Monday, January 13, 2014

Career Reflections: How Tom Peters Helped Me Re-Imagine My Career

As I re-imagine my online presence for 2014 I'd like to reflect on my past and those who have influenced my career. My plan is to highlight at least one person each month that has influenced me in some way throughout my career journey.  You may already know them...you may not.

I'll kick off this little exercise with someone who isn't in the eLearning industry, but who is a big fan of life long learning: Tom Peters.

It was a keynote at TechLearn2000...my first big learning event.  I remember little about the event other than Benjamin Zander's "Do it on one buttock" and "Beyond the Fuck it!"...and Tom's entire keynote.  It changed my life!

Early Corporate eLearning Career - Burn out!

2000 was a big year for everyone in technology...for obvious reasons. Okay, maybe not obvious. GenZ may have been too young to care about "The Y2K bug". But it was big for me in that I was already tired of my job and saw my career going nowhere. I had already learned to design and develop training media in many different forms with my favorite being fully interactive 3D training simulations.  After building those simulations every other training project seemed useless and a waste of time, but I learned to find the joy in each project as best I could. The eLearning industry was still in it's infancy and I felt like I had already done it all.  I wanted there to be more.  I KNEW there was more to be done.  But how do I find it?  As a strong worker bee grinding it out, what's the next step?

2000 doesn't seem that long ago but you've got to remember that the internet had only just begun getting interesting. I had not started blogging yet.  Social media was not really a thing yet.  I was only a few years into my Intel career and starting my family. I think starting the family explains most of the feelings of "burn out", but the career burn out still holds.  I loved raising my family more than grinding the 9to5 at Intel.   As a young, distracted, low level employee I was not pegged by leadership as someone they wanted to groom and move up the corporate ladder.  I knew that, but didn't care.  I saw where that path lead...selling your soul to the corporate devil.  I loved, DOING THE WORK.  But the intensely rewarding training work I LOVED to do, was no longer what Intel wanted.  And blablabla...I hate the negative stuff of reflections... so I'll get on with it if you don't mind.

My tale, I suppose, is quite typical of a career journey.  But I'm not sure everyone can pinpoint one moment in time that changed everything: The day you stopped waiting for others to tell you what's next, and you start telling them what you're doing next...with or without them.  I can.  And I've never stopped to look back...well, until now.

Tom Peters Transforms My Corporate eLearning Career

Tom was the keynote for the opening general session on day 2 of TechLearn2000. I remember being mesmerized and hanging on every word.  He was intense, loud, and PASSIONATE! He was confirming everything about corporate life that I had experienced to that point...IT WAS BULLSHIT! No REAL work gets done, and the corporate grind takes you nowhere.  But more importantly...

...he offered a way out!

His slides were simple and bold...STRIKING!  And this was before I had ever seen the, now famous, Steve Jobs presentation style.  Until that moment I hadn't really thought too much about my own personal brand.  

He was right! "The Brand YOU!" was a necessity, not an OPTION.  He challenged the audience...and this eager attendee...to think of ourselves each as individual 1-person companies.  How would I brand myself? What's my marketing tag line? What VALUE does Brent Schlenker Co. bring to any big Fortune 500 Co.? And my personal favorite idea that he presented was the WOW Project! He wrote The WOW Project in a Fast Company article in 1999 following his 1994 book about WOW Projects.
The answer -- the only answer -- is the project. And not just any project, no matter how droning, boring, and dull, but rather what my colleagues and I have come to call "Wow Projects": projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy -- and, yes, projects that make you a star.
At that time in my career I began to realize that I had already done WOW projects. And if I wanted to continue doing them I needed to OWN THEM.  I needed to own my own destiny and if that meant leaving the security of a corporate gig, like Intel, then so be it.  But what Tom's message said to me was that you could still work in the corporate world...but with a Brand YOU mentality working hard at kicking ass on even the smallest of projects.  Make EVERYTHING a WOW project.

It was something I always "wanted" to do but never felt like I was "allowed" too. NOW, it felt okay to be the oddball.  I felt comfortable being UN-comfortable in the hell of status quo.  I was actually quite happy that I didn't fit the mold of Intel's "management track".  That left me free to be a leader, and define my own path, and blaze it with my own passion...and it felt right when so many said it was the wrong way to navigate a career.

The Brent Schlenker Co. Journey - It ain't over!

Before leaving Intel I had done a tour of duty in each significant training organization: Software Training, Manufacturing Training, Planning and Logistics Training, Warehouse Training, and the Corporate University.  I wanted to learn about ALL aspects of Training in the enterprise...and so I did...without anyone's permission but my own. When jumping around from group to group was frowned upon I did it anyways because I wanted to learn and experience how it all worked.

By 2005 I had already given many presentations featuring my Intel WOW projects at major industry conferences.  And in August of 2005 this blog was born with a simple post titled Welcome, and became the center of the Brent Schlenker Co. brand that Tom Peters had launched at TechLearn2000.

As my brand grew, more doors opened. I eventually became the Program Director for the largest Professional eLearning Organization, The eLearning Guild, and responsible for programming the largest eLearning Industry event, DevLearn.

So, what's my WOW Project today? As IO's Director of Product/Technology Training I am building IO Institute from ground up.  IO as a company is one giant WOW Project that I am proud and blessed to be part of.  If you haven't heard about IO...you will.

After well over a decade of influence from Tom Peters through books like The Brand You 50(Amazon) , and Re-Imagine(Amazon), I recently re-engaged him in a short twitter conversation that reminded me why social media is so incredibly powerful...and important.
No Tom! YOU sir, are THE MAN! Thank you! 
(Please note my spectacular use of the exclamation point :) 


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