Climb the Pyramid of Professional Excellence and Impact the World

Recently I delivered the opening keynote at the 91st UCLA Extension Technical Management Program (TMP), a unique one-week learning experience for mid-career leaders in technology and business occurring each March and September.

This was my 62nd time teaching in this program over the last three decades. This is my favorite ongoing gig because participants select four different courses from a menu of 20 offerings taught by expert consultants and professors. (See As a bonus, it keeps me in tune with the issues and opportunities my audience faces.

My main message was simple: The best strategy to thrive in these fast-change times is active lifelong learning.

Make your learning strategic. Differentiate yourself from your peers and build a competitive advantage by acquiring or sharpening those skills that add most value in your context, and which you enjoy using.

I then introduced Blooms Taxonomy, a learning model developed by Dr. Benjamin Bloom in the 1950’s. Bloom was an educator who wanted to go beyond the rote style school of learning then taught in most schools. His original pyramid, later refined, has six levels as depicted in the opening visual.

Bloom’s taxonomy offers a helpful model to track your level of professional mastery.  The higher up the pyramid you can operate, the stronger is your competitive edge and ability to create value. Let’s explore each level of this helpful framework.

Remembering is the base level of the pyramid and constitutes retention of knowledge. Sure, you need to remember what’s essential, but equally important is knowing where to go to learn what you don’t know. When in doubt, ask wise old Mr. Google.

In the Strategic Thinking and Planning course I taught that week, I didn’t really care whether my participants could precisely name the ten different schools of strategy. What I cared about is that they grasped the essential elements.

The remembering level is where you acquire knowledge, the levels above constitute skills and abilities in using the knowledge.

Understanding is the second level. Remembering is not enough; I wanted my participants to understand intelligently discuss the basic strategic concepts.

Application, the third level, is where value is created as here’s where you try out the concepts in your world. This requires active in testing the ideas, modifying your approach as needed.

In my experience, only a fraction of people actually apply what they learned from any course. Maybe that’s due to fear of making mistakes or not doing it perfectly. But what benefit does learning after if you don’t apply it?

What stops many people is the learning curve to gain proficiency. But you already discovered to master steep learning curves long ago as a baby. Good thing you kept trying to walk despite falling down numerous times, or you’d still be crawling. Application is the key to success.

In class I challenged folks to apply the strategic concepts to their own environment by doing an environmental scan, validating their vision/mission, and identifying success measures for their enterprise and work group.

The ability to analyze means drawing connections and conclusion across multiple situations. In my course, this is where they compare and contract various strategic approaches. Where would Blue Ocean Strategy work? Porters Five Forces? How does the Balanced Scorecard fit? What is the value of the Logical Framework?

When you evaluate, you begin to draw on wisdom gained from experience. Sure, you developed and implemented a strategic plan, but what happened and why? In evaluating the results, you examine how well the goals were achieved. In addition, you evaluate and improve very process by which you develop and implement strategic plans.

The ability to create characterizes the masters of their craft. Here’s where you develop new models, reinvent a process, insert new features, and create something new that benefits to your group, company, or profession.

But achieving this level doesn’t require the 10,000 or more hours of study Malcom Gladwell describes.  It requires a curiosity and determination to try new things. Get it out there. Take your best shot at advancing your profession. This is where you begin to become a thought leader.

I’ll close with the same challenge I gave to my audience: Reflect on how this model relates to your career/life trajectory. Identify the major skill categories required in your current situation, or that of your dream job. Then determine where you are in the hierarchy, and what you need to do to climb.

A fruit tree gathers nourishment from the soil and sun, then produces fresh and delicious fruit.  YouAs you have been nourished by books, teachers, courses, and daily experience. Now is the time to put forth your own fruit iby writing articles, producing plays, creating new algorithms, transforming how your team operates,  reinventing a process, whatever is needed.  The world needs the fruits of your wisdom.

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