Book Review: Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is The Enemy

Is ego your enemy?

That’s a key question that author and strategist Ryan Holiday explores in his new book, “Ego Is The Enemy.” He shows how ego – irrational or delusional self-belief – has long been linked with success and striving for goals yet this same drive has a dark side. It’s an interesting challenge to navigate in the age of personal branding and social media. I love the expression Holiday references for managing one’s ego: it is like sweeping the floor. It’s an activity that needs to be done over and over again to maintain order.

One of the book’s chapters is “Work Work Work.” It’s a great admonishment to continue honing our craft and working even after we achieve success. The book’s style – sharing examples from history and then analyzing them – reminds me of Robert Greene’s books “48 Laws of Power” and “Mastery.” Given Holiday once worked for Greene, that makes sense. As a student of history, it is an excellent approach to counter our culture’s tendency to live in the present.

In the rest of this review, I will explore a few chapters and show they apply to career growth.

The Canvas Strategy

“The person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

Would you consider serving as an assistant, intern or aide to a successful person? Our popular culture is conflicted on this point. On the one hand, we have “The Devil Wears Prada” which suggests the opportunity aspect of working as an assistant. In contrast, we have the novel “The Assistants” by Camille Perri which emphasizes the stress and disappointment associated with this role. There is little glory in serving as an assistant. Yet, that lack of glory and attention presents an opportunity.

Drawing on Benjamin Franklin’s early career and Roman history, Holiday shows how these relationships have provided benefits for the supposed underling for many years. As an apprentice, intern or simply a new person to the organization, serving and clearing the way for those in charge yields benefits. First, this strategy encourages you to slow down and observe how the organization works and what it values (e.g. risk management may be prized over innovation). Second, there is reduced personal risk in a support role so you have the opportunity to make mistakes as you learn. Finally, the canvas strategy helps to proactively avoid charges of egotism.

Career Application: If you are new graduate or new hire, this strategy will equip you to focus on opportunity and learning rather than complaining about limitations. If you are established in your career, look for ways to serve those in higher levels.

Always Stay A Student

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

For years, I have pursued continuing education for professional and personal growth. Holiday shows that a student mindset goes a long way toward managing ego and avoiding disaster. Taking a page from history, he argues that the attitude to learn and adapt is a key reason for the success of the Mongol empire. Holiday’s perspective is especially important if you are thinking about career change, starting your career or simply looking to avoid the pain of ego. Continuing to focus on learning is easy when you acknowledge the world’s complexity.

Career Application: There are many ways to stay a student. Observe your reactions to performance extremes (i.e. “What did that person do to become this company’s youngest executive?” or “What led to that division bearing the brunt of layoffs last year?”). Analyze somebody who has achieved success in your field using a different approach (e.g. if you became a successful project manager by mastering the details, observe how another project manager achieved success by focusing on leadership skills). Finally, take up the challenge to read in a different field – use Alltop to explore topics quickly.

Managing Yourself Like Eisenhower, Not DeLorean

How far does genius, skill and inspiration take you? And what is the role of discipline and organization for high performance people? Holiday contrasts U.S. President Eisenhower’s focus on prioritization and delegation (see: the Eisenhower box) with the apparently unfocused approach of DeLorean. As a fan of the Back To The Future movies, I had only heard of DeLorean cars in those movies (see: DeLorean time machine) – I had no idea about the company’s troubled history and leadership.

In Holiday’s analysis, DeLorean comes up as a brilliant player in the automotive industry who is frustrated by the restrictions at General Motors He leaves to start his own company where he can pursue his own vision. So far, this story fits perfectly into our culture’s fascination with maverick entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, DeLorean’s poor management translated into major operational problems: “Cost per unit was massively over budget. They hadn’t secured enough dealers. They couldn’t deliver cars to the ones they had. The launch was a disaster. DeLorean Motor Company never recovered.” Genius alone was not enough. A genius inventor or designer needs leadership skills to lead a company.

Career Application: As you climb the ladder of success, develop new skills. As Holiday writes, “As you become more successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions… It requires a certain humility to put aside some of the more enjoyable or satisfying aspects parts of your previous job.” Shifting from an individual contributor (e.g. a software developer) to a management role (e.g. a project manager) is one of the most challenging shifts in our careers. That promotion is like entering high school or college – you’re starting at the bottom of a new ladder.

Maintain Your Own Scorecard

How you measure your success matters. If you exclusively use external measures (e.g. dollars earned, pageviews and awards), you are unlikely to be happy. Why? An exclusive scorecard ultimately depends on other people and factors that you cannot control. Instead, Holiday encourages readers to build our own scorecard.

Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor, is noted for his commitment to this approach: How Warren Buffett defines success. Of course, there ought to be some link between between inner measures and outer results. If your scorecard simply tracks minutes per day spent watching paint dry, boosting that score is unlikely to lead to interesting results.

Career Application: Take note of Holiday’s observation – “A person who judges himself based on his own standards doesn’t crave the spotlight the same way as someone who lets applause dictate success.” In the context of traditional employment, that means setting your own goals and standards apart from what an employer asks.

Question For The Comments

How do you manage ego? What approaches have proven most helpful?

Why Most People Fail At Career Change

Career Change

Are you unhappy with the direction of your career?

You’re not alone. Each year, there are new surveys on employee engagement that suggest millions are frustrated with their current job. In fact, Jobvite’s 2012 Social Job Seeker Survey found 69% of Americans they were either “actively seeking” a new job or “open to” a new job. According to Glassdoor research, common frustrations include poor leadership, technology and working hours (The Worst Companies to Work For).

What Forces Are Driving The Need For Career Change?

Several trends are powering a growing rise in career change. Think of these trends as powerful waves in the ocean. They can propel you forward or you can overwhelmed by them.

More Industries Are In Crisis.

Over the past twenty years, several industries have experienced major losses. In Ontario, a sharp decline in the number of automotive jobs prompted governments to provide billions of dollars to large car companies to boost the industry. In the travel industry, travel agents have been impacted by the rise of services such as Kayak and TripAdvisor. Whole books have been written about these trends.

What It Means For Your Career.

If you are currently employed in a declining industry, that trend will negatively impact for career advancement. To use a military analogy – while it is possible for a small force to defeat a much larger force (e.g. the defenders in the 1529 Siege Of Vienna), it is a high risk move. If career growth matters to you, competing in a declining industry is like running a race with your eyes closed. Do yourself a favor and move to a company with higher growth prospects – that will ease your path.

Megatrends Are Creating New Opportunities

Economic change often gets a bad reputation because the pain it causes attracts a lot of attention. A Fortune article reports findings from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas: nearly 500,000 layoffs were announced in 2015 (an increase compared to 2014). At the same time, other large scale trends are creating new opportunities. Here are three trends that I have been following over the past year:

  • Analytics and Data. This trend is creating new jobs at large companies (e.g. Amazon), startup firms and everything in between. For detailed insights on technologies, training and opportunities, read my InfoWorld article: Career boost: Break into data science. Another option is to start a formal program of study such as Coursera’s specialization in business analytics.
  • Internet of Things (“IoT”). What happens when Internet connected sensors become more common? I have reported that IoT improves air travel in both airlines and airports. Unlike the other two trends mentioned, this trend is still early. However, I see significant growth coming in the future. A key challenge for IoT connects to analytics and data science – what data should we collect and how do we use that data to improve results?
  • Cybersecurity. For immediate employment, this is one of the highest demand sectors I have seen. The arm’s race dynamic (attackers vs defenders) mean a constant demand for new ideas. Cybersecurity jobs are found at large companies like IBM, cybersecurity software companies, IT security consulting firms and beyond. For more on this topic, read my CSO article: How to get started in IT security consulting.

What It Means For Your Career

These above technology trends are likely to generate new companies and employment for years to come. What if you are not interested in technology jobs? Look for other trends that are likely to increase over time. Energy and healthcare are two industries that combine a history of high quality jobs and a bright outlook. Consider a 2016 article in Bloomberg showing the rapid growth in solar and wind energy since 2000.

Realizing You Have An Accidental Career

Trends and economic change suggest directions but only you can select a direction. My research and conversations suggest that many people fell into their current career rather than choosing it. Some people may be content with such a path. On other hand, if you are discontent with your current career, it is time to pursue a change.

Note: If you are interested in rethinking your career and life generally, I suggest reading Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Daniel Harkavy and Michael S. Hyatt. It is a short book that explains how life planning works. The website linked to in this paragraph also includes resources to guide you through the process.

5 Ways To Fail At Career Change

Deciding to change your career direction is exciting! You might have a relatively small move in mind (e.g. web development to mobile development) or a major change in mind (e.g. graphic designer to accountant). The key is to capture that frustration and channel it toward productive change.

Make sure you avoid these five failure points as you plan your career change.

1. Do Nothing. This failure is where you do nothing but dream and fume at how frustrated you are with your current career situation. Clearly, this is not enough.

2. Complain. This is a slight step up from the point above. At this point, you are expressing the problem. I think of career discontent as fuel – it has the potential to power change but only if you put into an engine and have a direction.

3. Resign Immediately. In rare cases, resigning immediately is the smart move. If your discomfort level is sky high, leaving makes sense. For 95% of people, resigning immediately – before you have a basic plan and knowledge of your next steps – is a recipe for failure.

4. Underestimate The Challenge. The easiest job search is where you do the exact same job at a different company (e.g. Java Developer at company X moves to a Java Developer role at company Y). The further you want to move away from your established skills, the harder the career change will be. Why? You will be competing against people who have been in your new dream job for years. Why? From the employer standpoint, a career changer means greater uncertainty compared to

5. “I’ll Figure Out Myself” Fallacy. Given enough time and patience, it is possible to make the “DIY” approach to career change work. That said, most of us have constraints to work against. You might give yourself a year to build up a client list. Or you realize that you only have 5-10 hours per week to learn new skills while you hold down your current job. In that case, you need all the help you can get. Learn from others who have already achieved success in your new dream job.

The Low Risk Strategy For Career Change

Whew! You might be thinking, “Does this mean I’m stuck in this career path?” Not at all. There are ways to move forward. Even better, there’s no need to quit your job tomorrow. Instead, use this approach to deconstruct your frustration and set direction.

Define Your Frustration.

Putting your frustration into words is a key step to planning a career change. Are you frustrated by compensation? Or is company culture more of a problem (e.g. high risk aversion)? Perhaps you are fundamentally bored or disengaged with the content of your work. At the same time, think deeply about what you like in your work (e.g. you like building spreadsheets and models? Maybe your interest here is really about applying systems thinking).

Read To Explore Your Horizons.

Expanding your career horizons through reading is low risk and high impact. If you are looking to expose yourself to a wide variety of jobs in a short period, look into The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken. If you have a specific focus in mind – e.g. explore if product management is right for you – read interviews with people in that profession. Next, read 2-5 of the books on the topic with the highest rating on Amazon.

Start your reading process with these resources:

Connect With Multiple People In The Field

Time to leave your office and meet people! The above reading step gives you ideas, a sense of a field’s opportunities and history. However, it is incomplete. It is vital to connect with several people (rule of thumb: at least 5 people at five different companies) doing the kind of work you are interested in. Write out some questions in advance and go ask for insights.

What if you don’t have any contacts that are related to your field?

  • Associations. Most professions have associations where people gather together to share advice, professional education and network. Look into joining an organization, reading their association newsletter or going to their events. WEDDLE’s Association Directory is a helpful resource to get started.
  • Educators. Similar to the point above, there are instructors who teach a wide variety of career skills. Many established instructors have developed extensive networks in their field over time. Read the instructor biography and then email them with a few questions to start the conversation (Tip: How to Connect with VIPs: 5 Tips for Cold Emails)
  • LinkedIn Groups. Joining LinkedIn Groups is an online strategy to gorw your network. For the best results, look for groups where multiple people are regularly contributing material and comments.

Validate Your Interest With A Project

Eventually, you need to do the work. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for InfoWorld explaining how to become an Android developer. During my research, several managers and experts commented that building an Android app is one of the best ways to set yourself apart and break into the profession. Whenever possible, look for a way to demonstrate your skills with a specific project. You can either work on a solo project or work in a group. For job search specifically, the best scenario involves creating something that other people use and have input on.

Here are X ways to do a project to validate your interest in a new career before you quit your day job.

  • Technology Careers. If you’re interested in switching to a technology or development career, you are in luck! Many companies offer free or low cost resources to developers. Explore CodeAcademy if you are interested in Python, PHP and other programming languages.

Question For The Comments:

What career change are you interested in?

17 Ways To Invest In Your Career Without Going Into Debt

Career Improvement For Less Than $1000

If you were handed $1000 to invest, where would you achieve the greatest payoff?

Let’s consider a few popular options:

  • Savings Accounts. Annual interest rates are 1-3%. Not much to get excited about there.
  • Dividend Stocks. A more interesting option with potential for growth, unfortunately there is also greater risk here. The S&P 500 dividend yield in 2015 was under 3%.
  • The classic ‘safe’ investment for many investors. Returns are sometimes better than savings account and sometimes less.
  • Your Career. Learning additional skills and growing your network? That could boost your income by 10%-20% this year.

Earlier this year, I read The Last Safe Investment by Michael Ellsberg and Bryan Franklin. The authors make a compelling case for investing in skills and networks instead of traditional financial assets. Yet many people have an overly narrow definition of what it means to invest in their careers: going for a MBA degree, professional certification or high priced bootcamp.

If your goal is to work at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Company, then an Ivy League MBA is your best bet. Potentially, you could make the case for student loans though one needs to keep the drawbacks in mind (see the New York Times: Student Debt in America: Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist). For everybody else, there are other options that will provide a faster return with a lower upfront investment.

Before you sign up for a crippling student loan or pour hours into studying for the GMAT, use these 17 strategies to boost your career.

Lay A Foundation For Success: 5 Daily Career Habits

Habits are a fascinating topic that I recommend everyone study. When you leverage good habits, you are able to make steady progress on your goals each day without giving much thought to them. The investment in this case is in changing your daily practices. Use the Tiny Habits approach to get started with habit development.

1. Read Your Annual Goals Each Day Before Writing Your Todo List

What’s the first thing you do each day at the office once you log into your PC? If you’re like me, you probably login to your PC, fire up Outlook and scan through email. In my case, the login procedure to the corporate network takes several minutes. That’s a golden opportunity to plan the day in less than 5 minutes. Here’s what you do.

  • Read through your annual performance goals.
  • Reflect on where you are making progress and where you are falling short
  • Write three “mini-goals” for the day that will move you toward achieving your goals.

2. Work On “The One Thing” For Your Job For The First Hour Of The Day

After you review your goals, what’s next? It’s time to invest an hour in a high value activity before anything else comes up. After all, the work day will only become busier.

For sales professionals, that could be a mix of following up on leads and calling prospects. For technology professionals, it could be designing a test for a new high impact feature.

Resource: Not sure what your most important goal should be? I suggest reading “The one thing : the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

3. Ask For Micro-Feedback

Feedback is helpful yet few people seek it out. Even fewer take that feedback into account and improve their daily work. If asking for feedback feels scary or uncomfortable, start with micro-feedback:

  • How did that meeting go?
  • Did the analysis I delivered yesterday answer your question?
  • How can we improve the customer experience?

Resource: The 5 Best Times And Ways To Ask For Feedback

4. Ask For The Bigger Picture

Specialization is a double edged sword. It creates value because you learn how to perform tasks better than a generalist. However, it also means you miss out on understanding what other people do. I recently learned that a monthly report I produce for another department is directly tied to $100,000 of annual revenues. I had delivered the report month after month for over a year before I asked how it was used. This insight helped me see this task in a new way (“oh this report actually has a revenue impact!”).

Here are a few ways to ask for the bigger picture:

  • What do you do with this document?
  • Who reads the report?
  • If I stopped doing this task, what would happen?

5. Record Your Daily Wins

In late 2015, I started to make daily notes about the work tasks I accomplished in Evernote. To remind myself, I set a reminder alarm for 4:40pm and it has been helpful. This practice is helpful in at least two ways: first, it motivates to have three worthy items to put into the log each day. Second, I periodically review the entries and look for patterns and gaps. It’s interesting to see a mix of small daily tasks and building up wins that relate to larger goals. Here are a few ways to put this habit into action:

  • Use Evernote (tip: if your company blocks Evernote, you can use the Evernote app on your iPhone – that’s what I do)
  • Use a text document (make sure that you back it up!)
  • Use a habit reminder app to remind yourself (I like
  • Make sure one of your daily wins relates to your One Thing

Investing $1,000 (or less) In Your Career: Little Hinges Swing Big Doors

Targeted investments in your career have tremendous power to grow your career. Choose two methods from this list to grow your career for less than $1,000 (most of the strategies will are under $200) this summer. Think of these approaches as a way to become an angel investor for your career.

6. Attend Local Events

Going to events is a powerful way to grow your network, spark creativity and add new insights. What if you can’t afford to get on a plane and visit a conference in person? Are there other options to consider? Yes! Here are ten ideas to help you find local professional events to grow your career:

  • Meetup is a great place to connect with other people. For business, I find Meetup is strongest in the area of technology, startups and marketing. You might be out of luck if you want to find a supply chain management group (though you could always start your Meetup group for a small fee).
  • Ten Thousand Coffees. This one-on-one social network is designed to bring together people interested in meeting over coffee. I’ve used the service and found it interesting.
  • Local Chapter of the Project Management Institute. With over one hundred chapters in the United States and Canada (and more around the world), local chapters are an excellent way to learn new project management methods like agile, find out about project management software and more.
  • Eventbrite. This popular ticket platform has many different events and it takes some digging to find good ones. For example, you can find Discover Your Personal Brand, an annual event in Toronto that costs less than $200 and packs plenty of value.
  • Chamber of Commerce. Most cities and towns have chambers of commerce or business associations. In Toronto, I have benefited from attending Toronto Board of Trade events. Like other organizations mentioned, you don’t need to buy a membership in order to attend events.
  • Alumni Association Events. Many colleges and universities have alumni associations which are great learning resources. Over the past few years, the University of Toronto has put on excellent career oriented programs covering networking, communication and other topics through their Shaker event series. Check with your institution to see what they have available.
  • Charity Events. Attending a charity event is an interesting way to connect with other people in your city and industry. There are many different options to consider ranging from museum fundraisers to charity auctions. Start by looking for charities you already support and ask what events they have/
  • Guided Events/Tours. How much of your city have you explored? Exploring your city on a tour is an interesting way to expand your knowledge. Toronto has ROM Walks that cover different parts of the city. While this type of event is not limited to business professionals, you never know who you will meet. The new perspective you gain will boost creativity.
  • StartupGrind. For those interested in the technology industry, StartupGrind is an interesting organization to explore. Founders of companies in ecommerce, apps and other fields regularly give presentations about their firms. At the time of this writing, StartupGrind has a presence in 200 cities covering more than 80 countries.
  • Hack Events. There is a whole category of events with “hack” in them that are worth exploring. Finding these events involves spending a bit of quality time with Google search. Start by searching “CITY hackathon” (e.g. New York City hackaton).

7. Obtain Your DISC Profile To Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Through my study of Manager Tools’s excellent podcasts, I have found great value in the DISC profile. This assessment helps you to better understand your communication and interpersonal strengths. That’s valuable for two reasons: you will better understand how to focus on your strengths. Second, you will find out where you have gaps relating to others.

Tip: A significant amount of conflict can be traced to different communication styles and preferences. DISC (and Manager Tools’s podcasts) will help you to reduce that miscommunication clashes.

8. Join Toastmasters

Few international organizations match Toastmasters in value and longevity. For under $100 per year, you can improve your career by giving short speeches, running meetings and taking on leadership roles. I was a member a few years ago and I’m thinking to join again.

Resource: How To Become Successful With Toastmasters

9. Take An Online Course

Online courses have received mixed reviews due to widely varying quality and content. On the one hand, there are well respected offerings such as Cornell, Coursera, Lynda (free through Toronto Public Library and other institutions) and Udemy. On the other hand, “Trump University” has triggered lawsuits from highly disappointed students (e.g. Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony).

Use these tips to evaluate online courses:

  • Course outline. Is there a course outline available? Does it cover topics at the right level of detail for your needs (e.g. introduction vs advanced)?
  • Reviews. Are there comments or reviews from past students? Are they detailed?
  • Goal alignment. Does this course advance your career goals? If you are signing up to study something “trendy” (e.g. cyber security) that does attract your interest, then be aware you may be facing an uphill battle in maintaining your attention.
  • Homework. Homework assignments are important if you are going to build a skill or acquire knowledge. Some of the best courses provide written feedback on homework or have “office hours” sessions where students can ask questions.
  • Instructor. Does the instructor have the right knowledge and capability to teach the course? Instructor credibility comes in different shapes and sizes. In a scientific field, holding an advanced degree may be helpful. In other cases, extensive research or publishing in the field may help. While learning from a top expert has value, there is also much to be gained from an expert who is a few steps ahead of you because they can better understand a novice student’s questions and concerns (i.e. reduced ‘curse of knowledge‘ problem).

10. Commission A Professional Photo For LinkedIn

A high quality photo for your LinkedIn profile sets you apart from other people. My LinkedIn profile photo cost less than $100 and it was great. I was fortunate to have a friend who gave me a great deal. Use the following tips to obtain a better LinkedIn profile photo:

11. Take A “Night School” Course With A College or University

I’m fortunate to live in Toronto where there are three universities and multiple colleges. Most of these institutions offer great continuing education programs. For less than $1000, you can take an introduction to accounting. Or you can take an introduction to wines. (Yes, I’ve done both of those!). If you want to boost the value of the experience, take a course in person, introduce yourself to the instructor and your fellow students.

Here are some examples to start your research process:

Improving Your Network

Every week, I have another conversation or read another article that emphasizes the value of networking and relationships. It’s important. Yet, the knowledge-execution gap persists. Here are a few tactics that will break down the “develop your network” into concrete actions.

12. Send Thank You Notes

This simple practice goes a long way. I suggest sending both thank you cards in the mail and sending them by email. Need to be convinced? Consider these findings from the Harvard Medical School on gratitude.

Did somebody help you with an Excel problem a month ago? Send them a thank you email right now (just a few sentences go a long way).

13. Introduce Two People In Your Network

This week, I’ve sent two introduction emails. One was introduce friends in the legal profession. The other was to introduce people in the banking industry.

If somebody asks you for help or information and you don’t have it, keep this tip in mind. Making introductions is an excellent way to help other people in a short span of time.

14. Do A “Get Back In Touch” Challenge

In networking, most people immediately put their focus on meeting new people (especially networking with powerful people). If you are looking to break into a new industry or if you just moved to a new city, that makes sense. Yet, this approach often means neglect for your existing contacts. What’s the solution? Take a page from Anna Runyan and implement the 4×4 challenge (reconnect with 4 past connections and meet 4 new people in a month.

15. Endorse Two People On LinkedIn For Their Top Skills

Skill endorsements are one way to show support for your connections on LinkedIn. There are some people who indiscriminately endorse people. Don’t be one of those people. If someone helped you design a better presentation in PowerPoint, endorse them for presentations or PowerPoint. Use these articles for further ideas on endorsements:

16. Ask For A Recommendation On LinkedIn

Asking for favors is part of networking. Asking a past client, manager or colleague for an endorsement is a great way to set yourself apart from other people. These short comments, typically one or two paragraphs, go a long way toward boosting your credibility.

17. Follow Up On Advice You Receive

Let’s say you meet the mentor of your dreams – the one with connections, power and knowledge.

She gives you one specific suggestion – read a strategy book, attend a conference, set goals or something else. What happens next? Based on my research, most people do nothing when they receive suggestions. That’s a lost opportunity.

Pause for a moment and think back to a suggestion you’ve received. Now, put that idea into action. Once you have some results, send an email to the person who suggested that idea about your experience. This method yields two benefits for your career: you execute helpful advice and you have an excellent reason to reconnect with a senior person.


How To Work From Home Successfully

Image Credit: Work From Home Success (
Image Credit: Work From Home Success (

Working from home is a hot topic for staff and managers at many companies. Staff are interested in the arrangement to reduce commuting time, travel expenses and address other needs in their lives. Managers support working from home to stay competitive, to access talent from other locations, and to reduce stress. The case for working from home is clear. Yet many people struggle to do it effectively.

Work from home success requires advance preparation and navigating blind spots. Read on to get ready and then find out how to avoid common failure points.

What Work From Home Jobs Exist?

In the research for this article, I found some surprising anxiety online. There are many people who have searched for “work from home jobs” and been disappointed by what they find. As the New York Times reported (Telecommuting Can Make the Office a Lonely Place, a Study Says) this year, some evidence suggests that remote work leads to: ” the researchers found that the employees who chose to continue working in the office ended up feeling lonely and disconnected.” Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Before covering advice on how to make it work, let’s cover the three main types of work from home scenarios.

  • Part Time Work From Home. Many companies allow their staff to work from home one to two days per week, with the rest of the week at the office. This is probably the most common work from home arrangement at large companies. Gallup reported that “U.S. workers say they telecommute from home rather than go into the office about two days per month, on average. Nine percent of workers say they telecommute more than 10 workdays — meaning at least half of all workdays — in a typical month” in 2015. This arrangement is commonly part of a broader work life balance strategy that includes flexible working hours, programs for parents and the like.
  • Full Time Remote Staff. What if you could work from home all the time as an employee? That’s the definition of this scenario. It is less common than the part time scenario. That said, I have known at least two people at a large bank with this arrangement. One person I know works from home four days per week and commutes to the office on the other day. Another person I know works from home and travels to the office once or twice per month. In both cases, the individuals requested this arrangement. It is also worth noting that they are fairly senior level professionals. If you are under the age of 40, do not have a family and/or do not live far (e.g. 100 km / 60 miles or further) from the office, this arrangement will be challenging to obtain.
  • Entrepreneur/Self-Employed Scenario. Those pursuing self-employed careers usually have partial to complete autonomy over where and when they work. There are trade offs needed to achieve this flexibility: starting a business, developing sales and marketing skills and accepting a high level of uncertainty. For more guidance on starting a business on a budget, I recommend “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau.

This article will focus on the first two scenarios of working from home as an employee.

Getting Ready To Work From Home: Your 3 Point Checklist

Use this three step process to gather information on the feasibility of working from home in your current circumstance. All three factors need to be in place in order to work from home successfully.

  • Job Analysis. The starting point is to understand the flexibility potential of your current job.

At one end of the spectrum, there are traditional jobs – retail and the trades, for instance – that are highly unlikely to provide the work from home option. At the other end of the spectrum, there are knowledge worker activities such as writing, research, technology development, and design. If you can do 80% or more of your job by yourself or with modern communication tools (the Internet, phone, etc), then working from home is a possibility. If you spend most of your work time physically performing actions (e.g. painting, moving objects or laying bricks), then remote work is out of the picture for you unless you move to a new job.

  • Company Analysis. Put aside company policies and policies for this analysis.

Instead, ask “How many people do I know at this organization who work from home on a regular basis?” If you can name at least two people, then you have a starting point to build on. If you cannot think of anyone, ask around for examples in your internal network. If you still find no examples, then it is time to face the facts: the organization does not currently support work from home. All hope is not lost. You could be the first person to work from home. If you decide to be a trailblazer, especially at a large established company, be prepared to face extra scrutiny.

Resource: Check out Fortune’s great article “100 Best Companies for Working from Home” if you decide to switch companies in order to achieve work from home flexibility. The list is an interesting mix of large firms (e.g Apple, Dell, IBM, American Express, General Electric) and other organizations.

  • Home Analysis. Some home environments are better suited to work from home than others.

An ideal arrangement is to have a home office room with a desk and a door because you can set up a permanent home office there. An alternative is to set up a temporary work site each day at the kitchen table, the coach or somewhere else. Other points to assess: noise levels (e.g. nearby construction, loud pets etc), reliability of your Internet service provider and your personal ability to focus on work while at home.

Don’t be discouraged if you find your work from home arrangements are less than ideal. That’s how it goes for most people. One final note on preparation: start with the bare minimum in terms of equipment and supplies. If discover you need to purchase more office supplies and equipment, Amazon is only a click away. Finally, check with your employer may reimburse you for some work from home offices such as a headset for taking business phone calls.

Three Communication Mistakes To Avoid When Working From Home

Effective communication determines much of our success, so create a foundation for success by avoiding these mistakes. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Please feel free to add your observations and ideas in the comments.

1. Failing To Become More Proactive

When you work from home, you miss out on the “oh, by the way” conversations that mark office life. I don’t know of a full solution to this problem. A partial solution is to increase your outbound communication. What does that mean? It means calling various people on the people (e.g. 2-3 people per day) for a few minutes to sustain connection. Waiting for other people to contact you is a recipe for increasing isolation.

2. Becoming Too Reliant On Email

Email is a wonderful tool, but it is limited. If you are developing an idea or proposal, you may struggle to put those ideas into written form. In other cases, you need to have a ‘crucial conversation’ to solve a problem or resolve a conflict with another person. In those two circumstances, use phone calls, video Skype calls and in-person visits to improve the quality of your communication.

  • Tip: I recommend the “2 email rule” for deciding when to pick up the phone. Once you have had two emails go and back and the issue remains unresolved, it is time to pick up the phone. A short phone call works wonders (see “The Tim Ferriss Superpower“)

3. The ‘Business Robot’ Trap: Becoming “All Business, All The Time”

As a long time fan of both Spock and Tuvok, this is an area where I face some challenges. As an introvert and pro-Vulcan person, it’s easy to focus on the business and neglect personality. If you face a similar challenge, be aware that working from home will make exaggerate your “Vulcan” (read: “cold” or “robotic”) tendencies. This is a problem because you may fail to notice and appreciate the emotional needs of others. In this area, I will refer you to a helpful article on Psychology Today: “How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials.”

Note: Sharing your interests – such as my love of Star Trek and science fiction – is one way to connect with other people.

Share Your View In The Comments

What is one mistake you’ve made (and learned from!) when working from home?

Job Shadowing For Professionals: The 5 Steps You Need

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Making a move to a new job is a major decision. There’s new people, new terms to learn and the pressure of being “the new guy.” There’s also concern about knowing whether the move is right for you. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce uncertainty about these decisions: job shadowing.

Once reserved for students and recent graduates, job shadowing is a strategy that professionals are using to explore new careers today. Through observation, asking questions and getting work done, you gain additional perspective on a job’s requirements quickly. Using the process in this article, you will be equipped to set up a job shadowing arrangement at your current company.

What If I Want To Job Shadow At A Different Company?

The process in this article is based on the assumption that you are interested in exploring other roles at your current employer. If you work at a large firm, there are other many different functions and departments to explore. However you may be determined to explore something quite different: go from IT project management to publishing. In that case, use a vacation day to find the time. Expect that it will take longer to arrange job shadowing at a different company.

Steps To Propose A Job Shadowing Project

Based on my experience and research, it’s possible to obtain approval for an internal job shadowing arrangement in a few weeks or less. This process assumes you have already defined a short term career goal and that you are using job shadowing to advance toward that goal.

1. Research The Job: What Does The Job Look Like?

The first step is to carry out research about the job you are interested in exploring. You may be interested in a product manager role. In that case, start by reading 3-5 job descriptions for the role to gain a basic understanding of the job responsibilities. Next, read a few interviews with people online who are already doing the job (e.g. How to Break into Product Management). This reading will equip you to ask better questions and plan what you want to accomplish.

2. Research The Organization: Does Your Organization Have People Doing Your Dream Job?

Now that you have an understanding of the job, it is time to identify specific opportunities. There are a few ways to explore your organization:

  • Asking mentors and trusted friends who work at the same company is a great starting point (e.g. Send them a short email to ask ‘I’m interested in getting to know product managers at our firm. Can you introduce me to someone in that role?”).
  • Searching the company’s intranet. Look for listings of the departments, divisions and senior leaders. Departmental newsletters are particularly helpful.
  • Read the organization chart and executive biographies. Each organization has a different structure – project management often reports to a technology executive while product management may report to a sales or marketing executive.

What if your organization doesn’t have anyone doing your target job title? If that happens, go back to step one and see if there are other job options at your employer that you could explore instead.

3. Develop Learning Goals: What Do People In Your Dream Job Actually DO?

Some job shadowing experiences disappoint because they are passive experiences. The “shadow” simply walks around and sits quietly in meetings. You can do better. The key is to direct your observation and other activities toward learning goals. Here are a few prompts to help draft your learning goals:

  • Learning Technical Skills. Technical skills are the core of any job. Identify one or two of these skills to learn through observation, study and direct application. For project managers, technical skills might include using Microsoft Project or project reporting. Ideally you will seek to learn a small technical skill that you can continue to use elsewhere.
  • Learning Leadership Skills. The art and science of leadership skills is another great area to learn. I have benefited from observing how other people prepare, design and deliver presentations. Likewise, I have benefited from observing leaders raise difficult questions and solve problems.
  • Career Appeal. Finding out whether a given job fits your interests and abilities is the final point. There is a simple way to assess appeal – are your interest levels in the role increasing or decreasing as you learn more about the role.

4. Raise The Request: The Fine Art Of Asking Your Boss For Support

Armed with your goals and research, it is time to have a discussion with your manager about the job shadowing arrangement. For the best results, I recommend writing a short proposal outlining your plan, what you plan to learn and possible impacts on your regular responsibilities (hint: make it clear that you will not drop anything your boss cares about!). My research suggests that the majority of managers are open to job shadowing and career development if it is presented in a professional ways. To increase the odds of success, make a small request (e.g. 1-2 days at another department) rather than asking for weeks away.

  • Tip: Involve your manager in the process and ask for their guidance in designing the plan. For example, they may want to call a manager in another department to plan the project. Or they may ask you to do further research and present a proposal. In any case, it is vital to involve your manager in the process. Failing to do so will hurt your reputation.

5. Report On The Assignment’s Success: Share What You Learned

At the end of your assignment, it is time to close the loop with your manager. This is a step that many people forget to complete. Prepare a one page summary report on what you learned and review this document in a meeting with your manager. This step demonstrates that you reflected on the experience and that it added value to your career.

  • Tip: Using your learning goals as a framework for this summary report. Describe specific insights and skills you learned. Rather than “learned communication skills,” note something like, “learned how to present a business case to executives to secure project funding.” In your remarks, share what the experience meant to you and thank your boss for supporting your career growth.

Further Reading And Resources

There are a wealth of resources on the market to help you through this process. Here are a few resources I recommend:

Reinventing Your Personal Brand by Dorie Clark. This Harvard Business Review book looks at career management through a marketing lens. It is a powerful to think about the value you bring to the market.

Reinventing You By Dorie Clark. A book length exploration by Clark that takes you deeper into the process. My Kindle copy of the book is filled with highlights.

Work experience: ‘I job-shadowed 60 people in 60 days’. An article in the Guardian shows how repeated job shadowing aids career discovery.




Two Ways To Mine Your Email For Gold

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Image Credit: stevepb (

Once upon a time, email was a fun treat. Does anyone remember the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail”? Each arrival was greeted with the phrase “you’ve got mail!” It was an event. That world is gone for most of us.

In most workplaces, email is a powerful tool for communication. Email is also a source of professional pain and overwhelm. It doesn’t have to be that way. Previously, I wrote 12 Ways To Use Email Better  to help readers build their baseline skills with email. Today, I want to go deeper to explore the gold mine in our email. Your email archive is a valuable resource in boosting your productivity, if you take the right perspective.

Mining your email for gold is easiest to use with Gmail which is well known for its vast archive and outstanding search capabilities. However, I have also used this approach with good results with Microsoft Outlook as well. Regularly using these practices will improve your productivity by combatting forgetfulness and reminding yourself of your achievements.

Mine Your Email For Follow-Up Activities

Most significant work takes tasks and multiple people to achieve success. Given that reality, follow up is absolutely vital. In formal meetings, follow up may be straight forward – simply review the action items noted in the meeting minutes. There are many circumstances not covered by such documentation: meetings between two people, short phone calls and brainstorming sessions to name just a few. In those cases, reviewing your email is helpful.

Use these methods to improve your follow up effectiveness:

1. Email Sent To Managers

Emails sent and received from managers at your organization are important. Success starts by determining whether or not you delivered against the request. Once you reach that level, you can follow up to determine client satisfaction and see if there are additional needs.

2. Emails Related To Meetings

Without follow through, meetings produce minimal value. Reviewing your email for messages related to meetings you attend makes a difference. Specifically, you may want to ask follow up questions to clarify an action item or check whether somebody else at the meeting needs help.

3. Emails To Suppliers

Remember that quote you requested last week? Maybe you have already forgotten it. Simply assuming you will receive timely responses is a mistake. Instead of hoping for a response, send a follow up message on supplier requests that have been outstanding for more than five business days.

4. Emails That Request Information

Requesting reports, data and other information from other departments is a regular activity for project managers. Yet, those requests are easy to neglect and lose in the shuffle. If you directed your request to someone you haven’t interacted with before, following up is even more important. They may not understand the reason for your request or how you will use the information.

Tip: A short phone call is an excellent way to build rapport. After your request is fulfilled, remember to thank the person who assisted you.

Mine Your Email For Accomplishments

With constant change at the office, it is difficult to keep track of everything we deliver. Hopefully, you have specific goals that you are working to deliver against as a starting point. Yet, goals are only part of the story for accomplishments. You need evidence and details to demonstrate your success. To obtain those details, mine your email archives for additional insights.

1. Email With Attachments

Attachments you send via email usually mean a report, an analysis file or some other tangible piece of work. On a monthly basis, review these items. You may be pleasantly surprised with how much you are delivering.

Tip: Look for patterns in the material you develop. If you are regularly delivering PowerPoint presentations, look for ways to reuse these files or build a template.

Gmail Tip: Use Advanced Search operators in Gmail such as “has:attachment” to find emails that have attachments.

2. Email Sent To Clients

Emails sent to clients are a rich resource filled with potential material for accomplishments. You may have delivered a risk analysis, provided minutes for a key meeting or provided an alternate plan to ensure the project was completed on time.

Tip: Search for replies from clients. These comments will provide ideas for improvement and material to include in your annual performance review.

3. Look For Relationship Patterns

Over time, our email habits provide clues regarding relationships. Specifically, the quantity and quality of communication has a major impact on relationships. Review your sent email for the past week to identify patterns. You may find that you have been neglecting key stakeholders. Or you may find that you have carried through your communication plan effectively. What’s the accomplishment here? For project managers, the accomplishment could include completing your communication plan and managing stakeholders successfully.

4. Take Notes On Your Accomplishments

Taking note of your accomplishments is the step that brings everything together. Here’s what I recommend: use a spreadsheet to take notes on your accomplishments each month. With a few simple categories (e.g. Date, Activity Description, Goal, People Impacted, and Benefits), it is easy to track accomplishments. With this process in place, preparing for your annual review becomes much easier.

Tip: Set a recurring reminder on your calendar to update your accomplishments spreadsheet on a monthly basis.

Email Resources and Tools

There are many tools and techniques to become better with email. In this section, I cover a few key tools and methods to make your email more productive.

Gmail App For The iPhone. From time to time, Apple’s Mail app doesn’t work for me. In those cases, I like to have this app available as a backup.

Boomerang for Gmail. This tool makes Gmail more powerful. With this tool, you can schedule emails (e.g. write an email at 9pm and schedule it to send at 8am the next day!) and track emails for followup.

How To Write A Damn Good Email Signature. Published by Yesware, a technology company that serves sales professionals, this article provides some interesting approaches to crafting an email signature. I’m not sure I agree with the image based email signature approach.

My 10 Essential Email Habits. Leo B, author of Zen Habits, shares his approach to email. A key point from this article is to write short emails (“I usually reply with 1-3 sentences”). Over time, you may have subscribed to a number of email lists. This tool is a great resource to unsubscribe from email lists quickly. I eliminated over 100 subscriptions the first time I used it.


All You Need to Know About High Level Networking: An Interview With Geoff Woods

Would you like to achieve your goals faster?

The right mentors and counsel have the potential to move you closer to success. In the span of less than two years, Geoff Woods has transformed his career through high level networking. I first discovered Geoff through his excellent podcast, The Mentee Podcast.

Who Is Geoff Woods?

Mentee Picture whiteGeoff Woods is the host of The Mentee podcast. After hearing the Jim Rohn quote that “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” Geoff set out on a mission to surround himself with high level CEOs and successful entrepreneurs. Fast forward just 10 months, Geoff went from sales rep to CEO, partnering up with the co-authors of the best selling book The ONE Thing, to launch a new media company that hopes to disrupt the education system.   Geoff has been featured in and is an expert in creating quality content and turning it into massive income streams.

1. Why is networking important to reaching our goals?

In many areas of life, there is a hard path and an easy path. The hard path requires a lot of effort, random experiments and hoping for the best. In contrast, the easy path I suggest is based on the premise: find someone else who has accomplished your goal and then learn from them.

There is an additional benefit to drawing lessons from successful people: reduced fear and uncertainty. That means more motivation to make progress towards your goals.

2. What Are Some Key Lessons You Learned From Your Mentors?

The fact that we are all accountable for our lives was a key insight for me. For example, I had a situation where my commission income was reduced when a previous employer changed the compensation structure. I choose to take control of my income rather than simply getting upset. That has led me down the path to learn more about real estate, investing and entrepreneurship.

I have also learned the importance of having an unstoppable mindset. The truth of the matter is that everybody hits problems. Successful people do not lack problems, they simply look at them differently. Some people hit problems and they stop. Successful people focus on asking “How” questions such as “How do I learn the skills to overcome this problem?” or “How do I connect with people who can provide counsel on this problem?” Then they keep going.

3. What Is Your Recommended Approach For Internal Networking?

When I joined a new organization recently, I asked the people I worked with for a list of people I should get to know. That’s a great starting point to build an internal network. You could ask your manager or people you work with for ideas.

4. How do you recommend adding value to VIPs?

The starting point is to be curious and ask good questions. Few people have every area of life fully handled. In business, an entrepreneur may be moving into Internet marketing for the first time and they could use insight on how to be successful. Or someone highly successful in business may be struggling with a health issue and you may know a great person who can help them. Once you start to learn what they want, there are a few possible next steps. You may be able to assist them directly. Or, you can arrange an introduction to another person in your network. Finally, you may take note of their needs in case you find a way to help them in the future.

Staying curious about other people and asking “What are you working on?” are excellent ways to get started.

5. What is your approach to connecting with high profile people who are difficult to access?

Many highly accomplished people, including authors and business leaders, are difficult to contact. They have heavy schedules, assistants and it is difficult to connect with them. There are two ways to approach this challenge.

Introducing yourself to the person in person is an excellent way to start the relationship.  Case in point – I met Brendon Burchard, a New York Times best selling author, entrepreneur and consultant, by approaching him in person one of his events. Several months later, he was an interview guest on the Mentee Podcast: Brendon Burchard Demystifies Your Road To Greatness.

The other insight is think more broadly. Let’s see that your goal is to write a book or become an executive at a large company. It’s natural to focus on a single person, perhaps a personal hero, and seek to connect with them for advice and guidance. Unfortunately, there are two challenges with that. First, high profile people are simply difficult to reach. Second, if you are motivated by ego, you are less likely to succeed. Instead of focusing on one person, think of a category (e.g. successful authors) of people and start to approach them.

  • The Silver Medalist Strategy: If your goal is to learn from somebody more successful than you, there’s no need to go for the gold winner. To learn new skills, author Tim Ferriss approached Olympic silver medal winners from a few years ago: “Typically, they’re technically very often just as good as the gold medalist, they just had a bad day, and they’re easier to get a hold of,” he says. “It’s far easier to back a few Olympics to find someone who perhaps is actually closer to you genetically and get spectacular advice, ” he says. “It might cost you 50 bucks for an hour-long Skype session or in person training session.”

6. How do you determine which events are worth attending to grow your network? 

In the early days, I had a broad approach and attended many different events to understand what was available. I eventually learned two ways to find valuable events:

  • Price of admission is a key factor I use to evaluate events. Once event ticket prices reach $500, $1000 or more, the quality of people attending tends to increase
  • Ask for referrals. Once I started to meet a few high level people at events, I would ask them what other conferences, seminars and events they considered valuable.

7. What are some books that have valuable to you in growing your career?

There are quite a few books that have been valuable. Here are a few that stand out:

8. Who do you admire in business and why?

There are many people I admire in the business world for different reasons.

  • Tony Robbins. His ability to communicate effectively with groups and 1-on-1 is impressive.
  • Brendon Burchard. His systematic approach to building multiple seven figure companies.
  • Gary Keller. His long term success in the real estate industry: Keller is Chairman of the Board for Keller Williams, one of the largest real estate companies in the world.
  • Jay Papasan. For lessons in the art of publishing and media. Jay Papasan is a bestselling author that serves as vice president and executive editor at Keller Williams Realty International.

9. Where can readers learn more about your work?

Readers are welcome to visit my website The Mentee Podcast. I also offer a free resource – 7 Easy Steps to Meet the Top 7 Influencers in Your Industry – to help people in building powerful networks.


Smarter Faster Better Book Review: 3 Lessons Learned

In March, I met Charles Duhigg at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto when he spoke about his new book, “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.” In this article, you will learn a few insights from the book. The book covers eight areas where we can increase performance (e.g. motivation, goals, team performance and others). In this review, I will highlight four areas. If you want to go deeper, read the book.


Overall, I found the book to be an insightful discussion of new insights and methods to boost productivity, innovation and achievement. Duhigg brings several gifts to bear on the project including the ability to select great examples, interview a variety of subjects, and summarize research papers. In some respects, this book reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s work (“Outliers” is my favorite Gladwell book). Duhigg does well to include “A Reader’s Guide to Using These Ideas” at the end of the book to help readers with next steps.

Duhigg’s approach to the book weaves together first hand interviews, academic research and other sources. I’m impressed by the sheer variety of interviews that Duhigg completed including Google’s People Analytics group, Israeli generals and airline pilots. Duhigg also does excellent work in summarizing academic research articles from various fields and pulling out the relevant insights.

Lesson 1: Improve Goal Achievement

Setting and achieving goals is an important skill and practice for everyone to develop. Previously, I wrote about two types of goals: How To Develop Goals: Habits vs Outcomes. Duhigg’s contribution to goal setting is combine the vision of stretch goals with the practical focus of SMART goals. Why is this approach important? Duhigg shares the example of General Electric where staff often set SMART goals and routinely achieved them. There was just one problem – the goals pursued did not have much impact. This is a way to ensure that your goal setting energy are focused on achieving true value.


There is an important caveat to the power of stretch goals, however. Studies show that if a stretch goal is audacious, it can spark innovation. It can also cause panic and convince people that success is impossible because the goal is too big. There is a fine line between an ambition that helps people achieve something amazing and one that crashes morale… Stretch goals, paired with SMART thinking, can help put the impossible within reach.

Application: To create BIG goals, start with Michael Hyatt’s goal setting suggestion (“What I like to do is set a goal that’s delusional and then dial it back a few clicks” ). Next, use a focused tool like the Freedom Journal. Project managers can also apply their skills of building work breakdown structures to create the details.

Lesson 2: Become An Innovation Broker – The Import-Export Creativity Solution

“This is not creativity born of genius. It is creativity as an import-export business. ” sociologist Ronald Burt

Innovation remains a mysterious and powerful process in many organizations.  Yet Duhigg shows that certain practices that tend to increase innovation. Becoming an innovation broker, a phrase coined by Ronald Burt, is a great method to use. Rather than seeking to create brand new products from scratch, innovation brokers transfer ideas between sectors and industries. As an example, Duhigg presents the creation of highly successful musical “West Side Story” which found success by combining concepts areas from several areas (e.g. 1950s gang novels, classical dance and other sources). Reading broadly across several areas and observing different areas is one way to apply this insight. This approach has also been applied in the industrial setting.


“Fostering creativity by juxtaposing old ideas in original ways isn’t new. Historians have noted that most of Thomas Edison’s inventions were the result of important ideas from one area of science into another…. A 1997 study of consumer product design firm IDEO found that most of the company’s biggest successes originated as ‘combinations of existing knowledge from disparate industries.’ IDEO’s designers created a top-selling water bottle, for example, by mixing a standard water carafe with the leak proof nozzle of a shampoo container.”

Application: If you are in a software development company, what are ideas that you could borrow from fashion, hotels or other industries? Looking for a tactical way to get started? I recall a great suggestion from one of Daniel Pink‘s books. Pick up a magazine for an industry or topic that you know nothing about and start reading it. An artist might pick up Popular Science, a non-profit leader might read FORTUNE and a project manager might find Success magazine helpful.

Lesson 3: Learn How To Overcome “Information Blindness” – How People Can Extract Insights From Overwhelming Information

Using data to make better decisions is a growing trend. Medical researchers emphasize the value of evidence based medicine. The Lean Startup concept of actionable metrics described by Eric Ries also makes the case for data that can be used. The demand to obtain data and use it has led to the rise of data science. Overall, this is an exciting trend!

Unfortunately, successful implementation is a major challenge. Duhigg reports a detailed case studies of teachers and staff in Cincinnati where they were equipped with detailed statistics and online dashboards. Despite the wealth of data and efforts to use it, little improvement occurred. Fortunately, Cincinnati turned the situation around. Learn how they changed their approach to derive greater value from data. Every organization that produces reports and databases can find inspiration in this example.


“In 2008, the Elementary Initiative was launched. As part of that reform, Johnson’s principal mandated that all teachers had to spend at least two afternoons per month in the school’s new data room. Around a conference table, teachers were forced to participate in exercises that made data collection and statistical tabulation even more time consuming. [Each teacher made an index card with handwritten data on each student]…. “It was intensely boring. And frankly, it seemed redundant because all this information was already available on the students’ online dashboards… ‘The rule was that everyone had to actually handle the cards, physically move them around.’… “Handling the cards, she found, gave her a more granular sense of each student’s strengths and weaknesses..”

The key insight is to break down the information in small and tangible components. In the above case, data about a whole class of students did not provide much insight for teachers. In contrast, going a level deeper into insight about individuals proved more helpful.

Above and beyond the specific insight, there is a more general process at play. The teachers began to experiment with the data and play with different ways to organize the data. A willingness to experiment with data produces insights in a way that highly polished dashboards cannot.

Application: Instead of accepting management reports as produced, start by asking different questions. For example, use different units of measure. If you typically receive sales volume reports at a monthly level, consider looking at a weekly or hourly level to see if there are other interesting patterns.

Resource: Want to become a data science? Read my article on InfoWorld for additional insights: “Career boost: Break into data science” on InfoWorld


Becoming An Effective Leader In Government & Beyond: An Interview With Steve Ressler, Founder of GovLoop

Have you ever considered the public sector and government for your next career move? Governments face interesting problems and that means there are opportunities to deliver new projects. In today’s article, you will learn about Steve Ressler’s career journey which has spanned from various roles in the U.S. government to launching his own venture, GovLoop. I had the opportunity to meet Steve when he recently visited Toronto. My thanks to Winnie Liem and the PMI-SOC Government Community for introducing me to Steve.

Who Is Steve Ressler?

Steve Ressler is the Founder and President of,

Steve Ressler is the Founder and President of, the “Knowledge Network for Government” which connects and fosters collaboration among over 200,000+ members of the government community. On GovLoop, members learn and discuss best practices on key topics in governments through blogs, forums, free online trainings, and research guides.

Mr. Ressler is a 3rd generation public sector leader and spent 6 years in roles at Social Security Administration, Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, and DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He is a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar, has won the 2010 GovTech Top 25 Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers Award, as well as the 2007 and 2009 Federal 100 Award.  Additionally, he has been featured in many publications and conferences including the Washington Post, Harvard Kennedy School, World Economic Forum, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Huffington Post, among others.

1. What are the major mistakes you see people make in developing their careers?

Many people are too conservative in their careers (i.e. not taking enough risk). Second, failing to go where the action is – get on the rocket ship!. Specifically, look for areas that are growing in staff, adopting new technology or capitalizing on new trends.

Editor’s Note: Ressler’s recommendation also applies to the private sector. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shared this observation from Google’s Eric Schmidt: “Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.)”

2. Where do you see major opportunities in government to improve productivity, service and other improvements?

I see huge opportunities to use modern cloud technologies paired with design thinking for intuitive services to provide significantly better and cheaper services to citizens.

3. What are the top areas of demand for education at GovLoop?

Huge demands around topics of data analytics, leadership, human-centered design

Tip: If you’re interested in exploring data science careers further, read my article at InfoWorld: Career boost: Break into data science.

4. What are some of the leadership insights you gained from participating in the 2015 presidential scholars program?

The higher in rank you get, the more difficult decisions you have to make.  If it was easy, the decision would have already been made at a level below you.  As a leader, you are often faced with unclear choices with limited data and you have to decide how to manage the process of decision-making (e.g. how quickly have to make the decision, who to consult, what options are available) and in end, you have to make a call and someone will be upset no matter what.

Resource: Leadership and decision making is a complex art. Shane Parrish, author of the Farnam Street blog, has excellent additional insights such as 16 Leadership Lessons from a Four Star General and Creating a Latticework of Mental Models.

5. What do you see as the role and value for in person events and associations?

The Presidential Leadership Scholars program has been hugely valuable for my growth.

Personal Democracy Forum is an annual event that has been quite valuable in connecting me to technology leaders in the non-profit, political, and government space.

6. What are 3 of the most popular articles at GovLoop?

7. Who do admire as a leader or entrepreneur? What insights do you apply from that person?

Mark Zuckerberg stands out because of his huge vision, focused execution (i.e. Facebook serves over 1 billion people), and his ability to take huge bets (e.g. buying Whatsapp for $10+ billion)

8. What books have found found most valuable in developing your career?

Two books stand out:

9. If readers are interested in joining GovLoop, what is the best place for them to start?

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4 Ways To Get Ready For Promotion


Winning a promotion is a key discipline in career management. Without promotions, career progression tends to fade into simply having a job with each year feeling like the last. Even worse, a lack of progression and growth makes it more likely than you will be forgotten compared to highly dynamic people in the workplace.

The Two Types of Promotion

According to “The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers,” by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, successful executives regularly use two promotion strategies. First, they seek potential based promotions where a senior leader decides to place a bet on the person’s potential (most common at earlier career stages). Second, they seek to leverage proven experience and major accomplishments and make the case that they can achieve similar results again. It is important to recognize the uncertainty involved with both options for the professional and the employer. Let’s explore how to set yourself up for promotion.

Four Foundations For Promotion

1. Deliver a major accomplishment

In the project world, there is a distinction between “run the company” projects and “transform the company” projects. If you are seeking a promotion, projects that make an major impact are the best area to focus on. Citrin and Smith share the example of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) taking a company public as an example. A successful IPO is a fantastic achievement yet that may not be in the cards for you. What other options are there?

Here are four other examples of significant accomplishments:

  • Revenue Growth. In sales and marketing roles, demonstrating a major accomplishment is usually straight forward. For example, you can state $10,000 earned in 2015, $40,000 earned in 2016 and so forth.
  • User Growth. For apps, web services and other technology roles, significantly increasing the number of users may count. Even better, connect this technical data to business fundamentals such as revenues and expenses.
  • Project Delivery Success. Delivering a project ahead of schedule and receiving high marks from the end customer is often a great accomplishment. Of course, the value of this accomplishment is relative. If everyone delivers on time, then distinguish yourself in a different way (e.g. improved cost performance).

2. Be ready to move

We all know somebody who is “too valuable” in their current job to leave. This challenge is addressed in two ways. First, pursue cross-training for other staff on your critical activities (a good practice in any case so that you can take vacations with peace of mind). Second, top performing managers frequently train a “second in command” person who is capable of performing many of their functions. Remember – training others on your activities equips them to grow in their career and learn more about the organization.

Use these techniques to be prepared to move.

  • Stay In Control With Reviews. Use the Weekly Review process to stay in control of your calendar and avoid loose ends.

3. Boost your visibility

Without visibility, it is difficult to attract opportunities. Some professionals already know the value of personal brand development and promotion. Others – especially those in technical and back office roles – may be less familiar with the concept. We start with the premise that you are already delivering excellent work. Now the question becomes sharing your success with others. Here are a few approaches to share your story:

  • Writing. Writing an article for your website, LinkedIn or an industry newsletter is an excellent way to get started in promoting your brand.
  • Speaking. Delivering a speech at a professional association or industry conference is another well known way to increase your visibility.
  • Volunteer At A Charitable Organizations. Many charitable organizations have executives and other high level professionals on their boards to provide advice, connections and other contributions. Start by finding an organization you care about (e.g. if education and development interest you, consider Room To Read) and then think of ways you can contribute. For example, most boards need accounting and financial expertise as well as help with fundraising.
  • Resource: Read Stand Out by Dorie Clark. It is an excellent resource to learn how to develop a substantial personal brand and grow your career.

4. Take thoughtful risks

There are no certain paths to success especially as the pace of change continues to increase. In some circles, risk is considered to be a “four letter word.” That’s a dysfunctional way to think about uncertainty. Instead, look for small risks to take and gradually expand your appetite for uncertainty. After all, if you are seeking to lead at an executive level, it is vital to become comfortable with taking risks.

  • Evaluate the risk appetite. If you are in an organization, it is useful to know the context. Points to consider: how does the organization encourage innovation and what happens when novel ideas fail? As a general observation, smaller and younger organizations tend to take on more risks.
  • Try something new in a safe context. To build your confidence, start by taking small risks in a safe area. If you are highly confident with a certain sport, take a risk by experimenting with new techniques.
  • Resource: Read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield to discover a whole new perspective on risk and fear. I discovered Pressfield through Seth Godin a few years ago and I’m glad I did! Pressfield’s focus is on writers and artists, yet the insights certainly apply to other situations.

Further Resources For Promotions

Explore these additional resources for more insights on how to get ready for promotions and make the most of the opportunity.

  • The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins. I read this book earlier in 2016 and found it a useful read. Watkins provides useful models to understand your current environment (e.g. the value of using different strategies in a turnaround vs a sustaining success role). It is also interesting to note that the majority of highly successful executives move to a new role (or a significantly change the content of their current role) every 1-2 years.
  • The Manager Tools Promotion Standard: 150%. Limiting yourself to your job description means you are unlikely to get promoted. This excellent guidance from Manager Tools encourages you to take on more responsibility. When possible, there is great value in seeking to perform some of your manager’s tasks so that you grow into that role.