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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

A Surprisingly Difficult Question

What would be the best investment of your time to get better at what you do?

What would give your performance the best ROI? The biggest bang for your bucks?

I ask this not out of hypothetical interest, but because it’s one of the first key questions I ask of people when they’re developing a personal learning strategy.

And most people find it a surprisingly challenging question to answer.

It’s challenging because people who’ve been through the current educational treadmill have been taught that learning is synonymous with being told what to do rather than deciding for themselves.

Think about it.

You sign up for a course and they tell you what to do.

You attend a training day and they tell you what to do.

You join an evening class and… you guessed it, they tell you what to do.

What’s more, they tell you what to do without any idea of your current capabilities and needs. Training days are usually a one-size-fits-all deal. All attendees get the same treatment whether they need it or not.

So we attend trainings or seminars or workshops, hoping it will be useful, interesting and worthwhile and reserve the right to stop attending if it isn’t.

But the idea of previously considering for ourselves what we need to be more effective (professionally or personally) isn’t something we’re used to, let alone comfortable with.

It’s perfectly realistic for someone to be the last person aware of their own incompetences. They remain happy to deny, quick to blame or simply satisfied to live in blissful ignorance.

This is clearly not a good strategy for successful personal development.

So, if you were interested in answering the question (what would be the best investment of your time and effort for personal development), where would you begin?

You could start by getting feedback from…

  • coworkers

  • superiors

  • subordinates

  • mentors

  • friends and family

  • career counsellors

  • professional assessors

But if, like most people, you’re uncomfortable about discussing with others the parts of your personal profile where there is ‘room-for-improvement’, try this…

Consider your daily stressors. What causes you unrest during your normal routine? In fact, why not get a sheet of paper and make a list of them right now?

Write them all down.

It’s likely that each of these stressors involve a third party. It’s caused by the customer. Or your boss. Or the local council. Or your supplier. Or your neighbour. Or your mother-in-law, etc.

But stop and think for a moment - how much control do you have in each of these situations? What choices are you making in each one?

Now even though we hardly know each other, I’d bet that you could, if you chose, positively influence each situation on your list in some way for the better.

Potentially, you have the power to reduce your stressors.

So go down your list and ask yourself the question ‘Is there any way I could change my behaviour to improve the situation?’

For example could any of the following reduce your stress and produce a better outcome?


Clear communication skills

Creativity skills

Culture difference awareness


Listening skills


Negotiation skills

Problem solving skills

Public speaking skills

Sales skills

Strategic planning skills

…to name but a few.

The ones you pick are potential areas for real personal development where strengthening your skill would make a genuine improvement.

If you want to move onwards and upwards, you need to grow and develop professionally. As they say, doing what you’ve always done will only get you to where you currently are.

And to do this, to get moving onwards and upwards, you can either wait (patiently) for the ideal learning opportunity to come knocking at your door, or you can take the bovine by the extremities and proactively start putting together your own personal learning program.

It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Or, of course, there’s always the option of living in denial.

So what’s it going to be?

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