Archive for the ‘Composing Change’ Category

Starting Up Again

August 7, 2011

No one has commented on the fact that I have taken more than a week off from my daily blogging. I can’t blame you. I was exhausted from vacation recovery and my wife and I did a bunch of projects around the house. And I got paid for a big job I did earlier this year, so I got distracted about what version of MacMini Server to buy. I’m not sure I am quite ready to get back onto the “habit building train”, but I have a few things to report about the books I’ve been reading. There were two of them.

The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. If I had been able to read it forty years ago, when I was just going into the USAF, my life might have turned out quite differently. But it was published in 2009, so I didn’t have the insights it has given me in the past few weeks. If you find yourself in a rut or headed for a detour in your life, I would suggest you buy a copy on Amazon and start reading it. Many of the other books I would suggest you read will make a lot more sense if you have started cultivating the opposable side of your brain. Six Thinking Hats and 7 Levels of Change make a lot more sense if you see them as variations on an “opposable mind”.

What The Dog Saw is a collection of essays by Malcolm Gladwell that originally appeared in the New Yorker. I started downloading archives of his stuff from his web site ( and have just refreshed my collection of PDFs. The book is a different experience than the downloads. Everything is together in something you can carry around with you, and you can write on the pages if you like, or put those cute little “stick-it note” flags that help you find passages you liked.

One flag I left for myself was on page 97, in an article called “True Colors” that was published on March 22, 1999. The phrase I highlighted was about what Vidal Sassoon did to revolutionlize hair styling back in the 1960’s. The last sentence is what made me realize how tough my job is going to be.

  •  If a revolution is not accessible, tangible, and replicable, how on earth can it be a revolution?
    Malcolm Gladwell, What The Dog Saw, 2009
    Originally published in The New Yorker, March 22, 1999

Is writing this blog making my intended revolution accessible, tangible and replicable? I think it is, but maybe it doesn’t look that way yet.

  • My blog is open for everyone who has a computer or mobile device with access to the Internet. Is that accessible enough, or do I have to be in print as well?
  • All I have done is post five dozen thoughts about what I intend to start doing in a small, rural school district. How tangible is that?
  • Has anyone started following my thread about “Composing Change”? Would the steps I’m defining there make it replicable?

I suppose we will find out tomorrow, when I hope to get a new streak going. One post after a break of 9 days is not enough. There needs to be more.

So, let’s agree this is enough for now. There are other articles by Malcolm and others that I think could inspire you. If anyone is interested, I need some encouragement to keep me going. Anyone want to let me know if I still have occasional readers?


3 – Develop Your First Impossible Thing

July 28, 2011

If you are reading this and didn’t get here from 2-Find Your First Impossible Thing, stop reading and go back to 0-Ask If You Are Ready. None of this will make sense if you jump in with no preparation. Read the earlier posts to understand why you would want to be here at all.

Just to review where you are:

  1. You have a child’s composition book you are using to “compose a change” for yourself
  2. You have set it up with an index and summary pages
  3. You have created a list of more than 15 things that interest you that appear to be impossible
  4. You have selected one of them and are ready to develop it as practice for developing what you are really passionate about

If this isn’t already fun, I don’t know what I can do to help you. We’re going to get serious now, so here are some entry criteria to make sure you have a suitable “impossible” thing to work with.

If you answer Yes to any of these questions, go back and get another thing. But answer these on the page you already defined. Just use the numbers, rather than copying the questions. No point in wasting paper. Sometimes, the exercises I will give you will be intended to fail, because they really are impossible for you at this point.

  1. Does the impossible thing require more than $100 of startup funding?
  2. Does the impossible thing require new materials or techniques that are unknown to science, engineering or manufacturing?
  3. Would doing this impossible thing cause bodily harm to you or anyone around you?
  4. Would doing this impossible thing cause family or friends embarrassment or shame because people know they know you?
  5. Is there any part of this impossible thing that requires fraud or deception?
  6. Would doing this impossible thing be perceived as an illegal activity, even if it wasn’t?
  7. Would doing this impossible thing be perceived as immoral by your grandparents, even if your friends think it would be just find or even cool?
  8. Would you want to have to explain this impossible thing to your kids?
  9. Does this impossible thing seem boring now?
  10. Have you lost your passion for this idea?

If the impossible thing made it through these filters, you can keep going. Otherwise, to back to your list and find another.

Repeat the steps above until you have something that is mostly impossible but not illegal.

Since the answers above are half of your first page, go to the next page to do the second part of the exercise.

  1. Write down three things that haven’t been done that would be necessary for the impossible thing to be possible.
    If they are hard work, get over it. You’re about to do the hardest work you ever did in your life.
    This is just practice.
  2. Pick one of the three things that haven’t been done and write down five things that other people are already doing that would make it easy to recognize things that haven’t been done.
  3. Pick one of the things other people are doing and write down three things you would have to do away with to be ready to do what other people are doing.
  4. Pick one of the things you would have to do away with and write down seven things you would have to do better so you could recognize what you would have to do away with.
  5. Pick one of the things you would have to do better and come up with five things that would be the right way to do it.
  6. Pick one of the things that would be the right way to do something and come up with nine things that would be the right thing to do.
  7. Go back to the top of the list and read through the things you wrote and the things you selected.
    Draw a line across the bottom of the last list and answer this question:
    – Am I ready to make a commitment to doing this impossible thing?
  8. If the answer is Yes, continue on to the next exercise.
    If you have any doubts at all, go back and find something else to work with. The next exercise will be even harder.

Until I hear back from at least one person that they have gotten to this point, I am not going to add any posts on this thread. Unless there is someone who wants to follow me on this journey, there is no reason for me to go any farther.

Anyone up to the challenge?

2 – Find Your First Impossible Thing

July 28, 2011

If you didn’t come here from 1-Start A New Notebook, go back to step 0-Ask If You Are Ready.

We are going to jump in head first, and see where this takes us. You did step zero and 1, didn’t you? I will trust you if you will trust me. Let’s get started with some real work.

  1. Go to page 1 of your notebook. You probably closed it a few second ago, because the previous post told you to, but open it back up to page 1.
  2. At the top of the page, write this title:
    My List of Impossible Things
  3. Turn to the back of the book, to the index we started in step 1. Write the page number of the new topic you started, and the title you gave it on that page. You’ll do this every time you start a new topic, which might be tomorrow or only a few minutes from now.
    Are you done? Okay, here’s the next step.
  4. Go back to the list on page 1 and start writing down things that you think are impossible for you to do. Some examples might be:
    – learn to play the piano confidently enough to give a recital to family and friends
    – sing happy birthday for my parents when they turn (insert the next major milestone like 40, 60, 100)
    – go back to college and get a meaningful degree
    – support my kids in their efforts to attend college
    – get a better paying job
    – get a promotion because I deserve it
    – (and so forth)
  5. If your list goes onto the next page, write -2 at the top of the page to remind you this is a continuation of the previous page.
    If your list goes beyond two pages, write the title on the new page, with the appropriate number, and reserve the following page as well.
  6. Continue this until you have at least 10 seemingly impossible things. If you run out of ideas, see if these help you:
    – what have you heard other people say was impossible for you to do
    – what have you heard other people say was impossible for them to do, that you think would be fun/rewarding/life-changing
    – what things that are commonly accepted to be impossible that are of interest to you
  7. While you are doing this, feel free to be totally open to new ideas. You aren’t looking to do all the ideas you write down. You are looking for ideas that will inspire you enough to fill up this book and perhaps a dozen others. If the ideas are illegal or immoral or violate community standards, there will probably be some resistance from friends, family and maybe law enforcement. But if writing something down gets it out of your head so you can get to the idea that was trapped behind it, put it down on paper. The best idea might be out there on page 3 near the bottom. Wouldn’t it be sad if you stopped at the bottom of page 1?
  8. When you think you have run out of ideas, number enough pages to give you three times as many ideas.
    By this I mean, number six more pages if you only have the two pages you started with.
    If you filled up more than four pages already, you are going to have a lot of fun. Figure it out for yourself.
  9. Go back to the first impossible thing on page 1 and evaluate it against the following criteria.
    Use a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is low and 5 is high:
    – how much passion do I have about learning how to change using this impossible thing?
    – how much do I already know about this thing?
    If the sum of the two scores above is less than 5, go to the next thing on your list.
    If the sum of the two scores is more than 9, go to the next thing on your list.Do not dwell on what you pick for your first item. This one is practice. Until you know how this part of the method works, you won’t be able to find the thing that will really fill up your notebook. When you find that one, you’ll know you need to start a new notebook for it.
  10. Do not spend more than 30 minutes on step 9.
    The point is not finding the best impossible thing to do.
    The point is finding something between 6 and 8 that you can use to do the next exercise.
    If you get a 6 but think there is an 8, do not look at more than five more things to find it.
  11. When you find the  thing you want to take forward for the next exercise, do the following:
    – go to the index and write it down
    – go to the next blank page at the beginning of the book and number that page, then write in the title of the thing
    – go back to the index and write in the page number
  12. When you have your first thing on a fresh page, you can go to step 3.

The Opposable Mind

July 28, 2011

Last evening, I started a new book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, by Roger Martin. Though I haven’t gotten past the first chapter, the premise definitely makes sense to me. He quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald on page 1:

  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to fuction. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
    The Crack Up, 1945

When I saw this book and read the back cover, I thought the concept of opposable mind was obvious. I’ve been doing it for years. An the business I am going to build will help people develop their “integrative thinking” skills in a number of ways, which I hope will be an addition to what he will be discussing in his book. I think I’ve had an opposable mind for my whole life, but never thought of myself that way. I imagine that if I had known I was thinking that way, I might have told people why I was taking a contrary stance to theirs. They might not have seen me as a rebel, but as someone who was contributing something different to a conversation.

If you are wondering how I plan to do this, let me offer just a few hints:

  1. The 7 Levels of Change gives us a way to look at situations from at least 7 different points of view. I think there is an 8th Level – make a commitment to change, and possibly additional levels of stasis, which might be though of as negative levels of change. For example, if Level 1 is doing the right things, then Level -1 could be doing the wrong things. A lot of human behavior is easier to understand if one thinks of them as a spectrum of stasis and change.
  2. Six Thinking Hats gives us six different ways of looking at situations that are different from 7LoC. What are the facts? What emotions are involved? What do we need to worry about? What makes us happy about the opportunity or threat? How can we come up with new ideas? What do we need to do to organize things? When we have the ability to put on each hat in sequence, we have options that we never saw before. How many of us go through life wearing a Black Hat (Devil’s Advocate) and never acknowledging that the Red Hat (Emotions) may be holding us back in different ways? Would we be more flexible if we had a hat with seven colors, the last being “status quo/apathy” or our resistance to wearing any hat at all.
  3. The Pareto Principle also known as the 80/20 Principle, tells us that 20% of the effort in most efforts will deliver 80% of the value. And if we focus on the 20%, 4% of that effort will deliver 64% of the value (.8 x .8 = .64). But how often do we think about the value we are going to get from activities, much less think about the value before we even put them on our agenda? If we organized the agenda items we might put in our daily calendar, and put the important things first, would we deliver better value at the end of the day?

These are a few of the ideas that are already part of my tool. It is already working for me, but I don’t know if anyone else would be willing to try using it. That is where the thread about Composing Change comes into the picture. I went through many months of handwritten tracking of things I was doing, things I wanted to do, and things I thought mattered before I recognized that I could build a tool to help me manage everything. Those lists I was keeping in separate composition notebooks blended together in the tool I have built. The habits I realized I wanted to develop became one leg of the stool; the goals were the second. Where goals and habits meet is on a day you can start all over again and try to do something different, and then see where you succeeded and failed. I’ve never seen a daily planning tool that helped me manage short-term projects as well as behavior changes. In a few weeks, if there is a new release of FileMaker Pro, I will be able to offer the rest of you a chance to try out what I am doing. But invitations to that party will be based on what you have been doing in your Composing Change notebooks. If you aren’t willing to do the pre-work to get into a program, why would I believe you were ready to change?

But I’m off track again. We started talking about a book that offers examples of how people can hold opposing points of view and still get things done. Then I suggested there might be dozens of ways we might guide those opposing thoughts. And I finished by saying I would let you try out my idea if you do a handwritten version first.

For people who start reading this blog after this date, I’m sure this will be very confusing. They might have to go back to the beginning to make sense of it all. But so what, I say, the stream of ideas will keep moving. It doesn’t matter where you get into the water. It will always be refreshing.

1 – Start A New Notebook

July 27, 2011

If you didn’t come here from 0-Ask If You Are Ready, go there first. This is not a post you should just jump into.

As I write this post, it is summer and stores are already offering deals on school supplies. Take advantage of this opportunity and go to your favorite office supply store and look for the “composition” books kids use in school. I like the ones from Wal-Mart that are 9.75″ by 7.5″. When we were in Wal-Mart the other day, the sale price was $.40 each, so I bought 20 of them. I already had dozens but the price was too good to pass up. I may go back if I am near that store again and get some more. You can never have too many blank notebooks.

Here is how to start a new notebook for the method I will be describing in the posts that follow:

  1. On the cover, write the topic the book is about, and the date you are starting
  2. Inside the front cover, write your name, address, phone number and email. If you lose the book for some reason, you want the person who finds it to be able to contact you so you can get it back. Though the book may never leave your desk, this is just a good thing to do. It reminds you who you are.
  3. On the first page, repeat the purpose of your notebook, which is the big problem or question you are trying to answer.
    Under the purpose or title, add a statement that says “Index at back”.
  4. Go to the last page and write “Index” at the top, to the right of the red line. Write “Page” to the left of the red line.
  5. Go back to the beginning of the notebook and turn the page so you have the first two blank pages in front of you.
    Write 1 in the upper left corner of the page on the left, and 2 in the upper right corner of the page on the right.
    Write the date underneath the page number on the left.
    In the future, when you start a new page on a new day, add the date. Otherwise, just put the page number.
  6. Close the notebook and take a deep breath.
  7. Go to the next blog post, and find out what is in store for you. It might be really fun.

0 – Ask If You Are Ready

July 27, 2011

This is the first post in a series of posts that may become a small self-published book. The first step is very simple.

  • Ask yourself if you are ready to make a significant change in the direction your life is headed

If the answer to this question is positive, then go to step 1.

If the answer is unclear or negative, go back to reading my blog and return here when you see a need for change.