Professional development process: Update, expand, challenge, and validate #PD #PLN

I stumbled upon Angie Hicks (co-founder of Angie’s List) LinkedIn guest post titled “Class of 2013: Your Education is Totally Unfinished” today. The post starts this way:

One sunny day 18 Mays ago, I sat in a black cap and gown, listening to the writer John Jakes describe how the diploma I’d soon receive represented just the start of a lifetime of learning.

“My congratulations on completing your incomplete education,” he told the DePauw University Class of 1995. “Now go out and finish it.”

Graduation is on the agenda for many people at this time of the year, and that piece of advice is extremely relevant to people entering the workforce. Learning cannot stop when you get out of school. It’s actually where most of it starts.

As someone who’s been working full time for the last 12 years, I’d like to share some thoughts regarding my views of lifelong professional development. I think the process is a cycle that goes somewhat like this: Update, expand, challenge, and validate.

1. Update

If you are to become an expert, or at least someone who will get consulted in an area of expertise, you need to keep up with the news in your industry. Most people do this by watching the news, reading specialized magazines and journals, subscribing to mailing lists and notifications, going to conferences or trade shows, etc.

But nowadays, you really need to connect to people you trust on social media to be in the know as soon as something happens. So make sure to follow and interact with people in your industry, to create a personalized flow of information coming your way (a dashboard populated by people in your personal learning network).

2. Expand

Don’t get cornered in your little slice of the pie. You need a larger view of your job, your industry, the economy, and the world to be able to put your expertise in perspective. Having a broader view allows you to seize opportunities and detect when you’re heading in a dead-end.

To expand your knowledge, you need to follow people who have made their niche a topic you are peripherally interested in. By delegating the task of keeping track of peripheral topics to people you trust, you liberate yourself from having to do it yourself.

3. Challenge

Don’t be afraid to follow people who disagree with your point of view. You need to keep an open mind and assess your beliefs against the ones you’re exposed to. Your personal learning network should not be an echo chamber. If that’s the case, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Validate

When you find something out (or when you’re not sure if you’ve nailed it), expose your line of thoughts by blogging, posting updates, creating diagrams or videos, whatever you need to get the word out, and invite others to criticize. This way, you will get a sense of the validity of your ideas; you will know if the wisdom of the crowd supports your case.

Leverage your connections by engaging them in a discussion (not simply by hoping to get people to read your blog). Target people in your social media shares (by using “@”s and “plusses”) by picking out key quotes and writing down questions to be addressed. If you don’t know what this looks like, check out Laura Gibbs Google+ account!

… and do it over and over again

Never let an old notion stick for too long. Always repeat the process. The world changes at an ever-accelerating pace, so your mind needs to ride along.

In a change management class I took many years ago with Professor Carole Lalonde, the concept of crystallization was introduced to me. I couldn’t find the original article from Kurt Lewin (1952), but here is a quote from Bareil & Savoie (1999) summarizing his time-based change management theory.

Le modèle de changement de Lewin comporte trois phases : la décristallisation, aussi appelée dégel; l’état transitoire ou déplacement ou mouvement; et la recristallisation, aussi appelée regel.

Photo credit: Howard on FlickrLoosely translated, the three phases are 1) decrystallisation (or thawing), 2) transition (or movement), and 3) recrystalization (or freezing). My point here is the following: You can’t afford to always be frozen solid! If you’re a 21st century knowledge worker, you have to keep yourself (aka your mind) moldable. FYI, my reference on mind amplifiers is Howard Rheingold (see Net Smart).

So, how do you keep yourself moldable?

UPDATE: George Station shared this post from Liz Krane about How to learn anything. How appropriate!