3L’s of Self-Directed Learning: Insights from My TEDx Talk

I started 2019 by delivering a TEDx talk at TEDxGCET in Vallabh Vidyanagar. This post covers a few key insights extracted from the talk. Video to be posted soon.


Formal education is a launch pad that equips us with fundamentals. But we need wings to fly long and high in the direction of our dreams. Ability to learn in a self-initiated mode is one of the most critical skills to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

Real learning is an inside-out process. It starts from a deep internal desire to know something, do something and change something. That’s when you take charge of your own learning.

If I look at my own journey and connect the dots, I find three things that that forms my 3L framework for self-directed learning.

The first L is “Labor of Love”

My son is fascinated by drawing and he loves creating greeting cards. When he is immersed in the process of making the card, he completely loses the sense of time and place. Fully concentrated in creating the lines and coloring.

For him, it is not work but it is play. He does it NOT because someone is asking him to do it. He does it because HE finds pleasure in it.

That to me is labor of love. Playing where our passion is. The key questions to ask then are:

  • What is it that you would do even if no one paid you to do it or asked you to do it?
  • What are your intrinsic skills – things that come naturally to you?
  • What puts you in the flow state?
  • What change do you truly want to see around you?

From an early age, I wrote because I wanted to express myself. This need to express translated into other related mediums like blogging, speaking, leading teams, running organizations, writing books and creating sketch notes.

In each case, I started at a very basic level but when I continued doing it persistently, I eventually got better at it.

When we play at the intersection of passion and effort, we elevate our game and improvise without even noticing it.

The second L is for “Lifelong Learning”

Our school system trains us to be passive learners and we always rely on someone else for our learning.

The essence of self-directed learning is to keep the inner fire alive, have an open and curious mind, , creating new knowledge through action and experimentation, make new connections to your existing knowledge, improve upon your skills and collaborate with others. It is about exposing yourself to diverse experiences and disciplines to generate independent thought and recognize patterns.

My journey into social media and blogging taught me one of the most important things about self-driven learning:

We don’t learn anything in isolation and our best learning happens when we learn with others.

Internet has made it easier to find your heroes, watch them do the work and learn from their journeys. We need to invest in finding likeminded people to share our work with, draw inspiration from, learn and collaborate.

Network and community is a great learning enabler.

One more element of lifelong learning is having a multidisciplinary approach to work. When you pursue different disciplines, you can easily use expertise from one domain into a totally different area.

Differentiation in career and innovation always happens where two disciplines intersect.

My sketchnote project is the intersection of my ideas from my blog and my drawing practice from 20 years ago when I was preparing for architecture entrance exam.

In his Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said that when he was studying at Reed College, he got into learning calligraphy. And many years later, his understanding of calligraphy inspired beautiful typography in Apple products.

He nailed it when he said that dots eventually connect. Whatever we choose to do, it eventually connects.

Lifelong learning and multiple interests empower us to seize unique possibilities when faced with adversity.

Finally, the third L is “Leverage”

Leverage, in simplest terms means finding a way to make a positive impact for yourself and others through your learning. It is about putting your learning to good use. We don’t truly learn till we execute our learning to solve real world problems.

My leadership improved when I looked at my role as a way to serve those I was responsible for.

Real learning is in the act, in putting your learning to significant service of others. Your work becomes art when it changes the self and others for better.

Today, knowledge has become a commodity and everything you want to know is out there on internet. We have moved from an industrial world to knowledge world to a creative world now. In this world, what you know is not as important as what you do with it and how you apply your knowledge to solve real world problems.

We are living in the golden age of self-directed learning. Getting information, sharing your work and connecting with others is just a click away. We have a world of possibilities now open to us.

The problem is that we are used to navigate with the help of predefined maps. Self-Directed Learning is an exploration of what lies within us, what lies outside of us and finding that sweet intersection where the magic really happens.

That’s when you truly learn things that are unique to you. That’s when you can differentiate yourself.

That’s when you stand a chance to change the world within and outside for better.


Here is the visual summary of the talk in a #sketchnote form.

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And, here is the picture of me delivering the talk Smile

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Looking Back at 2018

This blog has been my online home for over 12 years, even before I got onto Facebook and Twitter. The blog has evolved along with me. It is a platform for me to learn, think clearly and share whatever I learn through posts and sketchnotes.

This blog has had an amazing journey so far. Hundreds of posts, tens of thousands of readers each month and plenty of social sharing just encourages me further to continue this journey.

This year was a slow one for blogging but here is a round up of some of the most popular post written in 2018:

For 2019, one of my intentions is to get back to blogging more regularly (once a week) and get into a regular rhythm of consuming meaningful stuff, thinking, reflecting on my experiences, learning and sharing.

The Year of Sketchnotes Going Places

My pursuit of synthesizing and curating my lessons through sketchnotes found newer grounds.

One of the major milestones in this journey was visualizing case studies for Tiffani Bova’s new book “Growth IQ – Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” and it was a great learning experience.

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It is an amazing book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller within a few weeks and Tiffani has squeezed years of experience in this book to outline 10 growth paths through well researched case studies for each growth path.

Apart from this, sketch notes also went places and here are a few glimpses:

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I created a sketchnote selfie last year and it inspired Claire (National Health Services, UK) to encourage her workshop participants to create their sketchnote selfies. Here are a bunch of people with their sketchnote selfies!

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My blog was featured in Training and Development magazine (published by Association of Training and Development) last year with a special mention of sketchnotes.

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My sketchnote on “Working Out Loud” was featured at European Commission in June.

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Karyn Prather from Kimberly Clark (a consumer packaged goods company that has created strong five billion-dollar brands including Huggies, Kleenex, and Scott) presented my sketchnote (and insights from the amazing John Stepper) at Microsoft Ignite Content 2018, Orlando FL in September 2018.

AIM

My #sketchnote on Mindset Shifts for Transformation was presented at AIM Norway Symposium, University of Oslo by Thomas Anglero. AIM stands for Artificial Intelligence, Minds+Machines.

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Richard Tubb for sharing my insights and sketchnote to French IT and MSP companies in early December at Paris.

My biggest lesson from all this?

Labor of love is powerful. Applying what you learn is powerful. And when your gifts are deployed in significant service of others through generous sharing, it results in leverage and learning.

Grateful for all the Recognitions

I consider all recognitions as by-products of the pursuit and once in a while, when you think of them, they only encourage the pursuit.

For the Fifth consecutive year, I was fortunate to be ranked amongst Top 30 Indian HR Influencers on Social Media in May 2018.

Also, a big thanks to my friend Kurt Harden for including QAspire blog in his annual list of “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make You Smarter” for 6th consecutive year. Love all the selections in this list and always grateful for his generosity.

Change is a Constant Work

At work, it was again a year of change. Leading an organization in times of change is a challenge and an opportunity to learn a great deal in the process. Nothing in business is (and can be) stagnant and job of leaders is to communicate relentlessly and enable people make sense of changes. Leaders create an ecosystem where people not only adapt to change but also contribute positively to it.

And Other Stuff

I tried as much as possible to stay close to my intent of consuming less and creating more, dwelling in possibility and simplifying. I think I can do better on that last bit of simplifying since I have a tendency to take on more than I can handle.

Competing with the self is always exhausting because you never win!  But guided by intent of learning constantly, sharing generously and putting it al to good use, my journey continues.

A Note of Gratitude

This blog is not possible without YOU – who care to read what I write, share it along widely and encourage me all the way. I am extremely grateful for everyone who read this blog, are connected on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Here’s to a glorious 2019!

Peter Senge on Leadership Development

Real leadership does not happen after we get hold of lofty titles and peak positions in the hierarchy.

Real leadership happens when we are aware of our gifts (given to us), when we hone those gifts in the spirit of serving others, when we find whitespaces (gap between our vision and the current reality) and put our gifts to good use in filling up those gaps. Real leadership happens irrespective of external validations and titles. In fact, titles and external validations are only the by-products of the pursuit.

The reward of leadership is not just the difference we make to the context or to the people we work with, but also the kind of person we may become as a result of the pursuit.

Peter Senge on Developing Leaders

The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” by Peter Senge is such a profound book that each time I revisit it, I find something deep in a way that it serves as a timely reminder for initiatives that I may be working on. The book has an entire section that really clarifies what being a leader really looks like.

It was interesting to know that the root of the word “leadership” comes from Indo-European word “leith” which means to cross a threshold. It points to having courage to extend the boundaries, think differently and going beyond the normal call of duty.

The heart of leadership development lies in the word “charisma” as Peter Senge clarifies it.

“In fact, the word ‘charism’ comes from the Catholic church, where it means one’s distinctive personal “gifts” given  by the Holy spirit. To be charismatic, then, means to develop one’s gift. In short, we develop as true charismatic leaders to the extent that we become ourselves.”

The section outlines the concept of creative tension – that all great leaders have to deal with the tension between holding a vision and deeply assessing the current reality. It is the gap between the two that becomes a force of change. It is the source of all great leadership – at a personal level as well at an organizational level.

Finally, Senge argues that real leaders rarely see themselves as leaders. Instead, they focus on doing the work – on what needs to be done, the larger system in which they operate and people they work with.

Here is a visual summary of a particular section focusing on leadership development.

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Related Posts at QAspire.com

On Learning Slowly

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The thing with fast food is that you can avail it quickly and when more people avail more food quickly, it soon becomes a commodity. And very often, fast food may just fill the stomach without nourishing much.

The food we value is the one that not only has the right nutrients, but is also cooked with care and attention to ingredients, balance of flavors and texture. It fills our stomach, nourishes us and feeds our well being.

I guess it’s the same with the media we consume. In a  bid to stay updated all the time (which is hardly what we call learning), we consume a lot of Tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook updates etc. These are quick bites that may fill your time with an illusion of learning, unless your goal is to just fill the time with something (and hide behind it).

But if you are set out to truly learn something and go deeper, then you need slow media that is cooked slowly with care, has the right ingredients and is nourishing.

Sound bites are intellectually stimulating but unless they go deeper into our system, no change actually happens.

And learning that does not lead to change in mindset, actions and behavior is not learning, but only intellectual stimulation.

The other problem with these sound-bites is that they offer a very narrow view of the topic at hand. Truth is that nothing happens in isolation and everything is somehow connected to a larger system in ways that are not always visible.

Real learning involves a systematic exploration of all connected aspects of problem at hand. It requires a more nuanced conversation.

Take leadership, for example. Real leadership is rooted within our own deeper self, our past conditioning, cultural background and the demands of a given context. It demands a layered conversation and systems thinking within a given context, not just a list of silver bullets.

When there’s unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn’t to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that’s worth waiting for. – Seth Godin

Slow media is anything that takes time to create and consume, provokes thinking, challenges our assumption, initiates a conversation worth having, nudges us to act differently and creates an emotional connection.

Social Web is noisy and cluttered because people try to create media that pulls mass viewership to generate required number of hits, likes and shares.

The essence of social learning is to find authentic sources created with the spirit of a nuanced and collective exploration and stay away from sound bites. 

Personally, I find most value in having a good layered conversation with someone I admire, reading good books that are written in a conversational tone, podcasts and videos where individuals share deep and relevant insights on something worthwhile and blogs that carefully weave a conversation incrementally through the posts.

But then, I just don’t skim through these (or bookmark them for later reading even when I skim). I preferto read with a pencil. I take notes as I go, summarize in visual notes, then share on the blog and connect insights that are related and relevant. Finally, when it all goes deeper into my system, some of it manifests in action. That is how we learn slowly and improve gradually.

To really learn effectively, we need to consume slow media, slowly.

And then reflect upon it. And put it into practice in some way or the other. Blend it with our experience. And then share what we learn with communities that feed us.

And that’s never as easy as walking up to the always-on social media counters and grab a quick bite!

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P.S: Big thanks to Shilpa Srikanth (@S_scoops) for creating her version of visual summary for this post. Check it out here.

5 Pointers on How to Think Clearly

Developing clarity in thinking is becoming even more important in a world that is constantly trying to distract you. Overload of information being pushed at us, contrasting theories about almost everything, our own unconscious biases, ego and fear hamper our ability to look clearly through the fog.

If we improve how we think, we also  improve how we lead teams, develop people, innovate, solve important problems and grow as individuals.

When I read this post by Charles Chu at The Polymath Project titled “A Few Principles on Thinking Clearly”, I realized that sometimes the thing that impairs our thinking is our own ego, fears and motivations. That we are not motivated to think clearly on issues where we don’t have skin in the game. That models are linear but reality is not. That we need to think across disciplines to solve important problems.

In this post, Charles offers some principles on how to think clearly from the Czech-Canadian polymath Vaclav Smil. I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes outlining the key insights from the post.

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Friday Five: Slow Learning

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Friday Five is where I curate five articles (with excerpts)/quotes/tweets/visuals shared on my personal learning network that I found particularly useful, and hopefully you will find some of them valuable too!

This edition features insights on slow media, the downsides of speed reading, challenging our leadership beliefs and power of conflicts in elevating the art of storytelling.

Slow media – Seth Godin

When there’s unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn’t to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that’s worth waiting for.

I enjoy slow media – really good podcasts that I listen to while commuting, where two individuals have an insightful and layered conversation on a topic. No pithy quotes, no formulas, no shortcuts to wisdom. Insights just flow and you pick what resonates with you most. In a noisy world of information, slow media is nuanced way of learning.

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound

When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.

It is hard to learn when we anxiously scroll our newsfeeds hoping to extract whatever insight we can. The truth is, it does not last longer. Reading is an immersive process where our brain creates (and visualizes) thoughts of its own. When we skim or speed read, we often miss the whole point.

Are You Sacrificing for Your Work, or Just Suffering for It? 

So if you find work worth sacrificing your self for, then do it right: Respect your limits, pace yourself, and get the help you need to give it your best, not just your all.

While we try to catch up with the pace at work, the pace catches up with us leaving us burned out and exhausted. If this is what you experience, do read this post. My key takeaway: We need to create an ecosystem where we can give our best, not our all.

5 Questions to Surface Your Leadership Beliefs 

What you don’t see CAN hurt you. . . and your team. Unexamined beliefs can undermine your good intentions.

In this post, Jesse Lyn Stoner offers five questions to surface some important leadership beliefs and consider how well your actions reflect them.

Stories Are About Change – Steve Pressfield

Stories give us the courage to act when we face confusing circumstances that require decisiveness. These circumstances are called CONFLICTS. What we do or don’t do when we face conflict is the engine of storytelling.

Stories are at the heart of enabling change. Stories we tell and stories we live are vital in building a culture and enabling change.

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Share to Learn

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If you are doing work that you love (or love the work you do), you learn something new every single day.

This could be something you experienced, something you noticed, something thought-provoking that you read, something that worked for you (or others around you). And it is also very likely that someone out there precisely needs that help, spark of idea, wisdom and insight.

Technology has made it all the more easier to share with others, learn from others and build a community by doing so consistently. You can choose your platforms to share on, or you can create your own platform (like your own blog).

Tools really does not matter as much.

What matters is that you find your voice and courage to express your thinking.

That you build a posture of generosity when you share your insights along.

What matters is what you learn during the process of sharing, articulating and shipping your thoughts out to the world – consistently and deliberately.

Clarity of thought that you develop as a result of sharing regularly. The dots that you connect as you see your ideas unfold in increments.

And the relationships you build with your community as you add (and gain) value in tiny bursts regularly.

That makes it all worthwhile in a long run.


Related Posts on QAspire:

Technology and Being Human

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a new book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” due for release in August 2018.


Sometimes, when I see a group of people sitting physically with each other yet engrossed in their mobile screens, I feel that technology has turned us into gadgets and made us less human.

Sure, social media has transformed how we connect, collaborate and learn. But it also seems to be taking a huge toll on precisely those things that make us human.

We are not gadgets. We are capable of thinking deep, connecting the dynamic dots, be creative and solve important problems in novel ways. We are capable of dreaming, hoping, perceiving, creating, telling stories, collaborating and connecting. We are capable of deep work and generosity. And these are the things that make us human. This is how we become wise in a world where knowledge is essentially commoditized.

The key then is to leverage the social platforms as much for our learning, connecting meaningfully and collaborating rather than just allow platforms to entice us into mindless consumption.

Austin Kleon, someone whose work and art I admire posted the following:

Do more things that make you forget to check the phone.

Creativity and learning stems from doing meaningful stuff in a way that serves the community and changes others for better. That is at the heart of embracing craftsman spirit.

Do check out the wonderful podcast episode with Arianna Huffington and here is a sketchnote summary of some of the key insights.

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Related Reading at QAspire:

On Disrupting Yourself

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


During 2001 dot com bubble, one of my friends, a competent software developer, was laid off because of lack of business in the technology he worked in. He was smart enough to understand that the company needed people in a new project that was to be developed on a totally different technology. He learned the new technology, re-skilled himself fast enough to face a client interview for the new project and was retained even before his notice period got over.

In my formative years, he stood as an example of someone who totally disrupted himself when he was forced by external circumstances. Obviously, today’s complex and fast changing world demands individuals to disrupt themselves based on internal drivers of change, before external circumstances compel them to change.

In a business context, there are many organizations like 3M, Apple, NetFlix and Google whose success can be attributed to their ability to disrupt themselves continuously.

In this episode of What’s Next podcast, one of my favorite authors and thinkers Whitney Johnson says,

“Not just products, services and companies, the fundamental unit of disruption is an individual.”

Individuals disrupt themselves when they take some risk, do things that they have never done before, learn constantly, connect the dots and think about intersections between current reality (what they have done so far) and possibilities (what they could do with all innovations around them).

One of her key advices in the podcast is:

“Play to your strengths, not just what you do well but what others don’t.”

The insights in this podcast are very relevant to individuals and businesses alike.

Here is a high-level sketch note summary of this excellent conversation, which I encourage you to check out.

Tanmay Vora Whitney Johnson Sketchnote

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Creativity: Jane Kenyon’s Wise Words to Live By

How will we create and learn if we don’t step down the endless treadmill of consumption? If we keep on adding things and stuff without practicing the fine art of subtraction?

Creativity and learning stems from our inner connection, meaningful conversations and mindful consumption that truly feed us internally.

Here are some wisest words from Jane Kenyon to live a creative life. (source: This post on Brainpickings)

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Being Conscious About Our Unconscious Biases

I attended a very interesting workshop a few weeks ago on the topic of “Unconscious Bias” facilitated by Smita Tharoor. I was interested in this topic because I explored the intersection of critical thinking and leadership a few years ago. This was a good opportunity to get back to the topic and add to my understanding.

What is Unconscious Bias

The term ‘cognitive bias’ was coined by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972 which quite simply means “our tendency to filter information, process facts and arrive at judgments based on our past experiences, likes/dislikes and automatic influences.”

How do these biases show up in Leadership?

A lot of leadership is about taking decisions involving group of people. Instinctive leaders often tend to decide quickly based on limited information or experience they have at hand. The result is that they end up taking wrong decisions (which may have worked for them in past but may not work in a different context), or discriminating with people of a certain color, race, sex or nationality based on their past experiences with similar people.  At work, biases (or the perception of bias) is the biggest contributor to people disengagement and cost of disengagement is huge. Lack of critical thinking also leads to short-termism where decisions are taken for immediate gains and solutions of today become thorny problems of tomorrow.

Some Ways to Deal with Unconscious Bias

Get Conscious. Be more aware about unconscious cognitive biases. Knowing that they exist is the first important step to tackling them. And they exist in plenty. Here is a list of all unconscious biases and what they really mean.

Ask questions, often. When considering a decision, ask questions that elicit understanding and clarify details. When you ask questions, you extend an opportunity to others to really express them. You are extending an opportunity to yourself to understand their thinking more closely. Encourage a culture where asking questions is valued.

Look for Patterns. Data over a period of time reveals patterns. Looking for patterns from the results of past decision can lead to important insights and learning. Sometimes data can blind us unless we learn to look at the pattern and story behind the data.

Look for the contrary. It helps playing a devil’s advocate and taking a contrarian view of things. It not only challenges others to think harder but also helps you in really understanding if they are just defending their own biases.

Embrace Diversity. This starts with hiring decisions. Don’t hire people whose beliefs are compliant with yours. You will tap into diverse ideas and viewpoints only when you have people with diverse thinking patterns on your team.

Attend to data and evidences. When you ask your people to bring data, evidences and trends, it does not mean lack of trust. It only means that you are intentional about serving them better by taking the right decisions.

Communicate clearly. Clear and accurate communication is a leader’s tool #1. Avoid using generic terms to describe people, situations and things. Biases are most commonly visible in how a leader communicates. Being mindful about our words is critical to thinking and communicating objectively.

Here is a sketchnote summary of the discussions during the workshop.

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Also Read at QAspire:

In 100 Words: Unexpected Paths

Unexpected Paths Tanmay VoraWe decide. We experience. We Learn. And then we adapt.

We can never be certain if our decisions will turn out the way we anticipate. Sometimes, even when we have done all the critical thinking before deciding, success of a decision depends on context as well.

So, what if we change our perspective about our decisions. What if we consciously move away from our finite definitions of what is right or wrong and trust the process?

Only then can we open ourselves to new learning and opportunities.

How else shall we tread the unexpected paths? How else shall we learn?

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Also Read at QAspire:

Leaders Who Create the Future

At the heart of great leadership is the ability to critically assess current state, envision the future state and take actions to bridge the gap. Execution is effectively governed by learning and adapting the approaches along the way.

The fall of Nokia is a classic example of what happens when leaders cling to ideas that worked for them in the past without recognizing (or creating) the demands of the future.

According to Bill Taylor at Harvard Business Review, there are four kinds of leaders who create the future. The post emphasizes on a leader’s ability to learn constantly, willingness to disrupt the self when required, optimism about the future and the spirit of experimentation (and comfort with ambiguity and failures) to find new ideas that work.

Please read the full post and here is a quick sketch note summary of the post.

P.S.

Last weekend, I bought a new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil to explore digital ways of creating sketch notes. Like a kid who gets excited about her new toy, I got excited too. Spent some time over the weekend to get comfortable with Apple Pencil, get ideas about possible uses, explore different tools and finally, I zeroed in on Procreate as the tool of my choice. The result of this hustle is this first sketch note that I created digitally. As much as I love my old fashioned approach of paper and pen, I am excited about new possibilities that this digital tools bring on the table. More than anything else, I am excited about new learning that keeps me going.

Working Out Loud: Relationships and Legacy

Last week was celebrated as International Working Out Loud Week.

For those of you who are new to this, Working Out Loud is a practice of sharing your work/work in progress with a relevant community to enable learning and collaboration.

It is about being vulnerable and putting yourself, your lessons out there in communities for others to contribute and consume. It is a great way to leverage wisdom of community to improve your own work, contribute to a community that shares your purpose and build relationships based on ideas.

I started this blog in April 2006 to simply document my lessons in leading people, projects and improvement initiatives. Along the journey, I learned that if I want people to read and share their comments, I will have to do the same. And that’s how this cycle of creation, curation and contribution started. My practice of sharing what I learn along the way for last 11 years has served me (and hopefully others) well.

This journey has allowed me to live some of the five elements of working out loud: being visible, connected, generous, curious and purposeful. And all the amazing folks I interact with, communities that feed my thinking and opportunities that come my way are only happy by-products of this journey.

When introducing November 2017 #WOLWeek, Simon Terry wrote a post about how working out loud is a way to deepen relationships and create a legacy. Here is a quick sketch note version with key ideas from his post.

I encourage you to visit wolweek.com for amazing insights and resources to inspire you to work out loud.

BONUS:

Here’s a sketchnote on five elements of working out loud with insights by John Stepper:

Make More Art

Make more art.

Art that is not only confined to traditional understanding, but doing things in a way that changes others and ecosystem for better. In that sense, each one of us has a possibility to be an artist.

A project delivered successfully that enables a customer in a big way, a conversation that moves a needle for someone, generously sharing to build a community, a quick post that inspires someone, an improved process that eases life of your colleague, a talk that provokes thinking, a nudge for someone to raise the bar, a small handwritten note of gratitude to someone, thinking differently to challenge the status quo, learning something all the time, creating a piece of work that moves the conversation forward, initiating and delivering – it is all art if it makes world a better place. In fact, that’s also what real leadership looks like.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ― Edgar Degas

It is as much about small things as it is about big things. Being an artist is about raising the bar. Just when the world settles into a definition for an artist, the artist raises the bar, delivers a surprising outcome or an expected outcome in a surprising way.

To be an artist at work means pursuing craftsman spirit.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham

In this context, I loved a quote from Robert Twigger’s book “Micromastery” by Andy Warhol. I included that quote in my visual book review of Micromastery, but the quote is so inspiring that it deserved a separate visual.

Related Reading at QAspire

Disconnect to Connect

For our creativity to thrive and learning to happen, we need unburdened spaces in our life – physical spaces too, but most importantly, mental spaces.

In a world of never-ending streams of updates, pictures and sound bites that constantly crave for our attention, we need an intentional effort to disconnect.

We need to reclaim the disconnected and real space where we can make sense of it all, spend time reading a good book without getting anxious about sharing what we are reading, explore places and ideas with sense of wonder, have real conversations with people, reflect on our experiences, create and discover our true selves.

I believe that minimalism and act of subtraction is at the very heart of discovering ourselves because to understand who we really are, we need to prune everything that we are not. We need to be comfortable with ‘missing out’ on things that everyone else does or consumes or shares, so that we can think, reflect, create and just be. Letting it go is as much about our thoughts and beliefs as it is about the objects of our desire.

Here’s a quick visual nudge to disconnect once in a while, step away from the cacophony that surrounds us and do it intentionally. Who knows, it may enrich us in a way no technology ever can!

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Micromastery: A Hidden Path to Learning and Happiness

Learning anything new is not a daunting challenge, but a journey where each step counts. Fundamentally, we learn so that we can be happy and joyful. Micromastery is a great way to eliminate anxiety in learning.

Two years back, I was fascinated by people creating sketchnotes and I wanted to learn how to create them. I was unaware of what goes into creating a great sketchnote but I decided to give it a try anyway. I remember taking up a quote and creating some rudimentary visual which I then shared on Twitter as a showoffable outcome. A couple of generous folks appreciated and that feedback fueled further exploration. I then explored more to learn about structure. My second sketchnote was incrementally better than the first one. It had a structure, some use of typography and separation of key ideas. I pushed it a bit further, one step at a time, by exploring visual metaphors, learning from the community, getting better at image quality and editing/coloring them using digital tools. And then, they started getting noticed. Each step fueled the other resulting in a body of work that I am incredibly proud of.

I never felt overwhelmed along this journey because I was doing it for the joy of doing it. I wanted to get better and at the end of every iteration, I wanted myself and the world to see an improved outcome. I was pursuing what Robert Twigger calls “Micromastery”.

This approach has served me well while learning how to write, speak in public, play a few songs on harmonica (mouth organ), sing solo and play a guitar.

Truth is, that is how we learn as kids. I can see my 5 years old son dabbling into so many things, learning in small increments and then improving upon it. He doesn’t want to be a specialist. He just wants to explore whatever interests him. His latest fascination is drawing the Amazon logo and he is getting better at it. His eyes shine when he succeeds at creating stick figures.

I read this book “Micromastery” by Robert Twigger with great interest. He defines micromastery as:

“A micromastery is a self-contained unit of doing, complete in itself but connected to a greater field.”

The book nicely explores different facets connecting micromastery to dynamic learning, getting into flow, polymathism (Neogeneralism, multipotentialite) and happiness. In many ways, reading this book was liberating because it tells us that we neither need permission to learn anything nor an overwhelming plan. We just need to find what we love doing, however insignificant, and start pursuing it.

If you are a keen learner who is interested in learning wide array of things instead of going just deep, this book is for you.

Here is a sketchnote covering some ideas from the book:

Path is Made by Walking

A prescribed path seldom takes you to an uncharted territory.

Walking down a beaten road provides some security and certainty and that is important to an extent. We all live in a competitive world.  The problem starts when we get used to only treading along the beaten path. Because wherever it leads you to would be a crowded place.

We need the spirit of exploration as much as we need certainty. We need an open heart willing to surrender to the joy of finding the unknown. We need feet flexible enough to follow the direction of our heart. We need to pursue the joy and find joy in the pursuit. We need to experiment, look for intersections, dig them deeper, with others and share. And then we find the interesting. Then we truly learn.

And it is only when we learn with this sense of exploration that we can create our unique path that others may choose to walk upon, eventually to find their own paths.

The way to remain open to possibilities is to think that there is no path. That the steps you take and celebrating each step along creates a path that is uniquely yours.


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In 100 Words: Immersion and Doing Work that Matters

We cannot be anxious about something “out there” – a goal, a target, an external reward, a validation from others and generally things that feed our ego – and be immersed in what we do at the same time.

To be able to do great work/art that changes others for better, we need to let “joy” rule us instead of “ego”. Then there is no self in the game: self is just a conducive medium for the inspiration to show up in form of work.

If/when this happens, rewards and recognition will be by-products of the pursuit, not the pursuit itself.  


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Move And The Way Appears

I am a big fan of taking small, daily steps in the direction where your energy takes you. I started this blog 11 years back with very insignificant posts that no one read. My first sketch note a couple of years back was far from being good. My first steps towards a health and wellness were slow and tentative. But how does that matter?

Because, those first few insignificant posts did not deter me from moving forward. I wrote, and wrote more. And as I did that, I learned how it works. I did more of what worked and here we are – a blog with tens of thousands of readers each month, sharing their encouragement to me via comments, likes and shares on several social channels. This blog has a life of its own.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things bought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I remember I was hesitant in sharing my first sketch note. But less than 2 years after I shared the first one, the sketch notes have gone viral – from social media to global conferences to office walls to being included in books. When I started, did I have a purpose to make them viral? I just knew that I enjoyed making them, learning along the way and improving all the time. I was pursuing joy and suddenly, the way started appearing. 

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of only standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

I lost significant weight (nearly 12% of my total body weight) in past 4 months.  My big plan was to move one small step at a time – read a bit about what it takes, take small steps towards cleaner eating, do small changes in lifestyle, get more active and suddenly, it all started revealing. Lessons came to the fore as a result of moving forward slowly, daily and steadily.

My biggest lesson in learning is:

It doesn’t matter what you wish to do. It never happens in one big bang. Instead, it happens in a series of small steps taken with an open mind, learning along each step and putting that learning back into the next step. And then it grows, purpose reveals and you are on a journey before you realize. Forward motion, however small, feeds our esteem and inspires us.

Purpose may not always be the starting point of your journey. Sometimes, you start the journey and the purpose reveals itself.

And who knows, small steps you take in the direction of your heart may open up new paths for you and inspire others? Small is never insignificant, but a powerful step towards a higher purpose.

Move, and the way appears! 


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