The Proven, the Provocative and the Perverse…

August 9, 2019

15 unexpected ways to develop yourself and others

The world of learning and development is changing. Employees are demanding more personalised, self-directed learning across all sectors. They are becoming more selective and more instrumental in terms of what they want from their professional development. One size doesn’t fit all and as result, the once-popular, two-week residential training course is rapidly disappearing in favour of short, sharp, pragmatic learning which is explicitly linked to the requirements of evolving work tasks.
While there is growing consensus in how the majority of learners wish to develop, there is also an increasing frustration among management groups with regard to the way any upskilling is currently taking place. According to the Chartered Management Institute, over 70 per cent of UK managers would like to provide their staff with easy-to-access, easy-to-consume and easy-to-implement development opportunities which can be integrated into everyday work experiences. However, for this to happen, organisations need to know how to access reliable and proven content - and learners need to feel more empowered to be able to take charge of their own professional development.

Reflecting these recent developments, here are some straightforward ideas to help support both personal and professional growth:

Practical ideas to develop yourself

  1. Search for a credible mentor to stimulate your personal and professional growth. Musician Ray Charles mentored Quincy Jones, fashion designer Christian Dior mentored Yves St Laurent and Albert Einstein was mentored by Max Talmud.
  2. Set yourself GBOGs. Great Big Outrageous Goals shouldn’t work, but they do. They stretch you out of the ordinary and are so ambitious they can resonate with you and others. They offer the power to elevate us beyond what we thought was possible. At the age of sixteen, Winston Churchill shared his GBOG and was quoted as saying, ‘I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London … in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire’.
  3. Begin a journal. Personal reflection is a great way to develop self-awareness and capture all your important observations. Keep an ideas file containing unusual personal development suggestions and innovative ideas. Review your entries at the end of every week. It doesn’t matter whether you use a tatty old notebook, a leather binder or one of the new online sites such as – where you can write whatever comes to mind and then receive feedback on your emotions and thoughts.
  4. Habit, habit, habit. Routinely wake up thirty minutes earlier and use this extra time to set the tone for the day ahead. ‘The first hour of the morning is the rudder of the day.’ The ability to find pockets of extra time to invest in ourselves and stop feeling so rushed is even more relevant in today’s hectic world. Successful development coaches, advocate waking up between 5 am and 6 am each day to help improve productivity and quality of life.
  5. Get an earful. Virtually everyone has heard of TED Talks, but if you prefer to learn while on the go, try tuning in to the TED Radio Hour show at, which delivers thought-provoking podcasts by some remarkable people.
  6. Choose who you surround yourself with. Entrepreneur Jim Rohn famously observed that we are all the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. This is based on the law of averages, which states that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. Who you spend your time with may, therefore, impact on who you become.
  7. Become your team’s local advocate for continuous professional development. Actively pursue all relevant learning and development opportunities available to you. Get an Ivy League education for free and complete your studies at your own pace using Open Yale Courses and Stanford Online, both of which are packed with hundreds of video courses on everything from finance to psychology.
  8. Remember much more of what you learn by using spaced repetition. Follow the design of the latest learning-based software and improve personal retention levels by repeating any learned material over increasingly spaced intervals. This technique requires greater effort, which has been proven to enhance your ability to recall information at a later date.

Practical ideas to develop others

  1. Reject conventional wisdom which says people can be fixed. Recent evidence reveals that your energies may be better invested in trying to draw out what has been put in, rather than wasting time attempting to address what has been left out. Where possible, focus on strengths, not weaknesses.
  2. Throw out the old sandwich. The overused ‘praise sandwich’ technique (consisting of praise–criticism–praise) for providing feedback, dilutes the message and is rarely effective. Give positive feedback when the employee has earned it and negative feedback when it is necessary. Offering praise and criticism independently of one another is more respectful towards the employee and builds trust between you.
  3. Find out about the Dunning–Kruger effect, which states that unskilled individuals tend to mistakenly assess their ability to be higher than it actually is. At the same time, highly skilled individuals tend to overestimate the relative capability levels of others by assuming that tasks which are easy for them will also be easy for their colleagues.
  4. Be flexible in the adoption of the popular 70:20:10 model where 70 per cent of development comes through day-to-day tasks, 20 per cent through exposure to coaching, networking and collaboration, and 10 per cent through formal learning and professional qualifications. Fast-paced organisations and businesses going through large-scale transitions may need to turn this model on its head in the short term.
  5. Apply carefully selected ‘hinge questions’ to informally underline key learning messages across your workgroup. Hinge questions can be used to underline pivotal moments or key thinking which you wish to highlight. For example, ‘When do you think an administrator should forsake accuracy for speed?’ may provoke a variety of interesting responses.
  6. Be there, be useful, be quick. Apply these three principles of Google’s ‘micro-moments’ to your approaches to self-directed learning. Leverage emerging technologies to enable people to consume information through their mobile devices at a time convenient to them. Equip your staff to receive short, easy-to-access learning opportunities which are both quick and useful. Examples could include podcasts, infographics, PDFs, gaming technologies, video clips and relevant articles.
  7. Don’t forget to support your higher performers. Stretch and challenge more able employees through job enlargement and job enrichment activities. Expand the performance threshold for your most talented people by providing them with self-directed learning projects to prevent them from plateauing or from working mainly in their comfort zone.

For more proven, provocative and (sometimes) perverse ideas to develop yourself and others, take a look at ‘Upskill: 21 keys to professional growth’ which provides 840 practical ways to help people adapt to new approaches and work methods. The book can be used to support upskilling through the identification of relevant and realistic options for professional growth. Readers will discover a host of proven techniques: relevant quotes, articles and resources; carefully selected videos; novel approaches; time-saving apps; topical insights; and engaging tools. This compendium of high leverage tools and techniques delivers a dynamic snapshot of learning possibilities and can be used by managers, supervisors, coaches and HR and training professionals – as well as proactive employees who are committed to their own personal growth.  ‘Upskill’ is published by Crown House Publishing and is available from or your preferred bookstore.

For a free sample chapter of ‘Upskill’ on how to be more creative:

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