mind mapping, planning, Reflection, Robert Fritz, Sample Tools, VisiMap, writing


My personal tool box

Over the years I’ve always had a tool box in the closet like the big one pictured above.  It’s pretty basic – a screwdriver with a variety of heads, a hammer, some picture wire, some duct tape.  Any heavy jobs require assistance from a family member or professional.

But my personal organizational tool box contains some good ones which vary as I acquire more and more digital technology.  The contents here really makes a difference.

First of all – paper journals – even though paper sounds out of date.  Recently I recycled about 25 from past lives pondered and agonized about.  If I were a novelist they might have been fodder for a set of future neurotics , but dipping into them revealed somebody who was self-absorbed and rather silly. No doubt the journal I am filling now will seem the same way later.  But I do find it essential to record what’s on my mind.  A journal gets the ideas and problems out there from inside.  It can be reviewed, laughed at or cried over later when I have better perspectives.  I keep these hand written journals for a while – but not forever.  Sometimes I have a look and copy the best notes from reading or personal insight into another one and those journals are longer keepers.

In addition to the big journal – usually black – and Moleskine or a comparable cheaper brand with a bookmark and an elastic –  I have a couple of other books.  One is for ideas for blogs and things get written down if and when they come to me – (it contained the suggestion of this article among other things).  The third one is a notebook for taking notes at meetings or seminars.  I prefer to do this by hand – and try to capture the main ideas with verbatim phrases or even mind maps.  I’ll later transfer the contents to a report if they are something like minutes and meant to be shared.  Generally people who take notes during meetings capture nearly everything but don’t take the additional step of reflecting on what matters in the content.

Second – Synchronized stuff.  We move between laptops, tablets and smart phones and we need to have it all in hand and as portable as possible.  If I need reference material for a meeting, I’ll want to have it available when and where I need it.  A recent meeting had an advance portfolio of over 500 pages.  I had the option of reading it onsite on a tablet by either using wi-fi or a previously uploaded copy. In another situation I needed the combination to open a safe.  It was in a Gmail folder in message saved to a folder three months earlier.

Third – Mind Mapping.  I’ve been a mind mapper since a son responded in the early nineties by giving me Tony Buzan’s The Mind Map Book for Christmas.  He had heard me complain about a client‘s proposal.  As an arts consultant at the time I was helping plan a major civic arts facility housing performing, visual and media arts.  There was a lot of blue sky thinking and it was our role to introduce a few clouds.  Suddenly there was talk of taking one of the three components out of the plan without understanding the financial effect on operating revenue.  “If only there were a way to show how one change affects everything else – but on one page,”  I wailed.

Mind mapping does that.  I later went down to Palm Beach and became a Buzan certified trainer, but you can actually learn mind mapping in 10 minutes here. Hand maps can be visually beautiful and works of art.  Digital maps have the advantage of reordering and restructuring with ease.  Either technique organizes and structures your thinking.  That’s how this article started and got organized in a very few minutes using Mind mapping software called VisiMap.

Fourth – Graphic Tools.  For any long term plan or project, you have to use something to see the big picture as well as the details.  Most of us think both logically and intuitively and have a preference for one or the other.  We’re exposed to a growing number of messages and an infinite number of words.  When someone says, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” out of frustration, they may be indeed on the right track.  There are many examples of digital canvasses and some of these like Canvanizer are now available for collaborative use.  They are a simple way of uniting those with different ways to think because they combine the textual and the visual and relationships among the components are easier to see.

I also invented a hand written to-do format combining Robert Fritz‘s calendar idea and post-it notes.  In one of his books Fritz  he suggests ranges  for things that have to be done in columns – within one day, two days, three days, five days and two weeks.  It helps see life in a bigger frame and you can even do some stuff earlier if you have time.  Very small post-its are great to write the tasks – and I keep those that tend to repeat – like “pay credit card’ or “prepare meeting agenda” – I just throw the one-time ones away and it feels even better than stroking them off a list.

Fifth – Password Savers.  My current password count is 86. The list might be missing a few or have some that should be deleted.  I still have a small paper book where I wrote these down and had to look them up frequently – until I discovered that there is software that stores all of them securely and can access any of them. Basically all I have to remember now is one – which will allow me to keep all the others on file and synchronize them to my other devices.  It’s really fun to see them automatically open anything from bank accounts to online courseware – and that pause even gives a few seconds to relax and reflect.

Sixth – for now – because there will always be more to explore – Subscription Collectors.  We sign up for things all the time – and then forget about them.  Suddenly our mail boxes are jammed with incoming distractions.  Suddenly an hour has past and we forget what we came to the in-box for in the first place.  We don’t want to give subscriptions up entirely – but we have met the enemy – and it is us.  I used to put incoming ones in a Gmail folder called @Parking-lot with the intention of looking at them on Friday afternoon.  I would usually forget to look – and then after a month there were more than 100 things to read and I tended to delete the whole lot of them –  time saved perhaps, but also opportunities lost to learn anything.  Then I discovered an app called unroll.me which first checks out what I have subscribed to – all 87 of them –  and allows me to clean out my list.  Then it asks me when I would like to look at incoming mail – morning, afternoon or evening.  After that, it lets me choose a list or a graphic format for all the entries and sends me the whole lot once a day at my preferred time.  This allows a better balance between attending to what has to be done – and still exploring new things at an appropriate time.

These serve me well and I’ll keep using them for now.  What’s in your tool-box?



character, effectiveness, Leadership, Reflection, Robert Fritz

Personal Development on the Job

Getting to the top of the ladder was the objective.  Now what happens?

Probably the hardest thing for us to recognize is that we are not our roles.  I rather like Robert Fritz’s idea that roles are rather like vehicles.  You can ride a Land Rover to the woods; you can also drive a BMW into town. We have many roles,  some of them simultaneous.

We normally come to a new leadership role lacking some of the necessary capabilities. So the first task is to take some time and training to acquire the new skills that we need, as well as delegating what we can to those who possess the requisite skills and experience..

One of the hardest jobs for a leader is not to take things personally. Leaders almost automatically become substitute scapegoats or lightning rods for those dissatisfied with issues.  As Ed Friedman observes, “Expect sabotage”.  It takes ongoing skills to differentiate the self from the role. For that reason, we need alliances with supportive people both within and beyond our own organization.

The pressures of leadership require that we seek sanctuary – not only of time and place but in reflection. For most of us, that requires scheduling it as an activity and giving it as much importance as any other daily appointment or habit.

In the end, leadership brings pain and one has to expect that.  What also needs to be recognized is that it also brings the joy that comes from creating value and meaning.  That’s what makes leadership worthwhile.

Creating, effectiveness, Innovation, purpose, Robert Fritz

Structural Dynamics -Part 2

As Robert Fritz observes, problems won’t organize you. You can solve your problems but still not have what you want. To do that you have to create a preferred outcome, recognize where you are now and then map actions to achieve that result.

Discipline isn’t natural, Fritz says. We want to avoid conflict so we often oscillate between the desired result and the current position. But if we know what we want, undertaking the necessary discipline to achieve it is the secondary choice we have to make to achieve the primary choice of what we want.

Fritz helps his workshop participants map these processes with charts – and you can now take the course Your Life as Art online at a very reasonable cost. You can even create your own project charts on the site and update them online. There’s more on that here

While the folks at Jump are making big bucks in trying to help folks become more innovative, I vote in favour of Robert Fritz’s wisdom. And as composer and winning film maker, the proof might just be in the pudding.

Benjamin Zander, character, Creating, effectiveness, Innovation, Peter Senge, purpose, Robert Fritz

Structural dynamics

Robert Fritz became associated with the consulting practice, Innovation Associates, in the late 1970’s. Its emphasis on system dynamics, later profiled in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, was also influenced by Fritz’s concept of structural dynamics, based on Fritz’s own studies of musical composition. Recently the founders reunited to present their views.

During his address Fritz played a recording of musicians warming up for the audience – and noted it as a sound that any attender of orchestral concerts can identify with. He observes that the musicians doing this are nearly always competent professionals. Yet an orchestra warming up anywhere in the world sounds exactly the same.

Then the conductor steps onto the podium. Those who love to see the conductor as leader identify with this most hierarchical of figures. Conductor Ben Zander notes that the conductor is the last of the great dictators. But Fritz observes that it is not the conductor or the musicians that actually make the difference. It’s the composition. All are united in fulfilling its purpose.

What drives the composition is a musical hierarchy of values. The purpose of the composition determines how it literally plays out. And Robert Fritz observes that a similar purpose has to drive a business strategy or a management strategy. What one has to do, is to offer a product that is so great that everyone will want it. Anything else is snake oil, he says. It is killer products that bring killer profits.

A leader often has a concept that is compromised by others in the large company. Even in a micro company what is ultimately going to make the difference is the strength of character of the leader. He or she has to imagine what isn’t there and move toward its creation. Such imaginings, of course can come into being and later be replaced by even better ones. While Fritz doesn’t mention it when he references the replacement of the Sony Walkman by the Ipod, the Walkman in its own day was a real innovation. The CEO of the company went against his own advisors. They said, ‘No one will want to walk around listening to music’. He responded, ‘When they can, they will’ and he was right. But what Steve Jobs recognized was that such a product could also be a distribution company. It’s the downloads and the apps that are the real product of the I-pod, I-phone and I-pad.

(to be continued)

Creating, Pausing, Reflection, Robert Fritz, self realization

Back from holidays – and starting to take one

So how did we do? Well there was wi-fi access for the phone but none for the computer, which apparently was never set up for it. Whether it is age or setup I didn’t know or care. A trip to the bank solved a bill paying issue and e-mail arrived by phone. Most of it wasn’t very exciting.

But there were compensations. there was time to read my entire website and tweak it a bit. There was time to read the only e-book on the laptop, Robert Fritz‘s Your Life as Art and realize again how good it is. My granddaughter and I had almost daily painting sessions. She produced several water-scapes to my three or four and one highly dramatic volcano, along with numerous drawings of her favorite things in the whole world, – horses. We took in the Goderich ON Celtic Festival and heard lots of good performers and groups, – the unbelievable Gareth Pearson from Wales who can make one guitar sound like a substantial ensemble and has incredible self parody to accompany some masterful playing, and Quebec’s DeTemps Antan and Newfoundland’s The Once among the favorites.

Back home, the multitasking starts almost immediately. While reading e-mail, the phone rings. Incoming news rates entering an appointment in the Blackberry. I’m not joined at the hip to Ipods or Ipads – yet. A short pause suggests playing a computer game while I wait for someone with an appointment to arrive. Technology is starting to control me again.

So I am turning everything off for a bit. There are a couple of projects that require some major thought. I’ll take a walk in the nearby ravine. I’ll do some personal writing that I have promised myself to do that is getting swamped by all this stuff. I’ll practice the penny whistle that I bought at the music festival. And I’ll produce a watercolour. These can’t be done by multitasking – and they are creative pursuits as opposed to entertainment. There are still two key meetings toward the end of the day. But the brain needs some focus and these alternatives are ways of letting some different neurons come out to play.