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Decision-making, problem-solving, and organizing

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.
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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 human 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

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.

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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

In early 2013, while reading Shifra’s Story, written by my book club colleague, I recalled writing some of Kalman’s Story and discovered my handwritten pages, likely written around 1980. This story is my recollection of how my grandfather, my Pa, started a journey at the turn of the 20th century from Must, Poland, that led him, eventually, to the United States. With the passing during the last days of 2012 of Pa’s precious daughter, who was my dear mother, I treasure the many family stories that live in my memory. I will do my part, now, to preserve them by writing what I consider to be sacred texts.

Comment: It’s now 2019 and an unexpected introduction to a cousin on Kalman’s side of the family caused me to look into the sparse notes taken so many years ago from family members long gone. It appears that Gittel’s sister (Kalman’s maternal aunt) was named Leah. Kalman had a paternal aunt named Chani and a paternal uncle named Ellie.

“Mmmm. Ouch. Ugh.” moaned Kalman. His little legs ached as he ran. His little arms hurt as they held on to the wagon. Running—literally—to freedom and safety meant holding on to the back of the eggman’s horse-drawn wagon and keeping up with a horse’s four legs that were much longer and speedier than his two.

“What’s that I hear?” murmured Reb Mayer. He stopped the wagon. “Who’s there?” Reb Mayer stopped the wagon, sprung to the ground, walked to the back of the wagon, and found Kalman. “What are you doing here?”

No answer came from the eight-year-old boy. A pleading, pained look said, “Please offer me a ride.”

“Come on up front. Have a crust of bread. And tell me why you’re here.”

Kalman began, “I know you stop at Bialystock. I want to go there.” To Kalman, Bialystock meant Mama Gittel’s sister and her children. It meant an end to Must.

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Every month can be a busy month. Yet December with holidays, festivities, and year-end wrap-ups can make us feel especially frenzied. What to do? Apply what you already know about good health and happiness. Find ways to keep your reservoir full. Wellness and happiness can be as easy as A, B, and C.

A. Know when you are in a downward spiral. You might be working less efficiently and productively than usual. Perhaps you are experiencing boredom or displaying negativity at those with whom you work and live. If you do not feel motivated and challenged, there might be too much stress or insufficient positive stress. Take time to figure out what you need to remove from—or add to—your daily routine.

B. If too much to do seems to be converging on you, lighten up! De-clutter. Put projects away. Take them out only when you are working on them. And if you do not need that rarely used tool, that outdated furniture, or that stack of old magazines, books, and games, get rid of it! If others can use your discards, then sell them or donate them. If not, recycle them or toss them.

C. Get physical. Get mental. See what classes are available to keep your body and mind in motion. Your health insurer, community center, school district, supermarket, sporting goods store, or library may be offering just the right program for you. Whether it’s aerobics, dance, or zumba; healthy cooking, weight reduction, or nutrition; first aid, anger management, or a book club—find a new activity and find it now!

As for me, I am going to:

A. Laugh each day.

B. Say adieu to oversized clothes.

C. Stretch my brain by making Career Success in 12 Easy Steps: A Journal the first book in a trilogy. Yes, that means two more books are waiting to be authored!

How about you? What are your happiness and wellness plans? They can be as easy as ABC.

Practicing for our Singalong with Gert

Summer means it’s time to prepare Ma’s picnic for our extended family and her ever-evolving circle of friends. My role is to compile the list of invitees, send out the invitations, and, most important of all, prepare the handout, Singalong with Gertrude. Recently, I sent her the list of songs we discussed—a combination from previous years and a few new ones. I created the list and sorted it alphabetically. That way, I could easily identify and delete duplicate titles from the list. When I sent her the alphabetical list, she did not like the sequence! A singalong should not progress from Aba Daba Honeymoon to Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. Musically, it makes no sense.

Of course, as a good daughter, I went through several revisions, and I think we now have it right. We start with Hail, Hail, the Gang’s all Here. We sprinkle some of the happy, smile songs throughout—Just Let a Smile be Your Umbrella; When You’re Smiling; and Smile, Darn You, Smile. We made sure that Ma’s favorite songs are at the top of the list, since with 50 songs, we may not sing them all. We will, though, conclude with the last song on the list, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You. So variety and importance factored into the organization. Read More