Write A Book to Learn Something New

At a conference in 2013, I was challenged to write a book about a subject that I was passionate about. I, like most people, responded with an enthusiastic reply of ‘Yes, I might’, but never did. A year later while looking through my 2013 journey from that conference, a note fell out between the pages that simply read ‘Write The Book’.

What the heck, I’ll give it a try.

So, I pulled out the fresh pack of colored Sticky-notes and began posting ideas, possible titles and some content. That remained on my wall for about 3 months. The only thing that was happening to the notes was that the paper was beginning to curl. I occasionally would look at the wall, nod positively, then switch to some other project needing my attention.

It wasn’t until I talked with a writer friend of mine that he convinced me to really get writing. He gave me some great advice that it doesn’t have to be great, not even good, just write. Get ideas down on paper as fast as you can. You can always organize and edit later. Then he added the best advice that really put the fire to my pen. Pick an idea you know, make the claim that it is the best option, then prove it by researching other options and explain why they are not better than yours.

So I did just that, began writing one of three books that I always wanted to write. I scratch notes in my journal, typed out others on the computer and even recorded others with a voice recorder. I was in the groove and typing like a mad man. I transferred everything to a single document. When I finished and was shocked to count only 12 pages. What, only 12 pages? I never have a book I thought. I need more. No one would ever buy a school paper.

I went back to my friend and asked him how to add filler to make it bigger. He smiled and took a look at what I wrote. And as most editors, out came the red pen and he began circling, writing and adding little marks everywhere. My stomach churned as it looked like more red than the black text.

After about an hour, he put down my ‘article’ face down. Then, took a drink and gave me the big shot of advice and here it is…

“Write what you like, what you know and what you care about. It doesn’t matter how long it is as long as you learn as you write.” He took another drink and continued. “Writing for me is about learning what I don’t know about what I am writing about. So, now its time to learn more and write more.”

I looked at his edits and was very upset. It looked like a paper you would find at a murder scene clutched in the hands of the victim. But there was a final note that gave me more determination to continue. So let me show you and see if it doesn’t help you as well.

Write a Book

The idea is this; the best way to learn is to write a book. By writing, you need to research more than what you are writing about. You need to research facts about supporting information around your claim about your book. You will be amazed of how much content you will create trying to support your idea. So much that you will shock yourself of how much will need to edited out to keep on track and your idea concise.

And in the end, you learn a great deal that you ever realized you would. It doesn’t matter if you ever publish or even if someone else reads you book, because you forced yourself to learn and that my friend is what it’s really about. And if others agree and want to learn, they may just want to read you book too.

Reality, I’m not a great writer, but the experience was an incredible journey in self-education. Now off to write my second book before 2015 ends.

My advice my friend; want to Keep Learning, Write A Book!

 

 

Seeking Outside Help

Imagine yourself sitting in a small meeting. Everyone appears to be engaged and responsive to the subject. Enough coffee has flowed that the group is awake and alert. Then that point in the meeting happens. Issues are raised about problems and obstacles facing the team, departments or the company. Suddenly the conversation shifts to group insights and inspiration.

The auto reply kicks in from the team. Old ideas with new names are thrown out on to the proverbial strategy table. Buzzwords fly like swarms of pesky bugs on a Summer’s evening. Unfortunately, there is no great solution generated, why? What is so challenging for such intelligent business folks that a single strong solution can not be developed or worse yet, acted upon?

Let me try to sum up the condition at hand. I heard this quote once upon a time and it has stuck with me throughout all my conversations with teams, no matter the organization, business or stage of development.

image

“You can’t read the label from inside the jar.” Old southern saying.

This is the simple fact. You’re too close to the problem or you are the problem and the only way to see a clear path is to bring in someone from the outside who can see your situation for what it is and what it could be. Utilize others who do not have any equity in the situation to help guide you through the forest of familiarity. Hire a guide to ask the questions you don’t know to ask yourself or are afraid to ask. Seek outside help to better see inside.

IN Out of the Box

Midwest Businesses and GraphicRecording

In the past few months I have seen a dramatic rise in the request in information for graphic recording and visual translations. Is it because of some super clever marketing campaign or some incredibly smart social media gorilla stunt that has gone viral?  Not really. The increase appears to be sourced through the an increase in activities of both sketchnoters and graphic recorders pushing their work into main stream culture through social media channels and gaining local and national press.

Take a look at this news piece on CBS News about Sunni Brown and the business of doodling or this article in a local Business Journal which introduces the idea of graphic recording as a tool to improve daily work and general thinking. (Yes, it’s about me and graphic recording. A selfish plug, but then again, you’re already here.)

Yes, graphic recording is on the rise. Be it personal sketchnotes posted on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, or more graphic recorders sharing on LinkedIn and Twitter, the business world is taking notice and responding accordingly by Following, Liking, Pinning and Adding to professional networks. Graphic recording is becoming a business acceptable practice.

Even for myself, my various applications have become a point of conversation with prospects and clients within the financial community, healthcare and business consultants. Corporate strategic planning sessions are incorporating more visual recorders to meetings to add greater value and deeper retention of plans, conversations and general gatherings.

Why?

I can’t answer for the general population, but from my personal experience and conversations with those inquiring what it is that I do, a realization of the power of graphic recordings and conversation maps is becoming clearer. And with this clarity comes greater curiosity. Businesses are looking for stronger advantages in the market place and graphic recorders are helping them to see opportunities that once were unseen and intangible. They are beginning to see!

So, if you’re a business, organization or a start-up, connect with a graphic recorder and get your ideas, plans and thoughts drawn out and seen so you can move forward with a clear plan and a map to your future.

 

Why?

If you ever had been around a small child, the word “Why” can become the most frustrating word you’ll ever encounter right after “No”. Every answer you give is quickly challenge with another “Why” until you have no more answers and you snap with the default answer of “Because!” But before you snap, remember to keep telling yourself that this is a critical process in the development of that child. Being inquisitive is how we all learn and grow intellectually.

So what happened to us later in life? Why do we stop asking? What is it that made us avoid challenging the status quo? Maybe it’s because we still hear the echo of ‘why’ or maybe we are afraid to remind ourselves of three words that would spark our quest for answers; “I Don’t Know”. The technique of asking why five times to get to the root of an issue was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. It is a critical component of problem-solving training, delivered as part of the induction into the Toyota Production System. The 5 Whys method, as expressed by Sakichi Toyoda, was “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach . . . by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”

Problem solving may have been the original application, yet this same technique can also be adapted to an earlier stage of development of an idea or perceived innovation. Asking the 5 Whys at the beginning of a project can reveal many aspects that may be overlooked. Like a small child asking why, it is important to understand the idea’s purpose. Finding its purpose, will help determine the viability and adaptability of the idea. Below, is a graphic I use to help determine my continuation of an idea. 5 whys webStart with  “Why do it?” Walk around the circle and ask yourself each question as it relates to your idea or situation. If at any time, you do not have a strong and clear answer to any one of the 5 whys around the circle, then, as you get back to the beginning, ask yourself the first one again. There are two steps you can take from here; the first is to uncover the answers to each question or move away from the idea (for now). Record the idea and store it until all the answers can be found.

I have come to believe and trust this method when developing an idea before investing time and resources. Too many times I committed to a project that either served no greater value to the existing condition or would never be accepted as a new solution. I dedicated many hours and resources keeping a project moving simply because I was blind to the answers I would have discover had I only simply asked these five whys.

So, before you act on an idea and follow the credo of “Fail Fast” on the deliverable, ask yourself why, why, why, why, why and never just answer “Because.”

Remember this… “To Determine Success one must Measure against one’s Purpose.”

Thoughts on Innovation – The Box

Achieving innovation or new ideas requires a different path of thinking. I have written about this in an earlier post; “The Path to Innovate.” Some of the fastest and most direct methods I prefer is to influence the traditional thinking with fresh insights. These insights come from outside the box. It is very rare that innovation develops from the thinking found within the walls of the box, so getting fresh ideas needs external input.

IN Out of the Box

The first of two suggestions is to bring in fresh thinking or guidance from outside your box, a.k.a. your organization or office. As the an old saying goes “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.” Too many companies and individuals are unable to see the clues and insights due to the being to close to the situation. Obtaining new ideas requires something new or different from that of the embedded thinking. Bring in outside help.

The second method I find works well is getting out of the physical box. Climb out, see the sky and then interview people from the outside such as customers, prospects or the public. Ask questions that are open-ended and have no single answer. The more conversation you can drive, the richer the ideas can be. When you ask others who are not close to the situation, they have a different point of view. This different POV is gold to new ideas.

Finally, as a parting gift, a third method if you can’t do either of the two and you are shackled to your desk, is a method that is promoted by William Donius, author of “Though Revolution.” Use your non-dominant hand to get a second opinion or idea about your situation. Follow the link to get more information. He explains it better than I.

So, the thINKing to get new ideas is to change the direction or the source of your inspiration and to jump out of the thinking rut we all create for ourselves.

Until next time, don’t be afraid to ask someone else to help you create something new.

Focusing The Conversation

Part of the role I am tasked with in my field is helping to uncover the underlining issues that most groups or individuals are overlooking or are unaware that exist. I traditionally do this through the use of visual translations and interactive visual thinking. It is important initially to make sure the goal is clear for the outcome of any meeting. As the role of facilitator, setting the path direction is key.

There are various methods used . All have their place and purpose. One idea I enjoy is starting any conversation with a question, but not your typical question. A question that becomes the focus lens to issues that may need to be uncovered. A question that is approachable, yet has very telling feedback. I call this a focusing question.

Focus Question

After introductions and everyone is comfortable and before the real work begins, introduce a index card with the question visualized above.

“____________ need(s) a way to _______________, because_________________________.”

Share with them that the first space, I’ll call the “Who”, should be filled with a person or persons that you feel are key to your group. It can be anyone from a customer, staff, executive or even family or friends. The second space, which I’ll call the “What”, is the key process or action that can not be achieved currently. And last is the “Why”. This is the reason or purpose for the need by a person or persons.

It is important to note that, by not directing them to a specific person, action or purpose, you begin the process of unlocking each person’s more urgent concern. Once completed, collect the responses and during the course of the event. Combine and tally all the participants responses on a grid. Now you can begin to see an insight into the underlining issues that maybe present, but not discussed.

Start the Conv

By initiating the conversation in this way, you have a guiding tool throughout the conversation/session that also allows to keep the conversation on track as well as providing content for deeper reflection after the event.

Four Decisions

Over the past 25+ years working with businesses of all sizes, you come to believe one simple truth; size does not matter when it comes to decisions. All can be life changing or devastating.  Sure, the number of people, dollars or customers may change, but at the end of the day, all businesses owners need to make decisions that will impact their business.

I have been told by some of the best business minds, psychologist, and many entrepreneurs, ‘focus on one major decision at a time.’ This is good advice about 90% of the time, because if you making those decisions all at the same time, you’ll go crazy and eventually destroy what you are trying to build. Stay focused.

That leads me back to the title and the graphic below. In my years of listening to owners, executive management teams, board members and entrepreneurs, I have identified, in most of my meetings, the four main decisions that groups face that creates action fear.

I am not going to label these except by a single letter. I’ll let you create the narrative. If you’re facing any big decision, I am sure you can identify very clearly by one of these four images. Which one stands out to you?

4 Decisions

I use this sets of images to help groups and individuals to uncover their underlining issue(s) so that I can help them understand all the issues facing them at this point. By begin the process with these images, it guides the conversation and visual thinking towards a solution. So ask again, which one stands out the most to you now?

Try it out for yourself

Draw the image that most stands out to you in the center of a piece of paper small enough so you are able to add comments around the image. Now ask yourself the question that you feel relates best to that image. Write down that question just above the image. Highlight this question so that it stay predominant on the page. Now, jot down simple, short answers as they come to you over the next day or so. See if an answer doesn’t present itself, even if it’s the one you may not like, but must do.

Good luck and happy visual thINKing.

To learn more about this type of visual thinking called Mind Mapping, check out some of these sites for more ideas. 

Video File; Tony Buzan “How to Mind Map”

WikiHow: “How to Make A Mind Map”

Public Transport Theatre

Graphic recording, visual thinking and even sketchnoting are all things hard to communicate via email, phone conversations and even one-on-one, so how can you share what you do with impact and clarity?

Find a captive audience and let the show begin!

Recently, on a trip to Vancouver, BC, I was onboard the Clipper heading over to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Ferry crossings are slow and take a good amount of time. Like all public transportation, the seating is adequate. On the Clipper, seats are arranged in tight groups of four around mini tables that are provided for eating, reading or just relaxing. The advantage of traveling with one other person is that you always end up seating across from two strangers.

On this trip as with so many others, I pulled out my sketchbook to record some ideas I have thought about. I opened up my pad, grabbed by pens and began visually reconstructing an idea. Immediately, the couple across from us became interested and then hooked. Their eyes followed as my hand moved from one node to the next as if unveiling chapters in a story.

Eventually, one of my audience speaks up. “What is that you’re doing?” That’s my cue. Start the music from the Calliope, put on the smile and it’s showtime? My response is always the same… “I’m capturing ideas visually so others can understand later on.” This is vague enough to get a head nod or a tilt of interest.

The next few minutes I explain how visually we all think and remember things as well as show examples of earlier work, either on my tablet or from the sketchbook. I share with them how others have used my talents to better communicate or identify ideas to larger groups. While all this is happening, curiosity spreads around the nearby seats and more eyes and ears are drawn in on the conversation.

I demonstrate how it helps, not by using the spoken word, rather by starting a new page and banner title it “Interesting People I Have Met”. I ask them to share why they do what they do and begin the recording. I ask eavesdroppers also. Soon a handful of people join in and the fun begins. People begin connecting with me and with each other.

Nov TripThe show is in full swing, time to spread the word…

Eventually, someone inquires about applications of this thing you do. Time to get contact information and spread out the calling cards. Remember, you’re not just creating new friends, this is you livelihood and the best way to promote yourself, because you never know if they may be the next client or stepping stone to that client. At this point I always politely try to get email addresses to send them links to see the final work as well as my portfolio.

“Storytelling is the key to adding value to anything you offer, especially if it’s others providing that story.”

Storytelling 01

Anywhere there are a mix of people waiting for something, you have an audience to entertain, share stories and eventual educate to the world of graphic recording and visual thINKing.