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How To Learn What You Don’t Know

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How To Learn What You Don’t Know


    I once knew a small company CEO who controversially brought three former accountants onto his management team. “It’s accountant overload,” one employee complained. “And what does accounting have to do with marketing and client relationship management anyway?”

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    The new leaders had other expertise besides accounting, but that’s not my point. When I spoke to the CEO, I learned that he surrounded himself with financial prowess because he considered this to be his personal area of weakness.  “I don’t have a strong accounting background, and yet finance plays a major role in every area of our business.   Issues are inevitably going to come up that I need solid and informed advice handling, even if I can’t identify those issues yet,” he told me.

    Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several CEOs. The one thing they all have in common is self-awareness. People who have gotten to the level of chief executive officer, whether at a large or small organization, are there because they know they don’t have all the answers and are receptive to continuous learning and improvement. They know what they don’t know.

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    In order to reach the next level of success in your career, it’s worth making an effort to uncover what you don’t know and/or what you may not do as well compared to others. I guarantee there’s something even if your job appears to be going smoothly. Here are four ideas to get you started:

    Inventory Sub-Optimal Situations

    The best way to uncover knowledge gaps is to closely examine your current work and identify areas where you are not succeeding as much as you wish you were, as well as the negative or unproductive scenarios that keep cropping up over and over again. For instance, this year I observed that I was able to score a lot of introductory meetings with potential new clients, but that I rarely converted those meetings into actual business. I eventually chalked it up to a deficit in sales skills and sought immediate mentorship on the subject.

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    Take an Assessment

    Many written and online surveys are available to help you identify both your strengths and weaknesses. BestUniversities.com has a nice roster of free tools. Because online surveys are not particularly reliable, I recommend taking several and trying to identify a pattern of similar results. Note that popular assessments like StrengthsFinder are not as useful in this capacity because they focus on capitalizing on your strengths and gloss over areas for improvement.

    Ask Colleagues Anonymously

    It’s important to regularly solicit 360 degree feedback on your performance even if you aren’t a manager. Devise specific questions like: “What is one thing I could do more effectively to make your job easier?” and “If I could take one professional development course this year, what do you think would be most helpful for me?” and survey everyone who has worked with you recently. Make sure that colleagues and reports know that they can respond anonymously, because all-positive feedback given under duress won’t do you any good.  If you don’t have a tool to do this in-house, Rypple is a terrific option.

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    Work with a Coach

    You can often learn a lot by talking with an objective third-party who is not personally invested in your work.  Career coaches are wonderful at sizing up your situation and recommending growth opportunities. For a recommendation, either ask a trusted colleague, friend, or expert, or consult an organization like the International Coaching Federation. Select someone who makes you feel comfortable, but who will also challenge you.

    If the acknowledgement of your imperfections makes you feel insecure, take heart. The first step to remedying any deficiency is to acknowledge it, and by admitting you don’t know what you don’t know, you’ve made a powerful proclamation about your future potential.

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    (Photo credit: Businessman in Lotus Pose via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on January 27, 2022

    5 Unexpected Places to Boost Your Productivity

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    5 Unexpected Places to Boost Your Productivity

    The environment of a typical office or a quiet library may sometimes lessen your productivity as the unchanging views fail to stimulate your senses and keep your brain running. If you are the kind that dislikes absolute silence or minimal noise when working, these unexpected places to work may boost your productivity level!

    1. Coffee shops

    Research has shown that an adequate amount of ambient noise stimulates your senses and keeps you alert. Where else better to find some chatter and clatter to boost your creative juices? Working in the coffee shop also guarantees something else: unlimited supplies of caffeine!

    Caffeine wakes you up by fooling adenosine receptors and speeds transmitting activities up in your nerve cells.If you do decide to try this place out, make sure that your work computer is facing the coffee shop customers so you will be less likely to procrastinate or go to inappropriate sites because people are secretly watching you.

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    If your workplace requires you to be in the office, try this website and/or phone app that provides you with sounds from coffee shops around the world. Want to work at a cafe in Paris? No problem, it’s just a button away.

    2. Cafeterias

    Similar to coffee shops, company cafeteria or food courts provide consistent noise and the smell of food. The aroma of food makes you look forward to your next break and should motivate you to complete your work.

    The act of eating likewise keeps your brain alert and produces dopamine. But make sure only to snack and stay around 60% full so that each bite is rewarding and invigorating. Snacking every 90 minutes should keep your brain balanced enough to focus on the work at hand.

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    3. Empty University Classrooms  

    Whether or not you’re an university student, we have all been a student at some point in our lives. And when you’re in a classroom, your brain is primed to stay focused because you have been conditioned to concentrate in class. In comparison to your bedroom, where your brain is primed to relax, sleep and have fun, the environment of the classroom triggers your memory to stay alert (unless you never listened in class) and work.

    If you do decide to try working in an empty university classroom, be sure to bring a studious friend. Once you see that your friend or coworker is working hard, you would feel guilty for procrastinate and be more competitive.

    Ever heard of environmental context-dependent memory? Research has shown that environmental context influences the way we encode information. If you study in the same place you first learned the material, your chances of recalling the information are significantly increased. Use environmental cues to your advantage so you spend less time doing more work!

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    4. Outdoors

    Fresh air, sunlight, cool breeze. Talk about getting your vitamin Ds the natural way. A healthy body is crucial to being productive. If you have a porch, use it to maximize your productivity!

    On a cool day, the crisp air is good for waking your brain up. If your work station is indoors and poorly ventilated, the build up of carbon dioxide will cause your brain to be less active, hence, less productive. Try to bring some work to a park nearby or an unsheltered town square where you are exposed to the sun. Fresh air will vitalize your brain and the warm sunlight will bring a smile to your face.

    5. The Shower 

    Many people experience their “Aha!” moments when they’re in the shower. Why is that? The hot water helps with circulation and improves blood flow to your brain, giving it more oxygen and nourishment to break down your work block.

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    If you aren’t motivated to work or feeling bored, a good shower will not only open up your pores, but also give your brain a boost of energy. Keep a waterproof white board and markers in the washroom so you will never lose those wonderful ideas again!

    Featured photo credit: Thomas Franke via unsplash.com

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