Next weekend, I am attending my high school reunion. Many, many years have passed―more than I care to admit. I will be driving a relatively short distance, just 70 miles or so, to the place I forever consider my home and will be staying in the bedroom I shared―from my entry to kindergarten to graduation from high school―with an older sister. At just about the same time, we both moved to new digs. She got married, and I went to college. Until recently, my mother (Ma) lived upstairs, along with one of my three brothers, and other members of our family have occupied the downstairs. With Ma now playing “Pennies from Heaven” and other favorite songs on a piano in her celestial abode, returning home is no longer the same, but with family there, it is still very, very good.

For me, this upcoming trip requires no extensive travel arrangements, and I’m all set as far as attire, since that is not a primary concern. For any occasion, including this one, I simply put myself together and am presentable. After a glance in the mirror to adjust anything that might obviously be amiss, I move on.

Yet, this occasion, this milestone, this high school reunion does cause me to pause. Read More

My writing desk is a work in progress.

My writing desk is a work in progress.

While you are looking at this photo of a work in progress, I am marveling over the real deal—the varnished, cherry writing desk, now with knobs on the two drawers and a panel that goes over the drawer on the left to provide additional surface.

From the unfinished writing desk that my brother Larry and my cousin Marty are modeling in the photo, you can likely tell that this is homemade. Larry, our family’s very own woodworker and furniture maker, asked me what I’d like at the start of this very tough upstate New York winter. Answering Larry’s question was easy. I wanted a writer’s desk. Read More

Sometimes, we look at the end result of a new endeavor and get stuck. The effort needed to start and the energy required to persist are just too much. So, what can we do? We can take a first step. We can take a second step and a third.
I recall hearing a new year’s resolution a while ago, in which someone wanted to start an exercise routine. She committed to taking this one step every day—after getting dressed, she would put on her running shoes. The next thing she knew, she was outdoors every day and walking. As the days wore on, she picked up her pace, making good use of those running shoes.
For all of us, in time, the momentum builds, and the results become apparent. Making progress and achieving a goal no longer seem difficult or insurmountable. I took a first step a few months ago on a family project.
Read More

Note: This blog is adapted from a recent Thinking Forward event, in which a troupe of professional speakers (including me!) explored the theme, Transform Your Community for Good.

The lyrics to songs can be like poetry that speaks to us. Music—the arts, nature, so much that surrounds us—can reveal intelligence, wisdom, and basic truths that we can apply to the communities in which we live and work.

Do you know the song, Accentuate the Positive? It goes like this:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith, or pandemonium is liable to walk upon the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark
They said you’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between
No! Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between

(Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, published in 1944.)

I got to thinking about how this song relates to communities—and here I’m thinking of communities in the broadest sense.

What are some of the characteristics of communities?

Communities of people come in lots of different sizes and shapes.

Communities are specialized and similar or diverse and different in terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, residence, level of education, economic status, type of employment, or some other demographic.

Communities likely have insiders and outsiders. Members may all live in the same county. Maybe they are all librarians or healthcare providers. Maybe they have the same professional degrees or licenses.

Communities can have different structures. They can be flat, where all members have an equal voice. They can be hierarchical, where some members fall somewhere between the top and the bottom.

In some communities, you already belong. If you graduated from a certain university, you are in the community of alum. In others, you have to join. For example, membership in an association of alums likely makes you a more exclusive member of the community, with additional benefits.

Some communities share a physical space and some share a virtual space. For example, the technical communication community, to which I belong, meets every year at a conference. Members of this community also meet virtually at webinars and other online forums.

Though communities are different, members have a common tie that binds them to the community—whether at home with your family and friends; at work with employers, clients, employees, and colleagues; in recreational activities; or in volunteer pursuits.

And, as humans beings who breathe the same air and walk the same earth, we are all part of a very large community where what we do touches others.

Know a good community when you see it. Focus on the good. Focus on the positive.

As the song says, you’ve got to:

  • Accentuate the positive. Latch on to the affirmative.
  • Spread joy up to the maximum.
  • And have faith!

How do you recognize a good community? You’ll know it by its fruits. You’ll see a lot that’s positive, affirming, and encouraging. You’ll see signs of joy. And yes, there will be a spirit of faith and optimism. There will be a sense that wonderful possibilities can transpire.

Let me give you two examples: Read More

You, too, can inspire thyself!

You, too, can inspire thyself!

In-spire. Yes, breathe in. Take in some fresh air. Become refreshed. Become renewed. Look, listen, touch, smell, taste from the many creations in art, crafts, literature, movies, music, and nature that surround you. Many of these sources of inspiration are others’ creations. Yet, some sources may come from you—at an earlier time, perhaps in a different place. Look back at your work, and let it move you to something better, something great, maybe even something profound.

In the two plus years that Career Success in 12 Easy Steps—A Journal has been available, I have written blogs and presentation material for seminars and webinars—all intended to inspire and motivate others—and myself—to move their life in a positive direction.

And now is a time to pause, to reflect  on my own words. Read More

If you are a communicator of technical, marketing, business, and other information, at least one of your projects today likely involves organizing content. You might be wondering, “What should I consider when deciding on an effective organizational pattern to use? What’s a good way to structure topics into a logical, orderly flow? How can I combine multiple topics into fewer topics? What are some of my options for organizing content?”

In the previous webinar I presented to the Society for Technical Communication, Patterns for Organizing Content—Many More than A to Z, participants had activities to work through independently. Let’s look at one activity together as preparation for the second webinar on the subject of organizing content, Upside Down, Inside Out, and Other Acrobatics for Organizing Your Content.

Organize Our Content Deliverables for your employer.

Your department is developing a promotional piece, Our Content Deliverables, for your employer or your client. How would you organize the following content deliverables?

case studies, catalogs, courseware, diagnostics and troubleshooting, instructions, marketing collateral, online help, operations and maintenance, parts lists, proposals, reports, scripts, service manuals, software instructions, specifications and requirements, speeches, standard operating procedures, strategic plans, style guides, theory of operations, training material, user guides, and website content

You might agree that this alphabetical listing is one option for organizing a list, but it is not particularly effective. There is no logical flow to assist the reader. Consider how your employer is accustomed to thinking about content. Perhaps your employer organizes work according to lifecycles, in which a product progresses through various phases. To be in step with your employer, try organizing your promotional piece according to where each content deliverable belongs in the product lifecycle. For example:

  • Developing and testing the product might include reports, specifications and requirements, standard operating procedures, strategic plans, and style guides.
  • Marketing and selling the product might include case studies, catalogs, marketing collateral, parts lists, proposals, speeches, and website content.
  • Servicing the product might include diagnostics and troubleshooting, operations and maintenance, service manuals, and a theory of operations.
  • Training the end user of the product might include courseware, instructions, online help, scripts, software instructions, training material, and user guides.

Read More

One of the joys of participating with several colleagues in a speaking troupe we call Thinking Forward involves creating thoughtful talks for our audience. Our latest theme, Transforming Your Community for Good, got me thinking…

What do communities look like?

Communities of people come in lots of different sizes and shapes. They may be specialized and similar or diverse and different in terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, residence, level of education, economic status, type of employment, or some other demographic.

Communities likely have insiders and outsiders. They are exclusive in some way. Members may live in the same neighborhood. They may work for the same employer. Maybe they have the same professional degrees or licenses. Communities can have different structures. They can be hierarchical, where members fall somewhere between the top and the bottom. They can be flat, where all members have an equal voice. In some communities, you already belong. If you graduated from a specific college, you are in the community of alumni. In others, you have to join. For example, membership in an association of alumni likely makes you a more exclusive member of the community, with additional perks.

Though communities look different, members share a bond; there is common thread; there is a tie that unites. And all communities—as different as they are—are part of a global community of human beings who breathe the same air, walk the same earth, and touch one another, someway, somehow. Read More

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