Outside

I am not a particularly outdoorsy person. By this I mean, I do not ravenously partake in outdoor sports or have too much of a wandering spirit. I do not grow restless in one spot for too long, with a fierce need to be out and about. I leave most of my wandering to be done in my mind on distant planets or in the company of dragons. Or perhaps this is just wondering. Huh.

Still, I do not get myself all in a tizzy with gatherings, shindigs, bacchanalia, and the like. I do however enjoy long walks. No, this is not an ad for eHarmony. But, I do love nature and can easily spend hours walking among trees and shrubs and listening to the birds and looking at flowers or strange shaped mushrooms or rocks that I imagine to be toes of some sleeping giant hidden under the forest floor. There I go wondering again. Adversely, I love treks into the city, especially in the summer with all the festivals and streets shut down so that people can walk where cars had dominion, and food trucks lined up and bands on every corner.  I love window-shopping and people watching, and being a tourist in my own town.

And being from where I am, when summer hits and it hits like a hammer – as my significant other said – summer is on a switch, not a fader – I am overcome with an almost guilty pang to get up out of my chair and get out. I feel it like an obligation. As if I owe the outside for all the times I have ignored it over the  long… long… long winter. As if outside had waited patiently for me to remember it was there. Now I pay penance for all the times, past and future, when I have and will be happily choosing to stay cozy indoors instead of braving the wind, rain, and obscene temperatures of winter. But now, I can no longer cling to frigid excuses and seducing hot beverages. No. I must do my duty and venture forth.

So when the days lengthen and warm, and coats are suddenly no longer necessary, and legs must finally be shaved – seriously – for shorts and skirts and swingy dresses, and the summer crooks her finger, gently at first and then more forcibly with a hooked double nostril pull, I must bend to her will. Before I know it however, there is less need for those forceful yanks. I gather lists and create plans.  I mark thick X’s as if the calendar is a treasure map and a day, a chest with a broken lock that spills doubloons. I check that sandals, sneakers and slippers are in suitable states for sortie. I dust off backpacks. I venture out, inspired by all outside has to offer.

All this to say, that I will be blogging a little less consistently over the summer months, as I follow this moral imperative to soak some vitamin D through my skin, breathe fresh air into my lungs and generally creep, arms raised, blinky-eyed and hunched, out of my hidey-hole toward the naked brazenness of outside. Of course with all this adventuring, I may very well have even more to say, but my time being finite and my sleep being necessary and my effulgence of energy being miserly, I am forced to prioritize my activities.

So here I go, into the welcoming warmer weather. Summer, she appears, festooned with fragment flowers and lit by promising dawn until waning dusk leaves like a reluctant lover. Watch me. Here I go. Kicking and screaming… Ah, poor me.

Counting Words

I’ve been getting the word a day from Merriam Webster and am shocked at all the words I haven’t been using in my day to day. My recent favourites –  skosh, concatenate and torpedo not because I’m particularly violent but because it comes from the latin torpere, meaning to be sluggish or numb and I was amazed to learn that. I mean how the heck did that happen? How do you get something that zooms through the water to blast away your enemies from something that means sluggish? I know, right – That’s a head-scratcher.

As artists, whether we take it into account or ignore it all together – the business end of art, exists. For writers, one of the components of that is word count. There are rules. When is a novel really a novella? When does flash fiction become a short story? How do you determine the suitable word count for certain age groups, or genres? And readers have expectations.  Anyone wanting to have a cozy read on vacation, may torpedo the idea of a 480 page tome, but for some Epic Fantasy readers, bring it on.

So word count is not something to dismiss lightly. And if that is your concern you should head over to Writer’s Digest. They’ve got it laid out for you – well don’t go right now because I’d really like you to read the rest of my blog and you’re here anyway and that post isn’t going anywhere… But there you have it: a reliable source. So why did I start my post with talk about the dictionary? I’m getting to that.

I remember a heated conversation about word count during a critique group session, and I said – it’s not about word count. It’s about making your words count. I was being both sincere and flippant. In reality, for every rule about word count there are outstanding books, ones that everyone knows, ones that sit smugly on bestseller lists, ones that naysayers, debating the validity of said heretofore standardized word count, will present to argue the point – and frankly – they ain’t wrong. So while Writer’s Digest is an invaluable source of information for writers and I would never question their authorit-ae, sometimes our emphasis is on the wrong syllable – if you get my drift. So it bears repeating.

It’s not about the word count. It’s about making your words count.

Yes, I like to make up words, but I also respect the value of the ones already available. I noticed that getting the word-a-day into my email, made me think about and even play with words more often than I did in the past.  Then, actually using these new words, helped to plant them more firmly into my vocabulary.

Let me add a skosh more on the subject of making words count. Word choice is key. Let’s take ‘walk’ for example. Walk is such a vanilla word. But if you thesaurus it up, you get all manner of choices.

He walked slowly towards the car.
He trudged towards the car.

In my example, not only have I reduced the word count by one, I have described the action of the character more specifically. You can imagine the character trudging, perhaps with exhaustion or despair. Walking slowly, on the other hand, could imply so many things as to become almost meaningless.

So how to begin? Did I mention Merriam Webster? Dictionaries and Thesauruses; obvious tools. Make them evident, conspicuous, obnoxiously available in whatever form you desire. Pop helpful links right up there on your favorites bar. Do the same for the Urban Dictionary because… hilarious, for one. And two, you never know what’s going to inspire you to think outside the box. I’ve already been able to use Resting Murder Face in conversation. Yay, me!

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have to go write some flash fiction using the word concatenate.

Playing With Words

If you haven’t noticed I love making up words; verbifying nouns, twisting nouns into adjectives, playing with language. I love it when other people do the same. One of the first poems I memorized was the Jabberwocky.  I love using made up words in sentences. Heck I’ll even take acronyms. Got a few of my own. AWADJ, anyone?

It comes by me naturally. For most of my childhood, I thought the word ‘rumphled’ was a real word. It was only after several heated debates over scrabble boards and (back then) much page riffling through both dictionaries and thesauruses (thesaurisie – like an octopus-dinosaur but with more tentacles) that we discovered that it wasn’t. It was a sad day.

But why such a heated debate? Because when my father or mother said it, usually as an admonishment, it described completely and irrevocably the state of our unmade bed. Not ruffled, for that suggested a dainty frill of an embellishment, not the pillow-mangled sheet-eskewness of our linens. No. Not even rumpled, as that implied something that had tumble-weeded through our nightmares to end at the foot of our bed in a tight ball; even though we discovered that indeed rumpled was the closest to the proper word. Not unfortunately rumbled with its implication that some kind of nocturnal gang war – once upon a time known as a rumble – thank you West Side Story – had broken out and our bed the sad unkempt and dismal casualty of said disagreement. Take that bed and all of your ilk, for daring to force me into slumber. Ha ha! Alas, no, again.

Our beds were rumphled; a hodpodgery [like a menagerie but with less animals and more attitude] of all that those words implied; frilled and tumbled and combated. Apropos, as we were uncommonly contemptuous of bedtime and as we shared beds and bedrooms, our rebellion was made evident in the after math with a veracious zest. So rumphled it was, until such a time as adulthood and orneriness dashed our eloquent dreams. Strangely it was also at the same time that our war against sleep hit a denouement. We lost many battles that day.

But perhaps that is why I write science fiction and fantasy. I get to create worlds. And how do you do that? With words. Names of people and places with just a hint of exotic other worldliness to transport you there. Procedures and their accompanying gizmos for processes that don’t even exist… yet. Yeah – I’m looking at you Star Trek and your flip phone.  Adversely, words can inspire. Ever hear an exotic name and wonder at the story of the person behind it – or in my case, just make one up? I know of some people who collect interesting names. That would be a great source for inspiration.

Then there are others who mash words together. Matt Galloway, the host of Metro Morning on CBC Radio One has coined two of my favorites. Dark o’clock – the ridiculously early hour he must wake up to get to work. Mizzle – when the mist is so thick it feels like it is rain drizzling on you. I am so going to look for an opportunity to use that one in a sentence and with the way the weather is right now, it’ll be sooner rather than later. Thanks, Matt, for the inspiration. Who knows, maybe that’ll be a common weather occurrence on some distant planet in one of my science fiction books. Hmmm…gets me thinking… See what I mean! Inspiration.

And so, I will continue to use rumphled, not only as an homage to my rambunctious family, but because, imaginary a word as it is, it holds its own unique and distinct flavour. So in the hopefully not too distant future, when you read a story of mine and come across the word rumphled in a sentence, know that it is not a typo, despite spell check pinging like the dickens.

Tolkien made up an entire language. Can’t I have just one word? For now…

Storyboards: Teeny, Tiny Index Cards

In a previous blog I talked about using story-boarding to revise. Story-boarding, however, is probably better known as a plotting tool.

Story-boarding is a literal translation: you create your story by writing each scene on a 3×5 index card and laying it out on a wall or board in the order that works for your story. If you’ve ever watched the special features or extras on a DVD, especially those for HBO shows, you might be treated to a visit to the writers room. That is that magical place where the writers sit in communion with the muse and wait for her to sprinkle them with pixie dust and voila, an amazing story is born, full-fledged, fleshed out and fabulous. Uh… no. Nope. That’s not how it works. Not at all. But you do get to see how they work their storyboards and you should.

So how do you use story boarding?  Much the same way as the show-runners do, expect you’re alone and you don’t have a writers room, but if you’re lucky an office on the main floor of your home, or if you’re not so lucky a desk in the basement, or if beggars can’t be choosers, the dining room table ’cause everyone eats dinner in front of the TV watching HBO anyway. Now in the case of the office, maybe you’ve got it set up so you have space to actually put up those little index cards. You can also use the floor, if you’ve got it free. Or if not, you can get creative using a blanket and safety pins, or one of those huge craft paper rolls. But if none of these work, you can try Scrivener and its virtual storyboard called the cork-board, or yWriter and its storyboard feature.

The premise to story-boarding, whether you use actual cards or virtual ones, is the same. You want to write down key information for each scene so that you can adequately see your story. And remember you’ve got a space that’s 3×5 inches or 8×13 cm. But no matter which measurement you use we can all agree that that’s a small space. And don’t go writing so small that you give yourself irreparable eye strain. That’s not going to work. You need to get enough on the card so that you can grasp, at a glance, how each scene moves the story forward. And that’s the key isn’t it. Because it isn’t enough just to write down what happens in a scene; you need to know how what happens is important to the story. And here’s where a few choice words can come in handy on such a small piece of cardboard.

And So Technique

When you start writing especially in fantasy and science fiction, the options are endless. But with that comes the danger of running off on tangents and stringing together random scatterings of events that, although might be cool, lack cohesion to the basic story-line. By writing and so on your index card you focus on the thread that’s pulling you, and hopefully your reader, through your story. And so or and therefore, illustrates cause and effect; how the moments flow naturally or better yet believably into each other. This method also offers some much appreciated distance from which to view your story; especially those epic tomes that these genres often generate.

A great post to read, is this one from Query Tracker.

Try Fail or the Yes, but / No, and Method

Stories are about conflict; without that there’s no story. One of the best ways to examine this, is to use your story-boarding to see how your conflict unfolds. Each scene should have a conflict crucial to the story. At each of those moments the question is; will the hero succeed or fail? Yes or no? The kicker is, to each of these answers there is a further complication or setback that propels the character and the reader into the next scene. Yes, they succeed, but their situation gets more complicated. No, they don’t succeed, and there are further setbacks. See how that works? Using this on an index card forces you, not only to examine the progression of your story but the pacing and tension. Remember the ‘yes, and’ only comes before ‘they lived happily ever after’.

Brandon Sanderson talks about this technique  – ‘nuff said’ – like I’m going to say it better than Brandon Sanderson – just check out the video.

You can also take fifteen minutes to check out Writing Excuses with more on the subject.

GMC

G = Goal. (What does the main character want?)

M = Motivation. (Why does she want it?)

C = Conflict. (What’s in the way?)

There are two types of GMC: internal and external. By focusing on these points on an index card you are not only working through plot but character and using both elements to drive the story. Now you might look at that and say – but isn’t the GMC going to be the same for the entire story – isn’t that, in fact, the story? Sure, but in each scene it’s going to manifest itself in different ways. yWriter has a tab that is a variation on this theme, using Goal, Conflict, Outcome / Reaction, Dilemma, Choice to analyze a scene. By exploring the GMC of your character in each of your scenes, you’ll have a much more engaging story.

Several writers discuss this technique on their blogs. Though I can’t remember how I glommed onto it, a name that keeps popping up is Debra Dixon’s book – Goal, Motivation & Conflict.  A great article that delves into the importance of your characters’ goals is this one from Writer Unboxed.

Story Grid – 5 Elements of a Scene

According to Shawn Coyne, the creator of the Story Grid, every scene should have the following: an inciting incident, a progressive complication, a crisis, a climax and a resolution. If that isn’t a checklist, I don’t know what is. So to break it down, and I’m quoting a little bit here from the story grid: an inciting incident is an event that knocks things off balance. A progressive complication is an event that makes things even worse. A crisis acts as a question: what’s the main character going to do now. The climax is the main character making the decision to act and try and solve the problem. The resolution is the outcome of that decision and the action taken. Answering these for each scene on an index card would be a great use of that small space and an effective way to storyboard.

At the StoryGrid Shawn Coyne goes in deep with this and uses examples for the podcast, A Deeper Dive into the Five Commandments of Storytelling.

So, whether on the computer or the wall, story-boarding can be used to see the big picture, check your tension and pacing, and make sure your character or scenes are engaging. Here’s a little bit of fun with the nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb – hopefully you all know it.

Story Grid Plot GMC
inciting incident /

AND SO

Mary had a lamb that followed her everywhere GOAL – the lamb wants to be with Mary

MOTIVATION – because Mary loves it so

progressive complication It followed her to school and disrupted the classroom  
crisis What’s Mary going to do about it?  
Climax /

AND SO

Nothing  
resolution The teacher has to put the lamb outside CONFLICT – the teacher does not want the children distracted
Is the action successful?

Yes, but /

No, and

Does that stop the disruption? TRY/FAIL

Yes, but  –

The lamb is waiting  outside which excites the kids all over again

Okay – so that’s sort of a hot mess, but I can already see plot holes and where building up the motivation of the characters might enrich the story. So if this could work on a nursery rhyme, think what it could do for a story.

You’ll find plenty of assistance on using Scrivener; learning how to change the look of the cork-board and adjust the fonts and all that. Here are just a couple from the Write Practice and Simply Scrivener. And don’t forget to check out You Tube to see Scrivener in action. Ultimately, however, a tool is only as effective as your ability to use it.

When plotting, using those teeny, tiny index cards, you might try any of the methods I’ve mentioned. Approaching your story-boarding with an appreciation of the components of a scene and how scenes make a story, will get you closer to creating a strong framework for your first draft. And isn’t that the goal?

 

Springtime Poetry

Last post, I mentioned the April Poem A Day Challenge.

Here is something I’d like to share – a Haiku I wrote on day 7.

A Haiku is a 3 line poem comprised of lines that are made up of 5 syllables on line one, 7 syllables on line 2 and 5 syllables on line 3. Japanese in origin, the Haiku often has themes surrounding nature or the seasons and, rather than saying how the scene makes the writer feel, hopes to evoke an emotion through the imagery. I loved the challenge of the form.

To me, these types of shorter more compact poems feel like vignettes; still pictures rather than movies, moments in time, ethereal yet poignant.

Here’s my attempt.

Birds on bare branches

Voices in defiance raised

Implore summer skies

Hopefully all of us, birds included, won’t have to wait too long for the warmer weather.

Time Crunches and Opportunities

Did I tell you I live by two axioms. Well not just two … oh you know the rest.

There is never enough time in the day.

Things always take longer than you think.

But this blog post is not about making the time to take advantage of opportunity. No. This is about, when time is limited, seeing that limitation as an opportunity.

I am fortunate enough to have a somewhat predictable ebb and flow to my busy times. The word, somewhat, being of course open to a very loose interpretation. But I can look at my year and reasonably predict when my time will get taken over by atypical onerous duties I have no control over.  The rest of the time, however my schedule gets eaten by the usual predators; household, family and job. Still these demands are by and large, reasonable. I have made certain lifestyle choices that allow this, choices that I know, having had some intense conversations about it, others are not keen to make. To each his own. Everything costs: time, money, sanity, soul. Pick what is important and what you are prepared to pay and pay it. Did I say I love axioms? Or maybe I just have too much time on my hands. Not likely.

My previous blog was all about managing the time you’ve got. Key elements are:

  • Plan, but schedule wiggle room – allowing an easy pace to your activities will not only help quell the stress, but may allow you to accomplish more.

  • Discipline not to act, is just as important as the discipline to stay on track.

  • Flexibility depends on knowing the demands of your individual activities – seeing the micro and macro and being able to adjust what can be accomplished in the time allotted.

  • Forgiveness is not making excuses – it’s acknowledging the limitations inherent in our lives.

My biggest fear is having time crunches pull me off track completely. I know. I know. I’m the one all about forgiveness and being easy on yourself… yadayadayada… But I worry that it will be so much harder to get back on the path again. So I try not to stray. That might sound a little exhausting and maybe a little unrealistic. Remember I myself wondered how anyone can keep the pedal to the metal indefinitely, but just because I’m going doesn’t mean I’m going at the same speed, all the time. This busy season I was determined to not stress myself out, but also not let myself down regarding my art.

I explored two challenges this past month. One was a version of NaNoWriMo, called Camp NaNoWriMo that happens in April and July. As you may or may not be aware, National Novel Writing Month occurs in November during which, writers attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft. The cool thing about Camp NaNoWriMo is you create your own parameters for success. Want to write an outline for a new novel or revise a draft, or create a world bible for your new fantasy story? This is your chance. You can use word count or even hours worked as parameters and you decide what constitutes ‘winning’.

I chose hours and committed to 2 hours a day of working on a draft of my current WIP [work in progress]. I did not get nearly as far as I wanted. Ah, axiom number two. How disdainfully you rear your head. I did however succeed with my hours. So, good on me. And again, was I religious about the two hours per day? No. My weekends carried the majority of the load, however even those few minutes during the week helped to keep me chugging along and feeling positive about my progress, slow as it was.  I could have so easily let my manuscript hit the back burner for the month and really been totally justified, but come May, the ole jalopy was going to sputter and steam and give me all kinds of grief getting back on the road. This May not only did I not lose momentum, I was rearing to go.

The second thing I did was the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Challenge. More writing, I hear you scream at the screen. More?!!! What are you nuts? Now hear me out. While I have been working on short stories, my primary focus has been novels. You know novels – huge gargantuan undertakings, a kin to pushing boulders up hills? Yes. Novels. Poems I thought would be much smaller boulders and might offer a sense of completion far quicker than novels. So, challenge accepted. And completed! Yes, I did a poem a day, every day [except for one day – but I made up for it the next] for the entire month of April. Oh, it isn’t good poetry but it is poetry – some of it, atrocious, some of it, meh, some of it, not half bad. I also used the time to get to some lyrics for songs I have been meaning to finish. [Have I mentioned I’m also a musician – I know, I know – I’m a sucker for punishment]

As an AWADJ time management is crucial. Sometimes though, a crunch is inevitable. Instead of getting squeezed maybe try these [sorry – totally did not mean to rhyme – darn you poetry challenge]:

  • Look for inspiration; activities to galvanize action, challenges that will gently but firmly kick you in the butt to keep you going

  • Focus your efforts: work smaller projects to enhance specific skill-sets

  • Set time limits: narrowing your parameters can give you a manageable quantifier, while committing to a month allows you to get in the flow, make up time, if things get extra crunchy, and create distance from larger projects

  • Embrace change: adopt a flexible mindset to make use of, or create opportunities.

Art doesn’t have to be spelled ‘ART’. It can be ‘art’. A little bit is better than none. Besides, you can make excuses, or you can make art. Which will it be?

Time Management

I live by two axioms. Well not just two but for the purposes of this article we’ll say two. One: there is never enough time in the day. Two: things always take longer than you think.  So how do we get to everything we want to, in the limited time we have. That is a question I think we all struggle with.

You might have noticed recently, I have not been posting as frequently as I have been in the past. That’s because I’ve been going through that holy-crap-is-that-really-the- time- where-the-hell- did-the-day-go time of my year.  We all have these. Some may believe it’s their every day.  If so, my hats off to anyone who can keep that pace up, without end in sight. I do wonder however how long anyone can realistically do that and if that is even good for you – but that’s a conversation for another day.

As an AWADJ, justifying an activity that may appear frivolous to the average person, that you also don’t get immediately paid to do, allows for a lot of doubt and self-recrimination to seep into the mindset of an ‘Artist with a Day Job’. So time management has even deeper meaning and regarding your efforts, significant consequences.  Regardless of whether you’re an AWADJ or just someone with a lot of demands on your time, I think we can all agree that life is busy. So how do we manage our time effectively?

Planning

You can’t know what you’re dealing with until you take stock. It isn’t hard to take a calendar and fill out every little slot. You might even feel a sense of relief. Look. There’s all the proof you need for that stretched like a worn rubber band feeling plaguing your every waking hour.  But what you’re really doing is trying to get a handle on your schedule, not fill it.

Have you ever scheduled appointments only to realize later that you didn’t account for the time it would take you to get there? Maybe that seems an obvious mistake. What about the time it may take to come up with a solution to a problem. This is an act of creation. Creation can’t be rushed. It’s one thing not to take into consideration google maps or your gps, but how can you account for your ‘thinking’ time. That’s why leaving ‘down-time’ in your schedule is very important. Yes you’ll need to recharge and relax but you also need time to reflect.  Time to reflect without your schedule pushing you to act may allow you to catch errors before they become obstacles to getting things done.

Plan but schedule wiggle room. Allowing an easy pace to your activities will not only help quell the stress, but may allow you to accomplish more.

Discipline

I write this word and I know what you’re thinking. Yes. I must have the discipline to get done all I say I will, to stick to the plan, to stay on schedule. Sure but you know what’s even harder than that? The discipline to be able to set aside interruptions not on the schedule. To prioritize is all well and good but if you succumb the first time some unforeseen issue shows up to rob your time, your plans will quickly fall apart.

That’s not to say that things won’t come up. And if you’ve built in wiggle room you may have the resources of energy to react. That’s not the only issue however. You might be tempted to sacrifice recreation time activities or down-time crucial to that recharging we need. The wisdom you have to learn is when to adjust and when not to. It might be a hard lesson and one that can only be done through trial and error, but to start with, you need the discipline not to get swayed the minute an ‘emergency’ pops up.

Discipline not to act is just as important as the discipline to stay on track.

Flexibility

Look at the schedule from a distance, the big picture. Day to day time management is important; all those steps be they big or small count on the journey. But if an hour a day of writing is what you are shooting for it doesn’t have to be each day. Think weekly if that works better into your schedule. The goal is to get to what you need to do, but in making long–term progress, allow for variation in both the allotment of time and how it is distributed.

Dissect your activities. There may be some that demand a good two hour stretch, while others can be negotiated into smaller chunks. Understanding what those are goes a long way to utilizing your time. And again, don’t discount the need for relaxing, recharging and reflecting. It may not feel like you are doing anything, but you may be surprized at how those three ‘r’s can help you get things done.

Flexibility depends on knowing the demands of your individual activities – seeing the micro and macro and being able to adjust what can be accomplished in the time allotted.

Forgiveness

You are going to stumble. Plan and be disciplined all you can but bank on being human. Life happens. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Control what you can, manage what can be managed and then take the rest of it as it comes. Yes you can look back and say would have, could have, should have, but regret really isn’t very helpful, unless you can use it to learn something useful going forward.

Forgiveness is not making excuses – it’s acknowledging the limitations inherent in our lives.

Artistic endeavours rest completely on the shoulders of the artist. So time management is a skill as necessary as the most rudimentary skills your art demands. After all, if you don’t make the time to get to your art, it isn’t going to get done. It’s as simple as that.

Understanding Workplace Culture

Perhaps it is the recent economic upsets that have us thinking less about money and more about quality of life. Perhaps it is the immediacy of media, and the amped up technology at our disposal that allows us to share our experiences so much more easily. Perhaps it is both of these things, prompting us to individually and collectively examine our work-lives. Whatever the reason, I am finding discussion and debates regarding workplace culture increasingly present.

So what is culture and why should we care about it?

Culture can be perceived as the climate of the work environment. It goes beyond what your company does, and instead, defines its character or personality. It is made up of the values, beliefs, traditions, behaviours and attitudes of the people that work there. In short, culture is the unwritten rules that govern an organization. As such, culture cannot be mandated. It evolves from the minutiae in every action and interaction that goes on in an office, sales floor or factory line.

Most importantly, culture is unique to your situation. So while this article is titled Understanding Workplace Culture, and it implies an explanation of the term, the deeper implication is; are you understanding your culture? Have you honestly examined the actions of your senior team members, managers, directors, and partners? Have you considered the attitude of your staff? What aspects of your workplace culture might be prompting their attitude? As a leader, are you with purpose and consistency actively involved in fostering an effective culture for your organization?

Culture has a cumulative effect, reflecting leadership, engagement, productivity, creativity and growth.  One might say, workplace culture, like a specimen in a petri dish, is growing all around you. All you have to decide is: are you going to create a culture that enables your organization to thrive, or one that won’t.

By the way, the photo today is courtesy of Tasha Sturm, Cabrillo College. It is an actual hand print on a large TSA plate from her – at the time – 8 1/2 year old son after playing outside. Cool, huh.

Better Teams, Better Companies – in 3 Books

We all find ourselves, at one time or another, growing dissatisfied with our present work situation, wandering over to the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list and wondering how do I get a job there. It is a well-accepted fact that people don’t quit jobs, they quit people; sometimes managers, sometimes co-workers. And while it might feel nice initially to just point the finger and take all the blame off yourself, this approach won’t be the most effective way to go about getting to that ‘best company’. So before you go updating your resume, what about creating that ‘best company’ where you are. But how?  I think it might be possible in three books.

Three books? Only three? Which three? Where can I buy them? Tellmetellmetellme. Whoa. Slow down. Before I tell you which three, I need to tell you why three. What strikes me, is that there are three premises that are key in developing a company that might be list worthy.

Premise 1: If you don’t know yourself, how can you work with or, more importantly, lead others?

My pick: Growth Mindset by Carol S Dweck

The unique opportunity presented in this book is a good hard look at what attitude you might have that gets in the way of success. I stress, hard. We all want to think that we are well put together, positive thinking individuals without that liberal layer of ‘crazy’ lurking beneath the surface. Remember: without honest self-reflection there is no growth.

Premise 2: If you don’t know group dynamics, how can you participate, create, or lead in an effective team?

My pick: 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Partick Lencioni

This book starts out with a fictional story that is so startlingly accurate, you may find it hard to believe that Lencioni wasn’t sitting in on your last team building workshop. It is followed up by an examination of the five necessary functions of a team, why they are important, and how to go about encouraging them in yourself and in others.

Premise 3: If you don’t have perspective, how can you gage your effectiveness? And everyone needs inspiration to keep going.

My pick: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Whether you work with what Catmull calls ‘smart creatives’ or not, his guiding principles, his efforts to be actively engaged in managing, and his successes and failures are both inspirational and instructional.

Now, are these the definitive books that are going to set you on your path toward company bliss? I don’t know. Part of the adventure is figuring out which are your three. There are plenty to pick from. Just remember; you work as part of a team, there are other people in that team, and don’t worry, great teams are out there to learn from. Hasn’t it been done before? Isn’t that list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” right there in front of you? Don’t you want to be on it?

What three books do you think might help develop constructive management skills, positive team mindset and get a company on that list?

Growth Mindset

Maybe it’s the impending spring but my mind is turning to new beginnings. Cleaning up the winter windblown debris collected against fences and the sleepy sluggish corners of our minds. Throwing open the once frost locked windows, finally thawed, to invite a breeze to sweep away the stale overheated air trapped inside homes and souls. Time for to-do lists with little check marks all crisp and decisive. For goals to be set. So, what if you set out to fail? I don’t mean that you’re setting yourself up to fail. No. I am asking you to give yourself permission to fail.

Have there always been things you wanted to try but thought, I’m not good at that, I don’t have any talent in that area, it’s not my strength so why waste the time… The reasons go on and on. Some might even make practical sense. I mean, in this day and age when time is a precious commodity, why waste it on something you aren’t good at? But how do you know you aren’t good at something if you don’t try it? And therein lies the crux of the problem. Fear of failure might be at the core of these reasons. And that is the biggest obstacle between a fixed and a growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D. one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, talks about growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Watch this Ted Talk or for more information check out her site. In her book, Dr. Dweck explores the concept of ‘not yet’ a way of measurement that does not focus on failure but on the process of learning, improving, bettering ourselves, evident in a growth mindset. Adversely, a fixed mindset prevents us from discovering previously unknown territory. It keeps us safe in the familiar, never risking venturing off the path. It gives us every reason to say no.

So if a growth mindset is a way to deal with the fear of failure, what can you do to go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? Here are the four main points from the book and a few quotes to perhaps help anchor them deeper in your mind.

Learn to recognize when you are holding onto a fixed mindset

  1. Becoming is better than being. Carol S Dweck
  2. Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? Carol S Dweck

Recognize that you have a choice

  1. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Albus Dumbledore
  2. Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. Deepak Chopra

Realign your thinking to a more growth mindset track

  1. Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Albert Einstein
  2. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky

Take the growth mindset action

  1. Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. George Bernard Shaw
  2. Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

So, what will I attempt while exploring and hopefully developing a growth mindset?  Writers Digest is promoting a Poem a Day in April. This of course is not a random undertaking, but a focused effort to better my language skills. I will push myself, explore my gifts, and improve my skills. I will be disciplined and committed. I will be brave. But most importantly I will give myself permission to fail.

So, if you are a writer or someone who has always wanted to write, or someone who’s had that hidden, secret desire that you couldn’t voice, even to yourself, you might venture forth this April. Of course, it’s an opportunity to improve your writing, but maybe that’s not the point. At least not the only point. You might learn failure doesn’t kill you. It doesn’t define you. You can not only survive it but thrive because of it. So fail. Fail magnificently and beautifully. Fail and learn and grow.

Whatever you decide to try, perhaps a purposeful exercise in courting failure will help to deal with not just the fear of failure, but those moments in life when failure is all too real. Because failure is more than academic or theoretical or just a word on a page. It is not just an idea but at times a presence that is a formidable as a six walled room. Failure is that niggling little hand that plucks at your heart one string at a time, calling you to hear a strain you want to silence. It’s that finger that pokes you in the chest and says not you. It’s that fist that closes around your heart until you can’t move.

Maybe that’s when you need a growth mindset the most. To keep moving, one foot in front of the other. To tell yourself, hell, why not you. To remind yourself, it’s okay, maybe you aren’t there.

Not yet.