— Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global
Do you see yourself in any of these dining scenarios?
o Eating a sandwich, salad, or snack, perhaps while texting, working at your computer, or being otherwise distracted by the details of daily life.
o Driving home at night, munching a burger and fries from a favorite fast-food outlet.
o Having a secret, private “zone out” in front of the TV with, say, some pizza, a pint of your favorite ice cream, and perhaps a bag of chips.
If these eat-alone scenes are familiar, you have lots of company. Today it’s typical for millions to eat meals by themselves. For instance, children may reach for a piece of packaged pizza that rests on the kitchen countertop, theneat it at the computer; many millennials may heat up their takeout meal in the microwave, then dine solo while watching TV; and traveling salespeople might be driven to ‘dashboard dining’ while en route to yet another meeting.
Eating alone more often than not means you practice Solo Dining—the overeating style behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, and I, discovered that increases odds of overeating and being overweight or obese.1
The ‘Solo Dining’ Overeating Style
What is a Solo Dining overeating style? It is an interconnected family of eating behaviors that includes whether a person does—or doesn’t—eat mostly: (1) with family members, (2) with friends, (3) alone, (4) and/or at home at the dining table.
Larry and I discovered the Solo Dining overeating style when we did research with 5,256 participants who filled out our 80-item overeating styles questionnaire before and after they completed my 18-lesson, online, Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) e-course.4 When we looked closely at the results, not only did we discover Solo Dining andthat Social Nutrition is a viable element of nutritional health, we also discovered that Solo Dining is one of seven ‘new-normal’ overeating behaviors—Food Fretting, Task Snacking, Emotional Eating, Fast Foodism, Unappetizing Atmosphere, and Sensory Disregard are the other six—that are linked to overeating and being overweight and obese.1-3
The sobering takeaway about our discovery of Solo Dining is this: Chronic social isolation while eating increases oddsthat you’ll overeat and gain weight.1 And more and more studies, worldwide, are finding the same dynamic: those who eat by themselves—from children to adults—are at increased odds of being obese.5-8
Solo Dining and Obesity: It’s an International Trend
Global statistics on the Solo Dining overeating style are nothing less than daunting: As much as 10 years ago, surveys revealed that the eat-alone trend was escalating: 30 to 40 percent of American families were not eating together most of the time. Today, nearly half—46 percent of adults—eat by themselves. The escalating eat-alone trend is a growing concern, because more and more studies are supporting our discovery about the Solo Dining overeating style and its link to being overweight and obese.
Here, an around-the-world look at the daunting data on the new-normal Solo Dining trend and what it means to your weight and well-being.
o Researchers in Japan found that eating alone, coupled with living alone, are jointly associated with higher risk of obesity and unhealthy eating behaviors (translation: consuming lots of fast, processed, junk food) in both men and in women.5
o In a U.S. study with 8,459 kindergarten children, those who watched TV during dinner—instead of eating family meals while having convivial conversation—were more likely to be overweight by the time they were in third grade.6
o A two-year study out of Korea revealed that the obesity rate of those who ate all three meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—by themselves was 1.4 times higher than those who ate all meals with others.7 Yet another study from Korea showed a clear correlation between lone diners in their 20s and their being obese.8
The message is clear: More and more studies are revealing that if you practice the new-normal Solo Dining overeating style—as millions do globally—you increase the odds of overeating and becoming overweight or obese.
Recipes for Social Nourishment
Here’s the good news: You can interpret the discovery about solitary eating and increased risk for piling on pounds as an opportunity, a chance to make small social changes while eating that have the potential to lead to big mind-body health and weight benefits.
Here are some suggestions for turning Solo Dining into an eating experience filled with social delight, pleasure, and nourishment. Some are quick and easy; others take more time. The choice is yours.
Note. In this time of Covid, with so many working at home, consider implementing some—or all—of these ‘social nourishment’ suggestions—virtually.
Invite a person to share fare with you. Take a break. When working, ask a coworker to join you for a cup of coffee or a snack. Or eat with one or more coworkers when it’s lunch time.
Host a pot-luck dinner at your place. Invite some favorite people in your life to bring a pot-luck dish to your home. For instance, ask one to bring a salad, while others complete the meal with a main dish, sides, and dessert.
Create a cooking club “family.” Invite coworkers, friends, and nearby neighbors to be part of your cooking club “family.” Rotate meals at the homes of members. Share meal memories and favorite-food stories as you dine.
Start multigenerational meal memories. Begin a family tradition by inviting one or more family members over to enjoy a meal made using a recipe from an older member of your family—perhaps a grandparent, parent, or aunt.Launch each meal by setting a glowing table with special ware.
Dine with your pet. If you have a dog or cat or bird or other pet that you love, consider enjoying a beverage or eating a meal at the same time that your pet eats.
And then there’s this: There may be times when you simply need some solitude while eating and you intentionallywant to choose Solo Dining. During these times, consider mindfulness eating: Begin by relaxing. Close your eyes and then inhale and exhale slowly. Throughout the meal, savor flavors, colors, texture, and more. Another eat-alone option: Just prior to eating, think of people you care about, then eat your meal while “holding’ them in your heart.
The takeaway: Consider ways you can integrate eating with others into your food-related experiences each day, so that ‘social nourishment’ becomes an everyday part of your life.
Eat Less, Weigh Less. With ‘Social Nourishment.’
Here is the Whole Person Integrative Eating® (WPIE) antidote to the Solo Dining overeating style:
Enjoy food-related experiences with others—as often as possible.
As simple as the solution to the Solo Dining overeating style may seem, I know it can be a challenge to implement, given the demands of busy schedules, deadlines, cell phones, pagers, and e-mail that can keep us on call twenty-four hours a day. Still, perhaps the ancient social message in food writer Marion Cunningham’s wisdom that “we’re fed more than food when we eat with others” is worth considering: “It is one thing to eat,” she told me during an interview,“it is another to dine on lovingly prepared food with good friends.”9
I agree. The WPIE facet of Social Nutrition, and its guideline for ‘social nourishment’ as often as possible, is indeed one of life’s greatest pleasures. A pleasure that, we now know, increases odds of eating less and weighing less. One meal at a time.
- Larry Scherwitz and Deborah Kesten, “Seven Eating Styles Linked to Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 1, no. 5 (2005): 342–59.
- Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, “Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 14, no. 5 (October/November 2015): 42–50.
- Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity (Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2020).
- Deborah Kesten, “The enlightened diet integrative eating e-course.” New York: Spirituality & Health (December 16, 2002–January 24, 2003).
- Tani Y., Kondo N., et al, “Combined effects of eating alone and living alone on unhealthy dietary behaviors, obesity and underweight in older Japanese adults: results of the JAGES,” Appetite 95 (December 2015): 1-8.
- Gable S, et al, “Television Watching and Frequency of Family Meals Are Predictive of Overweight Onset and Persistence in a National Sample of School-Aged Children,” Journal of the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics, 1:107 (January 2007): 53-61.
- Won-woo C, Ki-hun L, “People Who Eat Alone More Vulnerable to Obesity,” Chosunilbo & Chosun.com, February 15, 2018, http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2018/02/15/2018021500536.html (accessed December 25, 2018).
- Lim Jeong-Yeo, “Dining alone leads to obesity for Korean millennials: Study,” The Korea Herald/Asia News Network, November 14, 2018, https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/11/13/dining-alone-leads-to-obesity-for-korean-millennials-study.html, (accessed December 25, 2018).
- Marion Cunningham, conversation with Deborah Kesten, April 2003.
Parenting with Patience
Your child wants to be seen and heard. When you demonstrate patience, you also give your child the message that he is valued and validated. And when you lose patience, you can create stress and frustration for your child.
The benefits of modeling patience
Children model what they see, and when you parent with patience, you model respect, empathy, security, and good self-esteem. These are the characteristics you want to foster in your child. These are the experiences that teach your child how to be present and intimate, not only with himself but also with others.
So, when you “Stop, Look, and Listen” to your child, you show him that he is important, that you believe in him, and that you have empathy and compassion for his feelings. Active listening is based on patience and leads to the confidence needed for self-mastery. And finally, patience encourages not just empathy and compassion but also confidence and competence.
Patience is a virtue. By becoming a conscious parent, you can deliberately override your reactive behavior and impatience so that you can be present for your child when he needs you. By not projecting out onto your child your inner discord or stress, you can learn how to choose your behavior rather than being a victim of it. This is conscious parenting, and it helps you integrate your compulsions while modeling for your child what it is to be a proactive, healthy adult.
Be what you want to see.
Children are social learners who learn through experience, environment, modeling, and imitation. Be what you want to see. This will help you be present in your child’s life, as well as your own. By paying attention, being an active listener, and making eye contact when talking with your child, you lower his frustration and give him the message that you are with him and present for whatever he is doing. This teaches him that patience is really listening and being present in a relationship.
My empathic process is a perfect working tool to teach patience because it gives a safe environment in which to allow your child to practice and rehearse what it means to be patient, present, and invested in the process of relationship.
Ted Wolf On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work
Building soft skills will become ever more important, because technology will increasingly handle the harder work skills. That’s why the Human Resource function will move to the center of all businesses, large and small.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Ted Wolf.
Ted Wolf is co-founder along with his son George at The School of Biz. They help people scale their businesses based on today’s rules, using ideas and technologies to end entrepreneurial poverty — the mental, emotional, physical, and financial burnout to which many entrepreneurs are prone. Ted is an accomplished entrepreneur, having grown a business from a 1,000 dollars investment and two employees to an eight-figure revenue-producing national business with 650 technical employees.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
When I was seven, my mother developed cancer. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it was serious from the reaction of those around me. I thought she was going to die, but at that age I didn’t know what that meant either. So I made a deal with God: Save my mom, and I’ll do some good in my life. She lived to the age of 100. So He did his part, and the rest is on my shoulders.
Like many entrepreneurs, I thought I was good at building a business, until one Friday I walked into the office and learned that we had just lost several great accounts that accounted for 40% of our revenue. It was humiliating to meet with the banks the following Monday morning and explain what happened. It continued to be humiliating as word spread through the business community that we were on the ropes, and people kept telling us that our competitors were laughing at us. The turning point was admitting to myself that I was responsible for what had happened. I knew I had to change myself before I could change the business. I vowed to move beyond my ego in order to build a business that would work well for all concerned. I worked hard at personal development to change myself as I scaled the business. The result was that we were on the INC 500 list as one of the 500 fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the USA for five years.
In addition to the above, I got married and helped raise three children. Marriage and child-rearing forces people to be more agile. It teaches humility. If my ego takes over, everyone in my family has the freedom to call me on it. That’s always a valuable experience.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
Same: Entrepreneurs will always start new businesses because they have to start new businesses. That’s what they do.
Different: Entrepreneurs will develop their mental, emotional, physical, and financial skills to a degree unimagined by today’s entrepreneurs. They will develop their mindset — the way they think, feel, and act — so that it’s more agile and resilient. Hacking the mindset of a high-performing entrepreneur will be their focus, as it should be.
Same: Entrepreneurs will scale businesses to reach their dreams of income, freedom, and wealth.
Different: The new rules of government will demand a new business model so those dreams remain reachable. Because of government demands for employee protection, businesses will become less hierarchical. Many will adopt the business model of a movie producer. Businesses will become more virtual and fluid. This will give them the advantage of changing their business — what it does, and how it does it — every couple of years. Success will depend on an entrepreneur’s ability to make disruption and crisis work to their advantage. That requires an agile, resilient mindset.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Build your mindset. The business and you are one. The business can’t scale if you don’t scale the way you think, feel, and act. So remember the beliefs, emotions, and behaviors you used to generate your first 1M dollars in revenue. Then notice that you had to change your mindset to generate 10M dollars in revenue. And then how you had to change again to achieve 20M dollars in revenues. As Marshall Goldsmith said: “What got you here won’t get you there.”
Agility and resilience at higher and higher levels of skill are required in order to future-proof nearly any business or career.
Scaling a business today rests on a foundation of tremendous awareness — of yourself, of your employees you’re your vendors, and of course of your clients.
Further development of how one thinks, feels, and acts will ripple out to change society.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Employers will have to figure out how to provide a workplace that is safe, secure — and special. Special means the company has a sense of purpose greater than just making money for the owners. A clear, inspiring company purpose will make employees and contractors feel that they belong to something unique — something that they can’t find in every business. The Great Resignation is all about employees searching for a sense of belonging. They are looking for an employer that makes them feel like they belong, like they are important — one that gives them have some freedom to determine their own quality of life. That means you have to develop and then live by a consistent culture.
One strategy you’ll see in the future is giving production workers the freedom to choose their work schedules.
Presently, an employee is hired for a specific production schedule — a daytime shift, for example, or a nighttime shift. In the future, businesses will post a schedule and employees will opt in to the parts of the schedule that best fit their home-life requirements. Once trained, more and more employees will have the freedom to schedule their work time based on family requirements, vacation schedules, educational opportunities, and so on.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Technology fundamentally changed the relationship between employers and employees. Many employees now have greater freedom to live their lives the way they want to because of technology. That’s not going away, because the tools will continue to evolve. The employer can no longer take total control of an employee’s life; employees have options they didn’t have before. This will force entrepreneurs to design their company around making both employees and vendors feel that they belong to something special. This is a new challenge for many small and mid-sized businesses. As a result, Human Resource departments are becoming increasingly important. HR execs will be tasked with making the company a good place to work, and will in some cases become more important than their peers in finance, production, and even sales.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
Everyone will be forced to develop their “soft” skills to work, interact, and perform with others in order for their businesses to survive.
Those same skills will change the broader society. Our society in 20 years will feel very different than the one we experience today. With greater self-awareness and soft-skill development, people will relate to each other differently across the board. Most of us will find it more harmonious.
Soft skills require greater self-awareness. That’s the hardest but most rewarding of all the skills an individual can develop.
Soft skills include empathy, trust, and moving beyond self-interest. They depend on self-awareness — on knowing what blocks one’s empathy and trust.
Entrepreneurs will develop greater soft skills and self-awareness because they will realize that they’ll make a lot more money if they can improve the impact they have on others and even themselves.
The survival of a business — and our society — will depend on learning how to make crises work to your advantage without hurting others.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Entrepreneurs will take the lead as the pace of disruption forces everyone to develop better coping skills. That starts and ends with developing greater self-awareness.
Most people don’t want to hurt others, so understanding ourselves better sets the stage for more fulfilling interactions.
Entrepreneurs are members of an elite group of leaders. They have unwittingly joined one of the greatest personal development programs on the planet.
You can’t scale a business without developing greater self-awareness. And greater self-awareness will lead to better businesses, families, and a better society.
We are headed into a period of tremendous opportunity.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
The future of work will focus on developing four core skills: Purpose, People, Performance, and the development of You.
The School of Biz offers advanced techniques in developing the skill of Purpose. Knowing and living your purpose is a learned skill. It is much more than simply answering the question ‘Why?’ Purpose is a magnet that attracts and retains really good people, and it provides the energy and urgency needed to make something happen in the business, even when you don’t feel like it.
People skills are all about impact. The way you impact others, events, and even yourself depends on self-awareness. An entrepreneur’s ability to get into the mindset of employees equips them to make better decisions that take the interests of all concerned into account. Understanding employee and vendor needs for safety, security, and belonging starts by following the advice that Plato quoted Socrates as giving: “Know thyself.”
Elite performance requires hard and soft skills to create a compelling experience. You start by developing your personal skills, then move on to the skills of performing with others in the business, and then into the third stage of bringing outsiders into the performance as full participants.
A business succeeds when its purpose attracts good people. Culture forms the basis for creating great performances. And it all happens because the entrepreneur made a commitment to be better, to continuously improve what he or she does, and to act through mutual respect for him- or herself and others.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
These headlines should serve as alarm bells for entrepreneurs, reminding them to create a compelling company purpose that connects with employees on a personal level. The foundation of purpose is core beliefs, values, and behaviors that really matter to the entrepreneur, and which the company can embody.
Culture is the glue that holds everything together as you scale, because as you grow a business, everything can get crazy in a hurry.
Culture maintains the business when you aren’t there. A good culture frees the entrepreneur to take vacations.
Visit any business. As it grows, you start to see a number of sub-cultures take hold. It’s like playing golf: Every golf club has members who want something different. Some welcome new people, while others only want to play with the same people over and over. Some like to play early-morning tee times, while others want only late mornings. But they all belong to the same club.
Purpose unifies a culture, and culture keeps a business consistently good. There is little infighting because everyone shares the same core values. Core values then provide a decision-making framework.
Business models based on a strict hierarchy will become more and more outdated. Business models based on culture are more efficient and innovative. They provide a mechanism whereby everyone can move ahead based on their urgency and desire to perform.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
Trend 1: Building soft skills will become ever more important, because technology will increasingly handle the harder work skills. That’s why the Human Resource function will move to the center of all businesses, large and small.
Trend 2: More and more entrepreneurs are developing agile, resilient mindsets, enabling them to become the leaders that others want to follow in times of extreme change. They will use their businesses as schools to improve themselves and their employees. They will recognize that the more they improve their hard and soft skills as they scale up, the more income, freedom, and wealth they will experience.
Trend 3: Building purpose will be front and center for every entrepreneur. Answering the “Why?” question will no longer be enough. Purpose means reframing and repurposing events so they can help propel the business forward. Personal development will grow as an industry, but it won’t resemble the common coaching and consulting practices of today.
Trend 4: Entrepreneurs will become increasingly creative. I have a client who, because of Covid, had severe supply-chain issues. His vendors could not find enough people to produce their products, so he was going to have to lay off a large portion of his workforce. Instead, he offered to subcontract his employees to one of his vendors. The vendor trained his employees to produce the vendor’s products — a plan that simultaneously solved his company’s problems and the problems of the vendor. It worked. Everyone won.
Trend 5: The use of technology in personal development will grow rapidly. We’ve developed an app that helps individuals understand how they affect others. The behavioral results are phenomenal — the app nudges employees and businesses to perform to a much higher standard. This is only the beginning of using technology to help people become elite entrepreneurs.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
The quote on my desk combines ideas I’ve heard elsewhere, but I wrote them down in a way that works for me: “The ultimate frontier is internal awareness; what is inside is reflected in the outside.”
I say that to myself almost every day because — like an alcoholic who knows she would lose every good thing she has if she took one drink — I need to remind myself that if not checked, my ego and self-importance would take over, with urges that would only hurt my ability to have what I really want.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
Joel Embiid, the star center of the Philadelphia 76ers. He is a real team player, and a great role model for leadership and kids.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.
Embracing Technology Over 50: Getting up to Speed With Your Tech Skills
Let’s face it, tech skills are business skills. Adopting both software and hardware technology will benefit both your career and your life in general. But it does come with challenges for older adults who have been reluctant or hesitant to stay current.
If you’ve developed some tech skills blind spots, you’re most likely harboring a certain degree of confusion about tech, or skepticism about your ability to make up for lost time. You may also be in this situation because in the past, you have not been given enough training or clear guidance to adopt tech. And as a result, you may even have built up a certain defensiveness and fear in the process, fearing you’re going to say something awkward or look silly.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, working Americans up to age 64 have overwhelmingly adopted technology (if you consider internet adoption as a benchmark). It’s actually the older cohort (64+) who are lagging behind by about 25%.
With retirement becoming less and less affordable to most seniors, getting up to speed with tech could be the critical factor that enables older workers to remain in the workforce either full-time or part-time.
It’s NOT Like “Riding a Bike”
One of my colleagues runs a non-profit that provides a wide range of services to older clients. She is understandably eager to hire older workers who can relate to their clientele (and who, in turn, will be more relatable).
While most if not all older job candidates she interviews claim to have tech skills, their working knowledge is surprisingly limited. For example, someone may know how to draft a Word document, but they won’t be able to format it using different styles, or perhaps know how to turn it into a .pdf. They can perform basic calculations in Excel but balk at more complex formulas.
So while you may have started using a word processor back in the days of Wordperfect, it’s crucial to recognize that software and hardware capabilities are constantly evolving.
Tech is not something you learn once. It’s not a “set it and forget it” skill – like riding a bike. It’s a practice and a process that is constantly on the move. In fairness, there’s probably a good argument to be made that we spend too much time staying current with tech, and it’s time that we could otherwise spend actually getting work done.
But unfortunately, that is the world we live in. The productivity hit that we take, though, is likely more than made up for by our increased capability and capacity enabled by new upgrades and new tools.
Why Embrace Tech Skills?
Physical fitness is a helpful analogy, here. No one is going to argue that allocating time every week to health, self-care, and physical activity would be a waste of energy. In fact, we all know that pursuing health and fitness prolongs life, increases resiliency, and releases endorphins to keep you positive, focused, and energized.
Apply that same principle to tech adoption. Empowering yourself by adopting a growth mindset when it comes to tech is going to positively impact a number of areas in your daily life.
First, it will give you a sense of empowerment and independence. Instead of constantly relying on the IT guy or your (younger) colleagues to get around digital tools, you will be able to solve issues on your own. Not only will you save time, but your productivity and confidence level will soar.
The Workplace Has Changed
You may have noticed that the workplace is more collaborative than ever. Gone are the days when we accomplished tasks pretty much on our own and reported 1:1 to a single manager. Increasingly, managers are team leaders and facilitators, and working groups are more interdependent. Under these circumstances, your ability to navigate tech skills successfully and seamlessly are necessary to the success of your team and will make you a more valuable asset and a more sought-after colleague.
Tech skills may appear to be no more than the glue that holds everyone’s work together, but they constitute a shared medium where better relationships are built and successes can be shared. You may still be getting up to speed on a particular software platform or workflow. But your willingness to share that learning process with others will actually help you learn faster. Your success will be a bonding experience as you learn to embrace the rhythm of your more highly functional team environment. Working with tech is akin to a language, and you have the opportunity to learn to speak it more fluently.
Your lack of tech skills will likely place you at a disadvantage when applying for a new position or looking to grow within your organization. But the key question is not how proficient you are at a particular skill set. It’s not about how familiar you are with a certain software package or platform. It’s more about your open attitude and your understanding of the digital workforce.
Everyone – even digital natives – needs to learn new tech skills. So demonstrate your willingness to learn, and your confidence that you can learn.
Basic In-Demand Skills: What You Need to Know
If you take a look at this list of tech-related in-demand skills on Glassdoor, you might be tempted to panic. Rest assured that no candidate is conversant with all of these skills, or even with a significant subset. You might also be relieved to learn that even digital natives find many of these skills daunting. Many of these skills require years of training and specialized focus. But the list is a good indicator of the breadth and depth of tech skills across the digital economy.
Here are a handful of key tech skills to consider and get comfortable with.
Data analysis has been one of the fastest-growing and most important applications of technology over the past ten years. Having a good understanding of Excel (and/or its analog Google Sheets) helps you organize company data and analyze it, as well as draft budgets, project financial data, and run simulations. Most companies will expect you to know how to perform basic data entry, formatting, calculation tasks, and even pivot tables, no matter what your role is. PRO TIP: If you are good with numbers but haven’t spent the time becoming a spreadsheet expert, find out how top performers in your company (or the company you’re applying to) use Excel or Sheets and get mentored or trained to get to their level. This is one of the universal tech skills that will always stand you in good stead.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
These platforms (like Salesforce) keep all current and historical data about prospects, leads, and customers in one place. While used extensively in Sales, CRMs have grown to provide functionality around pretty much every aspect of managing customer and/or client relationships. PRO TIP: If you’re new to CRMs, build a basic contact tracker for the top 50 friends and family in your life. Use a spreadsheet (see above) to enter their basic information, when you’re next going to contact them, and what your last conversation was about. Imagine applying that same knowledge base concept to all of your business contacts. How powerful is that!
Presentations and Slide Decks
If you’ve seen your high schooler (or middle schooler!) present in PowerPoint or Keynote and you’re too embarrassed to admit your unfamiliarity with these tools, you’re not alone. PRO TIP: Think of presentation tools as mental organizers. Read up on the best ways to tell your story through slides, and remember to use as few words as possible on each slide. Building presentations is a great way to test out your own ideas, or outline reports that you need to deliver.
Task or Project Managers
These tools are essential to help you keep track of all of the To-Dos that are on your list. As projects become more complex, and teams have to share responsibilities while also meeting deadlines, a shared workspace is essential. Project managers range in the features and complexity that they offer. Most of them offer internal messaging so that everyone knows the latest updates and statuses on your project. Effective use of project management software cuts down on meetings, which gives you more time to get your work done. PRO TIP: If you’ve never used one of these tools, start with a basic task manager to help you organize your personal life and understand the structure and hierarchy that more complex systems employ. Todoist, Trello, and Asana are good tools to start with.
Slack is the revolutionary tool that, when used properly, eliminates the clusterf**k that is email. If you spend all of your time in your email Inbox, imagine communicating in a software environment where context is king and everything related to any given project, idea, initiative or group has its own place. You never have to search for that email from your colleague from last month that had a great suggestion about whatever. While Slack has many imitators, and its features have been incorporated into other programs (including many of the project management tools), it is the OG messaging platform that you need to learn.
How to Train Yourself for the Tech World
While community colleges are still good sources of learning when it comes to many tech skills, you may also be able to do most of your training online in a self-directed way. The good news about learning online is that it will force you to be more self-responsible and strategic about how you go about it. Don’t expect that one single course from one single instructor is going to teach you everything you need to know about, say, spreadsheets.
No. In fact, you probably want to learn from multiple instructors and multiple sources – some of them paid, some of them free. You can learn from academics, other professionals like you, specialists, software developers supporting their own products, and even YouTube creators.
Getting up to speed and comfortable with your tech skills is not going to be a simple one-stop-shop process. There are too many updates, tweaks, hacks, workflows, and workarounds that you will eventually need to learn to be an effective and empowered tech user. You don’t have to be a software engineer or a software geek to get up to speed, but by engaging with many sources of information to fuel your learning experience, you’ll build greater awareness of the skill sets, and a greater sense of confidence in your ability to use the technology – and grow with it.
It never ceases to amaze me that YouTube is the second most-used search engine on the internet after Google itself. That’s clearly because we are to a large degree visual learners, and the smorgasbord approach of YouTube and its infinite channels on every conceivable topic are a great first place to start when we’re looking to learn something new.
Five minutes surfing a few search terms and subscribing to a few channels can set you up on pretty much any topic.
Here’s a very basic example of a perfectly effective Spreadsheets coursethat you could use to spark your journey into Excel or Sheets.
Very often, what I find with YouTube is that by continuing to search for videos that address your questions in more depth or with greater clarity, you find yourself building a greater awareness of what you actually need to learn.
This expresses a very important principle of tech skills learning: only learn what you need to learn right now to solve the problem you currently need to solve. That might be to provide a broad foundation, but down the road, it could involve learning a particular subset of skills, or even (in the case of spreadsheets), the various ways of using a particular formula.
Once you’ve gotten the lay of the land, you’re ready to look for more specialized courseware that can address your needs in a more professional manner. Below are some of the better-established platforms offering paid courses under various business models.
Udemy provides a library of 183,000 + courses available in 65 languages that can help you expand your tech skills and any field imaginable from marketing, business, finance to arts and crafts. In terms of pricing, the courses range from $11 up to $200 or more (depending on the course or any available promotions). The only downside of Udemy is that it’s not an accredited institution and that instructors might not be as engaged in the Q&A sections as other platforms.
Skillshare works as a subscription-based platform. Basically, you pay a $14 monthly fee to have access to approximately 35,000 + courses with a wide range of topics. While other platforms tend to imitate the college style of teaching, Skillshare aims to improve creative skills and is less formal. You can also benefit from a 7-day free trial to decide if it suits your needs. You also get to be trained by skilled instructors and even celebrities.
Udacity is an accredited online learning platform with over 200 available courses that can take up to four months to complete. Although they might seem a bit pricey, starting from $399 a month and up to $1,995, you will get access to real industry experts who will work alongside you to help build your tech skills portfolio. Finally, two tech industry leaders provide their own learning platforms that pivot off of their core mission.
Google Digital Garage is a Google learning platform that provides free and paid courses, introducing you to technology basics, digital marketing, and other topical business skills that reflect the areas that Google operates in. Many of the courses are created by university partners.
LinkedIn Learning is the business network’s learning platform that offers audio and video courses across the full range of business sectors, from the most technical to the most creative industries. Instructors are working professionals vetted and contracted by LinkedIn to develop and produce their courses. Access to courses is free for premium-level LinkedIn subscribers and can be purchased on a one-off basis or by subscription. Many companies purchase company-wide subscriptions for their employees, regardless of whether they are individual LinkedIn paid subscribers.
Full disclosure: I’m a LinkedIn Learning instructor with four courses published on the advantages of the multigenerational workforce.
Get Your Tech Skills On!
Tech is just a tool. Be open. Don’t be intimidated. Focus on the tasks you’re trying to accomplish in your work, and use the same openness to training that you’ve had in the past to acquire other new skills.
Focus on the painting, don’t focus on the brush.
Don’t buy into the myth that older workers are either incapable of learning or uninterested in learning new skills. There’s plenty of research to counter that bias.
If you’re fearful of failing at technology, remember: errors and impasses are all part of the process of making progress. Be persistent and most of all, be curious.
Believe in your capabilities — you can learn anything you want as long as you’re willing to put the effort and time into it. Start now by picking one of the tech skills listed above that is especially relevant to your work, and see what’s on offer at one of the suggested learning platforms.
Let me know what you choose, and where it takes you!
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