Showing posts from July, 2007

Write stories

Every piece of writing - from a brief email to a volume-long business report- can tell a story. Stories are easy to remember and easy to talk about. They are a natural way of combining diverse information into meaningful patterns, and they create both interest and understanding. Stories work - they work in creative writing and they work (possibly even harder) in other kinds of writing.

How can you turn an email or memo into a story? Think about it. If you were telling a story about your subject, whose story would it be? Would you be the main character or would the main character be a team, a product, or a place? How is the main character related to your reader?

Your job in the rest of the story is to lay out what is expected - the friends who will help, the obstacles that will be encountered, the conflicts that might engage. It's also to add something unexpected - the thing that happens that turns it into a story. Sometimes something disappears - like support. Sometimes something a…

Step into your reader's shoes

A basic principle of NLP-based communication is that the meaning of a message is the feedback it receives. When we think about this in terms of writing, it reminds us that what is important is how the message sounds to its intended reader(s). Instead of writing what sounds good to you, you want to write in the common ground between what sounds good to you and what will sound good to your reader.

Think of something you want to write - an email, a proposal, a memo or letter, or a more substantial report, whitepaper or article. What impact do you want to have on your reader? You may have a very specific outcome in mind or you might have a more general sense of what you want the reader to know, think, feel or do differently after s/he has read your piece. Allow your attention to focus on whatever impact you have in mind, noticing your intention to accomplish this impact.

Now, move your attention to your reader. Allow yourself to fully imagine a real person - this is easy if you are writing…

the only way to write is to write

All writers agree: the only way to write is to sit down and do it. Planning to write, wanting to write, and waiting for inspiration are all interesting processes. They are not writing. Writing is writing.

Writing does not require planning or inspiration. Writing requires moving your pen across the page or your fingers over the keyboard. Thousands of words run through your mind almost without stopping (your internal voice never needs to catch its breath). If you decide what to write before you write, you get tied up in tracking intangible thoughts (the ones jostling for position inside your mind) instead of in writing.

The way to write is to write. Put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and look at what you are thinking as it appears before you. It is rarely precisely what you would have predicted.There are always more words available to you than you can capture on the page. The one resource you need to write is available to you in abundance.

It's available in such abundance tha…

The first of a series of writing tips

I've just rescheduled my one-day writing course, and I have my college business students lurking at the back of my mind. As I seek for the most elegant solutions for allowing people to make rapid changes in how well they write, I'm going to share my thoughts in this blog.

Writing challenges the idea that it is possible to make significant change within short time frames. Most of us have been writing since we were about six years old: the way we write is mostly a product of unconscious processes that are extremely resilient. In other words, the way we write, like the way we speak, is a habit that resists change.

On the other hand, writing is also an area that has long presupposed the value of modeling: the advice most often given to people who want to write better is to read more. This is quite different than the advice we give people who want to improve their math skills, for instance (no one says that the way to learn math is to look at lots of equations). So we will begin not …

intense focus

I'm in the middle of an intensive training this week - six straight days, about 9 hours each, with a small group. It is exhilirating and exhausting all at the same time - for me and for the people I am training.

Oddly, we seldom give our kids this kind of intensely focused experience. Whether they are six or sixteen, they are full of energy and their minds are always moving. Given the right focus, lots of support and a multitude of perspectives, they can grow enormously in a few days.

When my sons were young, they attended the Oakville Performing Arts Camp run by the Oakville Suzuki Association. It was my first experience of a program for kids run on the basis that they could soak up enormous learning in a short time as long as no one told them they needed a break. That camp changed our lives.

Ten years later, my son went to camp with the Shad Valley program: it lasted four weeks of very long days focused entirely on the program and the people. Three years later, he still mentions S…

A pentatonic scale for your workplace

This week I have been attending music camp with a 6 year old friend who is just beginning to learn to play the guitar. His teacher started with a pentatonic scale. That might seem counter-intuitive. The pentatonic scale doesn't sound like the scales the children are singing and playing in their other classes. It's not familiar. It's not even a concept that is familiar to most non-musical adults.

But it's brilliant. The glory of the pentatonic scale, as the teacher explained, is that as long as you stay within the scale, there are no wrong notes. Everything you play sounds like music, and everything you play will work with something someone else is playing using the pentatonic scale. For the investment of a short time learning the notes of the scale, you are rewarded with the freedom to play: to play patterns someone else has set or to make up your own; to play all by yourself and with other people.

Beginning with the pentatonic scale means teaching kids that music i…

When enough is enough

What do you hear when you hear the expression "enough is enough?"

Some of you will hear frustration as it turns to resolution. You will hear "enough of this nonsense" or "enough of these excuses."
You might even hear Gandalf as he booms "Thou shalt not pass."


Some of you will hear a plea to be content, a statement that all the necessary criteria have been met. Enough is enough means that more is unnecessary. You can safely move in another direction, or even just drift. You have enough.

The two meanings meet on the line between motivation and frustration. Together, they imply that we have a set of criteria against which we judge experience, even when those criteria sit in the back of our minds. As soon as you say "enough is enough" you realize that you had the information you required to know what was acceptable, what was necessary, and what was extra.

Consider a situation in which you think those boundaries are unclear. Ask yourself, wh…

Remarkable content

If I told you that kids are loud, squirmy and have short attention spans, you would probably agree. This is not only how adults view kids - it's quite often how kids view kids.

If I told you that I could fill a room with selected activities and keep children under 10 happily occupied for several hours, you might believe me. You would probably look around the room and be unimpressed. What you would see would be kids happily engaged with toys and books featured in most places that educate and entertain children: puzzles, building blocks, books, craft supplies. Nothing remarkable at all.

Nothing remarkable except the effect they have on children. When offered the opportunity to construct or explore models of experience (something all these activities share), children will consistently engage and play cooperatively, peacefully and sometimes with intensity. A roomful of small children busy with these kinds of activities typically makes less noise and experiences less conflict than the av…

learning by doing

In Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra argues that people make big changes by taking small steps and noticing the results. She writes about people who have made significant changes in their career paths - and the message she takes from the people she profiles is this. Change doesn't happen because we think about it. Change happens because we do something.

We learn who we are by what we do. A little bit at a time.

Think about the day ahead of you. Assume "I am what I do today."

What one small step will you take in a new direction now?

What do you do?

I train people in NLP and integrated thinking.

What's NLP?

It's a different way of learning and communicating so that people are better at paying attention to themselves and other people. NLP teaches people to make stronger connections between what they notice and what they want.

Why is that useful?

People use NLP for mental fitness in the same way that they use a gym for physical fitness. It allows them to work through practices with a coach so that they live healthier lives and, sometimes, so that they perform better in competition. People who practice NLP are better at getting what they want.

Is it proven?

Nope. It's just like poetry and philosophy, management theory and much of the social sciences. There's a huge amount of evidence but no scientific "proof." There is a lot of scientific evidence that the brain works the way NLP says it works. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that people who do the exercises get results.

What's integrated thinking?


Happy Canada Day

I was in Ottawa this week, enjoying perfect weather and the prettier parts of the city. As we walked, my husband and I noticed the difference between the Byward Market (built for people) and the bleak prospects of the business district (built for someone's idea of convenience or power?). Similar differences exist between government buildings built to pull the spirit upwards (the Parliament buildngs, the National Gallery) and public edifices (an ugly word for huge, ugly blocks of buildings).

Why do we find it so difficult to believe that what is good for the soul can also be good for business? How many people look at a business plan and ask "where is the beauty in this? where is the joy? what part of this business will make people glad to be interacting?"

It is not the job of artists or architects to encourage us to embrace what it means to live together in community. That's our job. Artists and architects can support us but they cannot do all the work. If we want to …