How did you begin your career in learning?
I studied artificial intelligence in college. After graduating, I found a graduate program that focused on taking AI research and what we know about how the mind works and how we process information and applying it to create innovative and engaging learning experiences. It was sponsored by then Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and my career in learning was born there as a consultant.
What attracted you to learning and development?
Recently, I read a Forbes article by computer scientist Jim Spohrer, in which he recounted a conversation he had with Elliot Soloway, a professor at University of Michigan. Professor Soloway asked Jim why he was studying AI, and Jim replied he wanted to make machines smarter. To which Soloway replied, “Seems like it might be a better goal to make people smarter with the help of AI.” This changed Jim’s focus going forward.
Like Jim, my initial interest was in AI — I wanted to be part of an effort to create intelligent computers. I was attracted to the application of AI in the field of learning — to make people smarter with the help of AI — by my professors and peers at the Institute for Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. Being able to be part of the process of providing information and experiences to people to allow them to learn and grow is my professional passion.
As a trained comedian, how do you incorporate comedy into your role as CLO and in your other writing and speaking efforts?
Laughter is an amazing tool. No matter what you are learning or doing, laughter makes it better. To me, incorporating comedy into everything I do is just me sharing my authentic self with those around me. Have you ever watched an audience enjoying comedy? They are nodding and laughing at the same time, because they are thinking, “How does that comedian know about the crazy things that happen in my life? And how are they courageous enough to just say that in front of so many people?”
What lessons helped you along the way?
The most important lesson is that change can be challenging, but discomfort can be the catalyst for future success. I learned that lesson during some of the most transformational times in my life. Those times required me to boldly charge into and actively learn from challenging situations and difficult life chapters. After my position was eliminated at the startup where I worked, I decided to study acting and improv at Second City and start my own business. When I had a personally challenging year, I wrote a book and launched my passion project, which focuses on cultural and interfaith diversity, communication and understanding. When I wanted to shake things up, I moved from life as an entrepreneur to a life back in corporate, first moving from Chicago to New York and then back to Chicago. I certainly would not be in the position that I am in today if I had not learned the importance of walking through fear and saying yes in the midst of uncertainty.
What’s your biggest piece of career advice?
When I talk to people who are hesitant about making career choices that don’t seem to contribute to a linear career progression, I ask them — what is your why? Why are you considering this choice? How will this career choice help you to write the next chapter of your professional story? If you know that — and you execute with excellence in whatever you are doing — you are on the right path for having a successful career, however you define success. And most important, you should be defining success for yourself, not letting others define it for you.