Are You Ready to Teach?
Like many others, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in reflection. On the year past, plus what’s to come. Or rather, what I hope is to come as I plan for the coming year.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a special one. It’s the afterglow, the time when the preparations for celebration are over, your visiting starts to subside, and you don’t have to cook because you're eating leftovers for the 5th day in a row. And yet the New Year is not yet rung in, so you have this golden opportunity to sit back, savour the specialty coffee and double chocolate stouts you received for Christmas, and ponder how your past will shape your future.
This is not a new thing. In fact, the name of the current month is steeped in this mentality. In our Julian calendar, January gets its name from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions. His name is based on the Latin word ianua, which indicates a double door, one that opens both ways. Janus was often depicted as having two faces, one looking forward and one looking back.
With that mindset, I’d like to share something I’ve been pondering the past two weeks.
The Web is About Learning
The rise of the Web brought about many opportunities, but none so great as the increase in knowledge. Pre-Web, a person interested in an unfamiliar topic had to talk to an expert, visit a library, own an encyclopedia set, or buy a book to increase their knowledge. Today, a couple of keystrokes will get you the basics of a topic in seconds (this type of knowledge is often surface level, leading to an increase in generalists who know a little about a lot of things … craftsmanship is another topic entirely).
And that availability of knowledge, of published facts, was just the beginning. Now you can enroll in online classrooms, join online communities, sign up for email courses … the options for education are vast and growing every day. When I have a problem around the house with an appliance, my first resource is YouTube. Chances are, someone somewhere has created a video showing how to the change the auger belt on the model of snowblower I own …
What started as personal blogs with people sharing ideas or how they solved a particular problems has blossomed into dozens of different formats.
The Web is about learning.
The Flip Side
Conversely then, it’s also about teaching. There is a person (or team of persons) creating the online classroom, the community, the email course. People are keen to share their knowledge.
Here’s the crux of what I’ve been thinking about: we’re all teachers. Do you think this doesn’t apply to you? If you're creating something and putting it online, chances are you're a teacher. Whether your educate people on the top products in a certain category, or you help them get the most from your favourite piece of software, or you simply share what you're learning as you increase your own knowledge, you are in essence, teaching.
I consider myself a teacher. When I worked in IT for a healthcare organization, I tended to help people understand the issue they were having rather than just fix it for them. When I started Fusion Ads, it was a way to let people know about the great products and services available to them. At Campaign Monitor, I helped designers and marketers understand how to get the best results from their email campaigns.
And now at InVision, teaching is the heart of what I do. Focused on customer success, my purpose is to help designers understand how to make design the heart of their product development, and how to reduce the friction that inevitably comes.
If you work for a Saas company, you are most definitely a teacher: it doesn’t matter what team you're on. Design, engineering, customer support, marketing — all need to be teaching the customer how your tool/service can help them complete the job they need to get done. They have a need and your job is to show them how you can enable them to meet it.
The question to be asking yourself as you stare down 2015 is this: how well am I teaching? Again, if you are creating content and sharing it on the web, you're teaching. If you look at what you do through that lens, you may find ways to improve your work, as well the benefit your audience gets from it.