26. The Final Step: Teaching Well

The best kept corporate secret is that you will learn more by teaching somebody else how to do something well than by doing it yourself in an isolated way.

It is only when you need to organize your thoughts and ideas into a coherent whole presented to an audience, that new insights, links and patterns appear, giving birth to new ideas and innovation.

The act of clear explanation has in it the seeds of innovation because it inevitably leads to questions.  These questions represent the edge of knowledge at that time and at the end of practical knowledge lies the opportunity of a new product, service, company or industry.

If you are working as a teacher looking for job stability or think that the main reward from teaching is the satisfaction from seeing students learn the material you present, the reality is not exactly like that.

The main reward from teaching for the teacher should be learning continuously, and so we come to the conclusion that teachers should learn continuously and that there should be a “teaching ladder” in the same way that there is a corporate ladder within companies.

Only when the so called invisible hand of Adam Smith, an American economist from the eighteenth century, who said that self interest guides society when that self interest is rooted in good work, will a teacher be on the verge of discovering the real nature of his satisfaction as a teacher.

The biggest secret is that teaching is actually beneficial to your job advancement.  In my experience, the best teachers are those who work or do consulting for clients and they present their findings to an audience who request and benefit from their state of the art knowledge and experience. In so doing, the teachers clarify their own thinking, much like writing this book has clarified my own thinking on learning.

I have reached the conclusion that teaching is nothing but applied learning, whereby the act of preparing a class will give you new ideas to apply at work that you would never have had, had you just done your work.

In class, you will also learn a lot from the questions of students, either because they will expose a weakness in your logic, or because they will indicate a strength in your competitors or in your own material.

A class is a professional sounding board and the teacher benefits from that feedback as much as the students benefit from your teaching.

I have written this book primarily to put some order in my own ideas on the possibilities of accelerated learning, and in addition with the belief that the book could be useful to other people looking for a change in their careers or jobs.

I hope this book can help people who need it get out of a difficult professional situation and that it opens a new perspective on themselves, and their potentially strong capabilities for quick learning, or simply for learning, and enjoying it.  Now you have all the information needed to become a craftsperson.

You can become a craftsperson whatever you do, and learn quickly using visual technology and by designing your own knowledge and insight maps.  Almost without realizing it, you will have established the foundation of your own wealth and prosperity, because you will know exactly how your work is contributing to the economy, and most importantly why you are getting paid a certain amount to do a particular task.

There is an expression which says that money is coined liberty, well, craftsmanship is work freedom and satisfaction, and learning is the cornerstone of that satisfaction and craftsmanship.

Enjoy what you do, and have fun learning and teaching at work and at home.

Thank you for reading the Athena Compendium, the original manuscript, started in 2005, is available here.

 

 

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25. Work as Leisure

In developed countries, the leisure economy is becoming increasingly pervasive in every day life.  Complex video, simulation or role playing games are increasingly being marketed to adults.

I will argue that the future of accelerated learning lies with “knowledge cartography”, which we have explored in chapter one, and with online simulation games that will turn a company into a sort of professional playground for highly productive workers.

Product, processes, services, manufacturing, design, marketing, and customers, will be simulated first to test new ideas, save money, or add revenue.  Only after simulations have produced satisfactory results will the product or service be brought out into the market.

The challenge for companies will be to counter that computer influence with human creativity.  That, in my view is the best corporate combination and the method which has the highest probability of success and corporate survival in the long run.

At the same time, there will be an increasing number of corporate games targeted at consumers that will present a product or service in the form of a game showing its use in everyday life or in whatever activity the product or service can be used.

Slowly but surely, this game testing process will replace advertising and marketing as we know it, as it is much less aggressive and is an effective way of performing market research.

Fundamentally, a job should be fun, and constant learning by playing will be the most efficient way to learn more quickly than your competition.

Expect to see corporate strategy games, finance games, marketing games, operation and manufacturing games, and the manager´s corporate ladder game.

A game like the Sims has started from the Business to Consumer side but we have yet to see the Business to Business development of the gaming industry.

If you can think of a more fun way of learning accounting and applying it to attribute activity based costs to a product line or manufacturing process, then you should allocate part of the two hour value-adding time in the form of game design into your job schedule.

When your fun learning method is ready, test it on your peers to see if they find it useful, and work with them to turn it into a better version filtered for superfluous fun and filled with some practical guidelines that will be useful for the company you work for.

This process may be spawning your own corporate game and give you an unmatched opportunity in the medium term to leave the company and start your own corporate gaming company that you can sell as consulting work to other companies.

My recommendation is to be very, very, very careful before going out on your own.  Explore the niche markets where you could be most competitive, and understand that making a profit on your own will be one of the most difficult tasks you will face professionally.

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24. Sharing Knowledge

All right, after much effort, time and investigation, you are finally one step ahead of your peers at work or your competitors who work in the same position as you in other companies.  You are becoming the benchmark within your company little by little.  Now, imagine your boss asks you:

“Listen, I have noticed you are very good at designing presentations, why don´t you teach this person from our neighboring department how to do it, so we can all benefit from your  presentation technology and work together on a joint project we have in mind”.

That turf which has taken you so long to define is likely to be erased in just a few sentences that will reveal the tools of your particular trade.

Again, this is a trick by companies to extract as much knowledge as they can from their human capital and transfer that knowledge quickly and exhaustively throughout the company, in order to reduce costs or improve revenue and receive their yearly bonus.  And in the process, you become more expendable by sharing your experience and knowledge.

The way to counteract this comes from Jiu Jitsu the martial art, whereby you use your opponent´s force and momentum, to make them fall and immobilize them.

So you accept to train your co-worker but in exchange you will gain some visibility within the company by becoming the presentation expert.

And now, you make sure that whenever somebody needs help in that area, you can help them, or better yet, you can offer a short manual that explains how to do a particular task.

Be sure to know how many people use that manual and try to measure the impact on the company.  Because you want to be perceived as somebody who is versatile, it is better to show your boss 50% of  what you know and improve and expand the other 50% by learning in “Stealth” form, either from information kept at home or outside of work, or by keeping the advanced tools of your specific toolkit in a separate drawer that only you can access.

Until companies start rewarding the intellectual property embedded in human capital, that is, find a way to create incentives that reward the creation and sharing of practical, beneficial business ideas, employees (associates or value-adding worker is a better way to address them) will need to find ways to gain visibility by sharing their knowledge and at the same time withholding their most advanced know-how because it is not properly rewarded.

It is unfortunate to proceed like this but it is part of human nature to go with the path of least resistance and a solid knowledge and experience are too tempting for somebody to resist free-riding upon that knowledge.

And so some co-workers will come to expect that you help them improve their job performance without giving anything in return.

The moral of the story is to look for value-adding employees who will exchange their know-how for your experience. That is the win-win situation you will start generating once you understand the fundamental principles of learning quickly and sharing that learning effectively and in a way that is beneficial to your career.

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23. Focusing on Learning

There is a tendency at work to become lost in the day to day activity and forget about how to improve a process or task by reducing cost in time or money or other resources.

The urgent replaces the important and the job becomes a daily test of putting out fires instead of focusing on bringing new revenue, by designing or improving a new product, service or process.

I have learned to set aside at least two hours a day to focus on value added activities, tasks that only you know how to do and whose results will mean increased visibility within the company.

If you have your own company, it is even more critical to automate repetitive tasks so you can focus on value-added activity.

Because jobs are increasingly competitive, it will be relatively likely that you will have to fight for your knowledge and experience turf at some point in your career.

Initially, you may have been hired as a budget analyst, but then, another person is hired, say as a treasury assistant, who somehow ends up taking the budget responsibility, claiming it is necessary in order to have an overall view the budget impact on the treasury area.

This dual sharing of knowledge and experience territory is a difficult area to manage, but focusing on learning is paramount to clear or avoid possible conflicts due to this situation.

The other corporate classic is that your boss hires somebody to help you do your job more effectively.  The apparent idea is that because there is too much to do or because the business is growing, an assistant can help you put out the daily “fires” and let you focus on more productive tasks. 

The reality is that the company wants you to train the new person, usually with less experience, so that you become less necessary, and thus more easy to replace, restructure or relocate.

If your assistant is ten years younger and you are stuck in the management ladder, this is very likely to be the case.

I believe that the only way to avoid the “use and replace” coup on your own experience, is to distance all your opponents including your boss, by learning more, more quickly and more efficiently than them.

This means searching for information which may improve your job or searching the “high quality” part of the web, by filtering a search on a product or task with the “pdf” letters.  Pdf is the format of Adobe Acrobat files and is used very often to publish papers by academics, practitioners, corporations and professional organizations in general.  

Additionally, you should probably think of spending some money in improving your own human capital by buying or having access to the latest courses, seminars, conferences, or books covering your field (buying used books from Amazon is one way to lower the cost of having your own professional bookshelf), that will enable you to get better at what you do.

 

 

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22. An Industrious Attitude

I came across the word industrious while I was reading the biography of a well known person in the financial industry, Michael Bloomberg, who moved out of craft to get into politics as mayor of New York, could call it social craft I imagine, not doing such a bad job, given the times.

There is a combination of qualities which is reflected in the word industrious and which is in my view, one of the keys of professional success, wealth and prosperity in general.  You can have a good work ethic and still not be industrious.

Industrious lies at the core of the person. It is the attitude that makes you go into a job with the idea that you will have to engage in considerable individual effort in order to achieve noticeable improvements with the task at hand. At the same time, you know there is a worthy reward at the end of the process, in the form of personal satisfaction, monetary reward or public recognition of the job performed.

Along with that propensity to engage in effort, an industrious person values work in itself, believing that work gives dignity to a person and is a healthy activity in the long term.

Industrious also has the same root as the word industry in it.  An industry is a group or set of companies working in the same economic activity towards the same goal of producing related products.

So by becoming industrious, you will have learned the value of cooperation and bringing value to the work of others in order to benefit from their knowledge or experience.  Also, you may observe that one person can sometimes do the work of two or three people in the same time.  Therefore, you may find that industrious people have multiple capabilities.

This is the essence of productivity, how much value, output, money, business, products or services you can produce, make, build, create, with a single unit of your resources, be it time, effort, knowledge, labor, skill, qualities and strengths.

An industrious attitude will naturally bring you to the idea of productivity in your work environment, whether self employed or employed by a company.

An important aspect of the word industrious is the idea of being rewarded for the tasks you do and with that concept in mind, wealth becomes a positive goal.

Please note the word wealth is different from the expression making money, for wealth and prosperity are rooted in an industrious attitude, whereas making money or earning a living is doing a task in exchange for money.

The difference is in the satisfaction which brings wealth and in the rate of learning, from my experience much higher among wealthy people than in people who are making a living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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21. Surviving the Jungle of Work

This book is a way for me to organize the ideas that I have applied daily in my job in financial marketss. The idea of writing a manual about corporate survival also stems from the need to survive at work in order to earn a living.

Professional survival is the reason for writing this book, and the painful experience of restructuring, mergers and unemployment, the catalysts of the idea. 

At work, competition and cooperation coexist in a dance which at times, is not so much fun.  You may come unto a company with a well defined job and a clear set of expectations that seem accessible to you.

If this is the case, it is good in the sense that you won´t feel the pressure to learn as much as you would have to if the job function were not as clear to your boss.

The bad news is that your job is probably easy to replicate by somebody else, by computer software, or worse, it may be a temporary job, unstable by definition.

To defeat job instability, you will need to reach a plateau of knowledge high enough and versatile enough, from where you can access various job opportunities, related, but not necessarily in the same area.

Learning is a way to overcome instability at work and reach that plateau. In fact, I believe that learning quickly, once you have grasped the mechanisms to do so, is the only way to overcome instability and truly embrace change.  This means you will be one step ahead of the competition in terms of knowledge and marketable skills.

My real interest in learning surfaced after fifteen years of a moderately successful job trajectory in consulting and finance. 

Interest in fast learning also came after being somewhat tired of not working in a job that fulfilled my intellectual curiosity on a daily basis, and after deciding I would more or less “out-knowledge” (stay with the idea but don´t apply it literally, it is there only as a morale booster in case you need it) the people I work with in order to consolidate my career.

If you work at a company, you are going to face the pyramid structure at some point.  Behind the apparently friendly façade of empowerment, horizontal management structures and the flexibility to telecommute or work from home, lies your real situation:  What exactly are you doing better than your peer or a computer whereby you have become indispensable to your company?

In other words, this is the pertinent question: How am I contributing to the bottom line, either by reducing costs and automating a set of tasks, or by generating new business, a new product, or a new service.

Until you can actually show to yourself with reliable numbers that you are paying your own salary with your contribution, your job is not safe. 

And if you are generating more money than your salary, you are on the right track to professional success.  It may then be a good idea to monitor your bottom line constantly, to benchmark all the time your risk of getting replaced.

 

 

 

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20. The Seal of Craftsmanship

I have found that a sense of clear thinking or thinking clearly is very important to work experience, which is nothing else but an ongoing and applied learning process.

We have gone a long way from our beginning with visual learning. Now, we know what we like and we are in the process of discovering it little by little.  We have understood that we have to work, in other words, we need to put our effort into finding ways of enjoying our work, in order to raise our professional standard to an outstanding level of quality. If it´s not outstanding, it doesn´t matter, it´s our own, that´s what matters, we craft, we feel we´re building something, not merely working for a living. Still, working for a living´s fine as well, our limitation, we have to eat at some point, it´s just the way we are.

We have developed our sense of curiosity by seeing beauty in all the mechanisms, or cause-effect processes we observe out there, all the time.  We know that there is a learning pace that works for us and we see how we learn a little more quickly once a certain foundation is acquired in our own style.  We stop when we feel tired to avoid burnout and we rest before attempting once again to solve the problem at hand.

Basically, we are reaching the point where, no matter what happens in the outside world, the pressures, the critiques, and the problems, we have built our own style of learning and working, which is actually resulting in an accumulation of practical knowledge.

Please stay with the word practical, to improve our work prospects and enjoy our career, we focus on learning what can be useful, or what is already in use.

In order to become completely immune to professional setback, the only perception we need to adapt is that of the craftsperson.  The craftsperson has learned her job from an expert, without time pressure but as a result of working with the expert for years. Over time, the craftsperson has learned to be proud of her final product, be it a chair, a wall made of bricks, whole bread, or, and this is the new insight, a software, a spreadsheet, a letter, a presentation, a training program, a financial statement, a car design, a clothing design, a computer program, or a house chore.

That pride is rooted in the continuous improvement of her product, day by day, and the resulting satisfaction is reinforced by increasing demand for it.

Once adopted, the seal of craftsmanship means nothing can stop you from imprinting your personal trademark on any task, be it the most apparently simple or unappreciated task.  More importantly, you will have created your own, unique, changing expertise, the only antidote to unemployment.

The Seal of Craftsmanship is the original trademark that an artisan imprints on her work to show the outside world that a special product was made with care. That spirit is the essence of wealth creation and prosperity.

By applying craftsmanship, you have started to respect your own work, and yourself professionally. Craftsmanship opens up a creative space for work that combines function with good taste and enjoyment of the work task to be done, leading to a feeling of balance and being happy with yourself.

Apply your personal trademark to every task you have to do, a graphic, a presentation, a decision. Make it beautiful even if it takes more time, for only time, when combined with care, will give that task the strength it needs to endure the test of time itself.

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19. Stopping When Tired

One of the things that keep people from learning more quickly is trying to learn too much at a time. Imagine you have a nice country home with a pool and you have five minutes spare.

Instead of trying to understand only how the water pipes work, which single faucet opens the pipe to the garden, or which one stops the running water from entering the home, you can make the mistake of trying to learn how the whole drop by drop watering system works, how the electricity cables have been set, and why a particular kind of cement was chosen for the terrace.

When you try to learn too much, you end up learning nothing.  This attempt to overlearn may happen because somebody wants you to learn a lot of concepts by a certain time (exam, a task with a deadline) or because you want to get rid of that task as soon as possible.

The most important alarm to avoid burnout is your own feeling of tiredness.  There is a tendency today to try and squeeze the most out of everything, time, money (buying generic vs brand names), your job.

When you discover the concept of doing your work with a safety margin of time or effort, everything will become easier.  It doesn´t mean finding that margin will be easy, but if you think about it long enough, you will find a way to do your job more quickly, with less effort, and with outstanding quality.

Allocate small slots of time for your learning everyday, be it five, ten, or fifteen minutes, and then, stick to the times allotted.  If you´re not done by the end of your allotted time, rest for a few minutes and decide whether you want to allocate another learning time slot or do something more important or more urgent (usually the case, important things tend to slip away under the weight of the urgent). I would set the maximum at forty five minutes.

The real essence of planning is doing with margin, so you don´t feel rushed or tired.  From my experience, rushing at work leads to mistakes, but in addition, it leads to being tired from the effort. Nobody can work in “Turbo” mode for long periods without paying the price in stress, tiredness, personal satisfaction, or in the worst cases, physical ailments, the body´s way of telling you that you have strained it beyond its limit.

To avoid burnout, I need to feel that I have accomplished something in the time I have assigned to a particular task. This is why the smaller the task you set as a goal, the more enjoyable your learning will become, reducing the pressure to achieve and increasing the probability you will solve/understand the task/material.

After a long day of work, if all you feel comfortable doing is looking up the meaning of a word in a dictionary, then do just that and feel good about it, but do not start a new task that you will not be able to pursue to meaningful completion, at least in part.

Personally, I work better in the morning and I use afternoons to do less mentally demanding tasks. I think about half your time at work should be spent on learning, the other half on doing work.  Think about yourself as an asset, assets depreciate over time, one way to counteract this natural tendency is to reinvest in capital expenditure (new equipment), the equivalent of that with your human capital is learning.

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18. Learning at your own Pace

This is the one chapter which acts as a caveat to acceleration in learning. Accelerated learning takes time, just like driving a Formula One or an Indy car at high speeds takes years of training.

One of the most positive things you can do when you start exploring a new field or doing a task in your job is learning at your own pace.

Some people or your own judgement based on previous experience may tell you you just don´t understand, that you are too slow, that you need to work faster to get things done.

That generally happens either when the persons saying that don´t know how to do the job themselves, or because somebody else tried to slow down their own learning by lowering their self-esteem at some point.

Well, as of now, you have a steel-reinforced shield protecting your self-esteem. But the best part is that you are going to build it yourself.  And the way to build it is by going precisely where the person who is telling you you are too slow or not good enough doesn´t want you to go: Slow down even more to understand and address the root of the problem, the reason for your slowness, the factors that cause your work to be late.

If you get fired doing that, addressing limitation, don´t mind, the company´s crap to work there as knowledge worker, for they pay no attention to learning, even when they say they train people, etc. You´ll do better learning elsewhere and working in another job or with another company, or with other people.

And once you understand exactly what you are doing, you are one step beyond your required task, you make a suggestion to improve your job, or better yet, you do something that makes the whole process smoother, easier, less costly, or more profitable, in terms of money, time or any other resources.

Acknowledge the problem but don´t let your boss think you are not good enough to fix it, this is one key to stay on the right track to accelerated learning.

To be able to learn quickly, it is important to disregard how quickly others learn and forget about time all together, for that very attention to others detracts from your own learning. It is the same disadvantage for people who always complain or are ready to discuss issues, instead of working or thinking about how to solve a real practical problem. Distraction detracts from learning and learning at your own pace will help you focus on solving.

This said, there are times for assertiveness, ensuring your convictions, thoughts, ideas, are heard and expressed, by colleagues and your boss. Just don´t do that when your boss is angry because profits went down, pick a good or average time to do it. It´s important to do it, though, otherwise you may be sidetracked as someone Lose-Win, inexistent, irrelevant, thus one of the first to go out in case of a merger.

Demagogy happens because solving practical problems is difficult, it requires effort, time, and perseverance.  Much easier to talk about how wonderful the world would be if the problem wasn´t there, if there was another problem to solve, or if somebody else had solved the problem for us already. 

People have been solving practical problems for us for thousands of years, now, it is our turn to do that and enjoy the process.

Inevitably, you are going to face some form of time pressure in your job, and you know how to deal with those, using the flow model and diagram of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is in those times when pressure slackens that you can use to learn best, precisely because nobody is telling you what to do with your time then, and you have learned to exercise that freedom carefully and appropriately to your advantage.

If a concept, idea, model, document, report, computer program, or formula doesn´t sink in, stop, rest, and go back to it at a later time with renewed energy.  This is the essence of pacing your own learning, a little at a time, but enjoyed all the time.

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17. The Spark of Curiosity

Let´s say you found a field that you know you are going to enjoy. It is likely to be a field that uses your strong points, your qualities, and which feels effortless.

Great starting point, now let´s build on that initial enthusiasm because enthusiasm is the initial spark of passion, which when strengthened, nurtured, and applied to practical tasks will become your very own craftsmanship.

There will be a point in your learning where you may feel like you hit a wall, you just don´t understand how something works, somebody else does it much better, and you may even have been blamed for doing a task completely wrong.

Please note that the source (usually a person usually ranked higher than you in the corporate ladder, but it may be also be a computer) of negative criticism is usually the reason for your completion of the task in the wrong way. It is much easier to blame someone else for your own inabilities as a manager than accepting your own limitations.

Once you have accepted that negative criticism is nothing personal but a result of somebody else´s lack of fundamental understanding of a task or problem passed on to you as anger against their own lack of skill, you will clear the way for a new attitude that will place you on the road to craftsmanship, accelerated learning, personal job satisfaction, and with time, maybe even your very own successful business, or what Linked in founder Reid Hoffmann defines as the Startup of you.

When you get blamed for doing something wrong, I have found that the best way to fix that situation even if you are not at fault is understanding why the problem happened in the first place so that you become skilled at solving it and preventing it in the future. I believe that the person who knows how to do a job well survives professionally, the person who doesn´t understand even the smallest detail about their work is at professional risk.

The key to becoming a craftsperson is forgetting about unforgiving outside criticism and focusing instead on understanding the way things work, this is the essence of curiosity.

HOW DOES IT WORK? A presentation, a report, a spreadsheet, a process, a product, a contract, a guarantee, a service, a cost, profit, a corporate decision. Anything which is involved in the current problem can be tackled with relentless perseverance, little by little if necessary, with outside help from peers, the web, friends or family, until you understand exactly the way it works and why it does or doesn´t work.

Understanding MECHANISMS in the general sense is one of the keys to accelerated learning. What is the set of sequential steps that make a lock work when you insert and turn a key? What does the key do exactly inside the lock?

When looking outside your window to the  modern world, you may reach the conclusion that nothing in the U.S. or Western Europe is simple anymore, it is the result of complex, mechanical, electrical, electronic, financial, procedural, legal, political, and economic mechanisms.

The path to curiosity, learning, and changing the way you view your work is seeing and appreciating the beauty of any mechanism, through decomposition of small knowledge parts.  Eventually, you may want to build one yourself.

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