Monday 26 December 2011

Can you be strategic about holiday reading?

Holiday reading lists are dangerous things. They can lead to disappointment if your appetite is bigger than the time you have to feast. I made this mistake last year. The challenge is that there's so much you want to read and so little time in which to do so. Since family and friends come first, reading can be relegated to the "I will do it soon" pile.

Here is my pared down list:

'Hearts and Minds' is a book written by a close friend, Dan Azoulay, who was an inspiration for writing my book. He captures the essence of romance in Canada between 1900-1930 based on 20,000 letters written to magazine 'correspondence columns'.  It's an engaging read. 

'On Writing Well,' is William Zinsser's excellent guide to writing clearly and compellingly. I was half way through it in June when I decided it was time to start writing my book versus reading about how to do it.

'Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal' is a  'how-to' guide written by the Chairman and former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I'm excited about starting the research for the next phase of my adventure.

There are many other unread books staring at me from my bookshelf. I have learned they need to stay there. I'm enjoying getting back to reading, when I'm not visiting with family and friends.


Wednesday 21 December 2011

Like a Light Bulb

The weeks that fly by are also the ones that spark the most vibrant memories. I had one of those last week. I was driving hard against an aggressive deadline, but falling behind my plan. There are two options when this happens: cut corners or cut sleep. I chose the latter. I wouldn't have felt right handing over my draft without cleaning up  my sections. It's like leaving home with coffee stains on your shirt - it's something you just don't do.

Seeing the print out of my manuscript for the first time was emotional. Flipping through the 252 double-spaced pages felt like I was holding a real book. I could sense the day when this will be true. The owners of our local UPS Store were friendly and supportive. They even gladly took my picture in their store.

The highlight of my week, however, was meeting my editor, Ken. We spoke for over two hours about my book. He observed that I talked about what I wanted my book to be. Ken wisely pointed out that he might be able to help me discover what it could be. What a riveting conversation we had. I was beaming as I shared a few of my stories and he shared a few of his views on book-making. I am excited by our partnership and look  forward to reading his notes in January.

But now it's the holidays, a time for family and friends. It's also time to catch up on my reading. It will be good to focus on what others have to say.


Thursday 15 December 2011

The 14 days of Changes

I had an exhilarating call with a professional editor whom I met through a friend. He was personable, fun and knowledgeable. We discussed my book and how a reader might use it. He shared his first perceptions and briefed me on the publishing world. My favourite observation was that fifty-five questions (chapters) may be too many. But they are all important, I thought. I also thought, I think I need a professional editor! 

Time flew by, as it usually does when absorbed in conversation. By the end of the call a partnership was formed. I would handover my draft manuscript on December 21st and he would edit it over the next couple of weeks. 

After hanging up the phone, I created a mindmap drawing of what I needed to do before the 21st.The page quickly became full. I needed to reformat quotes, rewrite the introduction, and write a 'how to use this book' section, an 'afterword,' and six more stories. I also had to inject more 'Phil' into the writing style - all in fourteen days. 

Given the messiness of my drawing, and with a nod to the holiday season, I created an Advent Calendar to share my work schedule. I have five more days and nights to go and am on track. The good news is I'll have three days to do my Christmas shopping after my draft is complete!  Phil

Sunday 4 December 2011

On Assignment: Chapters Bookstore, December 5, 2011

As I make changes to my book's content and structure, I am starting to think about its layout. This element of publishing is another important one. It can either make or break a book's accessibility. This is especially true for the time-starved reader who needs advice fast.  The more I can facilitate quick access to relevant information, the better. 

Charlie, my accomplice
A couple of my reviewers suggested I go to a bookstore to see how other books in my genre are formatted, so I went on assignment. I flipped through books in the business and self-help sections. I felt like Goldilocks before she tried the third bed: some were too academic, some were too playful, and none were 'just right.'

Traditional layouts included blocks of text that were hard to scan - they looked like work. Highly illustrated books were fun but difficult to navigate. What struck me was that a book was either easy or hard to navigate - there was no middle ground.
Phil, looking inconspicuous 
Here are guidelines that will help me select an effective layout:

- Titles need to stand out - they are the key navigation markers
- White space is good - the less on a page the easier it is to navigate
- Elements need to balance - lopsided pages look wrong
- Icons are effective signposts - too many are confusing and gimmicky
- Text boxes prioritize content if used sparingly -  too many are confusing 
- Different fonts and text sizes communicate order - too many are confusing
- If pages aren't inviting and easy to digest,  they need to be simplified
Charlie's reward
...not in my genre

Now, I find myself assessing the layout of every book I pick up: Where is my eye directed to? Is there a logical order to the page? Is it easy to navigate? The biggest question, however, is 'Do I want to keep on reading?'


Sunday 27 November 2011

Looking at the Stars and Finding the Constellations

This week was very productive. I spent it absorbing feedback I received from my reviewers. An author friend cautioned that reading feedback " both exhilarating (because you are making the final product that much better) and frustrating, especially when reviewers offer contradictory advice." I found it exhilarating and exhausting, but not frustrating. There were more common themes than individual threads. 
The great news is that I am on track to completing the book I wanted to write. Equally great news - there are many ways I can make it better and I still have a lot of work to do.

Reviewing multi-source feedback feels like the role Tom Cruise played in Minority Report; your job is to look for patterns across multiple pieces of information. The challenge is to keep everything in your head while you find the connections. I wonder if Tom got headaches while he was filming these scenes.

Speaking with my reviewers to clarify points and test solutions has been a great help.  Halfway through these discussions, here are the changes I am making:
  • Audience: clarify who the book is written for
  • Navigation: be more directive on how best to use the book
  • Structure: categorize chapters by theme - results, the plan, resources, and communication
  • Format: add graphic elements to help the reader find the information they need
  • Content: open each chapter with one or two quotes and remove the 'Words of Wisdom' section
  • Content: Delete the stories that don't illustrate 'What works/What doesn't work' sections
  • Writing Style: Make it more personal, more 'Phil' - some parts read like a text book

Reviewing feedback is like searching for constellations. The stars are in full view, but you need to look hard to find the patterns. Having a team of generous astronomers helps a lot.


Friday 18 November 2011

An Author by Any Other Name is Half as Sweet

Last week, I attended a 'Change Management Roundtable' session hosted by the Strategic Leadership Forum. It was the first industry function I had been to since starting to write. The registration form had asked for my title; for the first time in my career, I didn't have one.  I thought about using my old title, but that didn't seem right. I thought about leaving it blank but that also didn't seem right. I settled on 'Author' because 'Author-to-be,' although accurate, really didn't seem right.

I received my ID tag on arrival, which included my name and title. My initial feeling was embarrassment. I felt naked among a crowd of clothed business people. I hadn't earned this title and already I was displaying it on my chest for the world to see. Things got worse. The administrator asked for my card so it could be entered into a draw.  I knew that someone might ask me for my card so I was confident in saying, "I don't have a card at this time." She kindly offered to make one for me. Then I thought, what happens if I win the draw and they broadcast that Phil Buckley, Author should come up and collect his prize? I felt naked again and hoped I didn't win. 

As the evening wore on, I felt more comfortable with my newly adopted title. I also felt clothed again, which was a relief. I met an interesting man who showed a real interest in my book. He said he looked forward to reading it. I also had a great conversation with a woman who was encouraging about my journey. There are many amazing people in the world to cheer you on. Sometimes they are people you have just met.

Looking back at the experience I am reminded of a great quote about confidence by Adlai Stevenson:  “It is hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” So, here I am, Phil Buckley, Author, typing away with purpose and conviction. My name tag is in front of me on my desk, just in case I forget who I am.


Wednesday 16 November 2011

How to Unwrap a Gift So You Fully Appreciate It

The other day, I was scrolling through a technical newsletter (to improve my social media strategy!) and I came across an intriguing article called 'Unboxing the Kindle Fire.' A lot has been written about this low cost, high value tablet but this was the first article I had seen about how to properly unveil one. Since feedback is like a gift, this was an apt analogy for opening my reviewers' comments on the sample excerpt they have read.

Like most things in life, there are bad, good and best ways of doing them. I reasoned it would be wise to put some thought into how best to open my feedback to make the most of the experience. 

Here are the guidelines I follow:

- Open one gift at a time
- Unwrap it slowly
- Look at the whole gift first and then look at 
the details 
- Appreciate why the giver chose the features - they were selected  for a purpose
- Keep the packaging - care was put into the wrapping, which is an important part of the gift
- Enjoy the experience
- Be grateful

To push the analogy further, I will line up my gifts and look for trends. Are there common themes? Any types of gift I haven't received? What is the best order in which to explore them?

It is better to give than to receive, but receiving is great, too!


Thursday 10 November 2011

All feedback is good, but could you include these things?

As I was preparing my book excerpt to be reviewed by a few peers, I realized I needed to give guidance on the feedback I wanted to receive. All feedback is good, however, I don't want to miss certain aspects.

Overall, I'm looking for feedback from a reader's perspective versus a content expert's. The content is built from my experiences of 'making change,' so I expect others will have different experiences and views - no issue. What is far more helpful is feedback on how people take in the book. Specifically, its utility and style: "Is it valuable?" and "Is it interesting?" I am also looking for feedback on how the book is constructed. Finally, I'm curious about what I should call the creation. What title will speak to the reader when looking for a practical change management book? 

Here are the questions I included with my book excerpt:

  • Does it effectively convey the reader's challenge?
  • Does it effectively outline the format of the book?
  • Does it make you want to read on?
Table of Contents (each question  is a chapter)
  • Does the order of the questions look right?
  • Have I missed any essential questions? If so, which ones?
  • Too much, too little, just right?
Six sample Questions
  • How useful is the information?
  • Is the style engaging, boring, etc.?
  • Does the format help or hinder the time-starved reader in finding the information needed?
Possible Title Options
  • Rank order the top three options, including any you can suggest
  • How much do you like your top choice?
Possible Sub-title/Tag Line Options
  • Rank order the top three options, including any you can suggest
  • How much do you like your top choice?

You may be thinking what I am thinking: I am hugely indebted to my feedback providers for taking the time to review my material and give me this feedback. I will appreciate every comment. 

Hmmm, maybe I should have asked one more question: "What do you think about the number of feedback questions - too much, too little, just right?


Friday 4 November 2011

I've Never Met A Deadline I Didn't Like

I've been focusing on editing the first draft of my book. It's detailed, painstaking work that can't be rushed. I tried rushing at one point, and like the novice speed reader, accomplished the task and achieved little. 

I resigned myself to putting in the hours and slowly made progress. However, no matter how optimistic I am, finishing 8 questions out of 55 still left 43 questions unfinished at the end of last week.  I told a friend that I was getting concerned about the time it would take until I could send an excerpt of my book to some esteemed colleagues for feedback (my next step). He pointed out that since I was only sending the introduction and 6 sample questions, I could send it off before editing the rest.  Why didn't I think of that?

The clouds parted and I could see sunlight. I had a short-term goal and all I needed was a deadline. Due dates that are close enough to touch always have been the most motivating for me, so I picked the following Friday -- today!

I am not like Douglas Adams who said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound as they fly by." I take them seriously and tap into them for energy. They put me into action mode and drive me to make a plan based on the resources and time available. They also keep me focused on the most important activities.

Once I had set my deadline I accomplished the following:
  • Broke down the work into a plan
  • Defined the feedback I was looking for - reader versus editor based
  • Created a prototype review package including instructions, content and feedback questions
  • Selected the six questions for review that are representative of the entire book
  • Tested the logic of my selections with a friend and advisor
  • Edited the introduction and sample questions
  • Chewed many packs of Trident gum

By Wednesday night, time was running out. Editing was taking as long as usual and one of my questions needed to be rewritten. I stayed up until 2am to get back on track, which felt both tiring and invigorating. At 10pm on Thursday night, I completed my package. After a quick review with the same friend this morning, I'll send it out to the people who have generously agreed to read my work. 

It will feel good once the last package has been sent. Then it's back to the 43 remaining unedited questions. Time to select a new deadline.


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.


Friday 30 September 2011

Back to the Future

In early 2000, someone in my office started taking notes in black 9" by 7" notebooks. Within weeks everyone seemed to be walking around with them - including me. For the next eleven years I captured my meeting notes, to do lists and lessons learned in these handy journals. Each time I completed one I would put it on my shelf in chronological order, just like the scene from Alister Simm's 'The Christmas Carol.'

This week, one of my tasks was to reread all 55 notebooks (9,350 pages) to extract lessons learned I might have forgotten. I figured there would be many thoughts that had been jotted down during past change projects that would be perfect for my book. I was right. There are some great ones that were captured in the heat of the moment. Less exciting is the amount of time it takes to read 55 notebooks. I am on notebook 20 with one day to go!

Beyond collecting these  nuggets, I learned the following about the notes I took and the way I took them:
  • I created an index for the first three books and then abandoned the practice
  • Each book has a "Thank you for returning my book" inscription in the front cover, just in case it got lost, which only happened a few times when I left it in someone`s office or a meeting room
  • Our sons, Sam and Charlie ,drew in the backs of them when they joined me at the office on weekends
  • There are a lot of references to passion and energy
  • Our businesses had many highs and lows over the years
  • Training sessions were defined by the people who attend them, especially in different geographies - same content, different interpretations
  • Leaders were very quotable, e.g., "You, can't rebuild a ghost."
  • I have worked with so many fascinating and talented people
  • There are a lot of references to pushing the boundaries to become the best - no regrets on risks taken
  • I contemplated writing a book about learning style training design in 2000 (my concern was that it was not an exciting topic)

There are many details of our lives that we forget unless they are recorded and reviewed. George Santayana said, ``Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.``  Perhaps a complementary thought is ``Those who forget their lessons never learned them.``


Friday 23 September 2011

Becoming a Platinum Member of My Own Rewards Program

Over the past five months, I have received tremendous encouragement from friends and family. It has helped me stay on course through the twists and turns of doing something new. Just yesterday, I received an incredible note from someone I haven't seen in eight years. He said, "...keep on with your passions. Know you have people cheering you on from the sidelines. Be sure to leverage those people on the sidelines when you feel a need for perspective..." What a powerful message and kind gesture - I will reread it often.

I realize, however, that I need to take accountability for my motivation. Motivation is inspired from outside but built from within. I must be my number one cheerleader. I must be responsible for fanning the flames of my passion and ambition.

Rewards are an important element of any change project. Whether for celebrating milestones achieved or acknowledging the hard work of the team - rewards matter. This is contrary to an article I read recently. The author said you must be wary of rewards and to use them selectively. On the surface, this partly makes sense. They should be used to reward specific events or behaviours and not handed out without merit. What I don't see is the implied caution in using them. It reminds me of a quote from the early 90s TV show 'Twin Peaks.' Kyle Maclachlan says, "Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it. Just let it happen." Everyday seems a bit much, however the spirit feels right.

I only have witnessed two situations where rewards and recognition were not motivating. The first was in a unionized manufacturing environment when the individual was teased for being positively recognized. The second was when someone didn't like the reward she had been given: "What am I going to do with a utility knife?" Every other situation left people feeling appreciated and recharged. 

If rewards are an important part of change project management, then why shouldn't it be an important part of a project to write a book on change management? I need to build them into my work plan so I can celebrate milestones achieved and acknowledge hard work.  I must build my own rewards program of which I am a platinum member.

The two rewards I have planned are a new technical t-shirt for my first marathon in October, and the CD and DVD of  A-ha's final concert. They may not be on your list of rewards but they definitely have me excited. Now, I must keep doing the work that will earn them.


Friday 16 September 2011

Going Social

It won't be long until the writing and editing phases of my book adventure are completed - probably six to eight weeks from now.  Then I will move to the selling phase, marketing my book (and me) to agents and publishers. I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time thinking about these next phases before they get here. My first thought was to become better connected to the world through social media.

Up to now, my participation in social media has been limited. I have been an active member of  LinkedIn for years, regularly updating my profile and contributing to group discussions. It has been an easy way to stay connected with friends and peers. Also ... hmm ... there is no  'also' - that's the extent of my social media experience, which, when reread, sounds very limited. I haven't made the time for personal social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I signed up on Facebook in 2008 and never went back to my home page - who had the time? A friend created a Twitter account for me two years ago and I never went back to my home page - who had the time?

To build a social media strategy, it is essential to take the time to do it right. Using the word 'strategy' in this context seems grand for me. It implies building a fact base, considering alternatives,  and making outcome-focused decisions. It is hard to do so when you you know nothing about the subject.  

Although I am rocketing up the social media learning curve, I know there is so much more to learn about effectively 'going social.' I feel like I have purchased a social media t-shirt but have not earned the right to wear it (similar to the wonderful Cadbury Bournville brand ad).

My first steps have been updating my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  As I anticipated, participation is addictive. Each update is a little nod to myself as I progress through my life - what's not to like? These reflections seem vibrant and fascinating, even though I am having them about four years later than most people.

Connecting my networks is my latest accomplishment. I feel I am missing 'strategic' things but have no clue what they are. Hopefully, I will come across them in time. For now, here is my 'Tell the World I Am Writing a Book' social media strategy. Please let me know what I am missing.


Friday 9 September 2011

Wind Them Up

Writing is going well. I have already passed the halfway mark of my first draft. This week I reviewed a few sections of what I had written. I realized that my views were being phrased in neutral terms (e.g., "You may want to do this..."). It is not a big issue since my objective for the first draft is to get the content captured versus spending time on style. But maybe it is if this is the way I am thinking. My book is intended to share actions that have proven to be successful versus outline options to be considered. The reader needs to know what to do in as little time as possible. Therefore, I need to get to the point.

Another observation is that my text is clinical versus energetic. This is the opposite of what I want to do. I need to infuse hope, courage and passion into my style because these are the characteristics that lead to a successful change.  Projecting energy and passion is the way to do it.

I felt the power of energy last week when I attended a Saga concert at the Sound Academy in Toronto. Saga is a progressive rock group that hit its highest popularity in the early 80s (with two singles: 'Wind Him Up' and 'On the Loose'), making the Billboard charts in the US and achieving cult status in Germany and Puerto Rico. To date, their career has spanned 34 years, 31 albums and 8 million discs sold.

Phil at the concert
The energy of the band was incredible. It radiated from the stage throughout the 90 minute plus concert. What a great feeling it was to be there, six feet from the stage, excited and inspired. This is the level of energy I need to infuse into my book.

So, the two changes I have made to my writing is to be more definitive about my advice and build energy into the tone.  It has had an immediate impact. I am finding the content is more fun to write. Also, I am recalling more interesting details of stories that the reader should enjoy. Just writing this blog post is making me 'pumped.' It's time to get back to writing!

48 seconds of energy from Michael Sadler of Saga

Friday 2 September 2011

Blinding You With Science

It struck me the the other day how many idioms I use when I speak and write. I am not sure if it is just me or if everyone has this 'Achilles Heel.' See what I mean?

As I was pondering why I default to these communication shortcuts, I remembered a book I had bought in the late 80s called 'The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.' It was promoted as the 'ultimate book of knowledge,' which sparked my curiosity.

The authors, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph R. Kett and James Trefil, defined cultural literacy as "a shifting body of information that our culture has found useful, ... the foundation of our public discourse, ...the context of what we say and read." One of the first chapters is on idioms that they describe as things that make no sense "unless you know what they allude to."

These definitions hint at the dangers of using idioms in writing. Information does 'shift' over time and idioms only are useful when the reader knows what they 'allude to.'  And what about 'our culture?' Which culture is that? Given these variables, there is a high probability the reader will not understand some of the words that are written. The probability is even higher when the text is translated into different languages.

When I started my book, one of my goals was to "create a resource that people find relevant, practical and helpful." I was keen to avoid change management jargon, which I find is a barrier to understanding many books on the subject. I didn't realize I need to avoid cultural jargon, too - 'Blinding you with cultural science' is a version of the same mistake.

So, as I write I will screening for cultural expressions. I will also have others do so in the editing phase, both in Canada and abroad. Keeping it clear and simple is a good principle to follow.