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.

Listening Versus Hearing

July 27, 2011

Last evening we had dinner with friends, and they had invited some other people as well. The conversations were quite interesting, and I tried to listen based on some ideas I got from Click, the book I am reading about “the forces behind how we fully engage with people, work, and everything we do.” The authors are the same ones who wrote Sway, and the two books together are quite powerful. If you read The Starfish and the Spider first, which is not what I did, I think the results would be even more significant. But I digress.

This morning as I was doing my startup activities, I realized that I didn’t have a mission statement. And then I realized that I need to make “listening” a big part of my mission statement when I write it. That led to realizing that I need to make “hearing” even more important than listening, because I realize the two are different. Listening could be nothing more than paying attention to what the other person is saying while you are figuring out when you can jump in and take the conversation in a direction that is more interesting to you. Hearing would then be listening to what the person is saying but also what they are leaving out.

That made me realize I wasn’t listening to those of you who have been following my blog for the past few days or weeks and have no idea what the big picture is about. So based on the lack of feedback I am getting, I am going to create a new category where I will post specific things you can do to learn more about the big picture I am talking about. This post will not be in that category, because it isn’t anything that will advance your personal progress toward a significant change in your life.

So, if you are interested in the bigger picture, check out the new category for Composing Change. The instructions will start there, and they will be numbered for ease of use.

Thanks for the comments you have offered thus far. Consider the new category a prototype of a book about getting started. I’m offering the job of editor to all of you who want to make the real book a winner for others.

WIIFE (What’s In It For Everyone)

July 26, 2011

This morning after I woke up, I had this nagging thought about why I am doing all this work for myself. Will it benefit me now or down the road? Will anyone else benefit? Is the underlying method that evolving something that could be called “open” if I’m also selling something to support it? I needed to take a step back and see what was motivating me. What was the point of it all?

  • WIIFMe – An individual wants a better life, though some may struggle with the idea of leapfrogging those who already have it better
  • WIIFMyKids – A parent wants a better life for their children, but may not feel like they can be part of the solution because their own school experience was miserable and ineffective
  • WIIFMyParents – A smart kid wants a better life for their parents, not after they leave home, but now, when the kid is still around to help and benefit themselves
  • WIIFMSpouse – A wife who stayed at home while the kids were yound may not feel ready to re-enter the workforce when jobs are scarce, because she could be reducing the opportunities for her husband
  • WIIFOurSchool – A taxpayer may feel like they have done enough over the years, paying for their own kids to attend school, but want to help the next generation get good jobs in the community
  • WIIFOurCommunity – A resident may look at the surrounding neighborhood and want to do something, but where would they start
  • WIIFOurChurch – A church goer may want to do more than one service a week, with occasional dinners and social events, but how do they channel their effort into activities that reflect their faith
  • WIIFMyEmployer – An employee may want more than coasting along toward retirement and a pension, but how do they tell their supervisor or manager that they have ideas that would improve products or attract new customers
  • WIIFMyEmployees – A business owner may worry about meeting the next payroll, but not be willing to share their concerns with the people who work for them
  • WWIFOurCustomers – Businesses (owners and employees together) may feel they have value to provide to customers, but may not understand how to develop products and services

Everyone wants something for themselves, and can only thing about something for those near and dear to them when their own issues are addressed. That is where I think my method will shine, because it works the same way at every level, no matter who is using it. A phrase I came up with a while back was debabelization, which means nothing more than removing the confusion about how we do things so we can focus our attention on what we are doing.

If someone has spent time on their own dreams for the future and conquered one or two small but seemingly impossible goals, wouldn’t they be more supportive of the efforts of those around them. Wouldn’t a business be able to tackle something really difficult if  20% of the employees had the same vocabulary for identifying and implementing change? Couldn’t a parent help a child if they had started working on some dream of their own.

Why do things by ourselves? Why not leverage proven methods from manufacturing and engineering that can be applied in a simple but elegant framework, to turn impossible into nothing more than hard work?

That’s what I’m going to do. Anyone who wants to help needs to identify themselves so we can start meeting in person and talk about how I think this would work. I will contribute the environment and some of the content, but I want to make the rest of it open to those who live nearby. When we figure out how to get this idea to work, I think we will have something that other communities will want to know about. That would mean job opportunities for those who helped get things started. I’ll be busy working on the next thing we do together.

So there it is. Tell me what you think. I tried to make it as vague as possible but that will change, for those who come forward to help.

Anyone want to help me change the world, one small rural school district at a time?

That Didn’t Work Out

July 25, 2011

Well, here I am, four weeks into my vacation from using my “habituation” tool. This past weekend was enjoyable but I fell off the wagon in terms of my diet. Three days of junk food sent my weight up two pounds since my return, but today is a new day, and a new week, and almost a new month. So I can reset all the metrics in my tool and get back to work on several fronts: my personal life, my life with my wife, and my business plans.

I finished The Starfish and the Spider last evening. It gave me some new ideas for how I want to design my business. My role will change a little, combining what they describe as catalyst and champion, but I really need someone else to do the latter. Anyway, it’s almost August. Don’t other people take vacations in August, as one last fling before their kids go back to school?

I miss my routines. I felt like I was making progress. The daily reminders to do the right things the right way were refreshing. The discipline felt good, but it didn’t survive disconnection from the habit support system. Some of the real habits lasted, like taking my medicine, but nearly everything else reverted to “habits in development.” All the momentum is gone, or was it inertia. I just don’t remember. But checking my dictionary app, I have a new insight into both.

  • Inertia is the property of matter by which it retains its state of rest of its velocity along a straight line, so long as it is not acted upon by an external force
  • Momentum is force or speed of movement

My habits are a result of inertia, and taking a vacation didn’t sustain them. I need to get them back up to speed, and establish a different vector, because the straight line I was headed on won’t get to the future I want for myself. If I want to be a reasonable example of what my ideas can do for others, I need to demonstrate what they can do for me. I am now my own test subject, on many levels. And there are so many new things to add into the mix.

But writing a disconnected blog post just to keep the string going isn’t going to get the day planned, or the plan executed. Enough blathering. Let’s get to work. There are lots of people to visit, and at least one appointment to keep, and I am back home. I can use my tool on my laptop all day long, without having to figure out how to take it with me when I leave the house. I can get back into that rhythm I had before this break, that rhythm I didn’t recognize because I snuck up on it over a period of months. I can’t wait.

Hope you all manage to survive any vacations you might have planned. Mine turned out to be a great wake up and source of ideas. But now I have to put them to work. Expect regular reports on my progress, but maybe not as much introspection. There is work to do, and reflecting on the past doesn’t advance the future, or change the vector I am on. I want to be more positive, but it’s difficult when I have so many negative things to bemoan.

Let’s get on with it. You do the same. Let’s reset all the counters and try this again.

Am I Listening?

July 24, 2011

I was just out on the porch looking at the fog that has settled into the valley. As time passed, I could see more of what is across the road. The field emerged, then the trees on the other side of the field, then the foothill just beyond the trees. By the time I came upstairs, I could almost see across the valley.

While this was happening, I was reading the end of chapter 5 in The Starfish and the Spider. What made me notice the fog clearing was their description of people who are catalysts. Good catalysts listen to people. Great catalysts hear what people are saying and draw them out. I want to be a great catalyst but wonder if I have the disposition for it. Let me try a test with those of you who are my readers. Send me your results if you like. I will post your comments if you want, and if they make sense.

Here we go:

7. Think of a significant goal in your life. Write it down on the left side of a blank piece of paper.

6. Under that, write down one thing that hasn’t been done that would be a step in the direction of achieving the goal.

5. Under that, write down one thing that other people are doing that would build a foundation for doing the one thing  that hasn’t been done.

4. Under that, write down one thing you would have to do away with to be able to do the one thing other people are doing.

3. Under that, write down one thing you would have to improve to recognize the one thing you had to do away with.

2. Under that, write down one thing you would have to do the right way before you could understand how to do it better.

1. Under that, write down one thing that was the right thing to do, that would get all the previous steps going.

0. Under that, write down one thing that would allow you to make a commitment to doing the right thing that would get things started.

What happened? Did your view of that significant goal change when you saw there was at least one path to one small piece of it? What would your future be like if you had a way to look at every problem as an opportunity you could tackle with gusto? How would people react when you were the one who took on jobs that had been ignored for weeks or months? What would they think of you when you went out and did things they thought were impossible? How much of their reaction would have been a reflection of their own perspective, and not a true reflection of what you were capable of doing? Did they say it was impossible for you because they didn’t want to try it themselves? Did they put you down because they needed to be looking down on you as someone who was inferior, because they had appointed you as scapegoat?

Guess what! They won’t be watching if you decide to do things differently. They have a perspective on you that won’t recognize the change in your attitude or behavior. Their radar is set to a frequency that will ignore your little quirks. Their opinion of their opinion of you is so high they won’t notice you aren’t playing a role in their game anymore. By the time they notice you aren’t believing what they say about you, you will be somewhere else. And oddly enough, that somewhere else might not be where you thought you wanted to go.

Try the exercise above again, only this time, use the right side of the page, and start from the bottom:

0. Write a few words that capture the commitment you are making to your goal.

1. Write one thing that would be the right thing to do to honor your commitment.

2. Write one thing about the right thing that would be the right way to do it.

3. Write one thing about doing the right thing the right way that would make it better.

4. Write one thing about the thing that you could do away with once it is improved.

5. Write one thing about the thing that other people are already doing.

6. Write one thing about the thing that hasn’t been done.

7. Look at the goal you started with. Is it enough of a stretch, or could you do something even more impossible.

I think this approach is how I need to interact with people in the future. Instead of telling them about my method or my the tools I am building, I need to ask them leading questions and then listen to their answers. I need to talk them through the first 8 questions to wake them up to the possibility that their current outlook on life could change. I need to listen to them and get them to listen to themselves, so they want to do the second set of 8 questions on their own. If they want my help, that would be fine, but it wouldn’t be necessary. I think I can write a book that would help people get through some of the preparation for what we could do together. In fact, the whole point of what I want to do is developing other people who wanted to work on really tough problems. Getting people to make a significant change in themselves would be their audition.

I think we all need to listen to each other. Is anyone listening to me?

Remembering Old Tunes

July 23, 2011

Last evening, my wife and I sent through a book of fiddle tunes, figuring out which ones we knew. The purpose of this survey was to give her mandolin student a list of tunes that local people play, so she had something to practice between lessons. This will make her more comfortable when she goes to jam sessions or folk music circles, and might also expand the repertoire of the band she plays in. Everyone likes to be able to play something other people already know, even if they start playing 20% faster once they recognize what it is.

Is this something peculiar to musicians, and even more specific to people who play Irish music with friends? How many people play any instrument well enough to sit down without any music and trust their memory of the patterns and rhythms of songs hardly anyone will know? Give an experienced violinist a fiddle tune book and they will be able to play the notes, but it won’t be the same. They need that music all the time. They haven’t stored the essence of the song in their fingers and bow so their eyes can close and just BE the music.

This morning, I realize that remembering the spirit of a process is like remembering the patterns and rhythms of a fiddle tune. While my goal is to help people break out of their status quo so they can change their future, that is only the beginning. Learning how to use the Deming Cycle or Six Hats Thinking are steps along the way. They aren’t the goal people should aspire to. Being able to sightread is a great skill, but not if it means you always need the music. Maybe that is where I want to go with the tool I am building.

And now that I realize that, I think I can step back and look at the bigger picture. I can start to say “No!” to things I thought were important, like having a user interface that looked good on both an iPhone and an iPad. Using a keyboard with an iPad made my application much easier to use, but it wouldn’t help that much on an iPhone. Simplifying the layouts to make them more suitable for an iPhone means losing the depth of that made the laptop version so useful.

Last evening, I found myself recognizing tunes I learned more than 25 years ago, but haven’t played in 20 years. The muscle memory was there, waiting to be called on. Once through the tune was enough to confirm that I still knew it, though the versions I knew were slight variations of what was in the book. But fiddle tunes are like that. They evolve over time and distance.

I need to keep this in mind as I go forward. Where might you benefit from a similar strategy?

Can’t Stop Reading

July 22, 2011

I just got an interesting email about a blog a motorcyclist friend writes. He has ridden around the world on a bike just like mine, and offers some great thoughts about the benefits of travel. A recent post says it all, so all I offer is a link to his site.

Maybe I can come up with 20 reasons of my own in the next few months, though I suspect I will have to have 49 (7 squared).

Links to Links to Links

July 22, 2011

A few minutes ago, I read the latest post from Seth Godin about his Domino Project, which led me to that blog, which had a post toward the bottom of the page that caught my eye. Sometimes that is how I get ideas. I follow a thread to a junction, and then follow one branch after another until I end up in a new place that is interesting.

The post in question offered an Excel spreadsheet that helps self-publishing authors. I haven’t opened it yet, but I like the idea of offering a checklist for others to follow. The breadcrumbs may take them along the same path you followed on your journey, or lead them somewhere even better.

This is a nice fit with a book I started this morning, The Starfish and the Spider. The authors, Ori Brafman (of Sway) and Rod Beckstrom start off describing how some organizations are like spiders: they die when they lose their head (leaders). They suggest organizations that are like spiders will do better in the future, because they have leaders all over the place. Cut the head off a spider, it dies; cut the arm off a starfish, it grows a new leg, and the leg grows the rest of a starfish.

Their idea seems to be headed in the direction of open source structures, and I have to admit I like their approach. But I’m just one guy without a whole lot of money. I can’t pay for servers and such to support a hundred people, much less a million. If my idea for helping people change takes off, could it be a distributed approach? Does it require everything be hosted on the same server? Could it be constructed to operate in a distributed fashion?

That would require a different architecture and different skills. I think that if I build the idea quickly in FileMaker Pro, it would be easy enough to demonstrate the concept is valid. Then when other people sign up to help, or invest in what I am doing, we could redo things in a platform that was more portable.

But 37signals doesn’t do it that way. They have subscriptions and offer significant value. I intend to do the same.

But wouldn’t my solution be better if I designed it for portability later? It needn’t look as pretty as I have been making it, if the whole point is to make sure the idea works. A simple web interface would do that. People could test the prototype by connecting to my laptop. If it worked, we would have a reason to collaborate or perhaps form a partnership. Partners could buy a server together. Partners could make agreements to work together, doing different parts of the business for the business they created together.

I love following ideas to see where they go. Sometimes, the threads make a wonderful quilt.

Admitting Defeat

July 21, 2011

Earlier this afternoon, I realized that it made no sense to develop my tool as an iPhone app. There is too much data to get onto an iPhone screen, and I don’t want to give up all the fields I want to use, or the collections of fields I feel are necessary. What’s more, the translation of an iPhone app to an iPad app would have been rather difficult, especially after people got used to everything they could do easily on an iPad.

So where does this leave me? Well for starters, I think it makes things simpler. I have a working example of all the features I want to use, and I can continue to use that version for managing all the work I will need to do. The iPad version can emerge from all that data I have already accumulated. All I have to do is recognize when the app is running on an iPad versus a regular computer and go to a completely different set of layouts. Both interfaces will exist in the same file, which means I can get a sense of how things look on my laptop. And if the iPad user interface works out to be easier than the laptop interface, I can suspend development of the laptop version and let the iPad interface drive everything.

In the end, I think an iPad version would be quite acceptable on an laptop. It will probably be faster overall, as there will be fewer fields on each layout. And things might end up being simpler for both environments. The web version might turn out better as well.

Sometimes it just makes sense to accept that what we thought we wanted is not where we should start. I hope I can remember that in the coming weeks and months. There will be more opportunities for insight coming my way, and I need to be willing to say no more often. I will document the things I decide not to do however, in case they inspire something else later. You never know when an idea discarded for one reason will be useful in a different context.