How to keep your knowledge up to date

The other day I wrote about a job interview I screwed up. Well, I was not just complaining. I also took some time to consider what went wrong and how I could perform better next time. One of the questions I handled like a complete jerk was: How do you keep track of developments in your field?

For me, sucking in information is like breathing. On the contrary, I always wonder how people manage NOT to stay informed. Hence, I have never thought about how I do it. It’s just so normal that I couldn’t explain. Which sometimes happens when people ask me something I take for granted. It’s called ‘unconscious competence’. A skill you have but are not aware of because for you it’s no effort. Like walking over a bridge without falling down. You only struggle when you start thinking about it. But next time, I will know exactly what to answer.

Competence Learning
More on the model of competence learning on Business Balls.

Staying informed in my field(s) of expertise has three components:

  1. A broad interest in developments going on the world which may or may not be related to my field
  2. Keeping track of the professional area in general
  3. Looking for specific information required to solve a problem or deal with requests

And this is how I do it (and so can you):

The world

I am addicted to twitter. I follow all kinds of media, journalists, scholars or interesting people and try to make sure I include people whose approach differs from mine. I read at least three different newspapers, although not daily. I watch the news daily and switch between channels to make sure I’m not too biased. I read everything I can get my eyes on and I watch documentaries on various topics. I find that having a good understanding of basic cultural and scientific principles makes it a lot easier to understand how things unfold, and that makes it easier also to stay tuned to

My profession

Related social media accounts or interest groups are easy ways to follow the industry and / or profession you work in. I also read. A lot. Like, one book per week minimum. Of course that includes several books on my subjects. I teach. That is not as such making sure I teach current information, but I get a lot of feedback from my students which forces me to constantly work on my lecture and adapt it, e.g. to changes in law or developments in an industry. I try to attend gatherings or fairs, but only every now and then. And I constantly talk about things I’m interested in, so I get a lot of information from listening to other people, especially colleagues. I attend classes and workshops on a regular basis. There are also countless magazines and studies published, although I rarely use them for general track keeping but rather when I look for 


As a lecturer, it happens that students, especially part-time students with proper jobs, have better or more current information on something. Even with all the activities to stay informed, you simply cannot know everything. The most important learning factor for me is appreciating other peoples’ exertise and being relaxed about not knowing everything. Some people see that as a flaw (as did my interview partners last Saturday), but I think they are deluded and / or insecure. As Stephen Hawking put it: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”.

A lot of information is available when you need it. When a customer has a problem I put together all the information required from various sources, my brain being only one of them. When a student writes a paper about a topic I never came across before, he / she educates me along the way. When someone asks me a question I can’t answer I look up the information. Next time you ask me, I will be able to answer. BTW: If you want to trigger me badly, you reply to a question with: ‘Oh, you already are the third person asking me that this week. I don’t know it.’

And now it’s you turn. What are your resources and strategies?

Cheers, Natalie


Why am I doing this?

Do you, too, have those moments when financial pressure overwhelmes you and you consider going back to employment although you are following your passion? I am currently right there, so I started looking out for a part time job in order to have rent, food and healthcare covered. It’s not that I’m not making money. It’s just that income is so different depending on whether it’s in or between terms in university, and I have not yet managed to smooth that. In this situation it’s tough to develop new products of which you know they will require their time until they pay off.

So, yesterday I went to this job interview and I completely screwed it up. I could watch the job slip through my fingers while I poured even more water over the sand. I have to say that I was not a perfect fit anyway, there were two things stated in the job description I had not done before, but that was obvious from my application. So why would an employer then dig into that hole instead of focusing on what I had achieved before?

Missed opportunities

There was no chance of bringing the interview back to my strength, the interviewer was much more skilled in manipulating people than I could ever be. All my questions about the ongoing change project, the political dynamics or specific challenges were squashed. Instead, they asked me totally irrelevant detail questions about stuff nobody needs to know by heart because the relevant legislation is publically available. They asked not one question related to my previous working field, though. I must admit that I am not used to not being considered an expert just for showing up after so many years as a lecturer 🙂 And I completely failed in showing off my expertise.

But the employer failed, too. They were not even clear about the working hours – which is totally in order during a re-structuring. But that was not their point. The answer was: “Well, we’ll discuss that with the applicant. We are short of money and it might be that half a salary is not enough, then someone might want to work 30 hours a week.” Ahm… nope. I am more of the ‘the less you pay the fewer hours you get from me’-type. But if you don’t have the money to pay competitive salaries you might have something else to lure me into your team? – They couldn’t be bothered.

The disastrous financial situation of this charity was all over the local media in previous months. Wouldn’t you expect such an employer to try everything to convince an applicant to chose them regardless of the insecure job situation? Wouldn’t you expect them to explain in detail what they plan to do to save the organisation? Or, if you invited someone who has succesfully turned around an organisation like that before, wouldn’t you ask this person what she would do to help your charity rather than what she knows about the single task of the job description you know she had nothing to do with before?


I left the office knowing I was not good. Which is a pity, I would love to work in that specific sector. However, whether I would be a good fit professionally, I still don’t know because they were so shy about what their situation and challenge is. Every time I went into the direction where I thought the problem was, I saw the HR manager thinking “Fuck off, bitch!”. She was obviously not the kind of guy who often has her decisions questioned. So I can at least state with confidence: A cultural fit, I was not. Unfortunately, if you want to solve severe problems, cultural fits are normally not what you need.

And that was when I realised why being a freelancer is so cool. Nobody cares whether you are a cultural fit. The only thing important is: Are you doing a good job? Clients might even appreciate your outsider’s view. A consultant who questions decisions is not regarded illoyal but a critical analyst. If you try something new, people think you’re innovative not over-ambitious. You accept only jobs you know you can do well and reject all the other stuff because you don’t have to fit a job description.

Still, I cannot help but wonder: Am I such a hell of an employee; or is there such a limited number of good bosses?

Hm. Natalie

Does my balcony count?

Ah, wonderful! May is here, and so is the sun. Today the 30×30 outdoor challenge started. You remember? We spend 30 minutes outdoor each day. Due to my time zone I only get the daily input in the afternoon but that is o.k. Today, I had the coffee break on my balcony, I read a bit and I sat in the warm sun watching the clouds. I suppose that’s not what is meant with the challenge but hey! Last week we had snow. So I think sunbathing with coffee and a book is better than hot chocolate and the movies.

The rest of the day I spent with planning May in detail, cooking and listening to my son playing the guitar. He tried Purple Rain for me for the first time, and it was not bad. A perfect day.

Now Navy CIS and then off to bed. Good night


Monthly Wrap-Up

So, here we are again.Another month done. Can’ t believe that tonight we dance into May, it’s still quite cold and grey outside.

I am back into writing daily. No, wait. I have managed writing daily for a month for the first time ever. Another big Thank you to Nielle for her blogging challenge! I used to struggle with finding topics and justifying my choice of topic. This month I learned not to explain why I write about what I write, but acually write about it. I plan to keep that habit.

I did not complete my To be read list. I struggle with Huckleberry Finn, which is really hard to read. Twain uses dialects from slave communities and as English is a foreign language for me sometimes I have to read phrases several times to understand them. Instead, I read Catching Fire yesterday. As you might remember I hated The Hunger Games, but I found part II for a few bucks. Critiques were right, it is better than part one, but I still don’t like the language. It’s plain and with no finesse at all.

Sometimes it snows in April

I am still sad. The right song in the wrong moment, and I cry like I lost someone. I still try to understand why that is. Yes, I have always been loving Prince’s music, and I liked his style and looks (MUCH!), but I would not have considered me a huge fan until last week.

Someone once told me we are only sad when someone dies because it reminds us of our own mortality. I don’t know. Loosing a beloved one is a pretty good reason to cry in itself, I’d suggest. But crying for a celebrity might indeed mean crying for the memories we made listening to their work, for all the people we lost over the course of the years, and for the ideals we cling to, not knowing whether they will ever meet us. The other night I was dreaming that when I die and I meet Prince in heaven I can have sex with him whenever I want. I seriously wonder whether that fits into any religious idea of heaven 😀

However, Prince reminds me that I want to make more out of my creativity, live with more passion and do that from a spiritual ground which makes me trust life much more happily than just because I need to trust life to not give in to desperation, as it sometimes felt in the past years. Beyond his great musical genius, that’s his legacy for me.

Thank you


24 Tips on How to Read More

So, you would like to read more, but don’t know how to find the time? Or you have to read a lot for your studies and would like to read faster? Or you would like to learn more, but don’t know whether you really like to read that much?

There’s a fix for all of you. My tips thererfore fall into three categories: a) Finding time to read. b) Getting into the habit of reading. and c) Reading more intelligently. For those who love to read, have the time, know what to read but just need techniques to do it faster, there are many resources available out there. Just pick a book on speed-reading and go for it. Just remember that it is not about how many books you consume but what you take away from it.

How to make time for reading

  1. The easiest way to find time for reading is to use public transport. You are doomed to sitting anyway, so why not use the time to read something? If you can’t focus in public or don’t want to switch from bike / car / hiking to tube and bus, try audio books.
  2. Read first thing in the morning. Before you get up, read a chapter or a paragraph. Put the book on your bedside table so you have it right where you need it.
  3. Read last thing at night. The above applies.
  4. Read when you are waiting for an appointment. No, not your twitter-feed, but an actual book! Get into the habit of carrying a book or magazine with you (see below).
  5. Switch off TV, internet and smartphone. It’s healthier anyway. Find out how much time you have when you limit media to a minimum. Go one week without TV and online-videos, and you will never again have the problem of ‘finding time’.
  6. Put a book on your coffee table and read during commercial breaks.
  7. Read on the loo. Seriously. Put magazines and some funny stuff into the bathroom.
  8. Take a bath. And read a chapter in the tub before you start your cleansing procedure.
  9. Teach your family that you have ‘me-time’. Take a break after lunch, get on the sofa and read for half an hour. No, they won’t kill each other if you don’t look after them for a few minutes.
  10. Read to your children. Let your kids grow up knowing that reading is fun.
  11. Read to your partner. Yes, THAT kind of stories.
  12. Dedicate some of your working hours (even if it’s only 10 or 20 minutes a week to start with) to learning and development, and use the time to read. Your boss should be happy if you become better at what you do. And if you’re unemployed, it’s even more crucial that you stay up to date with your knowledge and use the time for personal development. Not only will it prevent depression when you feel like you can make use of the unwanted spare time, you will also find new confidence in interviews when you don’t feel like you wasted 6 months.

How to get into the habit of reading

  1. Just read. Everything. Don’t wait for books. Read signs and ads. Read the ingredients of food you buy or cosmetics you use. Not to understand what’s written there (although it might change your buying behaviour massively), but to get used to reading.
  2. Carry a book or magazine wherever you go, so if you have a few minutes you can spend them reading.
  3. Start where you are. If you didn’t read much in the past, don’t start with the 1200 pages of ‘Gone with the wind’. Read something related to your hobby or job. Or read something about the subject you wanted to study if you were smarter / braver / younger. Read a magazine on the topic instead of a book. Make it easy for you to start.
  4. It is perfectly fine to read ‘simple’ literature like crime or romance. There is absolutely no need to read all the great, classic literature if you don’t want to.
  5. Join a book club. Take a look at community centers, churches, the public library, educational facilities or meetup.
  6. Set up your own bookclub. Existing clubs can be intimidating, especially if you feel like you were ‘not educated’ enough. You might not want to run into the person who considers herself a literature professor and compares everything against stuff you never heard of. It might be a good idea to meet with likeminded friends instead and start reading more together.
  7. Don’t let money be an issue. Swap books with and lend them from friends and family, join the public library, read in the corner of a bookstore, browse flea markets. How many books do you make in a week? I bet you spend more on food you throw away than you had to to read one book per week. When you are asked what you want as a birthday present, don’t say your usual, modest ‘nothing’; instead, ask for a book you would really love to read.

How to get through what you have to read

  1. Maybe the most obvious, but also most underrated advice is: Study a subject you are genuinely interested in. Something that excites you and makes you want to learn everything you can. I am always amazed at how many of my students in business administration never read a business magazine or at least watch the news regularly to learn what’s going on in the world of business. Don’t do that to yourself!
  2. You don’t have to read everything. Ask your lecturers for advice where to start. Ask them also: If I would read only one single book during the course of my whole study, which one would you suggest? Follow their advice.
  3. Pay attention to the curriculum. Textbooks normally cover much more content than is required for your module. Compare the content of the book to the syllabus of your module and read the relevant chapters only.
  4. Read the introduction. Many people tend to skip summaries and intros, but that’s where you learn which are the relevant chapters. Most authors give an overview of their findings here. You normally don’t need methodology (unless, of course, you have to discuss methodology in a thesis). You want to read what is the problem and how to solve it. You might not need how the author found the solution. When I am really short of time, I read the first and the last chapter.
  5. Don’t read texts word by word. Are you one of those people who move their lips or speak the words silently in their mind while reading? Then you limit your reading speed down to your talking speed. It is unnecessary to process every word consciously. You know those tests where the letters are mixed up and you can still read the words? That’s how the brain works, it brings order into chaos. Skip words, read every third word only, expand the gap, so that you read only the first and last word of a sentence. Try whether your get the basic concept of a text by reading only first and last sentence of a paragraph. If not, slow down.

What do you do to read more? I’d love to hear your ideas.



What’s up, May?

We had snow this week. Not much, but enough to make me want to snuggle on the sofa with hot chocolate and a christmas movie rather than getting back to outdoor activities. But, with May approaching fast, today I signed up for the 30×30 Outdoor Challenge. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, and they only run the challenge in May. I grew up on the countryside, but nature has hardly any space now in my modern city-based worklife.

Man cooking at camp
(c) netforever – Fotolia

When I was younger I spent so much time in forests, wandering the fields or sunbathing on the shore. But nowadays I do not even go to the shore in the summer because I hate that I have to drive there, pack everything and then laying there amongst all the other people like fish in a tin. AARRGGGHHH!!!

Positive, Natalie! Here are my

Goals for the next month

  1. Spend 30 minutes outside every day
  2. Re-launch my professional blog
  3. Stick to the habit of daily writing
  4. Spend quality time with my family
  5. Deliver one performance

What are your goals?


Best Read 2016

My favourite book this year I have read so far is Brené Brown‘s ‘Daring Greatly’. Brown is a social researcher and works on the concept of vulnerability. Her research suggests that vulnerability is the key to feeling connected to other people.

You might benefit from reading ‘Daring Geatly’ especially if you had to close down and build a wall around your feelings at one time in your life to survive and be able to go on. You know, like, when you feel as if as soon as you tell someone what’s going on you have to crumble to the floor and will never be able to stop crying again. Sometimes it’s hard after such a period to open up again. Brené Brown has a wonderful approach to this sensitive topic. It’s  not your average ‘be honest and everything will be fine’ stuff. No. She is very clear that vulnerability is risky, and that you have to learn to distinguish who earns your trust and who doesn’t.

Watch her TED-talk on vulnerability here:

I am a bit of the ‘better careful than sorry’ type when it comes to opening up, and people who open up too fast make me feel uncomfortable. I stepped back from showing myself for fear of becoming one of those annoying professional victims who tell you too much too early. Brenè Brown remembered me that it is not about being open or not. It’s about stopping to use strength as a shield and being able to open up when appropriate and desirable. And, first and foremost, that there are situations when it IS appropriate and desirable. Because only when you show yourself can people like who you are.