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 

Specifics

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?

AAAARRRRGGGGGHHH!!!!!

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

Natalie