I've experimented with creative ways of developing my professional skills for a long time, both as a communications director and now as a consultant, trainer and coach. Here are some of the paths that have worked for me:
- Getting way out of my box: I'm great at intellectual tasks like reading, writing and speaking, and love physical activity like weightlifting and running. But artistic? Not so much. Creativity was my learning goal, so when I started this business, I started taking college-level art courses. It did the trick, firing lots of synapses, helping me see differently, and prompting loads of creative thinking. Eventually, I became proficient enough to exhibit and sell my artwork, but that was just a side benefit. I've done the same thing by learning to play guitar, traveling to new places, and shaking up my schedule (about which more below).
- Bespoke training or coaching: No course can replace one-on-one coaching. As a coach myself, I know I can dive deeper and accomplish more with one trainee. These days, I seek out coaching for myself to expand or refine specific skills, or when I have a specific task coming up. But when you are stepping into a new role, whether you've been elected an officer of a group, are chairing a meeting, or are moving up the ladder in your company, this kind of support can give you a real boost.
- Put the shoe on the other foot: As a coach and trainer, when I seek training or coaching for myself, I get a bonus result: I get a firsthand sense of what my clients feel like when they're working with me, and can see the experience through their eyes. I make sure that this speaker coach has plenty of speaking gigs herself through the year, for the same reason. If you can find a way to put yourself in your customer's shoes, do it. Best training around.
- Moving the training: We've all been to conferences where you already know the home crowd, whether they are local or in a different city. Switching up your conferences and training--to a different city, country, or organization--lets you see what you're missing, and hear different perspectives. It's a fair trade-off for knowing everyone in the room and what they are likely to say before they speak. I'll be doing this again in Amsterdam in October at the European Speechwriters Network conference, where I'm offering a pre-conference workshop and going to the conference for my own development. Think of it this way, as learning "that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn, then go home again and feel more lost in your hometown then you did in the most foreign place you visited."
- Consigliere sessions: My version of a "staff retreat" is to make sure I spend time with one or two close business confidantes--not necessarily all at once, and often in cities where neither of us live. We share perspectives on our work and where our businesses are headed. No reason you can't do the same with another professional colleague. I always leave with reinforcement and new ideas, something I can't say for every retreat I've been on in my career.
- Keep a journal: I journal almost every day, using OhLife, an app that emails you daily, asking "How did your day go?" If you wish, it'll cough up a past entry for you, so you can see what was happening a week, a month, or most often, a year ago. While many people think of journals as cheap personal therapy, you can use this app as you please. It's a great way to see your progress and to process the day. I find I lose fewer good ideas and am more serene about my choices, having thought them through on a regular basis.