10 Small Things You Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter

BY JESSICA STILLMAN  @ENTRYLEVELREBEL

Intelligence is a work in progress. Maximize yours with these simple habits.

You might be under the impression that intelligence is a fixed quantity set when you are young and unchanging thereafter. But research shows that you’re wrong. How we approach situations and the things we do to feed our brains can significantly improve our mental horsepower.

That could mean going back to school or filling your bookshelves (or e-reader) with thick tomes on deep subjects, but getting smarter doesn’t necessarily mean a huge commitment of time and energy, according to a recent thread on question-and-answer site Quora.

When a questioner keen on self-improvement asked the community, “What would you do to be a little smarter every single day?” lots of readers–including dedicated meditators, techies, and entrepreneurs–weighed in with useful suggestions. Which of these 10 ideas can you fit into your daily routine?

1. Be smarter about your online time. 

Every online break doesn’t have to be about checking social networks and fulfilling your daily ration of cute animal pics. The Web is also full of great learning resources, such as online courses, intriguing TED talks, and vocabulary-building tools. Replace a few minutes of skateboarding dogs with something more mentally nourishing, suggest several responders.

2. Write down what you learn.

It doesn’t have to be pretty or long, but taking a few minutes each day to reflect in writingabout what you learned is sure to boost your brainpower. “Write 400 words a day on things that you learned,” suggests yoga teacher Claudia Azula Altucher. Mike Xie, a research associate at Bayside Biosciences, agrees: “Write about what you’ve learned.”

3. Make a ‘did’ list.

A big part of intelligence is confidence and happiness, so boost both by pausing to list not the things you have yet to do, but rather all the things you’ve already accomplished. The idea of a “done list” is recommended by famed VC Marc Andreessen as well as Azula Altucher. “Make an I DID list to show all the things you, in fact, accomplished,” she suggests.

4. Get out the Scrabble board.

Board games and puzzles aren’t just fun but also a great way to work out your brain. “Play games (Scrabble, bridge, chess, Go, Battleship, Connect 4, doesn’t matter),” suggests Xie (for a ninja-level brain boost, exercise your working memory by trying to play without looking at the board). “Play Scrabble with no help from hints or books,” concurs Azula Altucher.

5. Have smart friends.

It can be rough on your self-esteem, but hanging out with folks who are more clever than you is one of the fastest ways to learn. “Keep a smart company. Remember your IQ is the average of five closest people you hang out with,” Saurabh Shah, an account manager at Symphony Teleca, writes.

“Surround yourself with smarter people,” agrees developer Manas J. Saloi. “I try to spend as much time as I can with my tech leads. I have never had a problem accepting that I am an average coder at best and there are many things I am yet to learn…Always be humble and be willing to learn.”

6. Read a lot.

OK, this is not a shocker, but it was the most common response: Reading definitely seems essential. Opinions vary on what’s the best brain-boosting reading material, with suggestions ranging from developing a daily newspaper habit to picking up a variety offiction and nonfiction, but everyone seems to agree that quantity is important. Read a lot.

7. Explain it to others. 

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” Albert Einstein said. The Quora posters agree. Make sure you’ve really learned what you think you have learned and that the information is truly stuck in your memory by trying to teach it to others. “Make sure you can explain it to someone else,” Xie says simply.

Student Jon Packles elaborates on this idea: “For everything you learn–big or small–stick with it for at least as long as it takes you to be able to explain it to a friend. It’s fairly easy to learn new information. Being able to retain that information and teach others is far more valuable.”

8. Do random new things. 

Shane Parrish, keeper of the consistently fascinating Farnam Street blog, tells the story of Steve Jobs’ youthful calligraphy class in his response on Quora. After dropping out of school, the future Apple founder had a lot of time on his hands and wandered into a calligraphy course. It seemed irrelevant at the time, but the design skills he learned were later baked into the first Macs. The takeaway: You never know what will be useful ahead of time. You just need to try new things and wait to see how they connect with the rest of your experiences later on.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” Parrish quotes Jobs as saying. In order to have dots to connect, you need to be willing to try new things–even if they don’t seem immediately useful or productive.

9. Learn a new language. 

No, you don’t need to become quickly fluent or trot off to a foreign country to master the language of your choosing. You can work away steadily from the comfort of your desk and still reap the mental rewards. “Learn a new language. There are a lot of free sites for that. UseLivemocha or Busuu,” says Saloi (personally, I’m a big fan of Memrise once you have the basic mechanics of a new language down).

10. Take some downtime.

It’s no surprise that dedicated meditator Azula Altucher recommends giving yourself space for your brain to process what it’s learned–“sit in silence daily,” she writes–but she’s not the only responder who stresses the need to take some downtime from mental stimulation. Spend some time just thinking, suggests retired cop Rick Bruno. He pauses the interior chatter while exercising. “I think about things while I run (almost every day),” he reports.

@ENTRYLEVELREBEL

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

 

“My Mental Readiness for an Exit is LOW”

A recent release of findings from an ongoing research effort being conducted by Pinnacle Equity Solutions, Inc., a national leader in the emerging field of exit planning, reveals that 85% of business owners who are considering a future exit from their privately-held business currently have a Low Mental Readiness for their exit.  This newsletter discusses these findings and provides insights for owners of privately-held businesses to learn how you might begin planning for your own business transition or exit in the future by knowing more about what your peers are thinking and doing. 

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Exiting Your Business, Protecting Your Wealth – Financial and Mental Readiness

In October of 2008, John Wiley & Sons published John Leonetti’s book, Exiting Your Business, Protecting Your Wealth – A Strategic Guide to Owners and Their Advisors.  This seminal book on the topic of exit planning provided a system for owners and their professional advisors to plan a business exit.  This exit planning system provides two (2) initial components that an owner should assess – their Financial Readiness and their Mental Readiness for a future business exit.

An owner’s Financial Readiness is simply a measurement of the amount of wealth that is held outside of their business, and/or other sources of income, that can pay for maintenance of their lifestyle.

A business owner’s Mental Readiness is an indication of how much longer the owner would like to continue working in their business.  For example, a business owner with a High Mental readiness is someone who is NOT enjoying working in their business today and would like to move on from the business.  However, a LOW Mental Readiness reflects an owner’s desire to continue working in the business because they enjoy the continued challenge and thrill of running their business.

The data presented in this newsletter are the initial results of more than seventy-five (75) owners of operating companies who have completed an assessment conducted by Pinnacle.  The results provide a view through which we all can better understand an owner’s attitude and preparedness for their future business exit.

Traits of LOW Mental Readiness

The following attributes apply to the 85% of owners who have a LOW mental readiness for an exit.  As a group, they generally:

–          Have no written plans for an exit

–          Have not thought about a future without them working in their business

–          Take less than 3 weeks of vacation per year.

–          Are performing at the ‘top of their game’.

–          Lack the management team to replace their responsibilities at the company

–          Continue to have a high level of enthusiasm to work at their companies.

These traits vary in degree among different owners who completed the Pinnacle report, but are the general areas where they all reply positively to the survey questions.

How Can You Apply These Survey Results to Your Exit Plans?

As you review the list of traits in the preceding paragraph regarding owners with a LOW Mental Readiness, you may see many that apply to you.  If so, you may begin to consider your own Mental readiness for an exit and how this could impact your planning.  And, notably, if your desire is to continue to run your business into the future because owning and running your business is what you enjoy doing, then you are in the majority of your peers.

However, our important message to you in this newsletter is the following:  just because you desire to remain with your business does not mean that planning should be ignored or put off until a later date.  In fact, ‘exit planning’ does not (and should not) mean that you are leaving your business.  Rather, planning for an exit includes growth planning (i.e. increasing the cash flow and value of your business), leadership planning and development (so that the business can run without you), personal planning (so that you have the peace of mind that you can afford an exit) and contingency planning (to assure that you don’t lose what you created if someone unforeseen should happen to you).  These are all very important areas that you can plan for today, even if – like the majority of other owners – you do not plan to exit for a number of years.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope that this newsletter has accomplished the objective of having you understand what your peers are thinking and doing for their exit plans so that you can better define your own.

© Copyright 2014 Pinnacle Equity Solutions, Inc.

Thrive: How to Build a Simply Irresistible™ Organization

New research shows that organizations must work harder than ever to create a meaningful, humanistic work environment to drive engagement, performance, and a magnetic attraction for people.

We call this the “Simply Irresistible™ Organization“- one that people love to work for.

This is good for business. The Great Place to Work Institute has published studies which show that “100 best places to work” outperformed the S&P 500 by over four-fold from 1990-2009 and there’s no reason to believe this won’t continue. (“The Great Workplace,” by Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin.)

But there’s more. There’s a personal side to this story.

We as individuals also have to take care of ourselves, and Arianna Huffington’s new bookThrive (just published) can help us understand this issue. Huffington’s book and her new website The Third Metric redefines what success means: slow down, disconnect, get more sleep, and become more mindful about our lives.

“Health creates wealth,” she says. Healthy, focused people are not only happier, they make better decisions, become better leaders, and drive greater value for their organizations.

Do business leaders understand this? Are we creating a workplace which lets people thrive? In most cases, not yet.

Our Global Human Capital Trends research, just completed, found a tremendous gap in the area of workforce engagement, stress, and overload.

Here’s the data: 79% of businesses are worried seriously about engagement and retention (it is their #2 issue after leadership) and two-thirds of business leaders cite “the overwhelmed employee” as a top business challenge. And Gallup research shows that globally only 13% of employees are highly engaged at work. (View the Deloitte Human Capital Dashboard to explore the data interactively.)

Despite these numbers, only 8% of large companies feel they have programs to help employees adapt. Forty percent of us men work more than 50 hours a week and 80% of men want to work fewer hours. In order to thrive, we need employers, HR departments, and CEOs to help.

While most companies haven’t dealt with this issue, some have. Fortune’s Best Companies to Work (Google, SAS, Boston Consulting Group, and Edward Jones) have built amazing workplaces – environments where people literally line up to apply for jobs. These organizations have created what we call a Simply Irresistible™ workplace. They not only attract great people, they also create an environment where people can truly thrive.

After studying this issue for the last year, I’ve concluded that this problem goes far beyond measuring “employee engagement.” We have to take a holistic view.

To help people understand this, here are what we believe are the five key elements of the Simply Irresistible™ organization.

1. Meaningful work.

The first and and perhaps most important challenge is to give people “good work.” Jobs must give people enough autonomy to be creative and enough time to perform well. Even call center workers want time to learn, improve, and help customers.

Studies show that companies that empower employees, give them the tools to succeed, and pay well outperform those who attempt to “reduce the cost of labor.” When we pay people fairly and give them cross training they learn, help customers, and improve operations. Call center, retail, health care, and hospitality workers all benefit from this approach.

In todays’ economy nearly every business drives value through service, intellectual property, or creativity. This means people are the product, so businesses should try to design jobs which give people what author Daniel Pink calls “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”

2. Great management.

Management is one of the most important parts of any organization, and companies have to develop and support great leadership.

Our research shows that people thrive through coaching, feedback, and opportunities to develop. Managers who criticize people, demand too much, or avoid communication create stress and fear among employees. The same can be said for old-fashioned performance appraisals, which often create fear, reduce performance, in generate stress. We have to remember the nobility of management, and help people learn to manage others well.

We also have to teach managers how to be “mindful,” and help their employees slow down and see the big picture. One of the fastest growing competencies in leadership development programs is “self-awareness,” something Arianna Huffington describes in her new book.

(Read Learning to Be Yourself for more tips. If you’re interested in the topic of modern performance management and how to motivate high performers, please read the Myth of the Bell Curve.)

3. Growth opportunities.

Among the many reasons people leave companies, one of the biggest is for lack of opportunity. Our research clearly shows that organizations which invest more heavily in training, career development, and mobility outperform their peers in almost every industry.

But it has to go further. Not everyone will move into management or get promoted – Irresistible organizations enable facilitated talent mobility. People can move from job to job without fear of failure – supported by leadership as well as HR. Today only 3% of the companies we surveydeliver strong mobility programs at all levels, yet this is one of the strongest drivers of engagement and continuous learning.

What happens when you give people the opportunity to grow? People stay excited, the business becomes more agile and innovative, and high performers want to stay.

4. An inclusive, flexible, fun environment.

Companies that have ping pong tables, free food, and flexible vacation time show that they care. These benefits are fairly inexpensive to provide and they give people the freedom to work as they want to work. Google has a bowling alley. The Huffington Post has nap rooms (something I feel like I could use often!). PixarDeloitte, and WL Gore are well known for their open office spaces and highly flexible culture.

And look at Zappos’ focus on Happiness. The company is out to prove that focusing on fun and collaboration is the most productive way to run a business. Zappos even offers its Zappos Insights program, an educational initiative to help companies learn how to build a meaningful, fun, inclusive environment.

Many hot Silicon Valley companies offer these kinds of benefits, and many offer far more. Here we see companies providing bus service to work, free dry cleaning delivery, personalized workstations, unlimited vacation, and health and gym facilities on campus. This is a trend we cannot stop – it’s a humane and loving way to treat people

5. Leadership we can trust.

The fifth element is inspirational leadership.

The days of the hard-nosed, profit-obsessed CEO are slowly coming to an end. While most businesses expect people to work hard, CEOs now realize that it’s the soul of the business that inspires people to contribute. Does your company have a mission you can relate to? Do your leaders trust employees to make the right decisions?

These values of trust, consciousness, and soul start at the top.

Books like Thrive teaches us how to apply “The Third Metric” in our daily lives. Now it’s time for CEOs and other leaders to embrace these values and embed them in the fabric of our organizations.

About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on twitter at @josh_bersin and follow him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/bersin