Boosting Your Career and Getting a Raise in 2020 and Beyond

AJ&Smart’s Answer To Designing, Leading And Executing Your Most Profitable Projects

arlie PEYTON
Jan 13 · 14 min read

Four years ago, I took a self-paced online writing course. It was by Jon Morrow, and I have to say it was one of the best courses I’ve ever taken in my life. It changed the trajectory of my career and it has helped me earn a monthly income I only dreamed about.

Prior to that, I had bought and taken several other courses that were pretty much worthless. I acquired a graveyard of these things and now they’re just laying around on my hard drive.

These initial courses were on everything from blogging to programming. In all, I must have spent over $7,000 over the years. Sadly, I only completed maybe half of them. Of the ones I took and applied to my business or career, I don’t think I got a good return on my investment.

Like many people, I have always tried to find the perfect course to boost my career and income. And also like many, I fell for the promise and the dream countless courses sell. I fell for the strategic marketing messages and the freedom the course would bring me. I felt ashamed that I was suckered into these tactics, but I think we all have high hopes for a potential solution even if it does sound too good to be true.

Unsplash

So when I took Jon’s course, I was grateful. It became the gold standard I’d judge all online courses by. There was a lot of content, but it all came together nicely. After the last module, there was a final examination. If you passed, you earned a certificate and stamp of approval. In fact, back then it was so well-known among high-traffic publications that if you said you were a graduate of this course, editors were more likely to publish your work.

That little accomplishment said, “I understand what readers want and I know how to write viral content.”

Getting Ahead With Courses

Today, writing is my career. I’ve moved past the basic stuff Jon taught me, but whenever I go to his course first. In the past few years, I’ve collected a few more so-so courses that showed promise but didn’t deliver.

It wasn’t until I came across AJ&Smart’s course that I really got excited about taking another course. We’ll get into that later, but first, you have to ask:

Why would an experienced manager and/or college graduate even need to take another course or program to get ahead?

Before you enroll in an MBA program (all of which are in a sharp decline), consider the reality of degree-bearing workers. The job market is full of college-educated people who have broad skill sets. When we have a surplus of grads like this it’s referred to as “credential inflation” by some economists. There’s just too many of them and employers can pick the best of the best — or a non-grad with massive experience.

As anyone who has ever hired someone knows, employers can appreciate an advanced degree. However, it’s really the experience that counts. Therefore, it’s no longer safe to assume that getting a specialized college degree or MBA is the magic ticket to boost your career. Certain in-field skills are still needed.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers value skills far more than they do any particular degree.

  • Nearly all employers surveyed (95 percent) say they give hiring preference to college graduates with skills that will enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace.
  • 92 percent agree that “innovation is essential” to their organization’s continued success.
  • Nearly all those surveyed (93 percent) say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
  • More than 75% of employers say they want more emphasis on 5 key areas including critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.

The story is the same for established employees holding manager, supervisor, and director roles. In one World Economic Forum report that surveyed executives from 371 leading global employers, it revealed that the top 3 most important work skills are:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity

In a nutshell, businesses are looking for the same things from employees at any level. They look for skills that are essential for two key aspects: leadership and innovation. These are core skills for core roles. I’m assuming to have this skill, you need experience.

Image by AJ&Smart.

It’s no surprise that if the above skills are lacking within the company, they turn to expensive management consulting firms. This partially explains the trend today for companies to hire ex-consulting firm advisors. All these skills are part of any good management consulting training. Therefore, employees who want the fast-track to leadership roles and greater compensation should learn these skills and get experience using them.


Three Universal In-Demand Career Skills

Let’s agree that one way to get ahead is to get the right skills and enough experience to show initial mastery. Is there a course that can do that? As mentioned, traditional education won’t get you there because of the lack of in-field experience and specialized skills. But in-field experience requires some kind of training first.

Surely if a course like this existed, it would be the perfect career-boosting course. But it doesn’t seem likely. Now we’re back at square one with a generalist’s degree. However, all businesses do have a few main things in common and that can be taught in a short course. These are universal in-demand skills that you’ll use in any business, any industry, and any role. This made me think of the best career advice I ever got.

My first mentor always said that people try to complicate their jobs. In the end, he said that “business comes down to just three actionable things: make money, save money, or save time. The last two serve the first one. Nail one of these and you’re set.”

It doesn’t really matter what your role is within the company, anyone that can excel in at least one of these three things is unstoppable. They’ll get promoted faster, make more money, and get a chance at becoming industry leaders.

After taking the entire course, I believe that the most in-demand skills and exercises to begin getting more experience are combined in the AJ&Smart Design Sprint Masterclass. It’s a class on how to do a Design Sprint, but it has universal application. (By the way, I’m not associated with AJ&Smart nor do I work there. They did kindly give me free access to their course when I told them I was writing this article. No links in this article are affiliate links.)

So what is a Design Sprint? As the creator, Jake Knapp put it: “The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers.”

It’s so effective that the CEO of AJ&Smart, Jonathan Courtney, overhauled his former design company to focus solely on sprints. Today, Jonathan’s team helps global brands use the Design Sprint to solve some of the biggest problems in business — including what product to build next. They come on as workshop-leading consultants, but they also teach and certify individuals in their famous Design Sprint Masterclass.

The following is how I see how this unique masterclass boosts your career while helping your company make money, save money, or save time.

1. Make More Money And Accelerate Your Career

Getting certified with the AJ&Smart Design Sprint Masterclass feels like finishing school for careerists. You may currently possess specific skills and experience. But how do you harness what you know, work well with other people, and generate more revenue with your projects?

The Masterclass dovetails what must happen within a successful organization. As Julie Zhuo, author of The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You, says “A manager’s job is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together through influencing purpose, people, and process.” The Design Sprint Masterclass is that framework and process. The rest is up to you. This creates a tremendous amount of opportunities.

Image by AJ&Smart. (Jake Knapp, upper left.)

Furthermore, leaders grow the company, improve the culture, and sustain greater profits. All of these things fortify the bottom line: revenue. As Sam Altman of Y-Combinator said, “money solves everything in business”. With it, you can invest in the best people, products, technology, and services.

Is the masterclass effective though? Here are a few significant statistics from people who have finished the Design Sprint Master class by AJ&Smart:

  • 94% are confident that knowing the Design Sprint will further their career
  • 47% have earned an additional $10,000 and $50,000 after learning the Design Sprint
  • 13% have earned an additional $50,000 and $100,000

It’s clear that this masterclass teaches the right skills. People are getting promoted, and even HR directors are taking notice. In the past two years, I’ve seen “Design Sprint” as a skill asked for by name in countess job descriptions for a variety of leadership roles. To stay competitive, you can get ahead of the curve and get certified in less than a week.

Angel List — https://angel.co

2. Save Money For Your Company

People often ask how Jake Knapp created the Design Sprint. It truly was built out of necessity. For decades teams were building products that looked great on paper but failed to have successful launches. Jake realized this when he was working on the Microsoft Encarta project. Encarta was a high-quality CD-ROM encyclopedia. It would go on to be a huge and expensive failure for the software giant. Millions of dollars and several years of work were wasted. From this failure, Jake knew he had to use a different process.

Not only did Jake set out to create a better way to launch products, but he also wanted a higher degree of certainty for what products to actually make. Microsoft is like a lot of companies. They build a lot of stuff. Some products are winners and some are complete duds.

With the Design Sprint, Jake showed how he could solve a company’s biggest problems very quickly and with predictable success. Had he conducted a Design Sprint with his Encarta team, who knows if it would have even been created at all? The insights from day one in a Design Sprint reveal if an idea should even be considered over the others. This would have saved the company millions and possibly made the company millions from doing something else.

In terms of how this would affect you as a Design Sprint workshop leader, you can help some of the brightest minds in your company choose which products to make or which problems to solve first. It’s like the old proverb, “The man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Companies are inclined to seek out every big opportunity, but it’s more practical to stick with the idea or product that can nearly guarantee success.

This will not only make you more money, but it will also save you from spending money, time, and energy pursuing the wrong thing. Just think how many billions of dollars are wasted every year from companies executing on the wrong opportunity? You could be the one to prevent this tragedy in your company and that’s incredibly valuable.

3. Save Time And Avoid Endless Meetings

An interesting thing about the Design Sprint is that Jake questioned the very notion of how we look at time. Do we always need to follow long project timelines? Do we always have to wait until the end to see if the product is a success or failure? What can we actually get done in a workweek?

Answering these questions would save time and money. Months wasted on making the wrong thing would be avoided. Teams intermittently huddling around an idea that may or may not work would cease to exist.

Jake figured out how teams could cycle through the idea and feedback loop faster. The result was the perfect week. He would take only five days to learn what normally took several months to know. Each day a very specific group task would be performed that would bring you closer to discovering the right thing to make or do.

Why not get a glimpse of the ending from the very outstart, like a Tarantino movie? Jake found a way to test the problem-solution fit and product-market fit in record time: five days. And when done the AJ&Smart way, it’s only four days total.

Most companies have big projects they need to consider. When you run Design Sprints for your company, you’ll shave months off this process. That’s incredibly useful and valuable. And since saving time is saving money, you’ve benefited the company two-fold. (Not to mention, you’re saving the company from the negative press and a bad reputation from making a failed product.)

This brings me to the daily structure of these Design Sprints. Each day has a very specific agenda and everyone’s role is clear. These sessions require focus, sometimes alone and sometimes together, so your best ideas will flourish. It’s a proven methodology, and it’s one that is quite fulfilling. Information is not lost in silos like typical corporate communications. When people get together, there is a finite result which is unlike most meetings that go on forever.

Moreover, as a Design Sprint Workshop Facilitator, you will be bringing the most important people to the table and creating something great. Founders, VPs, directors, and technicians may be a part of this group. You’ll get more face time with the top brass on a project that is built for growth. That kind of visibility is always good when you’re trying to boost your career.

Having all these key players at the table saves everyone a lot of time because they’ll all be on the same page. The best minds come together to create the best products or make the best decision.

Image by AJ&Smart

After the sprint, department meetings will be centered on delegating tasks and not a series of conversations on what to actually do next. You can use methods like scrum, lean, or agile to carry out the final project phases.


Inside The Design Sprint Masterclass

AJ&Smart started out as a UI and UX agency — and it shows. The functional and aesthetic components of the course are probably the best you’ll ever experience. The first thing I noticed is how organized and concise it was. You have sprint prep modules, weekday modules, and a section on advanced strategies.

There are a variety of instructors, but for the most part, it is taught by an experienced UX designer at AJ&Smart, Dee Scarano. Dee’s explanation of the How and the Why of the Design Sprint is illuminating. Since AJ&Smart has hundreds of case studies to refer to, Dee makes sure to periodically add these in to give certain concepts greater clarity and validity.

AJ&Smart Masterclass video with Dee Scarano

The course has a lot of information, but I can appreciate how the instructors take you by the hand and break down each piece. This serves as both a way to teach you and how you should teach others in your sprints. They perfectly model the behavior and instruction for the workshop you’ll be running soon.

A mock workshop, Jake’s Laundry Service, with real participants is used as a single narrative to explain how the Design Sprint would look like in real life. Tips on how to help your workshops go smoother are also included. Overall, the course gives you the skills and the confidence to hit the ground running with your workshop.

The learning doesn’t stop with the masterclass. Along with your purchase, you get invited to the private Facebook Group. There you’ll find an intelligent community with great discussions and tremendous support. AJ&Smart is a quirky yet likable company that attracts business processes and design zealots.

I get the feeling that the people in this group want to create something truly remarkable in business. Hints of peoples’ projects sound game-changing and ambitious. Community members are optimistic, funny, creative, but most importantly, they lead by example. It’s a den of innovative doers hell-bent on making the biggest difference they can. If this is you, you’d be in good company with this group.

Jonathan Courtney (CEO of AJ&Smart) and Jake Knapp (author)

Lessons Beyond The Book

The Design Masterclass is the perfect companion to the book — and I have high praise for the book. I read it over two years ago, and I was pleased to see that for the most part, I was doing things right. But the book is incomplete.

A book can only do so much. The Design Sprint Masterclass is needed to truly understand what’s going on and how to do it. In the course, you learn real-life advice for sprints, hacks on setting up your workshop space, how to deal with trouble-makers in the room, details on recruiting testers, conducting flawless lightning demos, and even how to sell the sprint.

One thing I loved about the course the most was that it always concluded each module with a “Common Questions and Pitfalls” section. AJ&Smart has seen practically everything in these workshops so they can really set you up for success.

Conclusion

Truthfully, building something great is not a one-person ordeal. It takes the right resources, the right team, and a solid framework to do this kind of work. It takes more than what the Design Sprint Masterclass teaches. However, the course does fill a huge gap missing in the skill set managers and leaders should possess to get ahead in their careers.

Design Sprint workshops have been utilized all over the world, with tiny startups and billion-dollar corporations. And every project started with someone just like you who had these skills.

So as you might guess, I highly recommend the course. (And I wish they had an affiliate program for me saying all of this too!). As a former management consultant and state representative for vocational education in Oregon, I have advised hundreds of companies and thousands of managers. This is the course I tell others about because it provides valuable skills and a great start in design sprint experience.

So let me say it again so your career in 2020 and beyond will be brighter:

If you want to accelerate your career and improve your salary, take the AJ&Smart Masterclass ASAP.

It’s the new gold standard for career-boosting courses. If you take the AJ&Smart Design Sprint Masterclass, it’s going to indicate something about you to your boss or prospective clients. That little accomplishment will say, “I understand what the market wants, and I know how to lead a team to quickly create lucrative products.”

Who wouldn’t want to work with that person and pay them more for getting results?


Boost Your Career

For a Limited Time, AJ&Smart is offering a Design Sprint training video — at no cost to you. Click Here.

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arlie PEYTON

Written by

I’m PEYTON, a writer & brand advisor on a quest to help serious writers & remarkable clients boost profits. Affiliate Disclosure & Stuff: linktr.ee/arliepeyton

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +581K people. Follow to join our community.

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