I wish I was wearing a giant bowler hat right now. Why? So that I could take it off to teachers, who run themselves into the ground in order to educate and energise the imaginations of our next generation of amazing, inquisitive, entrepreneurial minds.
I’m not going to debate the good and bad elements of our education system in this article. Instead, I want to focus on some of the key life skills that I would like to see included in the secondary school/college curriculum or, as an alternative, taught by parents at home.
And there is a key point to consider here – if we were living in an ideal world, all parents would be teaching these important skills to their children. However, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Let’s take a look at the list…
- Basic first aid
- Basic financial awareness and planning
- Mental health
- Touch typing
- How to prepare for a job interview
- The importance of guarding your privacy
- How to learn
- The art of conversation
1) Basic first aid
I’m amazed that first aid isn’t included in the secondary school curriculum in the UK. I would regard basic first aid to be one of the most important skills that a person can learn. It’s life-saving stuff, pure and simple. For a long time, St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross have been campaigning for it to feature. Meanwhile, European countries such as France, Denmark and Norway have included first aid successfully as part of their national school curricula. So, why not us?
In 2014, Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation commented that: “Lives are needlessly lost to cardiac arrests every day because not enough people have the skills or confidence to perform CPR. But the simple measure of teaching all children these skills could save thousands of lives. All parties should now follow this example and commit to making CPR an integral part of every child’s education.”
In the last decade, we’ve seen high streets being equipped with defibrillators for public use. They are said to be very simple to use. However, as with most things in life, confidence comes from experience. And so it makes sense for schools to teach their students how to use this equipment, how to put someone in the recovery position and how to provide CPR. I have no doubt that teaching these skills will save lives.
The suggestion of including first aid in the secondary school curriculum isn’t a new one. The Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education Bill, a bill to require the provision of Emergency First Aid (EFA) education by all state-funded secondary schools, went before parliament in 2015. Sadly, however, it went no further, with suggestions that tactics were used to block it.
2) Basic financial awareness and planning
I have many contacts in the finance industry and over the course of the last couple of years I’ve asked them the same question – “why don’t we teach basic financial planning in secondary school education?” The reaction from each person has been notably similar – a shrug of the shoulders and an agreement that it should be.
Although financial awareness and planning aren’t included in the national curriculum, they are sometimes taught under the PHSE (Personal, Social and Health Education) non-statutory subject.
I strongly believe that basic finance awareness, budgeting and planning are some of the most important topics one can learn. Approach your finances the right way at the start of your adult life and you’ll give yourself a far better chance of being financially stable and avoiding the crippling pitfalls of bad debt.
We should teach youngsters how to increase their credit score (through good debt and timely payments). We should teach them how to save – not only for the things they want to buy but also for their retirement. We should show them how to read numbers, read a balance sheet, create a simple income and expense spreadsheet. And we should teach them all about payday loans and why a loan with 1200% APR is such a bad thing!
I have written a number of articles about compound interest, and have designed one of the world’s most popular online compound interest calculators (used by teachers throughout the world). When people learn about the power of compound interest, both positive and negative, the benefits of regular saving are really brought home.
As I read in a recent Quora article: “Learn and respect finance, and you will find your wealth increases much easier and faster than those around you.”
3) Mental health
For a long time, mental health has seemed like a taboo subject. And although there now appears to be more openness about it, it’s still an area that can be awkward to talk about. I believe that learning about and discussing mental health can help youngsters better understand and empathize with those who suffer with it.
I’ve seen several petitions pushing the case for mental health’s inclusion in the curriculum, the most notable of which was in 2017 – Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools and over 103,000 people signed it. It subsequently went before parliament. However, the conclusion from the government was that “Schools should decide how to teach pupils about mental health developing their own curriculum to reflect the needs of their pupils.”
At the moment, then, it’s very much all about schools coming up with their own methods for helping children understand mental health, assuming they consider it important enough and easy enough to cover.
4) Touch typing
I’m fully aware that some schools (public and private) are adding touch typing classes as options for additional learning. However, I believe they largely remain voluntary and not compulsory.
I question why all schools haven’t been teaching touch typing since the start of the century. Using a computer has become a fundamental skill in both employment and home life. Being able to type quickly and efficiently can save an enormous amount of time and be a key skill in a student’s future career.
For me, I was self-taught. Back in the late 1990s I sat down with a piece of software called Mavis Beacon. I must admit that I’m not perfect at it, I have a couple of bad habits. However, I’m quick enough that I can reply to emails quickly and write at a quick speed. This maximises the efficiency and potential of my work day.
Perhaps if your child isn’t being taught at school, sit them down with a computer programme (there are many great ones available on the internet now) and teach them this key skill yourself.
5) How to prepare for a job interview
I could easily bolt on ‘preparing a CV’ to this one as a key skill. When applying for a job, a CV may sit on the desk of the employer with anywhere between 5 and 300 other CVs. A person’s CV needs to stand out, and the chances are that if there are 300 CVs to go through, they will flick through them with a very quick and decisive yes or no. Of those 300, maybe only 10% will end up getting through to the second stage of being read. The content and layout of one’s CV, then, is super important.
Get the application right and the applicant be heading for an interview. I’ve taken charge of numerous interviews in my life and witnessed plenty more. I’ve worked with HR specialists and discussed this area with them. There are some key things that, time and time again, people attending interviews get wrong. Here are a couple of them:
a) Preparation is key. A candidate should turn to an interview knowing as much as they can about the company they’re applying to work for. There’s no excuse for not researching this – the internet is everyone’s friend. A candidate should find out as much info as they can; what the business/company’s mission statement is, their brand, their ethics. Without this knowledge, they might as well not bother turning up to the interview.
b) Consider and prepare an answer to this key question: ‘why do you want to work here?’ As advice, it’s a good suggestion to focus an answer on what you admire about the company or how you can contribute to it and NOT what you intend to get out of it.
I think there’s also an opportunity to take some time to role play for interviews, and this is something that every parent can help their child practice.
6) The importance of guarding your privacy
In many ways, this key skill follows on well from number 5. A number of studies have shown that employers often look at the social media accounts of applicants pre-interview. What someone posts on social media, then, can have a dramatic impact on their future job ambitions.
I honestly believe that people have a far too lackadaisical attitude towards their privacy. With the invention of social media has come a sudden desire to share everything.
The problem is this – once information is out there, it’s very hard to get back. We’ve featured one of the problems with this above. However, there are many more – identity theft, for example. The more blasé someone is with their personal information, the more opportunity there is for people to take advantage.
From what I understand, data privacy, internet safety and identity theft can be covered by teachers under PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) at various key stages. However, I would like to see them taught to every student, whether at school or at home.
Data privacy is fast becoming a big issue. Indeed, I believe the next 10 years will see us taking much more control of our personal data and being much more careful about who we allow to see it.
7) How to learn
This sounds like a strange ‘skill’ to be discussing, doesn’t it? Everyone’s mind works differently, so how can we possibly have a teaching/learning system that works for everyone?
John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio, summed the issue up well in an article in American Educator in 2013:”the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis – if any – is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning.” He continued, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important – if not essential – for promoting lifelong learning.”
What sort of strategies have been suggested? Perhaps basic ideas like underlining important parts of texts, drawing pictures or diagrams, discussing the subject with others, making notes of things the student doesn’t understand. Every student will be different, so it’s about each student finding out what works for them. There’s a very good article on this subject here.
8) The art of conversation
“Put your hand up if you’re shy…” – I think we can all see why this wouldn’t work in a school assembly. A true paradox.
Communication and conversation are, for me, key skills for absolutely everything in life. From making friends to meeting your life partner, to selling, to negotiating a good deal on just about anything.
I can admit to being very, very shy as a child and having very poor conversation skills This continued through my teens and well into my twenties. I would, quite literally, not be able to talk to anyone without huge, awkward silences occurring. When I tell people now that I used to be incredibly shy, they struggle to believe me. So, what happened?
Quite simply, when I hit 30 I made the decision to improve the skills I was weakest at. I decided to get the hell out of my comfort zone, learn some conversation skills and push myself into talking to people more – I was steaming straight into a potential car crash, I thought. And, I’ll be honest, it was difficult.
I’m more than happy to confess to people that I’m still shy. However, the difference now is that I’m comfortably shy. I like my time away from people, but when I meet someone in public, I can communicate easily and put the other person at ease. And in addition, by going through my learning process, I’ve learned a lot about psychology, personality and body language. I can appreciate, empathise and understand people a LOT better.
I find myself looking back and wondering how I might have coped in school and in my early life if I had learned some basic conversation and communication skills. In addition, I conversely wonder what might have happened had I not pushed myself to learn them in my thirties.
The world revolves around communication. And, one of the most important ambitions for many people is to find a life partner. Without communication skills, that becomes a whole lot harder.
I’ve written this article not to have a dig at our current curriculum, but to point out a few things that I think could be bolted onto it – either during school hours or by parents at home. There’s also an interesting Twitter account called Life Hacks for Kids that’s worth following for ideas.
I was enjoying a lovely walk with my wife at the weekend when we found ourselves partaking in the following dialogue:
Wife: Oh, poor thing, there’s a dead bee on the ground over there… ????
Me: I’ll go get some sugary water, maybe it’s just dehydrated…
Wife: I don’t think that’ll help
Me: Why’s that?
Wife: It’s been run over by a car…
Assume makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’
As I look back on the conversation, I think there’s an interesting discussion point hiding amongst the mildly-morbid humour. It’s a reminder that when faced with an opportunity or situation, it’s important to get as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, before taking action. If you’ve drawn an instant conclusion, ask yourself if there’s an extra piece of evidence to back it up before you act upon it.
From The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, comes this quote:
“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Why is this important right now?
There’s no denying it, we live in a social media world where fake news stories and fake celebrity endorsements have become a big problem. The former have aimed to influence people into thinking, and indeed voting, a certain way. They’ve commonly ridden a careless tide of sharing and re-tweeting without checking facts. The latter are finding increasing success in conning people out of their money. Only yesterday, consumer campaigner Martin Lewis announced he would be launching UK High Court proceedings against Facebook for fake adverts appearing on the platform. I welcome this move, not just for its potential to start pushing Facebook into re-considering its ad review process, but also because it brings greater attention to the issue. If this move results only in a few less people being caught out by these scams, that’s a victory in itself.
Of course, the highlighting of this issue comes only a couple of months after the revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s behaviour. It all goes to show that we need to be far more careful with protecting our personal data and should be prepared to investigate fully and ask questions before parting with our money on anything resulting from a social media advert or post – no matter how persuasive it is. Take extra time and don’t be afraid to ask your friends or family for their opinions. And remember that old saying, “if it looks too good to be true…”
On a slightly different note, how many times have you gone to solve a problem only to find, further down the line, that the problem wasn’t what you thought it was? To use the analogy of a baseball or cricket game, you’ve gone to smash the ball out the park only to realise it’s a curveball (or a ‘flipper’ for all you cricket fans), leaving you swatting at fresh air. You walk away feeling foolish that you’ve wasted so much time and energy – if only you’d taken just a moment longer to take account of the extra clues and evidence available to you. It seems, then, that the idea of undertaking further investigation works in this area of our lives too.
“Just one more thing…”
And so the key takeaway strategy from this article, should you wish to accept it, is to engage your inner detective more often. ‘Bee’ like Columbo and always ask one more question. Once you’ve got all the facts, you’re in a far better position to take action or not take action. You super-sleuth!
Of course, strategic thinking wasn’t enough to help the poor bee. Who knows, maybe he’ll be reincarnated as a bird to exact heinous revenge on the offending car’s paintwork… (just leave mine alone!)
After 11 hours and 5 minutes of play, spanning 3 days, John Isner came out victorious against his opponent. It was officially the longest match in tennis history, with both players slugging it out over 183 games before, finally, Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.
Referred to as ‘the endless match,’ the contest was named as one of the Top 10 Sporting Moments of 2010 by Time Magazine. Following his victory, an exhausted John Isner advanced to the second round of the tournament where he lost in straight sets in just 74 minutes.
What can we learn from this?
Although I admire this story, and the incredible athleticism involved, I believe it serves as a metaphor for the difference between working hard and working efficiently when it comes to achieving success. Allow me to explain why.
A tennis player’s goal is to get as far into a tournament as possible, with the ultimate aim of winning it. So, although John Isner and Nicolas Mahut achieved an incredible feat, neither of them ultimately got past the second round of the tournament. Looking at that goal again, does that make their 2010 Wimbledon tournament a success or failure?
Whilst you are chewing on that one, allow me to throw in another comparison between the world of tennis and the world of successful endeavours.
Consider this question. Is the winner of a game of tennis the player who wins the most points? No, it’s the player who wins the crucial points.
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are great tennis players and exponents of ruthless efficiency when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities. They know they don’t have to win every point, they just make sure they win the key ones.
Had John Isner managed to do that more successfully in 2010, he would have been off the court a lot sooner, allowing him greater recovery time for his next battle. Yes, he will forever be recognised for his part in the longest match in tennis history. But, ask yourself if he would have given that up for a Wimbledon quarter-final place?
The world’s fastest man
Switching sports now. Whether you watched the 2016 Olympics or not, you’ll recognise the name Usain Bolt. This legend of sport is a great example of someone who performs at his best just when he needs to.
Like me, you may recall the same story unfolding at every major championship over the last ten years – be it the Olympics or the World Athletics Championships. It has been a repeat pattern – journalists and analysts wondering whether the ‘great’ Usain Bolt could defend his 100m and 200m titles, following periods of injury or being beaten by rivals in athletic meetings in the run-up to the championships.
So, come the final of the 100m and 200m at each and every Olympics and major championship, what happened? That’s right; Usain Bolt stormed to victory!
Although perhaps not looking convincing leading up to the big event, he still performed at the critical moment to win the gold. And he didn’t just win by small margins – he stormed each race. Without fail – every single time.
Win the key battles
In business you’re not going to win all the time and if you expect to, then you will be disappointed. It’s simply not realistic. Successful people win at the crucial times.
Would you rather be the tennis player who wins point after point against his opponent and yet ends up losing? Or would you rather be the player who plays efficiently, waits his time and strikes at the pivotal moment to win the match?
You don’t have to win every battle when it comes to being successful – just win the important ones.
In 2010 the clothing giant Gap announced unveiled their new logo design on their Facebook page. The re-branding project was rumoured to have cost $100 million and was labelled by the company as ‘a more contemporary, modern expression.’ Sadly for them, the reaction to their logo was far from what they had hoped. A backlash of criticism swept across social media and the company was faced with a very tricky situation in the face of an enormous PR disaster.
Knowing they had to react quickly and decisively, Gap made a good and very positive move. Putting focus on the fact that customers always come first, they published a message on their Facebook page:
“Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers… we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.”
This is an extreme example of handling negative feedback and I’ve used it to demonstrate that how you react to negative feedback is key. As an established brand, Gap got their logo rebrand very wrong – and they’re not the first to have done this. But, by reacting to the negative feedback in the way they did, at the speed they did, they actually turned it around– giving out a strong “we listen to you” message. It is interesting to note that in the months that followed, Gap’s sales were up compared to the same period the year before.
I’ve read a lot of articles about how to give negative feedback, but very few about how to receive negative feedback. I’ve been in the situation of receiving negative feedback during my working life. In my first full-time job, I found it particularly difficult to take, in part because of the way it was relayed to me.
Although I’ve learned to handle it a lot better over the years, mostly due to adopting the mindset discussed below, there are still times where I find myself in a situation where I want to say:
‘Well I could agree with you… but then we’d both be wrong!’
I manage to stop myself 99% of the time, but sometimes I just say it anyway – just to see what happens.
So, what has changed for me? Well, over the years I’ve come to learn to be more open-minded and take emotion out of the negative message. It’s all in the mindset you adopt.
As human beings, we do take criticism very personally. As I mentioned above, I’m guilty of it too. It can become deeply personal when someone criticises something you’ve created, written or spent time on.
It’s key to remember that the person giving you the feedback often does not know you (or at least doesn’t know you as well as you do) and is not aware of everything you’ve done to get where you are. They’ve simply told you what they think, based on their own views and experiences and in their own mood at that given time. It’s just a piece of feedback – it’s up to you how you deal with it.
So, why not look at the opportunity you can get out of it? There are two major potential opportunities open to you.
When you take the emotion out of it, feedback is an incredibly useful thing. It gives you a chance to see things from another point of view. So, before you throw the feedback away or reply angrily, take some time to think about what has been said. Is there anything useful you can take from it – whether it be to adapt your functionality, explain things better or fix something and be the hero (like Gap). This represents your first opportunity.
Our second opportunity is even better. How you react to the person giving the feedback can, in the right situation, win you a lifelong customer or fan. How? Thank them for their feedback and tell them how useful it is. Say that you appreciate them taking the time to tell you and that feedback helps you develop and improve your products – whether that’s you or something you’ve made. When you personalise your reply, you will give yourself a great chance of being appreciated.
I have experienced this so many times it’s impossible to count. Even with negative feedback I’ve turned the person from someone with a negative view of my product to someone who tells me that they will not only continue to use it but will also tell all their friends and family about it. And, as any good marketer will tell you, personal recommendation is gold dust – the most valuable form of marketing. If you go above and beyond what they expect (replying quickly, thanking them for their valuable time, offering assistance) you can end up being rewarded yourself. And that’s a win-win.
It doesn’t happen all the time, of course. You’re only in control of your reaction, not theirs.
How to respond to negative feedback in person
Here’s a quick checklist for responding to negative feedback in person:
- ‘Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention’
- ‘I always like receiving feedback as it allows me to improve and evolve my abilities and because I care about X.’
- I will take your feedback on board and will do Y and Z.
How to respond to negative correspondence
Here’s a quick checklist for responding to negative feedback in an email or correspondence:
- Thank the person for their feedback and for taking the time to write to you. You can even tell them their feedback is important to you (it is, after all). You’ll notice how many big companies adopt this approach.
- ‘I’m sorry to hear you feel this way’ (you’re acknowledging it’s how they feel about it, not that they are factually correct about what they are saying).
- Put your point across and tell them what you are prepared to do (even if it’s just keeping their feedback in mind for future updates).
Remember that you won’t win every time and you may not receive the response you want. But, much like a game of poker, you will increase your chances of winning by adopting this strategy and, importantly, you’ll find yourself released from negativity.
Good feedback is a gift – one that we love. If you change your mindset to think about negative feedback in the same way – as an opportunity – you’ll go far.