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Archive: Don’t be afraid – You won’t learn unless you ask — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

December 13th, 2013 Comments off

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No matter who you are, where you live or what you do, if you really want to learn something about your work, your ideas or a particular product, you only have to ask. Of course, asking for feedback can feel embarrassing and even frightening. Still, listening to other’s consul and opinion is one of the most important ways that we learn to improve our own ideas.

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The idea for this column came to me as I was watching a presentation at BarCampLA-3 (http://barcampla.org/), an un-conference here in Los Angeles that runs about every 6 months. One of the first sessions was Susie from SuperViva.com, a goal-tracking web site. I was impressed with the site, but I was even more impressed with Susie. She demonstrated the site and then asked everyone in attendance for their comments, questions and ideas. That takes guts! It also provided her with a wealth of information on what new features people might want and how to modify the site to better meet the members’ needs. Susie clearly thought her site was ready for review and knew she needed input from a wide variety of people, so BarCampLA offered her a great opportunity.

Now, you don’t have to go as far as presenting your work in a public forum, at least not yet, but there is a variety of ways to put the power of “asking” behind any of your projects, personal or professional. Start small and then grow into more public environments and larger groups of people as your project matures.

The first step in getting feedback on your ideas or projects is to collect a trusted and smart group of friends. Once you feel you have your idea in some basic form, take the idea to them and ask them what they think. This initial discussion can, and should, alter your original idea, adding features, removing others and getting you to the next step.

You start with a small group so you can acclimate yourself to the fear that all of us feel when we ask others about our ideas. We worry that others will hate the idea or even worse, want to change the idea so much that it no longer feels like our own. This fear is real and palpable. It is also the one thing that can keep you from learning and growing, so it must be overcome at all costs. Some of us can dismiss it through our own willpower. Others, like myself, will have to use tricks or rewards or otherwise force us beyond the fear. Whatever method you find best, you must move beyond the fear.

After your initial round of feedback, and any tweaks you have made to your idea or project, it is time to implement the first version. This version doesn’t have to be complete, but it should offer some clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Now it’s time to expand your feedback group. From the very beginning, everyone should be enticed to provide feedback on your idea or project.

Nothing can replace this hands on “usability” testing that the only the real world can provide. You will quickly notice issues and you should work just as quickly to resolve them. Sometimes, you might change one feature, only to realize that the initial idea was better. Change it back. Do whatever it takes to meet your user’s needs. I can guarantee that you will be learning something important every day.

Now that you have your idea or project in some basic shape, you repeat the process with an even larger group. This new group will bring different needs, thoughts and experiences to your project and help to refine it even more. Their ideas might contradict the concerns of earlier users, but you might find that this is simply a sign that a feature doesn’t work as well for 1,000 people as it did for 100. Again, you tweak and change, add and remove features and continue refining your ideas.

At this point, you have probably started to communicate your idea to the world at large, but this certainly doesn’t mean you stop taking input from those around you. In fact, this process should continue for the life of your product or service. If you don’t make a concerted effort to continually receive and act on feedback, you are stunting the growth of your ideas and business. 

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Don’t let “feeling stupid” stop your from learning what you need — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

August 26th, 2013 Comments off

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I have spent the last 30 years helping people to learn about technology in a number of ways and there has always been one, constant theme to this process — people hate to “feel stupid”about technology — or anything, for that matter. I think “feeling stupid” should be a diagnosed clinical physiological problem for all the damage it causes. Too many times, I have seen people suffer both personal and professional trials, simply to avoid the embarrassment and fear of “feeling stupid.” Let me tell you, though, avoiding the fear of appearing stupid to your friends, family and co-workers could be the most damaging act you take in your life and career. It can have far-reaching effects that limit your effectiveness, productivity and future success. Embrace “knowing what you don’t know” and then seek to learn.


 

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Dog Days


It is often said that the most dangerous people are those that “don’t know what they don’t know.” They blunder from one crisis to the next, never knowing that their lack of knowledge is harming both themselves and those around them. They seem totally secure in their actions, even when they have no understanding of the problem at hand. Further, they often lash out at those who try to help them learn more — their outward veneer of security masking a deep insecurity beneath. Don’t be this person. Feel confident, yes. Feel secure, but also know that their are times when “feeling stupid” is the best indicator that you have something more to learn.

No one likes to feel stupid, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t all face it — often on a daily basis. What is more important than the feeling, though, is what we do about it. Some of us are so affected by “feeling stupid” that we hide away and worse, hide our stupidity. Instead, we should take every opportunity to learn more when we feel we don’t know enough. Faced with an unknown word in the paper you are reading. Look it up! Don’t understand some monetary policy, do some online research. Can’t figure out why the roses in your garden aren’t blooming? Ask a knowledgeable friend.

The truth is, there is absolutely no reason for feeling stupid in today’s world. We have so many resources to help us understand the world around us, if we only took the time and energy to use them. From the immediate and handy confines of your smartphone you can find nearly any piece of information. Sure, you might have study deeper and longer to truly understand a complex topic, but getting started in your learning has never been easier. Even more, if you truly fear “feeling stupid”, no one else needs to know what you don’t know. You can step away, do a little research and return much the wiser.

Why then, do we still fear feeling stupid so much? Mainly this is due to insecurity. We fear being judged by our coworkers, our boss, our family, our spouse. We fear what they might think about us if they only knew how stupid we really are. I have a shocking revelation for you, though. They are just as stupid as you are. Sure they are probably stupid about entirely different things, but they carry around the same baggage as you. They fear feeling stupid, too. Perhaps by understanding this fact, we can all come together in our stupidity and move beyond it. We are not alone. We all share a common burden. If we start to collectively understand that fact, perhaps we can all move beyond our feelings of stupidity and move forward with our career and lives.

“Feeling stupid” is merely a sign that we have more to learn, not a sign of weakness. If we take this sign as an indication to learn more, we turn those threatening and scary feelings into a powerful force for improvement. If we move beyond our fear, we can move forward in great leaps. More importantly, if we all collectively understand that we are all stupid in something, perhaps we can move beyond the psychological angst we all go through whenever we are confronted with our own stupidity. Perhaps we can all start helping one another with the challenges in our life and career, instead of hiding behind bluster and intimidation, whenever we find we don’t know something. Imagine what you work and life could be like if we were all helping each other learn more, instead of demeaning and punishing others if they dare show their stupidity. It is as important to “know what you don’t know” as it is to understand the ignorance of others and understand that we all have something to learn, sometime in our lives.

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