Monday, August 25, 2014

Create conversation

I recently came across a blog post from about creating smart conversation in situations where you would normally engage in small talk.

Here is an except from the blog post.  I encourage you to read the full post and download the book from Amazon.

One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.

Instead of . . .

“How are you?”
“How was your day?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“What line of work are you in?”
“What’s your name?”
“How was your weekend?”
“What’s up?”
“Would you like some wine?”
“How long have you been living here?”

Try . . .

“What’s your story?”
“What did you do today?”
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
“What’s the most interesting thing that happened at work today?”
“How’d you end up in your line of work?”
“What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”
“What was the best part of your weekend?”
“What are you looking forward to this week?”
“Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”
“What does this house remind you of?”
“If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Descriptive quotes from Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon by James Hilton is a novel about four travelers who are hijacked from a remote airport and flown over the Himalayan mountains in Tibet.  When their plane crashes, they are rescued by Tibetans lamas-in-training from a nearby lamastery.  What the travelers learn and experience at the secluded sacred retreat will change them forever (no spoilers here!).

The book is fairly short, and is a quick read.  Lost Horizon was written in the 1930s.

Descriptive Analogies

I found myself highlighting several interesting descriptions in the Lost Horizons.

"It would be like trying to sell an epic poem to Tit-Bits," a magazine dedicated to tidbits - brief articles - from other media sources from 1881 to 1984.

"You were left with one good story to tell for the rest of your life."

... "with an air of having been compelled to attend a party at which there were goings-on that she could not wholly approve."

"I wouldn't care if it's Tibet or Tennessee."

"It's effect might not be tranquilizing."

"The night dragged on, as if each minute were something heavy and tangible that had to be pushed to make way for the next."

"One is fortunate if, as on this occasion, a touch of novelty seasons the unpleasantness."

"One of its features, for instance, was a very delightful library, lofty and spacious, and containing a multitude of books so retiringly housed in bays and alcoves that the whole atmosphere was more of wisdom than of learning."

"There came a time, he realized, when the strangeness of everything made it increasingly difficult to realize the strangeness of anything."

... "only a fragrance whose melancholy we may enjoy."

"Urgency did not clamor nor postponement disappoint."

"He did not know whether he had been mad and was now sane, or had been sane for a time and was now mad again."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What doing something everyday looks like

When my daughter finished the school year in May, she made a list of things to do this summer.  High on that list was working out on a regular basis.  In reality, she only worked out very little.  However, if she had stuck with a daily work out, she would have achieved a total of approximately 75-90 workouts over the course of the summer (allowing for a few misses here and there).

Truth-be-told, I am not any better.  Although I typically don't make New Year's resolutions, I decided at the start of this year to set a goal of walking 3 miles everyday.  I even gave myself a slogan:  "5K everyday."  Well, I was fairly faithful until mid-February, when we relocated to a new city and state.  I've been walking fairly consistently since then, but haven't made it back to 3 miles per day.

Impact of daily effort

In thinking about this, I began to consider the impact of repeating a small activity on a regular basis.  Consider what the positive impact is for each of the following:
  • Walking 3 miles per day for an entire year - almost 1,100 miles.
  • Writing 275 words per day for an entire year - over 100,000 words (300-400 page book).
  • Reading 60 minutes per day - over two full weeks of reading.

Of course, there can be negative impacts as well:
  • Smoking a pack of cigarettes every day - 7,300 cigarettes.
  • Eating 500 extra calories every day - 182,500 calories (or 240 Burger King Whoppers).
  • Starbucks every morning on the way to work - $1,000.

Visual Illustration

The infographic below shows the impact of doing something at different frequency intervals over a year.  The smallest, light color square in the lower left corner represents doing something once in a year.  If you do something quarterly, the result is 4 times in a year, monthly, 12; Weekly, 52; and finally, 365 times when repeating an activity daily.

Clearly, engaging in an activity every day can really add up over the course of a year.  What is a small activity that you can perform every day that will improve you in some way?  Write it down and commit to taking that action every day for an entire year.  Even five minutes of activity every day translates into 30 hours by year's end.

Monday, August 18, 2014

GROW to focus on your goals

Has this ever happened to you?  You attend a conference or participate in a class and learn some valuable information that will help you become more productive or improve your life in some way.  You know that you will apply these principles as soon as you get back to your desk. 

Life Happens

When you arrive at your office the next morning, you first have to clear out your mail box to avoid getting “over the limit” messages, and possibly even be able to send messages.  In between clearing out messages, you start catching up on the work you set aside while out of the office.  Finally, you have to attend in-person and virtual meetings.

By the time you get through all of this and resume your daily routine, it’s possible that what you committed to during the conference or class may have taken a back seat to the realities of life.  When you find yourself in this situation, you can use the following self-coaching formula to make changes.  This approach works in the workplace and at home (for you and in working with your children).

You Already Know How to Be Great

In his book You Already Know How to Be Great, Alan Fine shares the framework that he calls the GROW model.  Alan was a sports coach, and developed this model to help athletes improve at their respective sports.  He has worked with tennis player, golfers, and Olympic athletes.  GROW is an acronym for Goals, Reality, Options, and Way forward.


The first step is to determine the goal.  As priorities shift, it is possible that the goal of attending a conference or class may have been lost.  Taking some time to think about the goal, and – if possible- write it down again, can you help you regain your focus.


The next step is to make a list of all of the realities of life that prevent you from achieving your goal.  What are the constraints holding you back?  Available time, lack of staff, changes of priorities, etc. are all possibilities that can derail achievement of a goal.


The third step is to evaluate each reality identified in step #2 and list options for overcoming the constraint.  This requires brainstorming, either as a group or individually.  If your high school stuent is having a difficult time keeping up with homework because of not enough study time, possibly limiting access to social media and connecting with friends might be an option. 

Way Forward

The final, fourth, step is to identify a way forward.  From the options determined in step #3, which of these can be implemented to keep you focused on achieving the goals that you can established?  Create a specific action plan that can be followed.

Ideally, responses to each of the steps in the GROW process should be written down and shared with the planning team (in a work setting) or yourself or child (at home).  

Use the GROW steps to stay focused on current goals and to regain the momentum lost when competing priorities become a reality in our busy environments.

Buy the Book from Amazon

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sacred Texts of Major World Religions

Throughout the world, several major religions are practiced by billions of individuals.  This post contains brief descriptions of each text and links to a version of the writings.

Christian Bible

Written over thousands of years and many authors, the Christian Bible includes both Jewish writings, published as the Old Testament, and ministry of Christ and spread of the Christian gospel in the New Testament.

Bible Gateway

Hindu Vedas

The Rig Veda, one of four vedas - knowledge - is believe to have been composed around 1500BC and passed down orally until around 300BC when a transcribed version was written down.

Rig Veda

Islamic Qur'an

Muslims believe that the Qur'an was given verbally to the prophet Muhammed and transcribed by him in the early seventh century.


Book of Mormon

According to the author, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon was revealed to him by the angel Moroni.  Moroni told him the location of ancient golden plates which contained writings.  Joseph Smith translated these plates into English and published the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Photo Finishing Process

You may have noticed that many photos published online feature watermarks, text, or both.  Some photographers/artists may place watermarks over the image itself so that it can't really be used somewhere else without others clearly seeing that it is copied.  However, for others - including me - the primary purpose of watermarking photos is so that a certain level of branding occurs. 

Photo finishing process

I take most of my photos on my iPhone, and these are automatically copied to the cloud-based photostream.  This makes the photos available on my iPad, so I can edit them.  The iPad has a much larger screen area which makes editing easier. 

The main edits that I make are
  • Crop the image to a desired size
  • Add "" to the image
  • Insert my watermark

Photoshop Touch

In yesterday's post, I reviewed several Adobe apps including Photoshop Touch.  While many apps handle one or two of the main editing tasks of the full version of Photoshop, Photoshop touch allows for color adjustments, cropping, layers, and removing backgrounds. 

However, much of the time, I find it just as fast to use a combination of apps to accomplish my three main tasks listed above.  The apps that I typically use are Aviary for photo adjustments and cropping, Over to add text, and iWatermark to insert the watermark.


Aviary features the standard array of filters, cropping, auto-enhancements, etc. that are contained in most general photo apps.  One feature that is convenient is the ability to draw on photos, which I use to annotate certain areas of the image.


Over provides several fonts for text and graphics to enhance an image.  For this particular example, I added "" and the arrows.


A couple of years ago we visited Seoul, Korea.  Traditionally, Koreans have a seal that they use to sign important or legal documents.  In tourist areas, there are shops that carve these to include your name.  I chose to go with the Korean phonetic pronunciation of "Douglas."  Using Photoshop Touch, I added the "Douglas G Pratt" text.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adobe creative apps for iOS

PDF and Photoshop

Most people are probably familiar with Adobe for developing the PDF file format and associated free reader.  Adobe also created Photoshop, a graphics/photo editing software so prolific that is has achieved action verb status ("That model was Photoshopped") in the same way that people "Google" something where searching online.

Mobile apps

Like many companies, Adobe has moved into the mobile app market for both Apple (iOS) and Google (Android).  Several of the apps are free.  Below is my SlideShare review of several of the apps.

Cloud vs. Device

I like the control of saving finish products to my device.  If I edit a photo, I want to see it in the photostream.  Likewise, if I create a video, I want the flexibility to upload to the video platform of my choice (YouTube, Vimeo, Screencast, etc.).  Unfortunately, many of the Adobe apps require you to use the Creative Cloud (different from Apple's cloud). 

For that reason, I created a small flowchart to illustrate when I would use an app and when I'll take a pass.

Adobe creativity apps

All of the quoted passages are taken from the descriptions of the apps in the Apple app store.

Adobe Photoshop Touch "for iPad lets you combine images, apply professional effects, and share results through Facebook and Twitter - all from the convenience of your iPad."
  • I use this app extensively to create graphics, edit pictures, create pictures with transparent backgrounds, and much more.
  • There are several editing features including layers, effects, and selection tools.
  • This is as close as you can get to Photoshop on the iPad.

Adobe Photoshop Express is "photo editing made fun, fast, and easy.  Touch your way to better-looking iPhone pictures using slide bar adjustments, or let automatic one-touch fixes do it for you.  Share with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram, or text/email."
  • This app provides several filters and effects.
  • One feature I particularly like is the "straighten" feature which allows you some creative freedom to angle photos.  
  • Additionally you can flip photos.

Adobe Photoshop Mix "combines the power of Adobe Photoshop software with the convenience of mobile for a creative, easy-to-use photo editing experience on your iPad.  Non-destructive photo enhancements, selections, the ability to cut out and mix images, and more."
  • I was unfamiliar with this app until researching apps for this post.
  • The primary feature of interest for me is the ability to crop out areas of one photo to overlay on a different photo.
  • However, I will probably continue to use Photoshop Touch to accomplish this, as it has more capabilities.

Adobe Ideas "gives you the ability to draw freeform vector illustrations where you are.  Replace your pen and paper with a huge virtual canvas, customizable brushes, and pressure sensitive stylus support."
  • This is a great app to quickly sketch out a design or illustration.  I have used this as a collaboration tool for process maps as well.
  • There are a variety of pen types (pencil, highligher, pen, and fill) and the ability to use several layers of drawing.
  • You can also import a photo layer.  Frequently, I import a photo of a grid in order and to keep some scale to my illustrations.  You can simply hide this layer when exporting the finished picture.

Adobe Sketch "brings inspiration, drawing, and your creative community together in one place.  Capture your ideas as sketches and share them on Behance for instant feedback.  Sketch gives you the freedom to find inspiration, explore ideas, and get feedback from trusted peers."
  • Requires use of Adobe's Creative Cloud.
  • Uses finger swipes for undo and redo (as opposed to including an undo button).
  • Appears to have limited adjustments for brush sizes.

Adobe Line, "a modern approach to drawing and drafting, Line lets you draw straight lines, geometric shapes, perspective views, and more."
  • This seems like an app with a lot of potential.  However, it requires use of Adobe's Creative Cloud.
  • Line has the same functionality as a traditional drafting table, with a sliding ruler and the ability to incorporate a stylus (also available from Adobe).

Adobe Voice "helps you create stunning animated videos in minutes.  No filming - just talk to tell your story.  Pick from over 25,000 beautiful iconic images to show your ideas and Voice automatically adds cinematic motion and a soundtrack.  Persuade, inform and inspire anyone online.  Make an impact."
  • Like Line, this seems like a great app.  However, once again, it requires use of the creative cloud, and you cannot save the finished videos to your camera roll - you must view the videos online.
  • There seem to be limited undo options and very limited adjustments to the arrangement of text and image movements.
  • Vittle and iMovie include the basic functionality of Voice.  Only the ability to select from stock photography and icons is missing.

What creativity apps do you use?  Comment below.  If you found this review helpful, please share on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Story vs PowerPoint

Robert McKee is a screenwriting lecturer and story consultant.  He is best known in the television and movie industries for his Story Seminar.  Over 60 Academy Award winners and 170 Emmy Award winners have attended his class to better improve their craft.

Story in business

In addition to story seminars that focus on drama and comedy for entertainment, Robert McKee also conducts a one-day seminar oriented to incorporating story into the business environment.

Where is the power in Powerpoint?

In a recent post on his blog, Robert McKee addressed the following question:
How would you recommend that I weave a story into PowerPoint presentations?

Rarely persuasive

In reality, according to McKee, PowerPoint slide presentations "rarely persuade."  He goes on to say that this is really counter-intuitive to key activities in business:
  • managers persuading employees to complete tasks and achieve productivity goals
  • managers persuading executive (c-suite) leadership to provide support
  • companies persuading customers and clients to engage in the company's services or purchase the company's products

3 ways to persuade others: rhetoric, coercion, story

  1. Using rhetoric, which is the typical use of slides, the audience is bombarded with data, in the hope that enough data will convince them to accept the conclusion or buy the product.
  2. With coercion, the audience is bribed or manipulated into buying the product or service.  The problem with coercive efforts is that people generally don't like to be tricked or duped, the win may be short term.
  3. With story, you can present a more honest picture where you present crisis points in your business, actions that you took, and the result of those actions.  Thus, by incorporating a few stories of crisis/action/success, you can help your audience understand why your business is the right solution for them.

Robert McKee's best advice in the video is to "if possible, eliminate PowerPoint."  However, when this is not possible because of a corporate expectation that slides must be used, you can still intersperse the crisis-action-results narrative with the data.

If you would like to learn more about Robert McKee's approach, visit his website at or check out his book, Story.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to win grades and influence teachers

As the school year is about to begin for many students of all ages, I thought this sage advice would be perfect.  I have no idea how this made it into my collection of miscellaneous items nor who the author is.

How to win grades and influence teachers

1. Bring the teacher articles dealing with his subject.
Demonstrate fiery interest and give him timely items to mention to him.  If you can't find articles dealing with his subject, bring in any articles at random.  He thinks everything deals with his subject.

2. Look alert.
Take notes eagerly.  If you look at your watch, don't stare unbelievingly and shake it.

3. Nod frequently and murmer, "How true!"
To you, this seems exaggerated.  To him, it's quite objective.

4. Sit in front, near him.
This only applies if you intend to stay awake.  If you're going to to all the trouble of making a good impression, you might as well let him know who you are, especially in a large class.

5. Laugh at his jokes.
You can tell.  If he looks up from  his notes and smiles expectantly, he has told a joke.

6. Ask for outside reading.
You don't have to read it.  Just ask.

7. Be sure the book you read during the lecture looks like a book from the course.

8. Ask any questions you think he can answer.
Conversely, avoid announcing that you have found the answer to a question he couldn't answer.

9. Call attention to his writing.
Produce an exquisitely pleasant experience connected with the teacher.  If you know he's written a book or an article, ask in class if he wrote it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Capture the Screen - using tricks for Windows, Android, iOS and Mac

There are many reasons why you need to capture what is displayed on the screen from time to time.  Earlier this year I was flying and checked in using my iPhone.  Because I could not print the receipt from my phone, I took a screen shot of the confirmation screen.  You may also want to capture a view of a website for later reference.  You can also use the screen capture in situations where you can't save an image (like Instagram or Snapchat).

Below is my SlideShare presentation on how to take screen shots using the major technology platforms:  Windows, Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Mac.  This post is a reference for me as well as for you.  I tend to forget how to use all of these different options.


  • Copy the active window - Ctrl+Alt+Print Screen
  • Copy the full display (including multiple screens) - Shift+Ctrl+Print Screen
  • One Note - Start OneNote (Start > Microsoft Office > OneNote.  From then on, use the flag key and "s" to draw a selection box about the desired information or image.
  • Snipping Tool - Start > Accessories > Snipping Tool.  Draw a box around the selected image.  Within the snipping tool you can annotate the image.


  • Simultaneously press the power button and the volume down button.  Hold for about a second.  You will hear an audible camera sound (unless sound is turned off).

iOS (iPhone/iPad)

  • Simultaneously press the menu button and the power button.  You will hear an audible camera sound (unless sound is turned off).


  • Save desktop as PNG - Command+Shift+3
  • Save selection as PNG - Command+Shift+4
  • Save selected window as PNG - Command+Shift+4 then press the space bar and select the desired window.