Friday, March 31, 2006

Sharansky's leadership

I mentioned in a recent post I'd been reading The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, and it's helped consolidate some of my nascent political thinking (triple word score!).

On a completely different level, the author, Natan Sharansky, provides a great case study in personal diplomacy.

Here is someone writing about very current and relevant issues, and about very visible public people with whom he continues to have a working relationship. Those aren't easy waters to navigate, since if he comes across too critical of someone he might burn his bridges.

However, neither can he go soft on people with whom he disagrees. This book is a really good example of addressing ideas without attacking people. For instance, Sharansky describes former US president Bill Clinton is described as an excellent listener, even though he then criticises Clinton's handling of the peace process in the Middle East.

He does the same thing describing many of those he had direct dealings with, and I give him full credit for his grace and integrity. It's something we don't really see a lot of in public dialogue.

As you might be able to tell, I really enjoyed this book. I'll no doubt refer to it again on this blog, and possibly even do a proper book review over at Blogcritics.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Corporate church - good idea?

If you're interested, I've posted a synthesis of my thoughts on whether churches should go corporate or not here at my I think I'm a fundamentalist blog.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Kiwis lack mental toughness, says Mallard - 28 Mar 2006 - National News

Kiwis lack mental toughness, says Mallard - 28 Mar 2006 - National News

This is one of those headlines that makes your blood boil - and it seems to come after every Commonwealth or Olympic Games.

After my initial reaction of "let's see you try a triathlon, Mr. Mallard", I thought I'd actually read the article and see what he said.

It's food for thought. There's always the question of isn't it all about participating, and it doesn't matter where you come? To which there is always the answer if you're not playing to win, don't play at all.

Interesting comments here from SPARC (Sports and Recreation Council I think) head Nick Hill:

"New Zealanders have a very strong tradition of fairness and letting everyone have a good go and sometimes I think that prevails over that outright desire to be the best in the world. I think Australians are ahead of us in that."

As a former businessman "my experience is that they are extraordinarily direct and ruthless compared to New Zealand.

"New Zealanders tend to be too nice."

That lines up with comments I've heard in the business world too. And the same day, there are headlines about New Zealand having one of the world's highest rates of domestic violence. Yikes!

Monday, March 27, 2006

A few words on freedom

I'm not much of a political thinker, but I am learning - as we all should be. I guess right now I'm slightly to the right of centre, but I recently finished a book that showed me it's not all about left and right.

The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky makes a clear division between nations where someone can express a dissenting view without fear - a free society - and a fear society where dissent is squelched.

Using his own examples as a dissident in the Soviet Union, and drawing on his more recent experiences as an Israel cabinet minister, Sharansky paints a very practical picture of ideas and policies that could change the world.

In agreement with the book, this editorial makes a bold case for true democracy and its power to change lives:

Best of all is the line that "though tyranny has few advocates, it needs more adversaries." One critique of the President's push for democracy is the idea that the U.S. should not too visibly support the world's democratic dissidents and movements, lest they be tainted by American associations. But we suspect that champions of liberty in places such as Egypt, Iran and China take greater courage from an America that states its purposes boldly than one that fears its own shadow. Since when did the love of liberty become the love that dare not speak its name?

Friday, March 24, 2006

3 Fantastic Quotes

3 great quotes I saw at the end of Tom Watkins' Encouragementors newsletter this morning:

To do is to be. Renee Descarte, 1596- 1650.
To be is to do. Jean-Paul Satre, 1905- 1980.
Do be, do be, do. Francis Sinatra, 1915-1998.

Love it!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How To Avoid The Biggest Minefield In Consulting

How To Avoid The Biggest Minefield In Consulting

Great article from Sean D'Souza here, about how to qualify your client when you're the consultant: you need to really define what they want.

It made me think about the other side of the equation - the client. How often do we want to do something in a general direction, but don't really know what we want?

I think there's an opportunity here for consultants of all kinds.

We all know there's no longer such thing as life-long job security, and very few people stay in the same industry. So, you'll have many people like myself, who want to "do something in the movies", or like my wife who wants to "do psychology".

Both of those fields have an immense number of sub-fields, and in fact, some crossover too. But looking in on an industry from the outside, it all looks mysterious.

As more and more people change careers, I predict there will be a burgeoning industry of career change navigators, who will help people get to what it is they really want.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thinking, leisure time and culture

As Marie gets into her studies, and I get into my screenwriting, my thoughts turned towards our different cultures, and their attitudes toward leisure time.

Perhaps the saddest thing about the Samoan culture Marie comes from - and I'm sure it's echoed in many more traditional cultures - is the lack of brain space to think, contemplate and really learn.

I'm sure people from any culture will relate to this: sometimes I'll meet someone, usually a distant relative from Marie's family, and try to make conversation and ... nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. Because that person is interested, really passionate about ... nothing.

I think it's not that the person has no real interests, but their culture has told them that their job in life is to shut up and get on with - whatever it is everyone's supposed to be doing. It's a singularly wasteful existence.

And it's not just more traditional cultures like that of Samoa, either. My own mother tells of how her mother used to get irritated seeing her lost in a book, or playing around. "Do something useful!", my grandma would yell. There's nothing more guaranteed to squash creativity and independent thinking. Thankfully, my grandma also loved art, and allowed my mum to enjoy that part of life without feeling guilty for not being 'busy'.

Aristotle said, "Thinking requires leisure time". Sometimes it's actual minutes and hours we need; more often it's an attitude of mind where we can ponder, mess about and come up with a new take on every day experiences.

I'm so blessed to be in the job I am in, where daily I am thinking of how to make commonplace facts more interesting and even entertaining to the readers of my articles. And to be given permission by my wife to indulge in screenwriting, which could be a perpetual hobby but also could be, just maybe, a lucrative business.

If you're reading this, chances are you already have "leisure time" in your head. People who feel they should be "doing something" aren't likely to read a blog. But if you know someone caught in the "busy mindedness" trap, today help them to step off the treadmill, and see the fascinating thing that is our shared life on planet earth.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Re-vision business at virtual chautaqua

There's so much great stuff to read sometimes; I wish I could spend the whole day just taking it all in.

However my little bit of learning today comes from Virtual Chautaqua, where they're currently discussing Ginger Grant's book "Re-visioning the way we work".

The concept of the book is fascinating: Using Joseph Campbell's heroic journey as a prototype for business change.

I don't know whether it's my increasing interest in story and the movies, but it seems Joseph Campbell is everywhere I turn! It's interesting to see the direction Grant has taken the idea in.

Here are some quotes from the book:

"Using a broad definition of creativity, to provide a corporate structure that is innovative and open to expansion is no less an artistic act than the creation of a symphony or a body of literature."

"In a for-profit, especially stock-price-driven corporate culture, decades of hard-line, profit-margin mentality have eroded the possibility of a meaningful connection between corporate leaders and employees, as well as shared participation in a corporation's fundamental vision."

"As Jungian analyst James Hillman suggests, 'Ideas we have, and do not know we have, have us.' In other words, if you don't know the myth you are living, then the myth lives you. Is it possible that if organisations lose awareness of foundational stories which contain fundamental operating principles, such organisations will flounder when they encounter difficulty? Perhaps the loss of such a powerful mythic foundation creates the difficulty in the first place?"

Join the conversation at Virtual Chautaqua.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The power of a visible goal

All last week I was in a workshop with LA-based screenwriter Paul Margolis, who was coaching some of us kiwi screenwriters on how to sell direct to Hollywood.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating week, where we got to meet kindred spirits, talk about our passion and get solid feedback from Paul and from each other. It was amazing to see how people's ideas developed and grew over the week.

But the best thing about the whole week was Friday night, where Paul called our collective bluffs. He said in Hollywood you usually get three months to write a script. That's 12 weeks - and with usualy screenplay lengths, that's 10 pages a week. That's 2 pages a day, assuming you take weekends off. That's roughly half a page an hour.

All of a sudden, instead of an abstract goal - writing a Hollywood screenplay - we had a frighteningly tangible goal: a completed first draft by June 2nd. The scariest part was four hours a day working on the script.

It was scary but it worked. It was like the mid-point in a movie where the hero can no longer go back to his ordinary life. We were no longer amateurs and strangers; we are now a band of writers, mutually committed to a deadline. We're all working on different projects, but one of the key motivators will be not wanting to look silly in front of the others come June 2nd.

Now I'm motivated! And today will be my first four hour shift. I'm going out tonight, but even if I'm up in the wee hours - I'll be doing that four hours. Because I've found a) what I love to do, and b) a system of discipline to help me do it.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Communication - so much going on

As I interviewed two people for an article today I marvelled at how much goes on when you're sitting across from someone, simply talking.

A lot of it is unconscious, of course. I guess most people don't even think about it. The only reason I do is that I realised I kind of think like a computer - where a conversation is a transfer of information, nothing more, nothing less.

In reality, none of us thinks like a computer. In every conversation, your mind is assessing:
  • your environment
  • the other person(s) - their intent, personality, and most importantly how much like us they are
  • the body language, pauses, backtracks, and facial expressions of the other person
and finally
  • what they're saying
The reason I thought I think like a computer was that, as an interviewer, I'm so focused on the information aspect of it that I can't take in the multitude of other stimuli.

Why am I mentioning this? In case there are other souls like me out there who, for some reason or another, suffer information overload during a simple conversation. The first step towards changing your overload reaction is being aware. And it's amazing what you can do when you're aware.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Richard Taylor - egomaniac?

That's probably the headline you're least likely to see anytime soon.

Richard Taylor, head of WETA workshop and now 5-time Oscar winner, is a consummately nice guy. Over the days since the Oscars, I've heard him repeatedly say that his wins are wins for the whole WETA team - the same line he's taken at every previous win.

Taylor knows the power of the media - how when you're famous, every little word means something, even if it doesn't in reality. So he sticks carefully to the message that's most important to him - that it's not about him personally, it is about the dedicated men and women who work without the public recognition.

Being any sort of leader is like being famous on a smaller scale. Marie's finding that in her job as a supervisor. Words and actions take on a symbolic, as well as an actual, meaning. So while it may seem unnecessary to repeat and reinforce your key messages, people notice if you do, and they notice if you don't.

Full credit to Taylor, not just for leading the winning team, but also for being so remarkably consistent in acknowledging the work of that team.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Confidence + Knowledge

I was watching Aliens on the weekend - great movie - and thought about how Ripley counterpointed with the arrogant team of marines. (This will make no sense unless you've seen the film)

Ripley had knowledge, but at first no confidence - just nightmares. The marines had bucketsfull of confidence, but no knowledge, and, come to think of it, little wisdom!

As I watched I thought about my approach to life. I tend to put a lot of stock in knowledge, because in the past I've been burned through lack of it.

Particularly in my mind was the Crossover experience - an experience that played out partly on these pages - which was simultaneously the best and worst experience of 2005.

But a lot of the problem with me was lack of knowledge. I was suddenly a co-producer of an independent film, with zero knowledge of how things worked. There were so many reasons why I got out of the project, and why it eventually aborted, but in hindsight my lack of knowledge made it nearly impossible to play my part.

It's actually good to go through that sort of experience - once. It shows you how much you need to learn.

However, there's a point where you know as much as you can know without doing stuff. It's like a chemical reaction - you need just the right amount of element A (knowledge) and element b (confidence), and you get an explosion! (A good one)

So, just like Ripley was able to put her first-person knowledge of the Alien to work, gathering confidence but not cockiness, so I am aiming to put the hard-learned lessons of 2005 - and the continually growing knowledge of 2006 - into action, in controlled, well-planned bits.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Breakfast of Champions

I'm opening my kimono here by being vulnerable ... and probably stating the banally obvious, but it wasn't obvious to me.

This morning I failed on a job - what I wrote wasn't what the client wanted, nowhere near. Worse still, they needed something asap so they got in another writer.

Of course, I felt stink. It's easy to take something like that to mean I am a failure personally, and can never succeed in my chosen profession.

In the past, I would be only fleetingly aware of this feeling, and try to 'press on regardless'. But I'm becoming a lot more aware of myself lately - maybe it's Marie's psychology studies, maybe it's just maturity with age - and I changed my own rules.

First of all, I kept open the channels of communication to my client. Through that, I realised they didn't blame me for missing the mark on this job, and were still prepared to work with me in future.

Secondly, I asked to see the eventual piece of copy that worked. This will help me know what their needs are for that client if I can help them in the future.

Just following those two steps helped me feel immeasurably better about myself, and my chances of living long and prospering.

To follow up, I sent a request for feedback to another client for whom I'd just finished a job yesterday. Sometimes in solo/freelance professions helpful feedback is nonexistent or only extreme ("I loved it", or "we can't use this"), so it helps to get something more consistent. And to do that, you've got to ask for it.

In The One Minute Sales Person, it says "Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions". I'm going to make sure I have breakfast every day.

Getting mobile: JasJar product review

For almost a month I've been using (on loan) the iMate JasJar as part of a story I'm doing for Management Magazine.

In the brief 1500 words I'm given I don't have any space to mention what the product is like, so I'll post a review here because:
  1. It's relevant to just about anybody who wants to be more productive these days
  2. I can
  3. I might catch the eye of some editor who's looking for a great product reviewer, and/or
  4. I might catch the eye of some vendor who's looking for someone to shower their products upon!
One lives in hope.

I'll start with the only two gripes I have about the JasJar, because otherwise it is perfect. It's just a bit big to carry around all the time, and a bit bulky for the pocket - a kind of tough problem to overcome, because I wouldn't be fond of a smaller keyboard!

Second gripe is that it's designed for a right-handed person, so I actually block my own view when I scroll down, unless I suddenly become ambiguous. Sorry, ambidextrous!

But as I mentioned, it's near perfect in every other way. It combines a phone with a computer running Windows Mobile 5, which means if you're a Windows user (if you don't know, you probably are) you'll be in familiar territory.

It's amazing how many ways around you can have this beasty. The screen twists like a Tablet PC, which means you can have it like a laptop, or twist and fold the screen to be like a little notepad. Handwriting recognition's also surprisingly good, even when I do my doctor impression.
The big question is: how useful is it to me? Does it really add value? It certainly has in this past month as I've been working on three stories and trying to tee up others ... driving cars ... catching buses ... waiting in waiting rooms!

Being able to check email remotely was a godsend when I'm out of the office all day. It also helped to be able to look things up on the web, and use Word, Excel and even PDF files on the go. Only trouble with PDFs, though, is they're not that user friendly on the small screen. Nice touch, though!

An unusual side-effect of having the JasJar was increased popularity. You're automatically a more interesting person when you have a tiny computer, and inquiring minds want to know what it is you're doing...

I've got to admit, there were some times I just checked email because I could. And I suppose therein lies the danger of mobile technology - not within the technology itself, but in the people who use it.

So... at $1999 retail, would I actually go out and buy an iMate JasJar? I'm normally a very conservative technology buyer - it takes a lot for the benefits to outweigh the cost in my estimation. But after a month of being able to check emails on the run, being able to check IMDb right after seeing a movie, and working on the bus .... I'm really, really tempted.

Thanks to Vodafone and their PR agency Mango for the lend of the JasJar and also the Vodafone Mobile Connect Card. Much appreciated.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Charting your way to new knowledge

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Star Trek. So it hits the spot to compare knowledge processing to surveying a new planet!
Which is all a long-winded way of getting to what it says on that page:
In problem-based learning, each student group is like a party of explorers entering new territory. As a group they decide what neighboring areas they should reconnoiter, the individual members scout these areas and return to describe things they discovered that are relevant to the party’s interests. It is important in this process that the scouts know what they are looking for (have well-defined learning issues). In this effort, each member learns different things that get integrated and used to make decisions. Not all of the information will be transmitted to the others. When the expedition is over and the party needs to summarize their explorations, they draw a map that captures the important features of the territory. This would correspond to a PBL group constructing a concept map. The instructor or tutor serves as a native guide in this analogy.
This is from the University of Delaware's Chemistry department, and I found it after doing a Wikipedia search on "Mind Mapping".

What got me started?

I don't often visit Creating Passionate Users, one of the blogs on my blogroll, but when I do, it's usually for a long time!

This time it was for some research into working spaces for an article I'm writing, but as sometimes happens, something else caught my eye.

That article was quite interesting, but what interested me more was this:
"We don't use the concept of a conventional "outline" for our books--mind maps take us from initial brainstorming to final storyboards."
This is one of those things that is so obvious, yet I don't put it into practice. I've been frustrated with the limitations of outlines for a long time, but never put the time in to discover how to get the best out of mind maps.

So further down in the article I found a link to some free mind-mapping software, and then a quick Wikipedia search on the term "mind-mapping" and its cousin "concept mapping" ... and the rest is history.

Happy mapping!

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