Professional Development is Broken – we’re here to fix it

Professional development in the post-industrial world is broken. The old waterfall model Learn→Work→Retire no longer applies. As we advance as design and product professionals, we need to keep growing beyond what we learn on the job. We continuously need to improve our “soft” skills, like leadership, and conquer new areas, such as AI – and we need to do this while working full-time jobs and living our best lives with our loved ones. Continuous growth sounds great, but the calendar is packed, so… how can we make it happen?

From a national and corporate perspective, professional development is all about competition. Countries need to develop and keep the best talent to ensure a prospering society, and companies need to outrun or keep up with their competitors. Yet, there are no national structures or systems to ensure that academics in tech or design continue to grow and stay on top after they leave University. This responsibility lies solely on the employers and employees.

Demand for tech and design people has never been higher, recruitment costs are soaring, and employees stay shorter and shorter. Nevertheless, access to valuable professional development is still not a given.

– “What happens if we invest in developing our people, and then they leave us?”

– “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

This is an old saying, but it’s still true. Investing in your people is not only the right thing to do to ensure organizational development; it’s also a cheap way to attract and retain talent.

However, when companies do decide to invest, they often resort to internal learning platforms to teach you about… corporate values, sustainability, and GDPR. This is all good, but it doesn’t really address the challenge we’re focusing on here. In all fairness, sometimes these organizations will also provide access to a traditional video-based online learning platform, e.g., LinkedIn Learning, or send you on a conference or 2-day workshop.

This is… something. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

Here’s what’s wrong

  • Online self-studies like LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and others are not responsive enough to cater to the participants’ needs. And “do it when you have time” is often a bug, not a feature. Unfortunately, later often turns to never. On top of that, the content quickly gets old, and the quality is often so-so.
  • Conferences are great, for inspiration (and parties!). And don’t get me wrong, we really need that, but in terms of professional development, they’re the wrong solution. Believe me, I’ve organized quite a few.
  • Traditional 2-5-day courses… First, it’s tough for most of us with busy schedules to take that amount of time out from work and away from our families. Second, if we manage to get away, it’s really hard to remember what we learned a few weeks later. It’s a bit like cramming for an exam at Uni. A few intense days of study, pass the test, and… what did I learn again? And, back at work, we’re caught up in the same routines and ways of working as before.
  • Longer formats, with a few weeks of space between the course days/sessions, are also hard to prioritize. But since you get to reflect and practice between the sessions, they can work well when, e.g., shifting into a new role. But, change is constant, and we need to keep growing. Every day.

Ok. Professional development is broken. So what? Do we have a solution? I think so. It’s definitely not perfect yet, but we have a few really promising ideas.

Ambition what? Empower.

Ambition Empower is a subscription service for continuous development where thought-leaders within product and design help you and your team grow. It is optimized for your busy life, allowing you to spend as little as one hour per week and still stay ahead of the competition.

It is still early days, and the service is changing and developing as we learn more about what works and what doesn’t. It’s not perfect by any means, but both our members and we are very excited about it so far.

Fundamental success factors

So, what does it take to create a continuous learning experience that helps people grow, if not every day, so at least every week? We’re currently trying out lots of ideas, but here’s a list of what we, so far, believe are fundamental success factors, and that we are experimenting with for Ambition Empower.

For professional development to really work, it needs to be:

  • Continuous. Learning new things needs to be continuous and integrated into our everyday lives. We need something new, if not every day, so at least every week.
  • Organized. It needs to be planned. We need that time blocked in our calendars, with elements that cannot be pushed to “later.” We also need weekly plans and to-do lists.
  • Supportive. When we get stuck or fall behind, we need an occasional supportive message or two.
  • Bite-sized. It needs to fit into a busy and fragmented schedule. We can’t dedicate days, but an hour is fine. Or at least a few minutes here and there.
  • Highly curated. Time is scarce, and we need to be highly selective. If you google, e.g., “design leadership,” you get 845.000 hits. With a 5-minute average reading time, that’s 3.000 years. We don’t have that. We need help finding and prioritizing what to consume, preferably from the greatest experts on the very topics we’re interested in.
  • Accessible. It needs to be online so that everyone can participate. Vilnius, Varberg, or the Vatican. It does not matter.
  • Live, and in real-time. Meeting other people, even if it’s online, is underrated. Doing together is growing together, also on a Miro board in a break-out session.
  • Agile. The topics and content need to continuously adapt to the latest insights and, of course, to the members’ needs.
  • Affordable. By coordinating and pooling our resources, we can make this happen and hire the best coaches and experts to help us develop our skills.

These are just a few thoughts, originating from our work with Ambition Empower. There’s much more to be said, but this will have to do for now.

What would you add to the list, and what are your thoughts on continuous professional development? E-mail me at . I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks!

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