Books Business development Life

Proust on Procrastination

Proust, portait by Jacques Emile Blanche

In this wonderful passage Proust nails procrastination and all the evasive and equivocal excuses we give ourselves for putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today. Incisive, but also very funny. We may deceive others, or even ourselves, temporarily, but deep down we know:

Had I been less firmly resolved upon settling down definitively to work, I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my resolution was explicit, since within twenty-four hours, in the empty frame of the following day where everything was so well arranged because I myself was not yet in it, my good intentions would be realised without difficulty, it was better not to start on an evening when I felt ill-prepared. The following days were not, alas, to prove more propitious.

[ … ]

Confident that by the day after tomorrow I should have written several pages, I said not a word more to my parents of my decision; I preferred to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way. Unfortunately the next day was not that vast, extraneous expanse of time to which I had feverishly looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-four hours longer.

[ … ]

To my parents it seemed almost as though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same salon as a great writer, the life most favourable to the growth of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can acquire it from someone else, is as erroneous as to suppose that a man can keep himself in good health (in spite of neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst excesses) merely by dining out often in the company of a physician.

[From In Search of Lost Time Vol.II]

He goes on (of course!), but it really is time I got some work done …

How to do what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve? It’s summed up perfectly in this morning’s daily truthbomb (#193) from Danielle LaPorte:

Love the necessary hard work.


Business development social media

Optimizing your Pinterest page

Pinterest is the fastest growing social network, and is now embracing business with its business pages (it wasn’t long ago that business was banned but, hey, Pinterest is ‘pivoting’).

So it’s a good time to get on board and make the most of this opportunity to attract more traffic, leads and customers to your business. This great infographic by Tehmina Zaman of Entrepreneur TV has solid advice on making sure your efforts reap rewards:




blogging Business development Work life

Getting it done

Like many (most?) of us, I am rarely short of a good reason not to get something done – thinking more about it / trying to perfect it / waiting for the right moment etc. etc.

But there’s always a better reason to get it done. Because otherwise projects drag on, lose momentum and, in the end, often don’t get done at all.

So the latest post from Leo Babauta at zen habits that dropped into my email inbox – 4 Simple Principles of Getting to Completion – hit home. And in fact I applied the principles to make this post now, instead of thinking about it and (probably) not doing it (ever so much better and more polished) in a day or two.

In short, the four principles are:
1. Keep the scope as simple as possible.
2. Practice ‘Good Enough’. Perfectionism is the enemy of completion.
3. Kill extra features.
4. Make it public, quick.

Read them in more detail here.

That said, I am pleased that I didn’t immediately adopt one of his suggestions for email sanity that arrived last Monday – unsubscribe to every newsletter.

Business development Life Music

If you’re not living on the edge,

you’re taking up too much space!’ (Unknown).

My take-away from the excellent presentation by Dr Dave (Richards, of Bournemouth University) who spoke at the South Coast Connections networking event earlier in the week.

He was speaking on innovation, defining the innovative as that which adds new value – though he was careful to emphasise that value should not be understood solely in monetary terms.

He also highlighted the importance of conviviality: an idea not shared is probably an idea that will not be developed to its full potential. Brainstorm constantly, share, be joyful, but be ruthless in throwing out good ideas as soon as possible within the development process in order to concentrate your resources on the great ideas.

His presentation was thought-provoking and entertaining, but the visuals occasionally a bit tired. For example, a dominatrix to illustrate discipline. That idea’s been round the houses and then some.

Except, of course that’ll probably be the one thing everyone will remember. I can just see us all, a month or so from now, waking with the insistent idea in our heads that ‘we need discipline‘ but not being entirely sure why.

The next morning I was out early, walking through the woods with the dog, the crunch of a light frost underfoot and Joni Mitchell in the earphones as the sun rose in a red sky; a fleeting moment of perfection.

But let’s not talk about fare-thee-well’s now
The night is a starry dome.
And they’re playin’ that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the Matala moon…

Today the postman brought a surprise – a beautifully produced hardback book of samples of Colorplan, paper and card by GF Smith.

It is ideal for filing on the shelf, so it is always to hand, ready to be consulted. And, as it happens, I use Colorplan for the cover of our poetry magazine (Tears in the Fence, issue 51 just out). BUT, and it’s a big but, there is no key or other text to identify the colours.  So having chosen a paper colour, how do I communicate this to the printer?

Live on the edge, but don’t step into the void.

Books Business development Personal development

Cities of the mind

The Invisible City of Musistella/Invisible Cities)Second View, originally uploaded by magic fly paula.

The inter-city train that Harvey (Taylor of HBT) set in motion in his incisive and characteristically exuberant presentation at the recent Shires BusinessXchange meeting has been running around my mind ever since and prompting searching questions –

Have I got the balance between Domesti and Auda right; Am I in Nebulo, when I should be in Specifi; And what about the balance between Complexi and Simpli (and here he gave us a wonderful quote from Einstein ‘Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’); Most important of all, am I living in Authenti…?

And thinking about Harvey’s cities got me thinking about, and then re-reading, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, that extraordinary book of imagined cities, of states of mind and experience, of dreams and desire, of images and ideas. The world, parsed through an infinite series of possibilities.

Take the ‘grey stone metropolis’ of Fedora, for example, in the centre of which ‘stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room.’ ..

These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

On the map of your empire, O Great Khan, there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer.

[Cities & Desire 4, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian from William Weaver, Picador]

And then I found this series of ravishing images, inspired by Invisible Cities. The image for Zora is above:

Zora’s secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered or displaced.

See the whole set, by magic fly paula, here.

If you ask an inhabitant of Zenobia to describe his vision of a happy life, it is always a city like Zenobia that he imagines, with its pilings and its suspended stairways, a Zenobia perhaps quite different, a-flutter with banners and ribbons, but always derived by combining elements of that first model.

Business development technical writing Work life

Adding value through technical communications

Those within technical communications have long argued that product documentation provides significant value in terms of customer satisfaction and ongoing savings in customer support and service.

A new investigation, by leading US business researchers The Aberdeen Group, gives strong support to this view, and those who tend to view documentation simply as a cost centre are likely to be losing out to competitors.

Aberdeen’s analysis of data gathered from 165 participating companies demonstrates that the contribution of good product documentation and technical communications to enterprise profitability is far more significant than many realise and, when leveraged effectively, stands to contribute as much as a 42% increase in customer satisfaction and an associated 45% increase in product revenue.

Aberdeen’s research found that as a result of their simultaneous focus on operational efficiency and documentation quality, Best-in-Class companies were able to realize significant customer-facing value through technical communications, including:

  • 41% decrease in volume of inbound calls to customer support
  • 42% decrease in time to resolution with customer support
  • 41% increase in customer satisfaction score

Aberdeen’s data clearly indicates that Best-in-Class performers have found the means to leverage technical communications to influence customers’ experiences with a marked impact on business profitability, and that whilst all too often regarded as a cost centre, technical communications and documentation are actually key profit generators.

The report identifies key factors used by the ‘Best-in-Class’ companies to maximise the performance of technical communications, such as:

  • Commit to reusing content
  • Measure the operational performance of technical communications
  • Capture customer feedback
  • Increase the personalization of documentation, customizing documentation to specific customer orders and needs
  • Engage and educate customers with rich media – for example, interactivity to enable the customer to control progress through training or documentation

Factors which I suspect this blog will be returning to in the future.

‘Technical Communications as a Profit Center’, David Houlihan, The Aberdeen Group, September 2009, Boston, Ma.

Free access to the report is available via this link to Technical Communications as a Profit Center (until 27 November 2009).

Business development Life

On being different

A couple of exceptional programmes on radio four last week, the first being David Walliams on Desert Island Discs. This is a fantastic format – who hasn’t fantasised about being the guest? Whilst over the years it has gone through phases of being fairly anodyne, now, with Kirsty Young, it makes compelling listening. It’s amazing how she gets her guests to open up.

Each week is practically a masterclass in establishing empathy and conducting an interview. Never more so than with her justly celebrated interview with David Walliams last week, who gave us an extraordinary insight into his life – what it is, being him. I was about to give a link to listen again, but find you can’t listen again. So don’t miss Richard Madeley next week.

But one programme you can listen again to, and I urge you to do so, is the Woman’s Hour interview with Catherine W Hill, which I heard completely by chance driving to a meeting.

A truly remarkable person who survived Auschwitz and went on to become, as Radio 4 puts it,  the ‘doyenne of Canadian style’ championing designers such as  Versace and Armani in her influential boutique ‘Chez Catherine.’

Asked what made her successful, she replied

‘You have to have the right product, you have to fall in love with it, you have to enjoy it and you have to give something … the most important thing a person can have is empathy, and curiosity … When I opened the store I never thought about how much money I might make, I thought about what can I achieve? How can I be different?

I am looking forward to reading her book, which is in draft at the moment, titled, brilliantly,  ‘Dressing The Wound.’

As it happens, being different was also one of the topics in media life coach Joanne Mallon’s newsletter last week:

When you are in business for yourself, it stands to reason that you will be passionate about what you do. Otherwise you’d go and do something much easier like get a real job, right?

Sometimes it can be a short sharp thunk in the head to realise that not everyone shares your passion. And when it comes to media interviews, really no one cares about what you do. They care about the results. They’re interested in your story – where does that passion come from? What differentiates you from everyone else in the same business as you? Why did you choose that particular niche instead of another one?

Hone in on what it is that makes you different, and you are on your way to discovering what makes you news.

Happily here, now, in the west we are in a place where difference can (generally) be celebrated. What’s different is what makes us news – but in a good way.

Catherine Hill trod a fine line when she gave in to the impulse to tear a strip from the bottom of her camp uniform and wear it as a scarf. It made her stand out: a risky business in Aushwitz, that brought her to the attention of the prison guards. As it happened, the action probably saved her life, but it could so easily have been different.

Which (almost) connects with today’s news story that MI5 kept the enigmatic and brilliant photographer Lee Miller under surveillance for 15 years, and a good excuse (if one were needed) to feature one of my favourite photographs – of Lee Miller in Hitler’s bath, Munich 1945:

Read article by Antony Penrose, her son, in the timesonline here

The photo can be seen in larger format at