Missing the obvious

I was reminded recently of an occasion when I was talking to a colleague about swimming and she told me she couldn’t swim well because she couldn’t get her breath properly. She said she was going to get some lessons.

Over the following weekend, she went swimming with her young children who swim like waterbabies and asked one of them how you should breathe when you’re swimming. “You breathe out under water” was the answer. “But how?” she asked? “You blow bubbles through your nose.” said her son. Sudden blinding enlightenment! All her life she’d taken a breath, swum a stroke, lifted her head, breathed out and in again quickly and then taken the next stroke.

Now to you it may seem obvious that you breathe in when your face is out of the water and out when your face is in the water, but it wasn’t to her – until that moment. For me, the lesson is that we all have blind spots and it pays to be open to new learning from all sources. And it isn’t necessarily people older than you who have the wisdom or knowledge to help you move on.

And for anyone for whom it wasn’t obvious – now you know!

Power, presence and perceptions

A bit of pondering on an autumn afternoon off…
As we move up the ladder at work, whether we become lecturers or administrators or managers or other holders of senior positions, we change and grow and our knowledge increases and our experience broadens. Our skills and abilities stretch and our opinions become more robust. Our viewpoints change as we see the bigger picture. Maybe we have to become more focussed on strategy, perhaps appearing less caring about the smaller things – and I’d say that’s natural and is probably the only way those responsible for large organisations can function effectively. We may also dress differently – more formally perhaps – which changes the physical perception of our presence. Power always adds presence (I think because of the obligations that come with it), whether we recognise it or not.

But I’m willing to bet that inside, we feel the same as we always did. I was speaking to an elderly gentleman the other day and asked him if he felt any different having reached his eighty-fifth year. His response confirmed my own experience: he felt exactly the same as he had in his twenties – it was merely that his image reflected in the mirror in a morning was different.

The perceptions bit of this ramble though, is about how others perceive us. When you were promoted to a position of leadership amongst your colleagues, how did your attitude towards them change? And more to the point, how did their attitude to you alter? Like it or not, someone appointed to lead suddenly becomes ‘them’… ‘Management (TM)’. Suddenly we are no longer ‘us’ but have become ‘them’. No doubt you spent some time thinking about how you managed the transition and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Of one thing I’m certain – the effect we, in our new positions, have on those with whom we were once ‘us’ is something we need to consider and take very seriously. We appear different and have a different ‘presence’ whether we know it or not. I’ll give you an illustration…
Continue reading

Lingualy Turns Your Web Browsing Into a Chance to Learn a New Language

Lingualy Turns Your Web Browsing Into a Chance to Learn a New Language – <a href="http://lingua.ly/ Now here’s a clever idea. It’s an extension for the Chrome browser which helps you learn a new language by providing translations based on the web pages you’re browsing, thus ensuring you’re learning language around your interests rather than explaining that your postilion has been struck by lightning and you need to catch a tram.
Only a few languages available thus far, but I suspect more will be added.

Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple

Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple – http://pulse.me/s/oTbdX
Research from the British Psychological Society suggests strongly that trying to change too many habits at once doesn’t work, whereas focusing on one at a time does. This should be no surprise to anyone who’s ever over-committed themselves, but it’s still tempting when you’re in ‘let’s make changes’ mode to attempt too much all at once.

Here’s one habit I’m breaking – a bit at a time. I have decided to avoid ‘trying’ at all costs. This may seem an odd thing to say, but I know from experience that you can waste all your effort in ‘trying’ without ever actually doing whatever it is that needs to be done. So here’s the challenge: expunge ‘trying’ from your vocabulary.

Productivity Tricks from George Washington

George Washington was known as a very methodical man who lived his life in an orderly fashion and apparently, as a schoolboy,  copied out The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (recently re-published) by which to live his own life.

Some of these may be outdated now, but a few, especially when you read them with 2013’s technology and the way we live our lives today in mind, still seem very relevant!

4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet. (Please can we add “nor click your biro”?)

14. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.

18. Read no letter, books, or papers (I would add in “or electronic device”!) in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave; come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

20. The gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

35. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

73. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

How many times this week have you behaved in a way Washington wouldn’t have?

You can read a lot more about Washington and the way re lived and regulated his days productively in this article: Productivity Tricks from George Washington – http://pulse.me/s/l7yNW

Deconstruction as a productivity tool?

An article I read recently got me thinking more about deconstruction and it’s come up again in an interesting context.

Chefs frequently deconstruct familiar or classic dishes to find a new perspective and, in conversation with a colleague from the public library service the other day, she mentioned that she had been encouraged to ‘deconstruct’ the services they offer to see if she could discover new approaches to what they do and how they do it.

It struck me as an innovative (and timely) approach we could take to the problem endemic in many institutions – dare I say especially universities – in that we have a tendency to build up our offerings by constant incremental addition rather than by stopping and standing back occasionally and questioning exactly *why* we do things in a particular way.

Why “Useless” Skills Like Juggling Are Still Worth Learning

Following on from the previous post, I came across this interesting study conducted in 2009 at Oxford, which concluded that learning to juggle leads to changes in the white matter of the brain. Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg of the Department of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford, who led the work said: ‘We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood,’ says  ‘In fact we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We’ve shown that it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently.’

Which proves there’s hope for us all and shows that the students we frequently see juggling on campus probably aren’t wasting their time. Pass me those three oranges will you?


Get a life – get a hobby!

Have you returned from the Easter vacation refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to make a fresh start? I know I have. This has been a long hard semester, and I imagine that the number of people who enjoy the short hours of daylight are few and far between.
In common with many others, I used part of the holiday to pick up on hobbies because I believe that having a hobby not only gives pleasure but has positive impact on one’s effectiveness at work. We hear a lot about work/life balance and clearly thinking about work every waking hour leads to unhealthy stress and potential burnout. Most hobbies require similar skills to those used daily at work, such as planning, working systematically and making decisions which influence outcomes, but because we’re practicing them in an environment we’ve chosen and control, they come naturally and free us up to think more creatively.
Whether you make patchwork or model railways, whether you play tennis or go snowboarding, the pursuit of your hobby absorbs your attention and stops you from thinking about work in any detail, which gives your mind room to ruminate on the bigger picture, whether you’re doing it consciously or not. I’ve spoken with many people over the years who have to me about sudden strikes of clarity about troublesome issues hitting them while they’ve been concentrating on something else entirely, so why not otherwise give it a try? Dust off your paintbrush or your golf clubs and give your brain some genuinely healthy exercise.

Mastering Remote Presentations

This HBR webinar presentation from American author Nancy Duarte on delivering remote presentations, with the emphasis on building trust with your remote audience, raises some interesting points. She offers a series of practical suggestions, including five tips to resonate more with the distant particpants than their inbox!

Similar skills to those required for the business world are increasingly relevant in higher education, think international grant funded collaborations and the delivery of high quality online distance learning.

Mastering Remote Presentations

Webinar length roughly 50 minutes

Nine Strategies Successful People Use to Overcome Stress

Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests nine useful strategies:

  • Cut yourself some slack
  • Remember the ‘big picture’
  • Rely on routines
  • Set aside a few minutes to do interesting things
  • Add ‘when’ and ‘where’ to your to-do list
  • Use ‘If-thens’ for positive self-talk
  • See your work in terms of progress, not perfection
  • Focus on the progress you’ve already made
  • Know whether optimism or defensive pessimist works for you

Read the whole article here:
Nine Strategies Successful People Use to Overcome Stress – http://pulse.me/s/hpKgk