Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Accidental communication

There's the official story, and then there's the story you tell by accident. It's a good idea to get both stories in sync.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Once upon last week, the CEO* of a large organisation created a staff suggestion box. In various communications the CEO trumpeted a desire to hear from at every level of the business. The CEO stated he feared he wasn't hearing all the good ideas of the rank and file, so he promised to read every single suggestion submitted.

One idealistic employee wrote up a few linked ideas. A staffer from the CEO's office acknowledged receipt:
Thank you for using the suggestion box... I am a bit surprised that you are not feeding this through your supervisor, to your department head and then on to the regional manager - that would be the normal 'chain of command'.
*All identifying details have been removed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Monday, November 29, 2010

20 years of marriage

Last week, Mr O and I celebrated 20 years of marriage. Its something of a miracle, to us as much as others. Perhaps to us more than others, as no outsider really knows what goes on inside a marriage.

We still love each other, and we are still good friends. And yes, we still get grumpy with one another, and disagree from time to time too.  We both look forward to the future together, and we haven't entirely run out of conversation. That feels like luck and a privilege rather than something to be smug about.

To get this far, we have learned that you can put up with a lot, if you don't give up the search for a mutual solution. It's not the compromise you reach just because you're too tired to argue anymore. A mutual solution is one you're both genuinely happy with. It's neither option A, nor option B, it is the elusive option C.

We've also learned you have to look after your own needs, as even a good marriage can't sustain being the consolation for an otherwise unhappy or unsatisfying life.

The good thing about surviving the bad times is you understand, from experience, that you can get through the bad times and the love remains. For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and cherish until death part us.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Choosing between competence and compliance

Sometimes, we're asked to do something we think is wrong. Not wrong in a moral or ethical sense, just wrong in being ineffective or even counterproductive.  What do we do?

There are two ways of being a good employee. One requires us to do what is asked, without complaint or argument. The other requires us to question, to critique, to speak up. The second way won't always make us popular. The first way won't always save us from blame.

Which path we choose, whether in a single instance or as a repeated pattern throughout our life, may tell us a lot about who we are, and what our values are. Do we value consensus and cooperation more than personal integrity or outcome? Do we put our sense of accomplishment and worth above the needs of the situation? Do we simply ask, 'how high?' when we are asked to jump? Are we being provocative or simply being a pain in the bum? Are we right, or righteous? Are we wrong, but well-meaning?

Does it make a difference if we feel that doing the 'right' thing is likely to be a wrong move career-wise?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Missing in Action

It's been a while. Did you miss me?

I recently injured my right hand*. It put a real crimp in my blogging, as my work ethic demands that paid writing comes first. By the time I finish my 'real' work, there's not a lot of finger energy left. The last thing I need is to develop a strain in my left hand by trebling its workload.

Back soon.

*It's an isolated incident, and not a repetitive strain situation. Thankfully.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What I've learned from playing Solitaire

Sometimes you find a life lesson in an unusual place or person. My recent mini-obsession with playing Solitaire has either taught or reminded me of the following:
  • You have to be prepared to lose. There’s always another game.
  • Don’t get fixated on one particular next step or you’ll miss other opportunities.
  • There is no strategy that works all the time
  • Sometimes it’s best to stop planning, and just pay attention.
  • It’s not always useful to grab every opportunity as soon as it come up, if you can expect it to come up again, take the time to consider your options.
  • Sometimes luck feels like strategy, strategy feels like luck
  • Success may lie more in your circumstances than in striving.
  • When things are going well, it feels like it will be that way forever.
  • You’re usually moving fast and travelling well when you’re heading down a cul de sac.
  • You don’t control your circumstances, but you can make the best of them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The end of the sixth day

I'm not sure if its true whether fortune favours the bold, but I am sure that the harder I work, the luckier I get. (Thanks to either Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Goldwyn or Gary Player for that gem.)

Not that the hard work occurs in isolation. Some days the stars align, and you get a payoff for several things you've been working on at once.

I've just been perusing (great word, eh?) the first concept proof of my new music studio website by the talented graphic artists at Webalive. Very exciting. Writing the design brief was harder than I expected. I do pity designers who are given a very unclear word-picture, then criticized if the work 'isn't what I asked for'. When actually, its a bit all over the place and so was the brief.

Once my new website is finished I will link to it, right now I'd rather you don't look at the rotting corpse of my old one.  (The irony that I have been freelancing designing other people's communication strategies and websites while absolutely neglecting my own is not lost on me. Hey, doctors don't treat their families either.)

At my current comms gig, I've put to bed the outline of a new program. It's pretty exciting stuff too - the birth of my new brain child! There is an amazing satisfaction in describing a concept so that your listeners appear to 'see' what you are 'seeing'.

Tonight I feel a little like God at the end of the sixth day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tribal organizations

Is your company basically tribal?

Do you and your immediate team have a strong feeling of identity with and loyalty to your work group, department, region or reporting line. Is there even a certain lack of identity with and loyalty to other groups in your organizational structure?

Another common phrase to describe this is the silo effect.

Many large organizations can communicate only in straight lines, and with the cooperation of various gate-keepers along the way. If you try to cross between the lines it becomes much more difficult.

So how do you break down the silos and get inter-tribal communication happening? Officially, rather than along unofficial lines (which happens anyway and can't be stopped, but leaves some folks out in the information cold).

How do you respect the cultural patterns of your organization, while Getting Stuff Done in a way that doesn't require a Summit Meeting, trade gifts and the liberal application of a peace pipe?

Audience participation please...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Trying to change the onion

Reader note: This post may contain onions.

When I prepare raw onion my eyes stream water and puff up like I've been on a day long crying jag. I can't see what I'm doing and worse it stings. Maybe you have a similar reaction? Many people do.

There is a lot of advice and folk wisdom about how to solve this problem. We can soak the onion in hot water before chopping it. We can part freeze the onion before chopping it. We can use a certain type of onion, a 'low-fume' variety. We can use a food processor, which limits our exposure to the onion. We can find someone else to chop the onion.

All of these solutions work up to a point. Most of this advice is about trying to change the onion so it won't release the fumes that set us off. The best solution I have found, which works every time, is to wear swimming goggles so the onion fumes don't get into my eyes. Rather than trying to change the onion, I'm changing myself, or at least granting myself the best possible conditions under which I will chop the onion. This solution has never failed for me. Better yet, it gives me sense o confidence about onion-chopping that the other solutions never did The other solutions work some of the time, creating uncertainty. The big 'will it work, won't it work' can become a problem itself.

We have to decide which problem we are solving. Are we solving the onion's problem of releasing irritant fumes? (Effectively 'blaming' the onion for our discomfort, and accidentally victimizing ourselves. It's not me, it's the onion... If only the onion were different...) Or are we solving our own problem of watery eyes when we work with onions? It's often harder to define the problem when we put the focus on ourselves and our own experience, (whaddaya mean I might be the problem? Don't look at me, buddy, its the onion...) but it is also often easier to solve. We are focussing on the aspect of the problem where we have the most power and control.

It was only a nanosecond after thinking this that I had a Blinding Flash of the Obvious: when dealing with other people and their irritating behaviors we are usually trying to change the onion.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, October 15, 2010

Creativity tools

Everyone is, or can be, creative. It appears to be part of the human condition. Many of us would like to become even more creative. Here's a couple of things that have increased my creativity.
  • Teach your non-dominant hand to do something new. If you are very dominant with one hand, this will be difficult, time consuming and frustrating. If you perservere, you will find a host of subtle benefits. Breaking my dominant arm forced this on me, which I don't recommend. Daily writing with your 'off' hand will work in a few weeks, if you do some each day. Which hand do you pick up your coffee cup with? Does it feel odd to use the wrong hand?
  • Buy yourself some crayons and a sketch pad. Don't expect to produce 'art', but do enjoy exploring drawing or playing around with the colours. Abstract or photorealistic, the point is how it makes you feel, not what the end result looks like.
  • Buy a drum, or use a found object such as a tupperware container, a bucket or a pot. Small Pringles (tm) potato chip containers are particularly nice. Explore the different sound effects you can make. Copy the beat of your favourite rock song - then see if you can improvise your own rhythmic line.
In each activity, your brain will forge or reinforce new neural pathways. When it comes to brains, more connectivity means more creativity.
    What creativity tools do you use?

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    A rose by any other name?

    From time to time I'm asked about my blog title.

    Just recently I was introduced to a colleague of a colleague who said, "Oh, you're the one with the interestingly" - here he quizzically lifted his eyebrows - "named blog". Oh dear.

    Others say, "You know, you're not that opinionated, and you never write about childlessness..."

    So here it is, the origin of 'An Opinionated Childless Woman'.

    One day I'm going to write a book about parenting. Yep, it's all kinds of hubris, I know. In the spirit of spinning a bug into a feature, I figure I'll get the issue front and centre. You'll either laugh at the title: How to Enjoy Your Children More by an Opinionated Childless Woman, or you'll be offended and won't read it. Either way you'll know what you're getting yourself into.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    The world needs all kinds of minds (Temple Grandin)

    Managing disinterest

    When writing communications in the business world, we generally assume that we have an audience of nominally willing-to-listen, not merely a soapbox. This may be a mistake.

    Advertising copywriters receive blunt feedback: "So what?" "Who cares?" or "Huh?"

    In business, communications are often top-down and basic survival instincts usually ensure a pretence of interest. Which makes genuinely managing disinterest difficult.

    Disinterest comes in various forms. It arises out of a failure to perceive benefit or relevance. (And when we are already feeling time-poor, we an be very blinkered in what is beneficial or relevant.)

    Timely, brief, relevant and searchable information usually hits the spot.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    A lack of opinoin? not likely

    Is this my longest absence yet? I need to get a new challenge going, pronto! I'm losing urgency without one.

    Suggestions? Shorter than a year, longer than a week...

    3 things I'm feeling opinionated about:

    1. Spring: it's great, it's here, I'm loving it.
    2. Stephen Fry: he's wonderful to listen to, if you get a chance to see him live, go.
    3. Ruts: when you find yourself in one, start digging - left or right doesn't matter, just get out.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Unplugged rules

    After several years with a digital piano (in an upstairs apartment), I have at last returned to my unplugged acoustic roots with a real - wood & wire - piano.


    Mr O claims it 'talks back to you' in a way the digital never did or could. I agree that the right piano responds in subtle ways that makes playing a completely different experience. The sound is totally different (I hope the neighbors enjoy it too), generated from steel wires and wood keys rather than a computer chip and a transistor.

    We make music for the joy of the experience. The 'wrong' instrument discourages joy and keeps your attention on the mechanics of playing. Its the quality of driver experience that sells cars, even though it is so hard to define. The right instrument may be as personal a choice as the right car or the right life partner. In each case it's wonderful when you find the right one.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    A learning opportunity

    I'm teaching myself a new knitting pattern. For a reasonably intelligent woman, with a strong practical 'knack' I've been making a real pigs ear of it. Each stitch is something I've more or less used before, just in an unfamiliar grouping.

    I pull most fancy pattern (ie fancier than plain knitting) out five or six times at least before I get the hang of it. That's normal for me. This time though, I'd done it so often the thread was wearing out. I thought the specialty yarn I'm using might be contributing to the problem: yep, a poor workman always blames his tools.

    Then I had the Ah Ha! Moment. After several days experimentation and much groaning and unpicking, I worked out the problem: I'd misread a 1 as a 2. No wonder I was running out of stitches before I ran out of instructions!

    After the first time, I must have been seeing what I knew was there, rather than what was really there. Which raises the question of where else in my life I do that. In the meantime, the knitting is coming along nicely.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Cruelty, kindness and consequences

    Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

    It's one of those truisms that I instinctively distrust (right up there with 'you make your own happiness' and 'honesty is the best policy'), even as I broadly agree with it. Yes, it's usually true, but I find myself wondering what your agenda is when you bring it up...

    It is an easy and available excuse for all sorts of casually cruel or ungenerous behaviour.

    On the other hand, sometimes you DO have to be cruel to be kind. I do deem it a kindness to allow those we love to experience the consequences of their actions. If we always protect them from negative consequences, we insulate them from learning anything, we also teach them need.

    I recently overheard a woman at a cafe, talking about one of her adult offspring*. The offspring is now (temporarily) back at home due to an unfortunate financial reverse. Based on what she said, this woman is keen to get her offspring back on its feet, but at the same time be self-responsible, so she demanded living expenses - partly out of her own financial necessity, and partly to demonstrate there are no free rides. Her friend was just congratulating her on her great parenting when she added that if the offspring ran out of money between pay days, she put up the difference.

    Um.... wait, what? It's possible I missed something - after all, I was involuntarily eavesdropping - but it sounded like this woman was bank rolling an adult, and totally removing the pain of running out of money before next pay day. Which, back 'when I were a lad' was the only thing that taught us feckless young uns to live within our means.

    If you drank your bus fare, you had to walk. If you bought clothes with your food money, you ate tinned soup (if you had any) or had the humiliation of going home to the folks for dinner six nights running. If you parents were like mine, they cooked generous meals, but were quietly deeply disappointed in you and you quickly decided it wasn't worth it for a cheap top that wasn't quite the right colour, and didn't make the chap of the moment look twice at you, and shrank in the wash: multiple consequences from one bad decision and a world of learning to be had. Plus, your friends laughed at you if you tried to 'poor me' to them.

    These consequences, while painful at the time, are appropriate to the financial behaviour that created them.

    What happens to this woman's offspring? Er... apparently nothing whatsoever. In fact, I suspect that her insistence that she is being a financial hard-ass may even dilute any appreciation or embarrassment her offspring might feel about battening off good old Mum. (If you apologise to me and I deny there is anything to apologise for, because no transgression occurred, what are you to think? How do you deal with that?)

    Kindnesses that lead children - even adult children - to have an unrealistic expectation of how life works are not really very kind. In those cases, the cruelty of letting a child experience harsh cold reality might really be the kindest thing to do...

    * The gender is not germane to the story.

    This is post 2 of the non-challenge challenge.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010


    The thing that amazes me about jetlag is that it is different every time you do long-haul travel. It's recognizably jetlag, but the experience is always a bit different.'This is a bad one, in spite of my hard won list of travel dos and don'ts. It's a bit like having a temporary brain-ectomy! Basically, I got cocky. Last time I travelled I went to work the same morning I came home much to my colleagues' surprise. This time I assumed I would be ok the next day and I wasn't. Oops.

    We all make the mistake of treating our bodies like a machine, and expecting it to behave identically every time. It doesn't and it's quite zany to expect it to (not to mention futile). Short of invasive medical procedures, there can't be anything more unnatural than sitting in a too small seat in a large tin can being propelled at unendurable speed through the upper atmosphere that would freeze us and doesn't contain enough oxygen to sustain life. We do this while sitting still for about 24 hours of a 30 hour period, with 700+ sneezing and expectorating companions. We pass through about 10 time zones and invert the pattern of day and night. We eat too much snap frozen fatty food, don't drink enough water and watch WAY too much small screen entertainment. Then we wonder why we feel a bit seedy and below par for the next few days.

    Isn't it astounding how quickly the previously impossible becomes the mundane?

    This is post 1 of the challenge-free challenge.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    A learning experience

    Oh dear. I have failed miserably at my 365 day challenge. So much so that I'm officially abandoning it as a Bad Idea.

    Three points strike me:
    1. It was asking a lot of myself to start an initiative while on holiday away from home.
    2. 365 days is - self-evidently - too long be an incentive, so I need a challenge bigger than 100 days, but smaller than 365.
    3. If I was doing this for money, I would have no trouble whatsoever with compliance, so I am not as self-motivated as I'd like to believe. (I suspect I am not solo-ing on this point.)
    Once I would have felt woefully inadequate and probably abandoned the whole blog because I was such a Useless Failure who did not deserve to pollute the internet with my presence. It would have remained a festering mental loss-of-confidence wound for years. Now at least, I just seek to understand what went wrong, then move on. Middle age has its compensations.

    I will keep writing daily while I attempt to come up with a new challenge. Suggestions welcomed, and taken under advisement.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Spending time, wasting time, making time

    How do you spend your time? I am on holiday just now, and I'm having a great time in spending my time on fripperies... you know: exercise, creative endeavour, a social life, quiet time... all the things I usually don't have time for.

    I'm feeling much better for it, too. So how do I bring some of this space and time back into my regular life? Short of winning a lottery (and for that I'd have to have taken a ticket) and giving up paid work, what do I actually do?

    Previously, I contented myself with wishing, and threw myself back into the daily grind...

    This time I want to effect a more thorough change, and I'll have to say, 'No' to someone, and mostly that will be myself!

    I'll have to decide what degree of domestic organisation I need to be comfortable, yet still sneak a little time away from those tasks. (Perhaps I simply need to be more efficient?)

    I'll have to resist the urge to do one 'good' activity, in favour of another. We can, with effort, say no to the situations that feel obligatory - and even enjoy our rebellion. When the choices are equally desirable in different ways... Do I weed the garden, or take a walk in the nearby park? Do I join friends for a function, or indulge in some 'alone time'? Do I finish some sewing or knit or write on my blog?

    I'm grateful to have such palatable choices, very grateful, but that doesn't make the conundrum any easier... Ultimately, we need to remember that our life is formed from the moment to moment choices. I can't tell you what are good choices for you. I'm still too busy working out what are good choices for me. I do know that when I get the balance right, there seems to be enough time, so part of choosing well is making time, and not just spending or wasting it.

    This is post 17 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010


    A friend took me to a local historical site where they were having a big open day. My friend was there as a volunteer and I spent part of the afternoon also helping to dispense tea and cake to the hungry hordes.

    It was quite pleasant labour, and reminded me of how often an event is more enjoyable when you have a job to do. The other volunteers were approving, the venue was beautiful, the weather was suitable, and the public were (mostly) polite and appreciative. What's not to like?!

    When we think of volunteering, some is us shy away from the commitment. We don't have one day per week to ourselves, let alone to a cause, charity or community group! Instead we ought to look for casual or one-off events where we can volunteer a limited amount of our precious spare time.

    It feels good to do something for others, and today the extra charm was in being the 'bonus' helper they weren't expecting to have. An extra pair of hands during cleaning up will always be appreciated.

    This is post 17 of 365 posts in 365 days.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Nine years ago

    Nine years ago I headed off to teach Kindermusik classes (it was a Wednesday) and was shocked to hear about the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. My concern was personal as well as generally humanitarian: I number several Americans among my friends.

    Four years later, I landed at Heathrow from a conference in the USA, and was warned not to go to London as various stations had been blown up.

    The world I grew up in was o e in which such atrocities existed only on the news or in the history books. Tonight a young person I know made an off the cuff remark that there is too much fuss being made of 911, which has "nothing to do with us". I recall when I was a teen, adults would bang on about where they were when Kennedy was assassinated - we used to be as disinterested as my young friend is today.

    Nine years ago, the world changed. It does everyday of course, but sometimes the changes are immediately recogniseable.

    This is post 16 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    The value of asking nicely

    It's always worth asking nicely, quite often people will help you get what you need. All you need is a willingness to be told 'no' and the perseverence to keep asking - nicely at regular reasonable intervals - until you get an answer.

    And always thank people for their time, no matter how trivial it seems to you, it is valuable to them.

    This is post 15 of 365 posts in 365 days.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Going solo is a handy skill to keep up

    It's a good idea to practice successfully being alone, being independent. It's a skill like any other, and needs to be used to be kept up. As a middle-aged woman, I've begun to notice that I seldom go out alone at night, and less and less do I make decisions in isolation. It's a short step from seldom doing something to never doing it, to it becoming unthinkable to do it.

    It's one thing to consciously choose to stop doing something: overspending, overdrinking, overeating, overpleasing, etc. It's another to allow a capacity to accidentally slip into disuse.

    For many people in their 30s, 40s & 50s, life becomes very full of people: partners, parents, children, friends, colleagues, etc. We may (sometimes) yearn for a bit of 'alone time' but we're fairly bad at putting it to use.

    When we're out of practice at being alone, we become lonely after a short while alone. We want someone to react to, so we don't have to think up actions for ourselves. This often makes itself felt if we go on holiday where we don't have our usual duties and responsibilities to fill the time. There you are, on the beach, in the sunshine, and feeling...well... a bit bored... (Boredom is often the more socially acceptable, ego-friendly face of loneliness.)

    If you haven't been alone for a while, start with a small but significant block of time - say, two hours. (It doesn't count as 'alone' if you surf the internet or talk on the phone, by the way.) Part of being alone is learning to entertain yourself without the pabulum of modern media. At some point you may feel bored, lonely or even irritated, but after a while it begins to feel more normal.

    Who knows, you may even like it.

    This is post 14 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Uniform dissent

    From time to time I have rainbow coloured hair. Not rainbow like a clown, more like a swirl of colours through the otherwise brown and grey. I don't wear it to gain attention, I don't think it's particularly 'out there' though I do realise I'm bound to get some attention, sometimes.

    Today I was at a cafe where another patron had a hot pink mohawk - but guess whose hair attracted more attention?

    I couldn't work out why, but I think it may be because the chap with the mohawk had a leather jacket, a trendy pair of stovepipe jeans, boots and some piercings. His individuality was expressed in a fairly standard punk-ish sub-culture way. He was uniform in his dissent.

    I am guessing that for some people, an otherwise regular middle-aged lady with rainbow coloured hair is an unexpected juxtaposition. It's not a known variation or subculture. Neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring! Just a bit eccentric.

    It seems most of us wear a uniform, even to assert our individuality.

    This is post 13 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    Are your loved ones pieces of you?

    Watching parents with their children is always interesting, but it recently prompted an 'ah hah' moment. The degree of embarrassment or distress a parent feels at their child's behaviour is an indicator of the degree the parent believes the child is a piece of themself. The old saying is, 'a chip off the old block'.

    A toddler who throws a paddy in the middle of the bank is always going to leave a parent feeling some frustration and exposure. If the parent instinctively accepts the toddler as their own person, a completely separate - if currently dependent - entity, then the parent feels the annoyance or anxiety of the situation alone. Sure if some people 'tut tut' it's aggravating, but it's the kid who's having the paddy, and the kid is toddler, and stuff happens. If the parent views the child as an extension of themself, then the child's behaviour reflects on the parent to such an extent that, for all practical purposes, the child IS the parent.

    It's a cliche that teenagers go through this in spades when they find their parents so horribly, horribly embarrassing: they're not embarrassing because they're parents, they're embarrassing because they're MY parents. [You may prefer to substitute your relationship of choice here.]

    Husbands and wives do it all the time too. A social faux-pas is not just a faux-pas by your partner, it somehow reflects poorly on YOU as well. This is encouraged by the common human behaviour of manipulation, whereby person X wants something from Y so they ask Y's life partner for advice/help/permission/emotional blackmail.

    If you catch yourself being mortified or made angry by the behaviour of someone around you (friend, colleague, family member, etc.) remind yourself that their behaviour is their behaviour alone. See if that helps you be less overwhelmed by the sticky social situation which ensues. Our loved ones are not pieces of us, they are themselves first and foremost, and our child/parent/lover/colleague/boss/etc second.

    This is post 12 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Stickability & Stopability

    I've been struggling with my knitting. I chose an Aran-style jumper (sweater) with some fancy cables I ha en't done before. I practiced each pattern a bit so I understood what to do, and then launched.

    Six times I cast on, knitted about 10-12 rows with frocious attention, got lost, pulled it out, started again. I had to pull it out because A) I couldn't find where I'd gone astray, and B) the smocked cables were confusing once undone so I couldn't work out where I was to start knitting up again.

    That would be the stickability part.

    Disaster struck on take 4 as well. It took the combined efforts of a very talented peer group to work out what had happened - I'd lost 2 stitches at some point, but even they could not be sure where it had happened or how!

    On attempt 7 I decided to simplify the pattern, using an easier and more familiar combination of rib and cables.

    That's the stopability.

    Progress is now occurring and although its not the jumper I set out to knit, it is attractive and has some hope of being completed in the forseeable future.

    There is no magic formula for which trait should be best applied I a given situation. I'm proud I gave it my best shot, but I acknowledge that at this point the original pattern is beyond my ability and not just beyond my comfort zone. The purpose of the exercise is congenial employment for my hands with a garment at the end of it.

    So if you're about to give up on something "too hard" ask yourself if you should give it another go and what information or skill you need to ensure success. If you're about to keep pursuing a goal To the point of obsession, ask yourself if persistence serves the wider outcome you're after and whether the effort and the uncertain conclusion are worth it.

    This is post 11 of 365 posts in 365 days.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Assent, dissent & agreement

    Most of us assume that assent and agreement are the same thing. In human research ethics circles, assent is used to indicate a willingness beyond mere legal agreement. It is particularly useful in situations where a guardian has given the legal agreement, because the most scrupulous ethics require the assent of the individual.

    There are a number of social situations where this distinction can usefully be employed. Invitation RSVPs and group present buying immediately spring to mind. I recently overheard a fellow commuter bemoan the expense incurred when she bought what she thought was a group present and her friends refused to sub up, claiming they had not agreed. Most of us have had to contribute to a group gift when it was made clear that our response of, "Yes, that's an idea. I'll bear it in mind" was taken as both agreement and assent. In this scenario any response less specific than, "Right, count me in, can I have your account details to wire you the money?" ought to be received as 'maybe'.

    RSVPs are similar. "it sounds lovely" is not a commitment. It's a polite nothing which buys time to consult one's calendar or the preferences of one's significant other.

    If you' e ever found yourself listening to someone criticize a mutual acquaintance, you will recognize that an unwillingness to compound the person's lack of manners by berating them in public is a LONG way from being agreement with their sentiments. Yet people make this mistake all the time (particulaly in their teens).

    Assent, dissent and agreement are different things and we all need to be able to recognize the differences.

    This is post 10 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Truth or joke?

    I was reminded recently that children are very literal, on the whole.

    Adults need to bear this in mind when teasing them - and often we don't. If a husband comments that his wife loves the dog more than she loves him, it's (probably) ironic, and we all laugh - the dog is far more biddable. If a child says his father loves the dog more than the son, he probably believes it is true, even if he is playing for laughs. If a father tells his daughter he loves the dog more than he loves here, she will, at some level, believe him. She'll believe it is a joke, but she'll still understand that it's true too.

    Adult humour is often incomprehensible to anyone under, say, sixteen. In fact, many children can't tell whether we're joking because their fontal lobes aren't developed enough so they can 'read' people's faces. A lot of adult humour at children's expense relies on this.

    Children are literal, on the whole, so be careful when you tease them, because they might believe you.

    This is post 9 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    Seriously toying with our wild and crazy ideas

    Most of us don't pay enough attention to our wild and crazy ideas. We may not wish to enact every one of them, but we should attend to them, note them and keep track of them. We can learn a lot about our deepest longings, and our creativity, from our wild and crazy ideas.

    We all have days where we'd like to run away and join the circus, or give up the rat race and have a sea-change or a tree-change. Many of us would like to write a blockbuster novel or have our album go gold or invent a better mousetrap or a really popular iPhone app.

    Do you always reject your wild and crazy ideas out of hand? If so, that's a pity because you're wasting a precious resource and that's not 'just being practical' however much it feels like it is.

    If you collect your wild and crazy ideas, perhaps in a notebook, you can track the patterns that emerge. Do you always dream of a gap year off when you haven't prepared properly for a presentation at work? Do you dream of a sea-change after you've worked - yet another - 60 hours this week? Do your fantasies of a pared-back Tuscan Villa emerge when you stare at the laundry drying in front of the fire, along with the remains of yesterday's pasta and Sunday supplements orgy?

    If an idea is compelling enough, I like to follow through and do some research. Maybe it's not so crazy, maybe it's actually quite possible. I call the phase of research "seriously toying" with the idea. Trying it on for size. I treat the idea 'as if' I were serious, even though I'm not serious - yet.

    I suspect that most of us consider 'toying' or 'playing' with an idea the phase where it keeps popping into our heads insistently when we are supposed to be doing something else. And thinking 'wouldn't it be nice if...'. That's daydreaming: it's pleasant but not productive.

    Seriously toying with an idea has three possible outcomes:
    1. The idea is a pleasant dream, but unworkable.
    2. The idea is do-able, and we commit to making it a reality.
    3. The idea is do-able, but not now, and we will keep a watching brief and review the possibilities in a set amount of time.
    Even if the results of our serious toying lead to the first outcome, we should take away some sense of what was so compelling about the wild and crazy idea. If you dream of a tree change perhaps you should book your next holiday in the country, or look at moving out of an apartment into a house with a small outside area so you can garden, or make a commitment to go to a nearby park once per week and walk under the trees?

    We all want what we want, but when we're in the grip of a wild and crazy idea we may not be totally clear on what it is - exactly - that compels us. Even if our needs and wants can't be fulfilled right now, we ought to honour them and acknowledge them, if only to ourselves.

    This is post 8 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    An adventurous life

    Recently, someone told me I have had an adventurous and eventful life. The comment was an aside, partly prompted by the sort of dinner party conversation, where it is appropriate to edit out the mundane bits. It is also largely a matter of the attitude one brings to one's life. I am immensely flattered by this comment, even while I was nonplussed too.

    All lives are adventurous and eventful. They can't be anything but: events occur in life, moment by moment, and none of us know what our eventual fate will be, or even what is going to happen in the next minute, let alone the next year. Yet we don't always approach our life as if this was true.

    While adventures are not always comfortable or even pleasurable, they are enlarging experiences which are fully lived. We are aware that we are alive when we have an adventure.

    So lunch with a friend can be an adventure. Lunch alone can be an adventure. Lunch in a new location can be an adventure. Lunch in a favourite spot can be an adventure. Or any of the above can be a mundane footnote in a day like any other.

    Do you approach your life as an adventure? What would need to change for you to do so? What would change if you did?

    This is post 7 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010


    We can be tolerant of those we see as other: those from a different family, a different culture, a different race, etc.

    The exotic is comprehensible: we understand when we go to a country we've barely heard of that they will be very different. We may even be charmed by the difference. At the very least we will be relatively tolerant of it.

    We reserve our greatest resentment for those who are somehow like us, or of us, but whose differences - maybe quite minimal differences - mark them out as deviant, deficient and undesirable.

    Parents may say, "He's no son of mine!" Partners may say, "You're not the person I married!" Of those further from our hearts (or our egos) we may say, "She's not REALLY _____ (fill the blank)." Not really a local, not really a member, not really one of the 'in' crowd, not really in the know, not really a countryman, not really "one of us"

    We tolerate an obvious foreigner, but don't extend the same tolerance to naturalised migrants. We endure the vagaries of our new work colleagues with polite complaisance, but those of our housemates through gritted teeth, with no attempt to hide the effort of keeping patience.

    We have more tolerance for misbehaviour in people we don't know and don't care about, than in our own families and housemates.

    Yet we hate it when our nearest and dearest are intolerant of us.

    This is post 6 of 365 posts in 365 days.
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    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Be careful where you put your feet

    Be careful where you put your feet. Today I caught my boot in the shoulder strap of my backpack as I was exiting a vehicle: naturally it was a 4x4, so I had further to fall. Bruised tailbone, knee and elbow. Ouch.

    I have inflicted worse damage putting my foot in my mouth. Both are to be avoided.

    This is post 5 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    The unwisdom of taking responsibility for others' behaviour

    As mentioned recently, here is the post on unwisdom of taking on responsibility for other people's behaviour.

    Do you take on responsibility for others' behaviour? You probably think you don't, but I invite you to think again.

    Have you ever:
    • apologised for someone else's behaviour or circumstances? e.g. I'm sorry about my parent/child/partners ill temper, she's rather tired today.
    • apologised to someone for something they did? e.g. a person in a crowd steps on your foot, and you apologise to them as a reflexive action?
    • felt guilty when a loved one fails at something and wondered what you could have done differently?
    If so, you may be taking responsibility for their behaviour, and this never ends well.

    It is profoundly disrespectful of the other person, as it reduces them to an object. It doesn't feel that way, it feels loving and supportive, which is what is so insidious and difficult to notice in yourself.

    We each have sufficient challenge in managing our own behaviour. If we try to control or manage others' we take the focus off where we have real power and authority, and misapply it. Misapplied care and concern and responsibility becomes manipulative (or is seen so) which robs it of its power.

    It's like when you're on an aeroplane, and they tell you to fit your own gas mask first, before helping others to fit theirs.In a plane, you wouldn't try to help someone adult and capable to fit a mask because they would (rightly) see it as officious and unhelpful and invasive.

    This is post 4 of 365 posts in 365 days. (1% of the way!)

    Get it in writing:

    A person's word should be binding. I love the story about Warren Buffett buying a company on a handshake, saving both companies many thousands of dollars in due diligence. The skeptic in me wonders who would be stupid enough to try to cheat Warren Buffett.

    In dealings involving money or the potential for money, getting it in writing protects us from liars and tbeives, and also from misunderstandings.

    Most is us mean what we say. Unless we are liars or phantasists, who are still in the minority. The difficulty many of us have is in saying what we mean, exactly what we mean, in clear and unambiguous terms, so that the other person understands. Phew. This is an area in which Warren Buffett happens to excel.

    If I say, we'll be partners, 50:50, that might sound desirable, until you realize that this requires you to buy me out of half my business' very expensive mortgage, and leaving your earnInge in the business coffers for at least five years. 50:50 is true, it's just not the whole truth, and probably not what you were expecting. For my part, I may be surprised you did not understand the Profit & Loss Sheet I gave you, and might be disappointed that you' e lost sight of future returns wanting a cash cow today rather than an investment in the future. In this scenario we are both likely to end up feeling betrayed and deceived, without there being one iota of ill will or planned deception.

    As we're all human and therefore fallible, say what you mean, mean what you say, and get fit in writing.

    This is post 3 of 365 posts on 365 days.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    Remind me, again

    Today I visited a friend whose house I've only been to once before, and that was a few months ago. We walked there together from a cafe where we met, luckily, because although the journey was short and direct, I couldn't - quite - remember how to get there. Yet as soon as we began walking, the sights were familiar enough that I could have found my way by myself if I'd had to.

    It's the difference between remembering 'cold' and remembering when prompted. Context-sensitive memory, if you will. The latter being much, much easier. Which brings me, indirectly, to why I'm such a big fan of reminder systems. On any number of occasions I've thought: "this is so important I won't have any trouble remembering it..." which, it turns out, is only broadly true. Its vexing to remember that there's "something" important that you know you need to remember, but what it is...

    All of us forget things from time to time. Life is more peaceful if we keep such lapses to a minimum. When I'm establishing a new habit, I've been known to leave a note on my pillow - that way if I forget all day, I still have a chance to catch it before the day is utterly over. This only works for tasks that do not require daylight or open shops, of course.

    Recently, Mr O asked me to remind him about a time-critical errand he had to run on the way home from work. I agreed to do so - it was my errand he was running - and promptly set a reminder on my iPhone. When the reminder bell went, I texted Mr O. It was days later that I realised I could have saved a step if I'd told him: "just set a reminder in YOUR phone". [The unwisdom of taking on responsibility for other people's behaviour will be a post for another day.]

    This is post 2 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    What Katy Did Next

    The reward for a job well done? Usually another job.

    After a day 'off', really the result of international travel rather than the need to rest from my labors - it is time to start a new challenge.

    So I guess today is not just the first day of the rest of my life, it's also...

    Post 1 of 365 posts in 365 days.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010


    Isn't it amazing what you can do in bite size pieces? I'm amazed, even though I intended to do it!

    In a piece of accidental cosmic symmetry, I am departing Australia for a time today also. Sometimes the ducks line up: what a reward!

    See you tomorrow.

    This is post 100 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Agent Provocateur

    If you ask the questions you're not supposed to ask, you are probably an agent provocateur. By my definition, anyway.

    What are the questions you're not supposed to ask?

    Is there really a profit in giving the customer this gizmo they keep asking for?

    Does anybody read these?

    What will you do with this report if I give it to you?

    Do we really need a meeting? Wouldn't it be more efficient if we circulated drafts? If we have a meeting do we need to give people chairs?

    Why do you do it like that? What other ways have you tried?

    Do we have to be boring?

    You may not always be greeted with applause if you ate an Agent Provocateur, but if you gently, politely and good-humouredly persist, you will make some change(s) for the better.

    This is post 99 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Render unto Caesar

    The end of year tax frenzy is upon the OCW household. Made more complex by changed arrangements over the course of last year, which requires reallocating many transactions previously entered.

    I'm so busy rendering unto Caesar (not to mention my meticulous accountant) that I failed to prepare a post today! But even accounts can be grist to the determined writer's mill.

    It's nearly tomorrow now, and I still have a muddle to sort out in the morning. It never ceases to amaze me that I am so bad at doing taxes. It isn't civil disobedience, I don't despise the task as beneath me, and I'm neither stupid or innumerate: but somehow accounts just sucks the life right out of me.

    But it must be done - and like bashing your head against a brick wall, it feels so good when you stop.

    This is post 98 of 100 posts.
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    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Food for thought

    We've been cooking up a storm today, or at least some scones and hearty winter stews. There is enormous satisfaction to be had from several tupperware containers full of delicious and healthy food. Especially warm food that can quickly reheated and still taste 'just cooked' on cold Melbourne winter weeknights!

    The delight Mr O and I took in the sight of our bounty had me thinking about our forbears. If we are thrilled by knowing there is food in our cupboards and freezers (even though the shops are just a few hundred metres up the road), how much more intense must have been the feelings of the local goodman and goodwife when the crops were in the barn, the pig slaughtered and salted, and the fruits preserved against the winter to come? Not only would the sight of all that food delight the eye (and eventually the stomach) but they would have the satisfaction of knowing the family would make it through the winter.

    That is an intensity of feeling I am unlikely to experience, but then I'm not likely to experience famine either, so that seems fair - you can't have one without the other. I recall that in some famines, you couldn't buy bread with a gold bar because there was no bread (or grain) to buy within reach. Lacking modern transportation, a famine which affected an area of a couple of hundred miles was affecting the whole of your reachable world.

    It must have been meaningless to many of our forbears to even dream of 'life satisfaction' or 'self-actualization' (in whatever terms they would have used) with the possibility of death from starvation a real and present danger. Food for thought, that.

    This is post 97 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Perfect mañana or good enough today

    Today I have fallen prey to perfectionism. With only 4 posts to go to complete the challenge, I began to feel I ought to end on a high note, and suddenly nothing I can write seems good enough.

    Morale sapping, I assure you. Perfectionism run riot and creativity doesn't stand a chance. When this happens, the only way forward is to keep going, keep creating and let the results be what they are. Because not doing something in fear of failure is to become the hostage of anxiety: mañana doesn't mean 'tomorrow' it just means 'not today'.

    This is post 96 of 100 posts.
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    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Sesame Street Simple

    I recently read that A. J. Laffley, who was CEO of Proctor and Gamble for a decade, has a philosophy:

    As an entrepreneur, as a music tutor to adults (and children), as a marketer, and as a communications writer, I find this advice useful. It is the - simple - strategy at the heart of success in each endeavour. If A. J. Laffley found it useful in the cut-throat world of international cleaning and personal care supplies, who are we to argue?

    Yet simplicity as an approach seems to be rather despised today. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, 'as simple as possible and no simpler'. It's been used ever since as an excuse to cover a multitude of sins. While 'simple' in advanced physics may be genuinely complex, this is rarely the case when communicating with humans.

    Sesame Street simple is a modest skill - it doesn't draw attention to itself, it draws attention to the message. A good example is this 3minute animated explanation of wikis by commoncraft. (The website includes other gems such as 'phishing'.) A complex or confusing explanation may make us assume the explainer has a high IQ (or merely that we have a low IQ, or that the explainer is confused too), a simple explanation makes us feel intelligent. It's then we appreciate that the explainer did a good job, although usually only if we've experienced a bad explanation first, otherwise a good explanation seems natural and obvious.

    So the next time you need to tell someone something, keep it Sesame Street simple. As artist David Hockney is quoted as saying: "Anything simple interests me."

    This is post 95 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Seeing ourselves as others see us

    If only we had some idea of how others see us. We might be made uncomfortable at times, but we would have some chance of amending our least admirable traits.

    Regardless of the increase in society-wide inconsiderate behavior, most people feel too uncomfortable to call others on their bad behavior.

    It takes only a moment for most of us to call to mind some behaviors we least like in our friends and colleagues! Usually traits they are utterly oblivious to... And which we don't have the heart or the interest to tell them about. It's easier to avoid the aggravation unless there's a compelling reason to do so.

    So we stumble through our lives, fibbing, excusing, manipulating, demanding and generally being focussed on our desires and needs to the exclusion of others'. Worse, we think we're getting away with it because no-one has pointed out how transparent we are, some if not all the time.

    According to Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule, we all act like a jerk sometimes: a bona fide asshole is someone who acts like that all the time.

    If we could only see ourselves as others see us.

    This is post 94 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Wednesday, August 11, 2010


    Fulfilling the spirit of a commitment is as important as any action. To fulfill the form without engaging with the spirit or intent is tokenism. Sometimes such tokenism is the best we are able to give.

    This is post 94 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Kindness and control

    It is easy to confuse kindness with control. It is hard to own our own shadier motivations, and keep our focus on all the outcomes, not just those that affect us.

    It is often when we feel most virtuous, most righteous in our kindness that we are most in danger. The parent who smothers a beloved child's independence rejoices in keeping the child safe, protecting it from the results of unfortunate decisions.

    The partner who 'runs interference', insulating their husband or wife from an importunate acquaintance or family member is pleased to offer such small and loving service and help to keep the peace.

    We protect our loved ones from unpleasant realities, the consequences of their actions, and the risk of physical or emotional pain. In doing so we risk infantilising them, protecting them from opportunities to experience life in all it's complexity, to grow as individuals. We also keep them dependent on us, the kindly ones.

    Today, ask yourself a difficult question: who in your life NEEDS you? Why do they need you? In what way are they incapable of caring for themselves? How much power or influence do you have over them on account of your kindness.

    Whether giving or receiving, it's important to recognize the difference between kindness and control.

    This is post 93 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Sleep: it's not just for the weak

    When you're discombobulated and struggling to work out what to do next, sleep may be the best option. Often a nap puts matters into perspective. Even if it doesn't, you're more equipped to deal with what is going on. Sleep clears the mind and restores the body. It's not Just for the weak, it's for the strong too.

    This is post 92 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Chores and a penitential attitude don't mix

    Today I weeded for 20 minutes. I did the same yesterday. So about 15% of the garden looks good.

    It is difficult to think much about other things while weeding in the mild winter sunshine, which is why it's a great active meditation. One stray thought did cross my mind: too often we bring a penitential attitude to daily tasks. It is this sense of mortifying or subjugating the flash that makes the task unpleasant. It is the sense that such tasks are somehow a punishment, or at least a distraction from our 'real' life that robs them of satisfaction and meaning. (Oh well, I've had my fun, now I'd best weed the garden.)

    Most of us don't object to the relentless necessity to eat at least daily or more frequently, indeed we look upon it as a secure source of pleasure. Somehow, for many of us, cleaning the house or weeding the garden doesn't rate the same level of cheerful anticipation. Yet we may enjoy the results at least as much as the results from eating.

    This is post 91 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Saturday, August 7, 2010


    Revenge is an expensive indulgence, like chocolate it is delicious at the time, satisfies a natural craving, and the damage it inflicts takes a while to show up.

    This is post 90 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Do It Now

    Here's an experiment. When you finish reading this post, spend 5 minutes doing something you love and wish you could do more.

    There's no time to quibble, and no need to 'accomplish' anything. This is about pure experience. Make no prerequisites: if you want to dance more, then dance - the music of your imagination is sufficient. If you don't want people to see and you're at work, go into the bathroom and dance in the cubicle. If you want to draw a biro and a piece of newspaper are enough (as long as it's your newspaper).

    So, what did it feel like? Audience participation encouraged.

    This is post 89 of 100 posts in 100 days.

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    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    All or nothing!

    Have you ever found yourself deferring a task until you had enough time to do it from start to finish? As if it somehow reflects badly on us to do something in stages. Now I love a 'killable' to do as much as the person, but I've come to realize this heroic approach to productivity might not be the best solution in all situations.

    Take weeding the garden. 15 minutes per day would be sufficient effort to keep a small suburban courtyard garden and associated gravel paths pristine.

    I recently caught myself thinking, 'the weeds will be easier to see if they're bigger'. True enough. A couple of days of dry weather and I decided to wait for the next rainfall, when the clay soil is more friable and weeding is a breeze. True enough. Less than a fortnight later (look, work was busy, ok?), I caught myself thinking, 'I won't weed today because the weeds are so established it will take all day. I don't want to spend my whole entire Saturday weeding.'

    The heroic approach is the antithesis of 'a stitch in time saves nine' or in my case, a weed in time. The heroic approach is a form of perfectionism, an insidious delusion that tells us unless all the circumstances and results are PERFECT then there's no point. Perfectionism runs even more rampant than weeds, and can keep you locked in stasis for hours, days, weeks, months, years.

    A friend recently told me a out her moving meditation: each day she had to go out to the garden and fill a plastic bag with weeds. That was all. No special instructions about thoughts etc. This helped her become less stressed, more centered. And her garden looks great too. Neither all nor nothing.

    This is post 88 of 100 posts in 100 posts.
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    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Managing expectation

    Every day, when dealing with our families, our romantic partners, our children, our friends, our work colleagues, and our 'customers', we must manage expectations. Most of us were raised to be nice people, so we are spectacularly bad at this.

    It doesn't help that most people are also excellent manipulators - at a completely unconscious level most of the time. If someone says, "No", we cajole, entreat, bluster, blame, criticise and generally pile on as much blackmail as our power in the relationship and our good manners or conscious allow us to. Strangely, we never put it in such blunt terms. If we're passive aggressive - and most of us have at least a small streak of PA - we make sure that the nay-sayer will suffer enough to think twice before refusing us again.

    We read a lot about dysfunctional families, but most workplaces also operate like one big, hopefully happy, but quite dysfunctional family too. If your workplace culture doesn't permit failure, then there is little incentive to give a definite answer. Whether 'yes' or 'no' or 'by next Wednesday', the risk of failure is too high. Or perhaps we don't have the power to enforce a definite agreement.

    So its no wonder that most nice people have a host of vaguely agreeable nothing-says to suit any social interaction.

    Disappointed lovers, children, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues and customers all think we agreed to X, but when X never eventuates, they get mad. Next, they review their assumptionss, realise the were promised precisely nothing, and wish we could say something concrete.

    In a spectacularly bad customer service interaction with a large domestic telecom, I once complained to Mr O that the complaints resolution staff wouldn't be specific. I'd have felt better if they'd promised restitution, even if they later renegged - at least it would show they understood what the process should involve, ie. some sort of promise to the customer.

    Most of us believe its better not to commit, then we can't be 'wrong'. I argue, and passionately believe, its less wrong to admit you over-reached than to be vague. In our current culture, vagueness is perilously close to sin by omission.

    So be specific. Make promises concrete and time limited. Say when, where, how, who and - if necessary - why.

    Don't say: We'll talk soon. Make a time and place, be there, and talk.

    Don't say: Now is not a good time. Unless you'll say when IS a good time.

    Don't say: Soon, unless you mean in the next couple of weeks. Do follow up.

    Don't say: It'll be in next week, come pick it up on Tuesday. Say, "We usually get deliveries by Tuesday and I'll call you then to confirm whether (or not) it has come in, and chase it down if not."

    Most of us don't expect perfection, we just want to know WHAT to expect.

    This is post 87 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Which roles do you play? Where do you play them?

    Are you the helper? the strong one? the needy one? the ideas person? the one who brings everyone down to earth? the smart alec? the quiet one? the wild one? the doer? the overachiever? the people-person? the peacemaker? the argumentative one? the neat freak? the nice one? the go-to guy or gal? the suck-up? the sleaze? the optimist? the dreamer? the pragmatist? the humanitarian? the subversive? the radical?

    It fascinates me to watch people role play, and to recognise my own masks or personae when I catch myself at it. I don't mean being false, or hiding our 'real' selves, just that most of us express different aspects of our personality in under different circumstances.

    We can be quite different in different situations: with an old friend in a bar, with our work colleagues at the office, with our (ex)romantic partner whom we meet at party, with our employer during our annual review, with customer service staff while making a complaint, when we're ill, when we're happy, when we're sad, when we're angry.

    We can be quite different people in different relationships. The Chairman of the Board of Directors doesn't treat his mother like he treats his underlings; his mother doesn't treat him the way his Board of Directors does either.

    What is most interesting is not (necessarily) which persona we express, but which situations call out different aspects of us - and why.

    This is post 85 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    World peace? No thanks

    Recently I was thinking about wishes, of the 'if you could have anything at all' variety. That old chestnut 'world peace' flashed into my mind. It doesn't feel authentic to me. Peace is too often portrayed as an absence of conflict, which is A) unlikely and B) undesirable. In all the utopian writings I've read this involves a universal consensus. Presumeably that's an eternal consensus too, as mechanisms for change never seem to be necessary in utopia. They sound stagnant and creepy to me. The end of that road always seems to involve the 'neutralising' of any dissent for the good of society. Urk.

    Not that I'm a fan of war, and the wastefulness of war, far from it.

    If we're programmer more for individuality and variability than for similarity - and I think we are - then the thing that needs fixing is how we manage conflict. So I"ll pass on world peace and have a double helping of creative and constructive conflict resolution when someone offers me that wish.

    This is post 84 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Sunday, August 1, 2010


    Being present is something that challenges most of us a lot of the time. Unless our immediate circumstances are delightful (or threatening) we just leave some or most of our awareness in a more compelling temporal zone, either the past or the future. Anything is better, we seem to believe, than here and now.

    We seem to think the purpose of life is to provide us with entertainment, so we channel surf our memories and our dreams instead of living this minute.

    I suspect many of us live in this half-hearted fashion most of our lives, until death brushes by us and we realize that every single boring or banal minute is precious, if only because it is a minute in which we choose what we will do with it.

    As I strive to be present more often, to both bear witness to my experience and to act more consciously, I find my life infinitely richer. Richer as I live it and richer in memory. In order to remember something, you have to take it in in the first place. I admit with regret that there are whole months in my past that are undifferentiated blurs. I recall the merest outline of: went to work, came home, hung out with friends and family, did not enough housework, shopped, you know, stuff...

    So this week, add a little something extra to your daily grind, stay present: the magic ingredient is yourself!

    This is post 83 of 100 posts in 100 days.
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    Saturday, July 31, 2010

    Philosophy is where you find it

    Philosophy is where you find it. I recently saw the film 'Invictus' (on dvd). It's a great story, very uplifting. The film Invictus makes great use of a nineteenth century poem, with the challenging but ultimately powerful conclusion:
    I am the master of my fate.
    I am the captain of my soul.
    Clint Eastwood was the director, and he also directed 'Gran Torino' which is another meditation on how one individual can change the world for the better. I don't necessarily agree with how the lead goes about it, but that's kind of beside the point.

    Both films are only bettered by 'Amazing Grace': if Wilberforce could be an agent to change eighteenth century Britain and get slavery made illegal, almost anything is possible.

    These films should perhaps make us feel intimidated and overawed, but I find I leave feeling the need to hold to that spirit, stop wasting my life and get out and make a difference. (It often takes a glass of wine, some cake, and a good nights sleep before I'm restored to respectable, self-involved apathy again, with these films trailing ragged streamers of possibility for weeks afterward!)

    A completely fictional, but equally inspiring tale along the same lines is Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. The honourable hero, Cazaril, saves the day by following the advice:

    Hold to virtue—if you can identify it—and trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. And that the talents given to you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent to you. Not even your life.

    Or the 'Johnny' series for young readers by Terry Pratchett, the first of which is provocatively titled: Only You Can Save Mankind, and asks the question:
    if not you, who else?

    I am indebted to Pratchett also for another book - Nightwatch - with a time paradox in which the hero goes back to his own past, and although warned that he risks his own (happy) future if anything changes, he cannot help interfering:
    He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew... then it was too high. It wasn't a decision that he was making, he knew. It was happening far below the areas of his brain that made decisions. It was something built in. There was no universe, anywhere, where a Sam Vimes could give in on this, because if he did then he wouldn't be Sam Vimes any more.
    Philosophy is where you find it, even in genre books and films. We have the capacity to be the change we want to see in the world.

    This is post 82 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010


    Graceful people always inspire me with a little awe: dancers, athletes, felines, seals, falsons.

    What they each have in common is a centred physical presence, where movement is perfectly aligned with their intention. At the same time they are totally present in now - experiencing what Mickhael Czichentmihayli calls 'flow'.

    People who perform repetitive - automatic - tasks intelligently for work have it too. Good cooks, carpenters, baristas and hotel housekeepers have it.

    Yet quite young children have this quality too, at least some of the time. It can be harder to notice in bodies that are stubby rather than streamlined. A child dancing, or drawing or zooming a car, or riding a bike has grace.

    It's a quality to watch for, for the sheer pleasure of seeing it, recognizing it, and admiring it. It's uplifting when you do so, which is itself another kind of grace.

    This is post 81 of 100 posts in 100 days.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Yesterday and today

    I've returned from the clutches of the malign migraine fairy at last. Mostly.

    Yesterday is gone, and can't now be changed for the better, however much I might wish it. Undone posts remain undone.

    Blog imitates life. Twice as much effort next time may be a fine thing, or may be a waste of effort and a trial to readers) either way it is not the same as meeting the original deadline.

    Blog imitates life. Crying over spilt milk doesn't change the past, and makes a mess that needs cleaning up today before we can move on to tomorrow.

    Perhaps blog imitates life and nobody even notices? Or we all move on and waste no more words on trivialities.

    This is post 80 of 100 posts in 100 days.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Monday, July 26, 2010

    Bite size chunks of time

    A lot can be achieved in a small chunk of time. If you concentrate and don't try to multi-task.
    Add a few small chunks together and we have a big chunk of time.

    Don't believe me? The average person spends 100,000 minutes during their life just brushing their teeth. That's 1,666.67 hours, or 69.44 days. (It was on wikianswers, so it must be true.) What do we achieve in that time? We avoid bad breath and minimise tooth decay and gum disease. Mostly, its just a 'set and forget' habit.

    In the rush and hurry of modern life, it's easy to lose track of this truth. How long does it take to properly hug your partner or your child, and tell them you love them? How long does it take to write a card or an email? How long does it take to do a few bicep curls or push ups or crunches? Yes, it can take time to do a full 30-60 minute gym workout, but surely it does some good if you at least do one exercise per day. It has to benefit you more than doing nothing.

    In five minutes you can play (or practice) a tune on an instrument, really listen to a song on a CD or iPod, read a few pages of a book, look up a query online, make an appointment, do a short meditation, tidy a bench, put on a load of washing, change the sheets on a bed, pull a few weeds in a garden, water some plants, write a short poem, ... the list is endless.

    Each day, we need to do something that serves our widest vision of a good life. With 365 days per year, and - hopefully! - a lot of years ahead, that could add up to sizeable chunk of time that we've consciously spent on making our vision a reality.

    This is post 79 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

    I had one of those 'the future is already here' moments today.

    Today was laptop update day. I now run a MacBook Pro - the 2.66 Ghz model for the curious - retiring my old iBook G4. It's been a few years since I upgraded: I have to say it's much easier these days.

    As recommended by the intro video on my new Mac, I plugged it into my old Mac using 'blue string' (an ethernet cable) because I didn't have any firewire cables at home. Then I opened a utility that transfers all your information from one to the other. Then I read a book for a couple of hours.

    That's it. When my new Mac restarted, all my software, permissions and files were on it. Procedural elegance is always a beautiful thing.

    This is post 78 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    An extended research project

    Living a good life is rather like running an extended research project. We define what we mean by 'good' and then we design some test protocols, and then we see. When we have enough data, we revise our test protocols in the light of what we learned, and then we see.

    In life, as in research, a certain repeatability of effect is the hallmark of accurate hypothesis. Novelty in results means you're still trying to work out how your experiment works.

    What works for you? What links each of the qualities you value in life? Is there a pattern? Base your observation on fact: things you have and have done which seem 'good' to you. Future 'good' is a mere hypothesis.

    This is post 77 of 100 posts in 100 days.
    Sent from my iPhone

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    10 tips for giving good phone

    In the course of a week, many of us listen to - and record - 'we're not here' messages on an answering system. Most of us do it badly, and I think pretty much all of us hate doing it. As with many other things in life, I think this repugnance comes from recognising our total and utter lack of aptitude.

    Here are my top 10 tips that will have you giving good phone.
    1. Be clear about what you want the message to achieve. Be brief. Usually, you will identify whose phone the caller has reached, and when the caller might expect a response.
    2. Don't be afraid to specify a 'next step' if there is one. "We will return your call, but an email usually gets a faster response" is unlikely to offend more than the long delay before you return their call.
    3. Avoid using a script as it will sound 'read', but do have the points you need to cover so you don't leave anything out. Few people improvise phone messages well.
    4. Record in a room that's as quiet as possible. Background noises like traffic outside, high wind, your squeaky desk chair, or even your clothes rustling are more noticeable on a recording - machines listen to everything, human ears filter background noise out.
    5. A minute or two before you begin, have a drink of water. Sipping works better than chugging, especially if you allow the water to sit in your mouth for a second or two before swallowing. This will flush the pipes.
    6. Before you begin to record, think of someone (or something) that you really, really love and want to get closer to: a lover, a child, a pet, your E-type jag... Hold the image in your mind while you record. It will give your voice genuine warmth so you sound alive and welcoming not synthesised by a computer.
    7. Before you begin to record, breathe out completely. Breathe in as normally as you can (avoid taking an extra big breath), begin to breathe out and then start speaking. This avoids the slight gasp we get if we begin talking while we're still breathing in.
    8. Allow longer to record than you think you need. Don't be afraid to re-do a recording 4, 5, 6 or more times. You'll get better with practice.
    9. Consider recording a master track (using the voice memo recorder on your smartphone, or Garageband etc. on your mac). You can then play this master into your phone ensuring a quality version every time. You could even have different messages for different situations, and won't have to record your office's annual shutdown message while you're still croaky from shouting over the band at last night's Christmas party.
    10. Keep your message current. If it says you're closed for Easter, you're either very late or very very early. Call yourself and listen to your phone message every so often - say once a month - so you recognise when its time to freshen your message up.
    Most phone messages have a long life: months or even years. If your customers, or your loved ones, are going to hear it a lot, its a nice gesture to put in a little effort in and give good phone.

    This is post 76 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Three quarters of a loaf

    They say that half a loaf is better than none, although it is subject to dispute.

    Today is the 3/4 mark of my challenge, and I find that 3/4 of a loaf is a whole lot better than none. At the beginning, I quoted Seth Godin, that real artists ship. Shipping changes thing. As Tschaikovsky famously remarked, he would turn up at the keyboard each morning around 9am, and the Muses would usually show up around then too.

    Even tonight, when a bad bout of insomnia last night robbed me of all but 3 hours' sleep, I can still find something to say. It's even fairly grammatical.

    Until I saw which post number I was up to, I planned to write about Giving Good Phone, so I guess that will have to wait for another day.

    This is post 75 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Managing expectations

    The following ad is rather beautiful, but suffers from the problem of over-inflating expectation.

    Not unexpectedly, the woman faints when the bank actually calls her back when they say they will.

    Unsatisfied by mere miracles, the ad goes into overdrive when the concerned bank managers fan her with palms. So now, I want that level of service.

    I know I'm not meant to take it seriously, but I now have the impression that I am not meant to take any of the ad seriously. Oops.

    The secret of managing expectations is to under-promise and over-deliver. Not the other way around.

    This is post 74 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Where did it all go wrong?

    How hard is it to keep on track with any plan? Pretty hard: take weight-loss for example! We plan our work, and work our plan. When it goes wrong (as it too often does) we're left feeling foolish and inadequate. We seldom stop and do enough analysis. Which is a shame. Usually we were a bit half-arsed in one area or another.

    Do you (secretly) prefer planning to doing?
    Do you hesitate to start until the plan is a thing of such perfect beauty that actually doing it might prove a bit of a let down? If your visualisation is good enough, chances are you've experienced the gratification already, and you're ready to move on to your next plan...

    Do you (secretly) prefer doing to planning?
    Do you get twitchy with wasting time navel gazing, all the thinking and talking? Do want to jump right in and get some action going? After all, half the issues that come up won't emerge from even the best planning, so get started already and make it work, right? What? Will your actions all contribute to the desired outcome? Maybe you kind of lost track of what the doing was all about anyway, you're all about the journey, not the outcome.

    Or you could be like me, and shift between the two, depending on your mood or the task at hand. Both my best work, and my worst, have occurred when I did a bit of both! Working out what was different in my successes and my failures made life a lot easier.

    Some examples from music teaching:

    The planners keep practice diaries, and record the homework assignments religiously, and can tell you exactly what time of which days they have set aside to do them. They have a rewards system for each successfully completed practice session, culminating in a largish reward when a certain point is reached, eg. a new piece is complete. Sometimes they're so busy designing the process, they might, it's a bit embarrassing really, they might not quite get around to actually doing every practice session, especially if something else in their life throws out their rigorous schedule.

    If I don't head them off at the pass, they eventually decide: Maybe I'm not talented enough to learn music, this is really hard, so I can't be any good. Or maybe it's just not the right time, it might be better to wait until I have more leisure so I can really focus on music...

    Or, they decide to do more than was asked of them (more is always better, right?) and end up exhausted and distraught and their lack of achievement - they only achieved 50% more than I asked of them, after putting in about 150% more than I wanted.

    If I don't head them off at the pass, they eventually decide: Maybe I'm not talented enough to learn music, this is really hard, so I can't be any good. Or maybe it's just not the right time, it might be better to wait until I have more leisure so I can really focus on music...

    The doers get home and sit down at the piano and play for at least as long as I recommended. Or longer. They have a whale of a time, learning by doing, exploring a bit of this and a bit of that. Except they don't always remember to do the homework that was assigned. Or all of the homework assigned. They didn't really see the point. Or they did extra homework on two days, to make up for not doing homework on the other five, because hey, it's the same amount of time, except that they don't seem to have made as much progress as they thought.

    If I don't head them off at the pass, they eventually decide: Maybe I'm not talented enough to learn music, this is really hard, so I can't be any good. Or maybe it's just not the right time, it might be better to wait until I have more leisure so I can really focus on music...

    Other doers go home and do the homework assigned, then get stuck into another piece that looks interesting and they're sure they can work out on their own. Something not-too-hard looking like, oh, the full version of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer. It's just chords, right? They spend extra time (more is always better, right?) and end up exhausted and distraught and their lack of achievement - they spent hours and they've only got the first few measures happening - and after 10 half hour lessons too!

    If I don't head them off at the pass, they eventually decide: Maybe I'm not talented enough to learn music, this is really hard, so I can't be any good. Or maybe it's just not the right time, it might be better to wait until I have more leisure so I can really focus on music...

    Our society has a pervasive myth that learning music is hard, and requires talent. This primes most of us to failure at the get-go. Learning to play the piano takes about as much intelligence and hand-eye coordination as driving a car. (Learning to play the piano well enough to make a career out of it is a lot harder, and so is being a professional racing car driver.)

    This pervasive myth means that many people give up their musical journey before they have to, rather than seeing that they are applying too much or too little energy and persistence to their plan of action. Or too little much or too little thought and attention to their plan of action.

    And that's where it all went wrong.

    This is post 73 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Why Are You Telling Me This?

    Sounds a bit...blunt, stated like that, doesn't it? Attention is precious.

    Why Are You Telling Me This? (aka What's In It For Me?) is the question that anyone, reading practically any unsolicited item, asks. Even less politely, Why the **** Should I Read This? When drafting a communication, you need to answer WIIFM very quickly. It's a myth that your staff actively want to read the staff procedures guide, or that your clients want to read any particular advertising puff piece you put out... unless you answer the most burning question.

    Why Are You Telling Me? works in conversation too. We've all known people who 'over share' just as we've all been stuck beside the person with voluntary mutism at the conference dinner/wedding reception from hell. It's a truism that women communicate to create intimacy and men communicate to exchange information. If true, it suggests men and women spend much of their lives fundamentally misunderstanding each others' communication (and thus, zoning out as soon as possible). Which explains a lot, really.

    So a woman may begin a 'listen to how I handled this really difficult situation' conversation with, "I had a real problem with work colleague X today..." Only to have a man jump in and explain what action she should take. He thinks: question answered, satisfactory conclusion, communication terminates. She thinks: what a prat, he doesn't listen to a word I say AND he thinks I'm an idiot who needs to be told what to do all the time.

    I once had a friend whose grandmother would spend most of the phone conversation describing what she was watching on television, as in: "oh goodness, the dow jones has just fallen 22 points... anyway your aunt's surgery went well last week... well I should think that footballer would be suspended after his performance on Saturday - it just came on the news - what was that you said, dear?" I'm assured it was a foretaste of one of the outer circles of hell. Grandma's intention was sharing a snapshot of her experience as a way of building intimacy (I'm guessing), but it left my friend feeling her grandma was more interested in bad television than interacting with her, and plaintively asking: "Why would she think I care about the dow jones? or the football?!"

    It's not entirely comfortable to understand that even our nearest and dearest may (or may not) be all that interested in any given snippet of communication. They are interested in us, but sometimes at the macro level, rather than the micro* level.

    And so we resort to blogspot, creating a communication cargo cult in which we hope someone out there on the web will be as interested in reading/hearing what we say, as we are in saying it. May the force be with you as you communicate today, whatever your chosen medium.

    *unless they've 'friended' us on facebook/twitter.

    This is post 72 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Saturday, July 17, 2010


    Someday means never. That's what Tom Cruise tells Cameron Diaz in 'Knight and Day', so philosophy can be found anywhere, even in a screwball rom-com/action flick.

    Someday means never, unless we make it happen. Somehow. If we wait for Life, Fate, The Universe or God to deliver our dreams on a plate, we might need to pack more than a few Snickers to keep us in the meantime.

    Dreams don't come with guarantees, of course, but most of them don't come with use-by dates either - not the best dreams, the ones that fulfill us most deeply.

    So we need to take what steps we can, as opportunity presents itself. Better yet, we can create opportunities. On the way we need to remember to enjoy the journey. Maybe that way someday will come sooner than we think.

    This is post 71 of 100 posts in 100 days.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    The future is a long way off

    Returned from the abyss. I would have posted if I'd been physically capable of doing so.

    A delightful lady of my acquaintance, recently deceased, used to tell her children, "When I'm can't read anymore, it'll be time to unplug the machines and put me out of my misery." Shortly before her death, a stroke meant she could no longer read and she reminded her son of her oft stated position. He was, I imagine, somewhat apprehensive about what she would say next. In fact, she shot him one of her unique mischievous looks and said, "Watching television isn't so bad."

    My father used to loathe 'needles' and always said that if he had to inject himself to live, then he'd have to die. Yet when he required daily insulin injections, he didn't hesitate. He commented that its different when it's really real.

    We are, as a species, pretty hopeless about envisaging the future. When we envisage old age and infirmity (if we ever do) we always forget that inside, we will still be us. We will still feel like ourselves.

    The future is a long way off. I'm quite in favour of living wills and the like, make no mistake. But don't try to second guess everything. Allow yourself to be surprised. Even daily injections and television may not be as bad as you always feared.

    This is post 70 of 100 posts in 100 days
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    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Courtesy and cars

    Yes, it is a bit of an oxymoron. Especially today at peak hour as a light rain misted the roads. Melbourne drivers go mad at the slightest rain.

    I could entertain us both with harrowing tales of speeding, tail gating, failure to give way to merging cars, running red lights in order to clog up a major intersection, but that isn't the text of today's lesson.

    We focus easily and enjoyably on others' errors, which give us a warm glow of victimhood and superiority. The glow increases if we pause for a moment as the stray thought crosses our mind: "Gosh, I hope I don't do that!".

    We like to believe we don't behave so badly, certainly not intentionally. Few of us take the next - necessary - step of genuinely evaluating our own actions and making sure we don't behave so badly.

    Do you really give way every time? Or do you decide you deserve to go first because some yahoo cut you off a fee blocks back, and you're running late and...

    Courtesy requires that we treat other people's needs as just as valid as ours are. So all too often, courtesy and cars IS an oxymoron.

    This is post 69 of 100 posts in 100 days.
    Sent from my iPhone