TED

The Habit of Commencements and Graduations

Tis the season where perfectly reasonable people put on gowns, funny hats with tassels and sit through processionals and listen to great attempts at inspiration. Yes, it's graduation season! You know that special time when we congratulate loved ones and friends for enduring blood, sweat, tears and financial debt to complete a degree. We witness the "commencement"-- the beginning of a new chapter where greater opportunity awaits. All of us know someone who is graduating from some school at some level. They may the first in their families to.......There are so many great stories of triumph, overcoming obstacles, and sheer determination that reinforce the value of education. Its a wonderful moment! The value of education, especially higher education or post secondary education comes to light. The research is conclusive that education can be the great equalizer and the ticket to the American Dream.Grad2

The ritual of graduations give meaning and importance to a specific milestone in our lives--the completion of a formal portion of our education. Celebration and congratulatory words and gifts are exchanged. The future seems brighter and yet daunting. Armed with a new sheepskin, some great courses, and experiences, the new grads have more confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. There is pomp, circumstance, and reason for celebration. (although I am not a fan of this "gap" year to "find oneself" or to "rest" after their educational "hardship" and tribulations. The whole idea of education is the opportunity to think--something few of us get to do in the "real world"!!)

It is just so weird how we stop our process of marking and celebrating our educational milestones once we have stopped our formal education. Some of you are still contemplating a run at graduate school. Well if you are in your 30s, chances are slim to none that you will. However, after we graduate from school and have our degrees, we abandon "graduations" and "commencements" for ourselves. Education becomes something we chase in the corridors of our busy lives--it's called keeping up! We might take an occasional class or read a book. We see a youtube or a Tedtalk and feel invigorated. If we are fortunate, these are moments of enlightenment and/or inspiration but usually not education.

Our thirst for learning is unquenchable. Yet, our forays to the pool of knowledge are intermittent and brief. We become complacent. We learn everyday how much we don't know and the obsolescence of our education becomes more apparent.

I may have been to 50 commencement ceremonies so far. Most of them I have been sitting on the stage in my silly mortar board listening to the speaker and watching the audience. A couple of times I have had the opportunity to address the graduates. Once I was asked to discuss "The relevance of a PhD" to 800 new doctoral grads, but that is a different story. A friend of mine is preparing a commencement address and asked my advice. I told her that the message is "You are not done". May sound trite, but education is a process that never ends.

I truly believe you have to treat every chapter of your life as a graduate degree. I often say as an MBA, because of the popularity of the degree. Every job, promotion, new opportunity is a chance to choose "courses", "professors", and "majors". Take 2,3,4 years to earn your next "degree". Use your time at work and while you are awake to focus your post-college educational journey. Its a mindset. Otherwise time marches on, and while we feel like we are learning everyday, we have nothing to show for it. We stay at a company for 6 years, the equivalent of 2-3 graduate degrees, and our resume looks hauntingly the same! The question is always, "What will you learn from whom and by when?"

I know I have stumped more than a few of you, so let me give you five ways to do this.

  1. Your employer as teacher--Fully utilize your employer's support for professional development, tuition reimbursement, conferences, and classes. Even if they do not have a policy, ask your boss about specific relevant opportunities and get her support.
  2. Volunteer work--Most of you give your time to important charities and causes. Be more focused on how to intertwine your educational goals with your generosity. If you want to learn more about say marketing, then volunteer to be on the marketing committee. People don't volunteer for the committees and if you show up twice you will be the vice-chair! Then you are vice chair learning about marketing for your favorite charity and your resume just evolved!
  3. Start-up something--One of the great advantages of being part of a start-up organization is you can do everything and anything. Job titles are irrelevant. There are enormous opportunities to take on functions and areas of responsibility. You have to learn and educate yourself because the team is limited and small. By the way, same goes for most non-profits as well.
  4. Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA--I really like what Josh is doing. His idea is you don't have to enroll in a formal program, take out huge loans, and make the sacrifice of trying to justify the cost benefit of interrupting your career to retool. Check out his blog and his bestselling book. There are many alternatives to a degree.
  5. Find mentors in specific subjects--You want to advance your understanding of an area of interest, a function or methodology. Find experts who will spend time in their "office hours" to coach you and answer your questions.

More than a couple of times in my career I realized I was stagnating. That I was shielded from learning new things by my routines and habits. That I could just go through the motions and be successful. These were the signs that I had to take action to alter and augment my experience. I usually ended up pursuing a new "degree".

Little will happen without purpose and intention. What do you want? Where are you going? What "degree" will you earn in the next 3-4 years? Set commencement and graduation dates.

Once you do, your network and mentors have to be evaluated for their ability to help you. You reconnect with people with a new perspective. You help people around you continue their educations, because the best way to learn is to teach!

 Happy graduation!

Thanks for reading. John

 


Flash learning, Lightning talks, Fast pitches, and You

Our ability to communicate quickly and effectively is more valued than ever before. If you use twitter, you know the limit of 140 characters and that all texting and social media require brevity--Driven by our shorter attention spans and our multi-tasking lives. We can futilely bemoan this inexorable trend toward speed and all of dire consequences. But we all agree on one thing, we want people to make their point. What are you trying to say?, and spit it out! :) We want people to articulate their thought with a bit of substance and a little style, right?Blah

The issue here is not just attention spans, it is our choices. As I say all the time--we have more choices and less time. So if you do not say something interesting quickly, people will shift their precious bandwidth to something that is more engaging. Imagine the challenge facing older middle school teachers today who don't have a Facebook page and never played a video game since Pac Man--and their up hill attempts to sustain interest in the curricula from a group born and bred on social media--WHEW!

All learning is going through massive change, especially outside of the ivy covered walls. More content on college campuses is delivered online than face-to-face. In other words, students can take more of their classes from their dorm room than in a lecture hall! The real and interesting change is occurring in training workshops, presentations, conferences, and informal education. Generically called "flash learning". Delivering interesting and compelling content in very compressed and often structured chunks. There are many movements, organized systems and events that feature and celebrate this form of learning. Consider the following:

  1. Ignite--5 year old global event where you have 5 minutes to present your thought/idea/theory. 15 seconds for every powerpoint slide, auto advanced. You have a max of 20 slides and you have to be well rehearsed.
  2. TEDtalks--My primary addiction :) TED may have been the inspiration for much of these changes. Started in 1984, TEDtalks have become a worldwide phenomenon with over 11,000 events. In a Tedtalk you are roughly given 3 minutes, 8 minutes or 18 minutes to make your presentation with or without slides, no auto advance requirements.
  3. PechaKucha--Developed in Japan by architects and designers to share ideas. Literally translated as "chit chat". Like Ignite you have 20 slides and 20 seconds, auto advanced. So, thre are 6 mins and 40 seconds max to do your thang.
  4. Fast pitches--Los Angeles Social Venture Partners and others developed this program to coach and mentor non-profits on how to pitch their stories to raise money and support. The winners get cash prizes for their orgs. Non-profits are notoriously poor at concisely communicating their mission and their need.
  5. Lightning talks--Developed in 1997 for techies to share ideas, speakers were given 5 minutes max to convey their newest project or solution.
  6. Speed Challenges--Just learned about these and I love the idea. This is a timed brainstorming exercise to help individuals in a group. Person with idea, problem, goal gets no more than 2 minutes to say their piece. The group has a max of 2 minutes to clarify and understand the concept. Then the group goes for 5 minutes in generating help, resources, and further ideas. So in 10 minutes you get great feedback and support. Brainstorm 

We all understand that the brain can only endure and absorb so much. Brain scientists have shown that 5-7 minutes is our ideal attention span. Think about the length of a song or a poem.

We have heard of, maybe even participated in, speed dating and other networking events that try and accelerate opportunities. Ice breakers are one of these old school devices.

My work on live tv and radio taught me quickly how being clear and fast is essential. Because the opposite is deadly. It always is.

So what does this mean to you and to networking. Everything!!!!

We all have heard of the elevator pitch that originated with the venture capitalists to engage and secure investors in the span of an elevator ride. But today every organization and everybody needs a brief, well thought out message. No matter what you are selling, trying to get a job, pushing a cause, raising money or just trying to make a point.

As Mark Twain said:

"It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Nothing replaces preparation, brevity and putting a little of yourself into your communication. It takes a great deal of work to say something that makes a difference.

What is your ignite, PechaKucha, fast pitch, or TEDtalk about yourself or your cause or your idea or your organization?

All of this has to start with knowing who you are and what you want?

I developed the BIT, (brief introductory talk) to focus us on how we even introduce ourselves.

I love flash learning opportunities. I have long believed that if we pay attention and assert ourselves there are moments, events, and people that will teach us and change us in an instant. Life is so fast and we have to see the choices and the chances we get everyday.

Yes, we should slow down. We should savor long walks on the beach, enjoy a good book, and smell the roses along our meandering journey of life, as long as we know what we want and how to articulate it. And did we meet someone on the beach, learn something from the book, or did the sight and scent of the flowers make us think about someone else? How will our experiences advance our learning and our goals to help one another.

Thanks for reading. John


The Sources of Inspiration--The Network of TED

We obtain our ideas, inspirations, and aspirations through our experiences and our interactions with other people . We find these people through our quests for meaning or through the serendipity of life. People with purpose, people with needs, people who overcome their challenges, people like us and very different from us, who are making a difference in the world. Pretty obvious, but without making connections to others we will miss many sources of inspiration. The result can be a life less fulfilled. Regrettably, I meet these people all of the time. People who are competent, educated, and confident, and who lack passion. Who see life as an accumulating list of obligations and tasks. Time is a burden. They either think that there will be a pot at the end of the rainbow or worse, have settled for the "hand they were dealt". We have to see the opportunity ahead. Inspiration can shake us from our slumber and awaken our potential. Inspiration does not make an appointment or wait in line. Inspiration has to be pursued.  Inspiration_quotes_graphics_c2

I have been a semi-obsessed fan of TED and TedTalks. If TED was a person, I would have been subjected to a restraining order many years ago. TED was started by Richard Wurman 25 years ago. He hosted a private almost secret salon of thinkers and doers in Monterey California. I read about it in Wired Magazine in the dot com era. In 2002, Mr. Wurman ceded control to Chris Anderson and then TedTalks was born and distributed for free. TedTalks are a weekly routine for me. I use these talks to inform me, to open up my world to new things, to inspire me, and to push me. While I am not rich enough or famous enough to be invited and pay to attend the annual TED conference, I get a great view from my iPhone and iPad! Probably watched 125 talks so far. 

I elbowed my way into the first TEDx conference in 2009, a local version of TED organized by community members under the umbrella of TED. Thousands of TEDx events have been hosted around the world. Like American Idol and all of the other reality talent shows, there is so much talent and so many inspiring stories out there. TED shows us there is so much good being pursued by good people all over the globe--you would never know if you watch the nitely news! Watch a TedTalk and/or attend a TEDx event and be inspired. 

Last week I spoke at TEDx Santa Monica. I was asked to talk about "education". Education is the great transformer. However, I decided to not address the important trends and solutions I see in the educational institutions around us. Instead, I focused on what I see as the greatest tragedy, the waste of human potential. When people never find meaning and a connection to what they care about and what they were meant to do. In my opinion, the top educational priority is understanding ourselves so we can apply our uniqueness to the ideas, issues and causes we care about. To live with passion!

Here's my talk entitled Find Yourself by Losing Yourself.  The video production value is lacking but the good news is the dark setting makes me look better!

 

Please explore TedTalks even if you did not like my speech. :) Hopefully it becomes a source of education and inspiration to discover and apply your greatness. We need you to be the best you can be.

Thanks for reading. John