Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Hank is a young fellow working for a fifteen year old company in Sarasota, Florida. He is frustrated because there is a lack of momentum on the part of his manager to fully implement Hank’s gifts and skills. He’s frustrated because he feels underutilized and unfulfilled. He feels like a racehorse that isn’t given enough rein to really run the race and win. He’s being held back, but why?

More often than not, managers aren’t conscious of how they influence their team. They don’t even know that there’s a way that they are being that limits the success of their direct reports and the success of the company as well. Only sometimes are they holding back their direct reports in service to their own desired outcomes. Usually, they just don’t know.

What Hank hears from his boss is to not push for change too quickly; “Things take time around here. Slow and steady wins the race.” Hank isn’t a tortoise; he’s a thoroughbred. He was hired for his expertise and the results that he’s capable of. He has the passion and capability to make things happen quickly. After two years with this company under this particular manager, Hank has exhausted much of his creative energies fighting his manager for more free rein.

Hank’s dilemma

Hanks dilemma isn’t foreign at all to many individuals working under a management style that holds them back rather than supports growth and expansion. How does he bring the best he can to a situation where his manager really doesn’t know how to manage a thoroughbred like Hank? He could quit; however, is there something else that’s happening here for Hank that could bring value to his time in this company? What’s possible here as a learning opportunity?

Through our coaching, Hank gets clearer that he is being exposed to a management style that is ineffective for him and people like him. He wants things to change – he wants his manager to be more of a mentor; he wants to move up in the ranks and be a leader himself in bigger and better ways. He’s stuck behind a plow horse and can’t see his way clear to run the race he believes he is here to win.

A fascinating aspect of Hank’s dilemma is that he is actually in a perfect internship opportunity where he has the most to learn to be a really good leader for people like himself. Rather than focus on how ineffective his manager is, he can focus on two things:

  • What’s missing in his manager’s style that if it were present would spur Hank on to greater success?
  • What’s available in the current situation that can be of benefit to him and his leadership development? What’s incubating within himself that will bring about a much more powerful leadership style?

I believe that these questions are so essential in business coaching. Sometimes our clients can’t change their circumstance, however they can shift their perspective. I believe that every situation we find ourselves in is an internship – a place to learn what we need to learn. More often than not, like Hank, we didn’t consciously sign up for these internships – these learning opportunities. Thoroughbreds want to run – they don’t want to do anything else – there’s nothing else to do but get to the finish line. However, Hank has an opportunity to learn through experience and take notes on how to be a leader – committed to the best and highest contribution of his team. He can only do this through his current experience.

Being fully immersed in his current circumstances, Hank is having an experience that informs him about his own personal reality, needs and desires; informs him of what capacities he sees is required to work in the environment within which he finds himself; and, informs him of what capacities he wants to cultivate to be the manager he wishes he had for himself, and that he wants to be for others.

Hank’s practice is multidimensional: He has to get out of his normal operating strategies, which include the automatic generation of thoughts and feelings. He has to look around and see how his environment is currently affecting him. He has to think – I mean really think, about what there is to learn right now beyond perceived constraints. He has to accept that what he thought would be the rewards and outcome of this position in this company isn’t forthcoming, yet there are greater rewards far more rich, delicious and sustainable for him to achieve, right here, right now. Hank can get – and is getting, that this is a leadership development opportunity of a lifetime that isn’t available in any MBA program; not even at Harvard Business School. If he can shift his attitude and perspective, Hank will become an exceptional leader and manager.

We all have dreams about what we imagine our careers will reap. More often than not, we see it happening soon, faster and better than it actually occurs. We get frustrated, pissed off, resentful because it doesn’t look the way we imagined it. As we each step into being grown up and adult, realizing that life doesn’t show up the way we want, but shows up the way it does, we have a much greater capacity to choose willingly to explore the opportunities for growth and learning that are right in front of us. By meeting what feels like demands with openness and curiosity we will be given the rewards we anticipated in ways we’ve yet to imagine.

Though it appears as if Hank’s manager is inept at his job, he will actually be one of the greatest contributors to Hank’s development as an up and coming leader. However, it’s up to Hank to fully utilize his time under his guidance to fully benefit from his mentor’s style.

Flexible Focus #59: The 8 Frames of Life: Learning

by William Reed on June 30, 2011

Learning is for Life

In the Mandala Chart, the 7th Frame of Life is Learning. The problem that has plagued both students and educators from the beginning of time is that learning is hard to come by. It doesn’t seem to stick very well. Perhaps this is because learning is often imposed on us more or less by force. The lucky ones discover that learning is not for school; learning is for life.

Learning by doing is the shortest route to retention. Once you learn to ride a bicycle, you will still be able to do it even ten years later without any practice. However, it is likely that you have forgotten most of what you learned for tests in school, often within hours of taking the test! The reason for the difference is contained in proverbial Chinese wisdom,

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell gives numerous examples of what he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule, for which he claims that the key to success in any field is largely a matter of extensive deliberate practice. It certainly makes sense in fields like music or the martial arts, but turns out to be true in just about anything we call talent. Even those gifted with a natural genius often turn out to have been at it in one form or another since they were small children.

Clearly though, it is not just a matter of clocking in 10,000 hours, or we would all be geniuses in our field after just 5 years of work experience. It isn’t about hard work, which is another word for hard won experience. It is the quality of experience and engagement that makes the magic happen.

You have already experienced mastery in speaking your mother tongue, for which 10,000 hours is the equivalent of deep engagement for 10 hours a day by the age of 3. Communication is central to most of our needs and wants, so we master it quickly to survive. And yet a lifetime is not enough to really master the art of communication.

The best way to increase your learning is to increase your engagement, and for this it is helpful to have a framework to understand the levels of engagement. As shown in the illustration, engagement occurs on the horizontal axis of depth, as well as on the vertical axis of involvement.

The deepest learning comes in performance as a player, where you fully physically engage. If you only engage mentally, that is as a spectator, you may enjoy and you may learn, but it will be passive and less likely to stick. Learning by doing starts by engaging the body in practice, and ultimately leads to mastery through performance.

The two axes meet with Art, which can also be understood as technique, or the knack of doing something well. This is the sweet spot in learning, where Mind and Body are joined.

Accelerated Learning

Much of what has been written about accelerated learning only brushes the surface of this process. While it is true that people retain more when they use imagery and visual thinking, this is only the beginning of engagement, and only one of the senses. Learning increases exponentially when you engage deeply, which is why it is easier to learn a foreign language if you live and work in a country where that language is spoken.

What if you do not have the luxury or option to engage in full immersion by moving to a foreign country? Can you still accelerate your learning of a foreign language through deeper engagement?

You could start by making a Wish List on what you want to do in speaking a foreign language. This will help you become very clear on why you want to speak that language, so that you can begin to think about how you will achieve it. If your wishes are vague, you are unlikely to take any action steps toward your goal, and the result is that you will learn little or nothing.

You don’t need to jump right into the deepest level of performance. Instead look for ways to increase your level of engagement in each of the quadrants, always mindful of what Art or technique can help you get more actively engaged.

You could start by enjoying the food and cultural events related to the language, and available where you live. If you can’t attend language classes, there are more options online and through Smart Phone Apps, than you could find excuses for not doing.

Deep learning occurs when you engage muscle memory, and the only way to do that is to practice. Of course, you will get better results if you engage in high quality practice, with good models and good coaching. The final hurdle is that the only way to get better at performance is by doing it. So practice as if you are performing, and perform as you practice.

You can also shorten your route to engagement by following one who has already mastered it at a high level. Learn from a master linguist such as Michel Thomas, whose client list is a gallery of celebrities, diplomats, and executives, all of who needed to perform at a high level. The Michel Thomas Method has been captured on CDs for many of the world’s languages, and it takes you right into the highest level of performance and engagement from the first hour, using no text book, no memorizing, no note taking. Just stimulating guided engagement with the language with the master himself.

If you search, you can find masters of their craft in almost any field imaginable. Use the Mandala Chart to organize your strategy, and you will fluent in that craft in no time, and more passionate about learning that you could have imagined.

You will not finish reading this post.

Its in the statistics.

You will not make it to the end of this article without being distracted…

The true scarce resource of humanity: Attention

Nicolas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains”, says that it is extremely hard to manage attention.   We will get distracted before the 3 minutes that it will take to read this post.  This problem is growing as distractions multiply exponentially in our always-connected, web 2.0 world.

I look around me now as I travel on the underground train (the “tube”) through London today.  I see the person sitting across from me reading a newspaper, white ipod headphones in her ears and sms-ing on what looks like an Android touch screen phone.  She is receiving stimulus from the world, mainlining stimulus through all senses, maxing out on input.  I look up and around the carriage.  Everybody has a mobile out and sending and receiving electronic updates.  It is so very easy to pass through life in constant reaction to stimulus.

Distractions are Costly

“Distractions are costly: A temporary shift in attention from one task to another – stopping to answer an e-mail or take a phone call, for instance – increases the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25%, a phenomenon known as “switching time”. It’s far more efficient to fully focus for 90 to 120 minutes, take a true break, and then fully focus on the next activity.”  Tony Schwartz, Manage your energy, not your time – Harvard Business Review.

The evidence from psychology is clear.  Interruptions have a major detrimental effect on your productivity.  School does not have classes on focus, on cutting out the email, facebook, twitter, mobile phone calls and concentrating for extended periods on something driven by me, something that is not a reaction to a tweet or a status update or a call.  This is a skill that you need to decide to learn for yourself.

There are times for distractions

There are times when letting the distractions in can be fun and necessary.  Total focus is not a state that you will want to spend all of your time in.  Responding to email, being aware of the action around you, twitter, facebook are part of being connected to the world around you.  However, in order to move beyond a permanent zombified state of reaction to incoming stimuli, you must develop the ability to create windows of focus in your life, where you really dedicate your attention for a specific time to one important task.

The ability to focus is something that great leaders and those that make a positive, lasting difference in this world need.

How do I improve my ability to focus?

Here are 10 ways of improving your ability to focus:

  1. Decide it is important – nobody else can do it for you.  Begin with small steps, your ability to focus will grow with practice.
  2. Cut out Obvious Distractions – Close down email, browser; clear your desk; get a glass of water.  Jim Collins talks about creating non-stimulus time.  He does not allow any electronic device in the same room as him before midday.  Start small. Do just 10 minutes today removing sources of distraction and focussing on one important task.
  3. Write things downReflective writing gives 3 powerful benefits:
    • Mindfulness
    • Improves clear thinking and
    • Allows perspective
  4. Set a timer – use the Pomodoro technique.  Set a timer for 10 minutes and do not let yourself stop working on the one task until the timer finishes.  Attention fitness takes time to grow, do less than you think you are capable of and accept that your capacity to focus will grow with time. Meditating Buddhist monks take 30 years before they are able to calm the flow of noise in their head and reach total focus.  Don’t get frustrated early on.  It will take time to grow your capacity to focus.  Like self discipline, focus grows with use.  Train like athletes preparing for a marathon: add 10% per week.
  5. Divide Actionable from non-Actionable itemsScott Belsky of Behance says that an actionable task starts with an action verb: “call A”, “buy a gift for B”, “follow up contract with C”.
  6. Take proper breaks. When you finish with your focus time, get up from your work area and really take a break.  Stretch, take a short walk, go outside and be with nature.  Opening a browser window and reading news or email is not a real break.
  7. Anticipate your physical needs. Go to the bathroom before you start your focus time.  Get a drink of water and put it on the table.  Make sure your chair is comfortable.
  8. Use Music – Listening to music helps me focus and cut out other distractions.
  9. Reward yourself. Celebrate small successes.  Eat some chocolate when you finish an important task.  Have a coffee only when you finish another 10 minutes of total focus.
  10. Do what Nike says – “Just Do It”.  Don’t let your resistance win.  When I start writing, I will not stop until I have written 500 words.  If I have to, I will write “I will keep writing, I will keep writing” until another idea comes to mind…  but I will not let myself stop.  Repeated practice has reduced the little voices in my head that say “why are you doing this?  Who is going to read this?  Who are you to be writing this stuff?”

You made it here?  3 minutes of attention?  That puts you in the small percentage of people who have found strategies to manage their attention in the overwhelming swarm of distractions that make up a typical life in the modern world.

The Origin of Leaders series

This series of posts has now looked at 6 of the powerful keys to unlocking leadership in your life and in the communities which matter to you:

In the next post I will start to look outside to how you affect those around you and scale and magnify the changes you wish to effect in the world

Guy Kawasaki’s Finishing School for Entrepreneurs!

by Roger Parker on March 8, 2011

While reading an advance copy of Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, it struck me that what Guy is providing is a “finishing school for 21st Century entrepreneurs.”

According to Wikipedia, finishing school originally referred to “a private school for girls that emphasizes training in cultural and social activities.” Intended to follow ordinary schooling, finishing school is “intended to complete the educational experience, with classes primarily on etiquette.”

Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment is much more than shallow etiquette, as it references many of the most important and influential current books on marketing, psychology, and social behavior, such as Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Power of Persuasion.

Yet, at heart, Enchantment is an etiquette book; its a 21st century behavior book, a guide to the subtleties and nuances of daily business life that determine whether or not others—bosses, co-workers, customers, employees, prospects, and website visitors—will like us and trust us…or simply tune-us out.

Image versus reality

Enchantment fascinates me because—on the surface–it looks, and reads, like a “simple” book. It’s a fast read because sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, are short. Topics inside chapters are short and to the point, broken up with frequent subheads, lists, and quotations that keep readers engaged and moving forward.

There are also enough graphics to reinforce important points.

Look behind the apparent simplicity and easy reading, however, and you’ll find a wealth of carefully organized, up-to-date information. Enchantment’s bibliography may only include 20 titles, but they’re the right 20 titles, and Guy Kawasaki obviously carefully read each of the contemporary business classics before skillfully weaving them into the narrative.

You’ll definitely want to read Enchantment with pen in hand, so you can underline the many ideas you’ll want to revisit.

Importance of balance

Most business books fall into the trap of either being too abstract or too practical.

  • Abstract books, often the ground-breaking books that introduce new ideas and perspectives, are often too research-oriented to be useful. They may define a new way of approaching a problem, but they don’t provide the daily nuts-and-bolts, “do and don’t” advice, that readers need to efficiently implement and profit from the new perspective.
  • Practical books, on the other hand, are often so distilled down to the “how to’s” that readers don’t understand the background, or the context, of the recommended advice.

Enchantment is one of the rare exceptions. It defines a “code of behavior” that will encourage others to like, respect, and trust you (and your ideas) and also provides the specific advice and recommendations you need to create the daily habits that will enchantment those whose approval you need to achieve your goals.

Is Enchantment for you?

Basically, Enchantment is for you, if :

  • You’d rather read 1 book, instead of 20 other books.
  • You’re interested in stories, rather than ideas. Enchantment is filled with examples from Guy Kawasaki’s own experiences plus personal stories contributed by a variety of successful entrepreneurs.
  • You’re part of the personal computing and Internet age. As a well-known Silicon Valley participant and investor, Guy Kawasaki writes from a privileged “insider” perspective about the past. This also makes him the perfect guide to introduce you to ways to achieve your enchantment using the latest online and social media technology.

Enchantment contains additional subtleties that enhance its value as a “finish school” for entrepreneurs. The table of contents, for example, provides topic lists with check-boxes for you to track your progress as you read. In addition, the Conclusion contains a self-scoring quiz you can take to test your mastery of Enchantment powers. There’s also a fascinating story, (that word, again!), describing the origins of the book cover and how it was crowd-sourced and market-tested before committing to it. (Guy practices what he preaches.) All in all, Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment is a book that deserves your attention. To learn more, view Guy’s Enchantment slides and speech, take an online quiz, read online excerpts, or view (or embed) the Enchantment infographic.

Last week I told you about my passions and I described what a mess they make of my life and of our house and office!  But how do baby birds fit here?  And how do YOU fit here?  Those college students I mentioned are the baby birds.  They seem to always be waiting for the next college class to feed them information, the next semester of study that will give them what they need to be good . . . and so on.  They seem to be intentionally ignoring information on medically-related subjects because . . . well . . . I am not really sure WHY they are doing that.  Here are four possibilities:

  1. Other Plans. They are secretly planning to go into car repair instead of medicine and they just haven’t told anyone.
  2. Embarrassed to Admit: They have already secretly earned their PhDs in their chosen fields and are embarrassed to admit that they have already read those articles, or maybe wrote them.
  3. Hedging. They are hedging, not allowing themselves to get excited about a career, not digging in and investing time now, because they are afraid they may not make it into the medical field they have set their sights on.  And they don’t want to set themselves up for disappointment later.  If this is the case, they need to snap out of it.  Viking ship captains burned their boats on the beaches so the message to the disembarked troops was clear:  We are STAYING here, boys, so make it work!  Same for mamby pamby students – – – get committed, get resourceful and make it happen.  Immersing yourself in the subject now could teach you something arcane (look it up) and give you just enough head start on other more hesitant colleagues that you might beat them out of a slot in medical school or in that nursing program you want.  Being hesitant or unsure now might keep you from learning that one item which, in a competitive interview, could actually have WON you the admission slot!
  4. Waiting to be FED. Like baby birds, they are just waiting to be FED all the information required for their profession, as part of upcoming college and medical/nursing school courses, and they see no reason to try to learn any of that stuff now.  (This is my current theory to explain their behavior, although I also like the second one.)

I am the opposite of those people.  I am voraciously hoovering-up information like a human vacuum cleaner, wherever I find it.  I am “going for it” and sucking the marrow out of the bone, licking up every tidbit of info I can find on the subjects that interest me.  And I have waded in with both feet, by DOING those things, not just reading about them.  I saw a great T-shirt that read:  “When I have money, I buy books.  When I have extra money, I buy food.”  That’s me.  The family usually will not enter a bookstore with me because it is so hard to get me out of there.  And now that they all have coffee . . . oh . . baby.  Plus, the family gave me a Nook Color so my nose is going to be welded to that thing!  I’ll be LIVING at Barnes and Noble, surfing through the e-books there!

And I have news for any baby birds out there.  Wake up! Get out of the nest and get up to your EARS in your chosen field.  Make it a job/profession that people are (or will be) making a living at.  Whatever it is, you can spend an (enjoyable) lifetime in it, if you just will get all the way IN IT.  Business, retail, real estate, banking, dentistry, chiropractic, farming, nursing, appliance repair, EVERY FIELD can provide you with a lifetime of thought and involvement if you will just dive in and commit to being the best at it.  Commit to a lifetime of learning, and staying current, and pushing the edge of the enterprise.  Plus being the go-to person makes YOU the expert.  It means other people will come to YOU on that subject.  And here is the good news – – –  the years will FLY by, you’ll travel and meet great people, and you’ll feel GOOD about yourself.  An entire profession will be indebted to you, as well as all the professionals in it!   And on that pillar of respect and success, my friends, you can build a great life and support a family.

As we asked in a previous blog, do you have a “fire in the belly”?  Three years ago I saw a plaque on the wall of a castle in northern Germany that said:  “Most people believe they need money to be happy.  But all you really need is something to get lost in.”  Go find that subject (or two or three) and get yourself lost for life!  Trust me, It’s great!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corp.

Stop.  Take a look around you.  Take a look at the people you work with, the people you meet at parties, even the people you just casually pass in the street.

How do they spend their days?

Most of them work.  They do some other activities as well. They sleep, eat, cook, hang out with friends, watch TV, play sport and some might play an instrument.  Nothing, however, comes close to the hours that they dedicate to work.

Now, honestly, how well do they do it?  Well enough to keep the job?  Maybe well enough to get a promotion every couple of years?  But are any of them great at what they do?  Truly world class?  Excellent?

Why?  How can they spend so much time at it, going through school, through university, maybe even an MBA, executive seminars, coaching, mentors, high-flyer programs…  but they are not great at what they do.

Why?  Some people have been working for 30, even 40 years.  After all these thousands of hours most people are no more than mediocre at what they do. This is sad.

Only two routes to get more done

There are two routes to double the output.  One is to work double the hours.  Instead of 4 hours, I give 8 hours.  I may get double the output.  It is unlikely.  The marginal utility reduces for each additional hour as tiredness and loss of focus become stronger.  There is also a physical limit to this approach.  I only have a limited number of hours in a day, in a week…  in a life.  So, I might increase today’s output by 20% or even 30% by adding hours, but this is not a healthy route.

Route two is to double the effectiveness of my hours.  How can I begin a process that continually increases the value of output of the hours that I give to a task or a job or a cause?

People who improve their effectiveness daily have two things in common:  they care about the outcome and they remain humble.

Care about the outcome

There is a Spanish saying that there is no good wind for a boat with no rudder.  Alice, when she reaches Wonderland asks White Rabbit “Which path should I take?”  White Rabbit replies “where are you going?”  Alice: “I don’t know.”  White Rabbit: “Then it doesn’t matter which path you take.”  Posts 1 and 2 in this series talked of Imagination and Ambition – about deciding and committing to a course of action, about clarity in what you seek to achieve.  If you don’t care where you are going, then effective learning is not going to happen.

Arrogance stifles growth, Humility enables growth

Learning requires change.  Change requires humility.  Humility does not come easily to successful people.  It did not come easy to me.

I was having drinks with a group of professors at IESE two weeks ago after playing football.  The conversation came around to “which program do you prefer to teach?”.  An MBA student at the table said “The MBA must be the best program to teach on.  Young, ambitious, successful people.  The senior director programs must be the hardest.  They must be so demanding.”

Alex said “No.  Years ago I preferred the MBA, but now I definitely prefer teaching the executive programs.  MBAs are typically 27, have done well in school, got to a top university, got a great job, done well, got into IESE MBA…  and believe they know everything.  The senior directors of 55 have learnt how little they really know.  They come humble.  They are aware of the value of education.  They come prepared and ready to apply the material into their lives.  The senior director programs are the most rewarding to teach.  MBAs are hard work”.

“Tinkering” and The Need for Deliberate Practice

The motto of the ActiveGarage is “Always tinkering”.  This is a great motto for this post on learning.  What is tinkering?  Playing with something.  Testing.  Changing inputs and looking to see what happens.

In school we do “book learning”.  We learn to memorize facts and to store those facts long enough to recall them during exams.

In life we do experiential learning.  We try, we fail, we reflect and we try again.  Tom Peters says that “the only source of good knowledge is bad experience.”  He is right.  The knowledge that a leader needs is not written in the textbooks.  It is not available from professors.  Textbooks, professors and gurus have there place.  They can help me make sense of my experience. Mentors, peers and coaches can play a crucial role in the process of experiential learning.  The can help me understand their experience.  However, there is no substitute for personal experience, for our own practice.

A science has been developing around the field of developing exceptional performance.  What leads to world class performance?  “Deliberate Practice.”

The 5 ingredients of Deliberate Practice and the 3 models of mastery is explored on The Rhetorical Journey blog.

Most problems we face in life are not solvable through thinking alone.  You have to try a few things and see how they work.  In business, you often have to try in a way that is visible to others.  Some of those others cannot wait to see you mess up and laugh at your attempt.  However you need the real world test in order to be able to reflect and refine your approach.  The person making 1% incremental improvements day after day will always beat the person looking to make a 40% improvement in one big step.  The humility of asking for help and sharing experience magnifies the value of the learning.

What do you think? Are you a “tinkerer?” How do you test and attempt incremental changes?

The next post in the series will combine Imagination, Ambition and Learning and look at what can only come from within a person.

Flexible Focus #8: Memory is a slippery slope

by William Reed on July 1, 2010

The ability to recall and recount good ideas is a key skill for success in business. In our hyper-connected world, we are blessed with easy access to an abundance of good ideas, expert advice and solutions on nearly any subject. Because the information keeps coming, there is seldom time to really read and digest it. The simple solution is to bookmark it or file it for later. But how often do you actually return to it, much less review it?

Understanding something when you read it is no guarantee that you will remember it when you need it. In this way, the better part of the ideas we are exposed to simply slips through our fingers.

You have probably heard of the learning curve, a graphical representation of progress in learning a skill with practice over time. More significant and less understood is the forgetting curve, the phenomenon by which without periodic review in the short term, we forget more than half of what we learn within the first hour, lose about 70% of what we learned within 24 hours, and in a month’s time we retain only about 20% of what we learned a month before.

This process of rapid forgetting is known as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, but with with it came an interesting discovery, that relearning through frequent review is not only easier, but greatly facilitates long-term retention.

Becoming a frequent flier

Numerous studies on learning techniques have demonstrated that the best strategy to increase retention is through frequent repetitions and revisions. The challenge for both full-time students and working professionals is that no one seems to have the time or discipline to schedule the frequent revisions that are recommended. If you are learning multiple subjects and have a busy schedule, how and when are you going to make time to frequently review or keep track of what you have learned?

If you have to return to review the original material in its full length, you will never be able to keep up. Taking copious notes can actually hinder your memory. Too much information and too little filtering reflects and reinforces the confused mind. Outlines can help, but the process of outlining is tedious, and can sap your enthusiasm for learning. Note-taking is the art of capturing the gist of ideas in words or visual form, and creating memory hooks that make it easier to review and recall.

The Mandala Chart offers an elegant alternative. You decide from the start to capture the essentials within the 8-frame format, which forces you to focus on the essentials. Having your notes on one page makes it much easier to review in a short time, and makes frequent revisions both feasible and fun. It makes it possible to become a frequent flier.

Tips on Taking Notes

Taking notes with the Mandala Chart can facilitate the process of flexible focus. There are several things that you can do to quickly master the process, and improve your retention and recall of important information.

  1. Create your framework before you start reading: Curiosity is the best frame of mind with which to begin reading. But rather than just following your nose, why not mark your trail by using a Mandala Chart that focuses on quality questions? A good place to start is with a Mandala Template on the basic 6W3H Quality Questions: Why, What, When, What, Where, Who, Why Me, How, How Much, and How To?
  2. Set your initial level of focus: If you don’t have specific questions you can start with chapter titles. Capture the key ideas of each chapter in bullet points, putting a sketch or image of the book cover in the central frame. If the book has more than 8 chapters, simply start a new Mandala for chapters 9 and up. However for review purposes, it is best if you can keep it on one page by combining chapters, or creating your own way of dividing and thinking about the content.
  3. Keep your notes concise and accessible: You don’t need to stick to the author’s framework. You can start with a blank Mandala Chart, and simply determine to find the best 8 topics or ideas in the book. This approach is like creating your own customized index, complete with annotations, sketches, and page number references. If you find more than eight great topics, simply start a new Mandala Chart and follow your curiosity.
  4. Keep a notebook specifically for revision: Your notes won’t do you any good if you can’t find them. If you store your notes in different locations and different formats, ranging from computer to file folders to backs of envelopes, it will be impossible to access them for any disciplined review. Store all of your notes for review in a single notebook specifically for that purpose, which you can carry with you. Do your review in a cafe, on a train, or while waiting for a friend. Take as much or as little time as you like for the review, and feel free to add notes as you get new insights.
  5. Number and track your revisions: An easy way to organize your review schedule is to store your Mandala Charts in a notebook with punched holes and tabs. Create 6 tabs in your notebook labeled as: next hour, next day, next week, next month, next six months, and long-term archive. Review your chart in the next hour shortly after you create it, then move it to the next tab. Simplify the process by scheduling one review session per day, one per week, one per month, and twice a year. Write the review dates on your calendar, and every time you review a Mandala Chart add a checkbox with the number of the revision and the date. This is the minimum review schedule to ensure long-term retention. Of course you can look at the charts beyond this as often as you like.
  6. Talk or write about what you have learned: One of the best ways to increase retention is to put what you have learned into your own words and share it with other people. Talk to your friends and family about it, or write about it in your blog. You won’t need to remind yourself to do this, because your schedule of frequent review will ensure that the topics are close at hand.

To remind yourself of the importance of active participation in the learning process, have a look at the Cone of Learning, and see how much you can draw it from memory two weeks later! Put this task on your calendar and test yourself. It will be a lesson you will never forget.

Are you feeling helpless?

by Vijay Peduru on February 15, 2010

Many times in our life, we feel stuck or helpless when we encounter a situation.  We would have encountered this same situation before but when we tried to control it, we couldn’t, so we accepted that it cannot be controlled.  When the situation occurs again we think we are helpless and are resigned about it. This is called “Learned Helplessness” i.e we have learnt to be helpless and we get depressed. As grim this might sound, there is a silver lining to it – Since we have learnt to be helpless we can also unlearn it and come out of it.


Martin Seligson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of several books including “Learned Optimism” did some interesting experiments on Learned Helplessness. They took a few dogs and divided them into two separate groups. The first group was given a electric shock and if they pressed a lever the shock stopped.  The second group was wired parallel to the first group. i.e when the shock was given it goes to both the groups at the same time,  but for the second group their lever didn’t stop the electric shock. It stopped when the first group pressed the lever.  For the second group, the shocks appeared to start and end at random and they  learnt that they cannot do anything to control the shocks and learnt to be helpless.
They took the same set of dogs and this time placed them in a different setting, This time, instead of a lever, they put a low partition in front of them, so they can jump out. When they gave the shocks the second group which learnt to be helpless simply lay down passively and whined even though their escape was just in front of them.
This is the same with humans. We can be trained to be in “Learned Helplessness” mode… How do we get out of this?


There are 2 ways.


1. Recognize this mindset: Whenever you are feeling helpless, remember that this may be “Learned Helplessness”. Many times we are not aware of this at all. It all happens unconsciously. Now you know what “Learned Helplessness” is , you can recognize this in yourself when you encounter it.
2. Be Optimistic : Once you notice “learned Helplessness” in yourself, the way to come out of this is learn to be optimistic. Martin Seligson in his experiments found that in the second set of dogs, Some dogs did not become helpless, but instead managed to find a way out of the unpleasant situation despite their past experience with it. This characteristic was found to correlate highly with the human character .. optimism.


Recheck your attitude and be optimistic..

Week In Review – Jan 17 – Jan 23, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on January 24, 2010

Learning without training

by Wayne Turmel, Jan 18, 2010

The traditional training model where companies identify competencies everyone across the organization needs is over. The audience for training is no longer the companies themselves, but the individuals in them. This has changed the way the players (Executives, Training Department, Training Companies and Individual Learner) look at training this year. In essence, training has shifted from a B2B model to a modified B2C model. more…

BLOGTASTIC! Help others succeed first

by Rajesh Setty, Jan 18, 2010

It is not a dog eat dog world in the blogosphere. If everyone thinks only they should succeed, then we’d be competing so hard against each other that no one will win. Instead, acknowledge the value you see on other blogs. The way you do it is by linking to their blogs on your posts. Don’t expect a reciprocal link thought – that ‘s not how blog links work. Focus on creating link-worthy content and your readers will link to you. First you give some and they you get some – in that order. more…

Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)

by Tanmay Vora, Jan 19, 2010

After 12 awesome posts last year, Tanmay is back with his first post this year and the 13th in the series.

Reviews are an integral part of product/service quality improvement. The purpose of a review is to make things better. Here are a set of common sense rules to adopt in the review process in the software world.

  1. Review early
  2. Stay positive
  3. Keep review records
  4. Review the work, not the person
  5. Train the reviewers
  6. Review iteratively
  7. Review the review process

more..

BLOGTASTIC! Avoid mudslinging

by Rajesh Setty, Jan 19, 2010

Slinging mud at other bloggers may help you generate traffic in the short run, but you won’t be able to retain quality visitors for your blog. You may be tempted to use your platform to vent your frustrations, but it is not a powerful move. You can demonstrate thought leadership without hurting anyone. more…

Measure for Success

by Guy Ralfe, Jan 20, 2010

Doing your best is not going to bring you success. It is at best a cop out. You may feel content about yourself. It is very difficult for humans to be objective for their own sake. What is needed is that you do what is right. Put in that extra degree, go that extra mile and you will see absolutely phenomenal results. Guy brings out this concept brilliantly in this post through a personal experience. more…

BLOGTASTIC! Earn links to your blog

by Rajesh Setty, Jan 20, 2010

A link is a give and treat it accordingly. Just like you would not approach a stranger and ask for a gift, you should not ask for a link from a blogger. Consistently writing compelling and link worthy content and providing a high “return on investment for an interacation (ROII)” will automatically get you links. So, focus on earning links rather than asking for them. more…

Take Care of your Top Employees

by Robert Driscoll, Jan 21, 2010

The worst economic situation in 70 years, has forced companies to do more with less. Employers have retained the top performers while eliminating the bottom performers. This has put enormous pressure on the top performers who cannot wait for the market to get back to “normal”. Companies should take action to identify top performers, define risks and take necessary action to mitigate the risk. more…

BLOGTASTIC! Don’t impose your rules on other bloggers

by Rajesh Setty, Jan 21, 2010

If you are getting something for free, then you lose your right to complain. Bloggers give away their knowledge and expertise and so they can set their own rules for their site. You can make up your own blog’s rules. Your rules can help you, or they can hurt you. Make sure that your rules help you gain more power. Don’t drive readers away with your blog’s rules. more…

Author’s Journey #5 – Choosing the right publishing alternative

by Roger Parker, Jan 22, 2010

Authors should not be carried away by the latest publishing hype. There are several formats in which to release your book – E-books, Trade publishing and Self-publishing. Each of these have their own pros and cons. Ultimately choosing the right publishing option boils down to just 2 issues: cash-flow and task preferences. Roger has created several worksheets to help authors realistically run the numbers and make the right decisions. more…

BLOGTASTIC! Don’t apply the rule of reciprocation for blogs

by Rajesh Setty, Jan 22, 2010

Just because you help your friend, it doesn’t mean they will help you in return. The same concept applies in the blogosphere. While there are no guarantees of reciprocation in the blogosphere, being nice on and off the blog really helps in the long run. more…

Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)

by Tanmay Vora on January 19, 2010

Last year, in November, I posted 12 posts on QUALITY in the form of QUALITYtweets, on Active Garage. It didn’t quite seem right to stop just there… when there is so much still left to say about QUALITY!

Here are the first twelve posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership
  12. Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture

#QUALITYtweet Make every review meeting a learning

experience by reviewing the product

and process, not people.

We create, we review and we make it better. Reviews are an integral part of product/service quality improvement. The core purpose of any review process is to “make things better” by re-examining the work product and find out anomalies or areas of improvements that the creator of the work product was not able to find.

Establishing a good review process in an organization requires management commitment and investment, but for returns that it generates, the effort is totally worth it. In software world, a lot of emphasis is given to formal inspections, but they work best when a formal process marries with a set of common sense rules. Here they go:

1) Reviewing early

Reviews in early phase of product development means that findings are less costly to resolve. The later defects are found, more expensive it gets to resolve those defects.

2) Staying positive

The art of review is to report negative findings (problems) without losing the positive undertone of communication. Negative or destructive criticism will only make the process more burdensome. Stay positive and keep the process lightweight.

3) Keeping review records

When a lot of time is spent on reviewing, it makes sense to track the findings to closure. Recording the finding helps you to effectively track the closure and trends.

4) Reviewing process, not the person

Always question the process and not the person. Human beings are bound to make mistakes, which is why reviews are required. So accept that mistakes will happen. How can we have a more effective process so that these mistakes are not repeated? That is the critical question.

Imagine that Bob is the reviewer of John’s work product and consider the following conversations:

Bob: “John, I reviewed the code of invoices module developed by you. Again this time, you have not implemented the architecture correctly. You committed the same mistakes that were also found in the registration module earlier.”

OR

Bob: “John, I reviewed the code of invoices module developed by you and your team. We have found some anomalies in the architecture implementation. I just wanted to know if the team had undergone the workshop on our standard architecture. If not, we should invite our systems architect to take a small workshop on system architecture so that the team has better clarity on how it can be best implemented.”

Two conversations with a totally different outlook. The first conversation tries to blame the producer where as the second conversation tries to assess the process and take corrective actions.

5) Training and more training

Reviewers can make huge mistakes if they are not trained. If you don’t invest in training your review teams, you cannot expect them to do it right, the first time.

6) Reviewing iteratively

Review often. During the course of product building, product needs may change. New ideas may be implemented. Keep review process constant amidst all these changes. Discipline is the key.

7) Reviewing the process of reviewing

Are we reviewing it right? Are we reviewing the right things? Periodically, assess the results and the benefits of having a review process. Assess how reviews helped improve product quality. In process assessment, also identify if people are heavily relying on reviews. It that is the case, it is a bad sign.

Success of any process depends on 2 E’s – Efficient and Enjoyable. Same holds true for your review processes. Review is a control mechanism, and hence the focus on getting it right the first time is still very important. A good review is just an internal quality gate that ensures that internal customers (reviewers) are happy with the final product. If your internal customers are happy, your external customers will be happy too!