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Seasons of Work: Summer School – part 1

This is a “show your work”  post about sharing some of my thinking around  my own career development. 

I have often spoken about lifestyle design on this blog (here and here) and it remains one of my most important priorities. I always like to step back and make sure that the way I’m living my life is aligned with my optimal energy levels and habits. For example, during the cold months I am very rarely tempted to venture outside of my apartment. For me, winter is my most productive time because I hole up in my little writing cave and work. Spring and fall are in between times, a mix of execution, travel, and projects. Summer is all about being outside, taking some time to think, moving at a slower pace and enjoying the little things like cold ice tea and a walk in the park with Pixel.

One of the saddest parts of being an adult is not being able to take summer vacations anymore, and something that I always vowed to fix in my own career. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to schedule my time so that during the summer I have a reduced active workload. An active workload is any external deliverable that someone is waiting on. I’m still doing a lot of writing and research but am  not committed to anyone else during this time. Sometimes things come up that are unavoidable but generally, this system has worked pretty well. It does mean that I work longer hours in the winter sometimes but for me, the trade-off is worth it.

Summer is also the time I carve out to learn.

One of the things that I love most about working in the digital space is the sheer speed at which everything moves. It keeps you on your toes and forces you to pay attention to what’s going on because everything is constantly changing. For me that means I need to regularly reassess my skills and make sure that my knowledge base is growing in order to continue to deliver value to my clients and on my own projects. In that vein, every summer I poke around online and find a few courses to audit. It’s the perfect summer activity. I do my course readings on patios, in parks, by the Seine. My reduced workload gives me time to explore new ideas, which is the perfect lead in to my ramp up for fall. Armed with new insights I am always energized when September comes around, eager to apply what I’ve learned. Many of these courses are free, and you can audit them if you don’t want to do the course assignments. I usually pick a mix of doing the course work and auditing. I tend to gravitate to a mix of innovation, strategy and foresight courses though occasionally I’ll take a random one that strikes my fancy. MIT’s Open Course platform is a gold mine!  Here are the courses I’m interested in this year:

  • The Sociology of Strategy:  A course that investigates some of the central questions in strategic management through the lense of sociological research with a focus on (a) relative firm performance; (b) the nature of competition and market interaction; (c) organizational capabilities; (d) the beginnings of industries and firms; (e) the diffusion or transfer of ideas and practices across firms; and (f) strategic change.  
  • Advanced Strategy:  A course that explores  the roots of long term competitive advantage in unusually successful firms. It will focus particularly on the ways in which the actions of senior management build competitive advantage over time, and on the strategic implications of understanding the roots of a firm’s success.

Over on Coursera I’ve narrowed down my choices to these three: Understanding Media by Understanding Google from NorthWestern University, Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: the first step in entrepreneurship from the University of Maryland, and Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations.

Audit vs. Take

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll audit most of the courses, meaning I’ll watch the lectures and read the notes but I will be very choosy about which exercises and assignments I do. I won’t get a “certificate” of completion from Coursera but I don’t really care about that as I’m only interested in expanding my own skills. Last year I took Managing Innovation: Emerging Trends which I really liked and so I’m hoping this year’s picks will be as interesting. I enjoy that it’s self-paced so I just go through the readings and lectures at my own speed. What I’ll usually do is review all the course material to see what’s most interesting and then choose the courses that I think will be the most fun and useful. If something is really boring, I’ll skip it.  The Google course looks fascinating and I’ve already read several of the books on the suggested reading list so this will be a nice complement to critically evaluating some of the ideas I’m already familiar with. The coursera platform has a much nicer interface than MIT’s and you definitely have to be self-motivated. I schedule some time each week to focus on this because it’s an important part of my professional development. Yes, we have to stay on top of trends and startups and current events but I’m finding that it’s also important to slow down and re-examine some of the big ideas that are underlying these shifts.

DIY MBA:

Here are a few articles I’ve found about other people who are taking an innovative approach to professional development.

  • The (now) famous Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman about how to access the same information for yourself.
  • The Tropical MBA – my current obsession about building a location independent business. Part of my next five year plan. So much good stuff here, I’m all over their content: podcasts, blogposts, newsletters…MOAR!!!

I’ll be blogging about the more interesting tidbits of my courses this summer, and sharing some the best stuff with my lovely newsletter subscribers, stay tuned and happy learning!   If you’re interested in staying updated about my research, upcoming books and general cool things I find online, sign up for my monthly newsletters and get my best stuff first. Subscribe here.  

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