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9 things to think about when you choose a university

Uni fees in UK have gone up – a lot

Next year, domestic student fees for undergraduates at UK universities will be £9 000 pounds per year.  Some universities, though not many, will charge less and the fee is the same whether you do an expensive subject like Chemistry or a cheap subject like English or take a subject with with low staff-student ratios like Drama or one where students don’t know or need to meet a member of staff like Management and sign up in their hundreds.

On top of the £9000, students also have to pay for books, computers, stationery, accommodation, food, clothing, heating, clubs and extra activities and not least transport to get to uni and to move from where they live to lecture rooms and clubs and so on.  It’s not cheap going to uni in the UK. It costs a lot more than many people earn per year.

Many people say they cannot afford to go. As I understand it, this is not true.  They might not be afford to do A levels, but if they get good A levels and are accepted into a university, they can get a student loan which they start to pay back after their earning are well above a minimum wage job which they will get if they don’t go to uni or find a rarer-than-hen’s-teeth apprenticeship.

Look at what is being sold before you look at the price tag

Having taught in universities on three continents for three decades, there are universities and universities; and students find it hard to tell them apart.  There are the well known ones to be sure – the Harvard’s, the Oxford’s. There are those well known to students because their friends have gone there and they anticipate the party scene with relish.  Students pick their university by word-of-mouth.  That’s what we all do when quality is hard to assess from the outside.

But why should fees change our attitude?  Practically, nothing much has changed. Yes students will have to pay back their loans but 60K or whatever is not a lot for a life time’s investment. They will spend that much getting married and unmarried  in their time.  It is the price of a new kitchen if the shops on my high street are correct.

I thought it would be useful to write down three deep misunderstandings about universities.  If you are serious about going ,and equally miffed at the price, then think about these three points and see if they help you choose the university that you want to go to.

As an accountant once wisely said to me, never look at the price ticket until you know what is for sale.  What do you get from going to a university?

#1 University lecturers and professors spend more than half their time on research

A university teaches something quite different from school or a training course at work.  The teachers in a university are “research active”.  What that means is that they are in the business of making knowledge. That is a highly competitive business and they are only deemed to have made knowledge if there is ringing applause world-wide and gasps of “wish I had thought of that”!

It follows that lecturers and professors watch world knowledge, and the way it changes, like proverbial hawks. They are aware of the history of knowledge in their field and they are watching developments, hoping to pounce and work out the key bits to achieve glory in their subject area.

When you listen to them talk, you hear people who see and think about your subject as something that changes.  And from listening to them, you learn not what is great today, but what is changing all the time.

It is true that you want to know what is great today, but what is great today will probably not be great even by the time you graduate.  It certainly won’t be great for the 50 years of your working life. So learning about the way your subject morphs and develops is what is valuable.

Lesson 1a:  Make sure you will be taught by people who are active in your subject matter.  Turn down universities who use juniors or part-timers to teach you.  Check and ruthlessly discard those that do.  The teachers will not have the appreciation of change which is what you have come to learn.

Lesson 1b: Stop expecting someone to lead you by the hand.  The lecturers’ job is to watch the world and to show you the world through their eyes. If the lecturers are playing coach and tutor to you, they are not doing their jobs and you will have nothing to learn from them. Do the work to catch up.  Every student is in the same position. It is the very reason why you came to uni.  To catch up with people who see world-knowledge as something on the march.

Lesson 1c: Choose a uni partly for the other students. Do the other students care about knowing about where the subject is going over the next 50 years and where it came from over the last 500 years.  If not, move on. You will depend on the buzz of other students to catch up with the lecturers and if the other students don’t care, you will find it very difficult to master the steep learning curve.  Look at what students talk about on the chat boards.  If they don’t care, move on. 60K is a lot of money to pay for 3 years of bad parties.

#2 Universities are strict about referencing and plagiarism

The second thing you will notice when you get to university is that lecturers bang on about referencing your essays.  And referencing is a pain to learn. It is bitty and fiddly and lecturers fail you outright when you get it wrong. What is all that about?

I said under the previous point that lecturers are not telling you about a subject, they are telling you about how a subject changes.  So they are telling you about where an idea came from and who is talking about it.  They think geographically with layers of history.  Watch them read and you’ll seem them see a reference and then flick to the back to see the details of the publication.

In their minds they are thinking, hmm Harvard 1921  . . . who else was at Harvard then, what else did this person write, who over here in Europe would not have known because communications across the Atlantic were still slow then.  When they read, they are mapping the changing of the idea so they can pounce and put in the missing step or the next step in the evolution of ideas.

And they are teaching you to do the same.  Why? Because you have 50 years in the game and you want to be on top for 50 years, not on top for 1 and increasingly behind for the next 49.

Provenance, provenance, provenance.  That’s what it is all about.

But you learn something more from this aspect of uni education that is not a prominent part of school or workplace training.  When you track who thought of what, you understand that ideas develop because of the self-interest of the people involved. People at Harvard in 1921 would think up different things from people at Oxford in 1921 because they are surrounded by different people and face different issues.

From watching the provenance of ideas, we begin to appreciate diversity.  We begin to understand the value of other people’s ideas.   Their specific circumstances are different from ours and lead to different thought processes.  The mark of the a university-trained man or woman is that their ears prick up when they realise someone comes from a different walk-of-life because they know that person is likely to think quite differently from us and their thoughts could be very valuable.

Lesson 2a:  Spend your first year learning the reference system, though it is a pain, and get it right. It is the essential mechanic for building the geographical and historical map of change that you need to consistently be on top form for 50 years.

Lesson 2b: Start to appreciate how the circumstances of a person contribute to their thinking (and how your circumstances contribute to your thinking)

Lesson 2c:  Go to a uni where the students differ a lot from each other. It is difficult when you first arrive because you don’t know how to get along socially. But you’ll learn and appreciating the value of differences will give you the grounding to become a world-class negotiator and keep you on top of your game for 50 years.

#3 University is hard

Yes, university is hard, meaning – it is very difficult to know if you are doing well or not.  You can’t just ‘knock off the homework’. You can put 20 hours into something and find you are off the point.  The feedback doesn’t always make sense.  That’s what hard is.  The task isn’t hard when you know how to do it; it’s bloody hard when you don’t and you can’t figure out what  ou are supposed to do or what matters.

Well, that is also part of the design of university education.  When we know how to do a piece of work, we can delegate it to someone who can’t untangle problems – a high school graduate in other words, or a computer, or an outsourcing company in outer space.

It is jobs where the goals aren’t even clear, let alone the steps, that require well trained minds.  All good universities give you work that seems to have several layers of confusion and your job is to work out the layers and turn the confused mess into something orderly.

If you have been listening to how ideas change and where they come from, then you are more than half-way there because you start placing bits and pieces on your mental map and you can work out the story and see where it is going.

But there is another skill that you learn and that is keeping your temper.  When things are hard, our blood pressure goes up and thinking goes down. To think straight, you have to get on top of your temper to think straight. And you will learn to get good at not reacting badly to the feeling of being confused.

You will also stop blaming people. At first, your thought is ‘bad teacher – teacher confused me.’  Soon you will realise you should be saying ‘thank you teacher, you got me there, I had to think a bit.’

Above all, a university man or woman can untangle the mess of all the different ideas that a crowd of people put on the table.  And because you are calmly gathering all these emotionally charged ideas and sorting them out, even if you aren’t the smartest and most knowledgeable player in the room, you are welcome in the room for not just 50 years but probably your remaining 70.

A university should challenge you emotionally; if not, your money and most importantly your valuable three years of young adulthood are being wasted.

Lesson 3a:  Expect instructions to be confused and untangle them calmly.

Lesson3b:  React to your own indignation by realising your alarm is a signal that you haven’t finished the task.

Lesson3c:  Look at student chat boards. Avoid universities where they are full of whining and complaining.  Uni isn’t a cutprice airline.   Find a university where students solve problems and take pride in their emotional aplomb.

 Look at what is being sold before you look at the price tag

I hope these points help you think through why you might want to go to university and how to choose one that is worth 60K and more importantly, worth 3 of the most valuable years of your life. Choose well, and then get on the steepest learning curve you will ever face.  You will be glad; but if you don’t want any of these things, then by all means go to the nearest and cheapest.   Or consider whether you want to go to uni at all.  You can get information you need off the internet and sometimes you can bypass uni and go straight to a Masters.  Some people have to do it that way round because for one reason or another, they can’t go to uni when they are young.

But if you are going, remember to think like that accountant. Work out exactly what is for sale before you worry if the price tag is right.

This is what a good university (or good university department) provides.

  • A sense of how the world has changed and is changing and will continue changing for the next 50 years of your working life
  • A sense of how the circumstances in which people live affect their thinking and how their perspectives enrich yours
  • An ability to sort out confusion, including lots of emotionally-charged arguments, without getting upset yourself or blaming others.


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A career begins with an abiding preoccupation

Sleepwalking through life?

Today the GSCE results came out in the UK. For American readers, GSCE is like graduating from high school though you can stay and spend an extra two years working on A levels for university entrance.

Huff Post interviewed 4 boys from just north of London. I was immediately struck by two observations. The richer the boy, the more disorientated he was. And how all the boys expected a vague ill-defined authority to sort out their career for them.

The two poorer boys were infinitely better off in my view. Both had had an objective or some time. Both had responded to events, which might have been crushingly disapppointing, but were brushed off by simply finding another path to the same goal. But both, of course, exited the school system – not surprising if you know anything about the rigidity of class in the UK.

Where is the vocation?

But I am not here to lament class – well not today anyway. I was struck that ‘careers advice’ was simply functional. Sign on here. Do this. Do that. I would like to see young people getting ‘to the heart’ of what interests them and defining their economic relationship with the world through a lens of their abiding interests.

Where is the abiding preoccupation?

In business, we might talk in terms of  ‘vision’ and ‘mission’. But look at the way the manufacturing giant Danone puts it:

If associating health benefits with the pleasure of eating is our permanent preoccupation, ensuring that products are made available to the greatest number of people is now the Danone’s new endeavour.

First, let’s ask ~ what is our permanent preoccupaton?  What do we return to time-and-time again because it is so important to us?  What do we hold so dear that it puzzles us that others don’t?  What are we always willing to work on, no matter the time of day or night?

And then, what is our priority right now?  What is the endeavour or practical project that is needed at this moment?

Vision and mission. Preoccupation and endeavour.  I like the second set of words a  lot more.  Don’t you?


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4 practical career tips from a new politician

Peter Parker (Spiderman) by Thomas Dhuchnicki via FlickrJobs, jobs, jobs and naive politicians

Headline news today:  1 in 8 households have one adult out of work.  Is that all?  Of course, some households have 2 or more adults out of work.

I am tired of naïve politicians who think people will find work if only they would look hard enough.  I  am depressed by naïve politicians who think the economy is going to “bounce back” just because they say so.   The banking crisis was not a misstep.  It was the collapse of a misshapen economy.  It was the UK and others “getting found out”.

The good times are not coming back until we rejig our economy and focus on today’s opportunities.

Jobs, jobs, jobs and not so naive politicians

I am not a party political animal and hold no brief for any particular set of politicians but I was pleased today to read the blog of one of the new MP’s –  James Morris.  Halesowen and Rowley Regis, just west of Birmingham seemed to have chosen well.  Small business owner, Cranfield MBA and social activist – that does seem like a good combination for keeping your feet on the ground and your eye on the horizon.

“Our national interest needs to be defined by the realities of Britain’s economic interests in this world where economic power is shifting from west to east. We need to ensure that we develop deep and reciprocal relationships with countries which are emerging as the key players in the future. Both economic and political ties must be strengthened with countries like Brazil, Nigeria, China and India and others.

Our view of the world needs to be characterised less by a conception of it as a hierarchy of nations with the U.S. at the apex; but more as network of peer relationships where Britain negotiates and influences at many different levels simultaneously. This will allow us to use our strengths, capabilities and influence to maximise our relationships in a world which will look very different from that which was the case even a decade ago.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs and savvy individuals

What works for an economy works for each of us too.

Define our economic interest

Identify emerging key players of the future

Aim to develop “deep and reciprocal” relationships with those you judge to be emerging key players

Don’t think who is best or worst – this is a network not a pyramid.   Think of  peer network which we are each shaping with our strengths, capabilities and influence to create a set of relationships that go with us into the future.

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Governments cannot promote innovation. . .

That’s what I said.  Government’s cannot promote innovation

Yesterday, I was playing with John Hagel’s list of three features that distinguish fringe/flaky activities from edge, innovative activities and I suddenly realized: governnments cannot promote innovation.

This is why.

3 differences between fringe/flakey and edge/innovative enterprises

John Hagel, famed for his work on the motor cycle industry in China, points out:

#1 Edge activities are scalable

There is a way to bring the critical stakeholders and a  critical mass of people together to make a difference.

#2  Edge activities are ‘life works’

The change brought by edge activities are so compelling that we are willing to back them with everything we have.

#3  Edge activities change the status quo

Edge activities don’t exist as a complement, extension or protest to mainstream activities.  They intend to take over the mainstream.

When we develop a new industry, we curtail, or even displace, other industries.  People are put out of work.  How can a government sponsor that?

QED.  Governments cannot sponsor innovation.

How can governments support innovation?

It seems to me that govenments’ job is to promote social conditions that promote innovation.

#1  Look at employee rights in failing or contracting industries.  I don’t mean employee privileges, I mean rights.  How do their rights stack up with the rights of other stakeholders (who are also losing out).  Bring those into balance in a fair, transparent, agree and comprehensible matrix.

#2  Make it easier for employees to move from one industry to another.  How easy is it to retrain mid-career?  How often does this happen?  How do individuals go about it?  With what success?  What structural changes would make it easier?

#3  What other structural issues make it hard on employees exiting collapsing industries?  How do we treat people who are not in employment?  How does the tax law and the banking law make life difficulty for people who are reinvesting in new industries?

What I learned from Hagel’s points on edge industries

That’s what I learned from thinking through Hagel’s three points about edge industries.  Government has got to make it easier for more edge industries to  succeed.

And that means Governments must make it less painful for old industries to shrink and eventually fade away.

It also follows that a good governments, in this day and age, should be boasting that this is an economy, and society, in which old industries are given and neat, tidy, respectful burial.  And that we are proud of our ability to move on.  Because moving on just got profitable .  .  . for everyone.

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You want an employer for life . . . or a life?

Employers for life

Today, CIPD published a story that we want an employer for life.

Insecurity distracting us from growth

Some people don’t understand the economic numbers and if they don’t, then the responses reported by CIPD spell out for them the meaning of a severe recession.

Employees are grubbing at the bottom of Maslow’s Need Hierarchy.

It’s not much of a life, and we won’t be going any where fast as a country until we reduce the fear and worry about basics.

Employment relations and psychology

We need to get the politics right.  We need to get every one to sit down and see what we can keep stable, and keep it stable.  Give people as much security as they can so they can plan.

But we also have to learn to function in the “whip and crack of the whirlwind.”  Other communities do.  We need to as well.

Careers have changed

CIPD was knocking the ‘free agent’ route.  Well, UK has not had much of tradition of self-employment or entrepreneurship.   We will get panic simply because we don’t have many role models around us.

Let’s take the intrapreneurship route with which we are more familiar.

Before social media

Our CV showed an obedient relationship with authority.

In a social media world

Our CV is our portfolio of original work and our evolving purpose.

What is our evolving purpose?

When we aren’t used to telling our story, explaining our purpose can be the hardest thing in the world.

So often our purpose has been no more than “hitch a ride on a gravy train.”

For too long, we’ve pretended

  • we can drive the train
  • make gravy
  • and that we are welcome on the train.

That is the crisis that we are facing.

But hey, if catching gravy trains is our skill and purpose in life, then at least we can become knowledgeable about gravy trains. When do they come and how do we hop on and hide?

We can write about it.  We might have to be like Banksy and keep our identify quiet. But we can write about it.  And show he evidence.

To carry on the train metaphor, we can show a picture of  us in Edinburgh in the morning and in London in the evening.  Of course, “they” will be looking out for us now.  No problem.  We are the experts.  Another route!

Psychologists reading this know where I am headed .  .  .

Build that portfolio!

You can call your life by any name you choose but there is only one life you can call your own.  Start you blog today!

Don’t do anything indiscrete.  Begin with the small things.  Take a picture of a train.

And then another.  Then another.

It’s a cheap hobby at least.

Bet it becomes lucrative though!


“conduct your blooming in the whip & crack of the whirlwind” : Gwendolyn Brooks

“there is only one life you can call your own” : David Whyte

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Get the internet on your side in the career of your life

Dynamic not static portfolios

For some time now, I’ve been interested in creating online portfolios for students. Students could start a blog, they could start a chat room. They could do any number of things.

In the long run though, they don’t just want a portfolio of who they are. Life isn’t only about ‘stock’, it is about ‘flow’.

We want students who are at ease with the interconnected world and who can get things done when and where they need to get this done. Our portfolios need to be organized dynamically, around ‘doing’ and ‘action’.

Jane McGonigle lists the social characteristics of ‘new’ work.  Adnan Ali has a list of 6 technical skills which we should all be able to do in a rudimentary way.

6 technical skills for getting the internet on your side in the career of your life

I think it would be reasonable for students to have a course where they do a project on each of these 6 skills. Moreover, they should think up experiments to ‘break’ their work ~ that is, to test its limits. In that way, they learn to think analytically rather than subjectively about what they are doing and move from being amateurs to professionals.

1. Market Identification

Understand the structure of the internet as it lies today.

Which keywords do people use to label their work and how do the keywords vary from one group to another?

2. Conversion Model Development

Understand the actions that are taken on the internet.

What action do they want people to take on their page? How is that action depicted? How is it counted? How is it aggregated to have value to the business?

How are various actions connected onwards, for example, through petitions, paypal, etc?

What proportion of visitors are likely to take these actions?

3.  Landing Pages

Understand the ease with which people use the internet

What do visitors see when they arrive and does the page fulfil their needs? What are the different kinds of landing pages (FAQ, blog, profile, etc.) and what solution it is providing? How usable is the page and how does usability affect conversion?

4.  Traffic generation

Understand how people find pages on the internet

How do people find a website through Google? How does a page rise to the top of search? How do advertisements draw traffic? How can we compete for advertising space that draws the best traffic (for us) and how much does it cost?

SEO, Pay per Click, Pay per Acquisition are the technical skills here.

5.  Conversation Management

Understand the 2 way web and our preference for interaction on sites where we control part of the conversation

How can we stimulate conversation between 2 or more people? Why does bringing them together assist them (and us)? What is our role? Should we host the conversation or take part in a hosted conversation? What makes a good conversation?

6.  Analytics Tracking

Understand the mechanics of tracking web traffic and simple experimentation

Track every part of the value chain and run simple experiments to test proposed changes using Google Analytics and other automated tracking mechanism.

Career Psychology and the Internet

One of the principles of career psychology is to train at the ‘level’ that you intend to work.

We want students to manage their entire career, not small parts of it. From the outset then, students should set up a portfolio and ask themselves each week and each month, what did I achieve? How did this portfolio help me achieve and how have I displayed my achievement?

Then each month, they should take one of the six parts and do a focused project to learn more skills. Let’s imagine they have done this 7 times from the beginning of their GSCE curriculum (2 rounds), through university preparation (2 rounds) and through their bachelor’s degree (3 rounds). It is very likely that they will be highly accomplished and goal oriented by the end.

For those of us late to the party, well we can just begin! In a year, we should be as good as a 16 year old! We’ll get there!!

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Multiplicator effects – key to the economy, key to our business success

Multiplicator effect

I sat down this morning to ponder the multiplicater effect and what it tells us about management in the new age of knowledge and information.

This is how I look at it.

In the 1900’s

In the olden days, business was like a household budget. Money came in and money went out.

The way to get a bit richer was to take the job you did and get someone to do parts of it more cheaply than you could do yourself.

Let’s imagine I was a cobbler. If I could get you to stand in a line and one of you put on the soles, one thread the laces, and so on.  I could pay you each less than I could pay myself. And I could keep the profit that each would make if he worked for himself.

We used simple arithmetic and success was mainly about keeping the change.

Confusing housekeeping with economics

This business model leads to weird behaviour. Everyone believes that a one pound coin is indivisible. Either I have it, or you have it. And we fight to the death over it.

National wealth does not work like that. Indeed, company wealth doesn’t work like that.

Stock turn is important in shops. I don’t want to buy stock and having it sit on the shelves. I want it in and I want it out and the money banked. Circulation is the key. Not hoarding.

In a town, the same applies. When we fight over the one pound coin, we are wasting time and energy. Let me buy something from you with the coin. Then let you buy something from the next person and they from the next and ultimately someone buys from me. That one pound serves many of us. The more people served by the same one pound coin, the healthier the economy.

Installation art

I keep threatening to put an GPS device in a pound coin to follow it as it moves in the wild. If you would like to collaborate in that project, do get in touch.

In the 2000’s

In the modern business world, few of us are like the cobbler with a skill which can be broken into parts, each of which can be done by someone less skilled than us for less money than we would do it ourselves.

Adam Smith and the division of labor

In this day and age, that model of division of labour is a nonsense. Yes, it made perfect sense in the 1800 hundreds in Scotland when Adam Smith said that we can make more pins when we each made part of the pin. And maybe this rule-of-thumb is still true when we are making pins.

Today’s products are more complicated than pins

But in today’s world, we are often making something a lot more complicated than a pin. We’ve moved on. There isn’t any one person who has made the whole of what we are making. There isn’t any person who knows how to do everything. In truth, if we put a 1000 elves in with Santa we wouldn’t be able to draw or visualize exactly what we are making

We are like the blind men describing the elephant. I think the elephant is his trunk. You think it is his tail.

The elephant knows he is an elephant, of course. But he has no way of communicating with the blind men We have to wait until the blind men get the concept of a possible elephant and start communicating with each other. Then they can work out there is an elephant and what it looks like.

You cannot fool all of the people all of the time but there is no end to the people who will try

Now there are plenty of people out there trying to pretend that they know how to make a pin and hoping to delegate part of it to you. Notice well though, that they will be reluctant to give you a good contract that goes beyond chance.   They have no market for that pin. (Sorry people who make real pins ~ I know you are real.)

Before you part with an hour of your time, ask them for their sales report

The point is not that the heaven has finally fallen on Chicken Licken. The point is that the world is making bigger things than pins. When you hear someone claim that they understand the whole elephant and you should play a small part at the trunk for a pittance, ask sweetly to see the sales reports. They won’t show the report to you because it doesn’t exist.

Listen to those who want genuinely to collaborate

But when someone says, hey, I feel something interesting in front of me. What do you feel? Do you think there is any connection between what you feel and I feel? THEN, we have a show.

When we network our skills together, then we can make something that we cannot see alone.

This is not the age of division of labor

Division of labour aimed to do things faster and cheaper. Today’s world is about networking specialist labour to do something no one person or company can do alone.

This is the age of connecting with other skilled people

This is not the age of division of labour and making smaller and smaller things. This is the age of networking skill and making bigger and bigger things.

To be practical

As a career coach and work psychologist, I put my practical cap on and ask: what does this mean in practice?

  • The essential career tool of today is a set of modular pieces of work which have the potential to link up with others. I say potential because other people may not have work ready to link up.  We do our work anyway but rather than just do it, we do it in a way that has potential to link up with others so they can see where they could join in.
  • The essential career management tool of today is to be adaptable and do whatever work is available without losing sight of our skill base. The test of any task is not whether we are paid for it but whether we are willing to put it on our website for others to link up to.
  • The essential selection criteria for inclusion in a permanent team will be
    • number of modules we have available for others to use
    • the diversity of modules (are we able to clean the floor and do the accounts as readily as paint a Picasso)
    • the readiness at which we create modules in new situations (rate and diversity)
    • the connections we make with the team and importantly are now possible between other team members without our presence!
  • The ethics of selection come down to whether a person’s connections will be richer by working with us (do they become more creative and are they involved in richer sets of connections?)
  • Pay is likely to be more equal with money paid into development funds to pay for capital when it is needed and the opening up new opportunities. Where there are differentials they are likely to come from being central to a network because the pound moves through us more often (we buy and we sell). People who only sell should receive less.
  • Ranks of professions might change. Lets imagine we paid a toll to a receptionist each time we walked through the door. We might be come reluctant to have a receptionist. Indeed, this is a test of a division of labour philosophy operating. We may not need the service if we had to pay more for it. Let’s imagine the hospital workers mentioned in a paper today who create a lot more value than they take home. What if they decided to run a hospital and just hire the doctors and nurses around them. That makes sort of sense to me!
  • In the olden days, training meant starting with a small task and growing into the ‘owner’. Obviously the tasks in our early career will be small.  But what if the goal was to move increasingly into the centre of a network where we are able to work with a wider number of people?  Have the pound coin pass through us more often? What if the goal was to increase whom we are able to work with on a project of value?  What if I took a person into a room and said: take two people, figure out what they can do and figure out, not what you can sell to each of them, but what you can take/buy from one, transform and pass on to the next. It’s what entrepreneurs do, of course. But what if the entire training process was geared to the capacity to detect and executive collaboration?
  • Jane McGonigle lists the qualities of projects that have this magical capacity which I restated here I would look for these multiplicator competencies in someone’s portfolio and help them find opportunities to broaden their experience in new ways of working.

The beginning is the ability to do modular work that has capacity for collaboration. To be potentiated, so to speak, to collaborate. A change of focus but an important one. Learn to be a multiplier rather than a taker.

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Get to the heart of what will be the vibrant, interesting, & lucrative jobs and careers in the 21st century?

New management

When I went to university, we were told that management is the art of getting work done through people.  A passport to laziness and exploitation!

Today, we say management is developing people through work.

Work should be fun.  It is fun for some of us.

And work should be fair.  Not only should we receive a fair day’s pay for a fair days work.  We should be growing as a person and capable of doing more with each hour of work that we put in.

Rewriting the training manuals for jobs and careers

In 20th century management manuals, Stage 1 of work was doing.  For about 10 years, roughly from 16 to 26, we learned a trade and built breadth & depth through education and exposure.  Our job was to cultivate a deep knowledge of our materials and tools, appreciate our customers, and adapt what we did for their needs.  We wanted to learn enough about the wide range of situations that we might encounter in the future so that we could go with the flow and make a living as the years went by.

Sadly, of course, markets change and revolutions happen in technology.  With very little notice, customers defect to other products and markets, competitors outrun us, or the technology changes sufficiently to require another 10 year apprenticeship.

In the ‘olden days’, HR departments were responsible for seeing ahead and retraining staff ahead of any abrupt changes.  By definition, the HR Director’s job was to spot changes on the horizon and get everyone retrained in new ways without disrupting today’s operations.  There was a reason for that high salary!

You are now your own HR Director

Today’s management theorists and leadership coaches counsel another approach.  They recommend that each of us scan the horizon for changes and retrain ourselves in good time.

This is quite hard to do.  As noobes, we barely understand the business.  We don’t have data to see ahead.  Indeed it might be kept from us.  And training tends to focus on skill  rather than the ‘sweet spot’ where are skills are deeply valued by our customers.

The sweet spot where your skills are deeply valued by your customers

I know that there has been a lot of research on how to train people on the sweet spot.

  • I recall attempts to train doctors by introducing them to patients from day one.  The conclusion, I recall, was that the pre-clinical training was necessary to speed up communication between noobes and experienced doctors and the experiment was abandoned.
  • Cognitive psychologists have developed computer games to test whether it is better to learn the market before we learn the underlying technology of our business.  They concluded no.  First, learn the technology, then try to make money.
  • Military psychologists have found that youngsters trained to manage their attention on computer games performed better as fighter pilots.  In the game, the recruits played the part of captains of de-mining vessels.  Each ‘month’, or game cycle, they would concentrate on the overall outcome of running the ship and concentrate on learning one of the functions only ~ navigation, finance, HR, etc.  The limitation known with this approach is that under pressure we often go back to the “level” that we first learned, requiring, once again, that we can see into the future and pick our “level” correctly.

It seems easy to mess up our mental models of the sweet spot and what we need to do to manage it.  We can overemphasize the money end and underemphasize the skill.  We can also learn to manage situations that are too small to sustain a living.

More research needed on managing our own training for 21st century jobs and careers

None of these experiments have focused though on developing a sense of the sweet spot and organizing skills and commercial acumen around a sweet spot that morphs, ebbs and flows.  I know no experiment where “subjects” were explicitly trained to monitor what is happening around them, to think of their own skills (and the skills of their team) and bring those together into a rewarding balance.

I wonder what would happen if we learned to think that way from the get-go?


Organize your own thinking about vibrant, interesting & lucrative jobs and careers in the 21st century

If you want to try, to organize your thinking about the sweet spot between your skills and the needs of customers, this is what I recommend.

Pick on anything you did today that you enjoyed and draw out 3 spokes

  • name the key technical skill that you used to provide your customer with value
  • name the customer and describe his or her needs
  • name the sweet spot and try describe it in one sentence

These three spokes correspond logically to three factors associated with successful business teams:

  • The teams ask questions more often than the give answers
  • They concentrate on the outside world a little more than on themselves
  • The look for what is going well and are positive 5x more than they are negative

Become your own HR Director

I think it will take quite a few lots of 10 to 15 minutes jotting down notes for this way of thinking to come easily.  But when it does you will be your own HR Director

  • Looking ahead
  • Retraining on time
  • Finding the sweet spot where you feel vital, involved, entertained, valued AND rewarded!

Do let me know how it works out!

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1001 things we learn from live performers

#1  my career is a journey to find my people

A good performer jumps on stage, looks out at the audience, and thinks, “Here I am!”
A great performer jumps on stage, looks out at the audience, and thinks, “There you are!”

Steve Rapson from Art of the Solo Performer
contributed by DW from Connecticut, USA

and for #2 thru #1001 visit Music Thoughts


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Land your dream job by knowing your industry inside-out

Career decisions for young and old

I do a lot of career coaching.  I talk to youngsters of all ability ranges. I talk to MBA student making career changes after a flying start in management.  I talk to people who’ve been unlucky enough to lose their jobs and who looking for an echo career.

Are easy when we know what we want

What all these people have in common ~ those who are happy to get work at the minimum wage and those negotiating banker-size bonuses ~ is that they will not get what they want until they decide what they want.

And tracks are laid out for us by someone else

Many of us ~ particularly the talented, able and lucky ~ go through life on a set of rails. We go from one school to another, on tracks laid down by other people, and decision making has amounted to no more than “this” or “that”.   Both are good and we chose on the basis of the frills ~ which perks were more to our taste.

When the tracks are gone, we have to lay them for selves

Then one day, shock and horror, the tracks are gone. We will have to lay them down ourselves.  Suddenly, we realize that we are “institutionalized”. We haven’t being make decisions for ourselves.  We are capable of rolling down pre-laid tracks without thought, but we are totally incapable of laying the tracks.

Smashing Magazine has a very comprehensive list for finding work

It’s a steep learning curve.  Today Smashing Magazine has a list of “do’s” for free lancers. These “do’s” are the basis for job searches as well. Print them and rate your progress at getting them right.

The trouble is that step one is deciding what you want!

I can tell you right now which steps you will find hard ~ deciding which sector you want to work in and finding out about the companies.  That’s the equivalent of laying the tracks. That is the part that you’ve never done before because you always took for granted that the tracks were there.

How to lay your own tracks

  1. Print out the article from Smashing Magazine
  2. Get a shoebox or box of similar size
  3. Keep your envelopes from junk mail
  4. Take envelopes of one color or size and every day find a website relevant to the industry that enchants you.  Read and take notes.
  5. Take envelopes of another color or size and every day find a firm in your industry that sparks your curiosity.  Read and take notes.
  6. Every month sort through. Keep the ten best firms and make notes on questions you want to answer about the industry.
  7. Also sort through and look at the people you would love to meet and learn a little about them

I can be sure that in 1-2 months of doing a little work every night, the industry will come alive.  Smashing Magazine’s list will begin to be easy.  Indeed, I strongly recommend that you start a blog.  Get a Posterous account, which is easy to manage, and start “Expeditions into the Publishing Industry”, or whatever.   In time you will be an acclaimed expert ~ and you will have got there by the first step that you took today.

Stop daydreaming about step 53 ~ take the 1st step

Indeed, if you don’t take the first step, if you keep telling me about step 7 or step 10 or step 53, then I know you are not serious.  Step 1: print out Smashing Magazine’s article. Step Two get a shoebox. Step Three get a junk mail envelope and make your first notes.

And sigh with relief that you live in days of the internet!

And stop whinging!  This is easy in the days of the internet.  Just 10 years ago, this was almost impossible to do!

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