Being My Dog’s Writing Voice

What is it like to be someone else’s writing voice? Fiction authors deal with this question. Editors contemplate this problem. Ghost writers live this dilemma.

Although I’m against the idea of ghost writing, and thus have never ghost written, I imagine that it teaches you a great deal about writing. When you have to be someone else’s voice, you learn to be more authentic to your own voice. You also learn about the art of rewriting.

I recently made one exception to my ghost writing rule—but it’s because the person I made the exception for can’t write (literally). I made the exception for my dog Milton.

Milton the dog recently started a birthday for a cause. If you like his writing voice, donate—he will appreciate you helping people living in extreme poverty.

Have you ever written in the voice of your pet? What did it teach you?

If It Doesn’t Ship, It Doesn’t Exist

If your ideas aren’t on paper, they don’t exist. If the project doesn’t ship, it doesn’t exist.

This simple mantra, which I likely learned from the software industry, should make us think twice about the rewrite and that one last proofread. It should also make us consider how long we’re willing to spend with the white rabbit named Research.

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They Don’t Care: Half the Battle Isn’t Showing Up

It was cold outside. I could see my breath. The section lead of the drum line didn’t show up. I was a freshman—third snare drum. I realized, “I’m going to have to lead this.”

I rallied the line and we went onto the field. My hands were shaking—part nerves and part cold. My drum roll at the beginning of the Star Spangled Banner was inconsistent. It was embarrassing. (Who messes up the national anthem?) We moved on. We began the pep band songs. I was off rhythm for two entire measures; it took four more measures to get the drum line back in sync.

We left the field. My band instructor grabbed my snare harness near my shoulders. He looked me in the eyes and yelled over the noise of the crowd, “Barry, what happened?” I replied, “My hands were cold. And I just learned the cadence last week.” He yelled, “You hear that?” He pointed towards the crowd. “They don’t care. They don’t care. They don’t care that your hands were cold. They don’t care that you just learned the cadence. They don’t care.”

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5 Principles to Lead By

Innovation without excellent execution will fail. And execution without innovation is a waste of time.

What makes a team different? What makes them unique?

I think the combination of five things can set any team apart:

  1. The Henry Gantt principle: Execute well and follow through
  2. The William Zinsser principle: Use art, story, risk and science to communicate
  3. The Jacqueline Novogratz principle: Solutions is the answer in an interconnected world
  4. The Seth Godin principle: Be a rebar company that creates tribes around linchpin products and people
  5. The Donald Clifton principle: Play to strengths, working as a unit

What type of leader are you? Where will you lead?

What principle would you add to the list?

It’s All About the Follow-Up

I have a massive sequence of reminders built into my life. This is for one simple reason: I don’t trust myself to remember everything that I need to do. I don’t even trust a task list; instead, it’s all on my calendar.

Most business partnerships I’ve developed have happened (in part) because of follow-up reminders. (Of course, this is after the partnership has been built on good will, honesty, and working towards a goal that benefits all involved.) It’s the reminders, though, that prompted the work to happen. I see the reminder and I immediately check on the status of the partnership. This principle is also true for project management in general.

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Frustrated? It’s for a Reason

Sometimes amazing things are started out of frustration. Other times, they’re created because someone wants to make a profit. And at other moments, the new comes to be simply because it seemed like a good idea.

Cameron Strang has some great reasons for creating Relevant, as this video illustrates. (And he rides a Vespa in the epic of MxPx. That dumb joke is for Cameron; don’t worry, he will get it.)

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Initiate, Plan; Initiate and Plan Again

It’s easy to spend most of our time reacting to problems. Some of us are built for this, meant for it even, but it shouldn’t be what we do with the majority of our time—unless that’s actually our job description. (Many IT people and Customer Service reps actually have this job description and rightfully so.)

Isn’t it just better to plan? As the boy scouts say: “Be prepared.” I would rather not have my inbox decide my schedule. I prefer to initiate over having my surroundings decide for me.

Much of the urgent is only urgent because we didn’t address it last month, last week, or yesterday. I’m a believer in the “clear the inbox” and “every problem should be addressed now” mentality—whenever possible. Yet, this too must be built into our planning. (I certainly don’t live up to this, but it’s a goal.) Problems often seem more manageable in retrospect; so, if we make retrospect now, we will be able to apply the lesson from today to tomorrow’s problems before they begin.

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Projects Are Like Toddlers

I now have a weekly time scheduled for re-planning current projects. When you hear the idea stated that way, it doesn’t make much sense. Wouldn’t current projects already be planned? Yes, but they will always need more strategic love.

If you’re not constantly evaluating a project, it will fall on its face, like a toddler learning to walk. The toddler will get hurt and something will be permanently damaged. And this has nothing to do with how competent your team is or how competent the people you work with are. You can work with some of the best people in the world–like I do–and projects will still fail along the way. Projects are still growing up, constantly, until they ship.

The goal is to put safety measures in place–as many as possible to prevent fatal errors.

Like real babies, no one loves your project as much as you do. No one cares about your baby’s cute looks like you do or how much it’s struggling.

Other people are also unlikely to babysit for you. So get over it now: don’t be upset when other people drop the ball on your project. They’re not the parent. They’re not even the babysitter. They’re the neighbor you asked to watch the kid for an hour. And who can blame them? Like the neighbor, they have other obligations. Again, you can work with some of the best in the world, and it will still happen, because the best in the world are always busy for good reasons on other great projects. You love it, they don’t. So love it and then sell them (as much as possible) on why they should love it too.

There is no perfect plan. There are always unknowns. You can try to plan for the unknowns and the unknowns will sneak up on you anyway. And that presents the second project strategy goal: prevent calling 911. And then, you pray and work hard.

How do you raise your project babies–any tips?

(P.S. I’m not a father of a real baby, but I convince myself that Milton the dog counts.)

Goals are Often Selfish

One of the most pressing problems with goals is how ego focused they are: When we set goals, we usually have ourselves in mind, not others. This isn’t usually the case with team projects, but it’s certainly the case for personal goals.

I realized this when reading Strategy for Living by Edward R. Dayton and Ted W. Engstrom. (The book was purchased for me by the director of a local non-profit. I now understand why he cites it as the single most life-changing book he has read outside of the Bible.)

“At a missionary meeting we attended we heard that the purpose of one group was ‘to bring all of Japan to the feet of Christ.’ What does that mean? It’s verbal fog. … Verbal fog can completely incapacitate us. We may desire to be a God-honoring father or mother. We may pray earnestly that God will make us such a parent. We may feel all kinds of love toward our children and have grand ideals for them. We may earnestly quote, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). But the question is: What are we going to do? How does a God-honoring father act? What does one do to train up a child in the way he should go? How can we know whether what we did was effective or ineffective if we really did not decide what we intended to do?” —Dayton and Engstrom, Strategy for Living, pgs. 47–48

Goals must be specific, focused, purposeful and measurable. If we can’t measure the success of our work, we really don’t have goals—we have ideas. We may know generally what we want, but until we know specifically what success looks like, we’re not ready to start our work.

And unfortunately personal success—accomplishing our personal goals—often looks like happiness, satisfaction or gratification. If we believe in loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus commanded, our goals shouldn’t look like this at all. Surely God can and does use ambition for his purposes; both David and Solomon are examples of this. But ambition alone is futile. Ambition doesn’t change lives; ambition makes individual people successful. It’s selfish. However, ambition coupled with a focus on God’s desires can lead powerful causes and change lives.

God doesn’t want us to ask what he wants us to do; he wants us to ask what we can do for his kingdom. (Notice the subject switch from “us” to “his kingdom.”) Goals should be focused on what we can do for others—the lives we can change.

As I set goals going into my birthday this year, I’m focusing on how I can help other people and not my success. I think it’s going to change everything. I’m telling you because I hope that you will do the same. (For my first goal, I’m raising $2,500 for relief efforts in the Horn of Africa; learn more here.)

How do you recommend we (all of us) change our goal setting structure and process? What ideas do you have?

Editing the Declaration of Independence

“Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence was edited and corrected to some extent by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Where Jefferson had written, ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable,’ Franklin substituted ‘self-evident for ‘sacred and undeniable.’ In the famous opening sentence Jefferson had written, ‘When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people’; Franklin changed the word ‘a’ to ‘one.’

The moment the draft of the Declaration was submitted to the Continental Congress for approval, Benjamin Harrison rose to his feet and said: ‘There is but one word in this paper which I approved, and that is the word Congress.’

After a great deal of spirited discussion pro and con, four hundred words were cut from the first draft. In some cases strong words were changed to weak ones. By the third day, Jefferson … said he was ‘writhing.’ Benjamin Franklin came to his aid, not only with editorial advice, but with full moral and parliamentary support. Thus the basic structure of the document was retained and its integrity preserved. …

When Jefferson was seventy-three, in the year 1816, he wrote to a friend: ‘Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I know that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book reading; and this they would themselves would say, were they to rise from the dead. … Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.’ …

On another occasion Jefferson said: ‘I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.’ ”

—M. Lincoln Shuster, A Treasury of The World’s Great Letters (New York: Simon and Shuster), pgs. 170–71. (Yes, that’s the Shuster who co-founded Simon & Shuster.)

I often think of the world’s great writers of old as untouchables: men and women beyond question, inspired beyond measure. Yet, as Jefferson so acutely observes, they were like us. The difference being their time, place and decisions. Jefferson’s time and locale involved distress, yet he made the correct decision. Continue Reading…

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