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Educate or Deteriorate? You Choose.

educationYou bought a new car. It is fresh off the lot. You have driven it for a while and it performs really well. A few years pass. You realize you washed it more in the first year than the next 6 years combined. New models are coming out every year with new technology just waiting for your car to get old. Rust starts to collect on the quarter panels. Oil changes are not the only thing that you have to pay extra for anymore. It is more trouble than its worth. Eventually, it is scrapped for a new car.

Now think about yourself and your career. You graduate college and you have been out for a while now. You know a fair amount of things going on in the world and you are amazing at your job. A few more years pass and there are a lot of younger people under you or close to you that want your job. They know the latest technology and are hungry for the work. You are used to certain ways of doing things and this new technology seems like a passing fad. Eventually, you wonder why you were traded in for Liz from accounts.

What happened? Whatever you knew is just part of everyday business and what you do not know is holding you back. You forgot one of the most important things in life: Continual education. You lost touch with the world. Education is a basic fact of life. It would be a tragedy to think that you were to stop learning when you graduate college. Do not fall into the you-can’t-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks category. Make it a point to be in the always-open-to-learn-something-new category.

That is not to say it is always easy to learn new things. It can be scary. However, once you learn even the smallest thing, you will be all the wiser. Nearly everyone has the capacity to learn something new. When she was alive, I taught my 91-year-old grandmother how to use her cell phone. She lived through the depression and held out from getting a cell phone as long as she could. She was physically old, but she did not let her mind catch up with her physical age. At 91, she was happy to learn something new.

Alright Don, we get it. What do you suggest we do about it?  

Never stop learning. Sure you may tweet and share things to look like you know what is going on, but it is just an act. You read the headlines. It sounds interesting, so you re-post it. If others are traveling at 60MPF you are too. You do not realize that sometimes it pays to travel at 40MPH to better understand new material, or at 80MPH when you know exactly what needs to be done. After I graduated with my MBA, I quickly found out that to reach your highest potential, you need to find the internal motivation to teach yourself new tricks everyday. Yes, everyday. It does not have to be some earth-shattering idea, it just has to be something.

How do you apply this in everyday life? Here are the 10 things I do to keep myself fresh of new ideas and changing industry trends.

  1. Go to the library. You do not have to waste your money on buying all the latest magazines and books. The library has them for you. When is the last time you were there? That’s what I thought. Books on CD work great too. I just finished a Seth Godin book on CD recently from my local library.
  2. Subscribe to key blogs. Many industry leading individuals and companies have key blogs. It may take some digging to find key ones that appeal to you, but once found, make it a point to read them as often as they post.
  3. Go to local events. Nearly every industry has local, and national, events centered around education. I say local events because they are the path of least resistance. These events allow you to learn directly from industry leaders.
  4. Network. Local events always offer some sort of networking option. Always take advantage of this. At a scholarship fundraiser for my alma mater last weekend, I heard of a recent forensic science graduate to who was introduced directly to the head of the Michigan crime lab. This was an invaluable chance meeting. Do not miss out on these opportunities.
  5. Watch the news. Before work every day I watch the news with my beautiful bride. It keeps me up-to-date on local happenings. The sports update is especially helpful. If you are a real go-getter you know that finding the time to watch all or even part of a major sporting event is difficult. Watching the news will help you see all the major plays and the outcome. That way, you will not miss out on an opportunity to continue a conversation at a networking event.  Similarly, you will also keep knowledge of other events in your mind to help shape decisions you make in the future.
  6. Set up lists.  Lists on Twitter help a lot when it comes to educating yourself. I have a list set up in Twitter called Influencers, among others. This list allows me to see what is important to some very influential people in my industry. Reading this keeps me very well-informed.
  7. Subscribe for webinars. Webinars are easy. Most of them are a half hour to an hour in length and a number of them are free. You can log in to a webinar anywhere and many times they make materials available afterwards for reference.
  8. Ask a colleague.  Sometimes this is very difficult. You do not want to come off like you do not know anything but you know they have the information. It is best to simply ask a colleague what she thinks about a certain situation if you find yourself hitting a brick wall with your own knowledge. After all, you are supposed to be functioning in a team. Collaboration will flourish, if you are open, and you may learn more than you bargained for.
  9. Ask to listen in. Ask your boss if it is okay to sit in or listen in on key meetings. I have done this many times. Shadowing your boss, writing down their key thoughts, and remembering what you learn will help you excel by leaps and bounds.
  10. Blog. Do something like what you just read. It has been the biggest payoff for me.

Choose wisely. Will you educate or deteriorate?

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