Cut Your Learning Curve

Nate Cooper Helps You Learn Skills, Create Habits, and Improve Your Learning to Increase Your Potential

Learn anything faster by learning how to set achievable learning goals and good learning habits. In each episode we dive into a different aspect of how learning works looking at the brain, motivation, and habit-forming. Based on years of teaching adults technology as well as text on a wide variety of subjects from behavioral economics to psychology.

All Episodes

Nate and Eve recently sat down with Swarm's Product Design Manager Claire Harr on The Cut Your Learning Curve Podcast. Before transitioning into product design and product management, Claire worked in the related realms of visual design, research, marketing, and business development. Throughout her career, she has worked with companies of all sizes — and has worked as a designer in an agency setting, as a freelancer, as a business owner, and in-house. Prior to joining SWARM, Claire led the in-house marketing team at construction management company Turner International in their New York City headquarters —  where she provided strategic brand management services to align their marketing and business development objectives globally.

Apr 20

34 min 47 sec

While the term “freelance” has been in use since the 1800s, it was the development of the Internet that enabled the rapidly growing freelance marketplaces that we have today. Now freelancers are available from around the world; they generally work on a set of tasks for an organization on a short term basis.  As freelancing continues to play a bigger and bigger role in the workforce, what are the ups and downs of this type of work? In this week’s podcast, Nate and I discuss the glamour and reality of freelance work across different industries. We talk about the appeal of being your own boss: both the chance to set your own schedule and the resilience this level of personal responsibility can bring. Freelancing can also broaden your professional network. At the same time, freelancing work has challenges: the unpredictability of the work coming in and the feeling of always hustling for the next gig. Finally, in 2021, Nate and I agreed that the opportunities to be a freelancer are greater than ever.

Mar 29

29 min 30 sec

In this week’s podcast, Nate and I discuss our thoughts on the new normal. Given the market landscape of 2021, what are the conditions for small companies to grow and thrive? The relentless onward march of technology and globalization continues to impact small business. Companies of all sizes can access a more global pool of talent and potential customers. More industries are open to market disruption by small players. At the same time, with the amount of information on the Internet increasing exponentially by the day, a big challenge for small businesses is connecting with their audiences and being heard through the noise.

Mar 22

28 min 21 sec

After touching on different areas of worklife throughout this season of podcasts, Nate and Eve today are looking at resilience. In this week’s podcast, they first talk about the idea of resilience as “the ability to recover from difficult experiences (and simply the unknown), to adapt, and sometimes to even experience growth.” Throughout history, people’s ability to respond and recover from hard moments has been hugely influential in their overcoming obstacles and achieving success.  Today clearly the workplace is shifting - from in person to remote. From regional to global. From long term employment to more and more short term opportunities. How then can an employee or a freelancer seize upon opportunity and carve out a way forwards for themselves, and ultimately flourish?  Resilience, on the individual level, comes partially from our own background. Also in the mix is the particular working environment - is there sufficient opportunity and support to help staff grow and rise? Finally, curiosity, an eagerness to learn, flexibility, hustle, and luck all play a role.  As technological advances massively accelerate and the workplace itself continues to transform, the ability to foster resilience among staff will be critical for future growth. 

Mar 8

33 min 40 sec

As massive change occurs in the workplace, so too have the concepts of “leadership” and “management” continued to evolve to adapt to the modern day.  Leadership is commonly understood as the big broad strokes that paint the vision of the organization, while management is responsible for executing this vision in the day-to-day. As my former CEO described to me, the leader announces “there’s the hill we must climb,” and the managers figure out how to get there and ascend to new heights. All of this has implications in the field of education. A company like Nokia is a cautionary tale of how even successful, entrenched companies are vulnerable due to the accelerating speed of change in technology and consumer preferences.  MBA programs focus on developing leadership skills in the fast moving digital world, and how to effectively pivot the small army that is a mid to large size organization in a new direction.  At the same time, effective management has become an interesting dance: of adapting to high team turnover, open offices (some with even shared desks) and continuing shifts in strategy, while at the same time ensuring consistency, accountability, fairness and support to employees to help them, and in turn the organization, succeed.  It is a play on an old song, now at a much faster cadence for today’s world.  As an educator and trainer in project management nationwide, what I see is very little curriculum covering the fundamentals of effective management at either the K-12 or post-secondary level. Yet as the remote and freelance economies continue to rise, and as small independent businesses continue to blossom, the need for even a basic understanding of how to manage - how to set expectations and then ensure they are met - will only become more critical as work teams form and re-form with greater fluidity across the globe.

Mar 3

30 min 16 sec

In the past year, the spread of Covid-19 has dramatically upended both work and college life.  Much of the “knowledge economy” workforce has migrated to 100% remote. We had almost 2 feet of snow fall on New York City in the past week. Instead of delayed commutes and trundling through the slush, our work days were basically unchanged. So too have universities shifted to a mix of remote and in-person classes, with each school and school system designing its own policies for testing and reducing transmission.  As the vaccine rollout continues and tentative plans are being made for the return to the office, what does this mean for hiring, particularly for recent graduates in the past five years? In this week’s podcast, Nate and I discuss our own experiences hiring and working with recent hires for our specialty areas - engineering, design and project management.  The credentials of graduating from an elite university still have considerable value, particularly in terms of prestige and the network of contacts.  For many recruiters, a four year degree is the first box to check. Yet at the same time, the needed skills continue to evolve rapidly. A big focus for employers is show us what you have done - your portfolio, your code sample, your work experience. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written about how we will all need to become lifelong learners to adapt to a radically changing world of work. I believe Covid has only accelerated the changes that we will see in the future. 

Feb 8

34 min 57 sec

In the Industrial Age of the19th and 20th century, the assembly line came to dominate manufacturing. The building of everything from ships to shoes was split among a line of workers, each completing a set of distinct tasks that were repeated, in order, all day long.  The rise of the Information Age, and the nature of how software is developed, demanded a different approach.  Hackathons, which were first developed around the year 2000, realize this new way of working. A group of coders, designers and marketers are sequestered in some kind of space, away from the distractions of daily living - laundry, cooking, sleeping and the like.  The team has a common goal to build a new project; work is shared among the group and then hours upon hours are dedicated to designing and coding free from interruptions. Working this way - in an organic, fluid manner in a shared time and space - can empower the individual and the team. It can lead to big creative breakthroughs. Plus, there’s pizza.

Feb 1

42 min 51 sec

If companies of the twentieth century looked to Ford, General Electric and IBM as the gold standard for organizational performance, companies today model themselves in the image of Apple or Facebook - innovative, nimble and incredibly successful. Both Apple and Facebook share an origin story of small beginnings: of a few young men gathering in a garage or a dorm room to create The Next Big Thing. While the unicorns (tech firms valued over $1 billion) earn the most attention and headlines, the majority of tech start-ups are still in the “small and growing” stage. In this episode we dive into our own work experiences. Join us to hear our take on the drawbacks and benefits of life inside a tech start-up.

Jan 26

35 min 6 sec

Today more and more people are asking “what does it mean to be an expert?”   The disruptive technologies and the new careers to support them are being created far faster than regulations, education programs and any state or federal certifications. Today there are more state testing requirements to be a hairdresser than for an engineer building software for a large phone provider or major bank. Another common yardstick for expertise, “years of experience” simply is a poor fit in a digital landscape where the products themselves are only five years old or less.  At the same time, easy access to video recording and website hosting platforms enables each of us to be an expert. We can stand in our corner and proclaim loudly that “we know best” in an increasingly fractured media landscape. So then how is expertise determined? What does being an expert mean at a time when the traditional barriers to access and the role of institutions to validate expertise are all radically changing?  The scientific method still holds true. Subject specific knowledge and the maturity to work effectively in teams in an era of turbulence is more important than ever. Real expertise matters.  A new government administration is taking over in the US this week; the problems they face are many.  Defining and cultivating expertise in our current era will be essential for us, as a society, in order to take on the great challenges of our time.

Jan 18

33 min 17 sec

In the past year, Covid has radically upended offices in the USA. Co-working spaces, open offices and company cafeterias emptied out as office work swiftly moved online.  Some of the benefits became clear - reduced commuting time and a relatively small drop in productivity. The challenges have also been equally well-documented, from news articles to memes on Twitter: squirming kids and pets in the workspace, seeing faces only on a screen, and never really turning off. 

Jan 12

32 min 27 sec

There is a focus in UX Design in making user interactions as “frictionless” as possible: reducing any additional steps or obstacles to take action. Another area of Product Design is building out rewards for a button pushed or a purchase made. All of this, carefully and subtly, build habits. Like so much of technology, these design practices can be viewed as either exploitative or beneficial, with dramatic, unanticipated consequences on both sides of the spectrum. 

Jan 6

31 min 12 sec

How do we work with something as unpredictable as software development, where so many of the answers are discovered in the doing and not beforehand? This “expecting the unexpecting” is everything: it guides how software developers, teams and tech companies organize and the ways they promise results. How to evaluate and regulate these actions - in ways that protect the end user, the small start-up and society at large -  is one of the biggest questions for this century.

Dec 2020

29 min 51 sec

We all have an app on our phone that we love.  Yet what design thinking has not been able to solve, and in some ways has made worse, are the deeper, structural problems facing people today - namely, inequality, lack of opportunity and a global crisis in public health.  If design is to be truly empathetic, as so many designers claim, I hope design thinking moves beyond making a more intuitive Spotify to take up these bigger challenges. 

Dec 2020

29 min 31 sec

At creative digital agencies, our work always begins with Scoping. Rather than diving into “what are we going to build” we instead take a step back and ask, “what is the problem we are trying to solve?”   The answer to this question is twofold: both a vision of what the software solution will be and a plan to implement it. Scoping is highly collaborative: design, product, engineering and clients all working together to arrive at a solution unique to the time, place and organization. 

Dec 2020

26 min 22 sec

From the Director of Learning at SWARM, Eve MacKnight: "Technology today enables teams to form and re-form across the globe. But in an era of instant communication and increasing broadband speeds, little accelerates the forming of trust and loyalty at the foundation of any team working well together.  With our developers spread across continents and time zones, we at SWARM are always looking for ways to cultivate that ever elusive sprite, teamwork.  Check out this week’s podcast as Nate and I chat about our own experiences - our disasters and successes - with building teams in our hyper digital age."

Nov 2020

28 min 47 sec

In this episode Olive Persimmon tells us how she was able to get a TEDX speaking engagement, while working on her second book, and at a fulltime job. She's quite the powerhouse when it comes to achieving her goals. If you're an aspiring writer or thought leader, you'll want to her how she was able to set herself to task and deliver with gusto. 

Aug 2018

23 min 46 sec

In this episode I talk to business coach Chris Sparks about productivity and habit forming. Chris has a number of useful models for thinking about how to structure your time and work through problems especially when you get stuck. 

Jul 2018

32 min 58 sec

Juliana Marulanda runs ScaleTime, a company which helps you save time by focusing on the things that matter and outsourcing the things that don't drive you. 

Jul 2018

21 min 49 sec

The Internet is a great tool for learning but often it isn't utilized to it's full potential. What makes an online course work? What are the things you need to know about your students in order to build a course that keeps people learning and raving? Listen here. 

Jun 2018

8 min 53 sec

In this episode of Cut Your Learning Curve, I speak with Molly Sonsteng. Molly is a producer, project manager, and entrepreneur dedicated to time well spent and deepening human connections. She’s created countless projects that encourage grownups to live creative and meaningful lives. 

Jun 2018

26 min 24 sec

For better and worse devices are in our daily lives. It is on us to manage them. In an ideal world our devices work to help us improve towards our better behaviors. But we need not rely solely on the device to do so. 

Jun 2018

7 min 13 sec

In this episode of Cut Your Learning Curve, I speak with my friend Juvoni Beckford. Juvoni grew up in the Bronx. At a young age, Juvoni recognized the patterns that kept people from in his environment from reaching their full potential. 

Jun 2018

34 min 43 sec

Imposter syndrome is that nagging feeling that you're not good enough. In this episode I discuss two influences that helped me work through my own imposter syndrome – Ira Glass and Steven Pressfield. 

May 2018

6 min 50 sec

Some luck is earned through taking measured risks. When learning you'll need to cultivate chance in order to maximize results.

Feb 2018

9 min 46 sec

Sometimes we may be required to learn a skill for work or career. Sometimes it's something that doesn't interest us. What do we do?

Feb 2018

7 min 13 sec

Sandboxing is a tool used by developers to protect against critical failure. Having a space to play can be useful to you as well when learning a new skill.

Jan 2018

7 min 41 sec

Resistence is an excuse that prevents you from achieving your goals. In this episode we learn the difference between those who overcome resistence and those who don't. We also discuss the value of self-doubt.  

Jan 2018

15 min 39 sec

Mindfulness meditation is a great tool for assessing where you are at in your learning process.

Jan 2018

11 min 53 sec

The future of work is here. How can we prepare ourselves to be lifelong learners and set ourselves up for the career and life we want most?

Jan 2018

11 min 3 sec

In this episode, I talk about one of my favorite books, The Four Purposes of Life by Dan Millman, and how it affected my approach to learning.

Jan 2018

14 min 7 sec

How to deal with a lack of motivation during your learning process.

Jan 2018

14 min 59 sec

Learning is enhanced when we have time to explore. We dive deeper into design thinking and talk about learning from others.

Jan 2018

10 min

How do you make sure you're on the right path to learning a new skill? The scale is really important. What is a wicked problem and how can design thinking help?

Jan 2018

8 min 11 sec

Your brain can work against your open better judgement. This is especially true when comparing options.  

Jan 2018

9 min 42 sec

How do you know when you have learned something new? The answer is you have a mental model. Learn how to use the Feynman technique to map out your mental models on a topic. Get The Learning Model Canvas: Join the Community:  

Jan 2018

6 min 55 sec

In this episode, we set up the podcast and discuss the topics of growth mindset and flow. Get Your Learning Model Canvas: Join the Community:  

Dec 2017

7 min 48 sec