Thursday, December 29, 2011

How to Keep Your Resolutions for 2012

About five years ago I found myself in a situation where I organized my day-to-day professional activities with a clipboard-based form, coordinated meetings via Microsoft Outlook’s calendar function, kept personal appointments in a weekly paper calendar, and used a variety of scattered papers as task lists.

As long as I was at my desk, I could quickly identify my availability to meet with others or ensure that when I needed to attend to personal business there were no conflicts.  However, when I was out of the office, I had no way of knowing what was scheduled or even which activities were priorities for the next day or week.

Having four separate systems to keep track of my life was clearly not working!  When I had the opportunity to attend FranklinCovey’s Focus class I seized it.

In the Focus class, which I now teach occasionally, I learned about a strategy of planning that has worked successfully for me since then.  The content of the class is derived largely from First Things First, which is expanded from Habit 3 of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:  Put First Things First.

The first part of the course reviews four quadrants of priority based on urgency and importance.  This is referred to as the “Time Matrix.”

Quadrant I contains activities that must be done because they are urgent and important (a flat tire must be repaired).

Quadrant III is where you will find activities that are not important but urgent.  These may be phone calls (a ringing phone must be answered) or other interruptions.

Quadrant IV is an area of activities that should be avoided because these are not important and not urgent.  Have you ever played Farmville until 1AM?  This would fit in Quadrant IV.  It is fine to play Farmville or any other diversion, provided that you are not neglecting real chores in order to complete virtual chores.

Quadrant II consists of activities that are important but not urgent.  Spending time on prevention, wellness, planning, and true recreation, which renews body, mind, and spirit, fits here.  Quality time with your family and personal time to exercise or pursue a hobby are important to maintain balance in your life.

The second part of the course provides the practical structure to implement the concepts of the Time Matrix.  Based on the idea that you should only engage in activities that help you achieve your long-term plans.  The four elements of the planning process are presented in the form of a pyramid, with each element building on the foundational elements below it.

Identify Values.  The base of the pyramid is “Identify Values.”  What are the values that are important to you?  They may be different that mine, your co-workers, or even family.  Using Benjamin Franklin, as a model, it is suggested that you identify 8-10 values and define what each means for you.

Identify Goals.  Once life-long values have been identified, goals can be determined.  You will continue to set, modify, and evaluate goals continually.

Plan Weekly.  The next step of the pyramid is “Plan Weekly.”  By taking a few minutes at the beginning of each week to layout your integrated schedule of personal and professional commitments, identify the roles that you will have during the week (e.g., parent, teacher, child, supervisor, etc.), and prioritize tasks, you will be more effective.  Planning weekly is probably the most important step in terms of the execution of the Focus/First Things First productivity model.

Plan Daily.  At the top of the pyramid is “Plan Daily.”  At the start of your day, take a few minutes to review your schedule and tasks for the day.

I have found these strategies to be very effective.  Whether you use a paper-based planning system or are fully electronic (something that is now a valid option with smartphones), developing a system is vital to becoming more effective.

If you first identify life-long values, base your goals around those values, and plan your weeks and days accordingly, you will find that you don’t need New Year’s resolutions to propel you forward to success.  Happy New Year!  Don't forget to subscribe to the blog.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Screen Capture Links

Capturing all or part of the information displayed on your computer screen is essential for preparing presentations, handouts, and training materials.  It can also be useful as a future reference.  This list of links is taken from my site, (video capture)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Liz Lynch Radio Show

I had the honor this week to be Liz Lynch's guest on her show.  You can listen to previous episodes by clicking on the link above.  Liz's main website is

Liz and I discussed how to "Storify Your Facts."  During our 30 minutes together I shared how important it is to use stories whenever possible to illustrate the point of your presentation or as a  narrative to keep facts interesting.  Liz is a great interviewer and I enjoyed talking with her.

Below is a list of books that I discussed during the show.
Please listen to the recorded show, check out the book listed above, and subscribe to  I have also updated the Walmart video I discussed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Links to Create Word Clouds

A tag cloud, also known as a word cloud, visually depicts the keywords found in a block of text.  Words are displayed by various sizes based on the frequency count of the word.  This visual format is convenient in identifying the most important or most used words in a document or website.

Below are links to six websites that generate tag clouds or word clouds.  Most of these sites provide a variety of options for font, color, and block shape.  To better compare the sites, I have used the Gettysburg Address, written and given by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  This famous speech is short (10 sentences) and well-written. 

This last link is not for a site where you can generate clouds, but instead contains word cloud art of each book of the Bible.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking

Not too long ago I found myself in a situation where I needed to succinctly present to a group in such a way that I needed to convince them to take action at the end of my talk. Unfortunately, I did not have a good structural model to follow and failed to make the case for why my listeners should take action. What I encourage you to do is explore some reading and speaking tips in order to be better prepared for a presentation. If you do, you will experience success where I did not.

What you've just read is a technique that Dale Carnegie shares in his book, The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking.

If you were asked to give an impromptu five-minute presentation to a group, small or large, would you be able to do it? If you're like many people, you might try to pass up such an opportunity. However, if you read The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking you will gain more confidence. In this easy-to-read book, Dale Carnegie lays out everything you need to improve your public speaking.

At the outset, Carnegie dispels common fears and myths about public speaking. He also suggests a mindset for success. Following these two topics, he presents what is the foundational principle for the remainder of the book. This principle has been a staple of Dale Carnegie's training content since he first started teaching in 1912. The "three E's" are:
  • Speak about something you have earned the right to speak about through experience or study.
  • Be sure you are excited about your topic.
  • Be eager to share your talk with your listeners.

Following this first section of fundamentals, Carnegie devotes the remainder of the book to various aspects of speaking. Chapters include:
  • Earning the right to talk
  • Vitalizing the talk
  • Sharing the talk with the audience
  • Making the short talk to get action
  • Making the talk to inform
  • Making the talk to convince
  • Making impromptu talks
  • Delivering the talk
  • Organizing the longer talk

The short talk to get action is particularly effective and is centered on the "magic formula" which consists of:
  • Give an example, an incident from your life.
  • State your point, what you want the audience to do.
  • Give the reason or benefit the audience may expect.

The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking is an essential read for anyone who speaks publicly, whether to a small group of coworkers or a large crowd of people.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Honking Dog Trains Man

On Sunday, my wife and I were awakened because of a car horn sounding in the driveway next to our house.  Initially, in my groggy state, I thought it might be a car alarm. Then I considered that it might be the friends of one of the teenagers who are our neighbors.  Just as I thought about getting up to see "what was the matter," as the classical Christmas story says, the honking stopped.

A few seconds later the honking began again and stopped with a man's voice yelling, "Cut that out!"  However, the honking started again.  At this point I decided that I needed to look out the window and offer some neighborly advice to the horn honker.  I was surprised to see a small dog with his hind legs on the driver's seat and his front paws on the middle of the steering wheel.

I observed as the older gentleman walked away from the car.  I realized that my neighbors were out of town and that this man was mostly likely feeding their black lab, Sophie, who did not travel with the family.  As the man walked away, the small dog inside the car began honking the horn!  Immediately the man yelled out to the dog and walked back to the car.

In the classic book, Science and Human Behavior, B. F. Skinner describes the behavioral principles that govern much of human (and animal) behavior. The premise of the book is that behavior is influenced by the consequence of the behavior.

If a behavior receives a positive reinforcement (for example, you give your dog a treat when he obeys a command) that behavior is more likely to be repeated.  However, if you are punished when engaging in a certain behavior, theoretically, you may be less likely to repeat it.  Research and history have both shown that punishment is largely ineffective in the long-term.  Short-term, it may be some immediate effects, but usually those effects are brief.  The table below depicts the conditions under which behavior is influenced.

Karen Pryor is an animal trainer and has worked with large marine mammals such as dolphins and orcas.  In her book, Don't Shoot the Dog, she discusses the fact that whales do not accept punishment.  If the mammal misses a trick and is given a punishment, the whale will no longer respond to the trainer. 

In the case of the dog and man I described earlier, the dog was positively reinforced because when he honked the horn, the man gave attention to the dog.  The man was negatively reinforced because he increased his behavior of providing attention to the dog in order to have the negative event (honking horn) stopped.

It is possible to have our behavior influenced, without our knowledge, by the animals and people around us.  By becoming more aware of what influences our behavior, we can take an active role in what occurs in our lives.  Additionally, a knowledge of behavioral principles will help influence others.  I encourage you to read either Science and Human Behavior (challenging read) or Don't Shoot the Dog (fast and easy read).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Play With Enthusiasm

My daughter, Erika, has been taking piano lessons at a nearby university's pre-college piano program for about three years.  "Pre-college" is a generous descriptor of all of the students who range in age from preschool to high school.  Each year the pre-college teachers accept some new students.

Towards the end of each semester students participate in a recital.  To prepare for the recital, the teacher hosts a practice session in the recital hall.  Tonight, we attended the practice session for this semester.  There were some students and families that I had not seen before.  This was the first time I had the opportunity to see and meet them.

With all of the busyness, frustration, and often cynical, jaded views of life, it is easy to forget the excitement and passion that young children experience as they interact with the world.  In his book, You Already Know How to Be Great, Alan Fine reminds us that all of us were once one-year old and fascinated by exploring the new world around us.  Some of the young piano students required extensions to be added to the bench and for their feet in order to have the correct posture and hand position for the piano.

Tonight I was reminded of that excitement.  One little girl arrived in her pink ballet leotard and her piano book in-hand.  As soon as the teacher asked for a volunteer, she jumped up and walked briskly toward the stage.  The teacher helped the girl get situated at the piano and her 15-second song began.  Our little ballerina was smiling from ear to ear as she played, and even when she made mistakes she just kept playing, repeating as needed to correct certain passages.

Ballerina girl was followed by another young pianist who appear to be just as enthusiastic.  When the teacher ask for the next student to play, the first girl quickly raised her hand!  I love to see this kind of enthusiasm and passion.  There were much more accomplished, slightly older piano students in the audience but this did not affect the performance of these two new students.

I believe that the lessons from these observations that we can apply to our lives are these:

1.  Have fun no matter what.

2.  Don't let mistakes keep you from having fun or impeding your progress.

3.  Be a risk-taker and volunteer to go first.

4.  Others may be more talented, intelligent, or attractive, but persevere anyway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Make A Difference

I am in the process of reviewing a book by Raf Stevens entitled No Story, No Fans.  Soon, I will be posting a review of Raf's book to this blog.  In one section of his book he shared a link to a YouTube video from the Thailand Military Bank.

The video is about a group of boys in a small village who dream of having a field near their village on which they could play soccer.  The major challenge the boys must overcome is that their village is a "floating" village, so no land is available for recreation.  How they overcome the challenge is the story told in the video.

What small difference can you make today that will lead to accomplishing larger goals in the future?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How to be happy

Almost a year ago, thirty-one miners in Chile were trapped inside a coal mine when a cave-in occurred.  Unbelievably the men survived underground for 69 days.  For several days, rescuers were not certain that the men were even alive.  However, after signs of life were detected, rescuers were able to design a delivery system for food, water, and other supplies while a solution to rescue the men was designed and implemented.  Miraculously, all of the men were rescued.

On NPR's Morning Edition this morning, there was an article on how the miners are doing today.  Sadly, all but one have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.  The men have had a variety of adjustment problems.  Despite hopes of riches from telling their stories, most have turned to other menial jobs and only two have returned to work as miners.

In 2010 the miners inspired people with their ability to work together under pressure. But there was a turning point in their collaboration, which they pin to television. When the miners got a TV and a projector underground, they started getting into fights about what to watch, and people started neglecting chores. Franklin says eventually the miners started sending back food that wasn't warm enough and iPods that didn't have the right music selection.
"So there's this real dichotomy between the union they had when they were completely cut off from the world and they had their own society, and this bickering and conflicts that began once the television and their so-called conveniences were put down to them," he says.
I challenge you to take a break from television (including news) for a period of time.  Start with three days, expand to seven, and see how it goes after that.  Use your newly available time to read a book, spend more time with family, or learn a new skill.  Let me know how it goes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Public Failure

I've been watching America's Got Talent, or AGT for short, for a couple of seasons.  Each year contestants compete for $1,000,000 and a chance to headline a show in Las Vegas.  After a couple rounds of performing before the judges, the last 48 contestants compete for a chance to be on of 24 acts in the final rounds.  For these rounds it is the American public that votes via phone or text.  The acts perform before a studio audience and the show is broadcast live to the nation.

The "talent" varies considerably from people dressed like elves to dancers, magicians, singers, and child acts.  One act this season is "The Kinetic King" aka Tim Fort.  Tim creates chain-reaction structures from pop-sickle sticks and other items to create entertaining displays similar to domino layouts that you may have seen others setup and perform.

At last night's performance, when the Kinetic King was introduced, he initiated the structure that he had spent two days creating.  The reaction didn't start.  Tim tried again to trigger the reaction.  After just a few inches the reaction stopped again.  Tim tried several times to start the reaction before giving up and announcing that it wasn't going to work.  His explanation is that humidity affected the wooden pop-sickles causing the pieces of wood to stick together.

Remember that last night's show was live.  Even though he handled it well on stage and in front of the audience, I'm sure the Kinetic King was embarrassed and upset. 

Think about a time you may have been embarrassed.  It really doesn't matter whether it is in front of family, friends, or in public.  It doesn't feel good.  The good news is that people will usually move on to something else and the effects of your embarrassment will only be temporary.  The best thing to do is try to avoid reacting, acknowledge the situation, and move on.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Today I watched the movie Aliens on Netflix.  The sequel to Alien, Aliens is set about 60 years into the future from the time when Aliens occurred.  Aliens begins with the main character, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, awakening from a medically-induced inter-space coma meant to ease the long travel burdens when traveling to distant galaxies.  Carter Burke, played by Paul Reiser, is one of the first characters to speak with Ripley and tells her that many things have changed in 60 years.

One of those things is that the planet where Ripley successfully battled the alien in the first movie is now a colonized planet with over 70 families living there.  At first, no one believes Ripley's story about her alien encounter, but soon contact is lost with the people currently on the planet.  Burke, who is a representative of "the company" asks Ripley to act as an adviser and accompany a marine expedition to the planet .  Though hesitant at first, Ripley agrees only if the company and Burke agree to kill any extra terrestrials encountered rather than bringing specimens back for research.

Despite his promises, once aliens are encountered - and even after several characters are killed and turned into hosts for the alien hatchlings - Burke attempts to convince Ripley that two of the aliens that remain  alive in research containers should be returned to earth for bio-weapons research.  This would mean millions of dollars that Ripley and Burke could split.  Ripley refuses and further adventures ensue.  If you haven't seen Aliens - and like suspenseful movies - and have an opportunity to watch this classic movie, you will be entertained.

Greed has always been a popular plot in movies and probably always will be.  Aliens is a good reminder that, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and clear danger, some people will try to take advantage of the situation for personal gain at the loss of others.

The desire to be successful, no matter how you define success, is worthy, however not at the expense of others.  If you are honest with others about why you are contributing to a project or working in a certain area, they will be accept your honesty.  Problems usually arise when you present one motive to others and conceal another personal motive. 

What happens is movies is one thing:  how you live real life is another.  Be open and honest in your communication with others.  If your only reason for being involved in a project is personal gain, people may not like it, but they will accept your honesty.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


One of my friends shared this hilarious "I Love Lucy."  Given the task of wrapping chocolates, the only goal given to Lucy and her partner is to wrap the chocolates before they enter the packing department.  Without any further instruction or guidance, except for a stern warning that failure will result in termination, the conveyor belt begins and the women start wrapping.

Expecting people to produce consistent, high-quality results without any instruction or training is about as silly as this clip.  Take the time to work patiently with new employees (or your children) to provide as much support and training as needed to ensure that they are equipped to give their best effort.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Paper or Coin

Recently I heard a story on NPR about approximately one billions dollars of dollar coins that are in storage at the U.S. Mint.  There have been several attempts to convert Americans from using dollar bills, which have a relatively short lifespan, to dollar coins, which can remain in circulation for decades.  In 1979 the Susan B. Anthony coin (left) was produced.  The Sacagawea coin (center) has been minted since 2000 and the presidential coins (right) were created in 2005.
In 2005 Congress passed a bill that authorized a presidential line of dollars.  Beginning with George Washington, eventually all presidents will end up on coins.  An amendment to the legislation required that for every four presidential coins, one Sacagawea coin would be minted.  Each coin costs about thirty cents to produce.

The story was presented from the perspective of legislation gone wrong and how that has now resulted in an unnecessary cache of coins no one wants, but are still produced.  However, I think it is more interesting to think about this from the perspective of human factors design.  How can we get people to start using coins and stop using dollars?

When I visited Canada earlier in the month I discovered that the smallest denomination of paper money Canada uses is a five dollar bill.  Images of the "tooney" ($2) and "looney" ($1) coins are below.
Most men carry a wallet, an accessory designed perfectly, regardless of style or size, for transporting and storing credit cards and paper money.  Paper money is convenient.  One of my friends, while traveling, attended a professional baseball game.  When Chris purchased fare for the subway system, he used a $20 bill.  He received about $15 of change in dollar coins.  For the remainder of the evening Chris had to carry around a pocket full of heavy coins!

In my view, if the U.S. government truly wants Americans to stop using paper one dollar bills, it has to remove them from circulation.  As long as we have the choice between paper and coins, I believe that paper will win - at least that's what I prefer!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts from Niagara Falls

Yesterday I returned from a week-long trip to Toronto, Canada.  A highlight of the trip for me was a visit to Niagara Falls.  The falls themselves are located on the American side of the Niagara River, so the best view is from the Canadian side.  Before leaving the area, I visited one of the many gift shops in the area.

I purchased a book entitled, It Happened At Niagara, a collection of stories about 78 famous and infamous visitors to Niagara Falls.  These visitors ranged from Father Louis Hennepin, the first European to see the falls in 1678, to Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.

Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol, visited Niagara Falls in 1842.  He was accompanied by his wife, Kate, and his maid, Anne.  Charles described his feelings:  "I never in my life was in such a state of excitement" and referred to the falls as a "tremendous spectacle" and a "peaceful eternity."  His maid, Anne, felt differently about their visit and summed it up this way:  "It's nothing but water and too much of that!"

My father used to say "Opinions are like belly buttons:  everyone has one and they're all different."  There are several variations of this simile, but this is a clean one! 

Remember that your positive outlook or view of a situation may be different than that of other people.  You might have just made the best presentation in your life and there may still be people who didn't connect with your message.  There will always be people who believe in you and those who don't.  Nurture relationships with those who support you.  For those who don't, identify what you can learn to improve yourself and your message ... and then move on. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to Win Friends & Influence People

In 1912, the same year the Titanic sank, a young teacher began offering courses in human relations and communications at the YMCA in New York City.  His approach was to teach and demonstrate everyday skills rather than formal speech tips that did not translate into the real world of communication.  Over time, Dale Carnegie revised and improved his curriculum.  A significant part of his content can be found in How to Win Friends and Influence People.  This is an essential book to read and reread many times.

The book is comprised of 30 principles organized into four sections:  Fundamental techniques for handling people, Six ways to make people like you, How to win people to your way of thinking, and Changing people effectively as a leader.  Each principle is illustrated with numerous stories, either experienced personally by Dale Carnegie or based on his extensive study of historical figures.  Though some stories are dated, the principles are timeless and will improve how you communicate with others.

The first nine principles are:
  1. Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
  4. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  5. Smile.
  6. Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  7. Be a good listener.
  8. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
  9. Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.
You can download a free copy of Dale Carnegie's Secrets of Success booklet from  This small booklet contains the principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.  A free iPhone app is also available at the iTunes store.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lessons from Osama bin Laden, Part 2

On May 1, an elite military special operations unit stealthfully traveled from Afghanistan into Pakistan and landed in a compound where Al-Qaida terrorism chief Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding.   Osama was there and was killed during the raid on his compound.  The political ramifications, conjecture, and facts will no doubt be discussed for years.  In my May 9 post, I shared Lessons, Part 1.

The special forces team was successful in large part because they built a replica of bin Laden's compound and practiced extensively for several months to maximize the chances of success. 

Most likely, national security is not at stake if you have less than stellar results from your next presentation or slip up on the delivery.  However, you can take the same steps to maximize your success. 

Take the time to determine the purpose for your presentation, plan your key points and sub-points, and how you will illustrate these with visuals and relevant stories. 

Once you've designed your presentation, practice it.  You should not have it so scripted that it sounds like you are reading, but you should be familiar with the content so that your audience can recognize your ownership of the content.  Rather than rehearsing in front of the mirror, practice in front of supportive friends and family.  You can also share parts of the presentation as part of conversations during the day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lessons from Osama bin Laden, Part 1

On May 1, an elite military special operations unit stealthfully traveled from Afghanistan into Pakistan and landed in a compound where Al-Qaida terrorism chief Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding.   Osama was there and was killed during the raid on his compound.  The political ramifications, conjecture, and facts will no doubt be discussed for years.

The duration of time that the soldiers were in the compound (from when they landed to when they departed) was only forty minutes.  Forty minutes!  How long was your last staff meeting?

Many large organizations with a multi-use conference room schedule the room in one-hour blocks.  In my experience, I have found that most meetings tend to stretch out to the time allotted.  If you plan for a two hours for a meeting, there is a great likelihood it will last that long.

In the book Quiet Leadership author David Rock challenges readers to decrease the meeting time to one-fourth of the regular allotted time.  For example, an hour meeting would be conducted in 15 minutes.  How could this be possible?  I believe that the following tips will help you decrease meeting times.

  1. Identify, in writing, the purpose for the meeting.
  2. Create an agenda based on the purpose.
  3. Assign responsibilities for each agenda item.
  4. Create the expectation that any items or files to be discussed should be reviewed prior to the meeting.  This, of course, means that as the meeting organizer you should have the materials ready and available, either via e-mail or shared network space.
  5. At the start of the meeting, remind participants to remain focused on the agenda items.
  6. Create a "parking lot" for items not on the agenda.  A parking lot allows for items to be mentioned but saved for later.
  7. Thank participants for remaining focused.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Start With Small Changes

Recently I conducted a seminar entitled ConsultantAdvantage, which guided participants through a number of stories, activities, and concepts in order to be better consultants in their chosen fields.

One component of the training involved showing participants how to upload documents to a shared file space.  If you can attach a file (photo, document, ext.) to an e-mail you can upload to a share space.  However, many people were challenged by this "new" method of file transfer and resisted trying it.  Some professed technical challenges while others questioned the reasoning behind using a new method.

There are two variables to change.  Readiness refers to the readiness for change to occur.  If you have a life situation that is less than ideal - stress at work or home, in the process of moving, etc. - you may not be ready to handle additional changes, even small ones.

I have a friend who is engaged with plans to marry in September.  Right now she is preparing her house to be put on the market, helping renovate her fiance's house, finishing orientation on a new job, and dealing with family members who are trying to "help" plan her wedding!  Psychologists have studied stress for many years and have discovered that the level of stressful events has an almost direct correlation to physical health.  How stressed are you?  Take this test and find out.

The second aspect of change is the capability to change.  Of course, everyone has the capability to change.  Under the right conditions you will change, although you may resist the change.  What I'm really talking about is the perception of the capability to change.  The first step to making changes is to believe that you are able to make the changes.  After that it's just a matter of learning what you need to learn and stepping out by taking action.

I don't like it when people say "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade."  The events of life don't always have a pleasant outcome, but viewing change as an opportunity for personal growth is a healthy perspective.

About a year ago, my in-laws lost nearly everything when their house was overcome by flash floods.  After an hour of hanging on to a post to avoid being swept away, the waters receded.  Thankful to be alive, they began to pick up what they could, clean up where they need to, and make plans for the future.  We've seen similar perseverance in Japan - even though people lost loved ones, pets, homes, and employment.

The best way to ensure that you are ready for change and demonstrate to yourself that you have the capability for change is to make small purposeful changes as an everyday part of living.  Instead of taking the interstate, take back roads.  Instead of mowing the lawn in circles, mow in rows.  Eat at a new restaurant.  Sit in a different area at church.  Being flexible and adaptable when you don't really need to will strengthen your change muscles.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Are Youth To Blame?

It seems like every generation blames the succeeding generation for a level of moral decay and weakening of the fabric of society.  The quote below is from Hesiod.  He was a contemporary of the Greek poet Homer and lived around 750BC.

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Made To Stick

Made to Stick:   Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath presents a theory on why some ideas are memorable but others are not.  For example, you may quickly be able to recall the details of an urban legend (such as a story about someone seduced then having a kidney stolen or getting shot if you flash your lights at an oncoming car with its lights off) but you may have difficulty recalling the data from the last staff meeting.

The authors define six variables to help ideas become "stickier."  Keep ideas simple by focusing on the core message.  Revealing something unexpected will differentiate your message from others.  If your idea or message can be presented in a concrete, tangible way the recipients or audience are more likely to quickly grasp it.  Establish credibility by inviting your audience to apply an idea or try a product - test it out for themselves.  Creating an emotional connection allows a message to resonate at a deeper levels.  Finally, by using stories your message can be easily recalled and shared with others.

Applying these principles will help you avoid "the Curse of Knowledge," that is, when you assume people know what you know but they really don't.  By applying these concepts when developing and sharing ideas you will enhance the likelihood that you will be better understood and remembered.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't Be Like Jabez Wilson

When you decide which activities or interests you are going to pursue, take the time to evaluate how productive and fulfilling it will be.  Don't get stuck copying out encyclopedia pages!

Set in 1890, a London business man named Jabez Wilson, a man with red hair, comes to consult Detective  Sherlock Holmes and his physician/side-kick Watson. He tells them that his young assistant, Vincent Spaulding, some weeks ago had shown him, and urged him to respond, to a newspaper want-ad offering work to only red-headed male applicants. The next morning, Wilson had waited in a long line of fellow red-headed men, was interviewed and was the only applicant hired, because none of the other applicants had hair to match Wilson's red locks.

Wilson, whose business mainly operates in evenings, was well-paid, receiving four pounds a week for several weeks; the work was obviously useless clerical work in a bare office. Finally one morning, a sign on the locked office door inexplicably announced that "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED."

Wilson then went to the landlord, who said that he'd never heard of Duncan Ross, the person who managed the league office. The landlord did remember the tenant with scarlet hair and gives him a card which directs Wilson to an artificial knee company. Wilson ends the story with how frustrated he is losing the four-pounds-a-week.

Holmes and Watson laugh a little over the ridiculous situation, but Holmes assures him that by Monday they would have the case solved. After Holmes' client, Wilson, leaves (having given the detective a description of Spaulding), Holmes decides to go and see Spaulding, whom Holmes notices has dirty trouser knees. Holmes then taps on the pavement in front of the pawnbroker's shop. With the case solved, he calls Police Inspector Jones and Mr. Merryweather, a director of the bank located next door.

The four secrete themselves in the bank vault and confront the thieves, John Clay, who has a long history of criminal activity already, and his helper Archie. Under the alias of Spaulding and Ross, they had contrived the "Red-Headed League" rigmarole to keep Wilson out of his shop while they dug in the basement, in order to break into the bank vault next door.

Plot summary from WikipediaWikisource has the full story.

Monday, March 14, 2011

No Price Too High

A woman traveling in Europe wanted to purchase a tailor-made dress from a French designer.  Texting her husband, she wrote, “Found beautiful dress.  Price $3,000.  May I buy?”  Her husband responded, “No price to high.”  Elated, she purchased the dress and returned home at the conclusion of her trip.  When she showed her husband the dress, he fainted.  What he meant to text was, “No, price too high.”  It is easy to forget how important punctuation is.

A couple of other great examples from are below.

No Commas:  Woman without her man is nothing.
Version 1:  Woman, without her, man is nothing.
Version 2:  Woman, without her man, is nothing. 

No Commas:  Pardon impossible to be sent to Siberia.
Version 1:  Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.
Version 2:  Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bad Predictions

If you have ever made a prediction that failed to come true, you may be comforted that you are not alone.

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."--Western Union, 1878

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."--Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

"Man will not fly for 50 years."--Wilbur Wright, 1901

"The automobile has practically reached the limit of its development."--Scientific American, 1909

"Talking films are a very interesting invention, but I do not believe they will remain long in fashion."--Louis-Jean Lumiere (co-inventor of the first film projector), 1929

"There is no reason for any individual to have a personal computer in their home."--Ken Olsen, President, Digital Equipment Corp., 1980

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."--The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the instrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."--Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible."--A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."--Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."--Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Burn the Ships

A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision which insured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy's country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, "You see the boats going up in smoke. That means that we cannot leave these shores alive unless we win! We now have no choice-we win-or we perish!" They won.

From Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Harriett Ball - Pioneer Educator

On My drive home today, I heard an inspirational story on NPR.   Harriett Ball was a public school educator who developed unique techniques to reach her students.  She died this week at the age of 64.

Because not all students responded to traditional teaching methods, she incorporated chants and raps to drill facts into her student's heads.  Harriett adapted music that her students were already listening to and changed the lyrics to reinforce content covered in the classroom.

She believed that all children can learn - the right technique for the right student just has to be found.  Additionally, she had a take-no-prisoners attitude and did not accept excuses - from students or from other teachers hesitant to adopt her techniques.

Harriett Ball discovered that in addition to using your brain power to achieve great results, you also have your full body to help with recall of learned material.  Using dance, rhythm, and music to tap both the potential of the mind and body resulted in a much larger comprehension and retention of classroom content.

Researchers in Alaska found similar results in their original study of the effects of footwear on memory recall.  They found that the more comfortable the footwear of the research participants, the better their ability to recall previously learned items.  The best results were from those participants who wore soft moccasins.  According to Elliott Masie who shared this research, "The researchers speculated that the ability to wiggle toes during learning difficult new concepts of procedures was related to cognitive retention."

When I was studying for tests in college, I wrote out my notes on 3x5 index cards and walked around while reviewing the cards.  Whether it was the writing out of the notes or the walking that helped, I always did well on tests when using this method.

Take the opportunity this week to apply "full body" techniques when learning new material or preparing for a presentation.

Monday, February 28, 2011

5 Why

The Five Why's is a simple technique to drill-down to the root cause of a problem. To use the Five Why's, start with a problem, posed as a "why" statement and keep asking "why" until you've repeated the process five times.

A example could be:
  1. Why were you late to work? Because I had to get a ride to work.
  2. Why did you have to hitch a ride to work? Because my car wouldn't start.
  3. Why wouldn't your car start? Because the engine makes a banging noise.
  4. Why does it make a noise? Because there was no oil in the engine.
  5. Why no oil? Because I never checked it.
Although referred to as the "Five Why's" you can substitute other who/what/why/how words to fit the situation.

Another example:
  1. Why didn't you complete your homework?  Because I didn't have time.
  2. What was going on that you didn't have time?  I was busy doing other things.
  3. Like what?  Jenny came over.
  4. Why did Jenny come over?  Because I called her.
  5. What did you say to her?  Come over and play because I'm bored and want to play.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Winston Churchill's quotes on truth:

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brainstorming Rules

Brainstorming is an excellent way to identify solutions for problems. Brainstorming activities can be performed by groups or as individuals. There are numerous books and websites that describe a variety of creative techniques for brainstorming.

Before you start brainstorming, there are a few rules that will ensure that the process is most effective.
  1. Use sticky notes. Write one idea or suggestion on each sticky note. This will provide for maximum flexibility when looking for commonalities between ideas and eliminating less effective suggestions.  For ideas on using sticky notes, download Secrets of a Sticky Note Ninja.
  2. Focus on quantity. The basic idea behind brainstorming is that multiple solutions are generated, regardless of quality. Once several ideas are generated, they can be evaluated for applicability or effectiveness.
  3. Don't criticize or censor. During the brainstorming process, you should not criticize or evaluate any idea that is generated. An atmosphere of openness is essential for coming up with several possible solutions.
  4. All ideas should be considered. Although more creative ideas may not be the best solutions, often creative suggestions can spark other suggestions that will be effective. 
  5. Combine and improve ideas. Once several ideas have been collected, place similar ideas together and take the best components of each solution.
  6. Give a time limit. Working under pressure will encourage you to stay focused.
  7. Write down your responses. The most effective way to work through this process is to write down each and every idea. Your memory can only retain a limited number of items in short-term memory and hopefully you will generate more ideas than your memory can retain. Additionally, mental brainstorming does not lend itself to sorting and arrange ideas that have been generated.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Create a Memorable Event

The advertisement for Apple Mac was played only one time during the 1984 Super Bowl.  Yet since then, it has won several awards and it still recognized for its impact and effectiveness.  It is a great example of visual storytelling in a brief period of time (only one minute).  According to Wikipedia, this ad was not endorsed by everyone on Apple's board, but creative heads prevailed.

Monday, February 14, 2011


A man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm.--Charles Schwab

A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.--Mary Kay Ash

Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.--Earl Nightingale

Enthusiasm is the most important thing in life.--Tennessee Williams

Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm.--Benjamin Disraeli

My strength is my enthusiasm.--Placido Domingo

The real secret of success is enthusiasm.--Walter Chrysler

You can do anything if you have enthusiasm.--Henry Ford

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happy vs Sad

Not too long ago my daughter completed a writing assignment for her sixth-grade English class.  The assignment was to take a location and describe it from two perspectives:  as a happy and warm place and then as a scary place.

My daughter loves horses so she selected a horse barn as her location.  For the happy description she described the fragrance of the hay, the soft feel of the beautiful horses, and the pleasure of riding.  For the "scary" description she wrote about taking shelter in the barn during a thunderous downpour, the smell of rotting food, and being scared by a cat jumping out of the darkness.

Our outlook on life is like my daughter's writing assignment.  The way we approach each day is a choice that we make.  We can either find the positive or the negative in every situation.  Psychologists refer to this choice as "cognitive reframing."  It has also been referred to as a change of paradigms.

When I was in college, I had the "opportunity" to deliver pizzas for a major chain.  Really, I hated the job.  Even though I believed I was familiar with the town I had lived in for 10 years, I quickly learned that there were several roads either too small or too new for me to know.  The challenge was even greater while delivering at night on roads and to destinations not clearly identified.

After a few nights, I realized that this job might not be too bad, and after a few more nights of improved time on deliveries and extra tips in my pocket, I felt positive enough that I delivered pizza through the summer. I could have hated the job for the entire summer and been miserable, but approaching the situation with a positive attitude resulted in a pleasant and memorable experience - I still like pizza!

Whatever your situation, try to take a positive outlook even if all that means is knowing that the situation will pass.  You'll feel better and less anxious.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Story Factor

The Story Factor: inspiration, influence, & persuasion through the art of storytelling is a book written by Annette Simmons, owner of Group Process Consulting.  The author takes the art of storytelling and applies it to the world of business and communication.  Storytelling is not just a treat for children at bedtime but an effective way to share knowledge with others. 

I first read The Story Factor in 2003.  When I start reading a book, I write the date on the first page and when finished reading, I enter the date on the last page or at the point I stop reading.  It is permissible to stop reading a book if you have lost interest.  I found this book interesting and read it in a couple of weeks. 

In the first chapter, Ms. Simmons provides details and justifications for the six stories that everyone should know.  When meeting individuals or presenting for groups, before people will listen to your message you must first establish your credibility by explaining who you are and why you are appearing before them.  Rather than citing a series of facts, story is a comfortable, familiar medium that draws people to you.  With story people will give you undivided attention.

A theme throughout the book is that facts by themselves remain cold and unappealing.  Although facts are true and generally undeniable, people may resist new factual information if it differs from or challenges their long-held beliefs.  Using stories is effective because it provides a context for facts.  Story gives you the opportunity to tell others about your previous experience in a certain situation. Rather than telling someone to try harder and don't complain, you might tell a story about someone you know who persevered through adversity without complaining. 

In The Story Factor you will also learn the elements of telling a story, ten situations where story is better than fact, and how to influence the unwilling.

If you want to reach others in a more effective way, I encourage you to read The Story Factor.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Not too long ago I found myself at the Ronald Reagan airport in Washington, DC with plans to connect with friends in Alexandria, Virginia. One of my friends had e-mailed me earlier in the morning to let me know that Alexandria was two stops away from the airport on the blue line of the Metro, Washington DC's subway system.

After collecting my luggage at the airport, I proceeded to the airport Metro stop and purchased my transfer ticket. When I ascended the escalator to the subway platform for the blue line, I noticed several people standing on the track heading one way and no one standing on the opposite side. I stood with the other people on the platform and entered the subway when the doors opened.

After three stops, I realized that I might have started out in the wrong direction. That realization was confirmed when I arrived at the fourth stop. At that point I located a map on the wall of the train and began to orient myself. A guy in a suit asked, "Where are you headed?"

When I replied, "Alexandria," he simply said, "Oh." Then he followed with the directions I needed to transfer to the correct subway line heading past the airport and on to Alexandria. "Whatever you do," he said, "Don't take the green line."

I followed his directions and successfully disembarked at the Alexandria Metro stop. Since then I have returned to Alexandria several times without any problems.

What I learned from my experience is that it is best to avoid making assumptions. What may look like the right direction, judging from the actions of others, does not always end as you might expect. Take the time to learn what you need to do instead of making assumptions. You'll end up in the right place - most of the time.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Google Spreadsheet - Alternative to Excel

Excel is the spreadsheet application included in the Microsoft Office suite of programs (which includes Word, PowerPoint, and other applications. It was originally released for Mac in 1985 and for Windows in 1987.
Google Docs is comparable to Microsoft Office – except that it is an online application. Docs has applications for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms. Google Spreadsheet is not quite as full-featured as a software-based application, but still has a large collection of functions and basic charting capabilities. By the way, did I mention that it is FREE?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Model for Improvement

Authors Langley and Nolan developed a quality improvement model titled the "Model for Improvement."  As with most quality improvement models, the framework appears to be simple but implementation and follow-through require commitment to achieve improvement goals.  The model consists of three questions:
  1. What are you trying to accomplish?  The answer to this question should result in a written "aim" statement that will serve as a goal for the improvement process.  It is should specific and achievable.  If your goal is to lose weight, the specific aim statement might be, "Lose 25 pounds by May 1."
  2. How will we know that a change is an improvement?  If you were happy yesterday and happy today, how can you quantify the difference?  Any type of change can only be assessed by establishing measurement criteria.  The measurement for the weight loss aim might be number of pounds gained/lost per week.  You might also count the calories consumed or the number of servings of vegetables.
  3. What change can we make that will result in improvement?  Only by looking at the activities in your life can you select elements that can be changed.  In future blog posts I will discuss cause/effect diagrams and process charts to help select critical points where change would have the most impact. 
The questions can be addressed in any order.  The questions presented in this modeled can be paired with the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle, which will be discussed on a future blog post.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Future Casting

Many times in your life you may feel stuck in your situation, whether in the area of relationships, your employment or some other aspect of living.  This simple exercise is a great way to help define or clarify a positive vision of the future.

Timeline.  On a blank sheet of paper, draw a horizontal line.  This line represents your life.  On the left write your date of birth.  Since you don't know when you will leave this life, write question marks on the right edge of the line.  Place an arrow where you believe that you are now on this time line (it's permissible to be optimistic).

From this point backwards, towards your birth, represents time that has passed - whatever events, actions, and mishaps have occurred cannot be relived or undone.  All we can do is learn from mistakes and enjoy the memories from happy times. Draw an arrow towards the left and label it "past."

From your current position on the time line forward towards the questions marks, you have an unbounded opportunity for your future.  Draw an arrow pointing to the right and label it "future opportunity."

Your Past Self.  Underneath the timeline, write an introduction for yourself as you were ten years ago.  Write your introduction in the present tense.  My introduction might look like, "My name is Doug Pratt and I am a psychological examiner working for a large medical center.  I play the piano and volunteer at church."

Your Future Self.  Now, write the same type of introduction from the standpoint of ten years in the future.  This doesn't have to be a realistic description of the result of your current path (career, personal, etc.) but should be the dream of what you want to be doing in ten years.  My future self introduction might be, "My name is Doug Pratt and I enjoy traveling around the USA and world sharing information on personal change.  My daughter is in college and my wife travels with me whenever she can."

You have now created a written document that describes your ideal future - a future you created.  You can utilize this information to help guide your life decisions towards your future.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Effective Presentation from

The video below, taken from demonstrates an effective use of hand-drawn, simple visuals. Play video below or Click to view on iPhone

Monday, January 17, 2011


play:  How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, & Invigorates the Soul is a book written by Stuart Brown, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play.  I first saw Dr. Brown at the website, a site that features inspirational talks on a variety of topics under the general headings of technology, education, and design (hence T.E.D.).  Play is divided into two sections:  why play? and living the playful life.

Dr. Brown defines play as “an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment  and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time.”  Play is a behavior observed throughout the animal kingdom.  Animals use play to learn new skills and to test the limits of their societies.  As Dr. Brown notes, we, as humans, are the same.

To illustrate the importance of play, one story is about a company whose leaders observed that younger scientists were unable to demonstrate the same level of creative problem solving that their older peers displayed.  Interviews with all of the scientists revealed that the older, more creative scientists had explored their world through play, in the form of manipulating objects with their hands, as children.

As Dr. Brown walks us the through the importance of play in parenting, work, relationships, and in the world at large, the overall theme is clearly that we should adopt an attitude of play in all aspects of living.  An attitude of plays leads to better work performance, personal relationships at a richer and deeper level, and more well-rounded children and students.

When is the last time you played at work?  How did this improve your productivity or effectiveness?