The Bliss of a Bizarro Book Club

While book clubs are great for getting everybody on the same page (har har), a Bizarro Book Club is a way to inject more diversity into your intellectual life. I’ve talked before about the importance of high quality inputs to your creativity, and this is my favorite new method for finding stuff that I would never have on my own. It combines the traditional social benefits of a book club with a much more exciting way of engaging with books, and it’s just as easy to do.

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Building Connections with Oral Storytelling

Humans have been telling stories face to face since forever, and doing it well gives you a leg up personally and professionally. Compelling business presentations are critical for success, and natural storytelling techniques can take them to the next level. Even outside of business, stories help you build relationships and entertain your friends. You can improve your oral storytelling today by paying attention to structure, shortening your stories, using your voice well, and supporting what you say with your face and hands. 

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Jeff Russell Storytime

One of my favorite memories from the Army is “Jeff Russell Storytime”. It seemed like a silly way to pass the time, but ended up teaching me a lot that I still use today. Out of way too much free time, it evolved into a regular occurrence that we all enjoyed a lot. I got to share some of my favorite gems from history and mythology, and over time I learned a thing or two about storytelling.

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My Approach for a Virtuous Life

Today I run the risk of sounding  a bit preachy. Let me state for the first (but not last) time that I don't want to tell you how to live your life or what “being good” means. We all want to be good people, but many of us have different perspectives on what that means. Even worse, almost every terrible ethical lapse you read about in the news began years ago with a gradual slip. We can all fall prey to this, so it helps to clearly spell out our code of behavior. That’s why I’ve laid out below the process I followed to settle on my own virtues, and the steps I take to try to live up to them. I hope that you get some ideas on how you might think about and reinforce your own principles.

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Groundwork for Strategy

Strategy gets used so much and for so many things that it has become almost meaningless. Playing wargames as a kid kindled my fascination with strategy, joining the Army stoked that fire, and going to business school and into management consulting has worked it into a raging blaze. As much as I love strategy, I am painfully aware of its status as a cringe-inducing buzzword. So today I want to lay out my own definition of strategy, a bit of history where it came from, why it has gotten its sorry reputation, and how you might apply it to your own life. So, let’s get on with rescuing strategy from the depths of jargon hell.

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Some of the Things I Learned in 2017

One of the most important habits I have been building over the past couple years has been to be more deliberate in my reflection. So I wanted to close out this year with an inventory of what I’ve learned, both to solidify it and to figure out where I might spend my efforts next year. To figure out how to structure such a list, I turned to my daily practice modeled on the one suggested by James Altucher, but with a few additions. These are the areas of my life I have defined as important enough that I need to learn and grow in them every day, so it makes sense to reflect on them here at year end. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully captures some of the most important lessons.

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An Expanded Definition of Reading

We tend to think of “reading” as the time we have a book in front of our face, but when you stop to ask why you are reading, a number of other activities suggest themselves as part of the bigger enterprise. If you are reading to learn, simply passing your eyes over the words will only get you a fraction of what’s there. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to make reading as effective as possible, and below I share my current thinking.

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Learning Through Storytelling

Stories are not only a great way to communicate information, they are also a powerful tool for learning it. People remember information better when it comes in the form of a story. In fact, we are so good at putting stuff together into stories that we often get things wrong with it. Fortunately, you can take advantage of our natural tendencies to learn better. Besides making your process more fun, there are three main ways stories can help you learn: forcing careful thought, assisting recall, and providing deliberate practice.

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Journaling as Thinking

Journaling doesn’t just mean recording your life for when you become super famous, you can accomplish a lot of different things by journaling. Sure, you absolutely can create a record for yourself and your family (and future biographers). You might instead want to get the neurotic and depressed thoughts out of your head and onto paper so that you can get on with business. Or perhaps you want to reinforce habits, like being grateful or generating ideas. These are great things to do, and I regularly practice all of them, but today I want to focus on journaling to understand and internalize complex material. In other words, using journaling as a tool for thinking and learning. For these purposes, journaling helps in three main ways: improving recall, figuring stuff out, and improving your chances of making connections.

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Storytelling Part 5: Resources for Digging Deeper

I’ve done my best to share a fantastic beginner’s guide to storytelling with this series, but there is a lot of depth to all of the topics that I’ve touched on. Below, I provide my recommendations on resources for digging into Story Structure, Effective Practice, Public Speaking, Oral Storytelling, Writing, and Visual Storytelling. In each section, I’ve provided a handful of my favorite “how to” resources, whether books, blogs, videos, or courses along with a section of illustrative examples applying the lessons you’ll learn from the how to books. These lists are by no means exhaustive, and if I’ve missed any of your favorite works on storytelling, please let me know, as I am always hungry for new insights on the topic.

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Storytelling Part 4: Delivery

Now that your story has a great structure and you know what good practice looks like, let’s focus on what you’re actually trying to improve with your practice: the delivery of your story. I’ve gotta tell you, this was the hardest post for me to write in this series because delivery is so dependent on your medium - public speakers care vary much about maintaining their posture and projecting their voice, comic book artists not so much. As I reflected, though, I realized that their are three principles underlying good execution in storytelling regardless of medium: clarity, pacing, and emotion. 

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Storytelling Part 3: Practice, Practice, Practice

However you choose to share your stories with the world, you’ll have to practice to make them look effortless and beautiful. You’ll need to tell more stories and tell each of your stories more times to improve your craft and your tales. To make those repetitions useful, you’ll need feedback as fast as possible, and the best feedback comes from a caring but objective partner. After I dig into each of these topics, I’ll give you a specific playbook for preparing for a speech.

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Make Decisions Like a Boss

Making good decisions is an essential life skill, and you can improve it with practice. We have some fundamental handicaps to overcome, but if we make it a habit to practice decisiveness in low-impact environments and avoid worthless decisions when it matters, we can dramatically improve our ability to make high quality decisions. By committing to better decision making, recognizing when to make decisions and when not to, improving our ability to do one thing at a time, and clarifying what we are deciding, we can improve not only the quantity but the quality of the decisions we make. 

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Habits for a Happier Life

Recently, I found myself in a funk for a month or two. I don’t want to go all James Altucher and turn this blog into a parade of failures and fears, but I think it’s important to take a look behind the curtain of the generally positive tone I keep here. So, as you read the tips below, keep in mind that they’re coming from someone who needs them.

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What I Learned at Forefront 2017

Last weekend I attended a conference called Forefront in Chicago, and I had a great time. I met a ton of great people and learned a lot. So, I wanted to record what I learned here, both so that I could keep it fresh, and also to share some of the great material with a wider audience. I learned how great it is to connect with people that are weird the same way you are, how to be happier, how better to hold myself and my clients accountable, and the value of belonging to a supportive community when trying to accomplish anything challenging. If anything I mention below sparks an interest, please follow some of the links and learn more about it, or even better, reach out so we can discuss. 

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Depth Before Breadth - Why You Should Learn One Thing at a Time

Many of us have a hard time limiting our effort to one field at a time - there’s so much interesting stuff out there and it’s more available than ever. All of this stuff can lure us into paying hidden costs when we try to learn everything all at once - costs that prevent us from getting the benefits breadth is supposed to bring. On the other hand, if you pursue depth, while you will only focus on one field at a time before moving onto the next, you will get much more out of each field, with a more robust breadth down the road. 

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Virtual Mentors

High performers frequently emphasize the importance of quality mentors, and we’ve all experienced the value of learning from people who have been there and done that. Finding a great mentor can be a big challenge, though. Luckily, you can benefit from the wisdom of impressive people you with  “virtual mentors”.

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