Thursday, August 30, 2007

Is it easy to get motivated this week?

For most people, this is the final week of summer. Although the calendar says that fall begins late in September, most of us count the day after Labour Day as the first day of the new season. All the things we wanted to do this summer now must be crammed into these final five days.

Are you motivated to enjoy these days or to cram them with activity? Does the coming change in pace and focus make you more motivated or less motivated? Do you notice a difference between being motivated and getting things done?

The change of seasons always provides a great moment in which to catch ourselves dealing with transition. Some of us are frozen in the moment, waiting for a signal that change has already happened. Some of us are whirlwinds of activity, rushing between what has been and what is coming next. Some of us are steadily putting in place the conditions we need to take our next steps.

There is no "right" answer, except whatever answer you give after honest, open consideration of what you are really doing and thinking and experiencing this week. This is your brain in transition - what are its particular strengths?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What is the point of your work?

The question is not always (or even usually) this blunt. It is what people are trying to find out. Not just "what do you do?" but "what difference does what you do make to you and to other people?"

This is a quotation from The Elsewhere Community - the Massey Lectures delivered by Hugh Kenner in 1997:

"All humans, by their nature," said Aristotle, "desire to know." A special and unparalleled way to know is to go where you've never been. And the key to this quest for knowledge is "elsewhere." In going there, you join. . . an "Elsewhere Community." It's a concept that is impossible to define strictly. It can name where you dream of going -- where bluebirds fly, perhaps. Or it can describe the people you've met somewhere, memories of whom have helped to change you. Or it's an awareness of your own growth and change. . ."

This is the point of my work: I actively participate in an Elsewhere Community. I desire to know and I welcome others into a community that desires to know and that is willing to go 'elsewhere' in order to feed that desire (it is not the kind of desire that can be satisfied, anymore than the need for food is satisfied because we eat).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The power of intention

Knowing what you intend is powerful. Whatever else consciousness does, it is particularly effective at pointing the whole mind towards a particular outcome. You can't always get what you want - but if you try sometimes, you might find it's easier to like what you get when you think about what effects you intend to have on readers and on the world.

Think about the difference between the writers with these two intentions:

I have to write an email about the meeting next week.

I am going to send an email so that people remember to come to the meeting next week on time and fully prepared.

Which writer do you think is more likely to get what she intends?

The largest portion of your writing is probably largely routine writing. It's easy to give up forming an intention and go with the flow of writing 'about' whatever seems to be required. Don't do it.

Before you write anything at all, decide on the feedback you want to get as a result of writing. What will you see, hear and feel when you transform your intention into reality? Knowing what you want is the first step to getting what you want.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Last day on the beach

We're on our way to the beach this morning. We'll be on our way to a different beach this afternoon, and probably a third beach this evening. It's our final day on the island and we will be working on building a strong enough representation of an island beach that we will be able to call it up at will over the months it takes us to return to PEI.

The key to the day is to breathe salt air, feel the sand under our bare feet and the waves as they splash at our ankles. To notice the blue of the sky and the green of the potato fields and the different green of the grass on the dunes. To hear the wind and the waves. To gentle ourselves into the rhythm of this place, without consciousness of holding on or of letting go.

Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

privacy in writing

Writing is paradoxical: on the one hand, it can be the most public form of communication. Anything you write - particularly in your business life - can have a long shelf life and it can travel to unpredictable places. That's why we hear horror stories once or twice a year about email that went to the wrong people. It's why we have all heard stories of people who lost jobs over lies on their resumes that were uncovered years after the resume was created. What you write may or may not be true, but if it is true that you have written it, then you had better be able to commit to it.

On the other hand, writing offers a remarkable degree of privacy to the reader. We write, in part, so that people can read when they have time and space to consider what we are saying. We use a few words to sketch out complicated situations, and rely on them to fill in gaps in our information and process (all language uses only a few words to reflect a reality that contains billions of bits of information - all written language has only those few words to convey the entire reality). We are not there to observe their responses.

For instance, I might write this paragraph:

Think of a tough situation, a situation where none of the choices seemed right to you, or where each of the available choices seemed to cost more than it was worth. Go back in your mind to the time when you were actively struggling with the situation. Collect all the information you would need to write a report on your decision making process: include your environment, the people who were helping or obstructing you, and the background expertise you used in making your decision. Now ask yourself: "if I knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently?"

As you read that paragraph, you will inevitably become aware of a particular situation in your own life. As the writer, I have invited that response, but I have not controlled it and I am not aware of what situation each reader will choose. If we were to meet for coffee tomorrow, I would have no idea what particular sequence of thoughts and feelings were prompted by your reading. I would, however, know that if you had read what I had written, you would have been thinking about how you made a tough decision and what you would change about the experience. We would have lots of common ground for approaching a new decision without having been crowded or pressured.

Writing is often associated with micro management: in fact, it's impossible to micro-manage in writing. You cannot force anyone to read and you really can't force them to read well. Writing is an invitation to collaborate - to add individual understanding and experience to a situation with the time, space and privacy to process before commenting.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What gets you started in the morning?

Persuading someone to read something - even something very short - requires a leverage point. You need to have something to exchange for the time and attention it will take to read what you have written. We often think we know what will motivate others until we take some time to reflect on what actually motivates us.

WIFM? What's in it for me? That may be the question that you have assumed is at the heart of all motivation. It is - and it isn't. People have done astonishing things because what was in it for "them" was the ability to make a difference in other people's lives. This does not mean that we are all motivated by altruism: it does challenge the generalization that all motivation is self-centred.

What got you out of bed this morning? I would be willing to bet the answer has more to do with relationships than it does with stuff. If I could read your mind, I would guess that you had commitments to other people that you wanted to fulfill, or small children climbing on your kitchen counters, or encounters you were eager to begin. I would guess that what really gets you out of bed each morning is the desire to be related to other human beings.

Think about that. What changes when you notice that you are more motivated by connection than you are by money or excitement or cool stuff? What changes in the way you motivate other people when you notice that what they want is different than what they want to be paid? Does it change the way you write the first sentence of your next email?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Watching the waves

The blog posts have been slow in the last week because I was making my way to one of my favourite places on the planet: PEI. It's been four years since our last trip here, and the island is as restful and beautiful and thoroughly alive as it is in my memory. Yesterday, we walked Brackley Beach - a perfect combination of wild beauty and gentle curves and teens playing frisbee and families building sand castles. Miles and miles of beach, so that it is never crowded, even when the sun is warm and the water is almost warm!

Whenever I can, I kick off my shoes and walk up to my ankles (or further) in water. I experience the waves through all my senses: it's not possible to separate the way they feel on my legs from the way they roll and sparkle as they move towards the shore from the sound of them lapping and splashing, from the smell of the salt in the air. To experience the waves on the beach is to use all of one's senses, to know the waves with all of one's senses, to let myself be immersed in the waves even when the water is only up to my ankles.

The waves repeat endlessly and soothingly and surprisingly. They are always and never the same. They are never boring.

Have you noticed yet that this post is another writing tip?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Another tip for writing (and working!)

Written communication is a tough boss. It demands that you think about everything you want to say and identify exactly one message or unifying thread to run throughout a single piece of writing. No matter how complicated the work, how much interesting background you have, or how busy you are, good writing is always "about" just one thing.

If you have several completely different things you need to address with a single correspondent, you have three choices: 1) pick one and avoid the others; 2) write several pieces of correspondence or 3) find a single thread that runs through all the different things and make that your central message.

What happens when you tell the story of your working day? If it is to be a story (or a memo or a report), there has to be one unifying message - one thread that ties everything together. This thread needs to be more than the "all the things that happen between one sleep and the next" if the writing is to be read and remembered. If you write the story of your working day, what is it "about?"

Now, pick the part of the day that seems to be the least "on message" in your description - the paragraph that a writing editor would simply cut from the story. Make a choice: was it a mistake to spend time on that particular problem or person? or can you dig a little harder and find the thread that draws it into your message? Once you accept that everything in one day is about one thing (the same thing), it's easier to recognize real connections and easier to let go of the problems, people and distractions that aren't really part of your work.

Try it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Learning to write from teachers

from Dan Yashinsky, in Suddenly they heard footsteps:Storytelling for the twenty-first century

online at Chapters here:'suddenly+they+heard+footstpes'

"Teachers can sometimes work in strange ways. They may never tell you anything directly about your work, or coach you, or give you explicit instruction. They may never offer a criciticsm or even a suggestion, but you are learning all the time. Almost everything I learned from my teachers came to me indirectly: I observed their art, thought hard about their dazzling skills and knowledge, and brought them many cups of tea; in other words, I was a devoted listener to those who knew far more about stories, storytelling and life than I did."

When you think about writing better, who are the teachers you choose? One or two pieces is not enough to build a model - you need someone with whom you can form the relationship Yashinsky describes. You need someone who tells stories in writing - stories you want to hear. If there has never been anyone in your life you wanted to read, it is unlikely you will write anything anyone else wants to read.

It doesn't have to take long. Read someone who is a master of short pieces. I read Seth Godin's blog almost every day. You can find it at Seth writes short pieces for the internet. Want to learn to write better email? Read Seth. Then read the people Seth is reading (you'll find the link through his blog, or through his lenses on Squidoo.)

If you are not willing to spend time reading, then do not write. There are other ways to communicate. There is no way to write well until you believe that writing can work for you.