Archive for the ‘Proactive Steps’ Category

  • Song of Marconi: “You Live in Your Voice”

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    We have blogged many times about the importance of your voice – the sound, cadence, pauses and inflections – for all your non-visual communications, including the often dreaded telephone interview.

    Your voice not only conveys confidence, or lack thereof, but also character.  As Rob Rosenthal points out in his terrific PRX podcast, Song of Marconi, for the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine, you really do “live in your voice.”

    Rosenthal’s Saltcast features radio broadcaster Dennis Downey reading his essay on Guglielmo Marconi, inventor and early radio technology pioneer.

    Listen and learn about the inventor and, just as importantly, about the art of talking on the radio. At essence, it is the art of communicating who you are through the spoken word.

  • Frolicking Whales, A 76+ Year-Old Surfer (Body not Web) and Digital Storytelling: Soup to Nuts

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    I encountered a terrific – and comprehensive – Digital Storytelling resource when I was searching for help on how to best capture an extraordinary a day at the beach. This is not just any compilation of video snippets. What began as a peaceful interlude on a beautiful Maine surfers’ beach turned into a virtual bombardment of amazing images.

    Scanning the horizon for ships, sailboats or a rogue wave or two as we are wont to do when we know our wave pounding kins’ heads are all above water, the beach chair bunch (including me) spotted a whale a few hundred yards off shore. Cruising north, he or she and kept vaulting out of the water in beautiful arcs, daring us to try and capture the image. This behemoth had an uncanny way of taunting us.

    Second stunning sighting was of a different kind of leviathan – an ancient body surfer. I say ancient because she was an 76+ year-old woman, not too sylphlike, in a day-glo green, Pucci print swim suit. She had some difficulty walking through the surf, but when she spotted a big enough wave, she turned and threw herself into the curl with a grace that made the whale look like an out-of-control beach ball.

    Unlike the aforesaid whale, who cruised out of sight as soon as it had struck its tantalizing chord, the surfer rode the waves for hours. Her cap of white hair caught in the roiling foam rendered her invisible until her day-glo self glided up on the shore.

    All of this is my long-winded way of saying how valuable I found this Digital Storytelling resource. The lengthy tutorial consists of four parts:

    1. Finding your story
    2. Telling your story
    3. Creating the piece
    4. Sharing the work

    I am fortunate because my story found me but the “telling,” visual “creating,” and “sharing” were in drastic need of help.

    This is a resource you’ll want to turn to time and time again as you strive to capture your stories, your work and, indeed, your life.

  • The Heart of Innovation: Blogging from the Road

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    Courtesy of de svitalsky at ToonPool.com

    On the road the next few days and taking advantage of hospitable cafés, coffee houses and – perhaps my favorite – local diners. Lest anyone question the transient nature of my or their office, I defend the possibilities with Mitch Ditkoff’s great post, “Why Creative People Work in Cafés,” which is a must read for blogging road warriors. Then, too, remember Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast!”

    Life in motion (avec croissants or eggs over easy with hash browns, and, of course café) can be a good thing!

  • The Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson’s Brilliant Cover Letter

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    In my last post I mentioned how it took Henri Matisse eight years of almost continual, major reworking to complete his painting, Bathers by a River, and today I want to point out how the same excruciating reworking is inherent in the creative writing process, as well.

    Good writing is a craft as well as an art. Job seekers need to learn how to best capture and articulate their unique attributes because employers, who are looking for the cream of the crop, need to be able to see who we are and what we are capable of doing for them.

    As visual artists learn from Matisse, writers can also learn from those who have mastered the challenge. Writing is hard work. Meaningful prose does not come trippingly off the tongue, and job seekers need to balance their skills, experience and passion to create a brilliant, attention-grabbing cover letter.

    Peggy Noonan’s illuminating Wall Street Journal article, A Cold Man’s Warm Words, about the vicissitudes Thomas Jefferson suffered whilst lead writer on the Declaration of Independence provide valuable lessons about the humility and statesmanship required in what was no doubt the most challenging writing assignment of his life.

    Ben Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at work on the Declaration of Independence

    Noonan writes:

    “It was July 1, 2 ,3 and 4, 1776, in the State House in Philadelphia. America was being born. The Continental Congress was reviewing and editing the language of the proposed Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson, its primary author, was suffering the death of a thousand cuts.

    “The beginning of the Declaration had a calm stateliness that signaled, subtly, that something huge is happening: ‘When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separate.’ This gave a tone of moral modesty to an act, revolution, that is not a modest one. And it was an interesting modesty, expressing respect for the opinion of the world while assuming the whole world was watching.

    “The second paragraph will, literally, live forever in the history of man. It still catches the throat: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

    “What followed was a list of grievances that made the case for separation from the mother country, and this part was fiery. Jefferson was a cold man who wrote with great feeling. He trained his eyes on the depredations of King George III: ‘He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns. . . . He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compete the work of death, desolation and tyranny . . .’

    “Members of the Congress read and reread, and the cutting commenced. Sometimes they cooled Jefferson down. He wrote that the king ‘suffered the administration of justice totally to cease in some of these states.’ They made it simpler: ‘He has obstructed the Administration of Justice.’

    “For Thomas Jefferson it became a painful ordeal, as change after change was called for and approximately a quarter of what he had written was cut entirely. I quote from the historian David McCullough‘s “John Adams,” as I did last year at this time, because everything’s there. ‘Jefferson looked on in silence. Mr. McCullough notes that there is no record that he uttered a word in protest or in defense of what he’d written. Benjamin Franklin, sitting nearby, comforted him: Edits often reduce things to their essence, don’t fret.'” [Be sure to read all of Noonan’s article to see some of Jefferson’s most poignant words which were cut.]

    Noonan notes, “It hurt Thomas Jefferson to see these words removed from his great document. And we know something about how he viewed his life, his own essence and meaning, from the words he directed that would, a half-century after 1776, be cut onto his tombstone. The first word after his name is ‘Author.'”

    We writers, like Jefferson, writing for our lives if not our country’s, need to reach a point where we realize we have done the best we possibly can and let go. Our words, after all, are validated by our readers. King George III got the point and future employers will get ours, as well. That does not mean we will automatically get the job; remember how many years it took for the Colonial Army to get the job done – but in the end they did!

  • “When Generations Collide:” Understanding Why and How Generations Clash in the Work Arena

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    One of the best parts of living in a small town in Maine is that people actually walk from place to place. Even more remarkable, perhaps, we walkers stop and greet one another when we meet. Sometimes, it’s just to say “Good Morning;” other times nuggets of wisdom are shared.

    Today, was a nugget of wisdom morning. Walking on our neighborhood beach, I bumped into a friend whom I had not seen for some time. Aged 60, she has been looking for work for more than a few months. She has a stellar resumé and has had many interviews but the ideal offer has not materialized. She said, “I kept asking myself what I might be doing wrong. I knew something was missing in the interviews but I could not put my finger on the problem until I read a book called When Generations Collide. Suddenly, I realized that my interviewers, most of whom were quite young, do not understand why I am pursuing another job. More than a language barrier it is a giant generational barrier, and I knew I had to overcome it to find the work that I wanted.”

    The full title of the book she recommended – and I do too – is, When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman.

    The authors, founding partners of BridgeWorks consulting firm, describe four generations as: “Traditionalists” (1900-45), “Baby Boomers” (1946-64), “Generation Xers” (1965-80) and “Millennials” (1981-99). They explore the problems each might encounter in work settings, but, of course, as with my neighbor the problems can arise long before one is actually in the work setting.

    This is a book you’ll want to keep, to refer to over and over again. It is not full of jargon, or dry data and analysis. It is an easy read, but don’t be deceived by the facility with which you can breeze through their anecdotes. The stories are real and poignant and may even enlighten as they did my neighbor and me on this fine Maine morning.

    Local Sculpture, Willard Beach, photo by Elizabeth

  • Aging: Pithy Perspectives from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Beyond

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    The Wizard of Oz's Glynda

    “Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese!” is the pungent observation from actress, Billie Burke, perhaps most famous for her role as Glynda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

    In their book by the same title, authors Kathryn and Ross Petras, have collected such provocative insights and more in what they call their “manual for living well to celebrate the wisdom and perspective that so often go hand in hand with experience.”

    Their nuggets come from 350 individuals who are: “1.Over sixty; and 2.Have something to say.” The list of luminaries included is impressive and diverse; it is well worth a read.

    A second great read is Roger Rosenblatt’s, Rules on Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life.

    Roger Rosenblatt, acclaimed essayist and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer regular contributor, boldly offers – not your standard How-to’s seven or even ten easy steps – but a “whopping 56 rules for wisely navigating life into your golden years.”

    Rosenblatt describes his brief treatise (a mere 140 pages) as a “little guide intended for people who wish to age successfully, or at all.” He adds that “growing older is as much an art as it is a science, and it requires fewer things to do than not to do.”

    His advice on everything from party etiquette to office politics (“Never work for anyone more insecure than yourself”) is valuable reading for any one at any age. In fact one reviewer commented: ” A person of any age can profit from it. Perhaps a better title would have been; ‘Rules That Give You a Fighting Chance to Reach Old Age Without Succumbing to Stress or Having Someone Kill You.'”

    Rule #31 is particularly pertinent in this regard: “Do not attempt to improve people, especially when you know it will help.” Rosenblatt, reflecting back to Rule #2  adds: “Nobody is thinking of you – unless you tell them about their faults. Then you may be sure that they are thinking about you. They are thinking of killing you.”

    This is a must read for anyone who has a tendency to take themselves too seriously!

  • How Positioning Yourself for a Spot on Oprah Is Remarkably Similar to Positioning Yourself for the Job of Your Dreams

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    When I read Charlotte Jensen’s five great tips about how to get on a talk show – even Oprah’s – I was struck by how these strategies could just as easily apply to a job search.

    As Jensen says: “Admit it: You’ve dreamed of sitting across from Oprah and watching your sales skyrocket after the world’s most influential talk show host gives you her seal of approval in front of millions. … Even though your chances are undeniably slim, it actually is possible to get on Oprah — or any of the other popular talk shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Rachael Ray, Good Morning America and The Martha Stewart Show. Plenty of entrepreneurs just like you have landed in front of cameras on TV’s hottest talk shows. How’d they do it – and what can you learn from their successes? Here are five things you need to know.”

    Here’s an abbreviated version of Jensen’s tips. See what you think:

    1. Start local. Become an expert in your field and find ways to inspire media coverage, even if it’s just your hometown papers, blogs and local news shows. Building a foundation of media coverage not only boosts your credibility, but also spreads the word, leads to new opportunities and prepares you for, hopefully, what will be your big break.

    2. Find a newsworthy angle. Your idea is more likely to get noticed if it ties in with current events or trends, and if you’ve established yourself as the go-to person on that specific topic. “Work to develop stories and angles that will resonate with the media and get them interested in an interview with you,”

    3. Pitch with finesse. Ready to pitch your business to producers? Keep in mind their goal is to entertain and inform viewers — not promote your company. Reaching the right person is essential, and timing is very important, as is the quality of the pitch itself.

    4. Be patient. Laying the groundwork is a process, and it doesn’t guarantee a seat on Ellen’s couch. If your efforts at getting noticed aren’t working, you might want to consider hiring a well-connected PR firm – but even then, there’s no guarantee.

    5. And when the spotlight comes, be ready to shine. This is one of those times you can’t just show up and wing it.

    Start Local; Become an Expert in Your Field – Someone They Want to Interview; Pitch [market] Yourself with Finesse; Be Patient; and Be Prepared to Shine when Your Moment Comes – each step is key. And, who knows, if you’re truly creative you could land the job and be on Oprah!

    Oprah, Courtesy of Babble.com

  • “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)”

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    Illustration by Sarah Cline for Newsweek

    Jim Emerman, Executive Vice President, Civic Ventures, highlighted this fascinating Newsweek article, This Is Your Brain: Aging, on his recent web posting.

    I found these first words – “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)” by Sharon Begley, science writer for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, very encouraging. The rest of her article, I might add, is just as upbeat. That being said, I was predisposed to like it because I am a visual learner and I love the article’s accompanying art, which pictures six interconnected cog wheels chugging away in a spiffy looking brain.

    Begley points out how researcher, Timothy Salthouse, Director of the Salthouse Cognitive Aging Lab at the University of Virginia, was troubled by a paradox he identified in a graph he had created:

    “The graph shows two roller-coastering lines. One represents the proportion of people of each age who are in the top 25 percent on a standard lab test of reasoning ability—thinking. The other shows the proportion of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies of each age. Reasoning ability peaks at about age 28 and then plummets, tracing that well-known plunge that makes those older than 30 (OK, fine, 40) cringe: only 6 percent of top scorers are in their 50s, and only 4 percent are in their 60s. But the age distribution of CEOs is an almost perfect mirror image: it peaks just before age 60. About half are older than 55. And the number under 40 is about zero.”

    His deductions are: “First, in real life, rather than in psych labs, people rely on mental abilities that stand up very well to age and discover work-arounds for the mental skills that do fade. The second is that some mental abilities actually improve with age, and one of them may be the inchoate thing called wisdom, which is not a bad thing to have when running a company.”

    Begley says such insights: “are producing a dramatic, and hopeful, rethinking of what happens to the mind and brain as we age. Some of the earlier bad-news findings are being questioned as scientists discover that the differences between today’s 20-year-old brains and 80-year-old brains reflect something other than simple age, and instead have to do with how people live their lives. And a deeper understanding of normal cognitive aging is producing interventions that, because they target the cell-level brain changes that accompany aging, promise to be more effective than memory exercises and crossword puzzles.”

    Read the article in its entirety to learn more about recent brain research and about some of the successful “interventions” available to foster healthy aging. Begley includes free ones such as walking which is just as valuable for your brain as it is for your heart, lungs and waist line, and others, which she notes contain little or no value other than the revenues they will generate for those folks rushing in to take advantage of the anti-aging intervention market.

    Estrid Geersten, tandem parachute jumping at age 100. Courtesy, Guinness World Records

    Speaking of paradoxes, the article also contains a subset – a slide show by Tara Lewis of “Super Seniors,” achievers doing everything from skydiving to climbing Mt Everest.

    The paradox for me is that, other than Nola Ochs who graduated from college at age 95, are these “Super Seniors” really optimizing their cognitive reasoning skills in these wild escapades???

    Nola Ochs, Courtesy Charlie Riedel, AP

  • You Have to Step Out of the Batting Cage to Hit A Home Run!

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    Art courtesy of www.wizardofdraws.com

    You can become competent – even very good – at something if you’re diligent about practicing. Remember Jack Benny’s old joke about the tourist, lost in NYC, asking: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” And the somewhat acerbic New Yorker answers: “Practice!”

    In today’s job market, you can practice resumé writing, branding, self-marketing, networking and interview skills to the cows come home and you’ll never land the job. (Could that be because you’re waiting for the cows to come home in NYC where there are no farms for them to come home to?)

    Seriously, you have to focus on hitting a home run to secure the job you want. Yes, you have to practice. You must be extremely good – if not an expert – at what you do. But once your credentials are solid, you must be prepared to take a risk, to step out of the batting box and take a swing.

    The irony is that, while we’re suggesting you take risks, it’s a luxury today’s employers cannot afford to take themselves (as in a mediocre candidate) in this economy. They have problems that need to be solved now, and too many of the tried and true “expert” tactics and strategies have failed.

    Innovation is the big word today. Employers are looking for candidates with new solutions. The ideal candidate understands their challenge, has innovative strategies to address that challenge, has the know-how to implement the strategies, solve the problem, measure results and communicate lessons learned.

    You need to demonstrate that you are that “Innovator Par Excellence!” Research – or dare we say – ask what that employer’s priorities are. Don’t leave it to him or her to imagine what you might do. Rather, take one of their most urgent priorities and create a mini-plan to tackle the challenge: create a solution-based strategy to accomplish the task, etc, including measuring impact.

    Take risks: not off-the-cuff risks but well reasoned risks that you passionately believe in. Never underestimate the power of passion as your ultimate productivity tool. Don’t let fear of failure circumscribe your creative thinking. The worst thing that could happen is that you don’t get the job – but do you really want to work with someone who does not see the value in your ideas? The best thing that could happen is that you get the job and – even better – with mini-plan in hand, you’ve already begun to do the job.

    Art courtesy of www.buzzle.com

    Moreover, you will learn in the process. Look at Thomas Alva Edison. Beth Kanter in her blog, “How Nonprofit Organizations Can Use Social Media to Power Social Networks for Change,” mentioned Edison and his belief in the importance of experiments and not to frame them as success or failure but as learning. “Edison,” Kanter says, “held 1,093 patents for different inventions.  Many of them, like the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, were brilliant creations that have a huge influence on our everyday life. However, not everything he created was a success; he also had many failures.  He also did not find the successful inventions with his first experiment.  In his question to create the storage battery, he conducted 10,000 experiments before arriving at a method that worked.”

    And she quotes Edison, “Results! I have gotten a lot of results. I know what doesn’t work and won’t have to be tried again.”

    So, our advice is to get out of the batting cage and start swinging. You’ll get many strikes and hit more than a few foul balls but, eventually, you will connect with a zinger and knock that ball out of the park. That’s what’s called a home run!

  • Neuroplasticity: Brain Boosting Lessons from Two Scientists and a London Taxi Driver!

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    Neuroplasticity has fascinated me for a long time, and two posts I found recently at SharpBrains.com provide not just fodder but hope for our and, of course, Hercule’s “little gray cells.”

    The first post, Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes Your Brain by Dr. Pascale Michelon defines neuroplasticity for the unititiated:

    “Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to CHANGE throughout life. The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons).”

    “Neuroplasticity,” she elaborates, “occurs in the brain: 1. At the beginning of life: when the immature brain organizes itself; 2. In case of brain injury: to compensate for lost functions or maximize remaining functions; and 3. Through adulthood: whenever something new is learned and memorized”

    The good news is that as, Dr Michelon notes,  For a long time it was believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning. Plasticity IS the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of the connections between neurons. New connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change.”

    And, here’s where the London cabbie comes in…

    Dr.Michelon says, “when you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill grow. For example, London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus (in the posterior region) than London bus drivers (Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006)…. Why is that? It is because this region of the hippocampus is specialized in acquiring and using complex spatial information in order to navigate efficiently. Taxi drivers have to navigate around London whereas bus drivers follow a limited set of routes.”

    In the second, SharpBrains.com post, The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains, Alvaro Fernandez gives us 10 specific strategies for boosting brainpower.

    1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain’s beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
    2. Take care of your nutrition. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients we intake? As a general rule, you don’t need expensive ultra-sophisticated nutritional supplements, just make sure you don’t stuff yourself with the “bad stuff”.
    3. Remember that the brain is part of the body. Things that exercise your body can also help sharpen your brain: physical exercise enhances neurogenesis.
    4. Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you look forward to every new day in a constructive way. Stress and anxiety, no matter whether induced by external events or by your own thoughts, actually kills neurons and prevent the creation of new ones. You can think of chronic stress as the opposite of exercise: it prevents the creation of new neurons.
    5. Thrive on Learning and Mental Challenges. The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments. Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain and how long they survive depends on how you use them. “Use It or Lose It” does not mean “do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567″. It means, “challenge your brain often with fundamentally new activities”.
    6. We are (as far as we know) the only self-directed organisms in this planet. Aim high. Once you graduate from college, keep learning. The brain keeps developing, no matter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
    7. Explore, travel. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment. Make new decisions, use your brain.
    8. Don’t Outsource Your Brain. Not to media personalities, not to politicians, not to your smart neighbour… Make your own decisions, and mistakes. And learn from them. That way, you are training your brain, not your neighbour’s.
    9. Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. We are “social animals”, and need social interaction. Which, by the way, is why ‘Baby Einstein’ has been shown not to be the panacea for children development.
    10. Laugh. Often. Especially to cognitively complex humor, full of twists and surprises.

    Illustration, Courtesy of Medi Belortaja

    You do not have to implement all ten strategies at once. You can begin with just one or two at a time and boost slowly. Speed does not always count; remember – slow and steady wins the race!

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