3 Ways To Fuel Your Own Growth

There are 3 things that change you: travel, the people you meet, and the books you read. A few weeks back, at the Foster School of Business Innovation conference, I heard Doug Plank, a VC, say that.  To take in new ideas is to let yourself be changed. And, there’s probably as many techniques as there are people as to how to do that. As important as it is, most of us are not that intentional about it. 3 Things That Change You

So some ways you might:

1. Travel. These days when so much work can be done over skype, phone and in one’s pajamas, its often unclear why you need to board a jet plane. But it’s exactly the meta context that makes “live” incredibly important. Remember that over 50% of the US population doesn’t work for “the man”, by being either freelancers or solopreneurs. That means that we all need places and occasions for serendipity to occur. I believe live events take on more importance in the Social Era because we need places for individuals to find and connect with others. And, importantly for our careers, we need to budget both time and monies for this. I allot 20% of my annual budget for what I call “serendipity creation”. Serendipity is what allows for newness — new ideas, new people, and new connections. If you’re always hanging with the same tribe, you’ll always think the same thoughts.

Action item: How will you create more serendipity? And, do you know how much are you willing to budget for it?

2. People. I spend about 40+ hours organizing and pre-planning a trip that takes 3 days. Why? Because I’m teeing up the conversation to be a good one — by sharing what I’m interested in already, why I want to meet, sometimes sending content ahead of time, and definitely studying up on the other person’s interests. Doing all that prep work means we can go deeper into discussion. Drake Baer, a fellow writer, and I met this trip and a few key nuggets from that conversation fundamentally illuminated the work I’ve done thus far, and what I’ll work on next. The setup ahead of time was central to making our time together work. It’s not like we’re starting from scratch of “who are you”, and “who are we to one another”… Once there, I also make sure to choose a great place to meet, and then to confirm the night before that we’re on. All of that sets up the context of a great exchange. I’ll just say that meeting Drake Baer alone sparked an inspiration deluge that will fuel several weeks of ideas. I met about 10 people this trip that filled the brain, aka my journal, with new things to think about.

Action item: Are you intentional about who you need to meet and to set up those meetings with good context setting?

3. Books. So I meet a lot of people who say they are lucky if they read one book a year. On a trip like this, I packed 5 research papers. I read them each twice, and then took copious notes. Then, I went through all those notes to create a summary note to myself on what I learned. That step-by-step process is how I digest information and especially new research in the field of management. Now you could roll your eyes a bit and think, but… Nilofer, thinking (and the resulting writing/speaking) is what you do for a living. But to say that is to miss a key point: in the social era and our modern day economy, thinking new thoughts and connecting ideas / people together is what allows everyone to create value. Reading blogs is all fine and good but most will not enable you to have a trans-formative idea. By its very nature, most blog posts are skimming or representing an older idea. Those creating easy lists will motivate or inspire for a few minutes, maybe even a day. Those creating pithy comments will remind you of something you already know to be true. All good, and fine. But if you are going to be a source for value creation… you need to be thinking. And, fersure, you won’t even be thinking about an idea for long enough time to formulate an opinion, connect it to another idea, or to have your old opinion changed if you’re not reading. Long-form reading of research or of books is about letting you meditate on an idea, to let it ruminate inside you and then to let that shape you.

Action item: Make a budget of an hour a week or an hour a day to let yourself grow through books.When will that be? Honor it.

If the industrial era was about building things, the social era is about connecting things, people and ideas. These three action items will enable you to do that. And perhaps even create for a you a real problem: an inspiration deluge. ;-)

What will you do to fuel your own ability to connect things, people, and ideas?

11 Responses:

  1. Jay Oza. May 17, 2013 at 4:07 pm  |  

    Nilofer,

    All excellent ideas. I will add one more: write. Write down your thoughts in a blog the way you are doing.

    Reply
  2. Raees Husain. May 17, 2013 at 10:55 pm  |  

    Well, a tough job for student to read a book heheh.

    Reply
  3. Deven Nongbri. May 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm  |  

    I’ll add a fourth thing, a universal, that changes you: kids

    Doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you are in life, but kids coming along changes the way you approach things. You become more empathetic, your decisions include more of a longer-term view and your time is no longer your own (or yours alone with your spouse).

    Reply
  4. Peter Chee (@pchee). May 19, 2013 at 10:51 pm  |  

    Super blog post. I love reading your stuff – books/blogs. Informative and actionable. Thank you Nilofer!

    Reply
  5. Soydanbay. May 20, 2013 at 11:06 am  |  

    Dear Nilofer,

    I think traveling, socializing and reading are extremely vital to my own growth. That said, I’d like to point out that all three of them are “external” stimulants -that is we take external information in. Maybe there needs to be time for a fourth element, something that we do internally. Some might call it meditation, others imagination or reflection.

    While I think getting a consistent stream of external information is crucial to success, I also think we need time to shut down our senses and open ourselves to imagination. I personally find that key to “connecting the dots.”

    Cheers,

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. May 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm  |  

      insightful, as always.

      Reply
  6. Michael Felberbaum. June 2, 2013 at 3:02 pm  |  

    I appreciate the way you describe your process of reading. I take notes in the margins in everything I read. In this way I feel I join the author on the pursuit of her ideas. Reading, like listening or sightseeing, is about stepping into another point of view. Thanks for the inspiration and example.

    Reply

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