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Turn Yourself Inside Out

Changing your daily routine and learning something new can offer fresh perspectives on how the world works.

Learn something every week. It would be best to learn something every day, but some days are too cluttered — and it’s discouraging to resolve to do something that can’t happen. At the very least, learn a new shortcut on whatever operating system you’re using or a new tool-bar button in Microsoft Word or Excel.

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Make difficult friends. This idea is not original: It comes from former IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. It’s easier to be friendly with people who have your tastes and interests, but you learn more from people who are different from you. Watson was noted for managing by walking around IBM. I presume he made friends at the same time.

Learn how some important but complicated technology works. GPS is my first candidate, and DVD is close behind. How can you pretend to understand the world you live in if you do not know how it works? Understanding a technology may help you see new possibilities.

Bite the bullet, and sell some of those highly appreciated stocks, even though you’ll have to pay taxes. If anything is apparent from the stock market in the past six months, it’s that inflated prices based on earnings growth will drop when those earnings regress to the mean. And earnings will regress.

Don’t open email attachments unless you know the sender really well — well enough, for example, to lend her $500. Acquaintances and students are often not careful enough to be trusted. And of course, don’t open attachments from strangers.

Vote in every election. Those people who did not vote in November should feel sick. And understanding the issues is even better than just voting.

Reflect on your future, even if you cannot make definite plans. The world, at least for Fast Company readers, is changing so fast that it’s difficult to plan realistically. Ten years ago, who could have planned for a career in an Internet startup? Anyone over 55 should, at least, think about what things he would like to accomplish by the end of his lifetime and what he has to do to accomplish those things. Younger people should think about a direction for their lives.

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Spend regular time with children and grandchildren. This resolution is related to the previous one, and when I brought this list up at Thanksgiving dinner, everyone agreed: If you miss the early years with grandchildren, you can never get them back. Also, remember that wisdom really does come from the mouths of children.

Find at least one service or community organization, and become a significant part of it. Giving money is good, but many organizations need experience and management too. You would surely learn a lot from such an experience.

Be a little bit paranoid, and worry about your own competence — especially about what you think you do best. What made you great does not necessarily keep you great. You may think you are doing everything right, and you may be — but the things you are doing can become irrelevant.

Barrett Hazeltine (Barrett_Hazeltine@brown.edu) teaches management at Brown University and works with young entrepreneurs. He was trained as an engineer and has taught at several African universities.

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