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The only way to stay ahead is to learn how to learn

My wife sent this quote to me today. I think I’ll save it here as a reminder of the importance of learning as THE key skill that we all need to posses these days.

Idea of the Day: “In an uncertain and changing world, there is still a competitive advantage to being human,” writes Kellogg School of Management CIO Betsy Ziegler. One key way to stay ahead? Learn how to learn.

“Often students believe that once they cross the graduation stage, they are done – they have reached the finish line. In today’s world this is an impossible end point – they can not stand still, they must have the confidence and persistence to assess their skills, understand their gaps and seek help in closing them.”


Career advice: remember the compound learning curve

Number 6 – delay gratification. Every day, invest in something where the pay off won’t come for several more years but aggregates. What aggregates? Learning.

Always be learning. 

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My latest blog post on Econsultancy:

Reflections on what you need to be successful

I would highly recommend anyone watch this video.

This is Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com giving a lecture to students at his old University, London School of Economics.

This is of course useful for people starting out on their career journeys but I think it’s also worth a watch for those people already well into their career. Why? Because it’s worth reflecting on what (career) success is and what is required to achieve it.

Lewis suggests that there are 4 things you need to be successful:

  1. Talent
  2. Hard work
  3. Focus
  4. Luck

I think that intuitively we all know this but sometimes we don’t give luck the attention it deserves. Whether I think of myself as being successful in my career or not, if I examine it, I can certainly attribute a certain amount of luck to all of the professional roles I’ve ever had. In fact, more often than not it was luck and not talent that got me in the door.

Of course once inside, there was never any getting around the fact that hard work and focus really are the key attributes of success. We all know talented people who’ve never quite lived up to their potential. And we also know people who have exceeded all of the expectations of those around them. Why? Because they were willing to work hard.

On the subject of working 90 hours a week I think it’s important to point out that the speaker in this video is referring to a business that he was growing. He very much had a personal interest in the business and I suspect was engergised when he could see the correlation between his effort and the success of his business.

I’m less convinced about long hours for those treading well work career paths – lawyers, bankers, doctors etc. Why? Because unless this path is a vocation, I question how effective you can be when working over a certain number of hours.

There may very well be times when you just need to put your shoulder to the wheel in the short term but this kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable long term. It also doesn’t afford you with time to recuperate, recharge and stay effective in the long term. Steven Covey called this ‘sharpening the saw’, the idea of balancing your resources, energy and health to create a sustainable lifestyle. Such an approach will leave room for reading, reflection and creative thinking which can be useful in accelerating ones’ career rather than getting busy being busy.

In fact, in an era of exponential technological change, our ability to think creatively, that most human of abilities may be the only thing that empowers us to maintain a sustainable career. To think creatively requires time and space.

By the way, there is research that suggets that productivity – output per working hour – improves with shorter working hours. Across the world’s richest countries, higher productivity correlates with lower working hours (see also OECD data).

Some of this is of course subjective and can depend on the individual. I for one can vouch that the amount of time it takes me to complete a task correlates directly with the amount of time I have available. In other words, even for minor projects, if I have lots of time available, the project will expand to fill the time rather leaving me with spare time to sip pina coladas. But that’s just me.

Final note, Ford’s original workers were found less productive working more than 40 hours a week, a situation likely to be even more the case for people who work with knowledge rather manually – who ever had their best ideas when they were exhausted?

Enjoy the video.

Career advice and strategic life long learning

It’s that time of year when students at Dublin City University are wrapping up dissertations and practicum projects. Many of them have already secured positions while others are looking forward to a few weeks off before getting stuck into the job hunt.

Despite reaching the end of their current university experience, there’s no doubt that they will return to learning in some form in the future. They’ll have to. The pace of technological and industrial change is so great that they can’t rely on their Masters Degrees to keep them employed for the next 40 years.

To say that we live in a changing world understates the pace and the scope of this change. Huge amounts of what students learned this year may be obsolete a decade from now when they will be working in jobs that haven’t been created yet. In fact, some of the most in-demand and jobs today didn’t exist 20 years ago. Think about the number of roles that fall within the realm of digital marketing for a start.

In the face of change, today’s graduates will need to be able to continue learning, unlearning and relearning new knowledge and skills to remain adaptable and employable. To reject such a proposition will leave you in a tough spot and some forced learning, like how to live on a minimum wage.

I’m being facetious but the point stands. When it comes to responding to change, graduates will need to continue their learning journey, at the very least by acknowledging that what it means to be competent today, may not be the same as what it means to be competent tomorrow. Unfortunately, we live in a time where what it means to be competent is changing all of the time.

Great career advice

Being open to life long learning shouldn’t conjure up images of all nighters poring over books in the library. Learning doesn’t have to be in the classroom. We can acquire learning at work, from friends and colleagues, listening to podcasts and choosing some strategically useful books to read in between Jack Reacher novels!

A friend and mentor Alan Gleeson recently shared with me a photocopy of a page from the Tim Ferris book Tools of Titans which had some of the best career advice I’ve ever read. On the subject of how to direct our learning intent, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, had the following to say:

‘If you want an average, successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1) Become the best at one specific thing 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better then most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

I always advise people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who only have one skill. Or get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more ‘pretty goods’ until no-one else has your mix. At least one of the skills in your mixture should involve communication, either written or verbal. And it could be as simple as learning how to sell more effectively than 75% of the world. That’s one. Now add that to whatever your passion is, and you have two.’

This is sound advice indeed.

For my own part, while I’m not a recent graduate, I value learning and regularly take the opportunity to remind friends and colleagues of the value of life long learning. If we don’t I jest, we may find ourselves in the same position as the telephone exchange operator!

Telephone exchange operator

Another very worthy piece of advice was given to me by my old mentor Professor Theo Lynn at Dublin City University – “always be the hardest working person in the room”. This is something that I’m still working on.

Quote for the times we live in?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

twas the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,

it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,

we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…….”

Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities (1859)

How to listen to podcasts

Okay, so this might seem pretty obvious to a lot of people. But there’s a whole bunch of people I know that don’t listen to podcasts and wouldn’t even know where to start. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you’re the kind of person that uses your phone to message people, receive calls and maybe checks Facebook from time to time and that’s it, good for you.

For better or worse, for me my phone is more like a life management device. I use it for the obvious things but I also use it to listen to music (Spotify), read books (Kindle), learn languages (currently using Memrise), manage emails (down with this sort of thing) and listen to a LOT of podcasts.

Somewhere along the line the message that I’ve heard my whole life about the need for life long learning finally sunk in. And so now I basically try to fill any time that used to be unproductive such as commuting, chores, lunchtime walks as opportunities to learn. ABL – always be learning.


I know that I have friends that would bristle at the the thought of filling every available second with learning because of the pace of life these days and they’d have a point but that’s something to reflect on another day. For me though, it’s almost like a sense of insecurity and that I’ll somehow get left behind and so I have this furious desire to always be learning or at least exposing myself to new ideas in the hope that I’ll hit on something life changing. That hasn’t happened yet but I can tell you that I do keep a small pocket sized notebook that I use to jot down really nice quotes, concepts or action points for later.

What is a podcast?

A podcast is basically just an on demand radio show that you can get on the internet.

How to listen to podcasts

But enough waffle. So I’ve asked you if you ever listen to podcasts and you look at me like I have two heads? “Podcasts?”, you say. “I wouldn’t even know where to start”, you say. Okay then fair enough. Here are the simple steps to get you on your way to discovering the wonderful world of podcasts.

To listen to podcasts there are two options.

  1. You can listen to podcasts through a website. This is called ‘streaming’.A lot of podcast publishers will make their podcasts available on their website. Others also video their podcasts and so make them available on YouTube.
  2. Alternatively, and the easier option, is to download a podcast. This basically means you can save it on your phone or tablet and so can listen to it without requiring an internet connection once it is downloaded. To download a podcast you will need a podcast player.
  • Podcast player
    So I think the first question comes down to which podcast player you want to use. iPhones come with a pre-installed Podcast app where you can manage and download podcasts. To choose podcasts to subscribe to you’ll still need to access iTunes but that’s okay because you can access that from your phone.

    Once you access the podcast section of iTunes you’ll see that you can search for podcasts by name or even category. While podcasts have been around for years, in the last few years they really have experienced somewhat of a renaissance. Believe me, a lot of these podcasts are highly produced, edited and have some great content.

    Podcast categories.PNG

    Pick some podcasts, hit subscribe and they’ll appear in your Podcast app and away you go.

  • For Android devices you can use various podcatcher apps. A podcatcher app is basically like a media player just for podcasts that manages the podcasts you subscribe to, where you can download them and access the various podcast details. Think of a podcast app like your TV with access to the channels (think podcasts) that you are interested in. Most podcatcher apps are free and some are paid for but are generally still cheap.You can download these from the Google Play store.

    I use Pocket Cast for no other reason that when I searched for the word Podcast Player that’s what came up first in the Google Play Store results. I know other people also like Stitcher Radio. I haven’t used this but it has a rating of 4/5 on the Play Store so it must be good.

    Once you download one of these apps, you can start searching by podcast name or category. Here’s a screenshot from the ‘discover’ option in Pocket Cast. If you’re not sure where to start, you can search by trending and also by category.

Pocket Cast.png Pocket Cast Categories

So that’s basically it. Download some podcasts and if I’ve sent you this post to get you started, let me know how you get on. And of course, recommendations are welcome. I’ll write another blog post (someday) about the podcasts that I like listening to!

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