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Portfolio: Course Certificate – Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning (Honors), McMaster University



In case you missed my talk at #DMXDublin

In case you missed my talk at #DMXDublin last week, my slides are available here. I was talking about the Modern Marketing Model (M3), a new framework for marketing that we are working with clients on at Econsultancy

Portfolio: Photos from my speaking slot at Marketing Week Live 2018

On 8th March 2018, I represented Econsultancy when I spoke on the Marketing Transformation Stage at Marketing Week Live 2018. I was also invited to facilitate a discussion on the future of research on the main stage of the Insight Show on the same day.

The title of my presentation was Digital Trends 2018, challenges and opportunities for Marketers. The session was designed to provide insight into what Econsultancy sees as digital trends, challenges and opportunities facing marketing, digital and creative leaders in 2018. In particular, I discussed:

Insight Show 2018Sean Donnelly, Marketing Week Live 2018 Sean Donnelly Marketing Week Live 2018

Learning tough material? Take a break and do nothing for 15 minutes

Focused thinking versus diffused thinking

Believe it or not, the best way to embed knowledge from study can be to take a break. Go to a quiet room and sit on the couch and do nothing for 10 to 15 minutes. Go outside and sit in the garden. Go for a walk. Make a cuppa. It’s up to you. The important thing is that you take a break from focus. Leave your smartphone in your pocket. Scrolling Facebook and Twitter requires focus and can interfere with embedding the new knowledge that you’ve just been learning.

When thinking about learning, consider that there are two basic modes of thinking – focused thinking and diffuse thinking.

Image credit: Dr. Barbara Oakley(

Focused mode is what happens when you concentrate. The brain actively zeros in on trying to come up with a solution to a problem or alternatively it might be trying to understand a concept or idea. Focused thinking is resource intensive, tiring and depending on successful you are at understanding the concept, it can be stressful.

The diffuse mode of thinking on the other hand, is when you’re not concentrating on anything. Instead, this is when your thoughts are firing randomly, like when you take a break, are in the shower or going for a walk.

The diffuse mode helps us to make connections between ideas that we might not have realised were connected. I like to call this symphonic thinking. The diffuse mode is the mode we fall into when we’re trying to consolidate and understand new information.

Note I used the words “fall into“. The diffuse mode only turns on when you aren’t thinking about anything in particular. It is a relaxed state when you aren’t actively thinking about anything else. It is the mode that does the background processing that helps us solve difficult problems and understand difficult concepts.

From a learning point of view, this is why when you’re concentrating on something and you just can’t work out the problem or understand the concept, the best thing you can do is to take a break and effectively stop concentrating on what you can’t understand. Why? Because taking a break and getting your attention off the difficult subject will trigger your diffuse mode of thinking and allow your brain to find new pathways for thinking about what you’re trying to understand. Later, when you return to focused thinking, you might find that you’ve actually made some progress.

This advice can seem counter intuitive, especially if you have a keynote coming up or an exam etc. If you are not convinced, I would encourage you to read this article which summarises some of the seminal research that indicates that a good way to boost memory retention is to take a break. It is well worth a read.

My favourite quote from the article is: “In the age of information overload, it’s worth remembering that our smartphones aren’t the only thing that needs a regular recharge. Our minds clearly do too”.

Note: This article was first published on LinkedIn on 22nd February 2018.

Turn dead time into learning time

Some tools to examine for learning while commuting

This post is a follow up to my post a couple of weeks ago about learning being the number 1 skill that everyone needs in the 21st century. You can read that post here.

Hopefully you’ve read that post or at the very least, you are convinced about the value of learning in the 21st century. If you are, great. Unfortunately, though, there’s a villain in this story. You’re busy. You don’t have time to do a course. You have chores to do. You have children to wash. You can’t keep your eyes open for longer than 5 minutes when you try to read in bed. Where can you get the time?

I take the London tube to work. I’m not one to make bold statements but the tube is possibly one of the most antisocial places on the planet! Everyone is wearing earphones. Some people are listening to tinny music. But others are listening to podcasts and audiobooks or watching TED Talks.

The good news is that the sources for learning are now everywhere and are accessible through multiple digital channels and devices. For me, I find there is a wealth of great audio and visual content available from:

·        Podcasts

·        Audiobooks

·        MOOCs

With regard to educational content, there was a time when this was only typically accessible via fixed authoritative sources and available from libraries, schools or encyclopaedias. These media were limited in terms of their availability and physical scale.

Nowadays though the amount of amazingly researched, produced and downloadable audio and video learning content available is quite phenomenal. And it can be consumed in bite sized chunks while commuting, walking, jogging or during short breaks.

I encourage you to test some of the following tools and approaches for managing your own learning while you re commuting, walking or in the gym!


Podcasts are basically just on demand radio that comes in the form of episodic content that you can subscribe to and download. They are mostly in audio form but some can also come in video format.

The amount of excellently researched and produced podcasts these days is quite phenomenal. If you’re not sure how to listen to podcasts or don’t know where to start, I’ve written this post to help you get set up.

The following list of podcasts are ones that I like to support me in my learning. They are also highly entertaining. In truth, there are loads more that I could recommend but part of the fun is discovering podcasts for yourself!

  1. The Marketing Book Podcast – I work in marketing so this is a useful resource for me. The Marketing Book Podcast consists of weekly interviews with best-selling authors to help marketers keep up with what’s working in the quickly changing field of modern marketing (and sales).

The interviewer has a great way of pulling out the key learning points from each book. I find this useful to stay up to date on new approaches in marketing as well as to filter which books I need to investigate further, and which ones I don’t!

2. The Daily – The Daily is a daily news podcast by the American newspaper The New York Times. Hosted by Times political journalist Michael Barbaro, its 20-minute episodes are based on the Times’ reporting of the day.

3. Harvard Business Review IdeaCast – This is a weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in business and management from Harvard Business Review.

4. Freakonomics Radio – Freakonomics Radio is a highly produced podcast that explores socioeconomic issues and riddles of everyday life. Host Stephen J. Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists and entrepreneurs. The show is a spin-off of the 2005 book Freakonomics. It’s educational and highly entertaining.

5. TED Radio Hour – The TED Radio Hour is a journey through fascinating ideas, inventions, fresh approaches to old problems and new ways to think and create. I love listening to TED Radio Hour to learn about abstract topics and to challenge me to think in new ways.

6. Revisionist History – Revisionist History is a podcast by journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell. It has so far had two seasons. Gladwell, applies his questioning mind to various moments in history. He questions whether those moments played out the way they are commonly perceived to have played out. I particularly liked a series of 3 episodes about access to education in the USA:

o  Season 1, Episode 4: Carlos doesn’t remember

o  Season 1, Episode 5: Food Fight

o  Season 1, Episode 6: My little hundred million


Books provide intellectual stimulation and emotional fulfilment. We’d all like to read more books but unless you are a skilled speed reader or have lots of spare time it can be difficult to consume enough high value content to thoroughly understand a topic. I find audiobooks really useful for reading / listening as I commute.

Audiobooks have traditionally been used by learners with poor reading skills either due to dyslexia or poor eye sight. Many people turn their noses up at the idea of listening to a book rather than reading. I think that’s a shame.

The ubiquity of smartphones and access to subscription services like Audible has enabled the use of audiobooks as credible substitutes or indeed additions to traditional reading.

Also, there isn’t much research to indicate the differences between reading and listening on the effect of learning. There is however research that suggests that reading and listening are similar cognitive processes. For example, a 1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension.

I find listening to most audiobooks just as intellectually stimulating as reading a book. Admittedly, there are some types of books that are difficult listens. These tend to be quite dense, descriptive / textbook kinds of books. When the material is difficult or abstract for example, physical reading provides an advantage because you can re-read difficult passages. Equally the narrator has a role to play too.


By the way, Blinkist is an app that aims to summarise non-fiction books into digestible summaries that take 15 minutes to read. I find reading business and marketing books helpful for my job. Sometimes my ‘to read’ list can get a bit overwhelming.

While everyone loves a shortcut, when it comes to understanding abstract topics, reading the summary just can’t offer readers anywhere near the same amount of depth that they would get from the original text.

Blinkist can be useful to get a quick overview of a new topic. You can read the book summary and there is also an audio version although I don’t particularly like the narrators. It can also be useful to let you know if it’s worth investing the time and the money in the original book. This is important as I find that a lot of popular business books tend to borrow ideas from each other and so sometimes reading a ‘new’ book can feel a bit like reading something that you have already read.


A MOOC is a massive online open course. These are available via online platforms where educational institutions can make some of their courses available to students around the world.

For example, I recently completed a course on Understanding Research Methods with University of London via the MOOC platform, Coursera. Coursera is a platform where learning institutions can make their courses available.

Generally, courses are free but sometimes you can pay a nominal fee and get a certificate of completion. In most cases, the certificate isn’t really valuable from an academic point of view. They generally can’t be exchanged for credits at academic institutions to demonstrate prior learning etc. They are useful though for upskilling, expanding your knowledge and demonstrating learning to your employer or potential employers as the verified certificates can be displayed on your CV or LinkedIn.

MOOCs are different to other online learning tools like Khan Academy. MOOC courses generally have a start, middle and end whereas Khan academy can be useful for bite sized chunks, generally in math or science. Students find Khan useful for helping them with topics that they are finding challenging as opposed to learning an entire curriculum.

The main MOOC platforms that I have used:

  • Coursera
  • EdX
  • Futurelearn: Futurelearn is the only UK based MOOC provider. It was set up by Open University.

This is a list of MOOC providers with a brief bit about their background.

Other digital learning platforms

Then there are also other sites for learning such as Udacity, Udemy and LinkedIn learning.

  1. Udemy is a platform not completely dissimilar to a MOOC platform. The difference is that anyone can create a course and sell it on Udemy. In effect, it acts like a marketplace and a learning management system. You can’t get any recognition for Udemy courses. They are useful though for covering more niche, less academic topics. So, for example there are lots of courses on Udemy covering skills based topics such as AdWords, Programming, Data Analysis etc.
  2. LinkedIn Learning provides video based courses on semi technical subjects to do with business, media and publishing. It has courses on things like AdWords, different programming languages, Excel, Adobe tools etc. Unlike Udemy where you can buy each course separately, with LinkedIn Learning, the courses are included with a premium LinkedIn account. When you complete a course, you can display a badge of completion on your LinkedIn profile.

3. Udacity is the outgrowth of some free computer science classes offered in 2011 through Stanford University. While it originally focused on offering university-style courses, it now focuses more on vocational courses for professionals via its nano degree programme. It covers topics like web development, programming and machine learning.

I’d suggest thinking about the topic you want to learn and then examining the different platforms to see which one suits you. The good thing about most of them is that they have quite good mobile apps where you can download course material for consuming on the go.

Also, as the MOOC platforms have been set up by educators from or with the support of quite well known academic institutions, there is quite a bit of effort put into the pedagogical approach. This means that units are generally bite sized and accompanied by activities such as MCQs to support and assure learning. This also makes it great for bite sized study — lunch time and the tube etc.

Side note, if you are interested in learning science,University of San Diego has a lovely little course called Learning How to Learn.

If you haven’t been in education for a while, this is a nice and interesting course to ease you back into things. It will equip you with what you need to approach your study effectively.

Final note

There is great flexibility in terms of how and when learning content can be accessed. The sources of learning are everywhere and accessible through multiple digital channels and devices. Plus, individuals can engage more easily in learning for pleasure and are not simply prescribed professional outcomes.

I really admire people that are committed to manage their own independent learning. One of my rules of life has for some time been Always Be Learning. I think I’d like to update that to ABC — Always Be Curious!

I encourage you to be curious by trying out some of the approaches that I’ve listed for your own learning. It would be nice to know what works and doesn’t work for you. If you have any good podcast, audiobook, TED talk or MOOC recommendations, it would great to get your thoughts.

Feedback, comments, critique and of course learning tips welcome 🙂

Note: This post was first published on LinkedIn on 11th February 2017.

Portfolio: Discussing Uber on TV, November 2017

Learning: The #1 Skill That Everyone Needs in the 21st Century

In an age of stories of ‘digital disruption’ we are increasingly seeing and hearing stories of the need to up-skill or risk seeing our jobs or even entire professions get automated.

The only key that any of us have to succeeding must the relentless pursuit of improvement. This sounds exhausting but it is accurate. Here’s why.

Technology is changing exponentially

“Technology has advanced more in the last thirty years than in the previous two thousand. The exponential increase in advancement will only continue”.

Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize Winning Physicist

Okay, so I’m not sure in what year Niels Bohr said this but in case you somehow have not heard of him, he died in 1962. It’s fair to say that the word exponential makes sense in his description of technological advancement. Could anyone have foreseen just how technologically advanced we’d be in 2018 all the way back in 1962? Or, for context, think of the impact that the smartphone has had on our lives and all of the other businesses that it has enabled. Think Facebook, Instagram, Uber, online banking…..

Routine based work will be automated

It’s not difficult to see how any kind of logical, analytical or routine based work can either be outsourced or at worst, automated.

I remember one of my first jobs out of university was in hedge fund administration. In my first two years in the position, an entirely new management information system was introduced which made my job a lot easier.

Sounds great? I certainly thought it was, at first. But it also removed some of the human value that I could bring to the job in terms of client specific routines and procedures that I was able to create and manage. These are things that I had codified in my brain and they enabled me to add value to my client’s interactions with the company.

From a business perspective, this also meant that there was a risk that when a fund administrator left the organisation, clients could be upset as the specific routines and procedures that had been developed for them could be forgotten.

For this reason, I can see how it made sense commercially to codify procedures. For one thing, it standardised procedures from fund to fund. It also made it easier for staff to take over responsibility for administering new or different funds. But if you think about the bottom line, it meant that the work people did was less valuable. This had the knock-on effect of making it more difficult to ask for a promotion or a pay rise.

If this example doesn’t mean anything to you, maybe it makes sense to draw a line with the supermarket cashier, the bank teller, the switchboard operator, the movie projectionist, assembly line projectionists. We are going to see automation of at least part of many white-collar jobs in the coming years.

Are you in the management stream? (Do you want to be?)

I remember discussing this with a friend who asked me if I was in the ‘management stream’. As I examined the work that I was doing, I had to admit that I needed to be involved in more value adding activities to make progress in my career. I wasn’t in the stream and found it difficult to envision a pathway to get into that stream. And so, I moved on.

Side note: It was my first full time professional position. Was I also immature and self-entitled to want to progress quickly? Admittedly, yes! But in terms of my intuition about technology taking away the value I could add to the job, and just as importantly, the satisfaction that I could get out of doing a good job, I continue to think that my logic was sound.

Fast forward to 10 years later. I work in marketing. The impact of digital has meant that marketing is a discipline that is in constant flux. If you work in marketing, it’s either a very exciting time to be a marketer, or it’s stressful! Why? Because things are changing so quickly.

Marketers are either excited about topics like marketing automation, AI and machine learning and what industry will be next to get ‘disrupted’ — (ahem, banking), or they are apprehensive. One thing that marketers can certainly agree on is that anything that can be digitised or automated will be. Incidentally, if you work in marketing and are interested in this topic, we wrote a report at Econsultancy called How Marketers Learn. Check it out.

Focus on what can’t be automated and learn everything you can about that topic

In the words of one of my idol’s David Bowie, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”. And so, we need to identify those things that can’t be automated or digitised, and learn everything we can about them. The best way to equip ourselves to do this, is to always be learning. If there is one key skills that anyone should consider improving this year, it’s the ability to learn.

Three reasons to always be learning

  1. Getting better at something provides a great source of energy. It’s true. Our brains release dopamine when we learn new and interesting things. What’s not to like about that?
  2. Everybody wants to achieve their potential. Don’t sabotage your potential by not learning new things and exposing yourself to new ideas. Learning is at the heart achieving one’s potential. To learn is to live.
  3. Change is inevitable. Here is something to ponder over — the pace of change today is the slowest it will ever be. Our best response is to suck it up and deal with it!

So, it’s important to always be learning, or at the very least, always be curious (ABC)! In the words of Socrates: “The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery”.

If you are interested in learning about learning, there are tonnes of great books on the topic. One of my favourites is called A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley. Don’t let the word “math” scare you off. It’s a fun and very accessible read that focuses more on the science of learning than mathematics.

If I’ve convinced you of the value of learning, my next post will be about turning dead time, like commuting into learning time. Feedback, comments, critique and of course learning tips welcome 🙂

Note: This post was first published on LinkedIn on 25th January.

Poems men should know part 8 – Desiderata – Words for Life

“Desiderata” (Latin: “desired things”) is a 1927 poem by American writer Max Ehrmann. the poem was largely unknown in the author’s lifetime. He died in 1945. Why do I know this poem? Strangely, because a friend played me a recording of none other that former boxer Chris Eubank narrating the poem. I thought it was lovely. Here are some words to carry with you throughout your life.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

– Max Ehrmann,American writer, poet, and attorney (September 26, 1872 – September 9, 1945)

Portfolio: LinkedIn Certificate: Marketing Foundations: Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing, Certificate, Sean Donnelly

Portfolio: Course Certificate: Understanding Research Methods

Understanding Research Methods


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