Tag: advice (page 1 of 2)

Some values-based career advice

Earlier this week I got an email from someone I got to know a few months ago. They asked for the kind of advice that a few people have requested from me before, and which I’d usually dispense by email. However, given that it’s advice that could potentially help a wider audience, I’ve decided (with their permission and without identifying them), to reply in the form of a blog post.


The problem

In their email, the problem stated was broadly this: they want a different kind of life, and feel slightly envious of those who seem to be able to pick and choose opportunities that fit with their values. Why can’t they seem to do the same?


Introduction

I’m going to split this post into two halves. The temptation when giving advice is to jump straight to practicalities, but it would be remiss of me not to situate it in a wider context and framework. Where am I coming from and what assumptions am I making? To explain some of that, I’m going to use three quotations to get a bit philosophical and explain my approach to life — or, at least, the approach to which I aspire.

Then, in the second half of this post, I’ll get a bit more specific with three things I think you need to be ‘successful’ and find a position that’s in line with your values. I’ll give some examples, too.


1. Philosophy

I’m a big believer in quotations to motivate you towards action. In fact, as I look up from my desk, I’ve got two on my wall directly in front of me: “THINK LESS. DO MORE” and Albert Camus’ famous “invincible summer” quote.

I thought carefully about which quotations could sum up the advice I wanted to give in this post. Two of the quotations are taken from books I look at repeatedly as part of my daily reading, while the other one I lean on when procrastinating.. I’ll save that one for last.

1a. Aim for a ‘tranquil flow of life’

One thing I’ve learned in my thirties, and particularly after having children, is that you can try too hard to bend the universe in your direction.

“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.” (Epictetus)

That’s not to say that you should just give up and float along on the tide of popular opinion. Rather it’s a step towards living an antifragile life and a foot in the door to the world of Stoic philosophy. In that regard, I’d highly recommend purchasing Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic: 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living.

Hopefully, it’s pretty clear why I’ve included this quotation first. Stoics aren’t constantly raging against the machine, but nor are they bobbing along with the tide. Everything is an opportunity to put your values to the test. As I often say to my children, “your reactions tell people more about your character than your actions.”

1b. Master yourself

Stoicism isn’t something that you just learn in your head and then you’re done. It’s something that you practice. Perhaps the thing that needs practising the most is mastering your emotions.

“There’s no greater mastery than mastery over yourself and your emotions; it amounts to a triumph of free will.” (Baltasar Gracián)

I didn’t realise just how importance emotional stability was until I saw how hiring and promotion works within most organisations. We’ll get into the specifics in the second half of this post, but it’s a huge advantage both to you and those you work with if they can rely on your emotional stability.

For most people and organisations, they’ll favour reliability over brilliance every day of the week. I suppose that’s mainly because they don’t want people who may end up being a liability. When I’m hiring, I’m perhaps a little more tolerant of the ups and downs of emotional and creative life, but nevertheless I want to know that someone on my team isn’t likely to regularly have emotional meltdowns.

Anyone who knows me might well laugh at my giving this advice, as it’s perhaps the thing I struggle with most. I’m getting better, and certainly more emotionally stable than a decade ago, but (like everything!) it’s a constant work in progress.

1c. Make the jump

When all is said and done, the person who holds you back the most in your life and career is… you. That little voice in the back of your head, the thing Steven Pressfield calls The Resistance, is responsible for irrational fear, self-censorship, and missed opportunities.

“Leap, and the net will appear.” (John Burroughs)

I find this six-word quotation to be extremely powerful. It reassures me that things won’t be as bad as I think, and that at the end of the day I’ll be OK. The thing that’s likely to be damaged most if O do need the ‘net’ is my ego. And I can deal with that.

It’s worth saying that I’m all too aware that I’m writing this from a position of white, male, middle-class privilege. I get that. But at the same time, I see a lot of people scared to apply for a job that they feel under-qualified for, move to a different country, or even point to the work they’re most proud of, for fear of the consequences. You’re likely to be pleasantly surprised if you make the leap.

After all, to paraphrase Aristotle, we become brave by acting as if we were brave. Just get on and do it. And I write this as someone who has occasional anxiety issues. So send in the application, put your house up for sale, and send a link to your work to someone you admire.


2. Practical advice

OK, let’s get to some specifics. I’ve been hiring people recently for the work I’m doing on MoodleNet, so the following advice is given with that in mind. It’s also based on my career thus far, and what I’ve seen when coaching others.

I’m going to use the word ‘success’ here as a shorthand for success as defined by you. If you’re currently chasing status, I’d suggest that the first thing you need to do is re-read the previous section, reflect on what you’re trying to achieve in life, and perhaps read the story of the Mexican fisherman.

I reckon that you need (at least) these three things to be ‘successful’ in crafting the life you want to lead:

  • Proof of expertise
  • Character
  • Luck

Let’s break down what I mean by each of these, with some examples.

2a. Proof of expertise

The original question was about crafting a life that fits with your values. Let’s think about that and work backwards. To be in a position to pick and choose between what you do next, you need to either be well known enough to have people approach you, or have demonstrable skills and experience.

This is usually done through CVs or resumes that list bona fides (see examples here and here) and is what LinkedIn was set up for. It’s no good having the skills if you can’t prove that you’ve got them. That’s why I’ve been so interested and supportive of the Open Badges work over the last few years; it’s a way of demonstrating that you’ve got talent.

The reason eportfolios never really took off were because we still use proxies for expertise, rather than the evidence itself. So, for example, once you’ve got that PhD or have worked for Google, people aren’t asking for ‘three years project management experience’, and the like. We rely on other people’s filters that we trust to do the hard work.

When I worked at Mozilla, we hired a lot of people from the Obama For America (OFA) campaign. The OFA tech team had been lauded in the press for their work, and they (quite rightly) were snapped up by Mozilla and other tech companies as soon as they became available.

The OFA example is illustrative because it’s an example of volunteering for a role that becomes a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. The old advice was ‘dress for the job you want’. Nowadays, I’d say ‘volunteer for the job you want’. When I found out about Open Badges, I started volunteering and showing some leadership in the Mozilla community. A year later, I was flown to San Francisco by the MacArthur Foundation to judge the DML Competition, and was offered a job by Mozilla.

Show up. Put the work in. But also be aware of things that might act as a shortcut that you could use a springboard into your next gig.

2b. Character

To have a position that fulfills you and meshes with your values, you have to know what your values actually are. The reason I include ‘character’ here is not just because of the facet of ‘resilience’ or ‘grit’ (to which it seems to have been reduced recently, but all of the other things that it connotes.

To me, an individual’s character flows from their values, what they stand for. Perhaps I’m becoming middle-aged, but it seems that a lot of the problems with today’s society is that people don’t stand for anything other than individualism and whatever late-stage capitalism can offer them. You don’t have ‘values’ and demonstrate character just because you purchase one brand instead of another.

There’s an episode of Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast cleverly entitled Don’t just do something, stand there. He explains that we’re always concerned with being seen to do something, rather than taking our time to figure out whether something should be done. That ability to stand firm in the face of adversity, criticism, or resistance, is more than just resilience, it’s character.

When it comes to your career, it means deciding on what it is that you’re willing to accept, and what you’re not. It may have a negative effect on how much money you earn.

I remember once meeting a couple of people at a conference somewhere in Europe. They’d both been hired by a pretty shady university that’s routinely accused of predatory practices. Rather naively, they assumed that they would be able to maintain their personal values while working for an employer that was 180-degrees opposed to them. I assume that they’ve either now abandoned those values, or they’re no longer working for the organisation. Something has to give.

So when it comes to choosing who to work for, trust your gut. Of course, there are times when you need money to ensure the base layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are covered, but beyond that, use the Japanese concept of Ikigai to help prioritise your life. Your values don’t have real-world impact unless you’re willing to give something up in order to stick to them.

2c. Luck

As a society, as parents, as colleagues, we don’t talk enough about the role of luck, fortune, or serendipity and how it applies to success. For example, let’s take Tyler Blevins, who my eleven year-old son knows better through his Fortnite gamer handle ‘Ninja’. This is a guy who seems to be an overnight success.

But, digging deeper, you see that not only has he put in the hard yards, he also just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He ‘plays’ (i.e. practises) Fortnite six hours every day, and has been a professional e-sports player since 2009. Of course, even before that as a teenager he would have been practising and practising.

What sets Blevins apart is that he happened to start playing Fortnite at just the right time, just after its release. He couldn’t have known at the time that it would be the biggest free-to-play console game of all time, and a cultural phenomenon. Blevins is now earning a million dollars per month because he was in the right place at the right time with the right skills and character.

So how, I hear you ask, do I ‘get lucky’? Well, I’d suggest that you need to increase what I call your ‘serendipity surface’. If you’re in an occupation that has a strict path to career progression (for example in medicine or the legal profession) then by all means, focus on the narrowly-defined criteria that circumscribes your success.

If, however, you’re like the rest of us and deal in with a world that is more malleable and ambiguous, then a different approach can pay dividends. There’s a reason I travel so much. It’s to meet new people, be exposed to ideas that might not always be shared online, and to experience places that open my mind. These days, we gain a competitive advantage by connecting the dots in new and novel ways. That depends, of course, on knowing where the dots are.

In order to ‘get lucky’, then, means increasing the likelihood of being in the right place at the right time with the right skills. You’re unlikely to be able to do that by experiencing the same 9-5 grind, day in, day out.

Conclusion

We live in a world of huge opportunity. I’m reminded of one comedian’s comment that we have access to much of the entire store of human knowledge available in our pockets, yet we use smartphones to send cat pictures to our friends.

Plenty of people will give you advice on how you can get a leg up in your industry. That counsel, of course, is always looking in the rearview mirror. It’s about what’s worked before, not about what’s likely to work next. You don’t have to follow tried-and-tested paths if you don’t want to. Find topics and people you find interesting, and find out more about them. You don’t have to be a cog in someone else’s machine.

This is turning into an epistle, and there’s still a lot more I could say. So, if you’re interested, I’m happy to do some one-to-one coaching through my consultancy business. Otherwise, please do feel free to comment (anonymously, if you wish) and I’ll do my best to expand on anything I’ve written so far.

3 things I’ve learned from 200 weeks of sending out an email newsletter

Doug Belshaw's Thought Shrapnel

Every week, nearly 1,000 people receive my newsletter in their inboxes. Entitled Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel it’s an irreverent look at the intersection of education, technology, and productivity. People seem to like it, which is why this Sunday I’ll be sending out issue 200!

Here’s some things I’ve learned along the way. I hope it’s of use to those thinking of starting up their own newsletter in 2016. 🙂

1. You are the most important audience

Even if you’re productive and have great workflows, it still takes time to curate and craft a newsletter. You need to motivate yourself to do it every week, as consistency is key to developing an audience.

I’ve developed a few ways to ensure I send out a newsletter on a regular basis:

  • I only share links I find interesting. My single criterion is “would I like to see this in someone else’s newsletter?”
  • I take breaks. Every year I have one, sometimes two, months where I’m off personal email and social media. I’ve extended that to my newsletter. Having downtime makes your uptime more productive.
  • I’ve started allowing sponsorships. When there’s money involved, then there’s expectation and a contract. This pays for my time, but also means I’ve got another reason to get this week’s newsletter out of the door.

2. People like commentary

Every week I get people replying to my newsletters. Those replies go direct to me, and I respond to each one. What I’ve found is that people really enjoy it when I comment on the links that I’m sharing.

We’re often exhorted to ‘add value’ in life. I think this is one example where I can do so in a pretty simple way. For example, I might point out how X is similar to Y, or how an article is based on a false premise, or juxtapose it with something else to raise a smile.

True curation is about doing more than giving people a bunch of links. It’s about presenting them with information in a way that’s going to inform or entertain to the best of my ability.

3. A little bit of personality goes a long way

I’m a fan of long-form content on the web. I have a weekly podcast with Dai Barnes called Today In Digital Education (TIDE) that often runs to an hour and a half. We discuss lots of things during that time, but even so we could go on longer. The important thing is that we attend to what’s important.

Similarly, with my newsletter, I could literally list the hundreds of links I bookmark and come across each week. But that would be of little value to my subscribers. Instead, I sift through these for the ones that either resonate with, or challenge, my worldview. That means that my newsletter isn’t a bland read: it’s opinionated and biased. But that’s OK.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoy the discipline of curating and crafting a weekly newsletter to send out every Sunday morning (UK time). If you’re reading this and don’t yet subscribe, then I hope you’ll consider doing so at thoughtshrapnel.com.

I’m also looking for sponsors for 2016. I’ve already been fortunate to have some great sponsors last year, including Makers Academy, C-Learning, and Think Associates. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss this further: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Many thanks to my friend and collaborator Bryan Mathers for the great logo he devised last year! For more of his work visit bryanmathers.com or follow him as @BryanMMathers on Twitter!

Why I left teaching five years ago

Last week after another extended FIFA15 session I tweeted:

This led to the anonymous blogger behind Exit Teaching getting in touch via Twitter for the backstory to me leaving the classroom. I’m happy to share it as it’s something that a lot of people in similar situations struggle with. I hope it helps someone!


1. Why did you become a teacher?

Teaching was actually something I’d actively tried to avoid! My father had been Deputy Head of my high school and I’d seen how busy he’d been. I was in my third year of a Philosophy degree when I realised that I was about to need a job. My dad advised me to do my PGCE as ‘something I could fall back on’. After completing a self-funded MA in Modern History, that’s exactly what I did and became a History teacher. I loved it! I’d often say that if there was a roof over my head and food on the table I’d have taught for free!

2. What was your previous role? What are you doing now?

I taught History and a bit of ICT for six years in total. My last job in teaching was as Director of E-Learning of a large academy. I was there for a year and left in 2010. In April 2015 I made the jump to full-time consultancy after some time with Jisc in Higher Education and the Mozilla Foundation, where I was on their education team.

3. Why did you decide to leave teaching?

I skipped middle management and went straight into senior management. I guess I blagged the interview. The position was in an academy that took over nine schools, including three I used to attend – and the one in which my father was Deputy Head. Some of my old teachers were in senior management with me, and some were still full-time in the classroom. Added to that, I was writing my doctoral thesis at the time and had a two year-old son.

Looking back, there were three main reasons I decided to leave teaching. The proximate cause was that I was asked to spend most of my time around behaviour management-related issues. This frustrated me as I felt I was doing too much of it. Another reason was that, although as a cocky twenty-something I felt that I was ready for anything, to be perfectly honest I could have done with some middle-management experience before taking the role. I was thrust into a position where I was line managing two failing departments and one where the Head of Department had just suffered a bereavement. I was a bit out of my depth and wasn’t supported.

The third reason is that I’m an ‘ambivert’ and somewhat of a perfectionist. While I can appear extroverted in social situations, I need time to recharge – but my teaching style didn’t give me the opportunity to do that. It felt like constantly being on stage. I was burning myself out term after term.

3. How did you leave? What were the challenges?

How it ended was a bit of an anticlimax. I won’t go into the ins and outs but I effectively looked around for anything that would get me out of the situation. I realised that I had to choose between a) staying and trying to make a difference (against the odds) in the area in which I grew up, or b) being there for my family and finishing my thesis. I chose the latter and started a job with Jisc infoNet, based at Northumbria University about a year after I’d started at the academy.

The Researcher/Analyst job I moved into was primarily office-based and I took a £10k pay cut, but there was a good deal of national travel. That was great for networking. Originally, I thought it would be a very temporary measure before returning to the classroom in the next academic year – but that never happened. I finished my thesis, made some good friends and contacts in Higher Education, and realised there was life beyond teaching.

4. How do you feel about work, career and life in general now?

I’m still very much in touch with the teaching profession. Almost everyone in my family is, or has been, a teacher. My wife is a Primary School teacher, some of my friends are teachers, and I still have a large network of people I follow via social media. In many ways, the work I do supports teachers of all stripes. At Jisc it was providing resources and guidance. At Mozilla it was inspiring and bringing people together. Now, in my new consultancy role, it’s all about problem-solving and providing solutions.

The work that I did in teaching in my twenties was unsustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do it now, in my mid-thirties, never mind in my forties or fifties. It may have been the way I approached the profession, but it’s no wonder so many people get burned out. It’s not particularly their fault – it’s the situation in which we find ourselves.

You don’t have to work all the hours and have no social life to make a difference in the world. In fact, that’s probably a recipe for being out of touch with society and making yourself into a basket case. I’m much healthier now – I’ve started drinking chamomile tea, going to the gym/swimming every day, and even trying yoga and pilates! I’m calmer, happier in my own skin, and of more use to others.

5. What advice do you have for those thinking about leaving teaching?

I’m asked about this all of the time. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts of all time is one that explores the reasons teachers leave the profession. One of the problems is that moving into a different role outside of the classroom is often seen as a ‘failure’. Another is that, because it’s often a ‘vocation’ that people often go into an early age, those looking to move on aren’t always aware of their transferable skills.

I’ve found that my ability to stand up and engage only moderately-interested teenagers is a particularly useful skill. As is my ability to get things done. Invention is the mother of necessity, so the workflows you develop as a teacher stand you in good stead for getting stuff done outside of the classroom. Planning, preparation, knowing how to talk to external stakeholders (i.e. parents) – all of these are in-demand qualities.

Everyone’s situation is different and so it’s difficult to give generic advice. What I would say is that if you feel that your job – any job – is getting in the way of things you think are important, then you should consider doing something else. If your health (both physical/mental) or your relationships are suffering, stand back and re-evaluate. Teachers tend to be extremely loathe to take time off because of the ‘burden’ they’re placing on others. However, that’s the school’s problem. If you need to take a couple of days to get your head together, then do it. Better that then long-term absence and a cascading series of problems.

There’s so much opportunity out there. Teaching is a valuable and rewarding occupation. But it’s also stressful and relatively low-paid (if you stay in the classroom). Take your time to discuss it with people you know and respect. If there’s a consensus, start looking for something else!

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

A 10-point #MozFest survival guide

It’s the Mozilla Festival in London this weekend. It’s sold out, so you’ll have to beg, borrow or steal a ticket! This will will be my fourth, and third as a paid contributor (i.e. Mozilla employee).

Here’s my tips for getting the most of it.

1. Attend the whole thing

There’s always the temptation with multi-day events not to go to each of the days. It’s easy to slip off into the city – especially if it’s one you haven’t been to before. However, that would a real shame as there’s so much to do and see at MozFest. Plus, you really should have booked a few days either side to chill out.

2. Sample everything

Some tracks will grab you more than others. However, with nine floors and multiple sessions happening at the same time, there’s always going to be something to keep you entertained. Feel free to vote with your feet if you’re not getting maximum value from a session – and drop into something you don’t necessarily know a lot about!

3. Drink lots

Not alcohol or coffee – although there’ll be plenty of that on offer! I mean fluids that will rehydrate you. At the Mozilla Summit at the end of last year we were all given rehydration powder along with a Camelbak refillable bottle. This was the perfect combination and I urge you to bring something similar. Pro tip: if you can’t find the powder (it’s harder to come by in the UK) just put a slice of lemon in the bottom of the bottle to keep it tasting fresh all day!

4. Introduce yourself to people

The chances are that you don’t know all 1,600 people who have tickets for MozFest. I know I don’t! You should feel encouraged to go up and introduce yourself to people who look lost, bewildered, or at a loose end. Sample phrases that seem to work well:

  • “Wow, it’s pretty crazy, eh?”
  • “Hi! Which session have you just been to?”
  • “Is this your first MozFest?”

5. Take time out

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so feel free to find a corner, put your headphones on and zone out for a while. You’ll see plenty of people doing this – on all floors! Pace yourself – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

6. Wear comfortable shoes/clothing

There are lifts at the venue but, as you can imagine, with so many people there they get full quickly. As a result there’ll be plenty of walking up and down stairs. Wear your most comfortable pair of shoes and clothing that’ll still look good when you’re a sticky mess. 😉

7. Expect tech fails

I’ve been to a lot of events and at every single one, whether because of a technical problem or human error, there’s been a tech fail. Expect it! Embrace it. The wifi is pretty good, but mobile phone coverage is poor. Plan accordingly and have a backup option.

8. Ask questions

With so many people coming from so many backgrounds and disciplines, it’s difficult to know the terminology involved. If someone ‘drops a jargon bomb’ then you should call them out on it. If you don’t know what they mean, then the chances are others won’t know either. And if you’re the one doing the explaining, be aware that others may not share your context.

9. Come equipped

Your mileage may vary, but I’d suggest the following:

  • Bag
  • Laptop
  • Mobile phone and/or tablet
  • Pen
  • Notepad
  • Multi-gang extension lead
  • Charging cables
  • Headphones
  • Snacks (e.g. granola bars)
  • Refillable water bottle

I’d suggest a backpack as something over one shoulder might eventually cause pain. You might also want to put a cloth bag inside the bag you’re carrying in case you pick up extra stuff.

10. Build (and network!)

MozFest is a huge opportunity to meet and co-create stuff with exceptionally talented and enthusiastic people. So get involved! Bring your skills and lend a hand in whatever’s being built. If nothing else, you can take photos and help document the festival.

The strapline of MozFest is ‘arrive with an idea, leave with a community’. Unlike some conferences that have subtitles that, frankly, bear no relation to what actually happens, this one is dead on. You’ll want to keep in touch with people, so in addition to the stuff listed above you might want to bring business cards. Far from being a 20th century thing, I’ve found them much more useful than just writing on a scrap of paper or exchanging Twitter usernames.


This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, just my top tips. But I’d be very interested to hear your advice to newbies if you’re a MozFest veteran! Leave a comment below. 🙂

Image CC BY-SA Alan Levine

Update: my colleague Kay Thaney has a great list of blighty sights that you should check out too!

Special Delivery: a letter to my children this Fathers Day.

Wreck This Journal-Doodling Back of Envelope

Dear Ben and Grace,

At four years and five months old, respectively, you’re both too young to be able to read this by yourselves. But I hope one day when you’re a bit older and have a little more understanding of the world that you’ll stumble upon this and reflect upon it.

First of all, I wanted to say how proud I am of you both. Whilst it’s hard to be proud of the actions of a five month-old you, Grace, manage to give me big, beaming smiles just at the right time to help me forget your impressively-piercing crying ability and tendency every now and again to fool us into thinking that you know how to sleep through. I’m also mightily impressed at the way that you’ve managed to surpass even Ben in the putting-on-weight front. Above the 99.6th percentile? Impressive.

With you, Ben, it’s easy to quantify and express the ways in which I’m proud of you. As I keep saying, I’m proud of you because you try so hard. Never stop that. You’re going to come up against challenges in life which are completely unfair and which, in the main, will seem to be the result of ‘the system’ rather than the individuals comprising it. Don’t let that put you off. You can change that system. Your Daddy spent his first thirty years on this earth believing the half-truths people told him about qualifications and job titles mattering. They don’t. Carry on doing what you do now: focus on relationships, focus on happiness (your own and other people’s), and try your best to be as good as you can be at the things you enjoy doing. Everything important flows from these things.

I can’t predict the future, but what I can predict is my enduring love for you both and for your Mummy. I don’t know where we’ll be living next year never mind by the time you come to read this, but I do know that how we live is a lot more important than where we live. So I’m sorry for the times when I’ve neglected you both due to work, a selfish mood or an undue fascination with technology. You’re both so important to me in ways I only realise when you’re not there.

Much as sometimes I feel I’d like to, I can’t be around to protect you all of the time: not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. Both of you are going to come across narrow-minded and shallow people. You’re going to struggle to understand people who trade authenticity for material possessions and their hopes and dreams for status. Don’t be tempted by that road. Strive instead to follow the path less travelled, the path where your first response to “What do you do?” isn’t simply repeating your job title. Although it will scare Mummy (especially)and Daddy to death, I implore you to go travelling at as young an age as you can. It really does broaden your outlook on life. And although this isn’t a “avoid what I regret” letter, never stop being creative: draw, paint, play musical instruments, speak foreign languages. Cultivate as many different ways of understanding the world as you can.

Most of all, my message to you this Fathers Day is that life can be whatever you want it to be: take risks! Ben, I’m trying to do that as much as possible with you now, which means you get into some scrapes; Grace, I know that I’m going to find this so much more difficult with you. Forgive me. Parenting really is the hardest job in the world sometimes (but I wouldn’t have it any other way).

Love,

Your Daddy, xx

Image CC BY-NC Deborah Leigh (Migraine Chick)

30 things I’ve learned in 30 years.

I turned 30 last month. Not only that, but I’m now a father to two children meaning that, at some point, I’ll need to pass on what some might call ‘wisdom’. Here’s 30 things I’ll be telling them based on my experience:

  1. Don’t be the first person to leave a gathering. Don’t be the last.
  2. Try not to burn your bridges, you never know when you might need to return to them. But if you do decide it’s necessary, make it spectacular with proper fireworks.
  3. In the long run, people will always spot substance over style.
  4. Alternate alcoholic drinks and soft drinks for an enjoyable night and productive morning after. Do the same when drinking coffee to avoid dehydration.
  5. Find what you like, including brands. Narrowing down your options in any given situation saves time and frustration.
  6. Ask. People can only say no, and are usually polite about it.
  7. Focus on routines and rituals. Nail these and you’re sorted.
  8. Women really do like all of that romantic stuff.
  9. Practice eloquence. People like listening to those who can put difficult concepts in layman’s terms.
  10. At the end of it all, the only person who stops you doing something is yourself. Confidence is a preference.
  11. Most people care less than you think about almost everything that you deem important. Avoid echo chambers.
  12. Don’t let your school years define you.
  13. Nobody knows what goes on inside your head until you say it or write it down.
  14. 90% of ‘success’ (as other people define it) is being in the right place at the right time, the other 10% is extremely hard work.
  15. Just as your tastebuds are renewed every 7 years, so you are not the same person throughout your lifetime. Don’t be beholden to people who would tell you otherwise. Be ruthless in separating friends from acquaintances.
  16. Exercise more than you think you need to. When you’re young you think your body will be in peak condition forever. It won’t be.
  17. Make your first experience or attempt at something the best it can be. It will usually affect how you conceptualise that thing or person from then on.
  18. Don’t believe what someone tells you because of their personality or good looks.
  19. Never trust people who smoke or gamble regularly.
  20. Endeavour to be the least knowledgeable person in the room at any given time.
  21. Learn another language (including music). It’s not only a means of expression but a different way of thinking.
  22. Find somewhere that is completely quiet and you can be undisturbed. Visit it often.
  23. Defer to authority, but only if it doesn’t mean compromising your principles.
  24. Develop a firm handshake and look people in the eye when you meet them.
  25. Seek out liminal spaces. Although sometimes times of turmoil (moving jobs, waiting for confirmation of results, etc.) they encourage both reflection and future planning.
  26. Try and explain complex things to very old and/or very young people as often as you can. It’s a valuable process for both parties.
  27. Money is important but only in the way that it flows (both in society, and at family/individual level).
  28. You are a collection of interactions and experiences. Ensure that the collection is the best it can be.
  29. Let other people boast about you and big you up (but don’t believe everything you see/read/hear)
  30. Read inspirational things often, especially quotations and proverbs. Dwell upon them.

Image CC BY-NC 96dpi

Blogging: 5 things I’ve learned in 5 years.

5 Years

I realised at the weekend that it’s been about 5 years since I started blogging properly, having got into my groove sometime in November 2005. Back then, as a classroom teacher, I wrote at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about education and educational technology. What got me started was reading and commenting on the high-quality blogs of a small number of international educators, the dilution of which I lamented a few years later.

In the past 5 years I’ve gone from History teacher to E-Learning Staff Tutor to Director of E-Learning to working at JISC infoNet. I’ve also cultivated increasing amounts of stubble, as this video of me as a 24 year-old demonstrates! Hopefully, as I’ve read, learned and understood more about the world, my style of writing has improved. Well, one can hope.

The following are the things that I think anyone with a blog would do well to heed. I’d be interested in your take. 😀

1. Comment count != quality

The quality of a blog post has almost nothing to do with the number of comments you get – and everything to do with the zeitgeist, the way you phrase questions and how you structure your blog.

2. How to get more readers

To get more people visiting your blog, go and comment on other people’s and autotweet your blog posts via Twitter. This works up to a point, after which you can either keep it real or become a cynical marketing machine. I prefer content over style. Most of the time. 😉

3. WordPress and Bluehost rock

I’ve tried lots of different blogging platforms and webhosts, but have found WordPress to consistently do what I want of it and Bluehost [affiliate link] to be cheap, feature-filled and rock-solid.

4. Have an ‘ideas garden’

I’ve blatantly appropriated this term from someone who used it in conversation with me a while ago. Sorry if that was you – I try to credit the sources of ideas I share as well as images I use. An ideas garden is simply a collection of draft blog posts that you come back to, adding pictures, further ideas, etc. until they form whole posts. It can also stop you ranting when you’re in a bad mood. :-p

5. Digital footprint

I used to have a link to my curriculum vitae on my blog but, in fact, the whole thing is a digital portfolio, with my last three positions secured to a great extent because of my online presence. SEO is important, as is attempting to control the first page of Google search results (so that they’re all positive): my digital footprint is more important to me than my credit score. Fact.

Image CC BY Michael Ruiz

Apply for Google Teacher Academy UK!

Introduction

The first ever Google Teacher Academy UK is coming to London on Thursday 29th July 2010! The only reason I’m accepting for YOU not applying is if you’ve already booked your summer holiday for that date. And even then, it had better be somewhere nice… :-p

If you’re an educator (especially if you’re in the UK) this is a great opportunity to be part of something that we’ve called (and especially Tom Barrett) has called for over the last few years. In addition, you could get to become a Google Certified Teacher!

Application Process

There’s two parts to the application process: an online form and a 1-minute video.

You can apply for Google Teacher Academy UK here:

http://www.google.com/educators/gta.html

(closing date: 17 June 2010)

Advice

Here’s 10 bits of advice from me if you’re thinking of applying:

  1. Read what’s required of you. Seriously. For example, don’t submit a video that’s longer than 1 minute in length!
  2. It’s not how much you know about Google and use their tools already. You are allowed to show proficiency in other tools and processes.
  3. The video needs to address one (or both) of the these themes: a) Motivation and Learning, b) Classroom Innovation. You don’t have to feature physically in the video, but these themes do.
  4. Don’t whinge. Show yourself in a positive light.
  5. There’s no point in ticking every box for a question. It’s as if you didn’t tick any of them if you do that.
  6. In the ‘technology skills’ section, don’t do yourself down. If you’re not a newbie, there’s no reason to tick the newbie box!
  7. Read up on what Google Certified Teachers do and who they are. It will make your answers more informed.
  8. Post your video on YouTube. Not elsewhere. And make it publicly viewable (double-check!)
  9. Fill in your answers in a word processor (Google Docs!) and then copy-and-paste the answers in to the form. This will give you chance to reflect on them and run a word count.
  10. Some people have added the one-minute application video to their Google Certified Teacher page (e.g. Chris Craft). Check these out for inspiration – as well a YouTube search for ‘Google Teacher Academy’.

Conclusion

I’m firmly of the opinion that it’s worth giving up not only some of your summer holiday for Google Teacher Academy but also the time it takes to apply. You don’t need to be a current teacher to apply (I’m not!) but you do need to work with educators in some way. Cite your online as well as offline work.

This isn’t a time to be shy, it’s a time to step up and apply for something potentially life-changing. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the end of July! 😀

Image based on originals CC BY dannysullivan

#newleaders is #movemeon for… guess who?

I know I usually post about design and infographics on Saturdays, but this is a time-delimited thing that I need to get people involved with ASAP!

Remember #movemeon, the crowdsourced book with tips for teachers that was such a success last year? Well, there’s a new one for leaders, being headed-up by @tombarrett and @stuartridout. The aim is similar – to create a book that collects wisdom for leaders new to their position.

You can contribute simply by including the hashtag #newleaders in a tweet. They are collated at:

http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/newleaders

Lord Bilimoria on leadership.

Lord Bilmoria

Lord Bilimoria is the founder of Cobra Beer, having previously worked in audit, tax, training, and accounting at various organizations.

I took away the following points from watching Bilimoria’s ten 4-minute videos on the 50 Lessons website.

Starting from nothing always ‘against all odds’

Every time you start from nothing there will always be big sacrifices to make and involve frustrations. The key thing is that during hard times you don’t give up. Have faith in both your ideas and yourself. Long-term goals are important – as is instilling the belief that as an organization you are going to reach those goals.

Consult end-users

Never take forward ideas without checking them out with consumers or end-users. Bilimoria gives the example of his beer being called Panther until last-minute informal customer surveys showed that they didn’t like the name. Instead of ignoring this research, the organization changed the name of the beer (after feedback) and it was a success.

The lesson from this is that you come up with the ideas, but you should always check these with the end-users before going ahead. You may not be able to have large, formal research programmes, but you can always carry out informal research.

Dissatisfaction leads to innovation

Channeling dissatisfaction can lead to the generation of new ideas. Every time a good idea comes along, people always ask, ‘why didn’t someone do that before.’ This is usually because you have to ‘make the leap’ to cross the ‘credibility gap’ (which is that nobody knows you or your ideas). People will only let you close that gap if you have confidence and passion – and leads to same on their part. Trust your own judgement as many ideas overlooked as seeming too straightforward.

Contant innovation is a must

It is important to be innovating constantly as other people will always copy what you do. In order to do this you need not only have right environment within your organization but work with the best advisers; this gives you the edge. In addition, the ways in which you work with these advisers, making them part of your team, is important. Always move on and innovate – even if what you think you’ve got is great!

Long-term vision

Having a long-term vision for the organization is vital so everybody knows where you’re headed. In addition, you need smaller, achievable bite-sized targets in line with the vision. Look ahead, but have to have ‘finger on the pulse’ r.e. what’s happening right now.

Mission

‘Mission’ is the ‘what’ of the organization. It is measurable, permanent, and something you can go back to time and time again. You need a role-model in business that can help you understand where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Everything you do should be carried out with integrity – even if you are working against all odds.

Turn obstacles into advantages

Any organization or individual within it is going to come across obstacles. These must be surmounted in some way – by going around them, through them, under them – however. These obstacles can be turned into advantages. Bilimoria gives the example of Cobra Beer being limited by the bottlers to a 660ml bottle instead of a more traditional (in the UK) 330ml. They thought around the problem and now every major brewer has a 330ml opton. Consider how to turn every negative into a positive before dismissing the idea altogether.

Go for ‘will rather than skill’

What makes organizations successful is people. There are two halves to this: getting the right people and then creating environment in which they can flourish. When you recruit, go for ‘will rather than skill.’ Bilimoria gives the example of refugee who spoke very poor English who was desperate to be one of their first door-to-door sellers. They took him on, despite appearances and he is today a member of the board.

Whilst it’s ideal to have both the will and the skills, always go for the former if it comes down to a choice. To allow people to flourish, have to create ‘limitless’ opportunities – if you have too many rules and barriers that can limit opportunities available to individuals and therefore the organization.

Create a culture of idea-generation

Organizations need entrpreneurial spirit and innovative spirit that is pervasive and not just limited to the senior leadership team. People need to feel in control of their own work and this can be done by  putting people’s ideas into action. Leaders need to ‘let go’, giving trust and respect to people. Allowing employees to be flexible comes back as trust and respect for organization.

It’s not about employees ‘earning’ respect, it’s about giving it away so that it comes back. If you ‘let go’ and allow people ‘get on’ with it this leads to a ‘buzz’ around the organization. Create an atmosphere where there’s no fear to come up with ideas. For example at Cobra, people encouraged to put ideas into ‘ideas box’. The top ones are selected each month and prizes are given.

Turn threats into opportunities

It’s useful to go away from the office to carry out blue-sky brainstorming sessions that include SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Bilimoria gives the example of someone identifying at such a session that increasingly, people are drinking wine with their meal. Cobra investigated the wine business and then entered it.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
css.php