Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What should I write: copy or stories?

Are you on Twitter? I am and I am enjoying it for the moment. But, although I follow lots of social media experts, I have not been luring scores of people to my website. That would take a level of intention and attention I have not yet decided to commit to Twitter.

I'm not ready for a long-term committed relationship. I am not even sure we're at the dating stage. I am still flirting with Twitter.

The same issues come up when I consider the difference between the advice I read on writing copy and the advice I read about how to tell a story. I am sure that there are differences between effective copy and copy that gets fewer positive results. And yet.

And yet. I am a conversationalist. I love long talks and I love writing that makes me feel like I am in long talk with an interesting person. Not always a close friend. . . just the kind of friendly mind that it's possible to spend time enjoying. I don't want a copy of an interesting mind - I want the real thing.

Yes, I know that "copywriting" does not mean writing a copy of someone else's thinking. Not exactly. Except - how many times do you read marketing copy and find yourself charmed, entranced, captivated? Not often.

When you do, it's possibly because even copywriters sometimes give in to the human desire to tell a great, captivating story. The kind of story that people used to mean when they talked about spinning yarns.

Yarns - as lovers of Greek myth might know - can be the stuff of life - the raw material that gets woven into the pattern of our achievement and the length of our days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How hard are you willing to work?

Harmony is a feel-good word. It comes with associations of smiling cherubs and soft sounds. Harmony tells us that we can connect in ways that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

What harmony also tells us is that the right kind of integration takes both intention and discipline. The first requirement for singing in harmony is that you listen; the second is that you be willing to change what you sing in order to blend with what you hear.

The same thing is true when we create harmony at home or at work. We listen and then we alter what we do so that the whole can be greater than what we could do on our own. It's not an easy gig.

It's not even a matter of giving up leadership. Imagine a harmony where the second part consistently came in one beat after the melody. In true harmony, you are always listening, always responding, always moving together according to some shared principles and what you hear.

Are you capable of harmony? How long can you discipline yourself to sing along instead of singing alone?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Inspired or Intimidated?

When my son was six, he started taking violin lessons. His teacher suggested that we take him to a concert at which young award-winners of some sort would be performing. We listened to a little boy who was already an accomplished violinist at the age of 5 - a year younger than our 6 year old beginner. Did the 6 year old run home to practice harder, feeling that "if he can do it, I can do it?" Nope. He just felt overwhelmed by the gulf between where he was and where he wanted to be.

That's the problem with many great models of achievement. They are only inspirational if, in some way, we relate to the central character. We have to think, "if she can do, maybe I can do it." Often we think, "She is amazing. I could never do that." We walk away impressed with the talent of some rare human being, and less impressed with our own abilities.

I suppose that's why people with a physical handicap to overcome often make good models of inspiration. While we might not be able to take ourselves seriously as models of virtue or skill or knowledge, we do acknowledge that life is probably easier for us if we have all our senses and body parts functioning normally. When we hear that a blind person has climbed a mountain, we think: maybe we could climb too since we have sight as an edge. The handicap functions like a handicap in golf - a way of leveling the playing field between us and the person we admire.

Who inspires you? Take a moment and think carefully about when you have experienced a state of inspiration. Maybe you have only had a mild case of inspiration - a time when you were more likely to do something well (or good) because someone else did it first. A time when you felt hope and momentum because of something someone else achieved. Got it?

Now look at who you were when you were inspired and look at the person who inspired you. List five ways (or three or nine) that those two people are similar. If you have to be very general, be very general: we are both adult women who live in Canada and write in the 21st century. Then ask yourself, can I be more specific about any of this?

Now look at a situation where you would like to inspire someone else. Ask yourself: how can I create a relationship between that person and an inspiring role model that is parallel to my relationship with the person who inspired me? Don't look for the biggest, boldest, most dramatic example. Look for the example that matches the pattern you discover within your own experience.

That's quite often really good advice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy long weekend

Congruence could be defined as the single-minded determination we feel to enjoy the first long weekend of summer. It doesn't much matter that it is usually cool and often wet. It doesn't much matter that summer won't really be here for another month. Given half a chance, summer starts now (in our minds and in our hearts, if not in our backyards).

Here in Canada, the important part of summer does start now. It is light until well into the evening, and light when most of us wake up. We who have lived through the darkness of December are now the children of sunlight.

It's a time to be happy and hopeful, a time to enjoy being outside or getting moving or even cleaning out the winter dust and packing away the extra layers of clothes. It's a time to graduate and step into a world that feels promising.

I am always amazed at how uncomplicated my happiness turns out to be. Through all the complexity of economic challenges, of relationships, of deep thoughts - the sun shines, the days get longer, and I find myself walking with a bounce and a smile. Good weather puts me in a good mood.

Look at the wind blowing through bright, green leaves. Look at roadway medians that mix the green of the grass with the bright yellow of dandelions. Look at the crazy people pretending it's warm outside and sipping drinks on patios. Look at the kids whose soccer uniforms are still brand new. The world rarely looks as good as it does now.

Smile.

Happy summer.

Friday, May 01, 2009

What if I really were my number?

I've been reading a book called Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer. It reports on research on how people know and make choices. Because it is research-based, it is largely about how we know (inside) the world (outside). Much of the book is about defining the conditions under which we make better choices when we have less information.

I wonder if we make better choices about ourselves when we put aside the vast and inadequate knowledge we have stored about ourselves and reduce our thinking, as best we can, to the pattern described in a system like the Enneagram. Instead of saying "what do I believe about this?" we can ask "what would a 4 believe about this?" Since we have much less information about 4s than we do about ourselves, this would impose a simplicity on the choice we are considering.

The process is roughly: let's reduce the amount of information available and notice how the choice becomes clearer and more stable. We need some information, so choosing an Enneagram profile gives us enough relevant information without overwhelming our processes for choosing.

A simpler system would work better for the actual process of choosing except for two things: 1) it might distort the real information too much to be useful and 2) if we sense that the information available is not a fair representation of our more complicated selves, we will not be able to accept the choice it suggests.

For instance, if I am looking at business prospects under the current economic conditions, I could ask: what do I believe will happen to my business in the next three months? And then I would face unbelievably complicated thinking about the market, the finances and, most confusingly, my own ability to adapt and interact. If, on the other hand, I ask the question: "What factors would an Enneagram 6 see as important in the next 3 months," I'm going to get a much smaller set of information in reply. One that might actually allow me to see leverage points that would connect the external situation with my internal responses in useful ways (providing, of course, that the 6 is a good description for me).

We have known for a long time that more is not always better.