Taking Your Next Step (Part 3 of 3): Take Action

Okay, so you have evaluated and worked on changing your personal learning network from the first part of this series.  You found so much success that you decided to read part two and make strides toward your professional learning network.  Through these two steps, you have been able to really see the influences around your life that have shaped and molded you into the current being you are today.  You now understand how you obtained a life of monotony and lack of freedom to explore and innovate.  Now you’re here, wondering what your next step is in becoming a better version of yourself.  The next step consists of two words:  TAKE ACTION!

As an individual with your own thoughts and personality, you can do anything.  Financial hardships and hurt relationships aside, the ability to partake in any action depends on you.  Most every situation has two choices.  You can choose to continue down road A or change direction and start on road B.  Here are a few choices to consider as you think about taking action:

  • Apply to a new position – From an employer standpoint, it is easy to write a job description for a person who may not exist.  By doing so, I automatically rule out lower qualifying individuals and receive inquires about people who know they can fulfill the job requirements despite the prerequisites.  As an employee, I have found life disheartening in the job search as I see that I am not qualified for 99% of the posts.  Take the plunge and reason to the employer why and how you can be better than what he/she is looking for.
  • Enroll in school – Have you thought about going back to school?  Wonder if it’s necessary?  Here’s one perspective… it can’t hurt you.  Sure, the financial responsibility and time commitment can be a bit concerning.  A higher degree shows that you can do anything because you set your mind to it.  Being a non-traditional student shows you are able to think outside the box and be someone now that you weren’t able to be or didn’t think you could be earlier.  Better yourself by getting back in school.
  • Challenge yourself – Get out and do something new.  The first time I went repelling off of a 400-foot cliff, I was hit in the face with the thought of life being over.  Leaning horizontally off of a cliff face with nothing but you holding onto a rope is a bit dangerous.  What I gained was a fresh perspective on the point of life and the emotions I wanted to experience for the remainder of my life.  I welcome my new perspective with open arms, but it wouldn’t have come without the challenge to do something I had never done before.

You want to be someone that you have never been before?  It’s time to get going on your new life.  Today is an opportunity, which didn’t exist yesterday.  The decision you make could define the rest of your life.  Or you could continue down the same path, growing increasingly dissatisfied with your personal and professional relationships.  The next 10 years are in your hands, so what is your next step?

Taking Your Next Step (Part 2 of 3): Professional Learning Network

The first step in this series consisted of evaluating and possibly changing your personal learning network.  Aside from your personal network, you will also need to evaluate your professional learning network.  Do not confuse your professional learning network with your current job place.  Your responsibility as a contributing member of the work force is to ensure that you are surrounding yourself with the best possible opportunities to further yourself, those around you, and the ones who will come after you.  A few tips to keep in mind as you look at your professional learning network:

  • Secure your happiness – Happiness is not always defined as laughing and smiling.  Sometimes a relationship that is difficult can be enabling you to be a better individual.  The relationship may not provide a great smile on a daily basis, but the conversations can make you a better and ultimately happier person.
  • Get AND Give – It is so nice to be able to sit back and soak up as much information as possible from individuals smarter, richer, and more successful than yourself.  This one-sided and selfish interpretation of life can eventually lead to your downfall.  It has been argued by many spiritual advisors that we were created for community.  Find someone in a situation that you were once in and help him or her out.  A true professional is constantly gathering and giving information (without a price).
  • Reach out – It is rare that opportunities come knocking on your door.  Maybe you have an experience or two that has landed in your lap and provided you with a better future than you could have built for yourself.  These individuals are few and far between.  Reach out to someone who you think is unreachable.  An example of this can be found in Bob Goff’s book, Love Does.  Goff’s children decided to hand write letters to world leaders and invite them for a sleepover and to discuss issues of peace.  Eventually, princes and government officials were spending the night with the Goffs and working with children to make the world a better place.

A professional learning network can benefit you in ways a personal learning network cannot.  Allow individuals from different disciplines to creatively adapt their thoughts and ideas into your world to see a new perspective.  When you go to the next conference or training seminar, try meeting 3 new people and get to know them.  You will be amazed at what connections and opportunities can come through casual conversations.  If you are tired of the routine grind of life, step out and be different.  Take your next step today and never look back, except to laugh.

Taking Your Next Step (Part 1 of 3): Personal Learning Network

The beginning to taking your next step in life will start with a personal learning network.  Two phrases come to mind when thinking about the personal learning network:

  • Birds of a feather flock together – A similar phrase would be “you are who you hang with”.  If you have a group of individuals that you are constantly around, either you will have an influence on them, or they will have an influence on you.
  • Your income can be estimated as the mean income of your friends – This lesson comes from a great podcast I have been listening to, Entrepreneur on Fire.  If this formula proves true, and you are looking to increase your income, then your friend group would contribute.

Think back to when you were growing up.  Whether you were the ringleader or just a member in a group of individuals, the individuals around you helped to shape the person that you were at the time.  As we grow older, we begin to fade away from the idea that others around us can mold us into something other than what we want to become.  The reality is, those around us can indirectly influence us to extremes we didn’t even know to be possible.  We can sometimes catch a glimpse of other’s influence in our lives in hindsight.  When is the last time you had a hard evaluation of who you surround yourself with?  What influence are you having on those around you?  And what influence do others have on you?

So what does a personal learning network look like?  I have seen this in many different ways.  Personally, many personal learning networks exist in my day-to-day life.  I have a group of friends who keep in touch with my routine happenings and question the purpose behind much of what I do.  I also have identified a number of individuals who I meet with individually to gain insight and wisdom into problems throughout my life.  There are times I won’t call them up for a few months and other times where I count on them to be present once a week.  I don’t expect each person to come running when I call, but I know that I can rely on them to follow through.  Likewise, I am ready in a moment’s notice to run to their doorstep in any situation.  To benefit from a strong personal learning network, each relationship should either be reciprocal or you putting in more time and effort than the other.

Your next step for today is to evaluate your current personal learning network and see if you can add to, take away from, or strengthen your relationships for your benefit.  You can put together a personal learning network based on almost any situation, attitude, habit, or practice you would like to see increased (or decreased).

Starbucks Consumer Behavior Report

I am a consumer of human interaction and behavior and I find great interest in attempting to understand why we do the things we do. I blame it on my parents. Mom and I could go to the mall and watch people for hours. Dad and I have gone to a major league baseball game and spotted the same idiot from across the stadium and got a good laugh together. We are so individualized that we have no choice but to be interesting to someone who is not exactly like us.

Sitting in Starbucks for almost two hours provides some very interesting “people-watching” opportunities (I’ll call it “observational research” so that I don’t feel like a creep). Unfortunately, the sights provided a deep disappointment in our society as a whole. I saw a man come in and steal the dollar bills out of the tip jar, just to turn around and pay for his coffee with change from his other pocket. I witnessed a black male call a white male a “cracker” for trying to pick up his credit card off the ground and not too long after that, women discussing how horrible their husbands are. What a sad picture of reality.

In undergraduate, we were mandated to read a collection of poems and stories titled The Book of Virtues. While I disliked the assignment portion of this reading, I find great value in such content now. The mistakes and wisdom of people from the past have provided a great resource for us to build from in our world today. There is still good to be found all around us if we look. We only need to be intentional on our efforts to make our lives and those lives around us better.

Today’s observations are simply a sad snapshot of how we interact. In your organization, what culture exists? What expectations for humanity are set in place for respect and friendliness? I guarantee a bit of improvement in this area can increase creativity, collaboration, quality, and many other aspects that are your end result. Tomorrow’s future starts with your leadership. Lead today for a better tomorrow!

5 Lessons Learned In a Dental Lab

I felt dirty – like someone would see me sneaking around and I would have to explain what I was doing.

It was late on a Thursday night when I walked into the dental laboratory with my wife and decided to get the bunsen burner going (just for old time sake).  As I looked around, I saw many similarities to my wood shop but on a much smaller level.  Naturally, I decided to play around and touch things.  That’s just how I am.

After I decided to act my age, I began to recognize some interesting aspects to a dental lab that I hadn’t thought about.  I made the move to transform my wive’s procrastination into a mental exercise for myself.  What I came up with was 5 important lessons for any organization:

  1. The tools – This 15′ x 8′ room seemed to have every dental tool possible (and then some more).  We may not use every tool that we physically or mentally have acquired, but there will come a time when that specific tool will help you go further than any other tool.
  2. The sharps box – Despite the drills, bunsen burner, grinders, wet floor, etc. all acting against my safety, the sharps box was of good size and at a central location in the room.  Make sure that you have the basics covered in your organization.  Laws and policies need to be in place, while freedom is also given to explore and create.
  3. The gadget hanging off of the table – Some things in the lab didn’t make any sense, this gadget being one.  But when my wife turned it on and used it for it’s purpose, I came to understand it’s usefullness.  Do not be fooled by out of place individuals and activities in your organization.  At one time or another, that weird thing worked.  On the flip side, innovate new ways that make no sense to an outsider.
  4. Labels… for everything – Yes, stone and other materials and powder gave the first impression of “nasty” but after being in the lab for a bit, there was never any question as to where every tool and material was housed.  Your company can always benefit from more organization and cleaning.  Personally, you may be able to deal with the clutter and mishap, but with more than one person utilizing a space, organization becomes a key piece to your productivity.
  5. The vibrator – When mixing compounds to make molds, a vibrator allows the air pockets to go away to help with mere flawless compound formation.  Good technology and seemingly useless products will work for your organization and not against it.  Do not second guess the usefulness of such items, or your productiveness and quality may suffer.

So next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar territory, take a second to take in your surroundings and give in to a great learning experience.  Ideate and pursue a better understanding of how your life is impacted by other’s professions.

Education and the Future Workforce

My parents have been telling me every since I was born…”You will have to have a Ph.D. to get a job one day!”  Well, they are becoming more and more right (as much as I hate to admit that).  Good.is has created an infographic (in collaboration with Hyperakt and in partnership with University of Phoenix) that looks at the growing demand for educated workers in our society.  The lower left part of the infographic should be given much attention – although small, it provides a lot of interesting information…

Enriched Environments and Technology in Schools

Jon Becker tweeted about his experience while visiting the Information Technology High School.  As my curiosity got the best of me, I was anxious to hear about what that high school had going on that was new, innovative, etc.  Much to my surprise, the 1:1 initiative was taken away after the first year because kids could not be trusted and there really wasn’t anything noteworthy to back up such a profound name!

Combine this thought with a developmental psychology class that I took in my Master’s program – where we are discussing and reviewing research about the benefits of an enriched environment.

Add in nagging pessimists who say technology hinders kids from learning more so than helping them.

Okay, now everyone is up to speed on what is going on in my head.

The developmental psychology class brought me up to speed with how taking a kid out of a horrible environment and bringing them into a “normal,” “basic,” (however you want to phrase it) environment has a great positive outcome on the learning curve.  The unknown territory comes when a kid is moved from the “normal” environment into an “enriched” environment.  What is an enriched environment?  What would it include?  Who would it include – and how would we decide the who is?  Well…arguments continue on how societies decide what an enriched learning environment is, but regardless of how schools set themselves up, or districts determine the make-up of such an environment, or how national standards influence what the new “normal” is…every learner is different and every learner will not benefit from one overall “enriched environment.”

Now that it has been said, how can standards, districts, and school systems work together to produce the most conducive environment for enriched learning to take place?  Well…I think technology has a major role in the answer to that question…

With apps for almost everything – including calendars, note-taking that syncing across devices (Evernote, Sugarsync), learning management systems (Blackboard and Moodle), cloud printing (ePrint, Google Cloud Print), and everything in between – administrators, teachers, and students have the technology created to go completely digital.  The problems = funding, upkeep, updates, technology leaders in the school, etc.  I completely understand that there are still many issues which need to be addressed in the schools for technology to completely take over – and some schools are doing great jobs at this, but even more are resistant to change.

There is an immediate need to change!

My wife is in dental school and they tell them about apps that are available to tremendously help them, but…they are over $200.00 a piece!  My brother-in-law finished up PA school in southern Kentucky and they mandate the use of apps for such prices.  Which…you guessed it…forces the student to have a smartphone or computer capable of supporting this type of learning.  Higher education (at least at most flagship universities) are beginning to push this technology into the classrooms, but primary and secondary schools are missing the mark.

When we have a high school with the name of “Information Technology High School” and they can’t keep a 1:1 initiative going and don’t have anything else that a normal high school has for students to learn, then what message are we conveying to the future of the kids, the future career opportunities, the future of our nation?  School used to be a place where learners grasp an exemplary understanding and knowledge base of the latest theories and hardware for their disposal in the job market upon graduation.  We wonder why we need more degrees for every generation in order to get a job?  It’s because we spend more years catching up rather than moving forward.  Technology is here, technology is now, and technology needs to be the new “normal” environment rather than the impossible “enriched” environment.

Where does data visualization and evaluation come in?  Try understanding 200 years of information through looking at and studying charts, diagrams, and numbers (it would take forever).  Hans Rosling helps us to see 200 years of health and wealth data in a matter of minutes and understand how that data interacted as a result of the past and implications for the future!  Videos, infographics, interactive visualization sets for students and teachers, real-time visualizations for administrators to monitor school performance, networking technology for schools to work together for the students rather than competing for personal recognition…the possibilities are at each of our fingertips…we just have to dive in and make our mark on the future!

Don’t wait for tomorrow when you can change your life today.

The Perfect Data Visualization

I have a mentor who once asked me what “Perfectionism” is.  If you have never attempted to define perfect, then give it your best shot.  As subjective as any response would be, it was best described to me as follows: Being perfect is being able to perform the balancing act of every situation.

Being able to balance disappointment with contentment, family with work, and (in this case) art with data.  That’s it…a balance.  Perfection is something that is strived for and sought after rather than achieved.  Attempting to look for the perfect data visualization or infographic, there not only seems to be looking for the balance between data and art, but also, complexity versus simplicity (see picture above).

Take Toby Ng for example.  His use of crisp lines combined with sharp colors produces a beautiful visualization that is simple and easy to understand.  Hiding behind the picture though is a complex process to figure out the proportions for each image and to attractively display the data.  Although a large data set, it is simple art.

good data viz 1

good data viz 2

Of course every data visualization has it’s own unique population in which it is designed for.  So maybe a very complex visualization is meant for the individuals concerned directly with the topic and he/she is able to disseminate the information without much trouble.  When this is the case, an outsider looking at the visualization become confused and disinterested, at best.  So yes, if you prefer to sway more toward art than data…call it ART (not data visualization).  If you are taking more of a complex approach to the data visualization, then help the general audience be able to understand it.  So on and so forth.

Look at a couple of (not so perfect) data visualizations…

bad data viz 1


bad data viz 2

Even if perfection is impossible to obtain, pursue it and reach for it with every bit of pride in your hard work.  Yes, it may take longer…but reach.


Measuring Life...

It’s that time again… time to set a New Year’s resolution and not be able to continue come January 14th.  Welcome to my life.

I set out to find the best way to overcome this lack of motivation or will to continue.  What I found came from an unlikely source – the maker of my blog’s WordPress theme.  Michael Hyatt is a conference speaker, social media guru, and author of the New York Time’s best selling Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.  I randomly stumbled across one of Hyatt’s videos about setting goals to measure our life.  I love the beginning piece of his video where he mentions that writing down a goal leads to more success than not writing down your goal… even if you don’t have a plan!

Measuring is an important part of my life.  In my professional life I work in academia doing research, evaluating my recruiting efforts for the college, and measuring my own success.  As a student, measurement is absolutely necessary in terms of grades, meeting deadlines, completing assignments, and evaluating the quality of my work.  Even in my favorite hobby of woodworking, measurement is the essence of the practice.  I know my wife, mother, and mother-in-law don’t typically measure with their cooking, but even if they are estimating through their intellect, measurement still exists.

So as you begin a fresh start to 2014, I encourage you to watch Michael Hyatt’s videos before the New Year.  Then I encourage you to set out a life plan (short term and long term).  Challenge yourself, but make your goals attainable.  Here is a great posting for writing a personal development plan if you need a place to start.  Get accountability and follow through with your plan.  Post in the comments below what your plan is to begin holding yourself accountable!

Happy, Happy, Happy

In light of the recent Phil Robertson suspension from A&E’s top show, Duck Dynasty, it reminds me of an important lesson learned from ole’ Phil – we should always remain “Happy, Happy, Happy!”  The holidays can sometimes make this emotion easier (or harder) personally, but how can we do this professionally?

If you are in the world of academics or research, give the Appreciate Inquiry a try.  Evaluating your organization or issue by only focusing on the positive attributes can help you to focus on the happy parts.  Appreciative Inquiry is based on the idea that giving way to negativity or complaints does not progress the organization forward.  Building off the positives keeps collaboration going and plans moving onward.

In the grind of work life, here are some other tips to staying Happy, Happy, Happy:

  • Take short breaks throughout the day and talk with others about something other than work.  Distracting yourself for a bit can increase your ideation and productivity.
  • Make some coffee / do something for others.  Doing things for other people helps us to not focus so inwardly and builds our self-esteem up a bit  (no need to boast, just do something and get back to work).
  • Set an attainable goal that can be reached by the end of the workday.  Having a sense of accomplishment on your way home improves the mood and makes the home life better as well.

Follow these simple steps and you will surely be more satisfied in you professional life.  Enjoy the holidays and take some time off – you deserve it.