Wednesday, July 22, 2015

If you can't articulate a problem, does it exist?

What do you call it when you have educated intuition? I'm actually not even sure if that is a term, but it should be, or at least there should be a term for it. What I'm talking about is not the sixth-sense sort of intuition, but more the sort of intuition you have about something you're familiar with.

For instance, I know a woman who bakes a lot of bread, and she can look at the dough and say "Not enough yeast" or "It's too sticky" or even "I can't make bread today--it won't rise in this weather."

So far, she's never been wrong with these assessments, but I can't see what she's talking about. Bread-making is not my skill-set. (I am very good at baking, but bread-making is a whole other branch of culinary chemistry.)

In general, this educated intuition is good--it's why I can do a high-level review of files and find the error. It's how cooks know to add a little more of one seasoning and not another. It's how we make a lot of day-to-day decisions that we may not even realize we're making.

But this educated intuition can be frustrating, too, when either you don't have it, or you can't access it fast enough.

I was recently at a writing conference where possible titles were being suggested for an as-yet unpublished work, and I knew that the facilitator was listening for a certain rhythm, or cadence, or structure as he rejected titles or put them on the mental "maybe" list. But I am not a professional writer (yet) and I don't have years of experience (or any at all) in the publishing industry. I couldn't hear the difference between suggestions like "The Stone of God" and "God's Stone." (Which one would you be more likely to buy based on title alone?) (Also, if you google image these two phrases you get some similar, but mostly different results. Crazy, right?)

This is frustrating because as a would-be author, I want to market my writing in the best possible way. I want a title that works for the book, catches publishers' and readers' eyes, and is easy to promote. But I have no idea what this sounds like.

Similarly, I work with a woman who is very familiar with her field (we call her a SME--subject matter expert. Oh corporate America and your acronyms!), but when we're in meetings lead by strong personalities, she sometimes pauses before she speaks and by the time she decides what to say, the meeting has moved on to a new discussion point. When I asked her about this, she told me that sometimes she hears an idea, and it clicks around in her brain for a moment or two as she processes it. So she's nearly always a beat behind.

This is unfortunate in two ways: when her educational intuition says "that's won't work" but she can't pinpoint why, people move ahead with plans that have already been tried, or don't have enough data to be useful, or have some other limitation, when a more useful solution could be found if the matter were discussed a little longer. Secondly, when she hears something that sounds workable she doesn't speak up, so the rest of the room doesn't know that they're on the right path.

So obviously, in the first example, experience is a huge help, but it's also fairly easy to google book titles in your genre, or *even crazier* go to a book store and look at what sells (fantasy, for example, has a lot of titles where the structure is The [object] of [some location, person, etc.] as in The Sword in the Stone, while historical fiction uses a [Main character's name]:[His/her unique identifier] model, such as Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World.

But what do you do when you can't access the data quickly? Should you interrupt the meeting and say, "I think you're going to find some problems with that suggestion, but I'll have to get back to you on them"? That sounds pretty lame. And you don't want to schedule another meeting to resolve something you thought was already resolved but turned out it wasn't, although this sort of thing happens all the time.

The problem, it turns out, is in the ability to articulate the problem.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Getting rid of stuff that's not working

As part of my Transform campaign, I'm working on making some changes in my life. But this process is largely trial and error. After reading Gretchen Rubin's book about habits, Better Than Before, I learned that the reward system largely does not work (e.g. If I lose 10 pounds, I can buy myself those cute shoes). Nonetheless, I still harbor the idea that if I do all of this hard work, I should get some sort of treat. I really don't know why this is.

I did learn that I am motivated by external sources, not internal (this was a bit of a surprise to me, too!). This doesn't necessarily mean other people--I love watching the little arrow progress around the treadmill's track signaling that I'm closer to completing another lap. But, this is also why I'm doing a sugar-detox diet with friends. Left to my own devices, I think I'd only be eating scrambled eggs and veggies. And I'd be doing a lot of crying. And I'd probably give up after about 5 days.

Part of this Transform journey is figuring out what works, but another part is figuring out what doesn't work. As it turns out, I really don't like exercising in the morning. When I lived in Oregon, I could manage it because I would work out with friends who lived in the same apartment complex, and we would use the complex's gym. Convenience, it turns out, is super-important to me. I am more likely to exercise at work, even if they don't have all of the equipment I'd like to be using, than I am to drive to my local gym. Mostly because I'm already at work.

I'm more functional when I have time to get up slowly. This morning I got out of bed at 6:40 am and left for work at 8:40 am. I'm pretty sure most people do not spend two hours getting ready to go to work, but I like to sit at the kitchen table and read while I eat breakfast, and whenever I don't do this, I feel sort of off-rhythm all day. Sometimes I do productive things before work, like pay bills, but most of the time I just read.

I've discovered that meditation does not work for me, at least not right now. It simply became another thing for me to do, and while I was meditating, I really, really struggled to turn off the "monkey mind." In theory, that's sort of the point of meditation--to be able to turn off the monkey mind, but I actually found my pulse speeding up while I meditated instead of doing whatever it was I needed to do IMMEDIATELY AFTER I FINISH MEDITATING. So I decided to stop trying to meditate. I might try again in the future, but right now, it is not a good fit.

As it turns out, this Transform project is also a project of self-discovery!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Not yet

I am a chronic over-scheduler. In general, I say it's because there are so many interesting things to do, and my job isn't one of them. But, alas, I have bills to pay! So I try to maximize my "free time" to the point where I literally fall asleep on the floor mid-post-run-stretch.

This is maybe not the healthiest approach to life...especially since I'm no longer in my twenties, when you can still conceivably beat up your body and get by. So, I'm practicing making "not yet" decisions.

To be clear, this is not a form of procrastination (like my constantly changing outlining of my novel may or may not be). This is for stuff that I'd really like to do, but there is no realistic way for me to do right now. This is not something I get to say about making credit card payments, going grocery shopping, or even scheduling dental appointments. That would be procrastination.

"Not yet" is for great ideas: we should go to Peru! It will be amazing! Yes, I'd love to go to Peru, and I'm sure it will be amazing (I mean, hello, llamas!). But, not yet. Let's put that on the 5-year plan.

"Not yet" is for decisions I don't have to make right now. Would I like to be a life coach? I think so, but I'll need to look into it a lot more. Is this something I can realistically take on right now? No. Well, then not yet. I cannot become a life coach yet.

"Not yet" is about realizing that there is a time/money/energy gap between many of the things I'd like to do, and my current availability to do them. It doesn't mean I can't ever do them, it just means I can't do them YET. It means I'm actively deciding to postpone decision making on things that don't need a decision YET. It means I can relax about some of the nebulous anxiety around ALL OF THE AWESOME THINGS I COULD BE DOING IF ONLY I WASN'T STUCK AT WORK!!! I'm just not doing those awesome things YET. It is not about giving up, or quitting; it is simply about acknowledging limitations, including that I can't possibly be doing everything all of the time.