• Shane Thomas

5 Tips for Purposeful Professional Progress

The world is changing faster than ever. Fueled by technology, connectivity, a never ending demand for “more”, “better”, “faster”, “convenient” and the convergence of those demands. An ever evolving skill set is required to keep up with this change. Continuing to grow and develop new, relevant skills is necessary to be successful for what the world will demand tomorrow. To grow these skills requires stepping out of ones comfort zone. Being comfortable leads to stagnation which leaves you vulnerable to being well suited to a world that no longer exists; a world where demand for your skill set plummets into obscurity.

While this may sound harsh, it happens slowly every day to those who aren’t willing to put the effort into growing their network, knowledge base and skill set consistently. Even the professional development requirements from organizations like Certified Crop Advisor’s (CCA) and the Institute of Agrologists in Canada are just the start of the necessary time and effort required to actually stay up on what is happening within the industry and where it is going. Because of this as professionals we need to put in effort over and above company mandated training and industry designation training. Sometimes this will show up as credentials, such as taking an Executive MBA, but other times it will end up being effort that doesn’t come with certificates or letters behind your name; all it will come with is the belief that when you engage in conversation or doing your best work, this behind the scenes effort will show through.

I get asked on a consistent basis what I’m reading or what I’m doing as I am very vocal about putting in the time and effort to constantly progress, personally and professionally. Here are some of the components of what I do on regular basis to avoid stagnation, some with a more rigid approach than others.

1. Curate my inbox with relevant, wide reaching daily/weekly/monthly newsletters - I start and end my day by consuming newsletters that help me stay on top of the agriculture world and th business world, plus other thoughtful newsletters on the future, how to think and more. This is instrumental to me to grasp trends, important news and understand what new work and research is out there.

A few examples:

o Harvard Business Review Daily Update

o Seth Godin’s Blog

o Google Alerts (a wonderful tool)

o Medium Daily Digest

o FarmLead Breakfast Brief

o Real Agriculture Update

o Future Farming

o This list could go on, but it is amazing what you can get in your inbox daily for absolutely free, or minimal charge. I wake up and typically have around 50 emails in my inbox which I scan for relevant articles/insight which get sent to my Instapaper app for more in depth reading. Throughout the day I get approx. 50 more as well that I scan in the evening.

2. Apply the 10% Rule of Professional Development – I recently wrote an article on a progression tool I created about 4 years ago as a way to better quantify and hold myself accountable to professional development. This has really ramped up the amount of time I spend reading and scavenging for new ideas and thoughts.

The 10% Rule is as follows:

a. 7% of your time/week + 3% of your annual income spent on courses, books, etc.

b. This works out to about 12 hrs/week and works out to about $2250 for an individual with an income of $75,000/yr.

c. For more on this topic check out my article here:

Some examples that would apply include:

o Online courses from Coursera, Udemy or LinkedIn

o YouTube courses/video’s

o Reading journal articles

o Reading books (personally I only read non fiction, but one could make the argument that fiction should apply too)

o Online University courses

o Seminar’s and events

- I personally use my book marks to save different websites, journal articles and I am constantly looking for more books to read.

- A few of the books that have been most influential on me include Principles by Ray Dalio, The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

and The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant.

3. Eliminate The Radio While Driving – Some people enjoy talk radio or music, but I like to take advantage of windshield time by listening to podcasts. My focus is pretty eclectic, but they are a great way to be able to listen to the insights of many successful people and learn from those that are doing unique and fascinating things.

Some of my favourites include:

o The Knowledge Project by Farnam Street

o a16z

o The Future of Agriculture with Tim Hammerich

o Growing the Future Podcast with Dan Aberhart

o The Tim Ferris Show

o Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz

4. Network – Growing your network and broadening your circle is a great way to learn and push yourself ahead. If you surround yourself with the right people they push you beyond your comfort zone in what you are doing or how you are thinking. With the internet and technology, this is extremely simple. Using different tools like social media (LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram) or other “Tinder” like tools, but for networking like the Shapr app, I always attempt to reach out and communicate with at least 1 new individual per week or reconnect with an old colleague. On top of this, an easier form of networking or idea sharing is simply bouncing around ideas with friends; instead of talking about crazy political events or weekend party plans, try and get a discussion going about how a new technology might impact your careers, or talk about the most interesting article you each read over the past week. I am very fortunate to have an excellent group of friends, both within ag, and out, that value (or at the very least put up with me) the sharing of insight and blunt discussions about ideas, whether it’s via phone, text or email, there is always an opportunity to learn from one another.

5. Blog – For those reading this, it is likely on my blog site. Writing out my thoughts and ideas has been instrumental in my own development. The reason is twofold:

a. Helps me put together my ideas in a more thought out, logical way (although as you will have noticed, often very rambly!)

b. It puts my thoughts out there for others to disagree with, build on to or in some cases agree with so I get a better feel of what’s on the right track with my thinking, where I’m lacking or what’s off entirely.

I did this initially for the idea processing talked about in point #1, but thanks to Shaun Haney of RealAgriculture early on in my career I had the opportunity to publish my writing more publically that opened me up to point #2 consistently. I would encourage everyone to write, whether it’s publically or not, to help clear your thinking and determine where there may be gaps in your thought process.

There are many other ways to progress, these are simply some of the core things that I do.

I even read an article in Harvard Business Review touting the benefits of having a “side hustle” or small business outside of your core career to help you learn some other skills while making money.

But, these steps are just the start. I have a basic step formula I follow for afterwards. The focus of at least 3 of the points above are on “consuming”; new information, ideas, thoughts and concepts. But in order to really progress there is more. The “formula” looks like this:

Consume --> Synthesise --> Strategize --> Implement --> Analyze --> Optimize

Consume – In taking new information, ideas, research and content.

Synthesize – Thinking on the information you’ve taken in, how it impacts you, where there are overlaps, what might fit where, how the ideas fit together, who would have more insight on them etc

Strategize – How will you use these ideas to progress your career or your daily life? Help your customers? Help your business? Support your colleagues?

Implement – Use the information and concepts in a practical and applied away based on the strategies that were mentally percolating.

Analyze – Has the process and implementation had a positive effect? Why or why not? What was missing? What worked well?

Optimize – What can be built upon? What can be improved?

This basic step process has been extremely beneficial for me to consistently look at what is working and what isn’t, but the key input? New ideas and thoughts. It all starts with consumption.

What I didn’t get to in this post was soft skills. A lot of this comes from the cultivation of soft skills such as curiosity, ambition, embracing of complexity, adaptability and resourcefulness. These soft skills enable all aspects of personal and professional development. Stay tuned for a post on soft skills in agriculture.

Conclusion: The biggest thing I tell myself every day is this: If I’m not progressing today, I’m falling behind tomorrow. Taking a targeted approach to progress is the only way to ensure you will continually improve.

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