Closing The Expert Gap

Don't Just Stand There

Since it’s just you and me here, I’ll admit a secret: I really hate being terrible at something.

When I try to pick-up a new skill, I take a look around at people that have been doing that “thing” for years, and I immediately want to be on their level. I want the instant gratification of being excellent instead of slogging through years of being terrible.

For the better part of the past three months, I’ve focused all of my free time on one thing – learning front-end web development, specifically JavaScript. I enrolled in a front-end course on Treehouse. I subbed out fiction before bed for Eloquent JavaScript so I could dream in for loops and if statements.I stopped writing blog posts and told all of my freelance clients I was busy.

Here we are at the end of three months of full immersion and guess what? I’m nowhere near where I thought I would be.

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The Importance of Self-Learning and 5 Key Steps to Put Into Practice

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Genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught by another person.

― Immanuel Kant

We’re born as self-learners. As children, we rely heavily on our ability to learn from our surroundings and the actions of others. As adults, however, it’s easier to pass the buck onto others and ask for help rather than to spend the frustrating hours, days, or weeks learning ourselves. Our innate ability to learn and adapt becomes dull.

When I posted my “Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer” post, I had quite a few friends reach out asking how they could score the same type of job. Many of these individuals came from a completely non-technical background so landing a job in the tech industry seemed like a long shot. They didn’t have experience in tech, and it didn’t seem like something you could just “pick up.”

That, of course, isn’t true.

Regardless of your background, it’s completely possible to learn a new career field. Hell, it’s possible to learn anything. Perhaps more importantly, it’s possible without going back to school. Heading back to formal education is a knee-jerk reaction and isn’t necessary unless your intended career field has some sort of required credentials.

If formal education isn’t necessary, what exactly is the secret sauce to self-learning? Here are five keys I’ve put into practice myself.

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5 Lessons I’ve Learned From One Year at Automattic

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As of a few days ago, I’ve now been working for Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, for just over a year. It’s hard to believe that just a short time ago, I was ending my trial and starting full-time on a product that I both love and believe in.

I’ve written quite a bit about the trial process and what a day in the life of a Happiness Engineer looks like. But, I haven’t written much about insights working for a distributed company or how I now view customer support. In other words, what I’ve learned over the past year working at Automattic. In no particular order, here are the top five items.

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A Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer

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This week, many of us at Automattic are documenting our day to give everyone an idea of what it’s like to work for an entirely distributed company. If you’re interested in reading more you can follow the tag #a8cday at WordPress.com and on Twitter. Here’s my day as a Happiness Engineer.

Whenever I tell someone I’m a Happiness Engineer, I normally get a blank stare followed by one of two reactions:

  1. The person pretends like they know what that means and no further questions are asked.
  2. A short chuckle ensues with the follow-up question, “So, what does that mean?”

I definitely understand. Before working at Automattic, I had no real idea what a Happiness Engineer might do.

So, what does a Happiness Engineer actually do on a daily basis? The short answer: we do whatever it takes to make the user experience as great as possible at WordPress.com. For those that want more, here’s my complete schedule from October 6th, 2014 to give you an idea of what it’s like to work for a company that is 100% distributed.

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How to Make Better Decisions Based on Science

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This post was originally written for the Crew blog.

2+2=

Unless you’re a cyborg, you couldn’t help but think of the number “4″ when you saw the above expression. In the same way, the partial phrase “bread and” leaves you with the word “butter” on the tip of your tongue. That’s no accident.

Our brains make thousands of decisions every day. Many of them (like whether you want cream and sugar in your coffee) seem to be automatic. Others (like where you want to go for dinner) can be a bit more taxing and require mental effort.

Research has identified two seemingly separate “systems” of the brain responsible for decision-making. In order to make better decisions, we need to understand what each of these systems is responsible for and how we can shift from one to the other.

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How to Become More Creative

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This post was previously published on the Crew blog.

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip in three minutes?

If you’re average, you’ll probably be able to drum up 10 or perhaps 20 different uses. I came up with 11. The somewhat famous paperclip test was created in 1967 by J.P. Guilford as a measure of divergent thinking. It’s part of a group of assessments known as ‘alternative use tests’ which measure creativity.

Incomplete Figure Start

 

The above example shows a common incomplete figure exercise. This test asks users to complete the picture in each window. This is another test of divergent thinking, the more creative you are the more interesting the results tend to be (see below).

Incomplete Figure exercise

 

Creativity is often viewed as something you either have or you don’t. But that’s not entirely true, according to a study completed by Harvard, creativity is 85% a learned skill. That means we can improve. The question is how?

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Define Success on Your Own Terms

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That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

Henry David Thoreau

You probably remember Henry David Thoreau for his amazing literary works.

Chances are you haven’t heard of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.1

In 1839, Thoreau and his brother John made a boat and hiking trip from Concord, Massachusetts to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When John ended up passing away a short time later in 1842, Thoreau set out to recreate the trip in novel form.

The only problem? No one wanted to buy it.

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How to Improve Your Reading Retention on Any Device

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This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.

Last Tuesday, after running errands, sitting in traffic, and finishing a normal work day–I still had time to read for nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes. In just one day, I finished nearly half of Essentialism by Greg McKeown. With this kind of speed, my Amazon Wish List would be toast within weeks.

Now comes the confession: I wasn’t actually reading. I was listening. Essentialism was my first audiobook. It felt a bit like cheating, like audiobook listeners couldn’t really call themselves hardcore readers. Another problem? While I easily finished the book, I doubt I remember half of the information.

This led me to explore the science behind reading retention. It’s easy to blame technology for what appears to be our growing lack of retention. But perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking on what we should be reading, we’re much better off solving the issue of retention by asking how we should be reading.

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How to Force Yourself to Improve

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This article was republished on Thought Catalog.

Gary Cohn owes his first job on Wall Street to a cab ride1.

Cohn was twenty-two and working as a salesman for U.S. Steel in Cleveland. On one particular day, he found himself in Long Island and decided to venture down to Wall Street. While he was there, he decided he wanted a job.

The only problem? Cohn didn’t know anything about finance.

Since he had no connections on Wall Street and little experience that would qualify him for a job, he couldn’t pursue the ordinary route of handing in a resume. So, he went after a different angle. He stood outside of the commodities exchange until he overheard a well-dressed man catching a taxi to LaGuardia. Without missing a beat, Cohn asked if they could share a cab ride.

This gave Cohn an hour in the car with a higher up in one of the top brokerage firms on Wall Street.

Throughout their conversation, Cohn discovered the firm was entering the options business. However, the higher up didn’t know the first thing about buying or selling an option. He asked Cohn how much he knew.

Malcolm Gladwell recounts Cohn’s response in David and Goliath:

When he said, ‘Do you know what an option is?’ I said, ‘Of course I do, I know everything, I can do anything for you.’

That, of course, was a lie. Cohn knew nothing about options trading. But, he was able to score an interview. He spent the next few days reading books on options trading and landed the job.

Cohn knew the best way to improve is to commit to action before you’re ready.

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The Power of Posture & How to Improve It

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This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.

When you read the title of this post, you likely sat up a bit taller or pulled your shoulders back just a bit.

As much as we tend to ignore posture during our normal day, the idea of perfect posture is ingrained in our heads since childhood. It turns out our parents may have been doing more than just instilling proper manners.

Posture has a great deal to do with how others perceive you in business situations. It can help convey confidence or portray weakness. Your posture can help you boost your income, ace that presentation, and, yes, even score your dream date. Let’s look at how you can use it to your advantage.

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