Imagine Your Future(s) to Guide Your Present

Imagine Your Future(s) to Guide Your Present

Dealing with uncertainty is the new normal, whether you’re looking through the lens of a parent, a CEO, or an individual contributor. With so many questions floating around in our heads, a natural reaction is to avoid thinking about the future and focus on what’s right in front of us today and tomorrow. However, it turns out that thinking about the future, in fact thinking about multiple possible futures, can provide the secret to working through all that uncertainty today.

A good friend of mine, Peter Scoblic, recently published an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “A Better Crystal Ball: The Right Way to Think About the Future.” While Peter’s focus is on a business and organizational context, the more I’ve talked over his research that underlies the article, the more I believe his findings apply to us as individuals as well.

The basic premise is this: By imagining multiple plausible futures - think 10-15 years out - and then working backwards to identify the events that would have occurred on the way to each future scenario, we can identify common threads and identify patterns that drive our decision making today. While Peter and his co-author, Philip Tetlock incorporate forecasting in their approach, let’s focus on the idea of imagination and scenarios.

If we map out five future scenarios based on our personal and professional lives, what would they look like? Don’t limit yourself to what you think is likely. In fact, it’s important that you stretch the boundaries and pick five different scenarios. For example, one might have you create a foundation for charitable work. Another might have you start a company. Another might have you lose your job and have to sell your house. While this last one isn’t a positive outcome, going through the exercise of laying out these scenarios gives us a powerful tool for making decisions today, tomorrow, and next month.

Once you have your different scenarios laid out, look at the common threads. What commonalities do you see? What would be the signposts that would tell you if you’re headed down the path to one or more of these possible futures? Peter and Philip push business and organizational leaders to develop question clusters: “Questions should be chosen not only for their individual diagnostic value but also for their diversity as a set, so that each cluster provides the greatest amount of information about which imagined future is emerging—or which elements of which envisioned futures are emerging.” We can apply the same technique for ourselves. As we start to find answers to these questions, we can adapt and develop new questions.

This exercise is key to help us escape what Scoblic and Tetlock refer to as “the tyranny of the present.” This requires imagination and a willingness to put our biases aside while we think about possible futures to in turn guide the decisions we make in the present.

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Conquer Your Fear of Tech

Conquer Your Fear of Tech

In this day and age, technology is everywhere, from the ubiquitous smartphone, to different cloud computing platforms that host most of the applications we rely on for work. Given the pervasiveness of technology in our daily lives, it’s understandable that we may not want to admit to a fear of learning new technologies, but don’t worry, we won’t judge. 

If you have been tech curious but were afraid to ask, now’s the time to dive in. Don’t be intimidated by new technologies or run from them.  It’s never too late, and ignoring tech won’t help your odds of finding a job or starting a business.

Here are some great resources to help you conquer your fear of new tech, whether you just want to understand what all the acronyms actually mean, or if you’re looking for an easy way to sharpen your tech skills.

Technology Resources

Grow with Google is a great place to start. Google has been quietly building out this online learning hub since 2017. It focuses on a wide range of topics, from basic free training to more specialized topics like learning technology in education, or training for veterans and military families.

Do you come from a traditional media and marketing background and want to sharpen your digital skills? Grow with Google also offers certifications like this one in the Fundamentals of digital marketing.

Through its EdX site, Microsoft also offers free online courses from a range of over 140 different institutions spanning topics like software development, data science, and engineering.

LinkedIn Learning also provides a broad range of content, some free, some paid. For example, here’s a good one on collaboration in the modern workplace. It provides a nice survey of different tools around file management, collaborative editing, and communication.

Want to go a bit deeper and learn about cloud computing and what you can do to start building and testing your own cloud services? Check out our post on the promise of ‘no code’, and then look at some of the training resources from the major cloud providers:

Cloud Computing and Amazon Web Services

AWS free training

Azure Training on LinkedIn Learning

There are tons of free courses on LinkedIn Learning (now owned by Microsoft).

Just looking to understand more about the different tools that can help you work remotely? Check out this article from Skillcrush.

There’s a world of options out there, but this should give you a good place to start and make your journey into new technology less intimidating.

Reviewed and Recommended

On a related note, here’s a great Ted Talk on myths about the future of work and the impact technology will have through increased automation. It covers fear of substitution, and the positive benefits through what Daniel Susskind calls the “complementarities” of new technologies.

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Top 10 Books for First-Time Entrepreneurs

Top 10 Books for First-Time Entrepreneurs

So you’re thinking about starting a company, and you’re trying to sift through the thousands of resources out there to help you get started. We at illume hire want to make it a little easier for you with our Top 10 Books for the First-Time Entrepreneur list. 

Our goal with this list is as much to introduce you to the different topics and angles as you consider taking the leap into running your own business as to help you pick specific books. In addition, we plan to keep this a living list as new books come out over time. 

1. The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank.

While Blank’s Four Steps is clearly targeted toward entrepreneurs focused on technology businesses, in our experience it provides one of the most widely applicable roadmaps for starting a company. Blank is widely credited with launching the Lean Startup methodology, which has since germinated countless other books and adaptations of his approach.

Top takeaway: Don’t treat your new business like a smaller big business. Know what stage you’re in, and follow Blank’s four steps to minimize cost and maximize your chances of finding success.

2. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.

While on the surface this may feel like a book that’s more appropriate for leaders in large companies, Christensen’s core focus on the idea of disruptive innovation is critical for anyone considering starting a business. It doesn’t matter if you’re building the next great software-as-a-service startup or thinking about starting a design consulting business: the ideas laid out in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” provider a critical foundation for thinking about identifying and executing on new business opportunities.

3. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.

Moore’s book is a must-read. It provides a simple, intuitive framework for thinking about the different phases associated with launching and scaling a business. It’s a great companion to Blank’s “Four Steps”, as it helps provide additional context around the concept of ‘product-market fit.” Moore has several other books worth looking at, but we would recommend starting here.

4. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.

While not specifically a book for entrepreneurs, Ferriss’ we think the core value of Ferriss’ book is to challenge the normal way of thinking about and approaching our professional lives. Using the concept of work/life hacks, Ferriss will get you approaching challenges in new and creative ways, a fundamental skill for any entrepreneur.

5. Principles by Ray Dalio.

Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, is famous for the concept of ‘radical transparency’, through which we accept that we are all wired differently, and that effective teaming requires that we are open about, and account for those differences in how we interact. Part of what we love about “Principles” is that it applies to much more than a business setting, providing a platform for embracing differences, and employing deep reflection to learn from what has happened to navigate best what will happen.

6. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

Written by one of the founders of juggernaut venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz (A16z), this is a great window into all the practical lessons you don’t learn through traditional schooling that are core to starting and running a business. This book is great because it gets down into the details of the challenges you’ll face, and honest advice based on Horowitz’s own journey.

7. Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profit by Greg Crabtree

This one may seem to be a little less exciting, but it’s fundamental nonetheless. As a founder, your business will ultimately live and die by numbers, and this books provides a great, no-nonsense look at what you’ll need to understand in terms of the money-side of your business.

8. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Guillebeau’s book makes the list due to its focus on how you can turn what you love to do into a living to support how you do it. Part of what makes this book great is the examples of what are essentially accidental entrepreneurs who manage to turn hobbies, challenges, and strife into viable businesses. 

9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Ok, this may seem like it’s more self help than entrepreneurial, but Covey’s book is one of the most-referenced in its domain. Covey’s advice will help you take control of your life during the tumultuous times of starting a business. It will help with interpersonal communication, relationship building at work and in your personal life, and remains foundational book for building better habits for success.

10. Crushing it! by Gary Vaynerchuck

Gary Vaynerchuck is a social media maven, and no top 10 list would be complete with a book focused on the art of social media marketing. A follow up to his original book, “Crush it!”, this time around Gary focuses not only on how to dive deep into each social media platform to make money, but how to do it while having fun doing what you love. Here’s a great quote to get you inspired at the end of our list: “Sometimes you just have to jump into the pool, even when you're scared.”

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Reviewed & Recommended: Midlife Mixtape

Reviewed & Recommended: Midlife Mixtape

Midlife Mixtape

Episode 81: What Do You Wish You Could Tell Your Younger Self?

First, I have to say that I love Midlife Mixtape’s tagline: “For the years between being hip and breaking one.” With that out of the way, on to the first podcast I listened to which provides a list of answers to one of the questions host Nancy Davis Kho always asks her guests: “What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?” Now, admittedly this isn’t an original question, but listening to the different answers brought home to me how useful an exercise this can be.

When I hear multiple guests, ranging from an artist, an author, and an MTV VJ, the thing that stands out is the value in answering this question isn’t about regretfully yearning for your younger years or a chance to avoid all the mistakes you made along the way. Instead, try your best not to censor yourself, and listen to your own response. Valuable lessons can be learned that you can and should apply to your mid-career self.

For example, one of the guests, the former MTV VJ Martha Quinn, says she would tell her younger self to “pay a little more attention”, and to “live in the moment”. Sure, I can see offering my 20 year-old self that same advice, but it applies equally today. In this insane reality we live in, it is far too easy to get caught up in work (or finding work), dealing with our kids’ school situation, making sure we’re being safe yet finding personal connections outside our nuclear family. But if you don’t take stock of where you are, and what you have experienced over the last week or month, you can’t learn from that experience and adjust how you move forward.

“You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward.”

Soren Kierkegaard

There is a proven pedagogical tool called ‘reflective practice’: the act of looking back over a previous time frame and thinking through what you have learned, how to apply that learning, and how you may have put what you learned into practice. That simple task improves decision making and practice across disciplines. So I’ll take Martha Quinn’s advice to her younger self, and I’ll extend it: Live in the moment and reflect on the moments you have experienced over the last few days or weeks as you contemplate how to approach the next few moments.

Here’s a link to the Midlife Mixtape podcast. I highly recommend you check it and their other episodes out.

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Top Tools to Optimize Remote Work

Top Tools to Optimize Remote Work

Let’s face it: even post-Covid pandemic, remote work is going to be the reality for many if not most of us. In their article, “Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19”, McKinsey found that early this April, 62 percent of employed Americans worked at home during the crisis, compared with about 25 percent a couple of years ago. While there’s no replacing in-person engagement, today’s technology tools and platforms have transformed our ability to be productive in highly dispersed teams.

We at illume hire have pulled together our list of top tools you should be familiar with to maximize your productivity as a remote worker. We broke the list out by category.

Online Meetings

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: Zoom. While Zoom recently suffered an embarrassing outage, they remain the 800-lb gorilla in online meeting platforms, but Microsoft Teams is nipping at Zoom’s heals (maybe more like full-on biting), and Google is trying to keep pace with its Google Meet offering. Zoom offers a free version that’s limited to 40-minute meetings with a max of 100 attendees. Microsoft Teams and Google Meet also include free and paid versions rolled into Microsoft 365 and G Suite respectively.

Calendar and Scheduling

Look beyond the basics of Google Calendar or Outlook to get your time and meeting management game in tip-top shape. For those of us who struggle with the cat-herding exercise that is finding meeting times across team members, customers, and timezones, enter Doodle. Doodle excels at reducing time and endless email threads when trying to find a time that works for a meeting across multiple calendars. Using polls, Doodle enables you to offer slots and quickly zero in on the best option for your meeting invitees. Doodle has both free and paid versions and is a major time saver.

Another great app is Calendly, which flips the script on meeting scheduling, and allows your invites to find the best time based on timeslots that you designate. Calendly’s secret sauce lies in its rules that help you set up one-on-one, round-robin, and collective availability meetings.

Team Collaboration and Communication

If you aren’t familiar with Slack by now, it’s time to get acquainted with this top team collaboration platform. You’ll see Slack widely used on publicly accessible sites and within internal teams alike. Its simple concept is the ability to set up “Channels” which can focus on an entire project, or you can set up multiple channels for collaboration on different aspects of a more complex project. Slack has extensive points of integration with pretty much every tool out there, and using their bots enables you to automate everything from auto-responses for customer inquiries to triggering meetings based on a simple slack message.

Another great tool is Trello, from productivity powerhouse, Atlassian. Trello follows the kanban methodology, using the simple concept of cards, lists, and boards to empower individuals and teams to manage everything from the simple to more complex projects. It has a great mobile app, a desktop client, and a web interface. 

Password Management

While managing passwords may not be top-of-mind when you think about productivity in a remote work environment, it should be. With all the different tools you’re using, and with an increased need to have highly secure passwords (which typically means longer, less predictable passwords), having a great password manager can save you a lot of time and headache when you can’t remember your login for a specific tool or service. 

Our favorite password manager is LastPass. Like most services, it offers a free and paid version. The free version gives you a great, basic password management tool, and the paid version at just $3 per month allows you to manage more complex multi-factor authentication scenarios.

Note Taking

While we each have our own approach to note-taking, from sticky notes to napkins to Word documents, there’s one tool that rises to the top for us: Evernote. Evernote is the elder statesman of note-taking apps, but don’t let that long history fool you: this is a power-packed app. Beyond what you’d expect in terms of creating notebooks, adding tags for easy filtering, and syncing across all your devices, Evernote has excellent integration with a variety of tools like Gmail, browsers for web clipping, and both Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Even if you don’t run out (virtually of course) and sign up for any of these offerings, we recommend you check them out to make sure you’re familiar with them and ready to talk about how they could fit in remote teams’ lives during your next interview. Most of the services we mentioned above have thorough tutorials on their sites and we always recommend you check out YouTube where there is well-produced, free content to help you get started with each service.

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Top 10 Online Resources to Up Your Skills

Top 10 Online Resources to Up Your Skills

Whether you’re looking for a new job, looking for that next promotion, or getting ready to launch your own business, success in the digital age requires a learning-for-life mindset and a willingness to embrace new ways of doing things. Enter upskilling.

Upskilling is all about refreshing your existing skills, learning new competencies, and proving to your current or future employers that you are engaged and ready to learn and apply new ways of doing things. 

To help you explore opportunities to begin your upskilling journey, here is a list of top online resources:

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When Transamerica asked: “Have you taken any steps to ensure that you’ll be able to continue working past 65 or in retirement, if needed?” only 37% of boomers said they’ve been keeping their job skills up to date. And that was down from 40% when Transamerica surveyed boomers in 2019. Those percentages were flipped for Gen Xers, who’ve been taking a little more initiative lately. 

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1. ALISON

ALISON has a wide range of free, comprehensive classes on topics ranging from technology, languages, science, financial literacy, personal and soft skills, and entrepreneurship. It targets all kinds of learners, from professionals and managers to teachers and freelancers.

 

2. Udemy

Udemy has plenty to offer for the learner on a budget, from completely free courses taught by experts, professors, entrepreneurs, and professionals, to frequent discounts and class specials. In addition to classes in tech, business, and marketing, you can also explore options in productivity, health, hobbies, and lifestyle.

 

3. LinkedIn Learning

Formerly known as Lynda.com, LinkedIn Learning gives you access to thousands of courses in business, design, art, education, and tech. It also offers a free one-month trial so you can try before you buy.

 

4. Coursera

If you want to receive a college education without the high cost of tuition, Coursera is the best stop. This website offers amazing courses in all kinds of fields, from professional development to psychology, history, and literature—all created and taught by professors at top institutions nationally and across the globe. Their universities include Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and plenty more.

 

5. Udacity

Udacity focuses on software development, offering free courses in programming, data science, and web development. The website also offers a nanodegree program for individuals who want to master a skill set or pursue a full-time career in tech.

When Transamerica asked: “Have you taken any steps to ensure that you’ll be able to continue working past 65 or in retirement if needed?” only 37% of boomers said they’ve been keeping their job skills up to date. And that was down from 40% when Transamerica surveyed boomers in 2019. Those percentages were flipped for Gen Xers, who’ve been taking a little more initiative lately.

6. edX

Just like Coursera, edX offers anyone, anywhere the chance to take university classes in various departments—and get certified. Some of their brand-name partners include Harvard, Berkeley, Dartmouth, Georgetown, and the University of Chicago (and that’s not all!).

 

7. General Assembly

General Assembly offers both online and in-person classes, as well as full-time and part-time options. It focuses mainly on digital skills, covering subjects such as digital marketing, iOS and Android development, data analytics, and JavaScript.

 

8. Skillshare

Skillshare provides “bite-sized” classes to learners who only have 15 minutes a day. It has more than 500 free classes and several thousand premium classes to choose from in topics such as film, writing, tech, lifestyle, and more.

 

9. LearnSmart

LearnSmart’s orientated toward career development, which is why it’s a great place to learn about IT and security, project management, HR, and business.

 

10. Pluralsight

After subscribing to Pluralsight (or using its free trial!), you’ll be able to explore classes in software, 3D development, VFX, design, game design, web design, and CAD software.

 

There are many more online resources out there. Dizzied by the choices? You should check out Try Class Central—it’s a matching engine for online classes and can provide suggestions based on your personal interests.

Be sure to highlight any activities or certifications in your discussions with potential employers. It will send the right signal that you’re a life-learner, curious, and focused on personal growth.

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