Recently we discussed surviving rapid change in media technologies. There comes a point where we embrace the fear of change. We accept it as inevitable, and grow willing to adapt new methods and technologies. But how does one go about embracing new skills?
Going back to college for a second degree is not an easy choice, both from a time commitment and from a financial perspective. One could debate whether or not another college degree could prepare you for a new profession given how fast technology is changing everything.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a Masters degree in Communications, Culture and Technology from Georgetown. I still use the lessons learned, but my degree was from 2000. The long-term value was learning media dynamics, and how to think about the way people use communications tools.
Getting that degree was expensive, and it’s not something I can easily do again. So, in that vein when I need to learn new technical skills, I turn to alternative methods. Here are some ways I have embraced learning.
1) Experiential Learning
Millennials (in general) have a great attitude about change. My friends Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, co-authors of When Millennials Take Over, note that Millennials discard and adapt new technologies with the times. If one technology stops working, they move on to the next tool.
Learning by simply adapting a new method or tool can be extraordinarily difficult. Yet learning through experience can provide the deepest and most impactful knowledge. You know firsthand because you adapted by trial and error.
The challenge in this method is what I would call a sophomoric failure. A false confidence about how a technology or method works can carry you until a challenge arrives. There are often many tutorials online from people who have done the same thing, a virtual “YouTube University”, and sometimes these how-to articles and videos can help. But if the challenge is too stifling it could cost you a project or a job.
I would argue this is the challenge some social media experts face. They play with tools and talk about them, but cannot execute on projects based on their experience. A deficiency in the larger communications skill set is often the problem.
I self taught myself social media and learned several lessons along the way, including being more personal, reciprocation, etc. I became better with practice, but if I didn’t already possess other communications and marketing skills prior to my social start in 2006, I would have struggled a lot more.
2) Conferences and Seminars
Seminars, one-day workshops, and conferences are a quick way to jolt your thinking. They help you think about challenges in a different way. These types of events usually offer a quick lesson(s), and some examples from a more experienced person(s).
The value of a seminar is a quick fix to stale thinking. It may be all you need. But make no bones about it, the impetus is still upon you to learn and excel after the event.
Further, it’s important to have a discerning eye at conferences. Not all events are created equally. At even the highest quality conferences, not all sessions are equal. To use the social media expert analogy again, you may be just getting more sophomoric knowledge from another sophomore. Look for real examples and experience to discern the value of the tips offered.
When I first sought outside experience in 2014 to break out of a stagnant period as a photographer, I paid for three workshops from KelbyOne, National Geographic, and Nikon. The lessons were valuable, and I still use them today.
3) Intensive Experiences
A different method of learning is to take on an immersive experience. This basically puts you into a highly engaged full-time work simulation or learning environment. You are run through numerous exercises under the guidance of an experienced professional or instructor.
The effort is intense. It can blow your mind. But the new skills gained are invaluable and can really help you break out of a rut, and forge new ground. The trick is to continue using the skills in your regular work.
There are many examples of intensive workshop environments. Today’s coding academies are great examples. Language immersion seminars and schools are a more classic example.
The Santa Fe Photography Workshop I participated in over the summer was one such experience. I learned quite a lot, and have since used the tips Tony Corbell passed on in several situations, including the above photograph of my daughter Soleil.
4) Continuing Education
Getting away for a week to several months may not be an option for many people. This is where traditional education and corporate training comes into play.
Learning through continuing education credits may not be as hip as a conference in a schwanky location or an immersion course, but it offers a proven way of learning new skills for work. The time commitment is much more reasonable (one or two evenings a week), and while homework isn’t necessarily fun, it offers a familiar routine for most.
Consider that many employers will compensate you for taking on a training program. It makes you more valuable to them. And continuing education and approved training courses are considered to be more acceptable and safe methods of learning.
When I worked at TMP Worldwide 15 years ago, I got moved into business development for a period of time (Yeah, I know, embarrassing, but I loved it!). At the time, my manager assessed my skills and suggested a Dale Carnegie sales training course. By the time two month-long class was over I had become the class SalesTalk champion, and I closed two multi-million dollar deals within the next year. Not too shabby.
These are just four ways I have learned new professional skills outside of the traditional college degree. What would you add for those looking to sharpen or reboot their skills?