Visual book review: Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future (Terry Pearce)

20130628 Visual Book Review - Leading Out Loud - Terry Pearce

If you’re a corporate leader trying to transform your organizational culture, Leading Out Loud would be a good book to read in order to plan how to align your personal values and your organization’s values with a communication plan that resonates with people. Even if you aren’t, it might be a good read if you often sketch out a vision of the future and work on getting other people involved.

Want to read the book for yourself?

Let’s see if it works on the small scale. What would my Personal Leadership Communication Guide look like? I’m not leading anyone through an organizational change, but it might be worth going through the steps anyway.

I. Establishing Competence and Building Trustworthiness

Clarity of Purpose: I care about remembering and sharing what we learn. The problem is that we waste time by forgetting. We waste opportunities by hoarding what we know or being self-conscious about what we can teach. Think of all the time you spend rediscovering solutions to problems you’ve already solved. Think of when you stop and wonder, “Where did the time go?” with nothing to show for it. We learn so much, but it disappears. If we can get better at learning and sharing, imagine how much more we’d be able to do. I want to learn more about learning and sharing so that I can not only share my life, but also inspire and help other people share theirs.

Credentials and vulnerabilities: I’m not an expert. At 29 years old, I can’t even claim to have learned very much. I get things wrong. I make mistakes. I forget.

But it turns out that you don’t have to be an expert, and sharing probably even works better if you aren’t. I’ve been sharing my learning notes for more than ten years. I’ve been learning about drawing and screencasting as ways to share more effectively. I’ve even been working on learning how to interview people so that more people can share their lessons learned through me.

Empathy: I wouldn’t be this comfortable with learning and sharing in public without the amazing support of people who have taught me and encouraged me throughout the years. When I wrote about an obscure topic and heard, years later, from someone who used one of my tips to solve a problem, that appreciation spurred me to write more. When I made a mistake in my server configuration and sent hundreds of e-mails in a short span of time, people forgave me, and that forgiveness helped me be less afraid to experiment. I learn from comments, conversations, questions, role models, and inspirations. There’s so much out there, and that’s a real gift.

I know what it’s like to worry about whether you’re going to waste someone else’s time or mess up someone else’s work. Sometimes that keeps me from writing or publishing, but I’m getting better at going ahead anyway. More often, I struggle with not feeling that I understand something well enough to write about it – and then I remind myself that “showing my work” helps other people learn from or even correct it.

There’s a lot I need to learn about sharing more effectively. Writing with a plan. Cutting out excess. Making things clear. Drawing, editing video, and so on. I need questions and answers and feedback. I think it will be a good adventure.

Commonality: We’re all learning, and we all have more to learn.

Willingness to be known: Why does this matter to me personally? I was a child when I realized that life is too short to spend figuring everything out on my own. I devoured books – voracious enough that my grade school principal said I wasn’t a bookworm, but a booksnake.

I started finding the gaps that I couldn’t learn from the books I read. I started learning things on my own and from other people – and, too often, forgetting. I share because I don’t trust my brain, and because I’m curious about what I can learn from people if I help them leapfrog me. I don’t want writing to be limited to authors or drawing limited to artists. I want people to feel comfortable using whatever they want to capture and perhaps share what they learn.

II. Shared context

Blogging made it easier for people to share their thoughts, but still, surprisingly few people do it. New technologies make it easier for people to draw, but people tell themselves that they can’t doodle. I wonder what’s next, what could encourage people to share more, what could help me share better.

I don’t have a burning platform; it isn’t a timely issue. Except, perhaps, that life is short, and I forget, and things unshared are conversations that don’t happen. So yes, I have a very selfish reason for sharing. =)

III. Declaring and Describing the Future

Here’s the future I imagine: an awesome life. A life filled with doing and learning and sharing, saving other people time or inspiring other possibilities. It’s a small vision, an individual one. The bigger vision is to help other people live their own awesome lives. =) Better than a foggy life, yes?

What does that future look like and feel like? I imagine I’d follow my curiosity, dipping into my outline or list of ideas for more inspiration. I’d read, try things out, talk to people, write, draw, share. We’ll ask questions together, dig into things deeper, explore more. It’ll be useful and fun.

But it has to be more than that. It would be good for me to learn how to order my thoughts and write books, so that I can help people who are new to a field instead of just people who are in the middle of it. It would be good to learn how to make the most of whatever new tools are developed. It would be good to get better at encouraging other people to share.

IV. Committing to Action

Here are some steps I need to take:

  • Practise writing with objectives, outlines, and plans.
  • Practise illustrating ideas – mine and other people’s.
  • Practise talking to people and sharing what I learn from them.
  • Practise experimenting and breaking out of my comfort zone.
  • Dig into workshops and virtual meetups as a way to help other people learn and share.

If you want to help out, comments, questions, and suggestions welcome!

Want to read the book for yourself?

Like this? Check out my other visual book reviews!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review. Also, if you buy the book through the Amazon link above, I get a small commission. (Check your local library if they have it, if you have a library near you!)

Delegation: Being clear about what you value

In Spousonomics (now retitled as It’s Not You, It’s the Dishes), I came across a brief explanation of David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Economically speaking, it can make sense to trade with other parties even if you can do something faster yourself, because trading frees you up to focus on higher-value work as long as the transportation and transaction costs are not prohibitive.

I’m slowly learning to let go of more and more tasks in terms of delegation and outsourcing. For example, I’ve been working with someone on developing marketing materials for this business idea around sketchnoting. We want to put together a leave-behind that can help event/conference organizers learn more. The person I’m working with has a lot of experience in graphic design and illustration, although I’m probably more comfortable with the copywriting and sketchnoting aspects of it.

She set this up as a fixed-price project. I’ve worked on similar illustration projects at fixed price, and I’m always careful to specify the number of rounds of revisions included. For revisions beyond that, I work at a specified rate, although I might throw in minor revisions for free. I do this because I know people in both software development and illustration who have gotten burned in an endless revision cycle because of client expectations, but I guess many illustrators do open-ended fixed-price projects instead.

When I hire people to do work for me, I want to make sure that I’m doing right by them as well. I don’t want people to get tired of working on this never-ending project. I want to build on people’s strengths and their career interests instead of running into their gaps. I want to focus on the highest-value activities, going for about 80% awesome instead of spending all the time trying to chase down 100%.

One of the things that I’m learning to do is to be explicit about what I value and what I’m looking for. For example, we were going back and forth on the copy for this leave-behind. It can take a while to get to copy that feels right. The discussion does help me clarify what style I’m looking for (now I have a “Goldilocks style guide” with examples of what’s too formal, what’s too informal, and where I want to be), but copywriting isn’t the key value I want to get out of this arrangement. I’d rather have her focus on the parts where I hope she can really make a difference.

I suggested using filler text like “Lorem ipsum” so that we can play with the layout and the feel of the piece without getting distracted by the words. It’s important to have an idea of the rough structure of the text – short paragraphs? a bulleted list? – but we don’t have to finalize it just yet, and I don’t want her to spend hours wrestling with it if there are better things she can do.

What are those things? Well, let’s think about what I really need help with in terms of a leave-behind. The final form factor is probably something like a half-sheet of cardstock. I want something that I can print at home if I’m in a rush, or have printed elsewhere for extra oomph. It should probably be double-sided for efficiency, but it has to accommodate the imprecise nature of printing on home-office equipment. It should look good in black-and-white, and extra-nice in colour. It should be something I can easily edit. There are a whole lot of things that need to be figured out: layout, font selection (must be a Google Web Font that I can use on my website as well), visual balance, what needs to be drawn.

So, what does mini-success for this project look like? Maybe an Adobe InDesign file (ideally, something that I can also convert to an Inkscape SVG!) with some text boxes in a selected font… I’ll probably need to do the final drawing of any illustrations, so maybe there are just boxes where the images go, too.

It’s a bit different from other things she’s worked on, then, where she designs the piece, writes the copy, and draws the illustrations. It can be odd working on something that seems like something you’ve done before, but isn’t quite the same equation. I know I’ve felt insecure about working on projects like that! If I’m clear about what I value, maybe that will help us make the most of the time we spend working on this project.

So I said:

If you’re worried that it’ll be too close to "Well, I drew these boxes on this InDesign file and tweaked them a few times until they lined up, and then you sweated over the copy and the illustration and all of those things I usually work on," I’m sure you’ll find other ways to create enough value to feel good about it. For example:

  • "I looked at X fonts and shortlisted A – E. I recommend B because ______, but C is another good fit for you because _______. Both pair well with D if you need to use a different font for emphasis."
  • "While working on this, I found some examples of marketing materials that you might like. _____ is interesting because of _____, _____ because _____, and _____ because ______."
  • "You’re trying to say too much here. People only need to know ____, _____, and _____. We can save the rest for the website."
  • "You’re not answering enough questions here. We need to bring back that point about ______."
  • "Here are some sketches of what this could look like."
  • "That sketch is unclear – doesn’t communicate ____ to me. How about these versions?"
  • "I checked this with ______ and _____ and they understood it, too."

Who knows, maybe it will include answering specific questions about Illustrator and InDesign in case there are little tweaks I can’t figure out myself! That would be useful too. =)

In particular, the key values I think I’m getting from working with you are:

  • Because you focus on graphic design, you’re probably exposed to lots more input and inspiration than I am. I’m counting on you to be able to pull out examples and ideas from your stash.
  • For similar reasons, you may be better able to differentiate between things and explain why something is a better or worse fit. Think of the way people who are versed in colour theory can explain why certain combinations work and what they can communicate, or how someone who’s interested in typography can discuss different styles
  • Because you aren’t me, you can push back if I’m giving too much or too little detail, using too much jargon, coming across with the wrong tone, or drawing something that people would find hard to understand. ("I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t look anything like an elephant inside a snake…")
  • You’re more familiar with the Adobe suite of tools than I am. You know what things are called and where they are. So you can get the basics in place faster, and you can help me figure out how to do things (especially if I don’t know what those things are called, or which approaches are easier than others).

Part of learning how to delegate is about figuring out where the task boundaries are, so that people feel good about working on and completing various chunks. I’m open to making the copywriting a separate project, and possibly even working with someone else for that. It’s tough, but if I learn how to break things down into projects that tap people’s strengths, and we figure out what makes sense to focus on, that’ll probably work out to a good thing.

There’s so much to learn, and it takes work to learn about delegation this way. I wish I could learn faster or more effectively, but I can’t imagine learning all these things in a class or seminar. Practical experience and mindfulness, then!

Sketchnotes: ENT101 Business Plan and Other Communication Tools–Veronika Litinski

This talk is part of the free MaRS Entrepreneurship 101 series (webcast and in-person session every Wednesday). Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence. Click on the image for a larger version of sketchnotes.

20121205 ENT101 Business Plan and Other Communication Tools - Veronika Litinski

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