There’s nothing quite like experiencing what it is like to feel irrelevant to fuel your desire for life-long learning. 2020 brought with it many lessons, one of them being the importance of having the mindset and skill set to pivot and redesign our lives and careers. To thrive in the age of algorithms and automation, which Brynjolfsson and McAfee refer to as, “The Second Machine Age” the authors say technology is not destiny, we shape our destiny.
The irony of writing this in Milos, a gorgeous island formed by volcanic activity surrounded by the emerald coastline of the Aegean Sea, reflecting on why I am attending The Creator Retreat in Mykonos is not lost on me. We often hear the world is filled with unique opportunities, with the choice and freedom to live where we want, and work where we want. However the power to shape your destiny belongs to those who know how to design their learning journey. One of my favorite analogies on this topic comes from Thomas Friedman who writes:
“There are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. In fact, the faster you go, the more stable the bike. It’s called dynamic stability. We don’t teach people this. But we should.”
Today I’m sharing three strategies that have proven to be most valuable in being able to design my professional learning to shape my destiny.
Your Work vs Your Art
One of the fundamental flaws with K12 education is the lack of student agency to design and develop your own learning experiences. In a system that commands where, when and how to learn, you are stripped of the opportunity to develop the self-awareness necessary to understand where, when and how you learn best as an individual.
Like many, I grew up being told that going to school and getting good grades was the pathway to “success.” Reflecting back, I didn’t even consider what success meant to me, what it would like and feel like. In my final year of my Masters I landed a fantastic job and it almost felt as if everything I had worked so hard for was worth it. A few months after graduation in 2007 the world experienced “The Great Recession,” a financial crisis that crushed industries and individuals. Like many this was the year I experienced my first layoff.
The clarity on how to navigate change in the world of work came from reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. A linchpin, Seth Godin shares, differentiates between work and art. One of my favorite quotes from the book is:
“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can. The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job. Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people. I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.”
Taking the personal responsibility to design and document your learning experiences as an adult is the difference that makes a difference when it comes to thriving in today’s world and ensuring that you stay relevant. The three strategies I’m going to share have given me the skillset and mindset to not only navigate change but to take advantage of the many opportunities that today’s world offers. It’s strengthened my voice to challenge the status quo and work with individuals and organizations to navigate the emotions and complexities of change.
Strategy #1: Learn From Individuals Outside Your Industry
We all begin by learning about our field and desired area of expertise. However, if you truly want to be relevant and ahead of the curve you need to step outside your industry, identify existing and emerging trends and examine the relationship across industries. My academic experience was focused on K12 education. During this time, I never truly recognized the power of the Internet. Facebook and Twitter were just launching when I was graduating, so was the iPhone. Amazon launched the kindle. AirBnB were beginning their startup in their apartment A year earlier in 2006 Google bought YouTube. Mobile data traffic increased 100,000 percent from 2007 to 2014. And the list goes on. While these were not existing technologies while I was in school, they were emerging technologies.
As I began learning more about how these emerging and existing technologies were relevant to the field of education. Reflecting back, I often wonder how none of my professors thought to discuss these trends and the opportunities they presented not only for my students but for myself as well. And there lies the fundamental flaw in my thinking – I was waiting for others to prepare me instead of learning to prepare myself.
Diversifying who and where you learn from is foundational to shaping your destiny and staying relevant in a rapidly changing world. This week I’ll be attending, “The Creator Retreat,” hosted by Jeremy Austin and Angie Villa, two of my favorite travel bloggers and content creators. Now your first reaction, like many others who I’ve told, might be to think that I want to change careers and become a travel content creator. And who knows maybe one day I will.
Write this down: Creating exposure to different learning experiences diversifies your skillset and invites access to diverse opportunities.
In 2018 I committed to attending a conference or retreat outside of my industry each year. I’ve been avid followers of Jeremy and Angie for years. They inspired me to purchase a drone and their stories gave me the confidence to travel in 2020 when many others were afraid. Above all I am in awe of their humility and passion for how they shape their destiny. I had the pleasure of interviewing them on my podcast and one of my favorite parts of the episode is how they share the value of designing a portfolio. For one week we’ll be together in person in Mykonos, Greece! We’ll be learning, creating, sharing and shaping our destinies. To come alongside me you can follow me on Instagram where I’ll be sharing stories and you should also follow, “The Creator Retreat” as Jeremy and Angie will be sharing stories on Instagram as well.
Recognizing the importance of attending conferences outside of my industry happened by chance in 2019. Since 2012 I had been attending education conferences only. In 2019 I attended my first conference outside of education – The Design Sprint Conference, and quite frankly nothing pushed my thinking and expanded my mindset and skill set than this one. My research examines design thinking practices in K12 and this conference was an opportunity to see how it is used across different industries. Attending this conference allowed me to meet and learn from others who while they were not in K12 education, taught me so much about how to use the design sprint methodology to enhance and develop my ability to frame and solve problems. I never could have imagined the unstructured problems that would come our way in 2020 and the skills I learned at this conference allowed me to thrive in ways that I otherwise might not have been able to.
Strategy #2: Document Your Journey with a Portfolio
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Tony Wagner speak and he shared, “The world doesn’t care what you know, it cares what you can do with what you know.”
The best way to show the world what you can do is to tell your story with a portfolio. I specifically say tell your story because often times portfolios are perfectly curated. I’ve found that people enjoy the journey of your work and evolution of ideas – how it started and how it’s going. While there are many options for where to begin showcasing your creative skills, we believe LinkedIn is the perfect place to start, establishing this as your home base and growing out to other platforms from there. LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network with hundreds of millions of members, provides everyone an opportunity to curate a portfolio of creative skills while building a professional learning network to share it with. The world, a small microcosm of it on LinkedIn, isn’t just a place to showcase work, it is a community of professionals and your ability to highlight your uniqueness and connect with key professionals in the industry you aspire to be part of.
On LinkedIn you’ll have the opportunity to meet influential people in your field of interest, and each of these individuals can easily become a part of your professional network. Furthermore, LinkedIn not only allows you to build a valuable network but also provides a digital space accessible for anyone to bring their experiences and stories to life. Unlike the traditional one page resume, LinkedIn lets you attach a variety of file types and links to directly connect the audience with the projects, stories, and work that you have created. This context and visualization of your work will ultimately set you apart from the crowd.
Strategy #3: Leading and Learning on Social Networks
It’s nearly impossible to filter through all the information that we have access to today. Over the years I’ve realized that having a trusted and diverse network helps me stay informed and provides a safe space to answer questions. While we all recognize the importance and value of a network, we were often limited to forming one based on proximity.
I first experienced just how transformative this can be when I met Brian Fanzo on Snapchat. Hold the judgment please. Brian is a Digital Futurist and keynote speaker who translates the trends of tomorrow to inspire change today. Hearing Brian share about social media and digital trends across different industries has refined my skillset in how we frame and solve problems and think about what learning experiences can and should look like in K12 and higher education.
Today’s world offers us the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere with anyone. In 2018, “The Future of Jobs Report,” published by the World Economic Forum predicted their list of trending skills for 2022, many which are arguably necessary now. They introduced for the first time, “leadership and social influence.”
Peter Northouse shares, “Today’s world requires leaders to evolve from being transactional to transformational. In a transactional environment politicians win votes by promising no new taxes. Managers offer promotions to employees who surpass their goals. In classrooms teachers grade work for assignments completed.”
The prevalence of these environments reveals that we have a transformational leadership vacuum, and it needs to be filled by YOU! Today’s platforms no longer require you to have a title to lead, challenge the status quo and change people. It requires that you show up, that you continue learning, continue growing alongside others and sharing that journey.
Transformational leaders are those who encourage creativity, recognize accomplishments, build trust and inspire a collective vision (Notgrass, 2014). They are role models for the beliefs and values they want to see others adopt and they believe that their audience is able to rise to the occasion. We need more of us to step up in becoming these leaders within our communities, shaping not only our own destinies but being the role model for others who wish to do so as well.
I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.
Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities.