Failed Math? So Did I.

keep-calm-i-failed-math-tooI failed college algebra. Nearly failed finance. Then almost got kicked out of my MBA program for sinking my simulated company because of a tragic financial decision.

However, I did graduate and got my MBA—barely. My boss would tell me to “use my MBA.” I was never really able to do that—because I had a hard time using the numbers to make strategic decisions. I just kind of went with my gut, which usually worked, but I would have been better off if I could have truly mined the data. I finally realized that my math acumen was holding me back.

You want to land one of 2015’s best jobs? From my research, you might want to consider honing your math skills.

According to a recent survey completed by CareerCast.com, many of the top 10 jobs in the U.S. require strong math skills. Leading the list are mathematicians, statisticians, and data scientists. And other attainable jobs that made the list include biomedical engineer, software engineer, and computer systems analyst.

Did you know that jobs heavy in math skills are paying nearly 3 times of the national median wage? And they also have a strong growth outlook for the future. While these positions are financially rewarding they also offer opportunities for advancement and surprisingly differ from the common perceptions about math. Soft skills like communication, leadership, problem solving, and teambuilding combined with a strong math background are highly valued.

Related: The Best Jobs of 2015

Let’s look at a job in in the Information Services industry. Embedded Systems Engineers are earning nearly $145,000 annually and 52% jobs are in California. In addition to math skills, these engineers are leaders, creative, and can work well in team situations.

Related:   Embedded Systems Engineers are Driving Business

math chartSome of the top employers of people with strong math skills include Boeing, Google, Edward Jones, and the U.S. government. Google is said to be one of the most desirable employer in the world and engineers are the rock stars of the office. Interns start at $70,000 to $90,000 salaries, while software engineers pull in $118,000 and senior software engineers make an average of $152,985. But you just can’t walk in and get a job at Google. They receive over 2.5 million applications a year, yet only hire about 4,000. So what does it take to land a job at Google? Amongst the list of other coding requirements, Google seeks out candidates that have a background in abstract math like logical reasoning and discrete math, which benefits the computer science field.

Read more: 11 Skills You Need To Master To Land A $100,000 Engineering Job At Google

According to the graph published by the Washington Post earlier this year, there might be a disconnect about what students believe is important to employers and what those employers think. Check out this graph and you will see that employers, more heavily than students, value math related skills.

So what free resources are available for students and employees looking to bolster their math skills? There are several from some of the top universities and providers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs.)

MIT’s Engineering Math: Differential Equations and Linear Algebra

Udacity’s Intro to Descriptive Statistic Mathematics for Understanding Data

edX’s Introduction to Engineering and Engineering Mathematics

UC Irvine’s Intermediate Algebra and Pre-Calculus courses both offered through Coursera

The University of California, Irvine also offers for-credit online certificate programs in many fields. One that might be of interest is a Data Science program specifically designed for data engineers, data analysts, computer scientists, business analysts, database administrators, researchers, and statisticians.

Brushing up on your math skills is a great idea, especially if you’re looking to move forward in your current position or need some to possess those skills for a new position. I learned the hard way that the numbers drive the business. If I would have applied myself, the numbers could have added up to something greater in my career.

Is Your Boss Checking out Your Body?

Body LanguageHave you ever noticed that your boss is intently staring at you in the conference room? Well maybe your body language is telling him or her something. And some of the movements we make are totally unconscious.

Conference room etiquette is becoming a huge issue in a time where we have access to so much technology and constant communication. What you don’t say, might say a lot.

Richard Newman, director of UK Body Talk Ltd, specializes in communication skills for business. He says that since we email and text more frequently, face-to-face meetings are critical. “It’s not about being someone you’re not,” says Newman. “It’s about having a professional version of yourself. Everyone has a different style. Body language training helps you match up techniques with your authentic behavior. Above all, it’s about showing warmth and approachability.”

  1. Eye contact

Eye contact says a lot about what we’re thinking. Holding a gaze may indicate that you’re extremely interested in the subject at hand. But if you hold your stare too long, you may be signaling that you’re attracted to the person or the opposite, you want to attack them.

When you are speaking to a group, you need to look at your audience at least 50% of the time, rather than looking at your presentation. Looking around at the people in the room gives you a chance to focus on what you’re saying so that you appear to have command of the material.

When you are listening, you should look at the speaker about 80% of the time to show them that you are being attentive. This is important to your boss, but also very supportive for a peer that is giving an important presentation.

  1. Posture

Sitting up and leaning into the conversation or to the table indicates that you’re engaged. If you’re leaning back in your chair or looking around the room too much, you might show that you’re either not paying attention or that you’re off in “la-la” land.

  1. Standing Up to Speak

If the situation is appropriate, always stand up to speak or present. And stand up straight. Not only does it give you more confidence, you’re audience will see you as a thought leader.

But be aware of a few things. Men tend to sway when they speak, walk around the room too much, and turn their backs to the audience. Most of this is unconscious movement, but it can be very distracting.

Women tend to put their hands on their hips, which can make them look vulnerable or even like a pushover.

  1. Check the Technology at the Door

Looking at your phone or email during a meeting can be very disrespectful. Turn off your phone and laptop or just leave it back at your desk. If you’re checking your texts you’re definitely disengaged and will miss the whole point of the meeting. If you have to be in the meeting anyway, you might as well pay attention.

  1. Pace Your Speech

Before you present, think about how want your audience to feel. Posture, tone of voice, the speed of your talking can be used to motivate people. Try to keep your speed to 140 words a minute. Talking too fast can overload your listeners and the opposite might cause them to fall asleep.

More on this topic:

Q&A: Understanding Body Language to Make More Sales

8 Business Body Language Tricks that Help Advance Your Career

Too Lazy to Write Less?

Less is MoreWell then you’ve found the right blog entry. Coming from a person that frequently writes a dissertation, this is lesson is for both of us. It’s true that you can write less and say more. William Shakespeare once wrote, “Brevity is the Soul of Wit.”

We have something in common, we want to write less and read less. Hence the popularity of Twitter. There is too much information coming at us. Like endless emails and texts. I couldn’t read all of it if I tried. When I was in high school I couldn’t even get through CliffsNotes™.

So let’s cut to the chase. Here’s a few suggestions to reel in your writing style.

Write a Headline.

Think about a billboard. A terse headline should encompass the concept of your entire piece. This is the one thing that will bring people in. It needs to be bold and provocative. Then pay it off your thought when you write the first sentence of your text.

Don’t Bury The Lead.

If I were you, I wouldn’t have read anything so far. I would have skipped to this headline. So knowing that people skim, write your first paragraph with highlights, something funny or relevant, cite a few facts, and then move on.

Keep the Stakes Low.

You can’t write for everyone. Go ahead and assume that you’re going to offend someone. Don’t feel like you need to include every qualifier known to man in your piece by over-quoting and footnoting. Cutting the qualifiers makes for a more concise message.

Don’t Dumb it Down.

Don’t write for a three year old, but don’t write it for a Ph.D. either. There needs to be a nice balance between the context and content. You don’t need to over-explain concepts or recreate the history of your topic. Pay attention-to-detail, remember that people love stats, but don’t go over the top. Content is king, but it needs to be bundled in a nice, neat package.

Write with Cadence.

My dear friend always tells me that cadence is important in writing. The first time he told me that, I thought, “what the hell is he talking about?” So this is the deal. Cadence are words that have the same first letter in succession within a sentence or a series of sentences. Clear. Consistent. Creative. This creates better sentence structure, syntax, and synergy. Simple.

Keep it Real.

Write like in a conversational tone. Take out all of the unnecessary words. Keep it easy. This will help your readers understand your concept more easily and find the key take-aways.

Come Full Circle.

Your last thought is just as important as your first sentence. Sometimes I find it easier to write the summary first. So take your headline, your brief introduction, and bring it back around. This will help you round out your thoughts and create a well-defined, concise story for your readers.

For More like this:

7 Tips that Will Make You Write Better and Faster

The Education Apocalypse: No Zombies Accepted.

The End is NearEnrolling now. No tuition. MIT. Harvard. Stanford. Yale. The University of California. And this certainly isn’t the basis of a new episode of The Walking Dead.

The frightening truth is that the cost of higher education continues to rise, with student debt exceeding $1 trillion. But it’s clear, based on the interest of top-tier universities, that free is the new game in town. So run toward the university, because it’s not dead by any means.

Enter MOOCs. Much has been written on the subject of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Some say that MOOCs are the future of higher education, while others simply don’t believe that they have any place in traditional education. For all of those doubters, the numbers tell real story about the current state of academia. The world can’t accommodate all of the students in need of higher education at brick and mortar colleges and universities. If it could, then 2 universities, enrolling 30,000 students each, would need to be built each week to house all of those students. So can brick and mortar institutions continue without the help of technology?

What we do know is that MOOCs help students—plain and simple. For a universe that lacks access to education, MOOCs can help bridge the gap. Benjamin Burt might have said it best, “True prosperity is the result of well placed confidence in ourselves and our fellow man.” Shouldn’t we all believe in the altruistic notion of higher education? Shouldn’t we want ourselves and the generations that follow us to have an excellent academic experience? Indeed we should. We should believe in the notion that anyone, can learn anything, anytime—for free.

Let’s be real, MOOCs won’t solve the worlds’ problems with education. But, they have a good chance at relieving the bottlenecks that exist in higher education. What many don’t realize is that MOOCs can be combined with traditional classroom learning in ways that were never imagined. MOOCs can help a student that is in need, or struggling with a subject, or needs another view on a topic for better understanding. The reality is that a significant percentage of our population needs to attain a degree to be productive in society.

Whether you believe in MOOCs or not, some points just can’t be disputed. The so-called failure of MOOCs to disrupt higher education isn’t based on the quality of the courses themselves, because many are very good and university investment in them is making them even better. MOOCs provide access to world-class professors at an unbeatable price. 

I myself was wary about MOOCs. So I did my research, took a few courses, and found that MOOCs can be useful in many ways. 

The 5 Truths About MOOCs Exposed.

MOOCs are online courses. By definition, MOOCs are free, have little instructor supervision, and students don’t receive individual attention from teachers. MOOCs offer the opportunity for tens of thousands of people to enroll online for a series of courses that provides lecture videos, assignments, and forums for class discussion. MOOCs are real online courses for sev­eral reasons:

  • They’re derived from credit-bearing courses at the undergrad­uate level;
  • Most MOOCs are so well designed that the pathway to learning is evident for most students; and,
  • Much attention is being paid to the granting of credit for MOOCs and therefore they might serve in place of online courses for some students.

Its clear through open education will expand into degree and academic credit through MOOCs.

MOOCS will not replace teaching. Instead, they can enhance teaching and provide access to learners around the world. MOOCs are created, not instruct­ed, by professors and instructors. Highly motivated students may be able to mas­ter the material of MOOCs just as they might learn from books on their own. So far, the majority of MOOC students have been sophisticated consumers of higher education — those already possessing a degree. This is not typical in higher edu­cation because we know most students prefer the guidance of an instructor.

MOOCs really are free. And the intention is real. The notion behind MOOCs is to provide information and knowledge at no cost. And that’s exactly why in the early stages of open education that MIT opened its entire library of undergraduate and graduate courses to the masses for free.

MOOCs are permanent. The rapid expansion of MOOCs and MOOC providers, particularly those as­sociated with higher education institu­tions, will divide the market even as the market grows. MOOCs will move from general education and undergraduate courses to special courses for defined audiences. While some of those audi­ences will be very large, the range of choice within any particular market will increase and diversify among subjects, providers, and formats.

MOOCs will indeed disrupt higher educa­tion. However, they will threaten the status quo. In fact, MOOCs are more likely to help colleges and universities improve learning by providing feedback on ef­fective learning practices, student-learning outcomes, and teaching methods. MOOCs will accelerate learn­ing innovation and provide new learning research from its students—which will make for a better academic product all around.

While the future of higher education is uncertain, it is clear that MOOCs are here to stay. Don’t drag your body to the class. Stay home. Fire up the laptop. And take a MOOC at home. I’m sure you’ll find they’re not part of the apocalyptic hype. That’s for The Walking Dead.

From the Stage to the Conference Room: How Rock Stars Teach Us to Become Better Leaders

A performer standing on stage facing the crowd with his hand in the air

I’m the consummate rocker. I absolutely love all types of music. My favorite bands include The Cult, Led Zeppelin, and every single hair band that ever hit the stage. What I never realized is that a rock star could show me the way to better leadership. The concept of that might sound unlikely, but they exhibit behaviors that we can use to help us become better managers, directors, VPs, and corporate presidents.

Matthew Bellamy, the lead signer for the band Muse might be considered one of the most entertaining rock stars of today. In fact, the band is renowned for setting a high standard for live production. Although he is very outspoken and sometimes controversial in his comments to the media, his dedication to his craft is unprecedented. From the song Invincible, he writes,

“Follow through. Make your dreams come true. Don’t give up the fight. You will be all right. ‘Cause there’s no one like you in the universe.” Leaders are unique creatures that drive teams of professionals, and it takes a special breed to do just that.

Let’s explore this idea more.

Performers have command of three important qualities of leaders— dedication, practice, and a thirst for learning. The lead singer reigns over the band, sets the tone, creates fellowship, establishes the vision, and builds inspiration. And that’s exactly what we try to do as leaders.

In meetings and conference rooms we must learn to be flexible, adaptable, and be able to perform for our audience. The art of performing is daunting, but if we think in that way, we can create a revolution. The ability to read the room and “act the part” shapes our reputations, spurs confidence in our direction, and creates stability in our strategic value. Here are a few tips.

  1. Read the House.

One of my favs, Jon Bon Jovi, wrote, “I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all.” That line is killer. And just like a performer, assessing people’s reactions in a room is important. Whether it’s a planning meeting with your team or a presentation to a huge group, you need to be self-aware. You want your audience to respond to you, so be clear on your direction, speak slow and loud, and move around the room.

The goal is to align your people. So model the behaviors that you want to see from your peers and teammates. Create an environment of collaboration to establish a sense of purpose for your staff.

  1. Dedicate Yourself to Practice.

We can’t learn leadership in an intellectual way. The conceptual framework of leadership is of no help unless it is experienced and incorporated into our daily lives. Learning to be a good leader is much like learning an instrument. We can be taught to play, but that teaching is lost unless we make the commitment to study the music and make time for repetitive play.

The idea of unrelenting practice could seem like punishment. And when we begin practice, sometimes we find ourselves in a circular loop—a refrain that gets us stuck in a certain style and thinking. Remember that Robert Plant didn’t build a band like Led Zeppelin in one day, and without a ton of hard work and practice. In the song, Good Times, Bad Times he sang, “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man. Now I’ve reached that age, I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can. No matter how I try, I find my way into the same old jam.” Finding your way to the same path can be very difficult to break.

Don’t get discouraged and start here. Develop a road map of where you are today and where you’re going in the future. For instance, what type of leader are you now? What kind of leader do you want to be? Where do you want to be six months from now? And what do you need to learn to get there?

  1. Drive Toward Perfection.

“A band’s only unique thing is its chemistry, especially if none of you are prodigious players or particularly handsome. The one thing you have is your uniqueness, so we hold on to that,” said Chris Martin from Coldplay.

The notion of individuality can carry us a long way as leaders. Because we all know that perfection isn’t even possible. But striving for it requires deep reflection and again, the ability to be self-aware. It requires us to convert our learning into experience, knowing that practice and persistence doesn’t show immediate improvement. It’s really more significant to know the end game and to figure out what it takes to get there.

  1. Create Anticipation and Stir Imagination.

Its rad if you can build suspense just like an encore performance. The best feeling in the world is standing amongst a crowd of screaming people, waiting for the last song, most likely you’re favorite song. It’s the spontaneity of improvisation that captures our minds. And waiting for it, shows the true power of silence.

We’re faced with a competitive landscape that is more intense than ever. This means that in a volatile, uncertain, and complex environment we need to seriously reconsider our strategies and strengths so that we don’t get lost in the disruption. What distinguishes good and bad leadership is the anticipation involved in all aspects of a leader’s work.

The lesson learned is that leaders need to make moves—by mastering communication, listening, understanding, and fostering inspiration. If we don’t grow and learn, its certain that we will be left behind. Sometimes we will find that it takes the sacrifice of personal integrity to keep up and stay current. At the end of the day, being a good leader requires a powerful understanding of others and of oneself.

Rock on!

I Dare You to Color Outside of the Lines

Young businesswoman trapped in carton box

Do you ever get tired of being asked to “think outside of the box?” It’s such a trite statement. We’re all trying our best to be innovative and creative, but how do we do that in a world that has boxed us in?

We were raised to be constrained and controlled. For example, our elementary teachers taught us to color inside the lines. Our parents told us to become doctors or lawyers because they never achieved their dreams. Our professors taught us to the test, rather than teaching us to challenge the test. Our bosses squash our ideas in those bi-annual “brainstorming sessions,” because they don’t have the time or the where-with-all to understand how we’re thinking—we’re operating as mindless slaves.

What the heck? What’s so exciting about what’s inside that box anyway? Maybe the ugly holiday sweater that you’re grandma gave you? Come on. I’ll agree that thinking outside the box requires that we have a box in the first place. We need the content and context to move outside of it to create new worlds. Plus the control and structure to be inspired, because in some capacity it gives us the thrill of breaking the rules.

So, let’s drag ourselves out of the box kicking and screaming. Let’s challenge the thought that Apple is the most innovative company in the world. Look at the iPhone—it’s become a predicable package of sorts. What about 3M? Their management team requires that 20% of their products be generated by new product development. Now that’s an empowering opportunity to introduce disruptive change.

We can’t just watch the MBA’s from the sidelines anymore. And we can’t wait for someone to show us the way. We have to push ourselves to be assertive in meetings and breed the ideas of the future. Think about Dr. Suess’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

This is what you should consider:

Crush the Box

Although the concept of the box is necessary to understand, the idea that you can move beyond it is much more important. And the frustration of not being able to push the envelope is exponential. So why not challenge the norm? Refold or redesign the box. Force yourself to condense thoughts, ideas, and words that sometimes hold us back. Think in statements of 10 words or less—almost like a poet. You don’t need more than that to convey your point of view. And if you can do that—especially in front of the big wigs—you might just win the battle.

Read More

We read about 2-5 online, print, journal articles, or blogs per week. Is that enough? Well, when you think about motivating yourself or your people it’s probably not. If you’re devoting your time to reading industry journal articles, forget about it, you’re reading about history. You need to read broadly, move out of your industry, look at different companies and technologies to create something new. Look at new patents, determine what’s on the horizon, rather than looking at what’s already in the marketplace. Reading, outside your comfort zone, will give you the impetus to develop new, abstract notions, which may lead you to great new horizons.

Work Backwards

Writing the first sentence, of anything, is the hardest thing to do. You have to figure out how to change the pattern of your thinking. Start at the end product, and then move forward from there. You might find that the solutions to the problems are easier to develop first, than thinking about the nonsense that you need to fix.

Ask a Kid for Advice

My 9-year-old boy gives me great ideas about everything. The way I dress, the way I negotiate with my 4 year old, the way I think about the world. You name it and he has a resolution. A child’s mind is unobstructed by the minutia that bogs us down. They are real and authentic. I needed a product development idea just the other day and he told me, why don’t you ask kids like me—we’re the ones that are going to buy it anyway. Genius. From the mouth of babes.

When it comes down to it, we’re the ones that can manipulate the status quo. Thinking outside of the box isn’t like hitting a switch that allows a new idea to just turn on. It’s really about the will and desire to think differently. And with that desire, comes the ability to progress. So pick up the crayon and color outside of the lines. The distortion of that impulse might just lead you to a path of innovation and creativity.

The Days of Building the TPS Report are Over.

TPS ReportsDo you remember that guy from the movie Office Space? You know, the coffee cup wielding, TPS report dude referred to as “Lumbergh.” Man, what a hideous co-worker and boss. I don’t want to be that guy.

I’ve often thought that I’m just a 40 something and maybe I’ve become awfully irrelevant in the face of younger colleagues or that “I’ve jumped the shark.” Is it possible that I’ve turned into Lumbergh? Or worse, I’ve turned into the redheaded swing line stapler guy, Milton? The minute my desk gets moved four times; I’ll take my stapler and vacate the building. Or I might accidently set the building on fire. I did say “accidentally.”

The truth of the matter is that the rut has found me. I do endless amounts of reports, for what reason I don’t know. I sit in meetings, frustrated, because we talk in circles and absolutely nothing gets accomplished. Is this all that’s left for me? I certainly hope not.

I guess the challenge I’m facing is that I need to remain relevant. And you might be thinking the same thing.

For all of us 40 somethings out there, today is a good day to start rebuilding our careers. There are amazing high-profile examples of people from that have “made it big” at a more mature age: Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, Vera Wang, Madonna, and Oprah. And you don’t have to be a politian, an entrepreneur, a millionaire, or a Hollywood icon to do it.

The fact of the matter is that we have a chance. In fact, professionals like me and you are now dominating the workforce because of the trend toward retirement in later years. It is projected that 46% of older Americans will make a change in their professional lives. And a huge majority wants to rise above the notion that “I’m too old” to have a successful career. You can be a leader in the workforce and compete against the younger graduates like “millennials” that are entering the job market. And importantly, 40 somethings are reinvesting in education to help set themselves apart from the crowd.

  • Nearly 2 million students at the young age of 40 are taking courses to
    earn an advanced degree at the masters, doctoral, or professional
    level
  • Over 7.1 million career-minded individuals in America, just like you, participate in online classes, whether it be open and free education or credit courses
  • One and ten students are now enrolled and engaged in an online course

So what does it take to avoid becoming Lumbergh or Milton? It takes a combination of imagination and empowerment. And through continued education, you can uncover knowledge and develop a new sense of personal enrichment you otherwise didn’t know existed.

Here are some tips to help get you started.

  1. Start Small But Think Big.

Think big first and determine your desired educational outcome. What do you want to accomplish by investing in education? Then think small because you don’t need to devote multiple hours each week toward self-directed study, a class, and a certificate or degree program. Rather, think about the big picture and then take small steps to reach your vision. You might consider devoting just 10 minutes a day to reading a text book, a journal article, or even to checking out a free online course. This will help you can gain the momentum you need to keep going and eventually accomplish more.

  1. Build Successful Habits.

Decide what your educational goal is and then establish a study plan to achieve it. Your plan might vary between studying one night each week for two to three hours or dedicating a few hours of study over the weekend.

  1. Proceed with Caution.

Don’t think you have to study every day or even every week. Don’t give up if life gets in the way and a few days or even a few weeks slip by. Its ok, just pick up where you left off and keep going.

  1. Set Your Own Pace.

Whether you’re pursuing a certification or trying to earn an advanced degree, you determine the end game. You don’t have to do it in six months or even a year. Go at your own pace.

  1. Take Advantage of “Wheels Up.”

If you travel, use time spent on planes and in airports to read and prepare for paper writing, presentations, and examinations.

  1. Invest in Your Professional Development.

Professional development isn’t just about taking classes and earning credentials. Make time to attend conferences and networking events. Connect with others and learn from your peers.

  1. Work the System.

Your current employer and immediate boss probably value continuing education quite a bit. You might find that your employer offers tuition reimbursement programs because the company can see the future value and benefit for work-related projects.

  1. Always Focus on Building Your Resume.

Whether your happy in your current position or your looking for a new job, remember that resume building helps you document your milestones. Education builds your resume and distinguishes you from your peers. In fact, educational pursuits might be the one element that helps you land your next job.

Rest assured you that you’re not alone and you’re never obsolete. In fact, us 40-somethings are still driving the economy, 76 million strong. We’re known as the “do-er generation” and we’re positioned to serve as leaders and mentors to the millennial generation. You’re productive and open to new experiences and opportunities.

Education is our answer. Whether you’re an executive, a project manager, an engineer, or a medical professional—education can help lead you to personal and professional growth.

So stop building your version of a TPS report right now, hit the reset button, drop the stapler and do yourself a favor—invest in you.