Five Core Ingredients for Individual Professional Growth

How to organize yourself to not get lost in the information overflow

Individual professional growth can come in many flavors. The most significant but often ignored fact is that it starts within the individual, i.e. you. No shortcuts possible — you can cheat yourself into good positions, even into career successes with clever tactical maneuvers, but that’s not what I mean with “professional growth”. Sustainable achievements can only be reached if you let room and time for their evolution. I tried over the years to give that process a structure that helps me to draw the most benefits of my thought work. For me, I identified five ingredients that work best to keep my growth process staying on track.

These ingredients are

  • A professional base you can start with. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” is the saying, which indicates that of course your efficiency and effectiveness increases if you don’t have to start from scratch with new undertakings. Today, it is not a must to have had a long formal education in a special domain. Passion for a theme or topic if often enough to ignite the process cycle of take-in, trying, failing, correcting, having success and wanting more.
  • The ability to run in perpetual meta mode, which reflects what you are currently doing / experiencing and allows to distill insights on the spot for later use. This is in fact something I started to practice quite in my early professional years. The amount of information you have to digest doesn’t give you the chance to “collect and read later”. Everything below the top sheets of the stack is lost, only revealed briefly again much later, when you clean up your desk/brain and with a regretful shrug discard the meanwhile outdated gems of information.
  • A stable personal information digesting practice that allows you to evolve that stream of micro insights into a body of coherent ideas. This should be an easy to use content-tracking tool that you have on your mobile, your notebook or can access it from the web wherever you are. Ease of use an availability are important since this tool is being constantly used as your personal encyclopedia (maps, notes, links). Try to avoid clutter here — the more tools you use the bigger is the chance that you lose something. You have to practice some discipline in writing, giving meaningful titles and maybe tags (I personally prefer to get rid of tags as much as possible. Today’s search capabilities are better to find your way back than invented tags that you don’t recall on search time). Use your idle time (e.g. while commuting) to keep your notes somewhat ordered and consistent. And. highlight the ones you want to keep as outstanding new hubs of knowledge. I call this part of my personal knowledge management “curation-on-the-fly”. It’s lightweight and yields the results I need.
  • An “encyclopedic” reference grid that allows you to triangulate, bringing back purpose if you went too far out for your discoveries. I love maps and try to chart a domain while diving deep. So I can always return to other areas of interest to make my knowledge net of the topic more durable.
  • A personal network where you can learn out loud to connect with others to explain, listen and evolve. Go find your guild, to deepen your understanding of a domain or a point of interest. Meetups and User Groups are a good starting point since they connect you to real people instead of the epheremal “facebook friend”. Reach out to others with questions or if you feel you have something to share that might be of interest for others. Since you reflect and curate all the time, it should be easy to publish small articles or presentations regularly, increasing your reach within a topic network.

Of course there are multitudes of other tools, methodologies, learning concepts and development paths to be successful in your lifelong learning journey. This is my approach which I practice on a daily basis, and it gives me the comfortable feeling that I can cope in a good with the information overflow that we all face.

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Martin Jahr

Martin Jahr

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Digital Designer & life-long learner of computers & humans. Now up to create, coach and deliver learning deployment strategies in Germany where things are late.