Friday, 28 October 2011

You Can Quote Me On That

Fourteen years ago, I began forwarding a weekly packaged goods news summary to fellow colleagues. It was called the Grocery Digest and was novel for its time. A sales teammate and I purchased the service as a way for our company to become more externally focused.

Within a few weeks, I started adding motivational quotes to make it more engaging. After a few months, I started looking for quotes that captured the essence of what our company was going through at the time. If we were behind our financial goals, I would select a quote about adversity; if we were winning in the marketplace, I would select a quote about success. The search for the 'right' quote was fun and became a Sunday afternoon activity for the next 14 years. 

Initially, I found quotes in famous quotation books or on internet sites.They were plentiful and well indexed. Over the years, I realized that often the best quotes were found in real time, both at work or in my personal life. I started recording and including these quotes when they fit our business circumstances. I even humbly added a quote of my own: "When you know the answer, why not put up your hand?"

As I was structuring my book a couple of months ago, I was looking for a way to concisely capture insights around the questions that leaders must answer to successful lead a big change project.  The format needed to be succinct and to the point. I realized that the quotation construct did just that. It communicates a single point of knowledge in the fewest amount of words. My "Words of Wisdom" subsections will list quotes that have been publicly documented or ones I have noted over the years. 

I am looking forward to speaking with some friends and past colleagues to ask for permission to include their words. Some may not be famous, but they sure are wise and sure are quotable.


Friday, 21 October 2011

Road Testing

Chip time of 4 hrs. 29 min. 46 sec.
Running my first marathon was an incredible experience.  The best way to describe is captured in an email I sent just after the race: 

At 2 miles my shin splint and vastus lateralis (upper thigh muscle) injuries resurfaced but they were less intense than before and manageable. At 9 miles I started getting intermittent ‘Charlie horse’ pains in each leg. By 12 miles I had full-on, non-stop Charlie horses. They were agonizing. I shortened my stride, which allowed me to keep going. The only time they subsided was during the walking parts of my 10 minute run & 1 minute walk rotations. At 15 miles both legs locked up and I had to walk like I was standing on stilts. I saw another runner doing squats so I did so while punching my legs to get them going. At 16 miles the tendon in my right leg started to spasm, pulling my toes under the sole of my foot. It was so bizarre, like I was running in a ballet stance or like one of those Looney Tune mice trying to sneak away. So painful. The last 6 miles were tough but no worse than the 6 before it, which I saw as a positive omen. My legs locked a few more times before my 100 metre finale.

As I turned the last corner, the crowd spurred me on and I started running faster (from really slow). I looked at the sky and let out three Braveheart screams, fists pumping with each one. People started laughing and clapping and then my right leg locked again. I started hopping on it as it started to trail the rest of my body. It unlocked for the last 50 meters allowing me to run over the finish line.

Any experience provides learnings from things that went well and those that could have been better. Here are mine:

  • Kept to my race strategy including beginning at a slower pace (difficult to do) and consistent refreshment
  • Adjusted my approach once problems arose, experimenting with different remedies
  • Achieved my goal
  • Condensed my weekly running mileage into fewer days. The spikes of training overworked my right leg resulting in injuries. Sometimes efficiency leads to lower effectiveness
  • Extended weekly long runs beyond my training program. A 24.9 mile run that was supposed to be 20 miles triggered my shin splints
  • Ignored early signs of injury while training. I didn't act upon my data, which resulted in lower performance on race day. Later, I went for laser treatments based on a friend's recommendation, but it was too late to regain full health. 
Parallels to My Book
  • Stick to my plan as long as it's working
  • Ask friends for help. They are amazing and can help in more ways than I think
  • Keep going. The finish line is ahead

I know I gave everything I had. As David Lee Roth said, "You do the best with what you've got." My goal was to achieve one marathon and then focus on shorter distance races. After the race my plans remained unchanged.The next day, I mentioned to my wife Barb that maybe some day I would consider running another marathon. The day after that, we talked about the possibility of us both running a marathon in May 2012. The following day, I printed out a 29 week training schedule for a 4 hour, 4 minute and 25 second finish time. It starts on Monday.


Friday, 14 October 2011

10 Things I Know About Self-editing

In undergrad, I took a few courses on film theory and criticism. They were welcome breaths of fresh air from the more mundane courses on finance, economics and statistical analysis. Writing, and specifically grammar, was not my strong point. I remember getting a C- for style on my first film paper. I was devastated and went to see my prof for advice. He said, the best way to improve your writing is to keep editing, over and over again. I clearly hadn't done so and it took me a few years to appreciate his guidance. I finally realized that anything committed to writing, from proposals to emails, was a representation of me, either positive or negative. Once distributed, it was forever.

As I approach the editing phase of my book, I'll edit the heck out of my draft. There's comfort in knowing my draft also will be reviewed by friends and colleagues for content, and a professional copy editor for grammar.

Before then, I must do the first edit to the best of my ability (better than a C- for sure!). To orient me to the task, I did some research on how to self-edit. Here are the guidelines I am planning to use:

  1. First, read the entire document for the big picture. Does it make sense?
  2. Proofread a hard copy as well as editing on the screen
  3. Read the work aloud for flow and tone
  4. Keep sentences of varying lengths
  5. Blend shorter and longer paragraphs
  6. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs
  7. Get rid of words I don't need
  8. Remove or change favourite words - the ones I really like and use too often
  9. Expect editing to take longer than I want it to, but know the extra time is worth it 
  10. Remember I cannot be fully objective about what I have written

I still have a week of content writing before I start editing. I think it will be more fun than writing, but I thought writing would be more fun than research. We shall see. Fun or not, it will allow me to test my writing style to ensure it's right for the book I want to write. As a friend counselled recently, the voice is as important as the content. That makes 11 things I know about self-editing.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Create the Plan, Work the Plan, Change the Plan - Part 2

As I was rereading my old notebooks, I discovered that the 'Change the plan, work the plan, change the plan' quote is actually 'Get a plan, argue a plan, get a better plan.' It's fascinating how time affects your memory. Both seem true but my version feels more like an ongoing way of working versus a one-off task.

It's been 15 weeks since I shared my first plan. Some steps have been added and others have been modified. Here is a list of the changes:

  • I chose to write the first draft of my book direct to the page and then enhance it based on notes recorded throughout the many change projects I have been a part of
  • Extending my blog's distribution is a new step based on advice from some gifted and experienced authors
  • I will be requesting feedback from trusted friends and peers on content, structure and title. This step precedes my original one of holding a focus group of potential readers. This and the 'consider illustrations' steps will come after I secure interest in my book
  • All my research recommends hiring a professional editor to sharpen my draft before promoting it. The old adage, 'You only have one chance to make a first impression,' comes to mind
  • Most publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. This means I will need to secure an agent to represent me and my book
  • Further steps I will leave open for now. One author wisely said, "Be flexible with your work if you want to be published." It's good to have an open mind.

It's exciting to see my plan change over time. Completing each step gives me a more informed perspective. I'm sure my plan will change again, which is a good thing.