Writing Novels

March 19, 2016

Amusing snippet from an article on the highly prolific Georges Simenon:

Frequently able to write a novel in 11 days, by the age of 29 Simenon was simultaneously defending and proclaiming the rate at which he churned out his fiction. ‘I haven’t written that much,’ he said. ‘I’ve only published 277 books.’

Nor did he slow down much in later years: his biographer Pierre Assouline writes how, in the twilight of his life, Alfred Hitchcock telephoned to speak to Simenon only to be told by his secretary he couldn’t be disturbed because he was writing a new novel. ‘That’s all right, I’ll wait,’ he replied.


Igniting Exciting Conversations

March 7, 2016

There are lots of articles on the drawbacks of formal presentations (death by Powerpoint etc). I’ve certainly gone through many presentations that have ranged from boring to incomprehensible.

In a concise article, Jack Welch offers three tips (extracts below):

Rule #1: Keep your message simple. Not simplistic, mind you. Not dumbed down, either. But simple, as in not over-complicated and completely graspable.

It’s quite likely true that if the idea or premise can’t be made simple (but not simplistic) then there’s probably something wrong with it.

Rule #2: Tell your audience something they don’t know. I’m always amazed when a manager comes into an executive or board presentation and basically recites materials that all of us have already received by email.

As you can imagine, this would certainly grab people’s attention. This relates to Rule 1 of course!

Rule #3: Let your passion rip. I don’t get it, but there’s a popular strand of thinking that speakers gain credibility in front of audiences by appearing pensive and logical, almost contained to the point of flatness, like a 3-star general giving testimony before Congress.

This is sometimes more a question of confidence than anything else.

I quite like this extract, which I think gets to the heart of the matter:

“Giving a speech/presentation is not about relating information or a point of view so that people go, “Hmm,” and move along. It’s about igniting exciting conversations that go on long after you’re done talking.”

Consequently it will be invaluable to think through how you’d keep these conversations going and how best to benefit from them.


The Illusion of Transparency

February 29, 2016

From Stephanie Vozza on Fast Company:

“Questions can also clarify expectations and make sure everyone is on the same page. Even if you think you understood your colleague or manager, there is a good chance you didn’t, says Grant Halvorson; the problem arises from something psychologists call the “illusion of transparency.”

“Because we know what we are thinking and feeling, and what our intentions are, we assume that it’s obvious to other people, too,” she says. “People think they’ve said more than they did, so there is a good chance you are missing something that may have gone unsaid.”

Resolve this problem by repeating back to the person what you think they said, suggests Grant Halvorson. “Something like, ‘Okay, just to be sure I’ve got the important details . . . ’ This clears up any misunderstandings that may have arisen,” she says.”

The problem with this is if it’s done mechanically it will come over as stilted and artificial. In addition, no one is going to be able to pick up all the context in the other person’s head, it will just take too long. However something along these lines, if done now and again, is probably quite handy. It may even sharpen the useful skill in being able to extract the main points in a conversation (where issues and topics often weave in and out).


Reinvention As Personal R&D

February 22, 2016

I’ve (so far) had three types of career: academic (internationally), business manager (in two large UK companies) and as an independent consultant (all in rather different technical areas).

I’m currently thinking about the next phase, which will probably centre around ‘giving something back to the community’, although perhaps not in a traditional way.

Part of this is just my makeup, I like doing and exploring different things, even if changing areas often gets progressively more difficult (a new learning curve each time) although still very rewarding.

In hindsight, it’s clear that my previous ‘reinventions’ were carried out in a fairly haphazard manner – I just got on with it (‘ignorance is bliss’). I’ve often thought there must be a better way. In this context I came across this insightful article by Saul Kaplan which is well worth thinking about if this sort of thing interests you:

Why aren’t we taught how to reinvent ourselves in school? Reinvention is imperative as a life skill. You would think we would at least be exposed to the fundamentals of personal exploration and reinvention while we are in school. Instead we seem increasingly focused on the skills necessary to get a specific job, a job that is highly unlikely to exist five years from now. As a society we highly prize specialty education pathways that track students toward narrow career choices instead of celebrating education pathways emphasizing a broad platform and skill set useful in doing future work that doesn’t exist today. Education and workforce development programs should emphasize foundational life skills that are transferable and enabling the personal confidence and skills to constantly reinvent ourselves.

Reinvention is a journey not a destination. It doesn’t have to be a scare word. You don’t have to know what you’re reinventing yourself to in order to work on reinventing yourself. It isn’t about stopping one thing in order to do or be something else. It’s about spending time every day, every month and every year constantly reinventing. It’s about personal R&D to explore and test new possibilities. It’s about experimenting all the time to uncover latent opportunities. It’s about continuing to strengthen our current selves while simultaneously working on our future selves by actively engaging in new ideas, environments and practices. You don’t have to stop doing what you’re currently doing you just have to allow yourself the freedom to try more stuff.

He then goes on to give a list of 15 practical ways to help ‘build your reinvention muscle’. It’s interesting that I already do most of them so I guess that’s a built-in character trait.

However perhaps the main point is the thinking about it all the time and trying some small experiments in new directions rather than waiting until you’re totally fed up and desperate for a sudden change (or worse, when a change is forced upon you).


The Wisest One In The Room

February 11, 2016

I came across this powerful story whilst skimming through the Preface to “The Wisest One in the Room (How to Harness Psychology’s Most Powerful Insights)” by Thomas Gilovich & Lee Ross:

In late spring 1944, Allied forces were making final preparations for the momentous events of D-Day, the landing of troops on the five beaches of Normandy, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The invasion would take place in two phases: an assault by twenty-four thousand British, American, and Canadian airmen shortly after midnight and a massive amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions at 6:30 a.m. The British commander, General Bernard Montgomery, gave the officers who would lead the assault their final briefing—a tour de force performance, thorough in its content and impeccable in its delivery.

The Supreme Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, known to all as “Ike,” had assigned this task to “Monty” and did not do much talking himself in the final hours before the invasion. He did not reiterate details about the operation. Nor did he offer his own perspective on the larger significance of the operation or of the long struggle ahead—a struggle that would culminate in the defeat of the Third Reich. He simply walked around the room shaking hands with each and every man who would lead the assault, mindful, as they were, that many would not survive.

He recognized that their thoughts would be focused on the challenge that each of them would face in the next twenty-four hours, on the fates of their comrades-in-arms, and on the well-being of their families. He gave no hint that he was contemplating his own fate or future reputation. His wordless handshakes communicated to each officer that he understood what they were thinking and feeling, and that he honored them for what they were about to risk and what they were about to experience. He was the wisest one in the room.

I’m quite interested in the personalities and characters of WW II, thinking about it from the viewpoint of project/programme management, where there was great uncertainty both in systems and people. There are some comments on the unique personal style of Eisenhower here.


Pitching Tips

January 20, 2016

Interesting post on Linkedin by Creel Price on common pitching flaws. It starts (after having heard a series of pitches):

But unfortunately there were a few too many over engineered slide-decks and pitches that left me confused and with little understanding of what the business actually did long after waving them goodbye on the sidewalk. The reality is, there were countless flaws in the majority of pitches I listened to, which shouldn’t be surprising given how little support and training currently exists in the market for entrepreneurs.

The article is directed at angel investors and similar but the basic principles are widely applicable and apply in many situations.

The key points he highlights are:

FLAW #1: Not Being Succinct: try summarising everything into just one sentence. That’s often very hard, although that in itself may indicate that there’s an underlying problem or maybe you’re just not thinking about it in the best way (for others to understand).

FLAW #2: Not Speaking With Confidence: he suggests a conversational approach rather than canned powerpoint. Interestingly “Sure rehearse but then rehearse it so it doesn’t sound rehearsed.”. Everyone carefully practises presentations but maybe we should do the same for important conversations as well?

There has to be room for spontaneity and movement of course but it’s probably true that lots of the likely questions can be imagined beforehand. The interesting part of conversations are when something new occurs and changes you, not the formalities.

FLAW #3: Not Speaking Frankly: use simple clear language and avoid (often meaningless) jargon. The aim is communication in a short space of time rather than a superficial form of trying to impress someone.

FLAW #4: Not Being Authentic: this is actually a tricky one. Someone is buying into you (authentic, passionate, likeable) rather than an idea, business model or whatever. You can relatively easily change/modify the latter but not so easily yourself or your style. On the other hand, if things don’t work out then it may be more a case of incompatible chemistries rather than anything else.

FLAW #5: Not Having An Ask: in a wider context, this is also an interesting one. Lots of colleagues tell me what they’re doing, their trials and tribulations but very few ask me to do something specific for them. Why not? This links strongly to the previous points.

I’m reviewing a startup business plan at the moment and I’m going to rethink the situation using the points above, it should be a useful test.


A Smarter Search

January 16, 2016

When I worked for a large organisation, several extensive information repositories were available to track down useful articles, reports, people etc. This could also be combined with looking externally via Google or similar. A common complaint was that it was time consuming tracking down exactly what was needed i.e. too many irrelevant search terms cropped up. I remember a colleague mentioning at the time that most people didn’t know the full power of ‘search’ and if they did their life would become a lot easier.

A recent article in the Guardian jolted my memory on this and it gives a handy list of ten such methods for Google (see the article for details).

Instead of an ‘immediate’ search, think a bit and then try using:

1. Exact Phrase (use quote marks) eg “Joe Bloggs”
2. Exclude terms eg “Joe Bloggs” -jeans
3. Either OR eg alex hern OR hernandez
4. Synonym search eg plumbing ~university
5. Search within a site eg site:theguardian.com selfie stick
6. The power of the asterisk eg where there’s a * there’s a way
7. Searching between two values eg british prime minsiter 1920.. 1950
8. Search for a word in the body, title or URL of a page eg intitle:review
9. Search for related sites eg related:theguardian.com
10. Combine them eg site:theguardian.com smartphone review ~budget

I’ve just tried this on a topic I’m interested in and it’s given a couple of useful new results. You can also make use of Google Advanced Search, which gives additional options. The latter is probably not used as much as it could be.

The article comments:

As Google and other search engines improve their understanding of the way people naturally type or say search queries, these power tools will likely become less and less useful – at least that’s the goal that search engines are working towards – but that’s certainly not the case at the moment.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.