learning

Scholar to Graduate: My 10KSB Experience

By Kristen Harris

Apparently people in Boston like to hide valuables under a mattress. Earlier this year I found a treasure in Boston too, although it wasn’t $20M in cash (and thankfully doesn’t require federal investigation).

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For the past twelve weeks I was a scholar in National Cohort 7 of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program (10KSB). Funded by Goldman Sachs, with curriculum developed by Babson College, 10KSB is a program with the goal of helping 10,000 small business owners grow their business. I participated in the blended learning program, a combination of online classes and face-to-face sessions at Babson College, outside of Boston.

The 10KSB curriculum focuses on assessing where your business is today, identifying opportunities for growth, and putting together a solid plan for pursuing those growth opportunities. Throughout this program I spent a lot of time thinking about and working on (not in) our business.

It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done. I’m not sure I’ve worked as hard on anything, or maybe ever, in my professional life. And it was totally worth the effort. I learned so much about our business, and even more about myself. Looking under the mattress and in all of the dusty corners, while I didn’t find $20M, what I did find was amazing.

A few takeaways from my experience with the 10KSB program:

You can always learn more.

I applied for the program because a trusted friend recommended it, and the curriculum sounded interesting. Like many situations, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was committing myself to, but figured I can always learn something new. And did I ever! Never stop learning, there is always something new to discover.

Don’t underestimate.

I discovered value in myself and our business that I never realized. Re-discovered beliefs and ideals that I’d lost sight of. And saw the needs of our clients, talent and internal team from new perspectives. I also noticed when my fellow scholars played down their expertise, value, or the larger contribution they make to their communities and the world. Don’t underestimate the value you bring or the impact you make.

Peer learning is powerful.

Our lead faculty was wonderful, the section instructors were great, and the curriculum was excellent. But the real power was in how much we all learned from each other. We came from different locations and all walks of life, but all shared similar challenges. Every single scholar in the program was fantastic and impressive in their own right. In just twelve short weeks I learned so much from these people, and plan to continue learning from them in the months and years to come.

Passion trumps strategy.

I love the quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Each scholar’s business was completely different, but everyone in the program was truly passionate about what they do and who they work with. At the end of the day they’ll be successful because they truly care. Passion wins.

You have time.

Think you don’t have time to commit to something like this (or whatever would be the equivalent in your career)? When it’s important, you find the time. Say no to unimportant things for now...or maybe forever. What are you doing that matters more than growing your business, advancing your career, or pursuing your dreams? Take the time, or make the time.

Have bigger dreams.

Speaking of dreams…each scholar had to select one growth opportunity to focus on for this program. They were all smart ideas, good opportunities, and I imagine most people will go home and pursue what they presented. But, when I chatted with people at lunch, after dinner or on the bus, nearly every person said “that’s the idea I presented, and I’m totally going to do it, but what I really want to do is…” We all have bigger dreams below the surface. Perhaps their current business needs to grow to support the dream, or the new concept isn’t even clear enough to pursue (yet). But it struck me how important it is to pursue ideas and keep dreaming big.

I feel privileged to be able to participate in this program, and to connect with such an amazing group of people. It’s amazing what can be learned, discovered, and created by focusing your time and energy. I plan to keep it up, and challenge you to do the same. Who knows what treasure you’ll find under the mattress?

Find out more about the 10KSB program or apply for a future cohort.

Back to School: Learning Never Ends

By Kristen Harris

It’s Back to School time! The ads are running, and stacks of notebooks, folders, and pens are popping up on endcaps everywhere. This time of year gets me really excited—I loved school, and I still love buying a fresh pack of pens. But Back to School is not about the pens, notebooks or new clothes; it’s about getting back to learning.

While there is no official Back to School season for working professionals, our learning never ends; it’s a year-round, lifelong activity. And, no matter who you are or what you do, even if you hated school, now learning can be fun because it’s focused on things you like and are interested in. Basically the whole educational curriculum is built around you. Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s the catch…you have to build the curriculum. No committee or school board is going to decide what you need to learn or how it’s going to be taught. It’s your call. You can learn new skills directly related to your current role, or new technology that’s on the horizon. Choose to explore a new area that is growing in your industry, or learn more about a related field. You can even pursue a totally unrelated interest that broadens your knowledge or sparks creativity. There is no end to what you can learn, so why limit yourself?

Does this all sound too daunting? The choices can be overwhelming. Or maybe you hated school, and I’ve given you flashbacks to being stuck in the classroom with a teacher droning on and on and on. No worries. There’s a wide range of options, from formal group classes to online individual learning, or socially-driven peer-to-peer events.

With so many ways to learn, there’s bound to be something that fits your needs, style and schedule.

Here are a few options, from most formal to least:

·      College or University Classes. Take traditional or continuing education classes, or pursue a degree, depending on your interests and needs. There are a variety of institutions, from small colleges to large universities, community colleges, and online universities. As an added benefit, some employers offer tuition reimbursement as well.

·      Employer-Sponsored Learning. Many employers offer training or education programs for their employees. These classes can cover everything from software to leadership skills, communication, customer service, and more. Ask your manager or HR department what options may be available.

·      Community Events, Industry Groups and Meetups. Many organizations and industry groups host events, including speakers, workshops, panel discussions, and continuing education seminars. Grass-roots groups and events are often organized through Meetup or other social media. Follow organizations that are interesting to you or related to your industry to find out what’s being offered.

·      MOOCs. Through the power of the internet, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) allow access to courses on a variety of topics, often taught by educators at premier colleges and universities. It’s possible to gain the equivalent of a college education through these courses, and some institutions are now offering degrees as well. This route requires strong individual learning skills and commitment, no one will be checking up on you.

·      Online Training and YouTube. Sites like Lynda.com offer a variety of courses, mainly skills and technology focused, and videos about how to do nearly anything can be found on YouTube. These are helpful if you’re a visual learner, and looking for information on a very specific topic.

·      Books. Yes, I still read books. Whether you like physical books or use an e-reader, books are still a great way to learn, and both are available at your local library.

·      Ask a friend. Want to learn something a friend knows or does? Ask them to teach you. And pay them back by teaching something you know. It’s fun, and gives you and excuse to socialize too!

No matter what or how you learn, just keep doing it. Staying interested keeps us interesting, and that does matter in a constantly-changing world.