Category Archives: reflective practice

FND Launched!

Yay! We went live with Fresh New Day this morning – not exactly countless hours, but uncounted hours of concentrated effort to get what is perhaps our most ambitious project off the ground. It doesn’t look like there’s much going on – a photo, a few words – but it really has been like the legendary duck – serene on the surface all the while paddling like crazy things below the surface. Nevertheless, a positive action that has already served to inspire and move others – I really want to say ‘our job is done’, but there’s plenty more effort to be put in yet. Check it out.

school sux, work sox

The flight home last night from the Auckland was awash with aging suits who’d been at the employment summit. I talked to one of the suits – one of the 200 grey knights invited in to come up with ideas that will rescue our nation from doom and gloom. I was gauche enough to ask if he’d been at the unemployment conference. ‘No, we prefer to concentrate on employment – it was the employment salad.’

Eh? My ears, still dealing with post-flight clickiness, heard ’employment salad’ and that got everything off to a terrific start. I’m just *naturally* impressive. I did my best to not engage as he launched into this amazing swirl of spin – if you’d believed this guy we’ll be at 110% employment by tomorrow. Or, somewhere over the rainbow. In the big rock candy mountain.

Which is kind of useful, because one of the big, big breakthroughs at the summit was a recycled idea about building a mountain bike trail from North Cape to Bluff. I think this is a great idea, it’ll make good use of the redundant rail tracks that currently infest the country. With much of our manufacturing industry now off shore the rail system is just a drain on the economy. We can sell the steel rails for scrap to the Chinese to convert into bicycles (yay the mighty wu tang) that they can sell back to us via the Warehouse and the profusion of $2 shops scattered across the country. The sleepers we can tear out and sell them to do landscaping in Remuera. And the carefully graded track lines will make mountain biking a really pleasant, but not too challenging, experience. An *added bonus* – minimal Resource Management Act requirements. Very good idea. And perhaps people will be able to make a pilgrimage by cycle, from the unemployment ghettos in the deep south up to Cape Reinga and cast themselves into the sea to launch their migration to Australia, our previously preferred (and time-honoured) method of solving unemployment.

I mentioned the migration method to my suit, and to my complete amazement, he thought I was younger than I am. He said, ‘When someone goes from here to there it doubles the average IQ on both sides the Tasman.’ I was stunned at the idea that he would voice that as being his own idea, and felt moved to mention that, ‘Yes, that’s what Muldoon said, and see where that got us.’

Apparently the suit (an ex-aussie himself) was of the opinion that in almost no time at all swarms ex-pats and their whanau will be back here to the land of the long flat white and honey. Mossies no more, we’ll be re-united, brothers in arms, red men … oh good grief, just no. I could see on the faces of the people around listening to the conversation that they were convinced they were in some sort of Tui ad, and that any minute now they were going the collectively shout, ‘YEAH, RIGHT!’

You know, thing I can never understand is how kids who are perfectly normal, fun, goofy, bumbling in a good way, vibrant and generally worthy people (i.e. real) at high school grow into conniving, word spinning, inhumane and at times, just downright stupid (i.e. unreal) in their adulthood. Does work – having a job do that to you?

I try to not buy into the illuminarti/new world order/masonic conspiracy but I cannot see what the payoff is. I’m unconvinced. Perhaps it’s greed. Perhaps it’s peer pressure. A desire for status. Craving credibility with the in-crowd. A media construct. Subliminal messages in the media. If enough people buy in to the Emperor’s new clothes group think takes over.

Pulling at an errant thread then, as much as I like the idea of being able to bike the length of the country – I am quite tempted by that idea I have to say – without the fear of being hammered by road traffic going through the bottleneck that is Auckland, and the other big cities – that I don’t really see New Zealand’s unemployment woes on the horizon being solved in this way. It’d be great, but let’s not pretend this’ll really do much provide widespread employment. Unlike if every Government business unit simply went to full staffing. Many business units are short staffed, and have been so for years. I don’t understand how a country can go from bleating about a shortage of skilled staff to increasingly strident bleats that companies are over-staffed in just a few months. I don’t understand why the Government doesn’t stop using foreign-owned banks instead of KiwiBank. Despite the seeming paucity of ideas (200 people, one day, 21 points – hey I wasn’t there perhaps it was fantastic and the points are incredible), the NZ Herald patriotically report: Mr Key said everybody who attended the summit had taken a risk, “but you put the interests of your country ahead of yourself or your organisation”.

Yeah, right.

what to tell your grandkids?

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what to tell your grandkids. I don’t have any grandkids, but I was thinking about all those ‘What did you do in the war, Dad?’ kinds of questions that I didn’t ask my Dad. Could’ve, perhaps should’ve, but didn’t. Wasn’t that interested, to tell you the truth. At least not about the war. Dad did tell me/us a little about his early life and I think my memories of his memories are more about a brutish life than anything resembling fun, or even funny. You get that when your childhood gets stolen by someone else’s alcohol, a depressing environment, and relentless hard work. Dad did survive and, by any account, thrive – perhaps not financially rich, but a king’s ransom worth of knowledge and the love that his childhood didn’t have.

So back to the things to tell your grandkids – if a picture tells a 1,000 words then a video of a 1,000 pictures must tell thousands of thousands more. Here’s a great video, quaintly shot in the style of the Victorian photographs, doing Victorian things. This is what your grandmother was like when she was a girl…

write on

How to take a trip and never have to leave the farm. Dates me – and possibly you too, if you remember the Jim Stafford song about the Wildwood Weed. No, I haven’t been exploring the apparent joys of having a sack of seeds, or buds (now just stop that, you rascals), instead I have been offline, reading and writing up the first draft of my study proposal. It feels not too bad, however I’m torn between thinking I haven’t done enough (seven pages) while think I’ve done too much (two pages was the request). But what to cut out? And will that damage my chances? Is too much likely to damage my chances?

It’s giving me the freak out, no doubt. I think I might compromise and trim down the seven pages to two pages of elegant simplicity, and then send both documents. Or maybe, attach the rest as an appendix. Or do more research and expand it out to – say – a succinct 20 (or so) pages. I believe Einstein’s doctoral thesis was about a dozen pages, pretty much based on what happens in a cup of very hot tea. S’true.

a journey of 10,000 hours

Marica is studying at the moment. We are study kind of people, we even met while we were studying. I fully expect we will be studying forever. One of the topics Marica is looking at is to name five people who have been influential in your life, and how they’ve helped form the person you are today. I think it’s a very, very interesting question. We both can think of many people who’ve been very influential in shaping the people we are today – who your five people, and how have they shaped you?

I frequently think about professional development and reflective practice – how do you get better at your job – or any other aspect of your life? How do your learn to cook better? Write better. And oh, dear oh dear, now that drawing has started again, how on earth do I get better at drawing?

As a kid I had weekly confirmation lessons with Bob Kempe. I realised he had a profound influence on my life with just a few words. He told me that he’d heard/read/believed/whatever that if you want to be in the top 5% of your career field, get as much training as you can, and then simply read one book, directly related to your field, every month. If you were that kind of person you would’ve probably added a journal or two, and these days you’d add a blog or two for daily updates. Bob said, “It’s not that you’re going to be the super expert, it’s that there’s plenty of room at the top, and most people don’t bother to keep up.” He also said it was true of fitness – a jog around the block once a day will make a significant change in your health. This was in the days when jogging was the order of the day – nobody did the running fitness madness then. I have been a reader ever since, and was to be seen running from time-to-time. A walk is my limit these days.

Zen Master, DamoWhen I did my masters I was surprised to find that the concept of ‘mastery’ had somehow become parted from the university. I felt vaguely disappointed that I hadn’t become some kind of zen master – you know, that gentle, good humored, wise … instead, there was just me. That was no surprise, the disappointment was that in the university the ‘traditional’ concept of mastery was treated (at best) as a joke.

From my own work experience I have learned that it takes me about three years in a job to get to grips with it. Based on a 2,000 hour year, that’s about 6,000 hours. Like most people I wouldn’t achieve a 2,000 chargeable hours in a year, but by the time I add in the background reading and reflecting on my job I probably wouldn’t be too far short of the 2,000 hours per year. I’ve never held a job for ten years, but I have worked (and continue to work) with people who have been in the same(-ish) role for a decade or more, and without exception they have a mastery that is second to none.

I absolutely believe that what stands between me and beautiful drawings is 10,000 hours. It’s as simple as that. From a link on D*I*Y Planner, I found there is some published research to shore up my belief – Ericcson and Lehmann’s Expert and exceptional performance: Evidence of maximal adaptation to task notes that ‘innate talent is not valid for expert performance acquired through at least a decade of intense practice’.

David Seah writes a great article about building a niche of one. He trims out the 10,000 hours after reading about pilots –

* at 1 hour … you know some basics
* at 10 hours … you have a pretty good grasp of the basics
* at 100 hours … you are fairly expert
* at 1000 hours … you are an experienced expert
* at 10000 hours … you are a master

I don’t think that is true in learning a job – and I can’t think why they would be different. Obviously flying an aircraft is not a trivial task; however, in a job, 1,000 hours is the end of the first year, if we’re talking chargeable hours. The first six months if not. Neither time frame makes you an experienced expert in any job I’ve had since I became an adult. Sure, tasks can be mastered within that time, but I believe only the most routine of jobs will have you an expert in 6-12 months. Quite often these kinds of jobs are described as boring and repetitive, rarely the kind of jobs anyone sticks at for the 10,000 hours. Perhaps the difference is the 10,000 hours a pilot puts in is flying time, and doesn’t take into account the pre- and post-flight preparation work. It might take a pilot a number of years to clock up the 1,000 hours – I recall my friend Cam took a good long time to achieve the 50 hours he needed for his helicopter license.

Duff agrees there’s 10,000 hours to mastery, but notes there’s a tension when you want to master more than one thing. I think the solution there is to think ‘higher’ – don’t settle for just mastering tasks, work out how to combine the tasks into a more overarching mastery. Specific mastery is not without its costs – my best example is in the movie ‘Zoolander‘ – the main character (Zoolander – a male fashion model) is unable to turn left. At the end of the catwalk he turns right, and then right again to walk back – and to turn left, rather than making a 90° turn left, Zoolander turns 270° right. You see, two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left; and yes, ‘there’s more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking’.

Ahem. A small diversion. And there are so many opportunities for diversion on your 10,000 hour journey to mastery. Better get started then. If you decide to cast off on your journey towards mastery, you’ll find that you quite quickly start to move into unknown waters. There aren’t that many people on the voyage, and if you meet a friendly soul on similar journey it’s a rare and precious thing. In my case, I married the friendly soul so we could continue to journey together. It’s a good idea to make a map of where you are, and where you’ve been, so others might be able to follow. I’ve written before about exploring without a map: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 4 (cont), part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.

The other thing I think is vital to understand is that it is ok to take time to learn. Somehow we’ve become a society dedicated to condensation – to trying to condense everything into the shortest time. This is not ever how the master of old learned. In the classical European art tradition kids with some sort of painting or drawing talent were apprenticed for years before they became competent tradepeople in their own rights – yes – able to charge an arm and leg. It’s completely ok, if not even entirely desirable to build on David’s Niche of One. Marcel and I were emailing about this the other day. From Marcel’s creative perspective, ‘self validation is the only worthwhile validation to pursue and the most empowering’. I’m inclined to agree – if you can’t love your work you can’t expect anyone else to as much as like it. Be yourself and just get on with creating. Evelyn Rodriguez has responded, beautifully, about the snippy comments from web wankers about how the internet was being taken over by amateurs. Imagine that. Amateurs. Hey – it could be worse – could be religion, accountants, and other snake oil vendors. Evelyn believes an internet fed mostly by amateurs is fascinating:

And the Internet is our open studio to throw pots, take up a brush, collaborate on jam sessions, squiggle cartoons and practice, practice, practice. Anyone can drop into the studio without an appointment. Sometimes it’s a work in progress. And sometimes you walk into a masterpiece.

As a renowned documentary filmmaker (once an amateur whom trained herself by getting her hands on a camera and just-doing-it) once shared with me, “There’s a secret. If you put in the effort, the universe has a matching grant program. And it’ll meet you halfway every time.”

If you move now, you can get the first couple of hours towards mastery done, before the next distraction comes in bellowing like a bull calf. Don’t hesitate, mastery awaits.

everything I know I learned

You’ve might’ve read Robert Fulghum‘s great mini-essay entitled ‘Everything I know I learned in Kindergarten‘. It’s cute. Full of stuff I wish was true – or, that at least was the way we conducted business and/or employment and/or the way we treat each other in work as adults. What Robert neglected to mention was that order in the kindergarten was maintained by an all seeing, all wise adult teacher who’d ensure everyone played fair and did as they were supposed to at the right time, and provided the milk and cookies. Or so I believe, I didn’t go to kindergarten.

I did, however, have the pleasure yesterday of watching a young man teacher (sorry, I didn’t have my camera to get a photo of this incredibly rare sight, but I swear this is true – there was another witness) it was a young man school teacher, yes, in Wellington, and yes, with a class of primary aged kids – I know – amazingly rare – anyway, this guy cruises up with his class, explains they were going to have lunch in the park, and there were other people here and we’re going to treat this place and these people with respect, and please, sit down and enjoy your lunch. I know, I didn’t have a camera. Guess what. The kids sat down, with their teacher, and everyone ate their lunches. Not much got fed to the gulls and pigeons, so I take that to mean they all enjoyed their lunches.

And then the teacher got up and said, ‘Everyone wait here, I’ll be right back, and I can see you from where I’m going.’ I’m glued in by this stage…

The teacher went a few metres away, grabbed out one of the public bins, and brought it back for the kids to dump their trash. At this point I had to leave because I knew you wouldn’t believe me anyway. I was so completely and utterly stunned – and on so many layers. A young, male teacher – probably not more that five years out of training. In control of a class of primary age kids. In public. Everyone seemed to be having a polite, pleasant, respectful, positive learning experience, on a beautiful day, near the waterfront, in perhaps the most wonderful day of the year, in this astoundingly fabulous capital. My faith, so cracked and smeared by how kiwis seem to be treating each other these days, was shockingly restored. I felt shattered that somehow the stuff that was once normal in my childhood world seemed so foreign and exotic. I really didn’t know how to respond. I was (I still am) completely inspired. My heart sung, to be honest, that this looked like the first excellent teacher that I’d seen in a damn long time. I wonder if he’d had superb training at uni (I’m sorry, that’s totally unimaginable) or perhaps he had parents with a special gift. No matter what, I hope that young man stays in teaching forever without become a jaded, stressed-out, cynical 30-something. I hope the kids go on to become Robert Fulghums. I hope their parents thank their lucky stars that somehow fate sent them the best teacher I’ve seen in decades, and that they do everything they can to support him. Whoever the mystery teacher is (you and your class had lunch in the park on the bridge over Capital E, by the Fowler Centre) I wish you all the success from the bottom of my heart, and I hope above all hopes there’s 1,000 more just like you working in classrooms and showing such wonderful leadership across New Zealand. We need as much of this as we can get.

Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow

Over on the Practice of Leadership, there’s been some discussion about Marsha Sinetar’s book, ‘Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow — Discovering Your Right Livelihood’. There’s no indication in the book that doing what you love will somehow guarantee you will become a millionaire. There’s no ‘and‘ in the title. That’s important. From page 5:

I write of this so that, at the outset, no one thinks I am suggesting that material rewards immediately flow out of the leap-of-faith which is made to do one’s right livelihood. The reason that this book’s title contains the phrase, ‘The Money Will Follow,’ is precisely because we must do the work first, invest of ourselves first, seed faithfully in the small, steady, incremental ways of our chosen work first, and then – as a harvest of abundant crops naturally follows the seeding, watering and constant caring process, of seeds – the fruits of our efforts result.

While the people I describe in the pages are working away at their chosen vocations, simultaneously as human beings. And this is the beauty of right livelihood.

I’ve done many different job roles in my life. All were interesting in their own way. Some I loved. It’s been frustrating when the ones I loved didn’t deliver the financial rewards as well as the other rewards they provided. Looking back at them I can see I was still learning the roles. I thought I had the role down, but in reality there was a lot more to learn to achieve true mastery. Had I learned and worked enough to have been in the top 5% of that field the money would’ve been there too. Patience. Diligence. Faith. They sound so old-fashioned. So un-web-2.

My first business mentor gave me some advice, ‘Keep working kid, you’ll be an overnight sensation after about 11 years of intensive effort.’ I’d just grit my teeth, roll up my sleeves, and work on where the next dollar was coming from. I can see now that was actually good advice. In these days of instant ‘whatever’ it’s easy to believe that just because you think you deserve it, it’s somehow your right to be rich. It is your right to discover your right livelihood. You spend time working on becoming enriched, the money will follow.

Money, by the way, is not the same as *millionaire*. Many people are working in roles they love, but they are not ever going to become millionaires. Nursing, teaching, gardening, the creative arts, and many, many more roles – in fact, heads up, people; only a minute number of employees ever become millionaires, government employees are even less likely to achieve that from their role. But that doesn’t stop them from succeeding in every measure, including any financial measure. History is replete with stories of fame and fortune – and failure. Fame and fortune seem to have a way of conspiring to create failure, usually in people who aren’t rich (and I’m not talking money here) in the first instance.

One of the things I would love to achieve is to become financially rich while doing something I love. One of my objectives for this year is to spend time working on mastering more of the things I love to do. I intend entering into a personal enrichment programme. Come back later and I’ll let you know how the money sides of things is working out. I may be some time…

what did I want?

What did I want?
I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and to eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be the way they had promised me it was going to be, instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.

I had had one chance – for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. Helen of Troy, whatever your true name may be – and I had known it – and I had let it slip away. Maybe one chance is all you ever get.
– Oscar Gordon, “Glory Road” Robert A. Heinlein

My father died back in 1990. It’s taken us some time to sort out his stuff. Partly because Dad was a collector – a hunter/gatherer of the old school; and partly because he was a graduate of the 1930’s depression and his collector behaviours became reinforced. “You never know when it’ll come in handy.” And quite frequently that has been proven to be correct. The last few days have been a bit of a nightmare – we’ve (my sister, brother-in-law, and myself) been working through the tail end of the various collections – and there is a continuum of values – some things have sentimental value, some have commercial value, some have entertainment value, and some have recycle value. And some things are just valuable for helping balance the load on the way to the landfill.

I was unable to get leave from work so Friday night saw frantic grabbing of rental vans, scarfing down food (no pasta lest I go to sleep at the wheel), and then on the highway north to my old home town. I spent the last night in my childhood bed, and listened for the call of the poaka – the pied stilts. Their beeping call used to reassure me on empty nights, but on Friday night it was just the sounds of the wind. Saturday dawned cold – as if wanting us to get finished and get on with our lives. Dad used to say “Cold shoulder, hot tongue”, and it was bitter outside.

We packed and loaded, with laughter and tears, Dad’s prized books. I don’t have the room or really the interest for all of Dad’s books, and so some fairly heartrending decisions were made. When we were kids, if we got sick, we were allowed to get up and get a couple of Dad’s books to read. Dad’s collection was essentially about New Zealand history and culture, Māori culture, and in particular, New Zealand flora and fauna. Dad had a particularly soft spot for New Zealand birds.

I don’t recall that he had any exceptional favorites, but I have a happy memory of him showing us the Ruru – Ninox novaeseelandiae – the native owl (Moreporks) that used to sit on the post and wires when we lived on our farm. Later the adult ruru were joined by a clutch of juveniles – I can remember their eyes glowing with the reflected light from the house. Dad told us stories about how in some areas the ruru nested in tomo – like hakoke, the extinct laughing owl – in holes the ground instead of in trees, and how there was even a place named for their home – Putaruru. He said that in the Māori tradition, the ruru was the guardian, the watcher. I loved hearing their calls at night – some say the call is ‘mournful’ or ‘haunting’, but I have always found it friendly and reassuring – a clear sign that things are as they should be.

As I drove home on Saturday night, I got to thinking about reading – I guess the books in the back were talking about their new lives living with Marica and I. I read non-fiction voraciously, however I love it when an author can persuade me to get on a raft down the Mississippi, or some other adventure. I’d told Marcel that I planned spending time while driving plotting out a novel I’m working on. Instead, I spent the time thinking about how the books now in the back of the van had influenced my father – provided the education he’d hungered for but had never been able to achieve in a formal sense. As a result of his reading and learning he’d willing shared the ideas, information, and insights with me; and so, in a way, I was carrying not only my father’s collection, but in many respects my own collection. I didn’t have to bring it all, just the bits I wanted and needed; but no matter what, I couldn’t avoid bringing some of my heritage with me; now and where ever I go in the future.

I drove in our gate, flicked the van off, and stood outside in the still night air. The moon was exceptionally clear and the stars were bright. I could smell the fragrance from the night blossoms. It was good to be home. From somewhere very close, a ruru called. I felt uplifted – it was as Dad said – everything is as it should be.

every thing tells a story…

Some years ago I took my Mum to Townsville, far north Queensland. She’d had some surgery that hadn’t gone well. I was working three part time jobs being as full time work was unavailable. It was the middle of winter and some recuperation in the tropics seemed like a good idea for us both – I wanted my Dad to go with us, but he wouldn’t be parted from home. Off we went and we had the best time. We really enjoyed having a decent cappuccino – Wanganui being something of a coffee desert in those days. I decided to buy a cappuccino machine – and snapped the dividers out of the polystyrene box the machine came in to act as a chillybin (esky for the full Australiana) when we drove up to Cairns. We made very full use of the box – it was absolutely brilliant for keeping food and drinks cool. When it came time to come home there was no room in our suitcases to bring the box home – and so I went out to the dumpster to toss the box away. The nearer I got to the departure point, the worse I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such complete guilt as I consigned our helpful friend to the trash. I went back to our rooms and I told Mum about what a complete fool I felt about feeling guilty about discarding the box. She felt the same – but there was no way we could bring the box back with us. Years later I still feel bad. And slightly silly about being emotionally attached to polystyrene packaging, repurposed as a chillybin.

Lately I’ve had cause to work through a lot of my possessions from my past. They’re just things – inanimate things – usually man-made, but not exclusively. Some things I’ve kept, some things I’ve sold, some things I’ve given away, and some things I’ve dumped. At times it’s been heart wrenchingly traumatic; other times it’s been a ‘oh no, just no, what were you thinking?’ moment. I have been wondering why some things are so hard to deal with. My niece, Catherine, said, ‘The trouble with all your stuff is, every thing has got a story. There’s nothing here that doesn’t have a story to go with it.”

To which my sister, Gillian, replied, ‘Well, yes. That’s why it’s here. If it didn’t have a story we wouldn’t bother with it.’

When I used to leave Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport, there was a sign that spanned the highway – ‘Every story has a beginning, a middle, and a beginning’. It was an ad for something – I have no idea what. But I loved the idea then, and now. When things arrive in my hand it’s rarely the beginning of the story. Rather it is part of the middle of a story. And the story continues once the thing leaves my hand. Objects don’t attain their own energy or their own personality – that’s what we/I ascribe to them – it’s their role in our stories that makes them hard to part with. What I’m realising is that the story doesn’t end when the item comes to me, and really, it’s better if I keep the story going by keeping the item moving. I’m feeling better about it that way.