.

 

Motivation Atrophy

I read a post on the Storyline blog a few weeks ago that talks about this idea. Donald Miller recounts a time he ran into someone who met the famous novelist, Norman Mailer, at an airport. The man asked him what he was working on. Mailer did not answer his question. His reasoning was simple: he did not like to talk about a book too much because it stole his motivation to write it.

Motivation at work

 

Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due

Derek Sivers also backs up this idea in a TED talk given in 2010. Conventional wisdom says you should talk about your goals to your friends because then they can hold you accountable. That’s one of the reasons I was so vocal about my marathon plans. However, Sivers gave an example of a study that showed why that may not work.

In the study, people wrote down a personal goal. Half of the people announced to the whole group the goals they had committed to. The other half kept their mouths shut. Then everyone was given 45 minutes to work on something that would help them accomplish that goal. They were told they could stop anytime.

The people who did not announce their goals worked the entire 45 minutes on average, and when asked about it, said they still felt like they had a long way to go. On the other hand, those who had announced their goals worked only 33 minutes on average. And their response to the same question afterward was that they felt much closer to achieving their goal.

“Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen.”-Derek Sivers

You can effectively trick your mind into thinking you have done something, and that’s a dangerous road to go down.

 

Be About That Action

One of my favorite athletes is Marshawn Lynch, the recently-retired running back for the Seattle Seahawks. You might know him from his press conferences—or lack thereof—during the Seahawks Super Bowl run in 2013-14. When the media tried to question Lynch about his games, he dodged their questions and sat in silence on the media stand. He was eventually fined for not talking. Then his answer to every question was “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”

Whether you agree with the way Lynch handled things or not, his motives were essentially in line with the premise of this post. The football legend, Deion Sanders, was able to get Lynch to talk about why he chose to sit in silence.
Sanders: You kinda shy?

Lynch: Nah.

Sanders: You just don’t wanna talk really?

Lynch: I’m just ‘bout that action, boss.

Sanders: You ‘bout to go get it. You just like to do it.

Lynch: I ain’t never seen no talkin’ win me nothin’. You want something, you go get it. Ain’t no need to talk about it.

 

We can all take a page out of Lynch’s book. If you want something to happen, go get it. Simple as that. Don’t worry about broadcasting your intentions to everyone. You’ll just end up making it harder on yourself. People will pay just as much attention when you’ve actually accomplished the goal. And that gratification won’t be hollow.

Try it out for a week, and see how much more productive you are. This is usually the part where I ask you to tweet me about your progress, but I don’t want you tweeting to me until you’ve finished something this time. Deal?

You can also follow me on Degreed here, and add this article to your Degreed profile by clicking the button below.

Podcasts continue to grow in popularity — a recent  Pew Research Center survey reports 1 in 6 adults listen to a podcast a month. This data comes as no surprise as recent pop-culture hits like SerialThis American Life, and Stuff You Should Know have changed how we listen, and what we learn.

By seeking out learning via podcasts we can maximize time gaps in our schedules for learning. Podcasts are also largely free and easy to access- which make them an awesome learning tool. We’re proud to announce a new feature that lets you take advantage of all that learning. You can now track your podcast listening using Degreed!

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Simply choose the podcast title and episode, select the date listened, and add any relevant topics you learned about. Podcasts show up in your learning collection of everything you’ve learned.

Degreed Podcasts 1

 

Degreed Podcasts 2

 

Degreed Podcasts 3

 

We’re excited about one more way to help learners track all learning. Let us know what you think about the feature by tweeting @degreed!

 

The Degreed Team

Establishing a habit of learning

Let’s talk about habits.

I was recently inspired by an article on the Babbel blog that had some quality suggestions on habit formation. It got me thinking about my own learning habits.

After reading the article, I sat myself down and while gently touching the tips of my fingers together, I asked myself, “Am I really doing everything I can to learn something new every day?”

I had to answer honestly. I would know if I was lying.

Medium story short, the answer was no. I can do more.

Now I know that habits are the center of many debates. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions on how to break and create habits. With that in mind, I know that the process in this post will not work for everyone. As with everything on the Internet, take it with a grain of salt. However, it is my hope that this at least gets you to think more seriously about your daily learning habits and how to become better at adding to your knowledge base daily.

 

Identify an Action

Habits underlie almost everything we do on a daily basis. Yet we go throughout our daily routines all but unaware of how deep some of our habits are ingrained. The good news is that all of these habits, no matter how good or bad, can be used as tools to jump start new habits.

For the purposes of this post, let’s say you want to learn to be a better artist. First, you’ll need to identify an action that will help you accomplish that goal. Don’t make it too difficult. In fact, the simpler the better.

To be a better artist, you will need to have something to draw on, right? So let’s set our action as opening a sketchpad. That simple. You haven’t committed to drawing anything, just to open your pad.

 

Find an Anchor

Now this is where you are going to have to become a little more self aware. You’re going to have to identify all the ingrained habits that fill up your day. Once you start thinking, you’ll realize how many there are to choose from. It could be brushing your teeth, hanging your coat up when you get home, turning on the coffee pot, sitting on the couch after work, checking your pockets to make sure you have your keys and phone, kissing your kids goodbye, etc. This is just a quick list. You should be able to come up with many more than this.

Once you have identified these habits, you’ll need to do a little refining. Find a habit that occurs at a similar frequency to the new habit you want to form. For the art example let’s say you want to work on your art every day. So you would identify a habit that you do daily. That will be what we call your anchor.

 

Create a Process

Once you have found your anchor—a habit that you can piggyback off of—you will need to create a process to turn that habit into a cue for your new habit. For example, if you plop down on the couch every day after work, place your sketchpad on the coffee table. This is where your simple action you identified earlier will come into play. Once you plop down (anchor), open your sketch pad (action).

At this point, you don’t even have to draw anything. Just open the sketch pad. That might seem way too easy and pointless. However, it’s this simple action that will help you determine if you have identified a solid anchor. If you find that you just don’t have any motivation when you open your sketch pad after you sit down on the couch, because you’re tired and you want to just sit and relax, that’s probably not a great anchor to tie your new habit to. If completing the action with the anchor doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel comfortable, try experimenting with other anchors. Maybe instead of the couch anchor, you open your sketch pad after you plug your phone in at night. There are myriad options to choose from.

Once you have perfected the simple process of anchor and action, you’re ready for the last step.

 

Ramp up the Tension

This is where your habit begins to take shape. It is extremely difficult to establish a habit if you go all in from day one. You might make it a week, but you really haven’t established the habit. You’ve just proven that you can do something new for a few days. This process is about establishing a real habit, and that happens slowly over time. There isn’t much instant gratification in habit formation.

Maybe ramping up the tension means starting with a simple doodle a day and perfecting some fundamentals of art. From there, maybe you start adding a YouTube tutorial or a few pages from an instructional book to the routine. Eventually, you will no longer need the anchor to cue your learning. That’s when you will know you have established a new habit of learning!

Here’s a quick recap of what we learned.

 

infographic a habit of learning

Again, thanks to the language-learning people at Babbel for informing me on this process. Like I said, it may not work for everyone. But why not give it a try? The worst thing that could happen is you cross off one more thing that doesn’t work for you. If it does work, I want to hear about it. I too will be working on my daily learning habits. Shoot me a question and hold me accountable or tell me what habits you are working on! You can comment here or tweet me at @bradensthompson.

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The book “The Living Company” by Arie De Geus has taught me I have missed a valuable lesson from the things that are happening in the world around us. The book focuses on how companies are able to be successful for over a hundred years. One of the main topics that Arie touches on is learning, if we are not learning we are not progressing. This is shared through the story of the titmouse in the UK.

In the UK, milk used to be delivered in glass bottles with no covering. Titmice and Red Robins were able to take the cream off the top to provide nutrients they had not received before (this can be viewed as the introduction of an LMS to Corporate Learning).

Things were great until milk providers started to put caps on the milk (these are the changes in learning and learning habits we all encounter). The titmice were able to learn how to penetrate the cap and get the cream. There were a few red robins that were able to get the cream, but the majority never actually learned how to penetrate the cap.

So the question becomes: is our company the Titimice or the Red Robin? Is our company finding out new ways to engage the learner or are we sticking to our old tricks? So why do you care? The titmouse tried new things. As they learned they found some things worked and others didn’t. Once they found out how to open the lid they started to share it with others. The Red Robins that learned didn’t share it with others and that is why the greater population wasn’t able to learn to benefit from the originally nutrients they had received.

You could always find a new LMS with new features, but that is like just adding a plastic lid instead of an aluminum lid. In the end the employees are still unable to enjoy the cream. Time for personal reflection, are you trying to do things the old way of learning and are starving of necessary nutrients or are you allowing your employees ways to learn and share to make you stronger?

I would love to hear your thoughts and insight. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on twitter @bg_baldwin.

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.

is an MBA worth it?

As I am finishing my MBA I am constantly asked one question: Is my MBA worth the investment? This is an answer that will change for every individual. Since I have a background in Psychology I have found myself looking at this question in the perspective of others I have encountered that are pursuing an MBA or have attained their MBA.

A Check-Mark vs. Actual Skills

When I started my MBA I was working for an investment firm that was helping pay for an MBA. Most of the people that were pursuing an MBA at my company were doing so to take advantage of “free” money. The downfall is that the guy that was sitting next to me had his MBA for over five years and was still making the same amount of money as myself and wasn’t looking to go anywhere. These employees just went through the motions of higher education and finished their MBA. A lot of my colleagues would check it off their list and act like nothing happened. To me, this is a waste of money and time just so the company will pay me a little extra money that goes directly to a school and not me. I wanted my time and money to be used to better myself and my future.

In my first few classes I started to look at the experience and background of others in my class. One of my professors asked the students to introduce themselves and why they were in the program. The majority stated they wanted an MBA to get a raise or to get a better job. There were only a few of us that wanted to improve our knowledge and skill. Now I am not saying that the first group didn’t want to improve their skills as well, but motivations can determine the quality of the outcome.

Over the past two years I have found myself working with many different individuals in group projects. I am astounded at how little effort some people put into a master’s degree and expect others to carry them to the end. The thought of competing against these people after I got my degree scared me. A potential employer will not see how much work was put into an MBA and frankly they may not even care. We both will have a degree to show we accomplished the program, so what would set me apart? I wanted to be different. I wanted to show that I learned a behavior of learning that will help me find solutions to the business’ problems. The problem is that I couldn’t find a way to show that I have a newfound desire for lifelong learning. This was until I found Degreed. Degreed gave me a way to track all of my learning, not just my Degree. It allows me to show my continual learning to colleagues and will help direct me in valuable content to keep up with relevant changes and learning.

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The Habit of Learning

Why does it matter to be a lifelong learner and make learning a habit? For my previous colleagues that had their MBA for 5 years and are sitting in the same role they were when they finished, your knowledge is stale. Business has changed over the last 5 years. Do you want outdated information in your business decisions? For those that get an MBA to get a pay raise or a better job, you are not going to have longing success as you missed out on a learning opportunity since you had others carry you to the end. What skills or knowledge did you gain? For those that went to learn and grow, you may not have a better job right away or an immediate pay raise, but you will be an asset to the business as you learned how to learn and how to analyze things differently.

Your Answer

So to answer the question “Is my MBA worth the investment?” I would say YES. I went into the program investing in my future through skills and knowledge. If I went into the degree for a check off my list or for a piece of paper, I would say no. The true value comes from your motivation and attitude in the beginning. Just remember, learning doesn’t end once you have the paper. You will find the most value in the MBA as you continue to learn and use what you learn like an MBA is structured to teach you.

You can tweet Branden @brandengbaldwin and follow him on Degreed here. Branden’s MBA is from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, UT. Branden enjoys spending time with his wife and children and volunteering in his community.

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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