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

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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

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.

Cheers

Natalie

Business Ethics & Corporate Responsibility

Happy Earth Day!

I chose management studies because I wanted to understand what makes employers (i.e. companies) waste their resources, and especially their human resources.

I studied Strategy, HR, Finance, Marketing and Change and now think exploiting resources is not only morally wrong, but also economically idiotic. A book we used over several modules was ‘Exploring Corporate Strategy‘ by Johnson, Scholes and Whittington. I strongly recommend it in my own strategy class and to everyone interested in corporate strategy. It covers the whole range of strategic analysis and implementation tools and is excellent for an initial, and practically helpful, overview when you start studying strategic management. The weird thing is that strategy is all about staying competitive in the long run, but how do you make it in the long run when you destroy your market environment and your workforce’s ability to perform? I don’t get it.

naissance d'un arbre

I went on to focus on International Management, Marketing Communications and Business Ethics. International management was pretty much about taking other views seriously, marketing communications about authenticity, and ethics, well, ethics destroys everything. The shock for me came when I realised that there were people of 30, 40 or 50 years in my MBA class who had never, like: NEVER considered their values as expression of the community they lived in. I saw grown up managers shaking up their world view, realising that there are different approaches to what is right or wrong. Unfortunately, this is true for how you treat your resources, too. Although it’s funny how different approaches to ethics try to ignore how you can use them to argue everything. If you want to get started learning about business ethics, try Crane and Matten’s ‘business ethics‘. Their approach is very hands-on, which takes the intimidating part out of philosophical considerations. I still don’t know why people destroy the environment they depend on. I even developed difficulties understanding how people can ignore that there are so many more people on the planet who are affected by their individual, daily decisions.

Even if you think it’s your right to destroy YOUR environment, you have to acknowledge the right of every other society to protect their environment from being destroyed by you. So, in the long run, if you want to live a wealthy, healthy, peaceful life, it makes so much more sense to ensure and protect wealth, health and peace for everybody. For me, it is no longer a moral decision, it is economically and egoistically reasonable to behave responsibly towards our resources.

If only meat would not taste so good!

Take care

Natalie

Currently Reading

O.k., I am not naming all the books on my shelf currently holding a bookmark. The one I am really reading is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. You can watch his amazing TED talk on the topic here:

I fell in love with this guy in an instant, and I am sure so will you. Not only is he really smart, everything he says totally clicked with me.

One of the subjects I teach is Strategic Planning. And strategy development also starts with Why. You don’t develop a great strategy on what you do or how you do it, but on the vision, the Why are we here in the first place? Why does our company exist?

It’s amazing how difficult it is to teach students how to think along that line. Although the lecture on Business Basics starts with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain why we do business at all, students forget that the minute they passed the exam. So when I meet them later on for Strategic Planning, they are already used to the common obsession with efficiency so widely spread in business administration, ignoring whether they do something useful in the first place.

I like the way Simon talks about this issues and he reminds me to stay focused myself. It is easy to adapt to your environment; and it takes not only courage but also a clear sense of your own Why to do what you consider the right thing to do. In university, teaching something unorthodox might negatively affect your career prospects. Simon reminded me that my line of thinking is not against my profession; I want successful businesses and to educate people who are able to set them up and run them. All I do is suggesting a way of How to do business I consider socially responsible.

And whatever you are doing I am sure you will benefit from this book, too.

Have a great Sunday!

Natalie