Can critical thinking be taught in university?

August 22, 2017By Jeffrey McGowan, CPA, CGMABlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills, Learning and Career Development

As a college educator who spent over 30 years in the business workplace, I commonly hear discussions about how to improve recent college graduates or new staff’s critical thinking skills. A quick Google search of “Employer Critical Thinking” yields well over a millions hits on this topic. A quick survey of the results yields two certainties: 1) Many employers do not think new graduates have proper critical thinking skills, and 2) “Critical Thinking” is tough to define. Revealing articles include the following:

The third and fourth articles discuss a study in students at over 200 colleges and universities who participated in a Collegiate Learning Assessment, which evaluated critical thinking and other analytic “higher level” skills. Disturbingly, the results found that over four years of collegiate study, more than 33% of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning.” According to the Wall Street article, “at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table.”

Within the accounting world, the quest for critical thinking has filtered into the newly revised CPA exam. In its Exposure Draft: Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination, the AICPA states that “newly licensed CPAs must also possess high-order cognitive skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and analytical ability.” The Exposure Draft later states that new CPAs will require “higher order skills such as critical thinking” due to technology changing the nature of the work and that newly licensed CPAs will be “responsible for more complex tasks earlier in their careers.”

According to Michael Decker, AICPA vice-president, “Remembering and understanding fact patterns isn’t enough.” Decker adds that these new CPAs “have to be able to assess situations and apply professional judgement.” Gone are the days from my CPA youth, where as a staff auditor, we would “foot” ledgers for accuracy and seemingly spend endless hours on the copy machine. Now, CPA firms and other employer thrust new staff into a technological maze where many times the proficiency on the technology outweighs the basic accounting/tax concepts, which many times are assumed knowledge.

Thus, based on the many comments from employers desiring higher levels of critical thinking in new hires that currently college professors and employers are in a transitory period where the teaching done at the collegiate level does not clearly align with future employer expectations of how recruits should be trained, especially in critical thinking. To try to drive home the importance of critical thinking and “soft skill” development, at Trine University, last academic year, we started a program for business and engineering majors called P2 (P-squared) which stands for Professional Paradigms, where on a weekly basis, business and engineering faculty engage students in workshops that develop dealt with “soft skills” – how to network, working as a team, telephone etiquette, managing stress, etc. However, in addition to these terrific programs (in my humble opinion), as educators we need to ask more of our students in the classroom regarding critical thinking.

Before my full-time plunge into academia almost exactly one year ago, I surveyed many different professors at different colleges/universities mostly from business, but also from a few other disciplines into teaching tips and guidance. From these different meeting, I believe the number one guidance given to me was to incorporate the “Think, Pair, Share” format where students are first given a question/problem to review, we put them into a group and have them discuss, then we can call on the different groups for their answers. I enjoy trying to teach in this style, since it normally keeps discussions lively and students are willing to offer their group answers, which avoids the Ferris Bueller “Anyone?… Anyone?…” syndrome; but it rarely offers students a chance to make a mistake on their own.

In pondering on this current perceived disconnect between collegiate teachings and employer expectation on critical thinking and my own experience, I am reminded that many of the best lessons I learned were from the many mistakes that I made (and still make) throughout my career, both technical and “soft.” So then, how can we incorporate a “safe to fail” atmosphere in the classroom that is engaging and useful? I also wonder what the 50-somethings of my youth said about our generation (tail end of baby boomers) and what areas of knowledge they earnestly wished we had when entering the workplace. Honestly I cannot remember what they said about us 20-somethings back then, but now as a 50-something, I imagine the 20-somethings of today have read/heard of their supposed lack of critical thinking.

Based on the number of Google hits pertaining to critical thinking, I believe we have a long way to go in understanding what it is and training how to do it. But I would surely welcome any insight into my quandary of how to effectively teach critical thinking to our future accountants. Anyone?… Anyone?…

What Does It Mean To Be Creative?

July 31, 2017By Corey Stark, CPAInnovation, Learning and Career Development

It’s a new year and there’s a new political and economic environment on the horizon. For much of 2016, those of us participating in the CPA Center of Excellence® Online Community talked about being innovative. My question is, do we currently have the ability to recognize when we are being creative and innovative?

My normal day is immersed working in spreadsheets, and talking about that work in spreadsheets with people who love spreadsheets. Our long-term outlook has really evolved too. We work to find ways to make these dope spreadsheets even better.

Sounds pretty creative.

Well the fact is, if some innovative thought is going into what creates new solutions for your people or your clients, then you are being creative.

The public accounting profession may be one of the least progressive out there. Personality types do not, by nature, thrive in environments of constant change. Change can bring back “first date anxiety” and uncertainty that the world no longer fits in a box that can easily be taken anywhere.

I’ve sat in too many conferences where CPAs say they need to change with the modern business environment. You know what this led to? Ten years’ worth of work to try and evolve accounting standards to have standardized financial reporting throughout the world. They’re more or less scrapping this idea now. Good job guys.

Reluctance to change has led to missed opportunities in the profession in big data, talent acquisition, and who knows what else. The point is, innovative solutions don’t need to create a new product or industry in one step, but your organization needs to move in this direction to meet your full potential. It is an essential element to creating an engaged organization.

Let’s put this into practice … hey CPAs, why has the structure of firms continued in the same manner for over 100 years? Literally. 100 years. Would you prefer a car with modern amenities or would you go with a Model T? So why have accounting firm structures not changed?

On the other end of the spectrum, let’s look at the tech sector that utilizes mobile workplaces, where flex time is required, and profit sharing is in entry level compensation packages. What if a CPA firm came along that flipped the script? Most of the innovation has been done at the Big 4 firms where they have the capital and clout to make this happen. But even they can lag behind.  They just know that they can’t do it themselves and pay people whose job title should read “Guy that thinks of stuff.”

What if we had an entrepreneurial structure? What if each client was its own business, and the partner group was really venture capitalists making investments in teams? Picture how an evaluation might go differently if it was staff defending their performance not to their boss, but their investor? What if you give a group a portfolio of clients, tell them to make the budget actually work, and part of the deal is they have to run a business. They won’t have the backstop of depending on the next team to help us out with staff. Well you can go to other teams for help, but now they are billable consultants.

This new structure provides the platform for people to really think about purpose, execution and making a business work. And, really, how different is it than the present? You can keep your safe LLC structures and staff tree. All you’re doing is adding accountability to accountants to make their own future.

Did you find it funny that I tried to sell change to CPAs when this isn’t really change? The first step is the hardest, but make it your new addiction. Be tact, think bold, and find the calculated risk.  Where can you or your organization be creative? Read, comment, share. Start the conversation.

What Are Your Unconscious Biases?

July 17, 2017By Justin Hayes, CPALearning and Career Development

We can all agree our personal background (how we were raised, our education, etc.) helps to shape our moral and ethical behavior as we get older. For example, many people pride themselves on the work ethic they were taught as a child as they grow into adulthood. Or that they were raised to value their integrity and not to compromise it. These are both great examples of how our upbringing has shaped us in positive ways to be better members of society.

Although I have reflected on this personally in the past, I was not aware that what I was reflecting on was what is more commonly known as unconscious bias. Bias, of course, is having a prejudice either in favor of or against some thing, person or group compared to another. Have you ever taken a moment to consider how your upbringing could have created bias in you? More specifically, perhaps some bias you don’t even realize you have?

I have to be honest, I have not thought about this much in the past. However, I recently was able to attend the Society’s Leadership Cabinet/Emerging Leaders Alliance session where Allison Manswell, with Cook Ross, presented on the topic of “Unconscious Bias.” I hadn’t really been exposed to this topic prior to the meeting. What I learned was that in a very brief manner of speaking, “Unconscious Bias” refers to a bias we are unaware of, which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brains making fast decisions without us consciously slowing down the decision-making process.

As I started to look into this topic, I was amazed at the amount of research that has been done. One of the most interesting things I came across was a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that hurricanes with female names have a much higher death rate than those with a male name. The research determined the reason behind this was that people unconsciously associated a female named hurricane to be gentler and less violent, so they did not take the warnings as serious as they did with a male name. I also found the following exercise in the Journal of Accountancy that is interesting and focuses more on unconscious biases in CPA firms: Take the test: What are your unconscious biases?

What potential unconscious biases might you have, and how are they impacting the decisions you are making? Is this a concept you’d like to explore further in order to get a better understanding of your thought process for making decisions, or the thought processes of coworkers, clients or employers?

Learning With Style: Custom-Fit Education That Suits You

June 5, 2017By Jenny Norris, CPA, CGMABlog, Learning and Career Development

So, I was given an article from Harvard Business Review and asked to blog about it. When I normally write a blog post, it’s usually related to something I’m working on or a topic I pick that I have an interest in. I wasn’t sure how to write about a topic just given to me and make it feel like it was something I had a real feeling about. Of course, the Society and the CPA Center of Excellence® have been focused on new learning methods and approaches, so I was intrigued when I saw the subject.

I figured it made sense to start by actually reading the article. It is titled How Learning and Development are Becoming More Agile. So at first I started thinking great, a buzz word article about a buzz word topic. Well, I started reading, and found some interesting points in the article.

The first good take away for me was the comment that “the future of learning is three ‘justs’:  just enough, just-in-time and just-for-me.” That rang true to me. I don’t know about other CPAs, but I find it so tough to sit in a classroom for eight hours to listen to an instructor talk one topic. Most classes like that are not interactive, and are more for general knowledge and not always the specific knowledge that I am looking for. We all have specialized roles in our organizations, whether in industry or public accounting … wouldn’t it be great if we had the ability to get more specialized knowledge that is suited to our individual roles?

Another interesting point from the article was that “team-based learning is providing more benefits.” That makes sense. Why not put a diverse group of people together to work on a case study or assignment? Every person in the group brings a different skill or perspective to the group. The group can learn from each other and learn to work together at the same time.  It’s a subtle way to provide more meaningful learning through interactions with others. We just had an assignment here at INCPAS to work together on a project with a group of members of staff from all different departments. It was a great experience because we all brought different knowledge and viewpoints to the table and everyone hopefully gained additional knowledge from hearing the different perspectives of our fellow staff members.

A final good point from the article was that “life-long learning is a critical element of the workplace” and that young workers seem to get that point better than the rest of us. Part of that is probably due to how they are being taught compared to how those of us who aren’t considered young workers were taught.  There are so many more options available for learning now; we didn’t have MOOCs or other online courses available when I went to school.

Technology has facilitated so many more options in the delivery of learning and development that it makes it easier to get learning when it’s convenient to you on topics you want to learn about. Now if only we could do the same with our professional development and create more of a three ‘justs’ model for CPAs so we could learn just enough, just-in-time and just for me. Fortunately we are headed in that direction with the movement toward competency-based education for CPAs in Indiana and other professionals.

We are confronting the future of learning at the CPA Center of Excellence, and I see the benefits. What are your thoughts?

Learn. Engage. Advance. INCPAS Members Share How the CPA Center of Excellence® Is Making Them Better CPAS.

May 30, 2017By Elise MayLearning and Career Development

The CPA Center of Excellence® is a suite of programs, services and resources designed to enable CPAs to respond to complexity in providing professional services to clients or employers. With a foundation built on strengthening the CPA profession’s vital skills and encouraging intelligent collaboration, the CPA Center of Excellence® is an easy way to be a better CPA.

 

 

 

 

“As a CPA who is relatively young in the profession, I love that I can watch a clip and immediately read what other CPAs thought about the subject matter. It helps me see things through a different lens. The collaboration of the course is unlike any CPE course I’ve ever been a part of. The format makes it fun, easy, and frankly, provides a wider variety of information and different perspectives than a typical CPE course. I was able to do CPE at my own pace, at my own time, and on multiple devices.”
— Caleb Bullock, CPA
Somerset CPAs, PC, Indianapolis

 

“With the competency-based courses you have to
actively be involved in the course. That’s why it will
truly enhance your competency and professional
development. It forced me to identify my blind spots, my
weaknesses and knowledge gaps. At each turn I wanted
to keep working on the course. What can I learn next? To
me it was one of the most enjoyable experiences
that I’ve had in an online type environment.”
— Kent Williams, CPA, CGMA
Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion

 

 

 

 

“The first thing I thought when the Society talked about
the online community was ‘what’s the point and value for
me?’ Personally, it’s been a case of connecting with other
professionals. People you know, people you want to get to
know. I think as things go on this is going to be the new
foundation for how things are done.”
— Philip Jackson, CPA, CGMA
VonLehman CPA & Advisory Firm, Indianapolis

 

“There’s been some great postings on the open forum
… on Indiana Department of Revenue notices and
questions on sales and use tax. It’s a great avenue to
share ideas and pass on experiences to other members.
Give it a chance. Take a look. Go for it.”
— Jake Dunton, CPA, CFE, CGMA
Dunton & Co., Indianapolis

 

 

“My expectations before taking this course were that it’d be very similar to other courses I’ve taken. You’d walk in, there’d be an instructor, with PowerPoint, you sit… Turns out it’s very different. It’s a very hands-on, interactive course. I’m taking much more away from it in terms of strategic decision making and the ability to act much faster than I normally would in business.”
— Mya Wienbrenner, CPA
Jarden Home Brands, Daleville

 

The book identifies the CPA core competencies and gives you a
step-by-step plan to apply them to yourself and your staff. It’s a quick read and a great reference guide.”
— Lorita Bill, CPA, CGMA
Girardot, Strauch & Co, Lafayette

 

 

 

“We wanted to measure each of our staff, team members and partners on their strengths and weaknesses. We took the assessment and uncovered a number of flaws and strengths. We’ve used the assessment to work toward bettering ourselves, working better as a team and as a result we have seen wonderful progress in our firm as a whole. We are growing clients, client satisfaction and increasing the touches to those clients.”
— Ben Smith, CPA, CGMA, CITP
Estep, Doctor & Co, PC, Muncie

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding and Valuing Experience

May 29, 2017By Gary Bolinger, CAEBlog, Learning and Career Development

If I knew then …

Well. Have you ever said that? If I knew then … what I know now. Or even if you didn’t say it, maybe you thought it. Of course you have! We all do!

That’s life. We all learn from experience. Once you learn to ride a bike, you never seem to forget. You may get a bit rusty, but you really never forget. It’s like playing a musical instrument, you don’t forget. You lose your “chops” but you still know “how.” But actually doing the how part is what’s difficult. I speak from experience on that one. As a long time drummer who still understands the rudiments, but with execution that is now iffy at best.

Experience is a great thing. As we go through our day, we should keep in mind a very important aspect of “experience” — that is, it isn’t just reserved for “old people.” Age is not the determining factor. I am surrounded by younger people who have all kinds of experience that I don’t have. Maybe they have traveled somewhere that I am planning to visit and they can give me some tips. Those tips are valuable because I don’t have that experience. I don’t know which sights to see or restaurants that are the best.

Or they may have some technology skill that I need to be more aware of. Young people today become proficient using technology at very early ages. By the time they hit college or the workforce, they are ready for anything. And they also seem better at adapting as technology changes because they have grown up with it and have that familiarity where updates and changes don’t phase them.

On the other hand, more “mature” people simply have more experiences. Now that is a factor of age.  Some experiences I have had, I didn’t learn from. Why? I just didn’t understand the potential value of that experience. I do think that as you mature you do understand the value of experience more and more. With a toddler, new experiences are just part of growing. They learn to walk, to talk and to communicate — slowly at first and then more effectively. But they aren’t thinking about the value of the experiences as they acquire those skills.

No matter how you look at it, experience is valuable. Incredibly valuable. What experience is most valuable to you? Have you had some experiences that you didn’t learn from? If so, are you now able to understand what you might have failed to learn and how to take advantage of those opportunities?

The problem is, we don’t understand the value of experience until we have it. So, I encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity you have to gain experience. Especially the new ones.

The Future of Learning and Why You Should Care

May 2, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEArticle, Learning and Career Development

Here at the CPA Center of Excellence and Indiana CPA Society, the driver behind our organization, we have been talking a lot about a competency-based approach to professional development, advocating for change to the CPE regulations and effective learning for CPAs, and the future of learning in a larger sense. Below is our quick guide to the future of professional development and learning.

SOME BACKGROUND:
In 2012 an Indiana CPA Society Board-level task force produced a white paper on the Future of Competency. In this paper we sought to look at the very broad world of education (K-12, higher education and continuing professional education) and consider trends and changes. As an association we need to ensure we’re meeting our members’ needs, and since CPE is such a big part of CPAs professional commitment, we wanted to know more about how education is evolving. After the work we did, we concluded that, well, there’s a lot more work to do.

Education is changing everywhere you go. In just a few minutes of conversation with any K-12 grade student you learn that online learning is so prevalent that some schools don’t even have snow days anymore — if it’s snowing, they just learn from home online. First-graders are being issued iPads. Hard copies of text books are a bit outdated. Smart boards are prevalent and flipped classrooms are the norm at one Indianapolis school. In the area of professional education, simulation and scenario-based learning is becoming more valuable. Some firms like Deloitte have gone to extensive measures creating entire campuses, like Deloitte University, with its enhanced learning and simulations that provide immediate feedback.

I had the privilege to be a member of the AICPA Future of Learning Task Force in 2013-14. I visited Harvard University and heard from their education experts, some from MIT and other nationally-recognized education innovators. I grew to understand our road to change was going to be hard, but that if we don’t start experimenting now, it will be even harder to catch up later. Even at these elite institutions, changing behaviors about learning wasn’t necessarily simple, but an ongoing process of trial and error. Despite that, it was evident the world isn’t going to become less complex anytime soon. With the chance to hear Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, speak about his mission to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere,” I better understood how technology is changing how we learn. It’s not about webinars. It’s about the accessibility of education — to anyone, anywhere. What does this mean for how we value and measure education as an organization at large, and for the CPA profession?

WHY CPAS SHOULD CARE:

1. THE YOUNG PEOPLE YOU HIRE WILL BE INCREASINGLY DISINTERESTED IN SITTING in a classroom for eight hours at a time to earn CPE. And it’s not about moving it online. Sitting at a computer and staring at a screen with little interaction might be even less tolerable. The type of education you offer may be a differentiator for young people when choosing an employer. They are going to look for hands-on learning and real life scenarios in a way we haven’t seen before.

2. THE WAY YOU UNDERSTAND SOMEONE’S EDUCATION IS GOING TO CHANGE. Learning is accessible in so many ways, and with the complexity of our day-to-day workloads, we’ll be looking for people who can get the job done — not necessarily people with a specific GPA or a degree that took X number of years to attain. What do they know and how will you know they know it? We will begin to look to things like digital badges to tell us where someone has an expertise. Or, which MOOC’s did someone participate in and finish?

3. YOU, OR YOUR ORGANIZATION, SPEND A LOT OF TIME AND MONEY ON CONTINUING EDUCATION per regulatory requirements to meet an arbitrary number of hours to say you’ve maintained your competency as a CPA. Are you always getting bang for your buck in the current hours-based system? Does learning really only happen if it’s done in 50-minute increments? Or, is learning continuous and can it be earned and documented in different ways? Education is a critical area for the CPA profession. For the reasons stated, and many others, the CPA Center of Excellence and the Indiana CPA Society continue to ask questions and study the future of learning and competency.

SOME DEFINITIONS:

MOOC
Massive Open Online Courses are generally free and provide online, interactive learning. Courses typically have unlimited participation. EdX is one of the more prominent providers with universities like UC Berkeley, Harvard and MIT offering courses this way. Generally no official credit is offered; the learner is recognized for completing the course and learning the content.

Flipped Classroom
A form of learning where the “lecture” part is typically viewed online before a class and class time is used for collaboration, in-depth discussion or working on actual problems. It’s basically flipping the lecture and homework. The homework is done with the instructor so the student can ask specific questions or talk with others as needed to gain better insight and a better understanding of the content.

Digital Badges
Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to validate learning, and hold the potential to transform where and how learning is valued. They help demonstrate skills learned either online or in person. They are characterized by a symbol of some kind (a badge) that is digital and is coded to show whomever clicks on it, the skills, experiences, etc., achieved by the learner.

Mozilla
Launched in 1998, Mozilla is a community of technologists working to make the Internet accessible to all and to promote innovation. One of the group’s project is Mozilla Backpack. Available at backpack.openbadges.org, the backpack is like a locker you had in school or a network drive on your computer. It’s simply a place you can store your digital badges, making it easier to share them online via social media or your LinkedIn profile. Read the last page in our online courses guide for a brief tutorial on uploading your digital badges to Mozilla Backpack.

Sal Khan/Khan Academy
Through Khan Academy, students can make use of a library of content, including interactive challenges, assessments, and videos from any computer with access to the web. Sal Khan’s speech about his mission received a standing ovation at the October 2013 AICPA Council meeting in Los Angeles.

Future of Competency
A 2012-13 INCPAS task force that focused on the identification (plan), acquisition (education), and demonstration (experience) of behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for successful performance as a professional. Learning is one part of the future of competency. Read their report.

Future of Learning Task Force
A 2013-14 AICPA task force explored a new vision, developed by the task force, to reinvent lifelong learning and competency in the CPA profession. The task force research resulted in an extensive report.

Smart Board
The Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard that uses touch detection for user input (for example, scrolling and right mouse-click) in the same way as normal PC input devices.

Competency-based Learning
Learning formats that allow students flexibility to learn where and when they want to and to demonstrate mastery of content vs. completing a specific semester, or hours-based system. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education had several experimental sites allowing universities to try this approach without losing federal-aid eligibility. This is the type of education we advocate at the CPA Center of Excellence.

 

 

 

 

 

Burnout is Real, But it’s Avoidable

April 24, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEArticle, Blog, Learning and Career Development

I know I’ve talked incessantly about going back to school for my MBA at the ripe old age of 42 (see blog 1 and blog 2), but I’m bringing it up again because post-graduation I have some thoughts on burnout. That’s right. Instead of basking in the glow of my advanced education, when all was done I felt lost, a little numb, and frankly, bored. Thankfully, it was a temporary feeling and I’m recovering. I thought about writing on burnout this week because right after busy season, I’m guessing my friends in public accounting can relate.

During two full years of classes two nights a week, plus my job and family, I thought I was handling it like a champ. And mostly I was. But when it was all over I crashed hard. I couldn’t settle down. I couldn’t read a book without feeling the need to highlight something. I had what felt like endless migraines. I found my family to be sort of irritating. I’d think things like “I’m STILL here hanging out with you? Don’t I have to be somewhere else?” I realize that’s terrible (sorry family). I’d wrapped myself up so tightly in being efficient and effective and scheduled that I had no idea how to just BE anymore.

I keep reading about burnout and now I know it’s real. I think it’s why many companies and firms are adding sabbaticals to their benefits; many times these are mandatory. People just need a break sometimes — and they might not even know it. It’s important to be vigilant and take care of yourself even during your busiest times. Don’t do what I did. Examples of my bad behavior: No time for the gym — just give it up. Friends — I’ll probably have to see you in about two years. Family — I’ll show up, but I’ll often be preoccupied. I think I was trying to break a record for coffee consumption. And, I did it all to myself as I couldn’t possibly have a family, boss or colleagues who were more supportive. I just didn’t really notice what was happening.

There are articles everywhere that help us deal with burnout. Here are just a few:

I’ll boil it down to just four of my favorite tips:

  1. Take deep breaths. Often. Many times a day in fact. You’d be shocked how helpful this can be and how it clears your head if even only for a little while.
  2. Take days off with no designated purpose. Not to chaperone a field trip or work on your house. Just take a selfish day for yourself even if you feel selfish every day for being so busy – you still deserve ‘you time’.
  3. Take time to exercise. I’m sorry. I hate it, but it actually works. Do whatever makes you feel good and do it even when you don’t want to. I credit Stephanie Parton on our staff for inspiring me on this one.
  4. Take a few minutes each day to write a manifesto. Not a creepy one like the Unabomber, but one about what you want and need out of life. Just start writing and you’ll be surprised what comes out.

In an article I read recently in Inc. magazine (10 Mistakes Smart People Never Make Twice) Travis Bradberry says, “Emotionally intelligent people are successful because they never stop learning. They learn from their mistakes, they learn from their successes, and they’re always changing themselves for the better.”

I talked in my last blog about being proud of my accomplishment in going back to school and trying to better myself through continuous learning, so I felt I should also share some mistakes I made along the way that led to a feeling of burnout. I hope that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to not make those same mistakes again. And maybe, just maybe, someone who reads this will not make the mistakes in the first place. Deep breath.

#10: Never Stop Learning

January 17, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Learning and Career Development

Resolve to be a lifelong learner

Books are my great love, and my great compulsion. I browse bookstores and libraries to relax, clinging to the little shots of adrenaline I get discovering new stories and new ideas from the thoughtfully crafted end caps and table displays. Each new volume represents hope – optimism – unlimited possibility – delivered by new ideas from the words on the page.

Discovering new ideas brings depth and meaning to my life. This passion for learning has also been a great benefit to me professionally – and this is what we hope you get from our resolution blog series: 10 ideas or goals for the new year to bolster your career.

Luckily, I win. Everything we’ve written about this week can be tied to the resolution I chose to write about: Never Stop Learning.

No matter what you choose to focus on this year, the act of career improvement is lifelong learning. Changing your organization’s annual performance review policy requires you to learn. Improving your leadership, decision-making, communication and other non-technical skills is a form of learning that also requires you to think differently and be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. To make this type of learning happen, you must plan for it. To improve your interactions with other generations you must learn about them. Being open to a new method of working, like collaboration, allows you to learn from others. Lastly, innovation takes everything you’ve learned and feeds it into the basis of new ideas.

If you sincerely commit (or recommit) yourself to lifelong learning, there are no losses. No matter what you do, from first year public accounting to acting CFO of an international company, learning goes with you, it grows with you, and it will always give you an advantage — especially in today’s increasingly complex and global environment.

In a knowledge economy, your competitive edge comes from what you know or your ability and willingness to learn.

Now, I realize that some of you may be thinking, yea no kidding. It’s not a revelation that you must learn and adapt to be successful. Yet, this doesn’t mean we do our best — willingly or less so — to make time for deep learning. Day-to-day tasks, urgencies, emails, meetings and everything else involved with actually doing the work required for your career often pushes active learning aside. Truly becoming a lifelong learner requires incorporating the act of learning into your routines, your daily schedule, your calendar and your priorities. But often we don’t take the action to plan learning, as most of us operate under some modicum of curiosity and assume absorbing the knowledge we need is something that will just happen.

To truly be competitive in this knowledge economy, we must take an active, not passive, role in our own learning and develop a practice of learning.

That is my challenge to you this year – if you do nothing else, take an active role in your own learning, no matter what it is you need to know. And please forgive me for ending on an overused quote, because there is no better way to say it: knowledge is power.

If you need me, I’ll be over here, with the pile of books made from real paper.

Jess Halverson Bowyer is the strategist at the CPA Center of Excellence® and has worked for the Indiana CPA Society for six years. With a background in communications, design and visual thinking as well as a passion for learning, she has a hand in all things CPA Center of Excellence®, from strategic planning to learning design to hosting presentations and webinars.

#6 Stop Procrastinating

January 11, 2017By Jennifer Briggs, CAEBlog, Learning and Career Development

Start prioritizing your learning

If you are a CPA, there is a high likelihood that you are a procrastinator. That’s right. I said it.

From Psychology Today –

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions — which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

Working with CPAs for almost 15 years now, boy do I appreciate the value of a deadline. As an example, in December each year people on our staff talk about closing the office between Christmas and New Year’s, and I always have to be the one to say “not gonna happen.” Because CPAs have the whole calendar year to get in their required minimum number of continuing education hours, they will definitely take the whole calendar year to fulfill that requirement. That means the last few days of the year we are offering continuing education seminars. Sometimes people show up and are ready to learn whatever we’re teaching because they have that deadline.

Is that the proper way to plan your learning? Just take what’s being offered? I don’t think so. But, I get it. I empathize. I’m maybe even one of you — a procrastinator. I ascribe to the whole “I work better under pressure” philosophy. Procrastination is the mother of creativity. I think I just made up that saying, but I also think sometimes it might be true. I often consider big tasks or projects something like this — inspiration could strike when I least expect it and an official plan would just hold me back from fulfilling my creative promise! And to tell the truth, it works. At least much of the time, because I have adapted to my deadline mentality.

But, when it comes to education, there should be a better way — and I know there’s a better way for CPAs. As the role of the CPA expands and changes year after year, it’s more important than ever to be deliberate in building and maintaining competencies in areas that, frankly, don’t always get enough attention. In a recent Fast Company article, economist Andrew Chamberlain talks about the “Top 5 Workplace Trends for 2017.” He discusses the rise of automation but says “Many things get automated but we don’t lose our jobs.” He’s not talking specifically about CPAs, but he makes the point that the routine work we’re used to doing will continue to get more and more automated, so we must all build on the skills the computers can’t do; that’s what will keep a career thriving. Simple, right?

The way Chamberlain puts it is that we need to “learn how to run a machine, not do the same work the machine does.” This kind of learning requires deliberate attention and planning. It’s not about memorization or checklists — those things are important — but how are you communicating what you’ve memorized or checked off, how are you using it to strategize and how are you adding value? If honing those skills isn’t a part of your approach to planning your learning, then they should be.

As we delve into a new year and think about our personal top five goals at work, what are you putting on your to do list? Are you seeking out opportunities to build your competencies beyond technical skills? Are you looking for unique ways to be better at what you do? Are you trying to find experiences outside of a classroom like volunteering on a task force or committee or taking on a new project outside of your comfort zone? Are you trying out online, on-demand classes that directly speak to your ability to meet the needs of your employer or your clients or your staff?

Even if you can’t predict how you’ll feel tomorrow or the next day, you can make a plan that addresses the skills you will rely upon in the future. Don’t do what I did (write this blog on the day it was due); look at your calendar! Think about what you need to know to be your best in 2017 and plan to seek out opportunities and education that will help you the most.

Jennifer Briggs, CAE, is senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Indiana CPA Society. She has been with INCPAS for nearly 15 years and has served in various prior roles including VP – member services and marketing director. Briggs has spent her entire career in association management working for two other associations and an association management group before joining INCPAS. She is a regular blogger for the Society.