Author Archives: Perrin Shanks

Modern mentorship

Last year I started freelancing and for the first time in my professional career, I asked for help by doing a formal virtual mentorship program with the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). The structure of the program was based on the work of mentorship guru David Clutterbuck and I would strongly recommend his short book ‘Making the most of Developmental mentoring‘ to anyone considering mentoring or being mentored. He says a developmental mentor:

  • Has wisdom and knowledge, but uses them less to impart knowledge than to help the mentee become courageous and wise
  • Is an expert only in the sense of knowing the limits and narrowness of their knowledge. (An expert is someone whose existing knowledge hinders their new learning)

A mentor’s place in your network

Harold Jarche’s PKM model divides our people networks into 3 groups as shown below. For me mentors in formal programs like the one I participated in fall into the Communities of Practice group but they can also be in the Work Teams or Social Networks group.

Developing Work Team Mentors

Work teams are grouped together in order to get something specific done and are normally structured and hierarchical like a customer success team.

Whenever I work somewhere I cultivate good relationships with the following types of people to collaborate with in order to get that specific thing done:

  • Influencers
  • Taskmasters
  • Technical wizards
  • Role models
  • Connectors
  • Advocates
  • Realists

I look for mutual interests on and off the project and check in with them from time to time. Often they become friends and sometimes I stay in touch after I leave the company and they become part of my Community of Practice or Social Network.

However, they do not have to be friends they just want you to succeed and are happy to assist in some small or large way. The trick is to spot those people and figure out a good way of working with them.

Community of Practice Mentors

A community of practice is a group of people with whom you cooperate to change your working practices. It is a safe place where you can explore ideas and problems that have come from your work teams and social networks.

The mentorship program I attended was 12 weeks long and we met every 2 weeks, during which time I built my website, got my first customer and explored many different ways of working that I would never have considered before. We are still in touch and I consider him a valuable member of my community of practice.

A useful technique from David Clutterbuck that my mentor used to help me resolve issues was using questions from different perspectives:

  • A stepping in perspective is a question looking at the issue from my perspective
  • A stepping out perspective is a question looking at the issue from other peoples perspective

The idea is to move the conversation between the different quadrants – it doesn’t have to be in any particular order, here is an example of how one of my conversations went:

  • When I joined the mentorship program I was worried about getting my first customer. Looking at the diagram above I was in the top right quadrant when I explained this to my mentor – emotional and from my perspective (Emotional, Stepping In)

  • His questions acknowledged my fears from the same perspective (Emotional, Stepping In)

  • His questions then moved to how my lack of customers looked to potential customers (Emotional, Stepping Out)

  • What would my customers ‘to be’ expect to see from a freelancer they wanted to employ (Rational, Stepping Out)

  • What could I do to make this happen (Rational, Stepping In)

Mentorship is a conversation and some people like to talk a lot some less so, I am working towards less formal mentorships as not everyone has the time or inclination to dedicate 12 weeks to my career. That said a lot of lessons can be learned from formal mentorship into less formal co-operative mentorships.

Social Network Mentors

Through the years many people have helped me and it has often been through meeting up in pubs or coffee shops and discussing issues. This has several disadvantages:

  • You only network with people like you like you
  • Limited by geography
  • A tendency towards alcoholism

Social media offers unprecedented access to people but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This article has some advice about how to reach out:


There are many different ways to mentor and be mentored. I liked the formal program but well aware that it may not be for everyone. In today’s complex world this ancient Greek idea is needed more than ever but for me will take the form of multiple mentors working in a networked and collaborative way.

Personal knowledge management

I started actively managing my personal knowledge a few years ago inadvertently. I wanted to make my presentations and small talk more engaging so I created a joke database.

Getting started

I used the note-taking app Evernote which makes it easy to categorise the jokes I hear or find. I added the tag ‘Professions’ to the joke below and have used it often when presenting to or meeting engineers.

To an optimist the glass is half full, to the pessimist half empty. To the engineer it is twice as big as it needs to be

The practice of regularly reading through the jokes means I remember them better and think about how to adapt them to other situations. The above joke works for scientists and software programmers for example.

As time has gone by I started adding other facts, figures and content around general themes which everyone can relate to and which I can adapt for the situation. Including things like:

  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Happiness
  • Status
  • Health
  • Success / Failure

My job means I often need to write a speech, presentation or article on short notice. My first step is to search the relevant tags in Evernote which gives me some entertaining and interesting things to sprinkle through the content. As Mark Twain (possibly) remarked it takes more than three weeks to prepare a decent impromptu speech.

Personal Knowledge Mastery

I have recently taken PKM to the next level by doing Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery workshop.

Analysing my current practice through the lens of his Seek, Sense, Share framework I realised I am really only regurgitating what other people think and say without deeply understanding it or adding any real value to it. While I am going in the right direction I am definitely missing a trick or two, to say the least. I am a consumer but not a creator content which is where I want to be. Here are some amazing examples of blogs I have been mining which show the idea perfectly: – great for developing personal knowledge management practice – beautiful, thoughtful views of the human condition from an exceptionally well-read blogger. Be ready to spend an afternoon here following the links – a blog about applying mental models to think in a more effective way

Next steps

Seek – To paraphrase Seth Godin you can learn almost anything but you can’t learn everything. I am focusing my knowledge-seeking on expanding my circle of competence more slowly but consistently.

Sense – I have often seen knowledge as a shiny new thing to show off and then forget about for the most part. I am concentrating on understanding the information I find more deeply and looking for relationships with other things I have learnt.

Share – It feels like I am now using social media with my shoes on the right feet so to speak before when I shared things I felt uncomfortable because I was either regurgitating someone else’s work, trying to look clever or looking for approval. Now I aim to add value with anything I share using the internet as it should be rather than how we are encouraged to by the algorithms.

More generally I hope to extend my brain by building a smart network of thoughtful people who value what I do and are happy to help me if I need it.

In conclusion I love this quote from ‘A technique for producing ideas’ by James Webb Young:

If you ask me why I am willing to give away the valuable formula of this discovery I will confide to you that experience has taught me two things about it: First, the formula is so simple to state that few who hear it really believe in it. Second, while simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it. Thus I broadcast this formula with no real fear of glutting the market in which I make my living.

‘A technique for producing ideas’ by James Webb Young

Instructor-led training is dead! Long live virtual instructor-led training?

As a face to face trainer for the last 10 years I have been watching with alarm the ever-growing body of evidence indicating that instructor led training is expensive, boring, and ineffective. This message has not reached many of my clients and it even seems to be having a bit of a resurgence with the rise in popularity of Zoom and like.

One company I worked with had been leveraging the disadvantages of a 6-hour instructor-led training course by delivering the same content virtually with no changes. Worse still the recording was offered as video ‘learning’ to unwary new starters who had to pretend that they had sat through the whole 6-hour recording as part of their onboarding ‘experience’.

Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is a useful medium that has been around for a long time but now because of social distancing, it is gaining the widespread acceptance it deserves. McLuhans’ laws of media state that a new medium:

Extends – a human property

Obsolesces – the previous medium and may turn it into a luxury

Retrieves – a much older medium

Reverses – its properties when pushed to its limits

Virtual instructor-led training is often misused, and we risk losing public support for it when social distancing is eased. The short-term advantages of the technology are easy to see but by using the tetrad to analyse the other effects we can mitigate some of the less favourable long-term effects.

Technology lives and dies by public perception of it rather than how good or pedagogically sound it is. Looking at instructor-led training from the learners’ perspective it is rarely the 6 hours away from their job that they relish about the experience but the:

  1. Networking
  2. Certification
  3. Investment of the company in you as a person
  4. Time to explore and reflect

All of these can be achieved without instructor led training of any sort! However, the perception that an instructor led element is required persists. Virtual instructor led training offers a low cost, easily accessible, potentially more environmentally friendly way to offer the option for people that want / need it. Long live virtual instructor led training!


Imamura, E (1987). In Conventional and nonconventional schooling: a comparison of pupil performance in rural schools and schools of the air. University of Western Australia

Laws of Media Marshall and Eric McLuhan

Are you making data driven mistakes?

The age of big data means we are all being encouraged to tell stories with data and compile numbers to show we are data driven. Clever dashboards and visualisations show us needles that need to be pushed, numbers that need to go green and curves that need to continually trend up. Much of this means we don’t need to think about why the numbers must go green – but go green they must.

I still feel a bit like a deer in headlights when I am asked to comment on data for the first time in meetings and haven’t had time to think about it. It feels a lot like brainstorming where I feel compelled to say either vague things confidently or stupid things because I haven’t had time to think them through. In this article I will look at some common data driven mistakes followed by some questions I use to sniff out potential problems that will lead to bad decisions.

Using only quantitative data to make your decisions

Robert McNamara was the US secretary of defense during the Vietnam war and modeled what success would look like based only on quantitative data. His plan sounds spookily familiar, he created clear objectives and achievable goals in the form of metrics so success could be reported on and easily understood by people not working in the war department. McNamara said that all the important quantitative measures indicated that they were winning the war despite what his generals were telling him. Daniel Yankelovich summarised the quantitative fallacy in 1972 like this:

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

McNamara had put too much faith in the data and had not factored in many variables that were hard or impossible to measure like the resilience of a soldier fighting for his home rather than his president.

This happens all the time when too much blind faith is put into a system, metric or some new technology. McNamara also believed that learning technologies could be used to make people smarter and as a result lowered the IQ requirement for the draft to 80; a policy subtly alluded to in the movie Forest Gump.

None of the data driven decisions I make will ever have the impact of these mistakes, but I strive to learn from history.

Looking for insight within the data you have rather than the data you need

Like the old joke where a drunk man is looking for his keys under a lamppost rather than where he lost them, in corporate training it is common to use happy sheets, NPS and attendance rates to measure the effectiveness of a program. We know we should be measuring knowledge transfer and performance improvement after the training, but it is hard to measure so often we don’t. After all, by looking under the lamppost the drunk was at least eliminating that spot as the place where he had lost his keys!

Using data like a drunk uses a lamp post – for support rather than illumination

I recently spoke to a training manager who had just done a successful presentation about return on investment for a new training system he had implemented. He used a data driven forecast of how many people would be using his training system next year based on uptake this year. He had proven his point and everybody loved the visualisations. However, when he looked at the numbers again over a longer timeframe, he was quite surprised to see he would have double the population of Australia using his corporate training system within 5 years which seemed unlikely.

How to talk back to the data

Darrell Huff in his 1954 book ‘How to lie with statistics’ outlines five questions you should ask about data which are still relevant today. It is easy to do this in retrospect and a gross simplification of a complex subject, but these are great questions to ask when presented with any data.

Going back to the Vietnam example of a data driven decision I am going to apply the five questions to it:

All quantitative metrics indicate we are winning the war and therefore we should continue until we are victorious.  

  1. Who says so? The US secretary of defense. Ok there is a chance of bias
  • How do they know? They are using quantitative data, metrics like body count, boots on the ground and comparing them to the enemy

  • What’s missing? The US had never fought a conflict like this, qualitative data from his generals
  • Did somebody change the subject? A fact has been stated and a conclusion made but is the conclusion related to the fact? Do those metrics indicate that we are winning the war?
  • Does it make sense? We have been winning this war for nineteen years, how come we haven’t won it yet

H G Wells said that ‘One day statistical thinking will be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write’, almost one hundred years later I think that day has come, nice one Bertie!

At twelve years old I got two percent in my maths exam, which you get for putting both your first and last name on the paper. With a huge amount of work, I went on to do a degree in accountancy and statistics, but number analysis still doesn’t come to me easily. This article is the first of a series that will explore ways to look at data in a practical fun way that I hope will help you (and me) use data better.

How I started my third career after redundancy

Three months ago, I got made redundant. I decided to start my third career after looking at lots of job sites where the job titles are getting much more imaginative:

  • Canva has a head of vibe
  • WordPress has happiness engineers
  • And Atlassian need someone to manage their Brainery (a craft education platform)

I feel I have led a sheltered life having never worked for a company with a ‘wellness modality facilitator’ and my experience as a ‘ying and yang deficiency class trainer’ is nil (real adverts). After reading some blogs about career changing, a self-proclaimed ‘people scientist’ advised that:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”

Which makes sense even if it is easier said than done. It got me thinking about first principles; looking at things from that perspective, much of what I strived for in previous careers satisfied my wants and not my needs.

In my twenties I had 15 jobs in 8 years, started my own, successful company and lived in 3 different countries. In my thirties I moved to the other side of the world, got a wife, mortgage, 2 kids, ran 2 marathons and lost a fortune in stocks and shares during the global financial crisis. This is the meta data of my life and represents the things I have done that I value.

I read a great quote about happiness:

“Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have”

All humans have basic needs, the psychologist Abraham Maslow in his theory of motivation identifies 3 main types of need:

  1. Basic needs – Eg food, water, shelter, safety
  2. Psychological needs – Eg relationships, respect, self-esteem
  3. Self-actualisation needs – Eg reaching for my full potential

Motivation increases as our basic needs start being met, then, as our psychological needs are met we have capacity to reach our full potential. Conversely if we have all our basic and psychological needs met but we are not striving to reach our full potential then motivation decreases.

Motivation, grit or whatever you want to call it is what drives successful lives (not necessarily careers). There is a lot of talk of pivoting and career changing which I don’t think is the right way to think about it. I am not really pivoting; I am continuing to satisfy my human needs but have changed the method for doing that.

Going forward the relentless pursuit of my needs is going to be the driving force in my life. It sounds very selfish but until you learn to help yourself you cannot help anyone else. I will not be using salary or how much other people have as benchmarks for my life anymore. These are the 3 areas I will focus on:

1. Basic needs

How much do I need each month to cover, housing, food, water, health and education for my family and I?

I now know how long my redundancy payout will last; how will I pay these costs going forward?

How many clients, jobs or side hustles will it take to create that income?

Once I start earning, I need to put 10% of everything aside as savings for retirement or crises (as per the ancient wisdom of “The Richest Man in Babylon”), everything above that can be spent on my other two needs:

2. Strong relationships

My relationships with family, friends and mentors are vital to me and something that I have really neglected in my previous 2 careers.

The Gottman Institute has done extensive research on relationships. Their research revealed a “magic ratio” of 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whilst counting interactions with your nearest and dearest seems a little weird I am mindful that the ratio is much higher than I thought, and I know I was not achieving it even without counting. I am now showing intentional appreciation for things that I have previously taken for granted. There are lots of good ideas here on the Gottman Institute blog to extend this further:      

The research is aimed at marriages, but we can all be more positive with everybody we deal with. I am also extending my mentorship network by actively seeking out people that can help me and who I can help.

3. Reaching my full potential

Before redundancy I was doing a lot of work that was easy to do and paid well but was not developing me in anyway. My motivation was down, and in some ways, it was lucky I got made redundant because if it had carried on, I would have started doing bad work – perhaps I was already.

For my third career I am trying to reach my full potential, be someone that my kids can be proud of. In the past things that have stretched me and that can be measured fall into these categories:

  1. Creating something new – how many new things did you create today or this month?
  2. Helping someone – how many people did you help today?
  3. Learning something – how many relevant things did you learn today?
  4. Pushing physical limits – is your 10k run time improving?

My first career ended with the Global Financial Crisis. What annoys me most about losing two thirds of my wealth is not that I was given bad advice or that capitalism is broken or the stupidity of the investment bankers.

I regret putting so much money into boring investments, that even if they had been successful would only satisfied part of my human needs as defined above. If I had taken everybody I love away for an expenses paid holiday for a year and then learned how to fly helicopters, I would be in a much better position than I am now. Instead I worked hard and saw my money disappear for no return.

My second career ended with COVID. I was a face to face trainer, by honing that skill I neglected others like eLearning that have since become more relevant.

My third career starts with the knowledge that ‘black swans’ like the GFC and COVID are inevitable but they do pass, life has thus far has always prevailed. The trick is coming out the other side of a crisis with something meaningful.