While we're on the subject of learning, teaching and being a student, we decided to ask Kevin Sullivan our co-founder and author of Breaking Into Publishing: The Industry Insight You Need to Get The Job You Want about some of his most educational moments.
Tell us about your favorite teacher.
Jack Granfield was an English teacher I had in high school. He was able, ever-so-subtly, to bring out the best in my writing and interpersonal communication skills. Mr. Granfield kept me interested in (when it would have been easy to goof around with my friends who liked to disrupt class or make jokes for attention) and encouraged me to apply myself to create quality work. Once I realized that writing came pretty easily, I was hooked.
Have you ever taught anything? How'd it go?
I taught two introductory writing courses - one on argumentative writing, and one on writing about literature - at Northeastern University in Boston for two years in the late '90's. I think it went pretty well, but you'd have to ask my students if they agree. Teaching was both challenging and rewarding. I may have taught more of an "ideas" class than strictly a "writing mechanics" class. I always aimed to be more like Robin Williams in Dead Poets' Society rather than like Strunk & White.
Today, in my job I lead and manage a group of people at a higher education healthcare publisher. I like to think that a large amount of managing people in the corporate setting is really teaching - teaching people how to address certain situations in which you have more experience than they do. I enjoy it, and I think I get positive results from the people I manage, so I'd say it's going well.
If you could go back to school, what classes would you want to take?
Finance, finance, accounting, finance. I love creating new content and new products - both print and digital - but without an understanding of financial models and how investment in these products equates to revenue, you can get in trouble in a hurry. Luckily, I've been able to acquire the right level of financial knowledge and context to make me successful in the various roles I've held but would still love more formal training.
What is the hardest lesson you've had to learn?
When you move fast and make quick decisions, sometimes things don't work out the way you had hoped. In my line of work, there is a constant struggle between speed of product creation, speed to market, and the final results or quality of that product. What I've learned is that with speed comes a certain level of uncertainty. Part of the challenge comes with accepting uncertainty, and determining, either as an individual, or as a company, what level of uncertainty you are comfortable with.
What's one thing you learned today?
This is something I've theorized on for along time, but today I'm counting as a truth that I've learned: When you measure your productivity, perhaps by writing down a due date, or tracking how many times you do a task, you perform tasks faster and more efficiently. It seems like common sense, but many people and companies are OK with hoping to reach certain milestones and not using metrics or quantitative goals. I attain goals when I write them down. If I don't write it down, the goal becomes a "nice-to-have", and is easily forgotten.