Ponderances of Steve

August 5, 2012

12 Most Must-Have Free Utilities for Wrangling Text Files

Filed under: gtd,Reviews,Writing — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:14 pm

I love text files. Unlike an MS Word document, text files contain no formatting, which makes them smaller, easier to search and faster to open. They commonly have a file extension of .txt or .log. (Click here to show file extensions on your system.) I use text files all the time. For writing, for lists, links and reminders, for activity logs, and on rare occasions, for programming. I create them, search for them, manipulate them and play with them. While Windows does allow for text files, it sort of treats them like neglected step children, used mostly for batch files (small programs), log files and ReadMe files. Windows prefers to think about proprietary files, like Word and Excel documents. File search in Windows 7 will only look in approved directories. Well, I enter all my articles in a text editor (not a Word Processor). I save files in funny places and I search for them often. I needed better tools than Windows offered and I found them. Most are small, brilliant and portable, (no-install, just unzip and use, with no menu items or registry changes). Any one of these could lighten your workload. So jump right in and give one a try. You’ll find help pages on most of them. At the very least, install Win32pad and Everything file finder, both suitable for newbies. The following are listed in order of increasing geekiness.

1. Win32pad http://www.gena01.com/win32pad/download.shtml

Win32pad is a must-have replacement for the crippled Windows text editor, Notepad. Killer features include: a) full compatibility with Notepad; b) Exit on Esc; c) Auto-indent; d) highlighted, clickable links on well-formed URLs, like http:// and file:// ; and e) File Change alert (when another program modifies an open file, aka Dirty File notification).

2. Everything http://www.voidtools.com/

Everything is a file finder. Search Google for “everything” and you will find the coolest file finder in the world. Everything, by VoidTools, offers AJAX-like find capacity. (Search results populate down as you type.) But unlike the Find box in the Windows Start menu, Everything can find every single occurrence of files on your computer. There are options to include or exclude certain files, file types or whole folders. Search Results include: Name, Path, Size, Date Modified. No one who uses it can ever go back to plain old Windows Search.

3.  BareGrep http://www.baremetalsoft.com/

Baregrep lets you search inside all your files for a word or phrase found inside any of them. It then returns not only the filenames, but also shows you the word in context of each line in which it was found. Thus you see how many times that word showed up in each document. While this works best for text files, it works adequately for Word documents if you just disregard the formatting characters found at the beginning of each search result line. This makes it easy to find stuff when you don’t remember what a file is called. You can think of BareGrep as the Everything tool for looking inside of files for words and phrases.

While Windows offers something similar in its Search box, you have to open every file it offers to see how the phrase shows up in the context of the file. With BareGrep, it’s right there in the Results panel. But what makes it amazing is that it allows you to search on powerful text patterns called Regular Expressions (RegEx). With them, you can search for all lines in all files that contain, for example, a date in any format (12/02/99, 99.12.02, 2 December 1999, or 2 Dec 1999). From the Search results, you can double click on any line to open the source file. While visiting their site, be sure to click on Regex Reference, or learn about Regular Expressions online. Unbelievably useful! (For geeks, this is a GUI version of the grep command.)

BareGrep TIP: While the configuration settings are not sticky (remembered in next session), you can set some command line options in a Windows shortcut to the program, things like default directory. For you geeks, here’s the Target field of my BareGrep shortcut: “D:\Program Files\Util\baregrep.exe” -i -d D:\ ” a ” *.txt This says to launch BareGrep with Ignore Case, Default Folder of D:\, Files type of *.txt and default Text search of ” a “. As I type in new text, it automatically begins to search.

4.  xPlorer2 http://zabkat.com/x2lite.htm

xPlorer2 is a dual-pane, multi-tab file manager to replace the more confusing Windows Explorer. It’s a joy to use and feature-rich. I normally keep two panes open, with 3-5 tabs each. While the Lite version uses the Windows Search command by default, you can change that in Advanced Options or use the better Find utility that comes in the Pro version. There is extensive Help, including great screencasts. A file manager is used to view and play with your files. You can run program installers that you have downloaded or copy files from one folder to another. Or you can rename and move the file attachments from an email that were stored in your Download folder.

xPlorer2 TIP: Check the option in Help / How do I? to see tutorials, but be sure to uncheck it when done. When you click on Help / Contents, you get prompted to download the PDF Help file, xplorer² PDF manual. Unzip it and place it in the program directory of xPlorer2. Unfortunately, the download page for the xplorer2 Help file is confusing. Be sure to click on the top right Download link. Configuration TIP: Be sure to check the following: Tools / Options / Window / Tree / Keep Synchronized with folder in active view pane. For a simpler file manager, more like Windows Explorer in XP, you might prefer CubicExplorer, a nice single-pane file manager with tabs. I found some of the configurations to be confusing. But it’s real easy to use. And the tabs are great.

5.  PNotes http://pnotes.sourceforge.net/index.php

Ever need to write down a quick note while working on other things? PNotes is a sticky note utility, allowing you to create lots of notes on your screen, which can later be dismissed or saved at TXT or RTF files. You can even launch timed reminder notes. I use this program to pop up at regular intervals (15 min) to ask me, “What are you working on? Is there a higher priority?”. My answer goes into my ActivityLog.txt file. I open the file directly from the note by double clicking on the space that follows this line file://D:\dat\ActivityLog.txt. You can set this file to anything you want, as long as there are no spaces in the filepath. Clickable http:// and file:// links (like those in Win32pad) are great in timed reminder notes. Alternatively you could use Stickies which is much like Pnotes.

6.  TyperTask http://www.vtaskstudio.com/support.php

TyperTask is a portable*, tiny (53k) “text expander” utility, to replace repetitive cut and pastes. It works like AutoCorrect or AutoText in MS Word. But it works in every browser, text editor and text box in Windows. The replacement text is triggered by assignment to either configurable keywords or hotkeys. So, you would set a keyword to autoexpand into some block of plain text, such as a signature line in an email. It comes with an adequate Help file. Configuring it is a snap. Alternatively, you might like HotkeyP  HotkeyP is a tiny, portable hotkey manager. Assign a keyboard shortcut or mouse shortcut to any executable file, block of text, document, folder or web page. Harder to configure with poor help file, but worth it. I set my Right-Left mouse clicks (rocker action) to go Back in any browser. And Left-Right to go Forward.

TyperTask TIP: make sure you choose unique keywords, ones you don’t normally use while typing. TyperTask compares to much larger progams, like PhraseExpress (4 mb) and ActiveWords (22 mb) which have the added feature of saving formatting. *TyperTask TIP: As a “portable application,” you will need to unzip this file folder into some trusted place, like a newly created folder called Utils. Create Utils under the Programs folder and unzip this file into there, resulting in this: C:\program files\Utils\TyperTask

Note: A regular (non-portable) program comes with its own installer, which when run, puts the files in the correct folder and places entries into the Start menu and registry. A portable program can be installed onto a USB or external drive, which can then be used on any machine. Or it can be put into any folder of your computer. It makes no changes to the system registry.

7.  Keynote NF http://code.google.com/p/keynote-nf/

Keynote NF is the evolution of Tranglos Keynote (by Marek Jedlinski), with New Features. It’s a hierarchical note taking utility with RTF formatting, much like an editor. It’s amazing for those who think in hierarchies. Killer features include: a) Tie any note to an external txt file. b) Clipboard Capture feature that, when enabled, auto appends to the active note every single time you copy something to the clipboard with Ctrl-C, without ever having to change apps and hit Paste. It’s great for copying lots of text clips or quotes from web pages. For a bit simpler interface, try TreePad Lite  Or you might prefer a webapp for this, like EverNote.com  but it’s slower.

8.  Notepad2 http://code.google.com/p/notepad2-mod/

Notepad2 is another Notepad replacement, available in several different flavors, but geared more towards programmers. This version includes these options: Exit on Esc, File Change Notification and Bookmarks (for jumping back and forth to different locations in the file). For programmers it includes: Syntax Highlighting (color coded keywords in program files), Code-Folding, Highlight Current Line, View Line numbers and Regular Expression search. Plus it will highlight all occurrences of any selected phrase. I love that. Unfortunately, it does not support clickable URLs. That would be a deal breaker, unless I happen to need the bookmarks, which are fun. Choose the first download (.exe) for a regular Windows installer, or use the .zip file for a portable, hand install. (Drop it in your Utils directory and create a shortcut to it.) Then spend some time configuring the Settings and View menus.

9.  Notepad++ http://notepad-plus-plus.org/

Notepad++ is a great programmers editor, but you don’t need to be a programmer to benefit from it. While it does make writing computer code a joy (compared to Notepad), writers will appreciate its many features: a) MDI tabbed editor for multiple documents and session management; b) Regular Expression (RegEx) Search & Replace; c) Select any word and all occurrences of that word are highlighted; and d) Column Mode Select allows for Block Cut & Paste. Say you want to cut all the http:// off the front of each line in the file. Or paste a preface to each line, all at once. Hard to explain without seeing it. There are countless text manipulation commands, like Convert Case and Join Lines, and lots of Plugins. And the program is in constant development. Alternatively you might like PSPad, another great programmers editor.

10.  Programmer’s Notepad http://www.pnotepad.org/

Programmer’s Notepad is an adequate editor for programming. But it is great for those who want to write notes and articles in a text editor, rather than a word processor like MS Word. Features: a) MDI tabbed editor; b) grep-like feature of showing all the lines in the active file that contain a text string; and c) remembers all files that were loaded in last session.

11.  TextView http://www.flos-freeware.ch/archive.html

TextView is a great text file viewer. Nice when you just need to quickly peek inside lots of text files. You can page through a number of files with a single click at a time, one after the other. With another click, you can launch the default editor for the active file (in my case, Win32pad). It is a two-pane viewer. In the left pane is a list of files in the current directory. In the right pane, is the contents of the file you clicked on, looking much like it would in an editor. The benefit is you don’t have to open and close all those files when you are just looking for something. And there is no risk of making any changes to the file. It also allows for Exit on Esc key, one of my favorite features. Plus it’s small and portable.

12.  WinMerge 2.12.4 http://winmerge.org/

WinMerge is “Text Diff engine.” When you need to know if two files are identical, you could use the COMP command-line utility that comes with Windows. But when you actually need to see what has changed, say between two versions, you need a strong file compare utility for Text Differences. WinMerge is a two-pane file viewer, with one file in each pane. This utility allows you to compare two versions of a document, in order to see the differences. It will show line by line comparisons, with different color fonts showing the differences. Includes option Browse the file directory for each file, or Drag & Drop the filename and path from Windows Explorer. And allows for Esc to Exit the program. Alternatively you might like the Text Diff feature in PSPad, another excellent programmer’s editor.

Bonus Section: Not exactly text utilities but very useful.

*   Greenshot screen capture http://sourceforge.net/projects/greenshot/

Greenshot is a fabulous screen capture utility, allowing you to select the area of the screen you want, and add text, arrows, highlighter, obfuscater, all before you even save the file. Even the Help file is excellent. Give it a quick read. Or hit PrntScreen and Drag to select and play. The download also comes as an Installer or a portable zip version. I suspect that even the zip file install modifies the registry some, as it adds a hook to PrntScreen. Small at 1mb and well designed. All my favorite things. If I were to create a screen capture program from scratch, this is how I’d do it. Perfect for those who write tutorials. But for faster auto-save of lots of screenshots, you might prefer MWSnap.exe

*   KeePass http://keepass.info/download.html

Some folks keep their passwords in text files, some on scraps of paper, neither of which is very secure. KeePass is a popular password database that sits on your PC. Save all your passwords in a single password protected, encrypted database file. Also allows for some automated logins and auto insert of key text, like Username and Password on web forms. Easy to use (except for the automation) and allows you to “Export to text file.” Or you might prefer the webapp LastPass.com for saving your passwords “in the cloud,” meaning online.

Text files, they aren’t just for geeks anymore. Or maybe you’re geekier than you think. Every one of these makes far more sense when you see a screenshot of the utility. So feel free to visit each site. Best of all, every one is FREE. What are some of your favorite text utilities?

December 6, 2011

New Manager Advice

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:57 pm

Woman to ManMy friend decided to give up her chiropractic practice and take a management job for a tennis association. She was an outstanding chiropractor and a very successful volunteer organizer, which is harder than it looks. She’s good at getting all of her Do List done and loves people. But she’s never managed anyone besides her family and a few assistants for her practice. Basic talents, but no insights. I gave her a quick course in what I thought she needed to know starting in a new management position.

  1. Discouragement. The absolute worst that she could do on that new job was to do okay. She could not fail. Turns out she knew this. But she wanted to be more than just okay. So I told her she would have times in the first few months where she was sure they’d made a mistake in hiring her (out of dozens of applicants). She’d be sure that she wouldn’t be able to get it. It’s just standard in most any job, but especially in a management job where you don’t know your staff.
  2. Fresh Eyes. Your first two weeks are the most important time of your employment there. Not so much for the impact you’ll make. They expect you to bumble a bunch of things when you’re new. The first two weeks are important because it is the only time you will have a fresh view of the organization. You will want to dismiss lots of what you see, figuring that you are just too new to understand. And by the second month, you will have forgotten most of what you noticed when you were new. Take the time to note all the things that look out of balance, workflows that don’t work and any questions you have. Make sure it all gets documented. What are the things you figured out on your own that you wish someone would have told you?
  3. Reading. If you could only read one business book, given your existing skills and personality, read this one:  What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  It is for advanced managers, but it is in no way a difficult read. It’s dirt simple. For example when you are working your way up the ladder, it makes sense to offer suggestions on a project that someone shows you. It makes you look contributory and collaborative. But when you are the boss, you don’t get to do that. Your “suggestions” are often taken as orders because you have too much power in that exchange. So you need to trust your people to do it their own way, unless there is a real problem you need to head off at the pass.
  4. Productivity. The larger your ambition (like improving the association) the more likely it is that you will no longer be able to complete your Do List. You will always have more things to do than you have time for. The art of getting things done will boil down to which things you choose to do and when. Ultimately it comes down to knowing what not to do. Get in the habit of looking for things that don’t need to be done, even if they’ve always been done. Look for things you can delegate or drop all together.
  5. Debriefing. It is a poorly understood concept. Basically, it’s active learning from an event that is already over. We tend to learn passively, wrongly believing that we can remember all that went wrong from the event and passively vowing to not do those things next time. By building a formal process, one with specific questions and invited guests, we make our learning active. We learn more and better. What have we learned? What can we do better next time? Who else should we include in the event or the debrief? You can even debrief alone, by documenting what you learned in the form of a white paper or blog post, for others to learn from. We write better, and therefor learn better, when we write for an audience or a coach.

What made this advice work for her was that it was tailored to her current understanding and skill set. If she’d never managed anyone before, the ideas might have been more basic. Have someone who understands business debrief your early days and it will make the whole experience more rewarding and productive.

November 25, 2011

How I Quit and Unquit NaNoWriMo

Filed under: Writing — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:19 pm

NaNoWriMo

I’d had a few days of abject depression and defeat, having given up on my #NaNoWriMo novel. Why? Because I was getting too upset about the theme on which the novel was built, namely that there is some benevolent reason for all the really bad crap in history. All that bad stuff I was looking at to create the backstory was getting me really worked up. On a good day, any one of those issue will put some stress on me. But these were not good days. I was not able to add enough words to my chapter to make my word count for two days in a row. And I was doing all sorts of research to find good sources. The effect was to trigger lots of upsetting issues on a bad week, pushing me into overwhelm.

So just stop, I thought. Just give up the #NaNoWriMo contest. I won it last year, so it’s not like I don’t know if I can do it. And besides, I don’t have that many people rooting for me this year. Less than a handful would even notice if I never finished. I was even disappointed at the lack of support from my twitter followers when I’d post my word count. So go ahead. Quit. Much as I hated to quit this one, it was best for my mental health. It was the right thing to do. When my chiropractor (one of the five people who knew) asked why I quit, I replied simply that I didn’t like the ending. It was concise and accurate. I could not think of an ending to the story I was building that I actually liked. I knew it had to be a big ending, but I couldn’t make it work. For me, that lead to running out of words.

So I put it away. I worked on the forgiveness of self. I tried to explore the peace of having nothing urgent in my life that needed doing. It was challenging and required some effort not to fill the space with busy work and distractive stuff. Just rest. Just relax. Just forgive.

But I kept returning to the the story in my mind, looking for some ending that would be more palatable, more believable, one I actually liked. It was not done with the intention of finishing the novel. It was more the automatic workings of my brain to solve the puzzle. And if perchance I could find a decent ending, then maybe I would return to writing it. Someday. I’d love to finish the competition, and the novel, which are two very different things. I only needed 8,000 more words to win the 50,000 words required in the competition. But the novel needed another 30-40,000 words. And if it turned out to be a good novel, worthy of getting published, that would be fabulous.

So after a dreary day, with an early bedtime, interrupted by neighbor’s TV she’d fallen asleep on, I woke on the fourth day of not writing with something of a clear head. I started to get some idea kicking around that might work, but nothing concrete. I dashed off to do some errands and the ideas began to crystallize. I was not sure I could fix it, but at least I had a place to start. I had words to write.

It was turning out to be a smart day. And it was not likely to last long. I needed to use it wisely. After 4 days, I had unquit NaNoWriMo.

It is worth noting that I had violated the primary purpose of #NaNoWriMo, which is to write with abandon, without concern for how the story works. When we removed the pressure of perfectionism and seriousness, we are free to write more. And writing more teaches us to write with abandon. As usual, I took it far too seriously. Last year, I was wise enough to agree to try to write 50,000 words of a bad novel. Sure it was flawed, but I learned a lot last year that made this novel better. Still, I need to learn to write with abandon.

August 5, 2011

Teachers Need Mentors, Tutorials and Aggregators

Filed under: Coaching,MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 9:03 pm

LeadershipDay11 LogoI was inspired when I read this post  CALLING ALL BLOGGERS! – LEADERSHIP DAY 2011, (Twitter hashtag #LeadershipDay11). It said on Friday, August 5, 2011, bloggers should “Blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership.” Unfortunately, I did not have time to write a good tutorial or deep think piece. What I could post is what I believe are the three most important resources that a teacher of computer technology could have: Mentors, Tutorials and Aggregators.

But first some background. When I use the word “tech”, I mean all introductory computer technologies that might be used or taught in schools. This includes things like social media, programming, hardware repair, smart phones, web search and online teaching.

This is a challenging time to be a teacher. Added regulations, economic cuts, troubled kids. We need our kids to be better prepared for a technical future we are racing toward. But how do we ask our teachers to do that? How do we ask them to teach better use of technologies to students who sometimes have more experience than the teacher? How do we even begin to hold schools accountable for teaching certain skills when our administrators are unsure of what to measure?

The problem is not that we lack quality information and resources to teach such tech skills. It is readily available online. The problem is that the good information we need is often buried under a pile of mediocre or faulty information. As more and more bloggers come online to “create useful content” and “generate revenues,” we find the quality of their posts faltering. They get rewarded for dramatic stories and page hits, rather than information quality.

Take, for example, something as simple as a web search for buying a computer hard drive. If you know the brand, you can easily find it online and buy it. But what if you don’t even know what brand you want? Does it even matter? Do some hard drives last longer and get better reviews than others? Do some come with better warranties? Which online vendors have the best prices, service and reputation? More importantly, which vendors should you avoid at all costs? Recently I needed a hard drive. I could buy a 500 GB drive locally for about $60 including tax. But I got a Seagate with great reviews in only three days for under $40 delivered from a world class online vendor called http://newEgg.com. I could just as easily have ordered it from a company known for hidden charges and terrible service, if I were shopping on price alone.

Doing a simple websearch looks so simple that you can explain it in about a minute. Once you’ve done a search yourself, you feel confident you have no need to learn any more. But what about doing a powerful websearch? That takes some training. You have to learn how to use what are called “operators” and “Advanced Search” in order to do highly specific searches. You have to read the Help files of search engines and the Tips articles on blogs. You have to care enough to get good at the basics of real web searches.

But why? When search engines are so good at guessing what I want, why do I even have to learn how to use operators for more refined searches? Because sometimes, you just can’t find what you want with a simple search. You get too many results. Or worse, you think you’ve found it, but it is not a quality source. Just because it was on a web page does not make it true.

One of the computer literacy skills students need is advanced websearch. These skills are so important that I feel schools need to have monthly drills for all students. Why monthly? Because you tend to forget what you don’t use regularly. And even if you don’t use advanced search skills now, you will absolutely need them in the future.

So at one level I really am telling teachers to train students in Advanced Search skills and to test on it regularly. That would be great. But you won’t find that in most tech curriculums. Why? Because it looks too simple and no one on the tech team saw the importance of it. They had no reference for its place of value.

Unless you’ve been in the industry (blogging, business, web development, computer repair, whatever), you have no way to know what is most important. If you are lucky, you are told what to teach and what sites to use. If not, then you do your own search and hope for the best. The teaching of Advanced Web Search is only one example of the many areas in which teachers need a mentor.

Learning tech is necessarily a social event. You can’t learn it alone, except in very small slices. You can’t possibly have learned in college all you need to teach your students now. By the time teachers graduate, much of what they learned was outdated. Those teachers who learned tech skills did so with the aid of others. They had people available to answer questions. Ideally they had a mentor as well.

 Teachers Need Mentors

Teachers need the guidance of seasoned tech mentors. It’s not simply to teach them all they want to know, but rather to point them in the right directions. That mentor need not be a consultant, but it can be. Teachers need mentors to help them distill which skills are most important and enduring for students. If a mentor can also teach, that’s great, but it is not the best use of their time. It is their wisdom and experience you want, more than their knowledge. The more time mentors spend teaching you the basics (which you can learn online), the less time they have to review your plans and answer your big questions. The greatest gift you can give to your mentor is to make effective use of their time, take reasonable risks and accomplish greatness. A mentor should point you to local business resources, tutorials, forums, social networks and online events, such as Twitter Chats for educators. They should even assign homework. They might even be a tech education evangelist. You need people who can share that vision. Mentor homework might look like this: Use TwitterFall and TweetGrid to follow #LrnChat and #edChat and #blogChat on Twitter. How will you find the time they meet?

 Teachers Need Tutorials

Teachers need great tutorials that walk them through what they need to do in order to launch a new program, step by step. Take student blogging, for example. Today it is almost as easy to set up a blog as it is to create an online email account. The problem is learning which ones are easiest to set up and use, and which sites allow for the best kinds of privacy your students deserve. Which features do I need to enable? How can I minimize my administration time and setup a sort of dashboard of all the student blogs in my class? None of these things are particularly hard, but figuring it out on your own takes a long time. One could argue that it’s not even possible to do it well on your own, not without a good social media network to point you to great tutorials.

 Teachers Need Aggregators

Finally, teachers need great aggregators. The term aggregator, as used in social networks, refers to people who review and collect the best resources in an area of expertise. Ideally they also publish them for others to view.  Jane Hart at Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies is a world class aggregator. No matter how great your mentor is, no matter how extensive your tutorials are, great aggregators are a joy to behold. These people love reviewing things. They love to distill the good stuff from the pile. They love being helpful and sharing what they’ve learned. What sounds like a burdensome request to you may be a great challenge to them. Students often make great aggregators, especially if you will coach them in the skills required to get there. Dictionary.com also defines the word aggregator as: a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.

Questions you might ask an aggregator:

  1. “Find me the best, easiest, and safest sites to create student blogs for our 4th grade class.” That might be very different than creating a blog for a high school class.
  2. “What’s the fastest way for our team to create online documentation on this project?” Notice I said fastest, and not the most secure. Such nuances matter. They are where great aggregators excel.
  3. “What are the top 10 sites and articles on teaching students to do their own crud detecting online?”

There are many things a teacher needs in order to succeed in presenting technology to kids: money, training, books and political support. But to excel at tech training for our kids, teachers need a solid foundation. That foundation includes mentors, tutorials and aggregators. All the rest can be worked out later.

Some Resources for Tech in Education

June 9, 2011

On-Label Marketing

Filed under: Marketing,Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:56 pm

Olive can labelSome food packages are boring, telling you just enough to buy the product you need. Others are so full of colors and claims that you can barely tell what the item is. Either way, people become desensitized to packaging. We remember the brand and general color so we can grab it off a shelf in a hurry. Enticing pictures or strong adjectives might help when we are looking for something new. But outside of the Nutrition Facts, we don’t look to the packaging of a food item for an education or a feel-good message. We don’t look because marketers don’t bother much with packaging, a task they normally relegate to the art department.

Because of its rarity, a great marketing message, right there on the label, is a joy to behold. With all the competition for shelf space, desktop space and mind space, I’m amazed that more companies don’t take the opportunity to tell their special story on the label. But you’d better have a real story to tell, or people will feel lied to and they’ll make fun of you. Take for example a brand of toilet paper called “Soft ‘n Gentle,” which in my experience turned out to be neither.

Lindsay Olives is a company that does on-label marketing well. It starts with their logo, which says, “Estd 1916″ above the name and below the olive tree. That makes me smile. I don’t normally think of an olive company as having such a rich heritage that they want me to know when it was established. Think winery.

What got me thinking about all this was their “Lindsay Naturals” line of California Green Olives. I love olives and sometimes eat them by the can. Cheap or expensive doesn’t matter. Mostly I eat olives in a cucumber and tomato salad my friend makes for me. Recipe here.

The Lindsay Naturals label is unassuming enough, with simple print on white background and some interesting adjectives. Who thinks of green olives as being “Smooth & Buttery”? That got my attention. Under the words, “California Green Olives,” we read, “Olives in water and sea salt, nothing else.” Once again, I’m tickled. I like that they use plain sea salt. And I like the “nothing else”. No preservatives, no colors, no flavors, but they didn’t have to say any of that. It’s all implied in the “nothing else” on the label. Eloquent. But it’s the back of the can where we get the real story:

THINK BLACK RIPE…

THESE ARE BETTER

These natural, freckled beauties without added preservatives are harvested just once a year to capture the smooth, buttery flavor. The taste is slightly salty, subtly nutty, and melt-in-your-mouth unique. Absolutely nothing like the tart Spanish green ‘martini’ olives.

Voted “favorite olive” by Lindsay Olives employees.

Much as I like all olives, I really wanted to try these particular olives. Turns out, they really were as good as they said. Had they not been great, had they even been mediocre, I’d be writing this same article while making fun of them, as a cautionary tale that you should not lie to people in the telling of your marketing story.

This was great writing! I particularly liked “nutty flavor” and the contrast to tart, Spanish green ‘martini’ olives. I love that the employees even have a favorite olive, and that management knows what it is. I’m sure that Subway employees have a favorite sub sandwich, but I don’t expect that upper management knows what it is. I feel like I know the people at Lindsay olives better than I did before I read the label. I also believe they really care about olives.

Even a can of their regular black olives tells us a story. “MIDDLE OLIVE SYNDROME That’s a compliment to this member of the family. Just the right size to be the center of attention, everywhere it goes. Savor Olive Life!”

They actually do make a good, firm, consistent black olive. They didn’t oversell it. They just told me a story.

Bear Naked? For another great example of on-label marketing, pick up and read a bag of Bear Naked granola. Their story is a delight, and I don’t even eat granola. But I’d love to meet these people. “It’s not just a food company. It’s a lifestyle.”

Sure I’m endorsing the Lindsay Naturals line, which come in both green and black olives. But what I really want you to walk away with is this notion of on-label marketing. When done well, on-label marketing can transform your product in the mind of the consumer.

Most marketing is in-your-face repetition, brute-force hyperbole and occasionally lies. At its worst, it does the job of getting you to think about their product. But at its best, marketing can be a spiritual adventure, enriching the lives of those it touches. It can even impact design and product development.

So tell us a story about your product and put it right there on the label. Make it engaging, brief and fun. And next thing you know, someone might just be blogging about it. Take comfort in knowing that you are making people’s lives better, even before they take your product home. Thank you, Lindsay Olives. You made my day.

One last thing. On-label marketing does not only apply to food products. It can apply to all sorts of consumer and commercial products, even websites. The question is this. How can you apply on-label marketing to educate and enrich the the experience of your users? How can your packaging make your product even better? There is no such thing as a great idea for a product, only great delivery.

DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I have no working or financial relationship with Lindsay Olives. And I’m staring at an empty can.

October 25, 2010

PLN Competencies

Filed under: Coaching,MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 1:28 am

Kids studying

You don’t have a strong PLN (Personal Learning Network) the moment you show up at the right group, even if it is the perfect fit for your particular interest. Admittedly, finding a group of folks who share your passions can offer support, guidance and quick tips for simple challenges. For example, finding the right quilting group for a lone quilter can be a dream come true.

But what if your passions are not so neatly contained? What if your interests are broad and interdisciplinary? Specifically, what if you just can’t find a group that shares your varied interests? You could join different groups for your different interests or even create a new one. That works fine for discrete fields, that is, until you start to ask cross-cultural questions no one else in that group is interested in.

A strong PLN is not just a group of people, any more than a strong college education is the particular college you went to. A friend of mine had this to say of his Harvard degree: “The classes I took were not what made my education so valuable. It was more about the friendships I made and the radically different world view I acquired while there. Things I used to think impossible became matter-of-fact, almost mundane.”

Sure, choosing a good fitting network can be invaluable. But the quality of your learning journey rests largely upon the quality of your relationships. The skills required to build strong connections do not come naturally to most people. They must be learned, refined and practiced in order to build a strong PLN. The strength of your PLN rests more on your skills than on the people you surround yourself with.

So, what abilities would we want to develop in order to grow a strong PLN, one which feeds our need for learning and embraces our unique contributions?

Some people define competencies as merely skills, something which the person has practiced to reasonable proficiency. I prefer the larger, more encompassing definition which includes attitudes, habits and perspective. Competencies are not just what a person can do, but rather includes what they are inclined to do and even to notice.

For example, I have the smarts, skills and experience to become a good computer programmer. However, after learning the basics of over ten computer languages, it is clear to me that I’ll never be an outstanding programmer. Why? Because I don’t have the discipline to maintain my focus for that long, nor do I have the memory required. In short, while I’m moderately proficient at my hobby, I lack the competencies to do well professionally in the field. The question is, can competencies be developed to at least proficiency levels? I believe they can … through training, coaching and rehearsal.

The following list is more descriptive than prescriptive. The actual development of such skills and habits is the focus of a course I am designing.

  1. Contribution: We need to learn which online behaviors actually contribute to another’s journey, as well as which are neutral and what is in fact a request. Sometimes our “gifts” may be asking a lot of the other. It is not always obvious. Critical feedback, for example, is abhorred by some, tolerated by others and warmly welcome by a few. Having learned what makes for great contributions, we then need to build habits and reliably add value to the discussions we follow. This includes comments, coaching, creating content and connecting people.
  2. Great Questions: They don’t come easily. For simple requests, it hardly matters. “What’s a good site for online security for kids and parents?” But even simple questions can be worded in a such a way as to make them difficult to answer. “What’s the best web host?” That’s a weak question. Best for what? Without a context and clear criteria, such questions are easily dismissed. The more people have to ask clarifying questions, the harder you made it for them to answer.
  3. Feedback: The ability to offer, collect and make effective use of feedback is critical to any success. Why? Because practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. It actually takes good feedback to make the effective course corrections for consistent improvements.
  4. Evaluation: In an ever-expanding sea of social media sites and web apps, the ability to quickly evaluate new products is crucial. We need to determine how well it might serve our intended usage and user population. A great product which is too complex or buggy for the experience level of our users is a waste of time. We need to know when to say, “Next!”
  5. Humble Boldness: Newbies to social media are usually so concerned about looking bad that they do far more “lurking” than participating. While you should listen to the tone of a discussion before you comment, at some point you just have to jump in. We need to learn how to step in with humility, to offer our help, perspective and support, knowing full well we will bumble some of it. That’s the price of entry. And we need to be quick to ask the questions that will support our quest, without worrying about burdening people or looking dumb. Hiding does not play well in social media.
  6. Basic Computer Skills: You need to know how to do things like copy and paste, how to download and install programs, and how to create text files. Without these kinds of skills, life is just harder online.
  7. Celebrating Aloud: I think of gratefulness as an internal feeling and thankfulness as the external expression of that feeling. How you feel inside does not matter to your online network unless you tell them. They don’t see the unspoken cues they might get in person. In addition to thanking individuals, there is also thanking your lucky stars. Tell the world when you feel fortunate, blessed, lucky. Celebrate the achievements, contributions and milestones of others. People want to feel that what they do matters, especially online, where feedback may be so sparse for newbies.
  8. Remixing: Reworking the things you’re exploring improves learning. Remix, repurpose, reuse, curate. The real challenge is to take what exists and make it better. Make it easier for others to use and understand.
  9. Leaving the Virtual: Sometimes you just have to get offline. You have to know when and how to leave the virtual world of online connections and pick up the phone (or Skype). You need balance or your learning will get scrambled. This might include play, time with friends and family and even walking the dog.

These are what I consider to be some of the basic competencies of social media for building a strong PLN. I chose them because they are doable, measurable and coachable. It’s easy to build meaningful tasks around them and they draw in other skills. What have I left out? How might we construct exercises that would help refine these skills?

Extra Notes on Competencies and Literacies

Competencies and literacies are fairly new constructs in learning theory, and not yet well agreed upon, not even on Wikipedia. The Washington State Department of Personnel defines competencies as, “the measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors (KSABs) critical to successful job performance.” I like acronyms.  And Microsoft offers a dizzying array of competencies here, with rubrics for measuring Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert Proficiency Level on each.  It seems that competencies have more to do with actions, and literacies have more to do with thinking and understanding. Rita Kop cites research that people might not necessarily have the critical literacies (thinking skills) required to learn and search independently, suggesting the need for some level of training or coaching. Here are Howard Rheingold‘s 5 Literacies: Attention, participation, evaluating credibility or critical consumption or “crap detection”, cooperation or collaboration and network awareness. He defines literacies as skills plus community (social media). He says,  “An RSS reader is not a queue; it’s a flow. You need to learn to sample the flow.”  In a SlideShare called Digital Tribes and the Social Web, Steve Wheeler identifies what he calls the Digital Literacies: Social Networking, Transliteracy, Privacy Maintenance, Identity Management, Creating content, Organizing content, Reusing/Repurposing content, Filtering and selecting, Self presenting. Others include taxonomies, social tagging, and collaboration.

All learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate.” – John Dewey

References

MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
PLENK2010: A MOOC to study PLE’s PLN’s and PKN. For more information, see my earlier post.

This post is part of my participation in the #PLENK2010 MOOC .

October 2, 2010

What Does Surplus Mean?

Filed under: other — Steve LeBlanc @ 2:12 pm

Today I saw this tweet by @timoreilly: From Amazon paper http://bit.ly/avoNpd: “The consumer surplus generated by niche books has increased at least five fold from 2000 to 2008.”  Without fully understanding that, I went to the article. I found myself still wondering what they meant by surplus. It seemed to be a technical term that meant more than just having extra books.

I thought about tweeting it, but having gotten limited response to my Twitter questions of late, I decided to search it on Google, which took me to Wikipedia. Surplus is when there is more supply than demand. But how does that benefit consumers, besides lower prices? And what does a five fold increase mean? I saw a link to Economic surplus, which then gave a unique definition for “consumer surplus.” It’s the amount that consumers benefit by being able to purchase a product for a price that is less than the most that they would be willing to pay. As it turns out, the law of supply and demand is actually measured in terms of consumer surplus and producer surplus.

Now it was starting to make sense. If a consumer would be willing to pay more than the current asking price, then they are getting more benefit from the purchased product than they spent to buy it. That benefit often translates into buying more products. So the place where I stumbled was thinking that the word I had misunderstood was, “surplus,” when in fact it was the phrase, “consumer surplus,” a technical term used in economics. But how does the Long Tail model of Amazon book sales translate to a consumer surplus? Oh, as it gets easier to sell niche books, there are more of them and they can be offered at a lower price than they used to be offered. Twenty years ago, I might have been willing to pay $120 for a rare book on collecting Victorian pottery. But now, when publishing is so much easier, I might well see it for $20. The Long Tail means more people are enjoying niche products, and Amazon can offer them cheaply.

Okay then. I’m glad we got that straightened out. Not sure what Long Tail is? Google it. In short it’s the idea that our old assumptions about the bad profit margins of niche products were wrong. Amazon now makes over 36% of its sales from niche books, from the Long Tail.

October 1, 2010

Why Having a PLE Matters

Filed under: MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:06 pm

An epiphany is a strange thing. You look at something that’s been around you for weeks or years and you see it as if for the first time. We have been told repeatedly in this #PLENK2010 MOOC * that we will get our largest benefits and leaps in understanding when we participate in the open space, specifically by posting in the forum and on our own blog. I didn’t quite get that until now.

One task I found particularly difficult to do was to post a concept map (CMap or Mind Map) of my PLE (Personal Learning Environment). I hate mind maps. I think better in outlines and I’m already aware of the implicit connections between different items on my lists. The lines don’t help me. I gain no new insights from them. It just feels like extra work to cram something into that form.

I thought I might try to detail my PLE in words, but that seemed counter to the spirit of the task. They wanted a picture. While it was sort of interesting to look at the CMAPs of others PLE, they didn’t seem to help my process. One reason I resisted doing a CMAP of my PLE was that my PLE was so paltry. I use less than a dozen web apps, mostly Twitter surfing, email and google. I have some social bookmarking accounts but I don’t use them. I never check my FaceBook account unless I get some activity on it, which is not often. I rarely go to Q&A sites, even though I love the idea. Heck, I don’t even use my RSS Feed reader (Google Reader) even though I set up a few dozen feeds. In short, my PLE is boring, too simple to make an interesting graphic.

What’s the point? I could not see any benefit to others or to me.

Ironically, while my tools are simple, my process is not. It’s fairly sophisticated, even if little of it is visible online. I use a wonderful a Notepad replacement called Win32pad, a text editor which allows me to click links and launch them in the default browser. I create text files, lots of them, to save links, write reviews and articles and develop projects. I rarely post the reviews, as they lean toward sloppy, snarky and incomplete. I admit to being something of a perfectionist and workaholic, so most of my work is never “good enough”. With effort, some of them would make for strong blog posts. But then, my attention is drawn to the next cool idea. Okay, so I have a little ADD, as well.

I know my current PLE does not fully support the PLN that I want. I even know about most of the tools that other people use, given that most of what I do online is to review web apps for social media. I begrudgingly admit that a mind map of my PLE might expose some of the more blatant weaknesses.

But why draw what is already clear in my mind? Why post what I know to be a sparse PLE? What good would that do others? Oh, I suppose they could give me feedback to improve it. And it might possibly serve someone reading it.

I will admit my PLE is not great. I want a strong PLN. And to get that, I’ll have to improve my PLE. But how? I have researched the heck out of the tools and I’m even in a MOOC that wants to define the PLE over and over again, ad nauseam. I’m choking on all the discussion while not getting my own questions answered. How can I improve my PLE?

Then it occurred to me. Oh, I can’t ask them that question without first showing them the current state of my PLE. I can’t ask them how to improve it until I tell them were it is today. One way to create it would be CMAP, but there are others ways, like bubbl.us. I could even draw them a word picture and then ask my question. Yes, that could work. Even if I just wrote a few paragraphs of my process, it would give them a starting point.

Okay, where to begin?

Tools: email, Skype/Phone, TwitterFall, PLENK, Twitter Surf, w/Chrome, Posterous, MyWPBlog, gCalendar, Memiary

My PLE

I’m Twitter-centric, which is to say my world revolves around Twitter. After I check my email, I look at Twitter to find interesting links from those few I follow (30). I open a new tab for each intriguing link I find in my Twitter feed. Usually that means 5-15 new tabs. Then as I go from tab to tab, the page has fully loaded. I use both the Twitter homepage and Chromed Bird, a Chrome extension, to read and post tweets. I then look for any @mentions of my name and DM’s.

I don’t get a lot of email, so that takes 5-20 minutes. I use Google Calendar to track recurring meetings and appointments. I use Skype to call into several weekly teleconferences. I check my blog for new comments to recent posts, and reply as needed. And I use TwitterFall to track Twitter Chats, such as #lrnChat, #EdChat and #InnoChat. And occasionally will use TwitterFall to look for things like #PLENK2010 or follow some conference. Then I put a few items of what I did this day into Memiary, a private diary which allows up to five items or insights per day. I use Posterous to post drafts of articles I’m writing on a password protected site that is open to my editor friends. It has too many formatting problems to be used as a real blog.

That’s pretty much it for what I use daily. I do keep lots of tabs open in Chrome, like 30-70, following my current interests, such as PLENK2010 for which I may have 15 open. I have lots of other Web 2.0 accounts, but rarely use them. Playlist.com, Delicio.us, Hulu.com, FaceBook, and some Q&A sites.

As an introverted, self-directed learner, I get most of what I want from my process of search and reading. Most, but not all. I don’t need much social engagement to learn stuff (even if recent research suggests I am not learning it as well as I think I am). But I do need social engagement to feel connected, aligned and a part of something important. And while my need for information is reasonably well satisfied, my need for connection is sorely shorted.

So it seems if I am to map out my PLE more completely, I will first need to better define what I want from it. What kinds of people do I want in my network and how many? What kinds of roles would I like them to play? I need to detail that.

How can I improve my PLE? It is apparent that I could use a dashboard, at least for #PLENK2010. Maybe NetVibes. Using a browser for my dashboard is cumbersome. I’m absolutely open to feedback.

September 27, 2010

Why MOOC Engagement is So Hard

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 12:45 am

MOOC?

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. It offers a social media framework to support open, informal, social learning on a topic. The MOOC I joined was called #PLENK2010 (Personal Learning Environment, Network, Knowledge). #PLENK2010 started in September 2010 and runs for 10 weeks. It was created to support several research projects on the subjects of PLE and emergent learning. Topics included learning theory, social learning, LMS (Learning Management Systems), PLE’s, PLN’s and Connectivism & Constructivism. I registered late, with no bad consequences.

Within the forums and Elluminate sessions, there was some discussion about why a MOOC is so frustrating. One reason is the way in which we think about classes. A traditional class has requirements, goals, tests and clear limits to what will be covered. The teacher’s job is to walk you through the material and insure that you learn it in the prescribed way. We are comforted by the milestones and limits of the class. We celebrate our completion. And our grades tell us how we did. When it’s over, it’s over. A traditional class is a good example of formal learning.

So it’s no surprise that when we drop these students into a MOOC, they are going to get frazzled. Such frustrations, we are told, is the norm and to be expected. I had to wonder if that was just a cop out for poor design. Even the navigation was challenging. But maybe the design was not so bad after all.

A MOOC has almost none of the safety features of a traditional class. Sure, it has a time, a topic and a location online. By that I mean a place to discuss the material under the loosest supervision of some moderators. It has no objective to achieve, no goals beyond that which you bring to it. It has no tests to tell you how you’re doing. There are no milestones beyond the abstractions of statistics. There is not even a glossary, unless of course, you decide to work on one for the group, which we did. There are no assignments or attendance requirements. There are suggested readings sent out in the Daily newsletter to offer a starting point. But you are not expected to read them all. Indeed, you are told it would be impossible to read all the suggested readings and forum posts. I concur.

In a MOOC, you are encouraged to take a whole new approach to learning. You are asked to step up and create your own flight path, your own adventure. To where you ask? Well, that’s part of the challenge. You are invited (dare I say begged) to make the class into what you want, to change the system at will. If you need a feature not currently available, such as a private chat room to discuss sensitive things, one can be set up for you. If you want to open up a new discussion in the forum, just do it. If there are parts of the system that could work better, tell someone who can fix it.

You are asked to bring order to this massive pile of information. To all of it? No. Remember that in this ever growing field of data, you can never wrap your head around all of it. Be selective. Skim the headlines in the Daily newsletter. Don’t feel like you have to read them all. Just pick the ones that interest you. If you don’t like the writing style or the discussion, then move on. There is too much good stuff to get stuck in parts you don’t like.

In this new approach to learning in a MOOC no real thoroughness is possible. So you need to release the fantasy of doing it all right. That fantasy is at the root of suffering on a MOOC.

Be the explorer. Chart out a plan to learn all you can about some small slice of the puzzle. Find the best articles and resources in this area and curate them. By that I mean arrange them in an order that makes more sense and is easier to digest. Be like a museum curator and decide what is important and how it should be displayed. Produce a field guide to the area and make it freely available to others. That’s the “Open” aspect of a MOOC. Summarize key points of long threads to save others the arduous work of having to plod through 90 comments.

Blog to Engage & Learn

One of the best ways to engage in a MOOC is to create posts on your own blog to report what you are learning. Don’t have a blog? Get one. They’re free and easy. You might be wondering, what if no one sees my post? What if no one comments on my blog or finds it useful in any way? Then what? Am I just wasting my time?

As it turns out, every new blogger shares this concern. Just know this. It always takes longer to develop followers and comments than you think it should. Do it anyway. Keep posting. And when you comment on blogs and forums, go ahead and make appropriate references back to your blog posts. Eventually, if you stay with it, you will find your audience and develop your network, a circle of people who care very much about what you have to say and what questions you have.

Beyond the service you provide others in your blog, there is another compelling reason for writing posts about what you are learning. Your blog can serve as a public repository for notes to yourself. Those notes will document the insights and conclusions of all your travels through the field, and perhaps even your frustrations. A year from now you might want to review your notes, for surely you will have forgotten much of what made your learnings so powerful at the time.

Blog because you learn better with it. By reporting your struggles to learn the material, you learn better. By summarizing, reviewing and debating the ideas of the course, you learn better. By writing for an audience, you write better and thereby learn better. By making your journey open through the use of blogs and forum comments, you not only serve others, but you also do the extra work of sense making that leads to deeper integration of the materials.

As you give the material away in a form that works for others, you make it more your own. We teach best what we most need to learn. — Fritz Perls. And we we learn best that which we teach others.

So why is a MOOC so hard? Because it breaks all of our expectations about what is supposed to happen in a class. We are asked to transform from the passive role of student to the more active role of self-directed learner. Our new role makes us ever more responsible for our own learning, in a way that might just expose us and make us appear silly. That is a daunting undertaking, even for the most web-savvy students. The good news is that you can’t really fail, unless you apply the old rules to the new situation. Survive a MOOC and you’ll come out of it a better person. Thrive in it and you’ll come out a better leader.

NOTE: Much of this was culled from forum posts and Elluminate sessions of #PLENK.

References

http://ple.elg.ca/plenk2010/ PLENK 2010 Blog
http://connect.downes.ca/ Welcome to the Course PLENK2010
http://ple.elg.ca/course/moodle/mod/wiki/view.php?id=60&page=Recordings PLENK2010 Recordings on Elluminate
http://wthashtag.com/Plenk2010 Transcript of #PLENK2010 Tweets

September 22, 2010

Blame the System

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:44 pm

pointing boy

We live in a culture of blame. That’s not always a bad thing. Blame does point us to questions of who broke something and who should fix it. Managers, teachers and parents all try to instill values of personal responsibility in their charges. Much of that instilled value involves feeling bad. We want those people to feel bad when they mess up. Especially something for which they have agreed to be responsible. We want them to blame themselves when things go wrong. We feel better when others feel “bad enough” for what they did. We may even want them to grovel.

Now it takes a lot of time and effort to discern who was responsible for an outcome, and to what degree. One approach – if everyone just takes 100% responsibility for whatever went wrong, then we can all get back to work. “If only I had done my part, this would never have happened.”

Of course, it rarely works out that way. Some people consistently take far less blame than we’d like them to, while others take too much. Indeed, we often define our best people as those who pick up the slack where others have dropped it. And as long as the job is getting done, management rarely feels the need to confront those dropping the ball, letting standards slide and having things fall between the cracks. As a result, those who frequently pick up after others often feel resentful, but may be afraid to complain. And those who regularly get picked up after have a false sense of how good or successful they are at their jobs. No news is good news, particularly in organizations who don’t actively encourage feedback.

When taking responsibility requires that we feel bad, we have moved into blame. Where we have lots of blame, we have lots of fear, guilt and shame, thus creating a fear-based organization. Problem is, we don’t learn well in the presence of guilt and fear. The fear that comes out of blame will even inhibit problem solving abilities. A systems theory view of productivity can show us how to blame the system itself, instead of each other, thereby reducing fear. A simple definition of a system might include the values, procedures, rewards and communications of an organization. When you blame a person, you may feel better, but you forget to look at how the system has contributed to their actions.

So while there is a certain workaholic satisfaction that comes from hoping everyone will take 100% responsibility, it never really works out as well as we hope. Those who take too much responsibility burn themselves out, resulting in what we call work anorexia or work avoidance. Taking too much responsibility for events over which we have little control or power always leads to depression. People regularly try to take too much responsibility in a fear based organization. Unfortunately, the best you can ever get out of such a system is basic compliance. If you want more than compliance, if you want excellence, you will have to eliminate fear from the organization. (See point #8 in Deming’s 14 points, Drive fear out.)

Given how much guilt and personal shame are woven into the fabric of religion, parenting, management and law, it is hard to imagine an effective way of getting things done without them. It’s hard to imagine how anything lasting and good can come out of an organization that proclaims, “We never want our people to feel bad about tasks where they have underperformed.”

But that’s exactly what we are called to do in a systems theory view of productivity. Rather than focus on who did what wrong and how bad they should feel, we focus on the whole system. We ask, how has the system failed us? Starting with the assumption that everyone wants to do a good job, we ask the question, “How has the system made it difficult or even impossible for them to do good? How has the system failed to support the individual success of the players?” In all fairness, not everyone will be a good fit for your new non-blaming organization. However, addressing that does not require blaming anyone.

Once we are free to look at and address where the system has failed us, we can let go of our blame and resentment for our co-workers. I propose that we need blame. We are meaning-seeking creatures and as such, we need to blame someone or something for what went wrong. Blame people and you demoralize them and make them afraid. When you blame the system, no one gets hurt and things gently improve. Blame yourself too much and you get depressed. Blame the system and you stimulate the problem solving abilities of the group. Let’s put the blame back where it belongs. It’s no ones fault how the system currently works. It just sort of turned out that way. Our job is to improve the system while honoring those who work in and around it. Let’s all just blame the system.

This has been a gentle introduction to systems theory, with brief reference to W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management (TQM). #PLENK2010

September 9, 2010

Stupid User Syndrome

Filed under: Coaching — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:23 pm

Kid on computer
If you do technical support for a user community, you have probably had to contend with stupid users. I use that phrase in the most affectionate way. These are users you have to explain things to over and over again. Others don’t want to listen to the end of your explanation. Some even assure you they know exactly what to do and then do something different. And some ask questions that you can’t believe. Mostly they just waste your time.

While you occasionally question your own abilities, you quickly reassure yourself that you are a strong support tech. And, as much as you’d like to take it out on the users, you slowly come to terms with the sage advice to, “Suck it up and bear the discomfort.” But even such sage advice does little to alleviate the fatigue you regularly bring home.

So where do stupid users come from? Is it a simple bell curve distribution? Or is there a school they attend to develop their particular brand of not learning? Is it an issue of different learning styles, which means I will have to learn to do educational back flips to give these people a clue? Maybe it’s my karma. But I’m really such a nice guy in this life. Isn’t that worth something?

As it turns out, there’s a formula for calculating where stupid users come from. It has 3 variables, so it’s kind of complex. But if you work in tech support, you certainly have the ability to do the math. Here it is. Preponderance + Propensity + Jokes = your score. Preponderance is the number of stupid users you have in your organization, measured by percentage. So if you have 50 users and 10 of them are stupid, you have a Preponderance score of 20%. Propensity is a measure of how likely you are on average to return home still upset or wearied by your users. This is a percentage too. So if you come home one day out of five still upset about stupid users, that would be a score of 20%. Jokes are the number of jokes you tell or overhear in a week at the expense of your users, whether in their presence or not. This is a raw number per week.

Add these two percentages and your Jokes per week and you arrive at your score. If your total score is less than 5%, then your stupid users come from the luck of the draw. Count your blessings and do your best. If your total score ranges from 10%-45%, then your users come almost entirely from your imagination and your own sense of victimhood. If your number is over 45%, I have good news for you. It’s not your fault at all. You’re in the wrong profession. Find a career that makes use of your intellect, but one that makes no demands for compassionate customer service and you’ll do just fine. If, however, you are sure that you can’t possibly change careers, then see category two(10-45%). You really are making it up. Now I know what you’re thinking. What if your score is between 5% and 10%? As it turns out, we have no data on that. No one has ever registered a score in that range.

Stupid user syndrome is what happens when your tech support people think it’s the user’s job to make their job easy. The syndrome shows up in companies where support techs love the technology and easily learn the ins and outs of the system. Because of this, they have very little understanding of, or compassion for, the varying needs of typical users. They make the assumption that others are just like them, and that this task the user is working on should be simple and quick. They also assume that like themselves, if you give users the barest outline of a fix, they can connect the dots for themselves and run with it. There is also a managerial component of wanting your techs to fix problems quickly and often.

Let’s get serious here. What is missing in this short-sighted approach is three things:

  1. an awareness of the Pygmalion Effect.
  2. an understanding of Instructional Design and
  3. a familiarity with Systems Theory. If we are not viewing the organization as a system, then all we are left with is blaming the users.

The Pygmalion effect is when students either rise or fall to the expectations of a teacher. When you treat users with contempt, even veiled contempt, they become self conscious. That produces bumbling, slows down the fix and interferes with learning, which seems to justify the label of stupid user. When next you meet, you are both primed with the label. They expect you to be short and irritated. And you expect them to be bumbling. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Having contempt for any user who is having trouble understanding something can turn him into what we might later call a stupid user.

Good instructional design starts with a goal of competency-based training that is easy, fast and fun. If we design our training appropriately, users will learn and do the task. If users don’t learn, then the design has failed. And while that certainly happens sometimes, starting with this assumption results in far better trainings. To those who object and say that we are in tech support, not training, think again. A great deal of your job in tech support is (or should be) training, even if only in short bursts. Your job is not simply to fix the problem, but also to reduce the chances of that problem showing up again.

Systems theory would suggest that if some percentage of your users are doing things you don’t want them to do, then the system itself is broken. Drawing from the works of C. Edward Deming’s TQM (Total Quality Management) and Peter Senge’s Learning Organization, we can stop blaming users almost completely and spend our time creating a healthy system that actually works.

While tech support people are rarely expected to have expertise in instructional design, having them understand this perspective can lead them to a fruitful search for simple ways to make learning easier. And rare is the tech support person who has any understanding of systems theory, especially as it relates to the organization. But starting with the simple goal of reducing the chances for error leads to a whole array of easy guidelines that can improve the system. Examples of reducing user error include: FAQ’s, a Buddy system, mentoring, checklists, videos, easy-search help docs and restructuring the work flow of a task. These supports are not hard to deliver if you start with a healthy goal and there are lots of blogs that offer tips to support you.

There are no stupid users, only unenlightened tech support people, who may or may not be in the right job. As tech support staff, it is our job to be of service. The better we get at that, the more our users will shine, making us look good. And the sooner it becomes their job to make our life easier.

Resources

http://www.hci.com.au/hcisite2/articles/deming.htm Deming’s 14 points
http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm Peter Senge and the Learning Organization
http://managementhelp.org/systems/systems.htm Systems Thinking (plus a nice collection of management articles)

January 13, 2010

Employee Engagement Flaws

Filed under: Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:56 pm

This is my response to a blog post on fastforwardblog.com by Jon Husband: Employee Engagement – a Core Goal of Enterprise 2.0 Adoption? It may be useful to read that first.  Read it here.

Forgive me for being the only contrarian in a room full of “I agree”. This is neither a comfortable nor a common position for me. Jon’s post is beautifully written and well thought out, exploring one of the most important issues of our time, Employee Engagement. I am better for having read it and the comments that followed. But…

No one I know who was actually in a position to implement ‘democratic design principle’ actually believes that it can work. Mind you, I am not saying we shouldn’t give employees far more power than they currently have. Indeed we should. But let’s please separate out the idea from the rant. An idea leads to further productive discussion. A rant often trashes the discussion, leaving little room for anything but soundbite solutions and nodding heads.

Jon’s rant seems to be to hand over “the keys to the kingdom” to employees, which is almost sure to turn out poorly.

The “idea” is that companies have been overly controlling of employees and that has hurt their competitive position. Great. I agree. Enough studies have been done to readily demonstrate that the more engaged your people, the happier they are and the better job they do. The only question remaining is, How do we get there?

The “rant” is if the people don’t currently have the power to run the place, you just give it to them. If that idea seems appealing, then just let your kids run the house for a month and see how that turns out. If on the off chance your kids handle it beautifully, please have the wisdom to take some credit for the marvelous job you did in raising them. And have some compassion for all those regular folk who would fail miserably in this ill-conceived experiment. Even if it works in some rare circumstances, it is still a bad idea, a flawed rant.

I know nothing of Participative Design as developed in 1971 by Fred and Merrelyn Emery (or of Greg Vaughan, one of only a few consultants in the country to be trained by the Fred Emery Institute on Open Systems theory and Participative Design methods.) Let’s assume their method has a whole list of steps that allow for a graceful transition to the new utopia. They don’t just give the kids the keys and leave. They actually help them adapt. Great.

But let’s look at some assumptions made by Jon Husband.

  1. In responding to Atle Iversen’s comment with, “You put your finger on the key issues,” you agree with the meme that micro-managing is just plain bad. The debate between micro managing your people and empowering them is over. In The One Minute Manager, Blanchard points out that the best managers know when to micro manage (for new employees) and when to empower (as they demonstrate competence). Just because some managers don’t know when to mirco-manage does not mean that it’s a bad thing.
  2. I flinched when he referred to, “what people have always done well”. His list included: ask questions, and seek to understand, suggest alternatives, clarify needs or desires and decide together why and how to do something. Sure our best people can do these things, but to state it’s “what people have always done well” is comical. Have you ever attended a town hall meeting? A civil rights movement? How about a family gathering? These are in no way innate skills. And while I might even agree that they have been further suppressed by some weak management styles, I don’t recall a time in history when we (people) were all good at them. I am really good at asking questions and seeking to understand. And I suck at it half the time. I know some people who can’t create a good question even if you ask them for it. They just don’t have it in them.
  3. Not all employees are trustworthy, at least not today. We want to pretend that managing has nothing to do with parenting, but with the current state of parenting, we have a lot of unresolved childhood issues being brought to the workplace. To pretend that we can all act like adults, all the time, is preposterous. Sure we can bring some of our people up to speed, but only with training and guidance and trust building (not just by trusting them). No one should be trusted with large decisions until they have demonstrated their trust-worthiness. Raising healthy employees is much like raising healthy kids, both of which are much harder to do than it would first appear.
  4. The 38% mentioned in the Towers Perrin study who are mostly or entirely disengaged, only sounds impressive until we look at research done on creativity. Zorana Ivcevic, a post doctoral fellow at Tufts University found in her study of college students, “About 30% were not creative by any standard, which marked them as conventionals.” This makes them more resistant to change, less open minded and even less curious. Are these the people to whom we would hand over the keys to the kingdom? (Dec 2009 Psychology Today, Vol 42 No.6 in the article Everyday Creativity by Carlin Flora.)
  5. The first ‘democratic design principle’ we are told is, “Those who have to do the work are in the best position to design the way in which it is structured”. As seductive as that sounds, it rarely pans out. Only sometimes does an employee know enough about the system to make wise decisions about it. Certainly they should have a great deal of input on that. But even the greatest feedback given to a poor collector results in bad decisions. Yes, give your people a lot of say, but don’t give them full power just because they are supposed to know what is best.
  6. Point two is, “effectiveness is greatly improved when teams take responsibility for ___ ” (fill in the blank). Sure we want our people to own their projects and care. But how do we do that? How do we make people take that responsibility? If we make them do it, are they really taking it? And if they don’t feel like taking it, then what? The notion of others “taking responsibility” is a feel-good way to blame others for what went wrong.

I have done corporate trainings in both management styles and alignment of vision. And when it works, it is spectacular. I have spoken to some great leaders, trainers and teachers and they all agree. The great variety of contributing factors always makes easy fixes unlikely.

There is certainly an important topic being discussed here, but it scares me when people just blame management for the way things are. A cursory understanding of systems theory will lead one to realize that when you are blaming, you are getting further and further from a real and productive understanding of the system you are studying. The contributors are not the cause of the problem. They are simply entry points into the system.

There is a reason why ‘democratic design principle’ gets only 40 hits in google. It is a flawed idea. There is a reason that Participative Design has not caught on better in its 40-50 years. It was tried and failed to deliver. It’s not that it can’t work, but rather that it did not address enough of the barriers to entry that are in place to prevent such random change.

The argument that all we need to do is to give people more choice does not take into account the complex impact of things like unions, education levels, learning disabilities, drug use, crime, parenting, bank foreclosures and plain old petty jealousies. All of these have a profound impact on the workplace, one not easily corrected by simply giving people choice.

Again I am not saying we shouldn’t give people more say in how they do their jobs. What I am saying is that it is dangerously reductionistic to say that democracy cures all organizational problems. You still need people with a corporate vision, with social and diplomatic skills, with insight into the unique needs of their employees. We can’t go anywhere until someone decides what direction we are headed. We still need leaders.

Your thoughts?

Misc Refs

~~ http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2010/01/04/employee-engagement-a-core-goal-of-enterprise-2-0-adoption/

~~ http://www.michaelherman.com/cgi/wiki.cgi?SearchConference Search Conference Participative Planning Method by Michael Herman includes “Democratic Design Principle”

~~ http://www.amazon.com/Self-Managing-Organization-Leading-Companies-Transforming/dp/068483734X The Self-Managing Organization 1998 “Democratic Design Principle” Nice discussion.

~~ http://www.vaughanconsulting.com/pdw.html Participative Design consulting and overview.

December 2, 2009

25 Best Practices for Nonprofits

Filed under: Coaching,gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 4:41 pm

A best practice is a process thought to be more productive, efficient and sustainable than other methods, as tested over time. Generally there are different best practices in different industries, but there may be similar ones used in certain disciplines, such as accounting or customer service. This paper is neither exhaustive nor a simple outline of quick tips. It falls somewhere in between, offering enough detail to learn something, while offering enough points to make it a useful reference document. It is something to be reviewed and studied. You might even use it as a worksheet and review a point or section each week, asking others in your group to evaluate how your organization is doing in that area. As always, you will want to ask regularly, “What can we do to improve?”

The Why

The purpose of using industry best practices is to avoid the need to reinvent the wheel. Without best practices, you are destined to bumble through all the usual mistakes and acquire numerous procedures based upon nothing more than, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” In fact, once any system is set up, we begin to defend that system, even to the point of rewriting the history of why we do it that way. When looking to improve a system, remember that most procedures developed over time, through a series of random events and choices. The following story illustrates how policies typically get made.

The Story

For three generations, the Anderson women have cut off the end of the Christmas ham before putting it in the pot to cook. Until recently, no one thought to ask why. But this year Mary’s husband, Jim, did ask. Mary answered, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve just always done it that way. Let me call my mother.”

Mary’s mother also said, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve just always done it that way. Why don’t you call your grandmother.”

Grandma was tickled by the question and just laughed. She said, “When I married your grandfather, we couldn’t afford a pot big enough to fit a holiday ham. So we had to cut it off in order for it to fit. We used to save the part we cut off, but your mother couldn’t be bothered with such a small piece and just tossed it out.” In her effort to honor and maintain important family traditions, Mary had kept up a practice which had long since outlived its purpose and usefulness.

While these best practices may be useful for any company, they are even more important in a nonprofit organization, where pay scales are lower and volunteers are utilized. When you can’t afford to throw money at a problem, you have to start using social currency. The better you treat your people, the better they will perform. And by better, I don’t just mean nice. I mean with respect and competence.

Use Social Currency

  • Demonstrate value. Use Social Currency. To demonstrate value for something, you need to pay for it. If you don’t pay for good ideas, they dry up. You don’t necessarily have to pay with money. But it does mean that some exchange much occur. Some ways to pay for a good idea include the following: celebrate it, tell a third party who will tell the originator, implement it, ask for clarification, report back on the progress of the project, offer the opportunity to speak on or develop the topic with a group or have them post an article.
  • Pay well. Common courtesy is fine and useful in its place. But it is only a minimal form of social currency. It is not adequate payment for a good idea. You don’t go to a classy restaurant and tip like you’re at a pizza place. That would be the right form, but the wrong amount. If you don’t pay enough, your people will assume they have little to offer the organization.

Get Feedback

  • Get feedback regularly. Some define organizational success by an absence of complaints. However, if no one has complained lately then maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. It is unlikely that you are doing everything right. More likely is the prospect that you have silenced your audience. They may not know you allow, much less want, continuous feedback. The way you receive feedback is how you are known and sets the tone for the organization. The worse you do at receiving feedback, the harder it is for your people to contribute to and feel a part of your organization. Graciously court all feedback, taking only what you can use and leaving the rest. People mostly want to know that you heard them and have considered their idea.
  • Embrace feedback. The sharper and more educated your users are, the less likely they are to give feedback where it is not warmly embraced. It is not only inefficient, but self destructive to try to give feedback to an organization who doesn’t make good use of it. Sharp people know this and give up the battle early, usually without resentment or fanfare. They are sharp because they know how to make effective use of their time and attention. After they get quiet, all you will hear are those who feel the compulsion to share and they don’t even notice when their ideas are not warmly welcome.
  • Request Inspection. Ask someone to track your compliance on some task or policy. At first, this may seem overly critical, if you are not used to continuous quality improvements. But over time, it will become matter-of-fact and make your improvements easy. Requesting inspections will ramp up the volume and quality of the feedback you get, making it easier for all concerned. You may however, have to first earn their trust to demonstrate that you won’t kill the messenger.
  • Measure selectively. What you measure is what you get. What you measure tends to improve. A friend of mine was tired of yelling at his teenage son over his school grades. He decided to stop nagging and simply post the grades on the wall each week. The boy understood the goal and without any nagging, began to improve. Measuring performance is one way to establish a goal. But be careful what you measure, or you could distract your people from what is really important in their jobs. For example, if the only thing being measured in your service department is how many calls you take per hour, you will be rushing though the calls that actually require more attention.

Make Policy Count

  • Serve your subordinates. It is reasonable to think that employees serve the manager, given how much power managers have over employees. But in companies where managers serve the employees, productivity, morale and customer service all abound. It is common for managers to be in charge and boss people around. However, it is exceptional, and a best practice, for managers to keep asking their people, “What can I do to make your job easier?”
  • Minimize the number of policies. Don’t make corporate policy when what is really needed is a discussion with the one person abusing a tradition. For example, Casual Friday could mean business casual, not torn jeans. Don’t define the policy to include, “No torn jeans”. It offends those who already understood it. And it shirks the discussion you need to have with the offending employee. The more rules you have, the less you trust your people, and they know it. Trusted employees perform better. Trained employees are easier to trust.

Train Well

  • Micro-manage when needed. In recent years many people have come to believe that micromanaging is just wrong. There is nothing wrong with micromanaging, in the proper context. You need to give more direction, support and inspection when someone is just learning the job. But you want to train them so well, they need progressively less of it. But if you have never bothered to train the long-timers, then while your micromanaging may still be necessary, it reflects your failure to manage. Give direction when needed and train them not to need it.
  • Give new employees time and support. Managing by “throwing them to the dogs” means dumping someone into a position without adequate training. While it looks seductively efficient, it almost always costs you more in the long run, if only for the customers you have offended in the process. It also increases turnover of both employees and customers. Take the time to actually train, monitor and support your people.
  • Make learning easy. The more trivial things you require your people to remember, the less attention they can give to what you really hired them to do. Remembering the protocol comes from experience. But understanding it comes only from training and modeling. Make cheat sheets for the information that needs to be accessed repeatedly. Make FAQ’s, How To’s and Glossaries. Document your processes. Undocumented processes put your organization at risk.
  • Train for inheritance. The longer it takes to train your people to deliver competent performance, the worse your training. You should evolve your training program to the point where new people can come up to speed in a hurry. They should always know where to find the documented processes of the organization. Train your people as if you were preparing to leave the company. A friend of mine prided himself in training his 30 people so well that he could return from a two week vacation and get fully caught up on his work in only a few hours. In making himself the most replaceable person in the office, he became the most valuable.
  • Mentor both up and down. Reverse mentoring is when the newer people in the company, particularly the young ones, mentor the older ones, as in Social Media, Internet searches and blogging. Using your new people to mentor others not only empowers your more senior people to perform better, but also gives the new ones a great sense of contribution to the group.

Be Powerful

  • Never apologize when you can thank someone instead. People would rather feel like they helped you and made the organization better than to think they caused you distress. They would rather contribute than criticize, regardless of how clumsy they were about it. It may be your job to translate their criticism into a usable contribution. Then after you thank them, you might suggest ways that would make it easier to hear next time. Tell them the form in which you would like to receive such great contributions. On the other hand, if you really messed someone up, then apologize fully.
  • Never answer an important question with, “I don’t know.” Always add, “I’ll find out and get back to you.” If you don’t know if it’s an important question, just ask, “Is this an important question to you?” Don’t ask why it’s important. Answering such questions is tedious and demeaning. The more people say they don’t know, the more it looks like they just don’t care. Care enough to find out.
  • Rush to take blame. In most organizations, the hot potato of blame gets pushed around endlessly, causing work to stop. The better leaders always rush to take on the blame for what goes wrong. Why? Once the blame game stops, everyone can get back to work. When in doubt, take the fall. That said, it is not healthy or helpful to take on all the blame, all the time. Sometimes, you need to allow for others to take some blame, or even assign it to them.
  • Empower your people. It’s either money or power. The less money there is to go around, the more your people will hoard power and information and create fiefdoms. The more that people protect their turf, the more dangerous and difficult it becomes to communicate across the organization. The more you empower all your people to change the organization, the less they will be grabbing for power. This line establishes both freedom and boundaries. “Do whatever it takes to handle customer complaints, up to $20. Above that, come get me.”
  • Change gracefully. Resistance to change usually has survival value to the organization, but it comes at a price of healthy growth. At some point, developments in the workforce and marketplace will require change or threaten extinction. The very actions which allowed you to survive early on could later choke the organization. Embrace good ideas and allow your people to experiment, which includes the possibility of failure.
  • Spread the Power. The more important one personality is to the health of the organization, the more at risk you are, should that one person change their involvement. When Steve Jobs left Apple Computer, it almost sunk the company. Years later his return saved them. His capacity for vision and leadership is legendary and a cautionary tale. In most organizations, the presence of such a personality simply reflects poor planning and inadequate training more than it does super human powers.

Communicate Well

  • Avoid spam. Never put more than one name in the TO: field or CC: field, unless you have already cleared it with every single person on the list. Why? Because if just one person forwards the email full of addresses to a forum or spammer, then all the names can be collected for spam. Google the quoted phrase, “bcc for privacy” for more on this.
  • Use a Descriptive Subject. What if 8 people all emailed you about a meeting, but each one put only, “Hey” in the subject line? It makes it more difficult to manage the emails in your inbox. Better to put the real subject or question in the Subject line.
  • Pick up the phone. After 3 bounces of an email, pick up the phone. You save time. The more important the issue, the more it should be discussed live. The exception is when an audit trail of the conversation is needed. Sometimes a summary email of a live discussion will serve this purpose, assuring that everyone is on the same page.
  • Never use CAPS in an email, unless you mean to scream. And never scream in an email. Conversely, never use all lower case in email. It makes you look like a kid who does not respect his audience. Email is bad at expressing the emotional nuances of live discussions. Express emotions in person.
  • Set ultra-clear appointments. Rather than sending email that says, “We will connect Fri at 4,” say, “I’ll call you on Friday, 11/09/2009 at 4 PM EST. We should have at least an hour to discuss the Jones project.” Included: Date, day of week, time, am/pm, time zone, duration and agenda. Most of the time you won’t actually need all that detail. But the times you do, the redundancy will be your saving grace. One benefit of all that detail is that you can easily copy and paste it onto your electronic calendar.
  • Be polite. Ask before sending attachments. Or just send a link to the document online. Don’t use texting abbreviations. Proof read, spell check, make it easier to read. Outline complex emails. Ask, “What can I do to make this email as clear and easy to respond to as possible?” Go the extra mile so your audience doesn’t have to.

RESOURCES

  1. http://www.emailreplies.com/ Email etiquette
  2. http://email.about.com/od/emailnetiquette/tp/core_netiquette.htm Top 26 Rules of Email Etiquette
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Micromanagement shows the conflicting ideas on the subject of Micromanagement
  4. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Kenneth+Blanchard:+the+One-Minute+Manager-a0151189054 Kenneth Blanchard: the One-Minute Manager overview
  5. http://www.hci.com.au/hcisite2/articles/deming.htm Deming’s 14 points of Total Quality Management (TQM). Note points 5, 8 and 9.

November 28, 2009

Time Management Economics

Filed under: gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 5:40 pm

Sometimes a coach is wrong.  I recently coached a managing law partner on time management.  He was losing 1-2 hours a day to interruptions from staff, each of whom sought his particular expertise.  The trouble was the time it took him to get back on track with what he was doing before the interruption.  (Few people are as good at getting back on task as they think.)  His open-door policy was burying him in problem solving which he admitted could only be answered by him.

When I asked how many of those requests were time critical to cases, he said, “All of them.”  On closer inspection, we sorted the types of requests that required answers into response times of 10 minutes, two hours and 8 hours.  I asked him to have a talk with his staff and partners, explaining the problem and asking them to begin to sort their own requests into those time groups.

As reasonable as that all sounded to him, it later turned out that he could not do it.  It was too confrontational for him.  Instead he chose a simpler route, a solution so elegant I had to smile.

He continued to allow them to come into his office.  He would even invite them in to sit down.  All that changed was his timing of engagement.  Rather than stop what he was doing, he would take as long as he needed to get to a good stopping point.  Sometimes this would take ten minutes or more, leaving his guest nothing to do but wait.  Often the person would get up and leave, saying, “I’ll get back to you.”  When my client got caught up, he’d go find the staff member and ask how he could help.

Eventually people completely stopped walking into his office.  Waiting in there was not an effective use of their own time.  Instead, they’d stand at the door and wait.  My client would then offer one of three comments (or gestures, if he was on the phone).  He’d wave them in if he was almost caught up.  He’d hold up fingers showing how long he’d be.  Or he’d just shake his head, suggesting, “Not now.  Don’t know how long I’ll be.”  He did tell his staff to always interrupt on real emergencies.

As a result of this simple change, he had recovered an average of one hour a day.  That made his job far easier and less stressful, which resulted in a happier secretary and more peaceful office.  No critical tasks were dropped as a result of the new system.  More importantly to my client, no ugly confrontation was required.  No meeting, no discussion, nothing.  The change occurred organically from within, as each person adapted to what would best serve them in the new system.

Levitt and Dubner, authors of Freakonomics, might suggest that he had changed the economics of the office, making it less profitable to interrupt.  Change the economics and the behaviors will change organically (naturally, from the inside, without force).   I am reminded of a remarkable story in Harvard Business Review (HBR vol 84, Num 11), How to Manage Urban School Districts.  In a major change of tradition, Long Beach superintendent, Carl Cohn, began to rotate principals every year.  “The knowledge that the middle-school principal’s problems might become yours is a powerful motivator to lend a helping hand — for instance, by sharing approaches that have worked for you.  As a result of their rotating assignments, principals in Long Beach now see the problems in one school as everyone’s to solve.  Informal sharing of ideas across schools is common.”   Until he changed the economics, Cohn could not motivate the principals to support each other.

My client did not need to confront his staff.  He just needed to change the economics of the office.  On the other hand, he still credits me for the change.  I had helped him to more highly value his own time and to be more discerning of gravity of the requests.  Years ago I realized that a coach did not always have to be right.  He just has to be able to guide his client in the direction of right.

July 5, 2009

14 Mistakes Women Make in Speeches

Filed under: Coaching,Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 6:37 pm

by Steve LeBlanc 2009
If you are a woman speaking to large groups of people, you may be doing things that weaken your presentation.  This particularly applies to a call for action and inspirational talks.  Women are different from men.  They speak to their friends differently than men do, and those differences can show up in their speeches.  Certainly not all women make these mistakes.  And a few men make some of them.  But in general, men make different mistakes in their speeches than women do.  You can’t learn from the mistakes you don’t know you’re making.  So what mistakes do women make?
~~  Women’s voices sometimes go up in tone at the end of their statements, instead of going down.  This gets head-nodding agreement long before they have said anything of merit.  It comes across as insecure, insincere and approval seeking.  Your tone should only go up at the end of a sentence when you really mean to ask a question.  If you are making a statement, you go down.  For example, “You understand? (up)  Great, you understand. (down)”
~~  They ask for agreement on inconsequential points.  For example, “Don’t you think everyone should just get along?”  “Women are different from men, aren’t they?”  This speaks of insecurity and the need for lots of approval before you have proven yourself.  Prematurely asking for agreement is a sales technique and makes people nervous.
~~  They sometimes speak too softly.  Making your audience work too hard to hear you costs you in credibility and irritates your listeners.  Practice in a large empty room with someone in the back and get their feedback.  If you are not speaking to the back of the room, you are not speaking to the room at all.
~~  They over talk and get redundant.  Such people are talking primarily to allay their nervousness rather than to inform.  They talk until they “feel” they have said enough, rather than talking until their audience gets the point.  The problem is that their focus is on their own feelings, instead of on their audience.  The rule is this.  The more words you use to express something, the less likely you are to be understood.  The only way to know if they got your point is to ask your audience.  While strategic redundancies can sometimes work, over talking leaves your audience tired.
~~  They don’t pause.  Nervous talkers fear silence.  Give people the chance to take in what you just said.  Give them some space in between sections.  Take a drink.  Look longingly to the back of the room.  Catch your breath.  Then begin anew and wow them once again.
~~  They apologize.  If you are more than ten minutes late, you might give a brief explanation.  Then thank them for their indulgence and get on with it.  But never, ever, ever apologize for something as trivial as losing your place.  They don’t want your apology.  They just want you to get on with the talk.  Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  Simply pause and say, “Ah yes, here we are.”  That way they never know if you were lost or just searching.  [[ BOLD PULLQUOTE: Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  ]]  Never apologize when you can thank someone.
~~  They use filler words such as:  Just really, like, ya know, just kidding, but anyway, whatever, Um, Uh.  Start counting your filler words, for surely someone in your audience is doing that.  If a word  or phrase does not add to your presentation, it distracts from it.  I am not saying your talk should sound scripted.  You might use some free-form stories to break up the formality.  But then those quirky words are serving your talk.
~~  They neglect a “call to action” in their talk.  Afraid of being thought of as pushy or masculine, they don’t actually say what they want their audience to do.  Go ahead and tell them.  They want to know where you stand.  They can make up their own mind.
~~  Some women offer defensive explanations and reasons.  They explain why on questions of little consequence.  This comes across as whining.  Your reasons will rarely be as interesting to others as they are to you.  The exception is when it actually adds flavor or humor to the story.  We want to know how you came to your final conclusion and why it should matter to us, but we don’t want to know why you chose that color paper.
~~  They hide their real feelings.  With the exception of insecurities and hostilities, showing emotions can often serve to make your talk more powerful.  Got tears?  Let the tears flow.  Unless you are sobbing or competing in a field dominated by men, it will strengthen your talk.  Excited about something?  Bubble away.  Touched by someone’s heroism?  Show us how deeply it touched you.  Were you hurt by someone in your story?  Tell us how it broke your heart.  Even anger is okay, if you can keep out the righteous indignation, which is only insecurity.  Fear, however, can be most powerfully expressed with no emotion at all.  Watch “The Contender” (2000) starring Joan Allen. She plays a presidential running mate, and gives some wonderful speeches.  If your message is strong, a healthy display of emotion will strengthen it.
~~  They speak in a single tone or volume.  Or they whine or “sing song” their whole speech.  Whether it is all hushed or all yelling, it gets tedious.  Remember Billy Mays, the TV pitchman?  Expand your dynamic range.  Raise and lower your voice throughout your talk to captivate your audience.  You can even whisper to make something more dramatic.  Even if your speech is a rant, you need some quiet spots.  It makes it easier to absorb your material.  And your audience will thank you for it.
~~  They would rather look cool than be effective.  Speaking is theater.  Make it dramatic enough for others to hear your point.  You might only feel a little excited about your message.  But for your audience to get it, you will need to double the expression of that excitement.  If you authentically express your little enthusiasm, it will appear as if you don’t care at all.  Why?  Your audience will only perceive 50% of the emotion and enthusiasm you put into the talk.  Sometimes you have to feel inauthentic in order to authentically deliver your message.  Such is theater.
~~  They confuse put downs of self with self-effacing humor.  Humor is hard.  Self-effacing humor is even harder.  Don’t ever put yourself down, especially to an audience.  But poking fun at your frailties in a playful way can add to your talk.  The audience should always know that you believe in yourself, in spite of your shortcomings.  You want them to relate to your humanity, not feel sorry for you.  Everyone can be funny, but it usually take coaching to get there consistently.
~~  Finally, they thank the audience for listening.  Don’t do that.  It is not professional.  It makes you look desperate for approval, rather than confident you had something of value to contribute.  Never thank the audience, even if you had to beg to get in to see them.  You came bearing gifts.  You gave your speech.  It is they who need to thank you.  And they will if you have delivered.  Your close should be so powerful that there is simply no room for thanking them.
~~  CLOSE:  Women bring a warmth and richness to their talks that men rarely approach.  They offer a more holistic and inclusive view of things.  They add textures and colors and meaning that make their stories come alive.  Don’t let the mistakes we covered get in the way of the wonderful stories you hold for the world.  File down those rough spots so that only the message shines.  We need your stories now more than ever.
Possible Resources
~~  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6054183834057243507 Apple WWDC 2006 Keynote by Steve Jobs – Aug 10, 2006.  Lots of Uh’s.
~~  http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/303841/5_ways_ruin_your_next_presentation?fp=2 @twailgum
~~  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ByteOfTheApple/blog/archives/2008/12/whats_the_most.html  Steve Jobs’ Most Important Macworld Keynote?
~~  http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start Video.  Some Uh’s in the beginning.  Soft start, great development, smashing ending.

by Steve LeBlanc 2009

If you are a woman speaking to large groups of people, you may be doing things that weaken your presentation.  This particularly applies to a call for action and inspirational talks.  Women are different from men.  They speak to their friends differently than men do, and those differences can show up in their speeches.  Certainly not all women make these mistakes.  And a few men make some of them.  But in general, men make different mistakes in their speeches than women do.  You can’t learn from the mistakes you don’t know you’re making.  So what mistakes do women make?

  1. Women’s voices sometimes go up in tone at the end of their statements, instead of going down.  This gets head-nodding agreement long before they have said anything of merit.  It comes across as insecure, insincere and approval seeking.  Your tone should only go up at the end of a sentence when you really mean to ask a question.  If you are making a statement, you go down.  For example, “You understand? (up)  Great, you understand. (down)”
  2. They ask for agreement on inconsequential points.  For example, “Don’t you think everyone should just get along?”  “Women are different from men, aren’t they?”  This speaks of insecurity and the need for lots of approval before you have proven yourself.  Prematurely asking for agreement is a sales technique and makes people nervous.
  3. They sometimes speak too softly.  Making your audience work too hard to hear you costs you in credibility and irritates your listeners.  Practice in a large empty room with someone in the back and get their feedback.  If you are not speaking to the back of the room, you are not speaking to the room at all.
  4. They over talk and get redundant.  Such people are talking primarily to allay their nervousness rather than to inform.  They talk until they “feel” they have said enough, rather than talking until their audience gets the point.  The problem is that their focus is on their own feelings, instead of on their audience.  The rule is this.  The more words you use to express something, the less likely you are to be understood.  The only way to know if they got your point is to ask your audience.  While strategic redundancies can sometimes work, over talking leaves your audience tired.
  5. They don’t pause.  Nervous talkers fear silence.  Give people the chance to take in what you just said.  Give them some space in between sections.  Take a drink.  Look longingly to the back of the room.  Catch your breath.  Then begin anew and wow them once again.
  6. They apologize.  If you are more than ten minutes late, you might give a brief explanation.  Then thank them for their indulgence and get on with it.  But never, ever, ever apologize for something as trivial as losing your place.  They don’t want your apology.  They just want you to get on with the talk.  Your nervousness is none of their business.  They came for the content.  Simply pause and say, “Ah yes, here we are.”  That way they never know if you were lost or just searching.
  7. They use filler words such as:  Just really, like, ya know, just kidding, but anyway, whatever, Um, Uh.  Start counting your filler words, for surely someone in your audience is doing that.  If a word  or phrase does not add to your presentation, it distracts from it.  I am not saying your talk should sound scripted.  You might use some free-form stories to break up the formality.  But then those quirky words are serving your talk.
  8. They neglect a “call to action” in their talk.  Afraid of being thought of as pushy or masculine, they don’t actually say what they want their audience to do.  Go ahead and tell them.  They want to know where you stand.  They can make up their own mind.
  9. Some women offer defensive explanations and reasons.  They explain why on questions of little consequence.  This comes across as whining.  Your reasons will rarely be as interesting to others as they are to you.  The exception is when it actually adds flavor or humor to the story.  We want to know how you came to your final conclusion and why it should matter to us, but we don’t want to know why you chose that color paper.
  10. They hide their real feelings.  With the exception of insecurities and hostilities, showing emotions can often serve to make your talk more powerful.  Got tears?  Let the tears flow.  Unless you are sobbing or competing in a field dominated by men, it will strengthen your talk.  Excited about something?  Bubble away.  Touched by someone’s heroism?  Show us how deeply it touched you.  Were you hurt by someone in your story?  Tell us how it broke your heart.  Even anger is okay, if you can keep out the righteous indignation, which is only insecurity.  Fear, however, can be most powerfully expressed with no emotion at all.  Watch “The Contender” (2000) starring Joan Allen. She plays a presidential running mate, and gives some wonderful speeches.  If your message is strong, a healthy display of emotion will strengthen it.
  11. They speak in a single tone or volume.  Or they whine or “sing song” their whole speech.  Whether it is all hushed or all yelling, it gets tedious.  Remember Billy Mays, the TV pitchman?  Expand your dynamic range.  Raise and lower your voice throughout your talk to captivate your audience.  You can even whisper to make something more dramatic.  Even if your speech is a rant, you need some quiet spots.  It makes it easier to absorb your material.  And your audience will thank you for it.
  12. They would rather look cool than be effective.  Speaking is theater.  Make it dramatic enough for others to hear your point.  You might only feel a little excited about your message.  But for your audience to get it, you will need to double the expression of that excitement.  If you authentically express your little enthusiasm, it will appear as if you don’t care at all.  Why?  Your audience will only perceive 50% of the emotion and enthusiasm you put into the talk.  Sometimes you have to feel inauthentic in order to authentically deliver your message.  Such is theater.
  13. They confuse put downs of self with self-effacing humor.  Humor is hard.  Self-effacing humor is even harder.  Don’t ever put yourself down, especially to an audience.  But poking fun at your frailties in a playful way can add to your talk.  The audience should always know that you believe in yourself, in spite of your shortcomings.  You want them to relate to your humanity, not feel sorry for you.  Everyone can be funny, but it usually take coaching to get there consistently.
  14. Finally, they thank the audience for listening.  Don’t do that.  It is not professional.  It makes you look desperate for approval, rather than confident you had something of value to contribute.  Never thank the audience, even if you had to beg to get in to see them.  You came bearing gifts.  You gave your speech.  It is they who need to thank you.  And they will if you have delivered.  Your close should be so powerful that there is simply no room for thanking them.

CLOSE:  Women bring a warmth and richness to their talks that men rarely approach.  They offer a more holistic and inclusive view of things.  They add textures and colors and meaning that make their stories come alive.  Don’t let the mistakes we covered get in the way of the wonderful stories you hold for the world.  File down those rough spots so that only the message shines.  We need your stories now more than ever.

Resources

~~  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6054183834057243507 Apple WWDC 2006 Keynote by Steve Jobs – Aug 10, 2006.  Lots of Uh’s.

~~  http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/303841/5_ways_ruin_your_next_presentation?fp=2 @twailgum

~~  http://www.businessweek.com/technology/ByteOfTheApple/blog/archives/2008/12/whats_the_most.html Steve Jobs’ Most Important Macworld Keynote?

~~  http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/06/the_art_of_the_.html Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start Video.  Some Uh’s in the beginning.  Soft start, great development, smashing ending.

October 4, 2008

Mental Health Through Will Training (MHTWT)

Filed under: Reviews — Steve LeBlanc @ 12:16 am
Tags:

Book Review by Steve LeBlanc 2008 rev:2008.10.04-2010.01.02

Hardcover: 448 pages $25 shipped from Recovery, Inc.
Publisher: Willett Pub.; 3rd edition (June 1997)
In continuous publication since 1950
ISBN-10: 0915005069 or ISBN-13: 978-0915005062
Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 1.6 inches

In short:  Buy the book.  It may be the most important book in the field of mental wellness (not illness) ever written.  It is certainly the best kept secret in the field, due in part to a goofy title.  While a great read in its own right, it is also the foundation for a free self-help mental health support group.  The information in this book and program are designed for untangling common, everyday neurosis, the kind almost all people have.  But the real importance of this work is that some people involved in this program are apparently being at least partially corrected of their chronic depression and anxiety disorders.  And yet, never are you told to stop medications or defy your doctor.  The book offers a way to train your brain to think more clearly and make healthier choices.

How could this have happened?  I had never even heard of Abraham Low.  I had been reading psychology books since 1967 when I was eleven.  I had read about, studied or experienced most forms of healing and mental health available in the United States.  I am rather obsessive about it.  So when I found a style that had escaped me, I was … well, a bit miffed.  When I realized it was the foundation for one of the most important movements in the field, I was confused.  This book, “MENTAL HEALTH THROUGH WILL TRAINING” (MHTWT), was written in 1950, based on Abraham Low’s group work that started in 1937.  It seems to be the unacknowledged predecessor to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), currently the most influential branch of psychology.  Ellis and Beck  are usually credited with the development of CBT in the late fifties.  (Interestingly, Alcoholic Anonymous started in 1935.) 

Before Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness), there was David Burns (Feeling Good).  Before Burns, was Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT and “A Guide to Rational Living”).  But years before them all was Abraham Low.

While CBT is currently the most influential branch of psychology, you don’t have to be a psychologist to have been touched by it.  The principles of these works have filtered into our common language.  Phrases like “black and white thinking”, “over generalizations”, “negative self talk”. “perfectionism” and “mental filters” come to mind.  And my own personal favorite from Ellis’ list of irrational beliefs, “I must have everything that I want.”  If you ever read self-help psychology books, you know of these authors and their work.  Except for Low.  I wanted to know why.

When a child comes home from school and says, “Nobody likes me and I’ll never fit in,” we smile and assure him things will get better.  When an adult says the same thing, we worry and call it immature or neurotic.  And yet, we all practice this form of thinking from time to time.  Such sloppy thinking compounds our problems and creates suffering.  Ellis claimed, “Although the activating experiences may be quite real and have caused real pain, it is our irrational beliefs that create long-term, disabling problems!”  CBT in general and MHTWT specifically, are about training your brain to think more clearly, or what might be called “mental hygiene”. 

So why is Ellis so famous while Low is forgotten?  Ego largely explains it.  Ellis had a massive ego and was even referred to as Therapy’s Lenny Bruce.  Ellis loved to talk about how screwed up society was, in hopes that his people would finally accept what is.  His audience was largely therapists and workshop attendees.  Ellis believed it was the therapist’s job to “dispute the irrational beliefs, in order for the client to ultimately enjoy the positive psychological effects of rational beliefs.”

Low on the other hand, was more modest, content to work with his own patients to teach them self care.  On page 144 of MHTWT, Low says, “I am not a reformer and have no intention to crusade against the modern mania for undisciplined, ‘self-expression’ in a life of senseless speed and meaningless change.  My duty is to treat patients, not to cure the ills of the age.  But my patients are unfortunately exposed to the detrimental influence of the spirit of the age.”

It is easy to righteously agree with Ellis, Burn, Seligman and CBT without ever having to apply their work to your life.  On the other hand, it is difficult to agree with Low and not take concrete action related to the point.  Ellis had a great idea.  “Stop saying stupid stuff to yourself.”  Low had great tools.  “Anticipate joyfull or don’t anticipate at all.”  Neither CBT nor Low were interested in the unconscious and hidden parts of self.  Low defined sabotage as doing things you knew were not good for you.  The book was largely about clarifying which thoughts are good for you.  So while Ellis had an ambitious agenda, Low wanted to help his people.  CBT is easy to agree with, and reimbursable by insurance companies.  MHTWT is a grass roots movement with “no professionals” in charge by definition.  In essence, there was no one to champion the cause.  And yet it has survived and grown.  But there is another reason Low’s work is forgotten.

To be fair, this is not an easy book.  It was written with the heavy-handed arrogance of a doctor who actually deserved the respect.  That is off putting for some.  He was writing way ahead of his time.  And while the book is written for a general audience, it makes use of long sentences and dated phrases, like, “presaging”, “evince”, “warp” and “woof”.  That said, it is one of the most clear writing styles I have ever come across, and a welcome reprieve in an ever growing field of self-help psychobabble.  It rings with elegance, relevance and truth.  But how did I come to this conclusion?

Making use of my own “How to Read a Book by its Cover” technique, I looked at the table of contents.  Nothing compelling there.  With cryptic chapter titles like, “Temper, Sovereignty and Fellowship,” it was clear that I would get little sense of direction.  Such titles only have meaning after you read the book.  Even the title of the book was goofy; what the heck is “Will Training”?  I skimmed the book looking for pull quotes and bulleted lists, and found none.  Drat.  Bear in mind the book was written in 1950 and has not been appreciably altered since.  No dust cover on my copy, so no great endorsements.  But it did have an index, something lacking in many books these days.  Google revealed very few links to Recovery-inc.com, an indicator of low popularity.

Rather than start at the the beginning with an introductory “why”, I randomly chose a few chapters (8-12 pages each) to read from the middle.  Was there gold in there?  Yes indeed.  In the chapter “Helpless is not Hopeless,” we get such gems as this.  “A life long habit of honesty can be destroyed in short order by bad company or cajolery”  And “Prognosis (of self) is sabotage.”  “The patient can declare himself helpless, but he has no right to pronounce himself hopeless.  Description is the domain of the patient, prediction is the province of the physician.”  Now this was good stuff.

The next chapter title was also dry, “External and Internal Environments,” but contained gems as well.  In it a patient says, “Then I learned to be average and humble and get along with people.”  Low puts a premium on being average, rather than special.  “You learn in Recovery that the sense of importance is perhaps stimulating, but does not make for balance.  And to preserve your health, you need balance.  And the sense of averageness gives you balance.”  These kinds of insights lend a whole new meaning to humility and stripping back of ego.

With all due respect to Burns for his “Feeling Good” books, CBT appears to me to be a watered down version of Low’s work.  If so, many of the basics have been lost in the later derivative work.  The material in MHTWT is intended to be used in a well structured group of your peers.  You need the accountability and structure to significantly turn your thinking around.  At the very least, you need the reminder to celebrate your small steps of progress.  What Burns calls, “Discounting the positives” is great to work on if you are actively dismissing major achievements, but not useful for those who simply fail to notice any progress.  There is a qualitative difference between that and Low’s statement, “Endorse yourself for the effort, not only for the performance.”  The entire field of life coaching was based on this sort of encouraging and celebrating small steps.  Burns’ work seems to be full of STOP messages, what not to do.  While Low’s gives very clear steps on how to do things better, right now, with the current issue.

Perhaps it was because I had studied Ellis’ REBT work years before, that I found Burns’ work uninspiring.  It is not that I don’t believe in the value of such mental house cleaning, but rather that I was largely past the ones listed in the book.  Burns is a great place to begin, especially if you have messy mental hygiene.  Low’s work is a great place to refine and go to the next level of health.

For me, reading Low’s MHTWT was like coming home, back to what all this work was supposed to be about in the first place.  It is about training your brain in the small steps of success.  It is about rebuilding mental health.  The group approach is particularly important for those with more severe symptoms, like Bipolar, and those who do not learn well on their own from just reading a book.

I am a long time fan of Martin Seligman’s.  He is a world class expert on the topics of optimism and happiness and how they relate to depression.  His recent collaboration with Marcus Buckingham have put the idea of “strengths work” on the map in Now Discover Your Strengths.  And his positive psychology, while a bust in the fiercely competitive field of therapeutic psychology, has all but launched the field of Life Coaching.  But his work and most of CBT is intended for professionals who treat clients.  They are informative and brilliant at telling about conditions.  But they do little to help average people help themselves.  CBT clearly supports healthy risks.  But Low’s work focuses on the specific risks to take.  Where CBT paints a good picture, Low lays out the map and the way back home.

Like I said, buy the book.

So, does Abraham Low deserve a place in the history of psychology?  Perhaps not in the way that people like Freud, Adler and Ellis do.  Low’s model of personality is a little too simple.  To paraphrase, “What you say educates your muscles, and they in turn set the tone of either security or insecurity.  Your muscles then reflect that back to you when you consult them about whether you can do something.  In a word, you can reeducate your muscles by changing your thoughts.  When you learn how to effectively spot your own dysfunctions, you can heal yourself.” 

Abraham Low certainly belongs on the shelf next to other great works like: A Course in Miracles, Fearless Living by Rhonda Britten, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

Ironically, I come to this review with a bias very different from Low’s.  I assume that almost all upsets can be healed fully and quickly, a catharsis of sorts.  I trained in rapid healing styles of Applied Kinesiology, from the works of Callahan, Gallo, Dennison and Craig.  I have assisted clients in rapidly healing their traumas for more than twenty years.  What I slowly came to realize was that not all upsets and suffering are traumatic in nature.  Some are stuck in screwy thought patterns.  And while I found promise in CBT, I found answers in MHTWT.

=====
From the site: What is Recovery, Inc.?

Recovery, Inc. is a self-help mental health program based on the ground breaking work of neuropsychiatrist, the late Abraham A. Low, M.D. We are completely member managed. Recovery Inc., has been active since 1937 and we have groups meeting every week around the world.   Recovery, Inc. offers its members a free method to regain and maintain their mental health. By studying Dr. Low’s practical method of Mental Health Through Will Training, Recovery Inc. members learn techniques for handling trivial, everyday situations.

Recovery International (as it’s now called) sponsors weekly group peer-led meetings in nearly 600 communities around the world. The world’s oldest self-help mental health organization, Recovery International is a non-profit, non-sectarian, consumer-run organization.

Resources

New copies of the book are only available from Recovery, Inc. (Now called Low Self Help Systems). Used copies are available through abebooks.com and amazon.com.  The text has not been appreciably altered since 1950.  Only the introduction has changed.  However, the page numbering has changed, making reading along in a group a bit of a challenge.
http://recovery-inc.com   Headquarters of Recovery International.  Toll Free:  866-221-0302  http://LowSelfHelpSystems.com/
http://lowselfhelpsystems.com/meetings/meetings-materials.asp One liners and Tools of MHTWT
http://lowselfhelpsystems.com/about/shop-online.asp Buy the book, Mental Health Through Will Training

===
http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&tn=mental+health+through+will+training&x=46&y=14 Used copies of MHTWT

October 15, 2007

Charlize Theron Fantasy

Filed under: other — Steve LeBlanc @ 9:53 pm

Old fantasies die hard.  Esquire magazine (Nov 2007) just named Charlize Theron The Sexiest Woman Alive.  I am heartbroken.  Why?  It’s not that she doesn’t deserve the title.  Sure she does.  But I thought…  Well, I thought…  I just thought I was the only one.  I know how silly that sounds.  But I had this fantasy.  I figured that a guy like me might actually stand a chance with a woman like that, were we to meet by chance.  That girl next door look makes her look like someone who might just like a slug like me.  So even though I knew my fantasy was unrealistic, I held onto it with great comfort.  But now I don’t get to do that anymore.  I don’t get to have my fantasy.  The girl next door might go for me, but The Sexiest Woman Alive?  Not a chance.  No way.  I don’t even get to entertain the fantasy.  Blown right out of the water, it was.  Demolished.  So, thanks a lot Esquire.  Thanks for ruining one of the greatest fantasies that I had.  Now Charlize is no longer my girl.  Now, she’s everyone’s girl.  Now she belongs to the world.

The article that inspired this post: http://www.esquire.com/women/women-we-love/charlize-theron-gallery-1007

Charlize Theron Is the Sexiest Woman Alive

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January 28, 2007

Professional Organizer

Filed under: gtd — Steve LeBlanc @ 3:13 am

I just had the good fortune to have a professional organizer come over to my house and rearrange things. She goes by the name, Pix. I rarely have people in my house, but she said that is quite common. I really had wanted her to come. She used Feng Shui and guidance to comment on arrangements. We swapped a table in the living room for a desk in the kitchen. Seems obvious in retrospect. Worked better than expected. I am so glad she came, even though I am still recovering from the disruption.

Now comes the real work. I got my computers set up, but I need to go through boxes of stuff to lighten my load. What next?

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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