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Trying New Things with Mel Milloway


In a post last week, Brian asked a variety of questions, including whether people are inclined to experiment with new technologies or if they’d prefer to use their old stand-by’s. 83% of respondents said they like to experiment with new technologies.

Recently, Brian had a chance to sit down with Amazon’s Melissa Milloway to discuss how she pushes herself and others to experiment and try new things. Mel not only falls into that 83% category of people who are interested in trying new things,  she takes it to an extreme. In today’s podcast, we talk about how experiments can lead to big wins… and sometimes big fails (but always big lessons), and the support system that is needed to keep pushing yourself further.

If you want to know more about Mel, check out her website Mel’s Learning Lab which contains a wealth of information about her adventures trying new technologies and best practices.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Mel Milloway

Brian Washburn: Welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast for learning and development professionals about a variety of topics. I’m Brian Washburn, and I’m here today with Melissa Milloway. And we’re going to be talking a little bit about experimenting, trying new things.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: Before we jump into our conversation, why don’t we do what we do every week, Mel? And we’ll talk about ourselves in exactly six words.

For me, and when I think of this topic today, six words that really sum up who I am are “Experimenting scares me, and it’s fun.” How about you? What would be a six-word memoir for you?

Mel Milloway: For me, I’m going to pull from Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, back in the ’90s. And mine would be “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.”

Brian Washburn: Nice. And talk about experimentation– “the Frizz,” right?

Mel Milloway: Yeah. [CHUCKLES]

Brian Washburn: She was all about learning by doing. 

You are constantly posting what you’re doing on social media. I see it on LinkedIn all the time. What draws you to constantly experiment, and keep experimenting with new things, new technologies, new trends, new stuff that’s out there?

Experimenting With New Technologies and Trends

Mel Milloway: Yeah. For me, experimenting really comes from, there’s these problems in my everyday work life that I need to solve. And so what I do is I say, “OK, if I have this problem, there’s probably other people that have this problem as well.”

What I spend my time on– it’s more like a hobby, more than anything. On the weekends, I do this. I’m trying out new things. I’m like, “OK, I’m going to play around with this one thing to solve this problem. And then, what the heck, why not share it with everyone else?”

I think about it as like, what is it going to hurt by sharing it? And if anything, it could help people. And in the internet, people can ignore it. They don’t have to comment, or like it, or do anything. It’s out there.

And so for me, it’s also a way for me to reference things. I go back to posts that I wrote, probably five-plus years ago, and I still reference them, because I can’t remember everything that I’ve done. So if someone asks me a question like, “oh, how do you change the background on this one thing?” I’ll be like, “oh, yeah, actually, I wrote a post about that a few years back. Here it is.” So it’s super helpful.

Brian Washburn: Experimenting with things means that it’s– especially the first time, it’s not always going to go well.

Mel Milloway: Yes.

Brian Washburn: What’s been your most spectacular failure? And what did you learn from it?

The Benefits of Learning From Failure

Mel Milloway: Yeah. So my most spectacular failure– I wouldn’t even call it a failure– but one of the things that’s really hard for people, and was hard for me initially, too, is just in regards to things like simple coding, like HTML, CSS, so CSS for styling.

So one of those things– there were so many things I, originally in my beginning of my career, that I wanted to do. And I just didn’t have those foundational skills. And so I was trying and trying to figure out, how can I make this thing mobile-friendly or interactive? And I really didn’t have that foundation. So I had to build those skills up.

And my failure, I would say, is honestly in not investing and taking the time to learn those specific skills. For me, I’m one of those people– I just want to jump into something. Or I think people have a tendency to be afraid and say, “I just don’t want to do it, because it’s intimidating to me.” And they don’t think that they can do it.

But really, it’s just about, anyone can do it. It’s just– it takes time, and takes practice, like anything else. So I would say my biggest failure is in not taking the time upfront to learn those skills and practice, and get to that point.

Which, I mean, I don’t know that that necessarily answers that question, but– [CHUCKLES]. But I would say a lot of my failures come from not being patient and building those skills.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And people can look at some of the stuff that you post and think, “oh, she’s just one of those people that is naturally–,” right.

Mel Milloway: And it’s so not true. It’s so not true. If you see behind the scenes, how long– at one point, I was trying to build a chat bot. And it took me eight hours to figure out why this one piece of code wasn’t working. I had the permissions set wrong on the lambda function that I was working on.

Yeah. So it’s just like, even the littlest things take you so long to learn it. But then once you know it, you can apply it everywhere else, and later down the lines. Yeah.

Brian Washburn: I think that’s a great example. Because people are like, “oh, chatbots, I see those all the time. Those should be easy to create, right?”

Mel Milloway: Yeah.

Brian Washburn: So just hearing that, no, actually, you have to take your time, and it’s like anything else. You have to learn how to do it. What’s been the coolest experiment that you’ve ever worked on?

Experimenting Outside Your Comfort Zone

Mel Milloway: I wouldn’t say it’s an experiment. But my most favorite experience that was completely new and different to me was– that’s opened so many doors is doing Adobe Live.

So I got to go on Adobe Live on Behance, and actually livestream me working on a project. And for me, that was very new. I had never done that before. So you’re engaging with a chat of hundreds of people. And you’re also doing something at the same time, like designing something.

And it was completely out of my comfort zone. I had never done anything like that. But the good thing that came from that experiment, or trying that new thing, is now I get to do– I got to do that today, at this conference that we’re at, in ATD TechKnowledge. And now I do it a lot more in front of people. And it’s just an awesome way to share what you’re doing on it, and why you’re doing it while you’re doing it.

Brian Washburn: What’s a one simple tip that you have to somebody who is like, “oh, some people are just comfortable sharing their stuff? I think it’s scary for anybody to share something, especially something that could be failure.”

Mel Milloway: Yeah.

Brian Washburn: What is one tip that you would have for somebody who’s like, “you know what? I don’t want to try that, because I could fail.”

Tips To Fight The Fear of Failure

Mel Milloway: Yeah. So for me, I think one of the most important things is having a really good support system, and building a network of people that are going to be your cheerleaders. Oftentimes, I’ll talk to people and say, “oh, I want to write a blog post about this, but I’m really hesitant about it. I feel like I’m not an expert in this area.” You know, something like that.

And I have people around me that are like– they cheer me on. They say, “no, why don’t you just try it?” Have somebody who is a soundboard that’s going to support you in that way. Because if you’re alone, it’s so much harder to feel confident in doing those things, and making those decisions, if you don’t see how it’s going to impact anyone else, or getting another perspective.

Brian Washburn: I love that advice. 

Get To Know Mel Milloway

Brian Washburn: We’re going to wrap up here with a speed round. The first question that we ask everybody who sits for our podcast is what’s your go-to food, prior to delivering a presentation?

Mel Milloway: And this one’s a funny one. So I try not to eat before presentations. I drink either a cold brew or an iced coffee, black, before every presentation. And then sometimes, I eat a banana.

I am terrified to eat before a presentation. I don’t know why. I’m afraid I’m just going to feel nauseous or sick.

Brian Washburn: I’m the same way. I don’t want anything in my stomach. Maybe a little bit of fruit, but that’s about it. What about a book? What’s a book that people should be reading?

Mel Milloway: So a book that I had read a few years back– and I was trying to remember this, because it says a lot about me. It’s called You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). It’s by Felicia Day. And for a lot of people that know me, in my past, I was a huge MMO player, video game player.

And it’s just about this woman who– she’s a nerd, but she also has a great career, and she’s not afraid to be herself, and be weird, and embrace the weird. And I absolutely love that. And I think there should be more of that.

Just embrace your weirdness. Be yourself. People love you for you. And just do it. And I love that book, because it just embraces it.

Brian Washburn: That’s a great message. What’s one piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Mel Milloway: Ooh. A training technology. So my go-to tool, everyone knows right now, is Adobe XD. And I use it for prototyping, and just any ideas in general. There’s so many different uses for it.

So it is a UI/UX tool. And that’s definitely my go-to, personally. I don’t think it would work, necessarily, for everyone. But it’s the way that I convey ideas, and can rapidly prototype things. So it’s definitely my go-to tool right now.

Brian Washburn: Nice. Any shameless plugs to end on? Anything that people– that you’re doing that people should be aware of?

Mel Milloway: That is a great question. I am trying to post more to my website now. But I have a series on– or now, it’s called Newsletters on LinkedIn. And it’s called This Side Up.

So I’d love for people to check out my LinkedIn– Mel Milloway— and subscribe there. And then Mel’s Learning Lab is my website. And I’m trying to also post my posts from This Side Up on LinkedIn to there, so you can just automatically be routed to there. So you can get through that way as well.

Brian Washburn: Awesome. Mel, thank you so much for joining us, giving us some time. That’s it for Train Like You Listen this week. For those who don’t want to miss a single episode, feel free to subscribe on Spotify, on iTunes, or anywhere where you get your podcasts. Thanks so much for listening.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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