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A Significantly Abridged List of My Goals for 2012

Each year, family members and friends attending our annual January 1st dinner party are asked to describe the most memorable thing they did the previous year and to share their goals for the following year. It’s fantastic to hear of people’s gratitude for what they experienced and their sense of optimism for what lies ahead.

The evening proceeds swimmingly until my turn arrives. The pace then slows significantly and a sense of dread descends upon guests who have previously experienced one of my marathon goal listing sessions. For some in attendance, I suspect this feels like listening to someone reading from a very large phone book.

To make this tradition less painful this year, and because some of you may have made plans for the rest of the day, I present below about 10 per cent of my goals for 2012.  Goals related to my family, specific friendships, among others, have been omitted.

Psychological Well-being:

  • To abandon mentally, once and for all, the ridiculous concept of retirement. Whoever suggested that we should work hard until we can afford to stop working, thus freeing us to be bored out of your skulls, was a sadist. The idea of retirement creates stress, misery, and often diminishing health. We watch our investments flounder from whatever crisis is currently roiling the world and fret that we’ll be eating noodles with butter once per day when we retire. Screw that. I’m never retiring and I’ll never work at jobs I hate. The focus from now on will be to do work I love, forever.
  • Every day, write down one thing for which I’m grateful.

Career:

  • Directly generate twice my income in year one in my new role as a member of the Blatant Media team
  • Actively contribute daily to the positive, supportive culture that presently exists at Blatant Media. (Haven’t figured out how to make this measurable yet. Any ideas?)
  • Publish no fewer than one blog post per week at absorblms.wordpress.com, and one post every two weeks to richardnantel.com
  • Present no fewer than six original Webinars related to learning management technology

Art and Music:

  • Adopt a structured approach to practicing guitar where 50 per cent of my time is spent improving technique, and 50 per cent is spent maintaining a current repertoire.
  • Post to YouTube a minimum of 12 musical performances, either as a soloist or accompanist; two of which must be original compositions.
  • Become adept at sound recording by reading a minimum of two books on the subject and applying their techniques. If books are confusing, call my colleague Dan Medakovic, who’s a talented musician and sound engineer, for his wisdom.
  • Inspired by David Hockney’s stunning digital art, create a minimum of one completed painting per month on my iPad, posted to Flickr.

Health and fitness:

  • Successfully recycle old fly fishing gear into a new, smaller road bike. (My current bike’s a bit too big for my not-so-flexible frame.)
    NOTE: My wife has asked that I specify that my fly fishing gear includes more than 100 really fantastic books, currently in boxes on the floor of the TV room.
  • Complete a minimum of four 100+ km rides.
  • Structure six day per week workouts as follows: 50 per cent strength training, and 50 per cent aerobic training, with one workout per week being high intensity interval training
  • Start every weekday morning with a 3 km walk, regardless of the weather.
  • One massage per month; guilty indulgence

How to Make Money Selling Training Content

A large number of the prospective customers I’m speaking to in my role as Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions at Blatant Media | Absorb LMS are content creators who are presently—or soon hope to be—commercial learning content providers to organizations and individuals. I’m thrilled to see so many people in learning and development starting businesses. And, I’m elated that some of them are becoming very successful. In support of these entrepreneurs,  I’m publishing a three-part series on the Absorb LMS Blog titled “How to Start a Successful Training Company.”

Part one, published on October 27, 2011, was an introduction to selling learning content to individuals and organizations. Part two, published today, November 3rd, 2011, examines the most important learning management system requirements to support the sale of training. Part three, to be published next week, will show how Absorb LMS can support the needs of commercial course providers.

Creating Sticky Memories

Over dinner with a dear friend, Tanja, and her family last Sunday, she mentioned that she had recently come across a collection of her parents’ vinyl musical LPs. Listening to these old recordings, she was surprised to discover that she remembered all the lyrics to songs she hadn’t heard in decades. Tanja likely heard her parents’ musical recordings many times while she was a child. The repetition forged strong neural bonds that made these memories stick over time.

I’m a bit envious of people like Tanja. Clearly, she has a great verbal memory. Mine is poor but improving through practice.

Neuroscientific research indicates that the human brain is highly adaptable. Stress your brain to do new things, such as learning a new language, and it will soon adapt. Learning a third language will be easier than learning the second. Stressing your brain with these demands is apparently healthy.

A recent CBC news story reported that bilingualism may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

I wrote a post this week on the Absorb LMS blog about a memorization technique called spaced repetition. You can read it here. If you’re cramming for an exam, learning a new language, starting to play a musical instrument, or just looking for ways to keep your brain nimble, consider structured memorization techniques.

A New Chapter

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined the team at Blatant Media | Absorb LMS. This is a Canadian learning technology company located in Calgary, Alberta. After more than a decade of covering learning technologies as an industry analyst, I’m moving into a business development and marketing role as Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions.

This is a fast-growing company that has seen its revenues increase 62 per cent in the last year. The company’s products, Absorb LMS and Absorb SMARTLAB, consistently win awards in the learning industry.  Whereas about 35 per cent of all organizations have plans to replace their learning management system, this company boasts an enviable 95 + per cent customer retention rate.

Can you tell I’m excited?

My Paris Flickr Photoset

I was fortunate to spend a couple of weeks in Paris this summer. My family and I walked for hours each each day, visited the world’s best museums, and watched the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées. This was an amateur photographer’s dream vacation.  My Flickr photostream is here.

Free Webinar on Creating Content for Delivery on Multiple Devices

Outstart’s Jeff Whitney and I will be presenting a free Webinar on Tuesday, August 23, 2011. Jeff and I will be examining the benefits of using a learning content management system (LCMS) to create content in multiple formats and for delivery on many devices, including smart phones and tablets.

Registration for this session is strong, with more than 200 people already registered. We hope you’ll join us. Find out more about this session and register here.

A Critical Skill We All Need

In my first year in graduate school, a class in which I was enrolled required that we write and submit an essay each week. Whereas some of my fellow students hated that the class mark would be based exclusively on essays—some students preferred exams, class presentations, paper maché volcanoes, whatever—I was happy with this format. Writing came easily to me.

I submitted my first essay in the second class. In the third class, I received my corrected assignment. The professor had marked the essay a “C” and had added a small note: “You have serious problems with your writing. Please see me after class.” I was shocked and angry. I had written dozens of essays during my undergraduate years and had never received a negative comment about my writing. I went to see the professor, a man I had already classified mentally to be a total jerk.

The professor provided the following feedback:

  • Rather than writing to communicate clearly, I was writing to sound smart.
  • Sentences needed to be reread to understand their meaning, which made reading my work tedious.
  • The content was poorly organized.

If there was any comfort in this meeting, it was that the professor mentioned I wasn’t the only student in his seminar with poor writing. Schadenfreude dulled the pain.

At the start of the next class, the professor announced that he would be marking the weekly essays as follows:

  • Fifty percent would be awarded for the content
  • Fifty percent would be awarded for the quality of the writing

And so began, in my sixth year of university, after two years of junior college, four years of high school, and seven years of elementary school, my education in the craft of writing. Each week, I’d receive my corrected essay. Annotations in red containing comments such as “What is the meaning of the word  ”it” in this sentence?” and “Run on sentence!” were everywhere.

Week by week, my writing improved, as did my opinion of this professor. He shed his label of being a total jerk, cruised through being seen as a compulsive nitpicker, was  transformed from being an obsessive traditionalist, and was on his way to being a professor with the potential to provide significant educational value. Now, more than 20 years later, I view this professor as the most important teacher I have ever had.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Michael Ondaatje. I’ll occasionally read an article in the New Yorker or other magazine that humbles me, writing that is so elegant and well-crafted that it’s a five-star meal in words. When I read something this well written, I realize learning to write well is a lifelong endeavor.

WHY WRITING WELL MATTERS

I think of this professor every time I read something poorly written. Sadly, that’s often. The quality of much of what I read in business and in the learning profession could be improved. So, my vote for the number one, most important skill required to succeed in the workplace is the ability to write well. Here’s why:

  • You may be great at your job, but, if you don’t write well, the poor writing will eclipse the perception of the great work you do.
  • Key decision makers are too busy to reread material to attempt to decipher the meaning.
  • Poorly written communication will be ignored.
  • A well-crafted piece will catch the eye of a superior, who is likely to interpret your excellent writing skills as a sign of your leadership potential.

POSTSCRIPT

The professor in this post is William Caplin, the James McGill Professor of Music Theory at McGill University. Professor Caplin, I’m ashamed that decades have gone by and I’ve never expressed my gratitude. Please accept my sincere thanks for your time and dedication. (And, if you choose to correct this post, please be easy on me.)

Some Thoughts on Management

I was interviewed recently by Michael Rochelle, Chief Strategy Officer and a co-founder of AC Growth, as part of the company’s Executive Interview series. Below is an excerpt. The full interview is available here.

To foster an environment of personal growth, leaders and managers need to be part-time psychologists. They need to understand what motivates their people and create an environment where employees are engaged, happy, and productive. Most people have a low tolerance for routine. They need to be given new challenges that stretch their abilities. Organizations need to provide their workers with all the tools needed to learn the skills necessary to meet these challenges. This includes learning content, time to learn, etc. The role of leaders is to match up challenging assignments with the right individuals (The challenge can’t be too hard or too easy). Leaders must be encouraging, supportive, and must understand the people that report to them on a personal level.

How does a manager begin this process?

You need to clue into the human factor – look at your employees as individuals with their own unique set of behaviors, norms, values and perceptions that may be the same or different than your own. Realize also that an individual’s psychological profile permeates team behavior as well and team behavior has an even higher degree of complexity and difficulty due to the individuals that make up the team. Finally, a company’s culture is a web of individual and team dynamics brought together under the stressful conditions of company performance. You need to understand all these factors to begin the process.

Leaders need to embrace their role in defining the culture of an organization. I believe wholeheartedly that old-school, Jack Welch-like leadership is dead or on its deathbed. There’s no way at all the newest generation of workers will put up with punitive, hard-nose managers and leaders. If you have that leadership style currently in place, then you need to change it quickly.

You mentioned that you need to communicate with your star performers, what’s the right approach?

Keeping the very top talent happy and motivated is very very hard. These high performers have achieved a lot and quickly get bored and unhappy. Many will sabotage their careers as an opportunity to rebuild and achieve new successes. The solution for these individuals can often be to allow them the opportunity to meet new challenges outside of the firm. The Google approach of giving these top performers 20% of their time to work on their own projects is brilliant and indicates that Google understands the psychological needs of its workers.

In general, leaders need to understand the need for time away from work. Mobile technology has created an always-on work culture and too many organizations are exploiting their ability to ask workers to be available 24/7. Expecting workers to always be working is like expecting an athlete to succeed by training hard every day. Successful athletes have scheduled rest days to recover and get motivated. Lack of a work-life balance will not keep your people engaged, happy, and productive.

What about the rest of the team, how do you motivate and stimulate them?

I can share with you from personal experience how to make this happen. As a leader of a company, I realized early on that you cannot ride the backs of your star performers to truly be a sustainable and successful company. I spent a considerable amount of time with my lower level non-managerial staff to understand what motivates them and how they could have a greater impact on the success of the organization. What I found was they had unique insights and perspectives that were exciting and well thought out about how to grow our company. They were just waiting for an opportunity to prove their ideas were sound. In the end, I promoted a significant number of these individuals to management and gave them opportunities to put their ideas to work – it was one of the best moves I ever made in my career.

The key to really being successful is to identify projects and initiatives that align with people’s interests and the goals and objectives of the company. This is by no means an easy task and may lead to a little organizational restructuring to make it happen. However, it is not as hard as you think if you are willing to take the time to get to know your people. I have to say as a manager, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do. If you focus on people’s innate interest in personal learning and growth, you will always have a motivated and engaged workforce.

The full interview is located at http://acgrowth.com/blogs/39-ac-growth-executive-interview-with-richard-nantel.html