Connecting the Dots


Connect the dots

Another post in the improving your learning from A to Z series.

There are two parts to connecting the dots.  Collecting and connecting.  It reminds me of an episode of the popular Seinfeld TV show.

Jerry reserves a rental car and goes to pick it up. He arrives at the rental car company and asks the agent for the car he reserved. Here’s the quick exchange:

Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.
Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?
Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Agent: I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.

This illustrates a simple point about our dots, collecting dots is important but connecting the dots is the most important part. 

But before you connect, you need to collect.

Collecting the Dots

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller

Dots are experiences you have throughout your day and life. These experiences (dots) are the raw materials you use to connect. A wide range of experiences helps you broaden your perspective. So, you should have many different experiences to keep a healthy inventory of dots.

The more variety of experiences you have, the better connections you can make. Collecting the same dots doesn’t help you make new connections, it keeps you trapped like a tiger in a cage.

Don’t Trap Yourself

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” Aristotle

Having the same experiences makes your mind pace back and forth like a wild tiger in a cage. The tiger paces back and forth on this same experience and   has a primal urge to break free and collect dots in his natural environment. He knows there is a bigger world out there. He doesn’t care what anyone else’s agenda is, he just wants out, he needs out.

Your mind, like the tiger, needs to get out and collect more dots. If he doesn’t get out of the cage, he will eventually get tired and stop pacing. So will you.

Don’t give up!

Set the Tiger Free 

“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” The Eagles

You have the key to let the tiger out. The key is to have more experiences, different types of experiences. So, open the door and let the tiger run free.

Feel the earth on your feet, first the front paws, then the back. Embrace the wind on your face. Smell the clear air and natural scents. Connect with your environment. You can go anywhere and do anything.

Get going.

Getting More Dots

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein

Now that you’re free, how do you collect more experiences? There are unlimited ways you can collect or connect dots and you may even connect a dot while collecting a dot. Here are 30 examples of how to collect more dots. Many of these items are simple, the harder part is doing them.

At Work

  • As a customer, buy or use one of the products you sell.
  • Do job rotations outside your primary area.
  • Spend time as a customer support representative.

Do the opposite of what you normally do. Get out of your routine. If you usually:

  • Spend time with people, make time to be alone for a while and hear yourself.
  • Eat lunch in the same spot everyday, go somewhere else to eat.
  • Fly when you travel, take the train or bus.


  • Kids on the playground or dogs run at the park.
  • Go to an airport or train station and watch people.
  • A grocery store or restaurant during peak time and watch how people behave.

Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)

  • Collect and manage digital dots.
  • Write a blog post or make a comment in an online article.
  • Attend a conference using the backchannel.


  • A book that has nothing to do with your job or interests.
  • Re-read a book that you loved when you were younger.
  • A magazine that you would would usually not purchase

Travel and explore to: 

  • The town where you live (pay attention to the details).
  • Another state, territory or country. It’s a big world.
  • A place you used to visit regularly as a child.

Try a New Hobby

Volunteer your time for an hour, a day or a week. See what someone else’s life is like by:

  • Using your your existing skills.
  • Hosting an international exchange student.
  • Helping your local food bank or elderly home.


  • A museum that you’ve never seen.
  • A friend or relative that you haven’t seen in a while.
  • The place were you or your parents were born.


So, seek out new experiences to broaden your perspective. Start small and get uncomfortable. But be careful, don’t seek out experiences in order to get the high score in a game, you’ll miss the point.

The point is to have an open, curious perspective as you interact with the world around you. There is a lot out there.

Connecting Dots

“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo da Vicci

Why is it easier to connect the dots for a character in a movie than in your own life? Often times when you’re watching a movie or TV show you connect the dots for the main characters before they do. “I can’t believe she can’t see that!”

It seems obvious, right? It’s because you’ve the been invited into the story to connect someone else’s dots.

Imagine if you could sit back and watch your own life unfold in a movie. Wouldn’t that be a lot easier to connect the dots for yourself? You could see what happened in your past knowing what you know now. You could pause, rewind, fast forward. You could see all the little clues that you didn’t see before.

Well, there are ways to do this in your own life too.

Connecting Your Dots

“Use the force, Luke.”  Obi-Wan Kenobi

How do you to get more dots? Obi-Wan says “use the force”, I say “use the curiosity.” Your curiosity will guide you.

Connecting dots is your ability to join your experiences into new ideas. You’re giving birth to new ideas that you can use to take future actions in your life.

To connect dots, you use various thinking skills like critical thinking, lateral thinking, creative thinking or no thinking to connect dots.

It can happen anywhere. You can connect dots while driving in your car, taking a shower or while having an engaging conversation with a co-worker. There is no perfect answer for how to do this - keep an open and curious mind.

Many of the items listed in Learning A to Z  help you connect dots. The A,B,C’s are foundational and D thru Z are activities to help you learn.

Try to be more aware of your actions. Before participating in an activity, remember that you:

Then, select an activity based on the mental focus required. The activities listed below are organized by the amount of mental focus required for each activity.

Your brain requires a lot of energy to think and you should rotate the mental focus you’re applying to activities.

For example – many people have more energy in the morning. Try engaging in activities requiring more mental focus in the morning and choose activities needing less mental focus in the afternoon. Or cycle activities (e.g., from more focus to less focus to more focus, etc) to give your brain a workout, then a rest.

Some activities can swing to either side and be either more or less focus. For example: Reading a fun book required less mental focus than reading a scientific book. Go with your gut and do what works best for you.

Activities on the right require more mental focus.

More Focus


Activities on the left require less mental focus.

Less Focus


Activities in the middle can swing to either side and require more or less focus (your choice).

Balancing Focus

Get Out and Connect

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” Frank Hebert 

On your journey, remember:

  • Collecting dots is important but connecting dots is the most important part.
  • You hold the key to let the tiger out of the cage. Set him free.
  • Go have a variety of experiences to create a healthy inventory of dots.
  • Use your curiosity.
  • Try an activity and rotate based on mental focus required.

You Own Your Learning

be accountable own it

This is the first post in a series on improving your learning from A to Z. These are mostly self directed learning activities. I’m starting with a foundational component – Accountability.

“Your life is the fruit of your own doing.  You have no one to blame but yourself.” Joseph Campbell

Learn Like You Own it Because You Do

You receive a call from a friend who invites you to dinner with several other friends. You haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks and are looking forward to catching up at dinner in a week.

It’s a week later and when you arrive for dinner, you have about a fifteen minute wait. You notice that the restaurant has a large gift shop for customers who are waiting for their names to be called. A table of glass fixtures catches your eye and you walk over to check them out.

You see the “you break it, you buy it” sign and pause for a moment before you pick up one of the fixtures. The fixtures are expensive but you’re a responsible adult, what are the chances?

You pick up the glass fixture and admire the curved smooth glass. This is a beautiful piece but you’re just browsing and the piece is too expensive. too expensive.

You lower the fixture back on the table when somehow it slips out of your hand, falls on the floor and breaks. You have a sudden rush through you body “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this just happened.”

You bend down to pick up the piece and think “did anyone see me?” You pick up the piece as you begin standing and see your friends and other customers watching you.

You turn around and see a gift shop employee staring at you. He says “congratulations, you now own it.” Everyone in the gift show also realizes that you own it as well.

Are you feeling a little uncomfortable about this scenario? This is the feeling you should have about the ownership of your learning – you own it.

We all have different goals for why we are learning. It could be to get a better job, speak a new language for an upcoming trip, graduate from school or for the joy of learning a new hobby. Whatever your goal is accountability is the foundation to your learning and it starts here.

Congratulations, you are the proud owner of your own learning!

Learning Party for 4 


“Every day brings new choices.” Martha Beck

After paying for your glass fixture, you’re not even sure you want to eat. Your friends see this in you and make you feel better by sharing their own awkward moments. Your name is called to be seated for dinner. You sit down with your three friends and begin reading the menu.

Learning, like eating, is about choices and you are accountable for these choices.

As an adult, who is accountable for your diet and the food choices you make? You are accountable. You select food based on your dietary goals (e.g., balanced diet, losing or gaining weight, vegetarian, etc).

You decide these food choices and this is similar to your own learning. You make learning choices based on your learning goals (e.g., learn to code, learn to play guitar, build a learning network, etc).

The waiter returns to take your order. You know that you’re trying to lose weight and haven’t been eating healthy for a while. It’s your turn to order and you get a cheeseburger, large fries, soda and a piece of chocolate cake for dessert.

You know this isn’t going to support your weight loss goal but you do it anyway. The same thing can happen to you with your learning goals. If you want to learn to code and keep watching videos explaining how to code but you don’t actually code anything, this isn’t the best way to support your goal either.

Nutritional Model 

“ Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Oscar Wilde

There isn’t anything wrong with ordering the cheeseburger meal or watching coding videos. It’s that those choices should be part of a balanced diet that supports your goals. Different nutrition models exist to help you choose a healthy diet.

Some models suggest meals should be made up of 1/3 carbohydrates, 1/3 fat and 1/3 protein while others suggest 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 20% protein. Find a model that works for you and this might change as your goals change.

Learning models exists as well that recommend a balanced learning diet (i.e., how you should divide your learning). Here are two popular models:

In Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, Dan Pontefract suggests a 3-33 model where:

  • 33% of your learning should come from formal sources (e.g., class, e-learning, conference)
  • 33% of your learning should come from informal sources (e.g., mentoring, shadowing, articles, books)
  • 33% of your learning should come from social sources (e.g., blogging, microblogging, tagging)

Charles Jennings advocates the 70 20 10 model:

  • 70% of your learning should come from experiences (e.g., job assignment, stretch opportunity, job rotation)
  • 20% of your learning should come from other people (e.g., mentoring, networking, shadowing)
  • 10% of your learning should come from formal sources (e.g., class, e-learning, conference)

Both of these model provide high level guidance. The A to Z items are self directed learning activities using formal, informal and social channels. You know your goals best and may focus on one activity or channel more than another depending where you’re at with these goals.

Again, find activities and a model that works for you.  You make your own choice

You Have Choices


“If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant.” Chris Brogan 

Plan Ahead

Let’s replay the dinner scenario again with you aligning your goals with your actions and taking ownership. You get the call to go out to dinner next week and are looking forward to catching up.

You’re trying to lose weight and know that you might break your diet at the dinner. You’re slowly losing weight and are happy about your progress. This is a key decision point for you. You have several options:

  • Eat less during the week so you can eat more at dinner
  • Continue your normal diet and eat a small healthy meal at dinner
  • Continue your normal diet and over eat at dinner anyway

There are other options that you could come up with as well. The bottom line is that you own the decision.

Learning can be the same way. Let’s say your friend calls and invites you to a movie next Saturday afternoon. You still have a goal of learning to code and Saturday afternoon is when you normally spend a couple of hours practicing.

You’ve been making steady progress and don’t want to lose ground. This is a key decision point for you. You have several options:

  • Practice more during the week and enjoy the movie
  • Have a regular week and practice before or after the movie
  • Have a regular week and make up your practice in the future

Again, there are other options but you own the decision.

Change or Manage Your Situation

“Every excuse I ever heard made perfect sense to the person who made it.”  Dr. Daniel T. Drubin

There are times when your situation doesn’t align with your goals. If your friends keep inviting you to their same favorite restaurant and there are no healthy choices for you there, this is a decision point for you. You have several options:

  • Suggest another place to eat that is healthier for you
  • Eat a healthy meal before going to dinner and order a tea or water with your friends
  • Find another way to socialize with your friends that doesn’t involve this restaurant

You also find yourself in situations where what you are learning (or not learning) isn’t aligning with your goals. You’ve told your manager about your goal to learn to code and he/she says that they will support you.

You now have a mentor and should be assigned to projects that help build your skills. It’s been a couple of months since you originally asked for help and you’re not receiving much support.

You’ve mentioned this to your manager several times but nothing has changed. This is a decision point for you. You have several options:

  • Find more opportunities outside of work to learn to code
  • Find another person you admire who has the skills you want to develop and ask for their help
  • Begin looking for other work opportunities that are more supportive of your goals

In both of these scenarios, you own the decision. Be flexible about your options so that you can continue to reach your goals no matter what situation you face.

Here comes the waiter, let’s eat!

Only You Can Digest Your Learning

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” Galileo Galilei

Your waiter serves the meals and asks if anyone needs anything else. Everyone is all set, the meals look good. Before you take your first bite let me ask, “who is accountable for eating your meal?” Your friends, the waiter, the chef? Imagine asking one of them to eat your meal for you.

What would their reactions be? “Excuse me?” “Are you feeling OK?” “Is this a joke?” “How much have you had to drink?” Obviously you wouldn’t ask anyone because you are accountable for eating and digesting your own meal. This would be more awkward than your gift shop incident.

Learning is like digestion when it comes to accountability, only you can do it for yourself.  Digestion is the process of converting food into a form that your body can absorb. Your body is acquiring new nutrients for your body to function.

Learning is the process of gaining skills and knowledge through your experiences. It happens when connections (synapses) are made between neurons (cells) inside your brain. No matter how badly you want to give ownership of your learning to someone else, you can’t.

Digestion and learning are all happening inside you.

Accountable Doesn’t Mean Alone 

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Maya Angelou

Luckily none of your friends heard our conversation about who should eat your meal. As you think about our conversation, it leaves you feeling a bit lonely. But, you are not alone. Being accountable for your learning doesn’t mean that you do it alone. You should involve others in your learning journey, just like your meals.

Eating and learning are both social activities. Imagine how your meal would be without your friends or learning to code without talking to anyone else. As you enjoy your meal and see the other meals at the table you realize that many people were involved in making this happen.

  • Your waiter brought you this meal.
  • The chef cooked your food.
  • The kitchen manager ordered the food for the restaurant.
  • Someone transported the food to this restaurant.
  • Someone grew the food you’re about to eat.
  • You are enjoying the company of your friends.

The people above have some responsibility for your meal but not the accountability for eating your meal. Learning is the same way. The coding video you’re watching, somebody:

  • Learned how to code.
  • Taped this person coding.
  • Edited the video.
  • Posted the video for others to see.
  • Etc.

Responsibility is Not Accountability

A closer look. The people in the restaurant preparing your meal (e.g., chef, waiter) are responsible, not accountable, for your meal. They have an obligation to provide your meal because you have a mutual agreement (i.e., you pay money and the restaurant provides a quality meal).

There are people in your life that have some responsibility for your learning. If your goal is to learn to code, here are some people who might have some responsibility for your learning:

  • If you work at a company, your manager and company have some responsibility.
  • If you’re a student, your teachers and the school have a responsibility.
  • If you have a mentor or coach, they have some responsibility.
  • If you belong to a study group or attend meet ups, you all take some responsibility for each other.

You own your learning and others may have some responsibility for your learning.


driving home

“What you deny or ignore, you delay. What you accept and face, you conquer.” Robert Tew  

Your meal is coming to an end. The waiter takes the bill and wishes you all a good night. You and your friends had a great night and are planning for the next dinner. You suggest a different restaurant and they all agree.

You walk to your car, open the door and put your glass fixture on the passenger seat. You are more attached to the fixture than you were when you bought it earlier.

On your drive home you collect your thoughts about the evening and realize that you:

  • Are the only person who can own and digest your learning
  • Have others who can take some responsibility for your learning but not ownership
  • Are going to plan ahead and own your decisions helping you reach your goals
  • You own it but can’t do it alone

You arrive home, open the front door and walk into your home office. With a big smile, you put your glass fixture in the middle of your desk as a reminder that you own your learning.

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