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Category Archives: Personal Growth

A bit of a goal, a bit of an experiment for me in 2016 – less Social Media in my life!

Last year I was feeling stressed and realized the feeling was largely due to too many things vying for my attention. Even little things (like an email notification of a response to a social media post) that were easy enough to ignore or quickly dismiss, would take some time from my consciousness and distract me. A few seconds here and a few seconds there can add up, and especially if you think you’ve dismissed something, but the thought  remains being bounced around in your brain.

In an effort to control these distractions I have been trying to simplify my life by:

  • unsubscribing from all of those “nice to know”, “I’ll read them someday” e-mail newsletters
  • cutting back on automated e-mail notifications (especially from forums that I thought I should follow)
  • abandoning some social media platforms and
  • decreasing my activity on other social media platforms


I have been active on social media for a number of years and have enjoyed the experience. The benefits to me include:

  • retaining connections with old friends (Facebook),
  • meeting many kindred spirits, locally and from around the world (Twitter and Google+)
  • keeping in touch with local issues and activities (Twitter)
  • maintaining business contacts and connecting with professional groups  (LinkedIn)
  • sharing my art work with  a supportive art community (Twitter and my Facebook page)
  • having an outlet to express my opinions


So no doubt there has been value in social media participation but still there are the costs: my time and my serenity. So starting on 2016 January 1st, I will not be posting to Twitter, Facebook or Google+. I expect to return to these platforms someday but as I start this experiment I don’t know when that will be. I like the idea of going the whole year but concede that I might be back in two weeks. Whenever the experiment ends I hope I will have learned something and that my future use of social media will be more  productive and less of a crutch and time-waster.

I have asked myself why people (and me in particular) engage in social media. I think it comes down to the need for feedback, especially positive strokes, that affirm that we are not alone in the world and might actually have a purpose. It is that constant checking  for a “like” that keeps us coming back to the social media site and makes them so addictive. Even trolls who may not get positive feedback, do get feedback and that response from others affirms that they are alive and not alone. [This feedback of course serves to keep the trolls trolling and hence the often heard advice: Do not feed the trolls!]

On future post I will share what I am learning from this experiment – hopefully something of value to me and perhaps others.

… if you do find this (and following) posts of value please leave me a comment – I will after all be a bit starved for positive strokes with my Twitter tap turned off 😉



I recently listened to a thought provoking and inspiring talk, the closing keynote to the APCO Canada 2014 Conference in Vancouver on 2014 November 6.

The speaker was Dr. John Izzo and his talk was entitled “100/0: 100% Responsibility/ Zero Excuses How Stepping Up can Change Your Company and the World” Among the points he  made were:

  • Always ask yourself “What can we/I do?” In other words don’t sit back (perhaps complain) and wait for someone else to take action to resolve an issue.
  • Do something, do anything“. However small the action may be and even it is just to get together with others to discuss what you can collectively do – take action!
  • Stepping up and taking action can lead to a ripple that leads others to act. Just by taking the initiative, your actions can be multiplied beyond what you thought you could accomplish alone.

Dr. John Izzo has written six books including his latest  “Stepping Up”, which was the basis for the inspiring talk at APCO Canada.

This week I’ve been listening to an audiobook Accidental Genius, Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, by Mark Levy. The title and description caught my eye and by the time I’d listened to the introduction I was saying to myself “this is going to be good; this is what I need!” I have long wanted to be a better writer and to write more and by following the suggestions and exercises in this book I am confident I will achieve those goals.

The basic premise of the book is built around the activity of “free writing” (what the author had called private writing in the first edition of the book). Free writing is an unstructured, uncensored, unedited flow of your thoughts to paper or keyboard. The idea may be nothing new – it sounds similar to the  practice of daily jounalling or the “morning pages” that I heard about in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist Way. Levy contends (and I believe) that we have enormous creativity  and answers to problems with in us. The trick is to draw them out of us so we can discover and use them. This book breaks down some simple techniques for doing just that. The insights gained through these practices will be of value whether one wants to solve business problems or actually produce “writing” – anywwhere on the continuum from a blog to a novel.

I have just listened to this book once but  I recommend it. I will soon start a second listen as I begin my own daily free writing practice. I am also giving thought to picking up a hard copy of the book for easier reference.

For more info, visit this link for the Fast Company blog/Interview with Mark Levy about the book.

Hear and see the author, Mark Levy, himself describe his book in this 3 minute YouTube video.

If this topic interests you I also recommend that you visit Mark Levy’s website/blog, Levy Innovation, which (as I write this)  includes a link to download Levy’s free e-book “List Making as a Tool of Thought Leadership”


Are you a regular writer? Have you read/listened to this book – what do you think about it?

Today, a book arrived in the mail. I have been anxiously awaiting it since placing my order last week. Why did I order it, why am I anxious to get it in my hands? I already had the book – in audio format and I have listened to it and loved it. It is a one of a few audio books that I really thought I would benefit from  having a hard copy. I like hard copies for the ability to  easily go back and forth to tie pieces together in my mind. I am a visual learner so seeing the words , as well as any diagrams and tables will help me make the info my own. I also like the ability to highlight and make notes right there in the text.

So what is this book that I am referring to? It is entitled, Flourish, A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E.P. Seligman. This book was published in April 2011 by Free Press.

Seligman had five other books, I believe all on the central theme of this book: positive psychology. The revolutionary premise is that psychology  should look at what makes people happy and functional and promote these things rather than, as has traditionally been the case, focusing on all of the negatives and at best hoping to deliver people to a neutral state after eliminating those negatives. Through this perspective people can not just survive and exist but actually flourish!

The book includes some psychological tests, the type where you rate a statement on a 1 to 5 scale and end up with some revelation about yourself. These and a number of other assessment tools can also be accessed through Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website.

One of the key concepts discussed in the book is PERMA – the five pillars of positive psychology. PERMA stands for Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.. The book goes into the relationships between positive mental perspectives and physical health (for example lowered incidence of Cardio Vascular Disease.

The book is also filled with good examples of the implementation of the  principles, ranging from a private school in Australia to the U.S. Army. This book is encouraging and as much as I was impressed by it on the first listen I am looking forward to picking up and internalizing more as I work through my printed copy,

For more (and probably better) info on this book I refer you to this post on the Brain Pickings blog.

This week I’ve been listening to the audio version of the book  Talent is Overrated, What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else” by Geoff Colvin. Although I am not quite finished this book I do not hesitate to recommend it.

The talent that Colvin refers to is a genetic pre-disposition to excel at something – the “born-with-it” factor. In this book the author strives to (and succeeds in my mind) to demonstrate that anyone who has become a world-class performer (whether in the arts, sports or business) has got to that point by practice – lots and lots of quality practice.

I found very interesting how Colvin presents the early life stories of two individuals (Mozart and Tiger Woods) who so many people believe must have just been “born with it” – obvious child prodigies, destined to excel. Colvin makes the argument that these two became masters at early ages simply because they practiced and practiced. They both started very early in their lives and both benefited from a parent/teacher who were able to guide their practice to make their practice time most productive. In the end though, they simply put in comparable numbers of practice hours to anyone else who has become a world class performer.

A key concept of the book is the concept of “deliberate practice” (calculated, focused practice on the minutia of the activity). Going through the motions and calling it practice, just won’t benefit you. The author explains the value of having a teacher/coach to guide that practice. Colvin gives a good example of the casual golfer who goes to the range to hit a bucket of ball for “practice” but points out  how really unproductive this type of activity usually is.

This revelation that talent is not genetic and that practice is the key, is comforting and inspiring to anyone who has wondered if they should even bother trying to learn anything new. Colvin does however point out the difficulty of getting in the necessary hours of practice to become “world class” when you have a life to live. He also states that this deliberate practice is not likely to be fun. It will be hard work including considerable mental concentration in addition to whatever the physical demands of the activity you are attempting to master.

If you are on a mission to grow, to master anything, even if not to the level of being world class, this book is worth a read or listen. It is both inspiring and helpful. You can get better – without magic and without having been “born-with-it”.

I use a simple 3-tier filing system for efficiently handling paper files at my desk and to help minimize desk top clutter.

1. On my desktop I have a file holder to keep close at hand the files that I am working on that day. These are the documents that I should be able to find in a hurry. I should have no more than half a dozen files here at any one time. The real trick is to prevent an accumulation of files in this desktop holder. If the file is not expected to be accessed that day it should be relocated to a drawer for active files (my second tier). I empty this holder at the end of the day, then re-stock it the next morning with what I will be working on that day.

2. The second tier of my file handling system is a small under-desk file drawer. Here I keep all of my currently active files. I may not be working on that file today but there is still work to be done before it is concluded. I also ensure that if a file does not pertain to an activity or project with a definitive end point, then it does not belong here. Everyday I will pull from this drawer the few files that I expect to need for the day and put them in my desktop holder.

3. The third tier of my file system is my Archives. For this I keep a large four drawer filing cabinet to store all inactive files. This will include files from completed projects and activities as well as collected resource info that might be useful for some future project.

This system of mine has developed over time and it may still be refined but I think it is a good enough system that I don’t hesitate in recommending that you give it a try.

One of my hobbies is photography and like most hobbies there is a lot to learn, but there are also lessons to be learned from the activity that can be applied to other parts of your life.
I often find myself in a unique and wonderful mindset when I set out on a photographic excursion. There are times when I head out with the intent to capture some particular subject matter. There are other times when I just head out with my camera to “see what I see”.
That is the “photographic vision” I refer to in the title – this way that I look at the world when I have a camera in hand. I get very tuned into my surroundings and begin to see things I’d hardly have noticed at other times. I will set out with the intent to just to spend a few minutes and end up wandering around for an hour or two taking a hundred pictures – and all within a few hundred meters of home.
Once I get on a roll I begin to look for and see, all kinds of interesting details, patterns, hints of color etc. in the most ordinary objects and in any season. It might be the bark on a tree trunk, a pattern of shade on the ground, the detail in a flower. I firmly believe that there is always interesting photographic subject matter around you. You just have to be in the mindset to see it.

Part one of the photographic process is capturing the image and having a vision, a sense of what it can be. The second part of the process is the creative post processing of the image, to bring out that vision.

And so that is the lesson for other part of your life… you need to get into a mindset that allows you to see the details, the patterns, the fascinating in the ordinary. You need to be able to sense what things can be – whether the “things” are your career path, a business process or an engineering design. This visioning mindset is probably easier said than done, but I find it useful to slow down, to take a deep breathe or two, and cast away  preconceptions. In that way I can look at the world with the vision of a photographer – and so can you.

I am a strong believer in ongoing personal growth and the lifelong learning that implies. Learning is not just about dumping facts into your brain. It is all about the organization of those fact it is the connections of new bits of information to old ones.
One of the best ways to learn, to organize those facts, is too teach them to someone else. To be an effective teacher you must be prepared, you must organize the facts to be presented and have thought through different interpretations of those facts.
If you have the opportunity to teach in a formal setting, one of the nice things is having feedback from the student. The questions you receive can be useful for you to refine your knowledge, not only about the subject matter and your understanding of it, but also about how you organized and presented the topic.
Okay, so what if you don’t have a class or followers, someone to teach to? You can still prepare as if you did. That preparation is by using writing as a means to clarify and organize your thoughts. You could just keep your writing as personal notes but I suggest presenting your writing in a blog. That way you will get the practice in organizing your thoughts and by making it public you may just get that feedback from a reader, which could help you learn and grow.
For more information on the value and technique of clear writing for learning and growth, I recommend “Writing to Learn” by William Zinsser, a classic book originally published in 1988. This book includes chapters specifically addressing writing on various subjects from math and science to the arts.
If you aren’t already using writing as a means to learn and to grow, give it some thought – or even better write out your thoughts!

It may be said that there are only two types of people: procrastinators and compulsive liars. That is to say that procrastination is a very common problem. Well hold onto that thought – procrastination is a very common but is it the problem?
Recently I have been listening to the audio book of The Now Habit, a Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-free Play by Dr. Neil Fiore. In this book Fiore suggests that procrastination is not the problem in itself but merely a symptom of avoidance. Avoidance being a coping strategy that is really just a habit – a habit that has been learned and that can be unlearned.
This program suggests a number of techniques for replacing the procrastination habit with the “do it now” habit. Three concepts in this book really struck a chord with me. They are the ideas of Guilt-free play, the Unschedule and Starting.

Guilt-free play: Fiores’ premise is based on the importance of play and especially guilt-free play. He says recognize its importance and make it a priority in your life

The Unschedule. Rather than starting the traditional way scheduling all of your must do work task and leaving what is left over for family, leisure, play, etc. Fiore suggests the radical concept of first scheduling in your play and treating that time as sacred. Let your work occur in the gaps. He suggests that with your reward time established you will be more efficient in your work periods. Further he suggests concentrating on getting in a solid 30 minutes of quality work at a time (and reward yourself after a period of quality work). I would interpret this as play hard, work hard – doing each half-hearted does you little good.

Starting: Fiore says “Keep starting. Finishing will take care of itself” and “replace all thoughts about finishing with thoughts about when, where and on what you can start”. Even finishing occurs from starting that final session. This whole idea is so simple that it should be obvious but I suspect many of us just never thought about this way before.

There is a lot more to this book and program (the audio book runs 7 1/2 hours) but this review will give you an idea of what it is about. I might conclude by saying that maybe there are three types of people: procrastinators, those in denial about their procrastination and ex-procrastinators who have adopted the now habit. There are a lot of decent books out there on procrastination, getting things done and goal achievement but this is one that would be near the top of my recommendation list.

To learn more about this program/book click here for another review.

Professionals in the technical fields typically go through a formal education process and have a lot of information presented to them over a few years. Hopefully they retain and internalize a lot of that knowledge but the real smart ones realize that the formal phase of their technical education is just the beginning. If they don’t continue to grow, to learn, then their skills and knowledge will become obsolete in short order.

One of the best and easiest ways to keep up with a technical field is by belonging to a technical organization. I will use for example the technical organization that I have belonged to since my engineering student days – the IEEE. For Electrical/Computer Engineering the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) is the technical organization to belong to. I won’t go into all it has to offer but there are numerous publications, conferences, specialized technical societies and local chapters. If your field of interest touches upon anything to do with computers and electronics I encourage checking out this organization. Other engineering fields/ technologies have similar technical organizations.

I was inspired on this topic by looking through the latest issue of the IEEE Spectrum that arrived in my mail yesterday. The IEEE Spectrum is the organization’s flagship magazine, a general interest technology magazine sent to every IEEE member and also available on newsstands. Although the number of pages in the publication have been significantly reduced from the golden days, there is still a lot of interesting content in print (and even more on-line).

The May 2010 issue features the cover headline “Algorithm Artist” referring to an article about Andrew Viterbi who invented an important algorithm for efficient wireless communications. I found it very interesting to see the word “Artist” on the front cover of this Engineering magazine, since I had so recently posted a blog about Engineers and the Arts.

This issue has an interesting article entitled “Backyard Star Wars” which discusses the possibility of using technology and concepts originally proposed for missile defense to protect you backyard from mosquitoes. I’m going to have to read this article in more detail before commenting further or passing judgment.

Another article that has caught my interest deals with wireless power transmission. It references the proposals of Nikola Tesla to achieve this seemingly magical feat, but I’ve got an open mind and I want to know more! Additionally the May issue has articles about the 50th anniversary of the laser, modularizing nuclear power plants, and some new transportation technologies for moving people.

So that’s just one example – a few articles, one issue, of one publication, from one technical organization, to remind us that there is lots of technical information out there and that we all need to keep up with our technical knowledge. Belonging to a technical organization is a great place to start.