Why the Best Leaders Show Their Weaknesses

It’ll help you innovate too.

Photo credit: Motortion—Getty Images

Photo credit: Motortion—Getty Images

In the foreword to the reprint of Intel cofounder Andy Grove’s High Output Management, investor Ben Horowitz recalls Grove telling him, “CEOs always act on leading indicators of good news, but only act on lagging indicators of bad news… In order to build anything great, you have to be an optimist.”

I agree that CEOs need to be optimists, but we need to be realists too, especially for the people helping us build that next great thing. When leaders face doubts, they should acknowledge the challenges ahead while still making it clear that they have strategies for overcoming them. That’s real confidence, not fakery.

Learn your way to confidence

Most startup CEOs consider themselves entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs have to become great salespeople in order to gain the buy-in of investors, employees, and customers. Convincing strangers to spend their hard-earned money on a company they’ve never heard of requires some serious confidence, and it often doesn’t come naturally. Most CEOs have an advanced degree like an MBA, but formal education still can’t equip someone with authentic confidence.

Learning is what I prescribe for any major lack of confidence. Doing broadcast media interviews, for example, had been a source of insecurity for me, but I knew I’d be representing Udemy more and more as we grew. Understanding the secrets of great public speakers has made a tremendous difference in how I come across when communicating. So I took a bunch of public speaking courses and practiced doing mock media interviews with our internal communications director, as well as a few former journalists; eventually my nerves disappeared. If something makes you feel insecure, immerse yourself in it until you gain the upper hand.

Find people to confide in

When you’re a startup CEO, you get used to guiding the company through many firsts. Sometimes you can draw upon past experience, and sometimes you realize just how much you still have to learn. In the latter case, it’s invaluable to have a trusted panel of mentors and advisors. My professional network offers me a safe space for working through questions and testing ideas, so that by the time I’m in front of my direct reports and the rest of the company, I can project confidence and clarity about what we’re going to do next.

Be transparent

I value authenticity a lot, and I’m not good at pretending everything is rosy when it’s not. At the same time, part of my job as CEO is to instill confidence that I can steer our ship through any storm. What works for me is to directly admit the challenges ahead, but always present them in tandem with real, thought-out plans and solutions. We’re always going to encounter rough patches, but no one on my team is afraid of hard work. Having a clear plan of attack for moving past roadblocks motivates them. Maintaining a false facade is exhausting and self-defeating.

Vulnerability is okay

Shouldn’t a CEO be an all-powerful, infallible superhero who never suffers through a crisis or loses confidence? I don’t think so. A fundraising pitch probably isn’t the right time to show your vulnerability, but there are plenty of other times when being dead certain can actually backfire.

The most obvious area is innovation. Innovative ideas never emerge fully formed and ready for implementation, and they rarely come from the top. In our business, we believe that the wisdom of the crowd is greater than a single individual’s. The messy work of experimenting, measuring, and trying again is the lifeblood of startups. If I set an example of never questioning our decisions, no one else would feel comfortable doing so and we’d stagnate as an organization.

If leaders project nothing but confidence — even when everyone knows things aren’t going well — those leaders will lose credibility and mute voices of dissent. So I don’t sweat it too much when I’m feeling less than completely self-assured. It is a good reminder that we’re all part of a group effort, makes me more approachable, and opens the door for others to contribute.

This article originally appeared on Fortune InsidersThe Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. 

3 Things I Tell My Daughters Every Day


To mark Ada Lovelace Day, CEO Dennis Yang talks about encouraging his daughters to aim high and never give up.

My 11-year-old daughter recently asked me, “Do you make more money than Mommy?” Her class was studying the Revolutionary War and had discussed how married women of the time essentially forfeited their legal earnings to their husbands. The teacher pointed out that women continue to face unequal treatment today in the form of wage inequality, which prompted my daughter’s question. I love that she’s never been one to shy away from asking questions, but in this case I didn’t have a great answer to explain why this gap exists.

As a father, I want my daughters to have and do anything in the world they desire. If they work hard, respect others, and believe in themselves it should be possible. Unfortunately, there are still places and environments where women don’t get their fair share.

Even with tremendous amounts of progress being made, gender inequality continues to trouble our society. There’s the well-documented wage gap between male and female workers in the same jobs. Women remain underrepresented on corporate boards and in tech leadership, even though research shows gender diversity benefits a company’s bottom line. And there’s the sense that Silicon Valley and tech culture, in general, are unwelcoming towards women.

Reminders like these keep me vigilant about rooting out unconscious bias and ensuring everyone at my company has equal opportunities to have an impact. They also remind me to make sure my daughters understand the world around them and why they should never give up in the face of adversity. Here are three things I tell my daughters so they’ll approach their futures with confidence and determination.

Occupy Space and Let Your Presence Fill A Room
Girls continue to feel pressure from outside forces to stay quiet, reserved, and not rock the boat. Imagine all of the great ideas that never saw the light of day because girls believed it wasn’t their place to speak up.

This same self-censorship happens in professional circles. A recent Udemy engagement survey found a disconnect between men’s and women’s responses to questions about communication style and quality in the workplace (e.g., “when I speak up, my opinion is valued.”) Overall, 80 percent of respondents reported that their statements were met favorably. However, when broken out by gender, 85 percent of men responded favorably compared to 73 percent of women—evidence that nearly a quarter of women may be hesitant to voice opinions.

I tell my daughters to fill space, make themselves heard, and resist the temptation to internalize their ideas and opinions. I make sure they know what they say has merit and to openly share their ideas without fear of reprisal. Many beleaguered museum docent can attest to my 11-year-old’s insatiable curiosity and inquisitiveness, and I hope she never loses those qualities.

Education is Key to Achievement
In life, I want my daughters to be prepared for hardships that may come their way. I tell them to be confident in their intelligence and ability but not naive about obstacles. They’ve already seen first-hand that not everyone will support them on their journeys, but I remind them anything is possible if they’re willing to work hard, stay true to themselves, and take their education seriously—and I don’t say that just because I work at an education company.

I help my daughters actively explore their interests and work hard to give them the opportunity to learn more about those interests, whether it be an extracurricular activity or help with a difficult math problem. Education is a powerful tool, and it’s fantastic when my girls discover something new that makes them want to learn.

Notice All of the Important Women Around You
I want my daughters to see how women and men are working toward positive change by advocating for girls all over the world. It’s so important for girls to have highly visible female role models, people like Malala, Michelle Obama, and Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code.

Closer to home, my 11-year-old’s school principal Diana Hallock is another great role model. She transformed an underperforming school into a true magnet that’s become so popular, local kids who once shunned it now compete to get in. In the early days, however, Diana would arrive at work at 6am and clean bathrooms, if that needed to get done. As a role model, she showed my kids how important and rewarding it is to follow through on your mission and silence any doubters along the way.

Similarly, I was thrilled when two Udemy employees were named among the Bay Area’s most influential women in business by the San Francisco Business Times: Claire Hough, our SVP of engineering, and Alexandra Sepulveda, our deputy general counsel. Women like Claire and Alexandra are helping pave the way for future generations, mobilizing women to thrive professionally and socially for the long term. They’re role models I tell my girls about too.

My hope for my daughters is that, by the time they enter the workforce, we will have achieved parity between genders. That’s the world our daughters, and sons, deserve.

This article originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.

How humans will learn to coexist with bots

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Ociacia

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Ociacia

The robots are coming! The robots are coming! Actually, in some cases, they’re already here. Not everyone needs to learn how to program the robots, but we’ll all need to get comfortable working with algorithms and bots as well as people. Will they be friends or foes? And what can individuals do to position themselves for success in this brave new world?

I just read an incredible statistic in a Harvard Business Review article: “By 2020, the US economy is expected to create 55 million job openings; and 24 million of these will be entirely new positions. 48 percent of the new jobs, according to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, will emphasize a mix of hard and soft intellectual skills, like active listening, leadership, communication, analytics, and administration competencies.” One could argue the items on that list have always been valuable career currency, but it’s only now — in the face of competition from AI technologies — that they’re getting their full due.

I’ve written before about so-called “soft skills” not being very soft at all. While it may be tempting to react to the rise of automation by suggesting everyone learn data analysis, the workplace is changing too quickly for any single discipline to lock in someone’s career prospects. If half of future jobs don’t exist today, there’s no sure-fire way to prepare for them. Rather than focus on a specific hard skill set or field of study, you’re better off developing a growth mindset and learning how to learn effectively.

Another interesting thing I just read is that, although the crisis of underemployed college graduates shows signs of turning around, it’s the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors who are securing the good jobs while their liberal arts peers languish in low-paying gigs. But STEM still won’t prevent tech workers from falling behind professionally. Studying such subjects is a great career foundation, to be sure, but those fields and their required skills are fluid too. To put it simply, hard skills offer no guarantees.

Here’s what will give workers, regardless of field, a leg up in this nebulous future of shifting job descriptions, expiring job skills, and increasing automation: getting better at being an innovative, resourceful, problem-solving human and learning to be adaptable. The same HBR article referenced above cites research that found six main competencies in demand by employers, and they include persuasion, time management, and positive disposition. You can’t go to happy hour with an algorithm.

There’s another important aspect to re-skilling for the automated workplace, and that’s the role of self-motivation. I’ve written about this before too — that learning can’t end when formal schooling ends. As everything in our world becomes more accessible and affordable, adopting a growth mindset means being open to taking your career in previously unforeseen directions. It doesn’t matter if you were an unenthusiastic student in the classroom or are haunted by bad grades. Today’s working adults can’t count on employers to dish up the learning and development they need, and they can’t choose to opt out and hope to coast to retirement.

The good news is that you can control your learning experience now by taking courses online. You can learn when and where it’s convenient for you, choose the teacher whose style fits you best, follow lectures and do homework on your favorite device, go at your own pace and rewatch whenever you need a refresher. Online courses can facilitate interactions with instructors and fellow students too. I’ve talked to people all over the world who described themselves as being “bad students” in school but have discovered a love of learning when it’s on their terms and tailored to their immediate, real-world needs.

Most people are unaware of the opportunities available through online learning. At Udemy, for example, you can learn hard skills like programming and design, but you can also strengthen your communication skills, bone up on project management, get comfortable with public speaking, or understand what it takes to be an effective leader.

The media likes to distill the complexities of automation and A.I. down to a simple narrative about robots stealing human jobs. The reality isn’t that dire yet, but complacency is dangerous too. Technology poses challenges but offers opportunities to those prepared to grab them. In our 21st-century workplace, the ability (and eagerness) to learn new things will elevate driven professionals above the rest. Those who’ve kept their hard skills current through continuous learning and who keep working on their soft skills will do the jobs that robots can’t.

Don’t waste your time fearing the robots. Use that as motivation to upskill, learn, and grow.

This post originally appeared on VentureBeat.

How to Cure a Case of the Blahs at Work

Jetta Productions - Blend Images/Getty Images

Jetta Productions – Blend Images/Getty Images

You can’t just run from your responsibilities.

Anyone in a demanding leadership position — where every decision is high-stakes and sometimes no good options are available — experiences moments when they imagine just running away from it all. Even President Obama gets decision fatigue.

CEOs are no different. Fortunately, it’s not a lingering condition, but there’s never a good or convenient time to catch a case of the blahs. You can’t always take off on a restorative vacation or park a sticky project until inspiration hits, so it helps to have a few tried-and-tested remedies for reenergizing and getting back into a productive groove.

Here are a few of mine, but they may not serve as a kick in the pants for you. How each of us stays motivated varies, and what knocked you out of a rut before may not be effective the next time. So it’s good to have multiple options.

Get moving
I’m certainly not the first person to extol the virtues of exercise when it comes to waking up your brain and your body. I find it a lot easier to access and process my thoughts when I’m physically engaged; it just helps everything flow. In fact, we encourage our employees to do walking meetings whenever possible. One of my favorite ways to blow off steam is soccer. I’m part of the company team, which also gives me a chance to connect with employees outside of work.

Change your scenery
What a time to be alive, when Internet connectivity allows us to be productive from virtually anywhere. Sitting outside and breathing fresh air is sometimes all it takes to clear out the mental clutter and motivate me to pick that project up again. I’ll also occasionally set up shop somewhere away from the office. When I’m not at my real desk, I’m far less likely to linger over whatever sapped my motivation in the first place.

Connect to your “why”
For me, my personal mission aligns with my company’s mission of providing access to affordable, high-quality learning resources for anyone around the world. It’s hard to feel uninspired when I read what our students have been able to accomplish and think about the millions more we still want to reach. If you’re low on motivation, get back to basics and remind yourself why you do what you do and who benefits from it.

Chat with a thoughtful peer
I have a group of advisers, investors, and other colleagues I consult with about company matters. I also like connecting with smart, creative thinkers who won’t necessarily talk about business operations or performance but who engage my mind and inspire me. For example, I’m fortunate to have a relationship with the founder of a well-established education company, and he always opens me up to new ideas. In a pinch, watching a TED Talk can pull me out of my day-to-day and inspire me to get back to work.

Try your to-do list
Sometimes I’ll take care of the tactical, less inspiring tasks on my to-do list when I know I’m not going to make a dent in bigger initiatives. I still feel productive, but the pressure’s off to dive into something that requires lots of intensive thinking and strategizing. Instead, I might tackle instead some tedious paperwork. When I’m done, I feel a sense of accomplishment that leaves me hungry to rededicate myself to meatier stuff.

Journal it
Free-form writing is another trick I use to motivate myself. Writing about whatever’s on my mind — professionally, personally, or in between — when I know no one else will read it is incredibly liberating. I put aside any concerns about how good the writing is or what my audience wants, and do a stream-of-consciousness brain dump onto the screen. By the end, I’ve purged whatever detritus was blocking inspiration.

Like I said, these techniques might not be exactly right for everyone, but I’ll tell you what has never gotten me back to feeling motivated: trying to will myself back to feeling motivated. We all need mental vacations — like Obama’s fantasy of selling T-shirts in Hawaii — so don’t beat yourself up when you have those moments too.

This article originally appeared on Fortune Insiders.

Here’s why you can’t always trust your gut

It can deceive you in the hiring process.

Insiders Bad Hire

Credit: Fanatic Studios/Getty Images

Attracting and retaining talent is a constant challenge. I work in San Francisco, where the unemployment rate is below both the national and state averages, giving qualified candidates tremendous choice and agency in determining their next career move. In such a competitive climate, it can be tempting to make an offer before someone else steals the candidate away.

But in the hiring process, each side needs to come to the table with honesty, self-awareness, and patience in order to avoid bad decisions, which can have long-term consequences and be difficult to undo. Here’s how you can avoid such an outcome:

Set realistic expectations
Hiring begins with the job description itself, which needs to reflect the position’s real requirements and responsibilities. Too many companies go forth in search of a left-handed, purple unicorn: that elusive individual who possesses mastery in a broad range of skills and can single-handedly do the job of many people.

Unfortunately, unicorns don’t exist. Companies that think they’ve hired one stand to be disappointed, and candidates who represent themselves as such are either on the fast track to burnout or are overselling themselves. Your job listings need to be realistic in order to attract real candidates and give your interviewers tangible evaluation criteria.

Pick and prepare your panel
You need to choose the right interviewers, determine who’s asking what, and prepare them in the art and science of effective interviewing. We have candidates meet their potential teammates, as well as stakeholders in other departments and at least one member of our executive team.

Beyond basic guidance on what kinds of questions to ask, we train employees in overcoming bias and caution them not to form preconceptions based on a candidate’s resume or educational credentials. We can’t stop employees from Googling someone prior to their office visit, but we can alert them to how doing so might generate unfair or inaccurate assumptions.

Probe for answers
During the interview itself, we dig for specifics to see how candidates have contributed in past roles and how they describe their interactions with colleagues. In addition to reviewing work samples, we also assign exercises and have candidates present to a group for their second-round visit to our office. This helps us get a sense of how candidates approach problems, think about strategy, and drive results.

Be sure to tell your interviewers to listen more and talk less. When you jump in to add a comment, it can lead the candidate to tell you what they think you want to hear.

Don’t rely on gut decisions
When it comes to giving feedback on an applicant, urge your interviewers to be specific and direct about why the person is or isn’t suited for the role. It’s important not to interpret easy, free-flowing conversation or good chemistry as a signal that someone is right for the job.

The concept of “cultural fit” has been criticized for leading many companies to hire a homogenous workforce, but shared values do matter. One misaligned worker can disrupt a previously effective team. We use an online tool for capturing feedback — all interviewers weigh in on how a candidate aligns with each of our company values. By calling that out explicitly, we get more granular feedback, which helps us make fair, informed decisions.

Make the match
A successful hire requires both the employee and the employer to feel satisfied. Candidates are evaluating you, too, during the interview process. Clearly communicate your employer value proposition, and then deliver on that promise to new hires from day one. No one wins if you misrepresent your company in order to woo a job prospect.

Similarly, it rarely works out when hiring decisions are made in a rush, either out of desperation or simply because a candidate seems “good enough.” New hires shouldn’t just be able to do the job; they need to love the job. And we, as employers, need to provide the environment, tools, and support to show we appreciate that.

Everyone makes mistakes, and you’re probably going to hire the wrong person once in a while. If you do make a bad hire, act quickly and don’t succumb to the sunk-cost fallacy. Just because someone isn’t a fit for your team doesn’t mean they won’t be perfect for another company, so free them up to find that better match and move on.

This article originally appeared on Fortune Insiders.

How A Group Mission Pushes Individuals To Raise Their Game

olympic postI’m a big tennis fan, so I was especially interested to follow what happened on the Olympic courts. Tennis is different from other Olympic events, being an individual sport that’s popular around the world at the professional level too; these aren’t athletes who have to wait four years for a brief moment in the sun.

This got me thinking—what motivates a rich and famous superstar like Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal to participate in an event that takes them away from the professional tour, doesn’t help their rankings, and doesn’t give out prize money? In both cases, these individual performers embraced the opportunity to compete for something bigger than themselves: the chance to represent their country and belong to a national team.

Nadal is still recovering from wrist surgery, and he’s gone on record saying he wouldn’t have even played if this weren’t the Olympic Games. Serena has also talked about why the Olympics have special meaning for her, despite all of her Grand Slam championships. “When I held my first gold medal, it was a feeling I never expected. I had a chance to enjoy my gold medal trophy more than my other trophies,” she told the media.

This seems to align perfectly with studies showing today’s employees, especially millennials, want to work for mission-driven companies where they’re contributing toward a greater good. Employers are also realizing the motivating power of business goals that transcend revenue alone. I talk to all of our new hires—bright, talented people who could probably get interviews at lots of other hot companies in Silicon Valley besides us. One of the primary reasons they choose to work at Udemy is because of our mission to help people around the world build the lives they imagine through access to online learning. It’s incredibly inspiring to hear from instructors and students who are expanding their knowledge and finding personal enrichment as part of the Udemy community.

When you’re in the online learning space, it’s not a stretch to have an inspiring company mission. But companies in less obvious industries can connect themselves to worthy missions and give employee contributions a higher meaning too.

I was bowled over by this campaign by 3M for Post-it notes, which positions the ubiquitous stickies as a tool for helping young people fulfill their goals. Backed by research, the campaign associates Post-its with academic success and transforms them from office supplies to empowerment tools. Which characterization do you think is more inspiring to 3M’s employees?

Having an inspiring mission isn’t just a gimmick to make employees feel good; it’s actually a key factor in retaining them and driving overall business performance.

I think it’s terrific that millennials are prompting companies to reexamine what they stand for and how they benefit society, not just investors. The Olympics reminds us every four years that it’s possible to be fiercely competitive as an individual and also fight for an outcome that’s larger than any one contributor.

After her disappointing third-round loss, Serena said playing in the Olympics, “…was a great opportunity. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. But at least I was able to make it to Rio. That was one of my goals.” And she’s already itching for another shot at the opponent who defeated her. Rafa came away empty-handed too, but he shares Serena’s attitude, regardless of his results. They’re fired up and hungry to win again.

Companies would love for their employees to be just as intent on achieving success, but they have to give them a reason to keep at it. Compensation and benefits may bring new talent in the door, but looking at a pay statement isn’t going to motivate someone on an emotional level every single day. Having a powerful mission actually can have that effect.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Why Finding Your Best Mentor Has Nothing to Do With the C-Suite

Photograph by Mark Airs via Getty Images

Photograph by Mark Airs via Getty Images

I was lucky with my first mentor. He was my manager at my second job out of college. He took a special interest in my career goals, the things I liked to do outside of work, and how he might be able to help me develop into the professional I wanted to be. He didn’t limit his attentions to my job performance in that specific role or where I might go within the company. Indeed, when I realized I didn’t even want to stay in that field, he supported me and guided my decision to go back to grad school. As a manager, he could’ve tried to keep me in that job, but as my mentor, he was more concerned with my long-term success and personal development.

Clicking with a mentor is a little like cultivating a new friendship; it’s most likely to gel if you’re not consciously working at it. The best mentoring relationships develop organically, not by force of will. While most people hope to have an invested mentor in their lives, it’s not the kind of thing you can put on your to-do list and set a deadline for.

But when a strong mentor candidate materializes, you have to be prepared to listen and take it seriously when he or she sizes you up and weighs in on where you need to improve. You have to be ready to speak openly and honestly about your dreams, fears, and limitations, and you have to be willing to try new things, learn, and grow.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about finding a mentor and building a relationship that’s rewarding to you both:

Don’t label it

At the time, I didn’t see my second manager as my mentor. I knew he was a caring person who always had worthwhile advice and that I could speak my mind to him in a way I couldn’t with other senior execs. Later, after I moved out of town, started grad school, and transitioned to a different industry, I realized calling him “my former manager” didn’t do him justice. Your perfect mentor might be right under your nose, and you haven’t even realized it yet.

Don’t limit it

Your mentor doesn’t have to be a CEO or big shot. Your mentor doesn’t need to work in your industry or even be well-connected within it, though that could certainly be helpful. Having a mentor is about so much more than career advancement. A great mentor will also help you develop into a better thinker, problem-solver, and teammate. Mentorships are unmatched for helping you develop soft skills that will serve you well throughout your life in all of your relationships. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and yours could come from anywhere — a teacher, a coach, a retiree, a parent — the list goes on.

Don’t force it

People can sense when you’re trying too hard to woo a potential mentor. You’re better off going about your regular business and letting connections develop without pressure. But you do have to put yourself out there. While networking events are good for connecting with new peers, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to regular, ongoing contact with someone inspiring. Find a balance so you get what you need from your mentor without demanding unreasonable time and attention.

Don’t neglect it

Relationships take work, and mentorships are no different. Your mentor may not be your manager, but he isn’t your buddy either. Don’t blow off lunch dates or fail to follow through on things you say you’ll do. Show gratitude and respect for your mentor’s experience, wisdom, and support. It might feel like you’re doing more taking than giving in the relationship, but the best mentors realize they can learn from the experience, too, so be an active participant — not just an empty vessel waiting to get filled with knowledge.

A great mentor isn’t going to be your unconditional defender or career savior. A great mentor will push you, guide you, and support you in reaching your fullest potential, but he can’t do the work for you. He may, however, be cheering the loudest when you achieve.

This article originally appeared in Fortune Insiders.The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership.

21st-century employees need a 21st-century workplace

shutterstock_195619961Telecommuting aside, we all spend a lot of time in the office, so the design of this environment is a really big deal. Most companies have shifted away from the days when The Boss got the corner office and having a door you could shut was a sign of professional status. We have also moved on from the cubicle era, when “prairie dogging” was the easiest way to communicate with coworkers and people generally stayed hidden in their bland, beige cubes.

Today, it’s all about the open office plan. I sit in the middle of an open office myself. But when we define “open,” it’s more than just physical space. Defining “the ideal workplace” for the 21st century company is all about engaging employees, fostering transparency, and giving everyone a voice. The old-school model of executives being safely tucked away in closed offices no longer makes any sense. Younger workers, in particular, wouldn’t stand for the implied hierarchy and lack of transparency suggested by such a floor plan.

Since my company is driven by innovation, decisions often get pushed to newer employees, many of whom are millennials. My ideal workplace is one that meets the needs and preferences of this demographic while also promoting our values of transparency, innovation, and getting stuff done. While we’ve made a concerted effort to design a physical space people enjoy, the intangibles are much more important when it comes to maintaining an awesome work environment. It just so happens that the open office design supports our values by facilitating a certain kind of vibe around here. Here’s what I mean.

Empathize, learn, and open up
It’s hard as a leader to build empathy for your team if you’re hiding behind an office door. It’s also hard to learn from your super-smart colleagues if you’re walled off from each other. Despite the criticisms, open offices can’t be beat when it comes to serendipity, i.e., those times when you happen to overhear someone else’s conversation or catch a glimpse of someone’s laptop screen and realize you can contribute to their project, they can contribute to yours, and you’d all be better off pooling your efforts.

This reaches our customers too. When various departments co-mingle, they can share best practices more fluidly and deliver better experiences for the instructors and students in our online learning community. Spontaneous conversations can yield the most impactful product improvements, so it’s crucial to welcome ideas from anyone and everyone.

It’s also important that people feel safe talking about their failures so they (and everyone else) can learn from these experiences. For management, that means being genuinely approachable, open to receiving honest feedback, and supportive of their teams.

Take ownership and get stuff done
People feed off the feeling of accomplishment. Managers and leaders should recognize this applies at every level. In an open office, it’s just that much easier to share successes across the company, and we make sure people are given the chance to achieve and be recognized.

As a company composed predominantly of bright, motivated millennials, we’re constantly putting people in positions where they are empowered to take decisive action even though they may not have past experience to guide them. We want employees to reach beyond their comfort zones, but we make sure to support them and remove their worries about taking a major fall.

When people get that great feeling of taking responsibility for their work and results, they’ll naturally want to take ownership on future assignments. This value is on display all around our office, all the time, and it’s really empowering.

Innovate and show passion
Our success is built on a shared mission and solid teamwork. Anyone can have a rough day or face burnout, and it can be reinvigorating to surround yourself with passionate, imaginative people who remind you why you’re here. We embrace innovation in all its forms—from deploying technology in creative ways to devising a nontraditional employee review process that’s a conversation, not a judgment day.

I think innovation and passion are closely connected, which is why it’s so important during the hiring process that we identify people who are fiercely motivated and committed to our mission of helping people around the world build the lives they imagine for themselves. Passion alone won’t get us there, but when that energy is paired with curiosity, experimentation, perseverance, and fresh ideas, nothing can stop us. It’s the fuel that runs throughout our office.

The “ideal” workplace is whatever engages employees and promotes company values. For our company, that’s space where ideas can flow freely and everyone feels connected to others striving toward the same mission.

Online learning could help more people achieve—if they knew about it


Sometimes it’s easy for us in Silicon Valley to get stuck in the echo chamber and assume our Bay Area lifestyle and attitudes are consistent with the rest of the world. We are early adopters of bleeding-edge technologies, we reject the status quo, and we constantly seek out better ways of doing things, whether that’s using a ride-share service or wearing a computer on our faces. It’s good to step back and remind ourselves that most people don’t live this way.

Online learning is another one of those things that feels pervasive in our world but is, in fact, still in its earliest infancy. For motivated lifelong learners, going online to take courses and pursue self-directed learning is just another way the internet is an integral part of our lives. Indeed, the variety of educational resources has never been greater. And yet, most people are unfamiliar with the options available to them or haven’t (yet) recognized their value.

In my mind, that one challenge overshadows the rest. A lack of awareness is holding modern education back.

In fact, those people who could benefit most from online and digital education platforms are the most unfamiliar with them. Instead, it’s those who are already highly educated who are gravitating to new education platforms to bolster their existing skill sets. Moreover, the awareness problem affects the U.S. disproportionately compared to the rest of the world.

Consider India, where there will be 142 million students in the higher ed age range in 2030. They can’t build enough schools to accommodate the coming wave, and the internet is the most obvious solution for getting these people the skills training they need. At the same time, Indians are acutely aware of and concerned about the rise of automation and what it could mean for their employability, with 91% of Indian survey respondents believing their skills will become obsolete in the next five years. Udemy sees the strongest demand in areas with young populations and growing technical economies like India. Nearly one million students in India are enrolled in courses on our platform–a figure that’s more than doubled from last year.

But for most folks in the U.S., traditional institutions of higher ed still reign supreme, even as tuitions rise to historic highs and the return on investment becomes less certain. Colleges and universities are regarded as mandatory routes to career success, though many employers still find new grads to be underprepared for the professional world and many in-demand skills like graphic design and coding can be learned via online courses just as effectively. For-profit universities, in the news for sudden bankruptcies and high-profile lawsuits, have given Americans a negative perception of higher ed alternatives available to working adults. Online learning is often unfairly lumped in with that group.

Raising awareness of today’s digital learning tools will take much more than sharing information and signing people up for classes. The real issue is getting people to accept that all of us need to continue our education beyond high school and even college. I experienced my own dose of reality a few years ago when I did my first broadcast interview and realized afterwards how much better I would’ve done if I’d been media-trained. Today’s workplace is evolving so quickly, you’ll get a wake-up call like that too, if you haven’t already, but you’re probably not about to drop your career and go back to school.

This is why there’s been so much talk urging individuals to embrace a growth mindset and develop into lifelong learners. Companies and organizations can help during the hiring process by looking at what job candidates know and can do—not where or how they learned it—and offering online skills training that’s more like choosing from Netflix’s online entertainment library and less like corporate drudgery. The goal is to create an environment that motivates employees and individuals to want to better themselves and then offer the resources to help them get there.

Online learning isn’t going away; it’s only getting bigger. But we in edtech can’t be the only ones touting its benefits. More voices—from college advisors to industry leaders to education policymakers—need to speak up about the larger issue of how today’s workers can stay marketable and grow their skills and the multitude of online resources available to them. We’re drawing closer to a future in which every individual has equal access to grow skills and enrich their lives, but we still have a long way to go.


Is teaching the new feather in your professional cap?

Credit: Nicholas Kristof

Credit: Nicholas Kristof

At some point, publishing a book became the must-have accomplishment for business people to include in their professional profiles. Along those lines, I’ve been noticing something interesting happening in the Udemy marketplace. We’ve been seeing more and more professionals turning to online teaching as a way to build their personal brands, extend their influence, and foster a more dynamic, multidirectional dialog with their followers.

Not only is teaching online a great way to demonstrate expertise, it’s perhaps the most effective way to share that expertise with a virtually limitless global audience that’s checking in from smartphones while on the go or from living rooms, offices, commuter trains, etc. And that, in turn, is a huge benefit to would-be students, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to these high-quality experts.

Nowadays, when influencers want to broadcast a message, they can’t skip delivering it as on-demand video. Simply put, most consumers cite video as the format they prefer over reading text, and they have unprecedented control over the viewing experience too. We’ve all gotten used to consuming entertainment on our own terms, at our own pace, on our own schedules. Forget the TV listings; you can watch any episode of any show whenever you want.

Professional content creators of all stripes have to meet those same consumer expectations of freedom and flexibility. Books are still plenty popular, but they’re just one ingredient in the media mix people are feeding on. That’s why more non-teachers are recognizing the power of online courses to help their audiences absorb information and apply what they’ve learned. With video-based courses, their expertise is available whenever people want it, and it’s easy for students to engage in relevant discussions with the expert and with each other.

A slew of well-known influencers have signed on to create courses on Udemy, including entrepreneur and marketing maven Seth Godin, bestselling authorElizabeth Gilbert, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. What they have in common is a desire to serve their expertise to as many people as possible. We actually asked Nick Kristof and his wife/co-instructor Sheryl WuDunn to tell us why they felt an online course made sense for sharing their messages about global opportunity and empowering women. They had already published books and made TV documentaries on these topics, “But frankly, not everyone reads books: Picking up a 300-page book is a significant barrier, while watching videos may be a little easier and friendlier.” Essentially, given the multitude of ways people find and consume information today, Nick and Sheryl recognized the need to deliver content in many different formats to satisfy them; in other words, the decision to publish a course was driven by their audience’s needs.

This evolution from books to courses isn’t just something for people who already have a highly visible public persona either. There are Udemy instructors who’ve adapted self-published e-book content for their video courses and vice-versa after finding that the two formats worked well in tandem. I talked to one student who came to Udemy to learn about creating and hosting a webinar and decided to create an online course instead so people anywhere could access it indefinitely. Another instructor told us she’s been getting more speaking engagements since her online courses started gaining attention, demonstrating how these efforts reinforce each other and contribute to overall results.

In other words, for many professionals, especially freelancers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed, teaching online is one of the best ways to build out an audience and serve more “customers” without being hindered by time, geography, or logistical restrictions. While additional income is great, for many of these folks, there are other benefits worth having, like connecting with students in far-flung locations and being able to “teach” a course on demand whenever people are ready to learn, no matter the time of day or night.

We know the internet is democratizing access to education for students, but it’s also opening more doors for subject-matter experts who want to distribute their content more widely. It ends up being a win-win, as instructors stretch their muscles in new directions to strengthen their professional profiles, and students have more opportunities than ever to learn from the best.

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.