Friday 26 September 2014

Learning to Write

I have blogged a few times about the (slow) progress of my book. However, what is really clear to me is how much I am learning from the process.

There is the obvious stuff, which anyone who writes seriously will know about: the ease with which one can fill time with not writing, or with writing related activities (but not writing) for example.

But this week I had a very specific task to do, and I did it: that was to write a glossary. There are two main reasons for this.  The first is to make sure that I am quite clear (both in my own mind and in my writing) precisely what I mean when I use a particular key word or phrase.  

The second is to help with editing: that is, to make sure that every time I use the word or phrase, I mean the same thing; and also every time I mean that thing, I use the same word or phrase.

That may sound obvious, but in fact it is not how I have tended to write. And that has been an interesting thing to learn. For example, I use the word 'story' a lot in the book. But I also use the word 'narrative'. And I switch between them quite freely. 

On reflection, the reason I do that is to avoid repetition; to make the text more interesting to read. But in fact it makes the text confusing. The reader may wonder if I use 'narrative' to mean something different from 'story.' It introduces a distraction.

I blame my education: I studied lots of literature along the way; and when one is writing in that environment, one tends to look for the novel and interesting way to express something, and either to consult a thesaurus or construct a mental one in order to avoid using the same word twice in quick succession. But writing for literary effect and writing for quick and easy comprehension are not the same, as my excellent writing coach, Andrew Derrington, has patiently helped me to learn.

The other interesting thing about compiling the glossary is that it has really made me re-think where I am up to with my ideas. Listing the fifteen or so key concepts and defining them has produced a very concise summary of my ideas, and helps me to see how they have developed over the years. In fact, in some cases, I am abandoning words or phrases that I have used throughout the book, as they don't clearly express what I now think.

So whilst publication still feels some way off, I can confidently assert that I am making progress.

Friday 19 September 2014

Not Quite Open Space

I helped to run a large workshop this week for the Medical Education people at Cardiff University. We wanted to run a very inclusive event, so as well as the academics, clinicians and administrators involved, we invited students and patients' representatives.  So it was a large group, with over a hundred participants.

The agenda, in broad terms, was to agree how to build on the significant improvements already made to medical education, which has seen Cardiff making rapid progress according to almost all the relevant measures.

We also wanted to demonstrate from the word go that it was only through the engagement of all that further progress will be sustained.

So given those considerations, we decided against any formal presentations. Instead, we sent people a small amount of background information in advance, for context. Then we invited them to decide what it would be most valuable to talk about.

This was not quite an Open Space event: we did not solicit their ideas for the topics to discuss on the day. Instead, we had generated some ideas in advance, and circulated them, asking for additional suggestions.  That meant that on the day, we were able to present a list of possible topics, which participants signed up to. We were also able to prepare a briefing note for each topic, suggesting some questions to explore, and stressing the need for action ideas.

Then, after a brief intro and a fun icebreaker, to warm people up, we threw it over to the participants: they chose which topics they wanted to discuss, discussed them, and then reported back in plenary. We then did the same again, and concluded by checking that we all knew who was going to type up the notes for each of the groups that had met and, crucially, who was going to take responsibility for taking the action ideas forward.

The event generated a lot of energy, a lot of discussion and learning, and many significant ideas to move the agenda forward. It also fostered a real team spirit, and along with that a real commitment to implement the ideas.

It was interesting and fun for me to build on the work I have been doing using an Open Space approach, in a different context where a full Open Space event might not have been appropriate. And once again, I am grateful to a client for allowing me to experiment with something slightly different from anything I have done before.  We all learned a lot!

Monday 15 September 2014

A Reflective Post

It has been a long and eventful summer break: Annie, my eldest daughter got married, which was a magnificent occasion, full of grace and happiness. 

Mike failed to get the AL grades for the one and only University course he had applied for, which has prompted some real soul-searching and a fairly radical change of direction. He has now decided that graphic design is where his heart and future lie, so is having a gap year preparing a portfolio, and applying afresh.

We had a great family holiday in Wales, camping on the Llyn peninsula, which was stunningly beautiful and very relaxing. 

And now I return to the busy world of work.

But one of the things that has really struck me is what I find most difficult of all to do. Whether in the hubbub of work, the relaxation of holidays, the emotional rollercoasters of weddings and AL results, or indeed at any other time. And that is to stop.

I have read - and indeed taught - the many benefits of making a short time for meditation a part of one's daily routine. I believe this, and I know that when I practice it, the benefits are tremendous; particularly when I sustain it for a period of time.

One of the best summaries of the research on this is by Margaret Chesney: it's a long video (a full lecture's worth) but I think it repays watching.

As I say, I am convinced. Nonetheless, I find myself, most days, resisting the idea; distracting myself either with essential work that 'must be done first' or essential trivia...  And so on. I also know from many coaching conversations with others that many other people have the same experience.

So building on my reflections about Will Power and environmental cues, (here and here) I am working to create an environment which supports me in maintaining this discipline: part of that is making a public declaration of intent.  So next time you bump into me, feel free to ask if I am sticking to my resolution about making time to meditate each day!