John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Learning – Ivy Style

I recently wrote extensively about developing a Personal Professional Competitive Advantage. I highlighted the value – the benefits of having a competitive advantage that was unique, personal and professional.  How do you get that? How do you do it? Learning is essential.

Learning is personal, and somewhat permanent. If you have a degree, that is something that nobody can ever take away from you… And it is YOURS.  If you learn something useful, that knowledge is YOURS.  It goes beyond that – beyond the thought where the knowledge belongs to YOU – it is something unique and powerful. 

Ivy League Learning How about Free Ivy League Classes?  How about a few classes from a really great school?  If you could add a few classes from MIT, a few classes to Stanford, a few classes from Notre Dame… Put those on your resume, on your LinkedIn, mention them in interviews – do you think that would that provide you a compelling competitive advantage?  The first thought is that taking classes like that would be an incredible investment of time and money… but what if you could do that, free?

I don’t want to discount the value of  the contacts that you would make by attending a really great university in person… but you can take classes like that now and you can take them for free. Let me say it again.  Those classes are available, free. 

I’ve taken one from Notre Dame and one from Stanford University. In 2010, I plan to take 6 more courses.  I am working on a new project to make it easy to find free classes like that – so – if YOU would like to take a free ivy league college class, and you are willing to write a short review, please CONTACT me.

Stay Tuned – Coming soon…  :-)

December 22nd, 2009 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Life | no comments

Personal Professional Competitive Advantage

Personal Professional Competitive Advantage

Dan Schawbel  is eloquent and persuasive when he advocates personal branding. He evangelizes personal branding like it is the be-all, end-all. He is perhaps the foremost expert, a syndicated columnist, and he is intelligent and extremely professional. I think that he is right about the importance of personal  branding… to a point.

His dream is to “To become the bridge, where qualified applicants can cross to land the positions theybridge deserve.  To create a personal branding class in every school internationally, helping students follow their passions”  That is a good star to shoot at, but he is slightly misguided.

The important thing in finding a job and building a career is not to build a brand. There are dozens of examples. There are hundreds of examples out there – Jeff Bullas, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban, Matt CuttsGuy Kawasaki, and Danny Sullivan each have a fantastic personal brand. Collectively they have billionsashton of dollars and millions of followers. They have people who are evangelists of their personal brands. They have originality, intelligence, and each is unique.  Building those personal brands, to be sure, were important. I’d argue that the brand wasn’t the absolute essential component of their success, but rather that it was only one important component.

The most important thing in finding a job and extending a career is building a Personal Professional Competitive Advantage.  Think about that for just a minute:

  • Personal. It is about you. It is unique. It is synonymous with you. It is elementary to you. It was Michael Jackson’s moonwalk and infectious beats. It is Beyonce’s … uh, voice. It is Obama’s ears. It is Tiger’s Wood. (sorry, couldn’t resist)  It is something about you makes you who you are. It could be as simple as where you are from, or as complex as where you are going. It could be as static as where you are, or as whirling as what you are about.  Danica Patrick is a driver. Sean Connery is an Actor. Morgan patrickFreeman has Gravitas. Mark Cuban is that eccentric personal billionairre who is willing to dance with stars, and wrestle. What does that mean to YOU? Think about yourself, from other people’s perspectives. Is there ANYTHING that is that personal?  There should be. Think about it. Make it happen. Decide what the unique personal qualities are, within yourself, that make you a rock star, every day. Accentuate those qualities, Refine them.
  • Professional. It is about your job. It is about your profession. It is about your career. It is about your path. It is about the passion that pays you, in whatever way you want. There must be something
  • Competitive.  It is about a burning torch inside you, flaring up at the sight of the next torch. It isbolt about Usain Bolt’s speed. It is about you. You must seize a job search like a competition. Someone else is going to spend 10 hours researching a company before a job interview. Someone else is going to figure out who the people are. Someone else is going to remember the names, make eye contact, dress to impress, perfectly craft a resume. Somebody else is going to write thank you letters, is going to send follow-up emails, is going to be sincere, thoughtful, and is going to fight with every ounce.  Fight harder. Spend 20 hours. Figure out who the people are, what schools they went to, who their families are, what their hobbies are, what charities they lead. Know everything there is to know, and know it as well as it can be known.   As for your job – your career, profession, your gig… be the best. Simply be the best. Work the hardest, the longest, the strongest and be the most devoted – and to tip my hat to Dan Schwabel – ensure everyone knows that you are.
  • Advantage. Be first. Be the best. Don’t just do enough to get by. Do enough so that nobody can get by you. Don’t just keep your place, keep your status quo, and keep your own rut. Be better, faster, bigger, stronger, smarter, and be far, far ahead of your competition.

So – this seems like lots of flowery language and motivational clichés – what is a Personal Professional Competitive Advantage?

Here’s an example.  In the last 3 years, I’ve completed about 60 classes across a broad range of professional, technical, management and leadership topics. I’ve completed an ITIL V.3 certification, and taken courses at Stanford and Notre Dame. I have a strong belief that technical and business changes are moving so fast that if I don’t take a huge number of classes in those areas, my baseline of knowledge will become obsolete in about 18 months.  I have developed a presence on Twitter, written a blog, attended chamber of commerce meetings, built a business, consulted with some local companies, and I have done essential things at work.

But that isn’t enough. It is not enough to develop a Personal Professional Competitive Advantage. What I’ve done is more than most people in my career field do, but to me, what I have done is really just enough to keep up to speed. It is not enough to be right at the bleeding-cutting edge. To do that, I probably need to complete a minimum of 4 Ivy League courses annually. I probably should edit or write a book or two.   

Perhaps I should write something on Personal Professional Competitive Advantage as a an essential component of career development.

What do you think?

December 15th, 2009 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Life | 2 comments

Metrics and Life

We track what we care about – We track metrics that matter in our lives. If we care about something, it is important to HAVE metrics that we can track – metrics that measure improvement or not.

I had a doctors appointment yesterday. For the most part I just wanted to get some renewed RX’s, but as part of every visit, my doctor’s office checks weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and temp. My BP was a bit high, probably because I worked past 3am the night before, and started at 7am yesterday – probably because I’ve got 3 dozen projects simultaneously in need of care and feeding – probably because I was stressed about trying to get to the doctor’s office on time.  For the slightly elevated BP, I have rationalizations.

But I was also up 11 lbs since my last doctor’s visit, and that was only 3 months ago. scale I was shocked. For many years, I’ve made it a practice to check my weight daily. I’ve checked it in the morning, checked it in the evening, checked it randomly almost every day.
When I look at the results – the bare measurement – and the factors involved in reaching those results, I am left with 2 emprical findings:

1) I stopped measuring my weight
2) My weight went where I didn’t want it to go

These two things are connected. As a whole, in life and in technology, people measure what they care about.  Everyone watches their 401k, their annual salary… Everyone watches metrics about things in their life that are important to them.  The first big company website I managed increased its traffic over 500% in the first year that I managed it. I know that particular statistic because that metric was one that I cared about.

Over the last two months, I’ve sold a house, bought a house, moved from one house to another… I’ve painted 4 ceilings, 3 rooms, and climbed on the roof to blow leaves out of gutters 3 times. I’ve also started a new gig, gained several hundred twitter followers and gotten my latest business almost ready to launch.  The weight metric has escaped my monitoring because everything in my life has overwhelmed my time-limited and adhd-rattled attention-span.

I treated my weight as if it was less important.

We track what we care about – We track metrics that matter in our lives. If we care about something, it is important to HAVE metrics that we can track – metrics that measure improvement or not.
My point is – when you care about something, when something is important to you, make sure you have some measure of it. Make sure you have some metric that you can measure and monitor to ensure the thing that you care about is going in the direction you want it to go.   Monitoring that sort of measurement, that sort of metric is the best way to correct course when things aren’t going your way.

This morning, before I started work, I stepped on the scale.

What do you think? Do you have metrics for things that matter to you? Do you monitor and manage them?

December 9th, 2009 Posted by | Business, Continuous Improvement, Life, Other Stuff, People | no comments