Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Taking My Own Medicine

Do you ever have the same conversation repeat itself with more than one person in just a very short span of time? It recently happened to me.

We were discussing skills that one might need to be a better consultant. Please ignore for now the sweeping generalization that is "consultant". In reality, the different people I conversed with are from different walks of life, attempting to be good at very different things. I am generalizing because the conversations were so very similar in context if not content.

The gist of the context was how important being able to take in a breadth of information, efficiently identify what is important, organize your thoughts succinctly about that information, and articulate a response quickly. For almost any form of knowledge-based service, this is a crucial skill. Whether you are providing technology leadership about a specific solution, personal leadership about a career, or creative leadership as part of sales, the patterns are similar. Admittedly I only came to this after the fact, once the conversations had transpired.

In each case, we were discussing how one gets better at that process. Each of them used different language to describe their process, but each provided the same answer: practice. When we dove into what the process looked like for the purposes of identifying how one might go about practicing the fundamentals, the same pattern emerged. Again, I didn't realize they were the same during the conversations only in retrospect.

As we discussed what are the fundamentals that one should practice, again the same concept came out: writing. Writing is widely understood to be one of the best means for helping you practice organizing your thoughts. The ability to make thoughts concrete so they can moved around, weighed, and compared is only possible by writing them down. Almost every form of self-help, get-better, be-the-best scheme out there has a component of writing. But I have found that writing by itself is not enough.
For Practice to be Effective it should be:
1. Written.
2. Relevant.
3. Read.

The more feedback the better. The more public, the more feedback.
If you are going to write there are two additional factors that should be considered. The first is relevance. Why put time into something that isn't interesting to you? It needs to be something you can be passionate about or you won't stick with it. You won't really put in the energy if you don't care about the subject you write about. I have found that you can truly write about any subject that matters as long as it is relevant in your thoughts.

The second factor is that it must be read. For some people this only means that they themselves must be willing to come back after some significant time has passed and read their words. If no more than that is done I believe some benefit can be gained. In fact, I feel that only once it is read is any significant benefit to be gained from the writing.

If at all possible though, the greatest benefit is by sharing your words. Share them someone close if that is all you dare, share them with the world if you can. The feedback to be garnered is where the real learning comes in to play. If you recognize that your writing is the practice for your thoughts, then you need the feedback to know how to get better.

Before you think I am only talking about blogging or something, let me caution that there are many ways that aren't as obvious as a blog to engage in writing and get feedback. You can join a user community and participate in the forum posts, you write letters to the editor of your paper. You can read other blogs and post comments. There are dozens of opportunities to find subject matter that is relevant to you, write about it, and have it be read. Do you have email communities at your work? Read and respond! Not into public displays of writing (PDW)? Keep a journal and have your friends, advisors, therapist, read it over.

If you want to learn to think fast and articulate well, practice your writing. You can even start now, write me a comment. ;-)

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