December 24, 2009

A sizzling book of inspiration for anyone who cares about kids

During my sophomore year of college I had a professor who shared this mantra with his students: be one on whom nothing is lost or wasted.  Use every experience to learn, grow, and become the best that you can. Although its meaning was somewhat lost on me at the time, I understand it completely now. I was reminded of Dr. Backes’ passion for teaching and learning as I read Rafe Esquith’s book, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World.

This book is a thoughtful discourse on how we can and must do a better job of raising and educating kids today. It’s a must read for any educator, parent, or youth-centered professional, especially if your enthusiasm has waned or you’re beginning to believe that your effort is similar to rowing a boat upstream. The author has been there himself and acknowledges the cultural inertia that leads to this sort of discouragement.

America’s education problem, Esquith says, stems from being overly concerned with giving kids the material things they need to be educated (e.g. laptops and textbooks) and insufficiently concerned with providing tools and processes that will make a substantive, lasting difference in their lives, giving them the ability to think. He enumerates the ways in which we betray kids, sometimes with the best of intentions and sadly, sometimes with no intention at all.

Although he writes passionately about the changes we need to make at home and in the classroom, the book is salted with humility. That helps the whole thing go down a little easier. Especially when you realize that the bedrock values he believe kids need to reach their full potential are probably antidotes for what ails many of us grownups today—arrogance, selfishness and a host of other character defects. For how can we equip kids with these skills and traits when we lack them ourselves?

Throughout the book, Esquith cites literature and films that reinforce lessons extraordinary kids must learn. As a practicing children’s librarian, I just love that. There is nothing quick, formulaic or simple about his approach to raising kids who succeed in life. Esquith admits it takes a complex mix of prolonged and seemingly small acts among the adults who steer them through childhood and adolescence. Even when kids learn discipline, perseverance, humility, discernment, time management, generosity, delayed gratification, gratitude, personal responsibility and courage, they can still slip up and make poor choices.  Toward the end of the book, there is a wonderful section to help parents and kids evaluate colleges and universities.

Although the author isn’t a parent, he is an award-winning teacher who knows whereof he speaks. His former students, many from underprivileged families in Los Angeles, have graduated from some of the most prestigious universities in the world. He has received numerous awards including the president’s National Medal of the Arts, the American Teacher Award, Parent magazine’s As You Grow Award, People magazine’s Heroes Among Us Award, and Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award—not that the outward trappings of success mean anything to him. A thing worth doing should be done for its own sake—not to impress others. Getting that wrong is just one of the many ways Esquith says we can warp kids into doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. Esquith’s wisdom can do more than help kids be successful. It can help develop the habits and character that make for a happy and fulfilled life. Read it and you’ll vow to do better by the kids you’re responsible for teaching or raising.

December 15, 2009

Take the social justice challenge for 2010

2010 Social Justice Reading Challenge

Deep down I read because I hope it will make me a better person. I figure that if I become a better person, I may improve the world in some small way. If that’s the kind of thing that motivates me to read, why wouldn’t the same be true for kids? After all, kids are among the most idealistic people on the planet. I used this as the rationale for a new book discussion group for kids at a public library where I work. Kids meet once a month to practice yoga, make art, and discuss what’s going on in other parts of the world--and what even a kid can do to make a difference.

Hooked on this idea as I am, I was delighted when I discovered a reading challenge issued by like-minded people—people who know that books can expand our sense of reality and our place within it. Thanks to fellow blogger Natasha (Maw Books Blog) I’m passing on the Social Justice Challenge, which encourages readers to learn about unjust causes through books, essays and blogs. Beyond that, it offers tools to empower anyone to make positive changes in our world.

This is not an overwhelming commitment, although it has the potential to change the world in significant ways. Sign up for 12 months of participation, but participate at whatever level you want on a month to month basis, depending on how much time you have each month: as a student, activist, intern, volunteer. I hope you and your entire family will join me in this worthwhile pursuit. This is a great family project, so be sure to include your kids. Visit the Social Justice Challenge blog, subscribe, and follow on Twitter for details.

November 19, 2009

Steve Jobs: 7 Lessons from a Marketing Genius

Today's guest writer is Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is considered one of the greatest marketers in corporate history. For more than three decades, he has delivered legendary keynote presentations, raised product launches to an art form and successfully communicated the benefits of Apple products to millions of customers. Whether you're in sales, marketing, advertising or public relations, Steve Jobs has something to teach you about telling your brand story.

Plan in analog. Steve Jobs may have made a name for himself in the digital world, but he prepares presentations in the old world of pen and paper. He brainstorms, sketches and draws on whiteboards. Before a new iPhone, iPod or MacBook is introduced, the Apple team decides on the exact messages (aka, benefits) to communicate. Those messages are consistent across all marketing platforms: presentations, Web sites, advertisements, press releases, and even the banners than are unfurled after Jobs' keynote.

Create Twitter-friendly headlines. Can you describe your product or service in 140 characters? Steve Jobs offers a headline, or description, for every product. Each headline can easily fit in a Twitter post. For example, when he introduced the MacBook Air in January, 2008, he said that it is simply, "The world's thinnest notebook." You could visit the Apple Web site for more information, but if that's all you knew, it would tell you a lot. If your product description cannot fit in a Twitter post, keep refining.

Introduce the antagonist. In every classic story, the hero fights the villain. The same holds true for a Steve Jobs presentation. In 1984, the villain was IBM, "Big Blue." Before he introduced the famous 1984 ad to a group of Apple salespeople, he created a dramatic story around it. "IBM wants it all," he said. Apple would be the only company to stand in its way. It was very dramatic and the crowd went nuts. Branding expert, Martin Lindstrom, has said that great brands and religions have something in common: the idea of vanquishing a shared enemy. Creating a villain allows the audience to rally around the hero -- you, your ideas and your product.

Stick to the rule of three. The human brain can only absorb three or four "chunks" of information at any one time. Neuroscientists are finding that if you give your listeners too many pieces of information to retain, they won't remember a thing. It's uncanny, but every Steve Jobs presentation is divided into three parts. On September 9, 2009, when Jobs returned to the world stage after a medical leave of absence, he told the audience that he had three things to discuss: iPhone, iTunes and iPods. Jobs even has fun with the rule of three. In January, 2007, he told the audience he had "three revolutionary" products to introduce -- an iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator. After repeating the list several times he said, "Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. They are one device and we are calling it iPhone!"

Strive for simplicity. Apple chief design architect, Jonathan Ive, said Apple's products are easy to use because of the elimination of clutter. The same philosophy applies to Apple's marketing and sales material. For example, there are forty words on the average PowerPoint slide. It's difficult to find ten words in one dozen Apple slides. Most of Steve Jobs' slides are visuals -- photographs or images. When are there words, they are astonishingly sparse. For example, in January, 2008, Jobs was delivering his Macworld keynote and began the presentation by thanking his customers for making 2007 a successful year for Apple. The slide behind Jobs simply read "Thank you." Steve Jobs tells the Apple story. The slides compliment the story.

Reveal a "Holy Smokes" moment. People will forget what you said, what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. There's always one moment in a Steve Jobs presentation that is the water cooler moment, the one part of the presentation that everyone will be talking about. These show stoppers are completely scripted ahead of time. For example, when Jobs unveiled the MacBook Air, what do people remember? They recall that he removed the computer from an inter-office envelope. It's the one moment from Macworld 2008 that everyone who watched it -- and those who read about -- seem to recall. The image of a computer sliding in an envelope was immediately unveiled in Apple ads and on the Apple website. The water cooler moment had run according to plan.

Sell dreams, not products. Great leaders cultivate a sense of mission among their employees and customers. Steve Jobs' mission is to change the world, to put a "dent in the universe." According to Jobs, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to do great work is to love what you do." True evangelists are driven by a messianic zeal to create new experiences. When he launched the iPod in 2001, Jobs said, "In our own small way we're going to make the world a better place." Where most people see the iPod as a music player, Jobs sees it as tool to enrich people's lives. It's important to have great products, of course, but passion, enthusiasm and emotion will set you apart.

©2009 Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

November 18, 2009

Yesterday the New Oxford American Dictionary named “unfriend” as the top new word of 2009. Unfriend: to boot someone out of your life, either virtually, in real life, or both. The fact that we need a common word for this act may underscore a growing problem we’re having with loyalty these days.

How loyal are you? To your friends, family, employer, customers, colleagues? If you’re like most people who answer that question, you believe that you’re giving way more loyalty than you get. That’s just one of the surprising conclusions of a study done by two experts on the subject of loyalty. In their book Why Loyalty Matters, Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy explore every dimension of loyalty and how basic it is to lasting happiness and success in our life and work. The book is an exhaustive study of loyalty that begins with the authors’ research in business marketing and extends to just about every kind of relationship you can imagine.

While most of us are keen to notice when loyalty isn’t flowing our way, the authors say we tend to miss our own role in building loyal relationships. We’ve trained ourselves to shop for the best possible deal. So we scour the earth for the lowest price, but mourn the demise of a business we loved, yet didn’t patronize, never realizing that our behavior was part of its death. It’s this sort of disconnect that has the potential to undermine a virtue that’s the bedrock of humanity and personal character. Without loyalty, all bonds fall apart because we have no reason to hang together.

A certain amount of self-sacrifice and self-examination is a key part of building lasting relationships. “If we always see ourselves as more loyal than everyone around us, the problem will continue,” Aksoy says. “To improve we have to examine what we’re focusing on and recognize how we connect with others.”

Why should I be loyal when others haven’t reciprocated? Aksoy answers the question by comparing loyalty to love. “You don’t give up on love when your heart is broken,” she said. “To get more, you have to give more.”

Sooner or later everyone we know will disappoint us in some way. How we handle those disappointments is a predictor of our satisfaction and fulfillment in relationships at work and in our personal lives.

The authors acknowledge the fact that all loyalty isn’t good. In situations that are toxic or destructive, for example, sometimes the most loyal thing you can do is disconnect. In any context, we have to know where our loyalties are and whether our patterns are constructive. To help readers to appraise their own loyalty behaviors and satisfaction, Why Loyalty Matters includes access to a very useful online tool called the Loyalty Advisor. Using a password that’s published in the back of the book, you can seek 360 degree feedback by inviting up to 10 colleagues and friends to anonymously assess how you present yourself. One week after completing the assessment and submitting the e-mail addresses of your friends, family, or colleagues, you’ll receive a copy of your assessment report.

If you don’t buy the book and take the assessment, here’s a simple, but profound exercise the authors suggest to assess whether your actions are building loyalty where it matters most: 
  • Ask yourself how much time you spend at work, with family, with friends, for causes you believe in, or doing nothing. 
  • How much time goes to things that inevitably hurt you, worsen your perspective, or ruin your day? 
  • How much of what you do with your time actually leaves you feeling uplifted and strong? 
  • When it comes to your important loyalties, are you allocating time for them?

November 3, 2009

The Birthday Project

Having books in my life has meant everything to me. They've been my friends, my guides, my entertainment, and my soulmates. I can't think of a better way to celebrate my 49th birthday today than to share my love of reading with 49 youngsters on their birthday. So e-mail your child's name, birthday, and the title and ISBN of any book (up to $12.99) from my online bookstore. I'll try to make sure your selection arrives by your child's birthday. My offer stands for the first 49 names I receive. I'll gladly accept the names of all siblings within a single family. Please add "Birthday Giveaway" to your subject line. Send e-mail to:

October 31, 2009

A kind word of thanks to those who commented

As I posted to Leading Reads yesterday, I noticed a few comments made this month by readers. Unfortunately, I hadn't yet established my settings to notify me of those remarks, so it was my first awareness of your comments. Since most people had profiles that didn't permit me to communicate with them, I'm sending this blanket thanks to everyone who took the time to write a few lines. How nice of you! Many thanks for your kindnesses. It really gladdened my heart!

October 30, 2009

Five things to love about yoga

It’s amazing how your view of things can change over time. When I was first introduced to yoga in 1996, all I could see was a pud form of exercise. I was attracted to it and  enjoyed it, but I didn’t really appreciate its potential, probably because I  wasn’t completely ready for it. I wish I had been. Life could have been better a lot sooner. This realization has made me feel obligated to share what little I know about yoga with others, in hopes they’ll discover its potential, too. Here’s what I’ve come to love about the yoga practice I’ve developed over the past few years.

1)Yoga makes you taller.
I feel a good two inches taller after practicing yoga. The reality is probably something far less than that, but all the work we do extending the spine and opening the body has a lengthening effect. It’s one of the first things a beginning student will notice after leaving their first class. After rounding the shoulders all day over computers, desks, steering wheels, and meals, it feels wonderful to counteract that.
2) All things are made clear through yoga.
Addictions, bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and imbalances are all laid bare in a faithful yoga practice. We come face to face with reality in a neutral way that somehow makes change more compelling. We are more drawn to studying sacred texts like the Bible and we see the world and ourselves through the lens of this timeless wisdom. Scary events and people have less power over us because we see them for what they are: delusions and distortions. Since we’re dealing more with reality, we’re less subject to lies—ours and other people’s. We don’t invest energy in things that aren’t real and true. That said, we respect the fact that our reality isn’t the only reality. We are less susceptible to work on changing other people, although we find that other people are often changed when we deal with reality. Since our egos are checked more rigorously, we know that we don’t have all the answers and we have no right to judge. That’s very liberating.
3) Yoga helps you connect with the protective power of God. 
I used to meet God with fear and trepidation. No wonder I found it difficult to develop some discipline around prayer and meditation. My yoga practice has encouraged me to spend more time with God. After I pour out my heart, we spend a little time just hanging out together—and I don’t mean that in an irreverent way. Afterwards, I feel cloaked by His love. When I leave those meetings, I feel more prepared to face the trials of life. I’ve come to see them as a necessary part of my development. I resist them less. Less resistance, less stress.
4) Practicing yoga surrounds you with other people who want to be well and whole. 
For the past six months, I’ve spent four hours a week studying yoga in a teachers’ training program with a dozen people. I’ve never felt more comfortable and safe in a group than I have with these people. Because we’re all striving toward similar goals, we’ve grown close, supporting each other through the burdens of life in the same way that my church family does. We pray for each other. Our study is intense so we move to the heart of most matters with clarity, speed and economy. This group has become like a force field in my life which I know will be with me well beyond the end of our class next February. Whether you intend to teach yoga or not, the deep connections you make with others are reason enough to enroll in a teachers’ training program. Yoga attracts people who are interested in being their best and being a positive force for good in the world. I’m not saying we have the market cornered on the pursuit of excellence, but when you join forces with that kind of energy, don’t be surprised at the improvements you can make.

5) Yoga helps you move through life more easily both physically and mentally.
The first and only time I swung a golf club this year, I was amazed at the fullness of my swing. I could move in a complete sphere. After a year of dedicated practice, I’m stronger and more flexible than ever—and not just physically. Noticing what’s going on in your body gives you a greater capacity to notice where you are tight and rigid in your life. As you learn how to turn loose physically, there’s a direct correlation to your ability to become more open and flexible in life. You bounce back from things easier. You greet challenges with more confidence. Conversely, you also know how and when to accept your own boundaries, understanding when you simply can’t go further safely.

I realize that I have been long on claims and short on explanations, but everyone has to discover the transformative power of yoga for themselves. I hope that my story will motivate someone out there to step onto a yoga mat and give it a try.

Good resources for beginning yoga students
Yoga Basics: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Yoga for a Lifetime of Health and Fitness, by Mara Carrico; 30 Essential Yoga Poses, by Judith Lasater; and The Pure Heart of Yoga: Ten Essential Steps for Personal Transformation by Robert Butera.

October 21, 2009

Five ways to improve your thinking

Brain researchers say growing old isn’t only a factor of a changed body, but of an unchanged mind. One of the healthiest things we can do for our brains is to liberate ourselves from the prison of traditional thought patterns, however comfortable they may seem. Here are five quick ideas for opening new pathways in your brain, gathered from the most current research on brain function and aging.

1) Whatever you normally do in a given situation, do just the opposite.
When the same irritating event repeats itself in life, resist your first impulse and consider the opposite reaction. We can invite a world of possibilities and solutions to old problems when we depart from habitual, automatic responses. Easier said than done, I know.

2) Change the channel.
If you think Glenn Beck holds a mirror on the world, tune in to National Public Radio for your news at least one day a week. Read the International Herald Tribune or another newspaper with a global perspective. Likewise, if you can’t tolerate Beck’s rhetoric, give yourself at least one weekly dose. A friend of ours was horrified to discover that my husband gets his news from the local newspaper. She saw nothing wrong with the fact that her main news channel was Glenn Beck. He couldn’t imagine how she could think Glenn Beck was a reputable source of news. See what I mean?

3) Change your routines.
If you sleep on the left side of your bed, reverse the pattern. If you have nailed a morning ritual that works for you, dare to change it. Move your furniture around—in your head and in your house, and see what happens.

4) Travel. 
Ever notice how your life sparkles after returning from a vacation? Changing your surroundings has an effect on the brain. Okay, maybe now isn’t the time to schedule that trip to Europe. But you can visit a new neighborhood. Try a new sport. Walk through a new neighborhood. Shop in a different grocery. Try a new recipe. Use your imagination. You’ll come up with something that constitutes traveling without going to the moon.

5) Practice suspending judgment.

All the great spiritual texts of the world address the problem we humans have with attachment. When you find yourself clinging to an opinion too dearly, know one thing: you don’t have to change who you are or what you believe to listen with understanding for a period of time. Try to listen to an opposing position without laying your personal veil on top. Appreciating people for who they truly are is a pleasurable experience. Resisting the reality of the world is a major cause of stress. The moment we judge how a person, a situation, or an issue ought to be, we can’t really appreciate what is. Life is just too short for that.

October 14, 2009

The President's letter: a librarian's plan runs afoul

President Obama wrote my library kids a letter this summer. He was responding to a package I mailed the White House last spring, containing letters and drawings from 10 boys in kindergarten through fifth grade. They had drawn and written to the President as part of a library program I planned called “Dear Mr. President” intended to explore similarities between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln. I had another motive for the program: encouraging kids to become part of the democratic process by expressing a point of view. Their letters ranged from the serious to the trivial, covering war, abortion, and a request that the President’s daughters write them back.

This summer I wrote letters to all my state and national representatives to express my views on health care reform. I received only one reply, so I couldn’t imagine that the boys would receive anything for their effort—other than a lesson about living in a free society. When the President’s response to the boys arrived in June, I was beside myself with happiness and surprise. I used to work in the PR field where I frequently performed such ghostwriting tasks for leaders. Please don’t think I am so simple that I believe the letter was written by the President’s own hand, although it is possible.

Knowing that didn’t change my enthusiasm for showing the President’s letter to my colleagues and the kids who had written. Originally, I had hoped to display it in the library to show our kids’ involvement. My enthusiasm was soon dashed by my respected colleagues’ thinly-veiled contempt toward the President. I shared the letter with my kids, but decided not to display it after all, hoping to avoid an affront. I filed it away in a folder. I had never considered the possibility that such a display would be viewed as a political statement. After all, he’s not running for office. He holds the office.

When I ran across the folder in my office yesterday, I was filled with remorse. It’s not that I think President Obama is the Messiah. He’s just a man. Call me old-fashioned. I still believe that the President deserves the respect of his office, whether I agree with him on a particular topic or not.

Like many of my brethren who aspire to be better people than we are, I know that the problems I find in the world are frequently problems that I have with myself disguised. The whole affair reminds me of attachment—my human tendency to lock-in on an idea and maintain my individual sense of rightness at all costs. A survey of spiritual texts teaches me that there are many good reasons to resist this impulse.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still function. Realizing something is hopeless yet being determined to make it otherwise is one example. A writer’s world revolves around imagination and the ability to see the world through the eyes of many different characters. Good leaders do that, too. They have to be willing to consider opinions and views that conflict with their own, realizing there is no single reality. There is only perception. For every position, there is an equal and opposite opinion that’s also true. Whatever we believe about ourselves, the world, or others, someone disagrees and may prove us wrong in the future. Think of all the debunked science myths in your lifetime. Opinions change. Facts change.

If you find it irritating when people think they are right and you are wrong, then join me on a personal challenge to open some new pathways in your own brain and build a more nimble mind. The place to begin is with ourselves. Tomorrow, I’ll feature four ideas for opening new pathways in your brain. Meanwhile, please share your own thoughts about how to develop a brain (and a heart) that’s more open to others.

October 9, 2009

Reading strategies for time-pressed grownups

One night over dinner, one of our friends confided that he had been reading A Tale of Two Cities since last spring. He is determined to slug his way through this classic and others he believes will be more meaningful to him as an adult. Keep in mind, this man has four young children and a demanding job that keeps him at the office much longer than he would like. I admire his tenacity, but another part of me feels nothing but compassion for him. As much as I like Dickens—how could he do that to himself? He deserves to read such works when he is not so tired. Heaven knows Dickens deserves to be read with a mind that’s ready and alert. Classics aren’t always that ponderous, but there are more nourishing reading options for time-pressed adults who want books to be part of their lives.

Here are four strategies for remaining well-read throughout a busy, responsible life.

1. Snack on non-fiction. Who says you have to read the whole book? You’ve been listening to your Mama too long if you think that’s a must. Here’s a good rule of thumb: fiction needs to be read entirely; non-fiction does not. When I review any book, I always read the whole thing. The rest of the time, I move through non-fiction books like I consume news, picking and choosing what I want from each book. I read the introduction and preface for context, followed by the table of contents and index. From that, I choose chapters to read based on the topics that sound most interesting. The number of books published today (fiction and non-fiction) is staggering. So many books, so little time. How many things can you find to be interested in and learn something about? Find ways to snack at the buffet. An interested person is an interesting person.

2. Read children’s literature. You probably think I am saying this because I’m a children’s librarian. Not so. I say it because children’s literature isn’t just for kids. And because children’s books are shorter. The average juvenile fiction book is roughly 250 pages. The market is broader than ever before, covering topics that are both meaningful and entertaining. Children’s books aren’t what they used to be—in a good way. Of course, not every book is for grownups. But you’ll be surprised how many books will resonate with you. I have been totally blown away by serious children’s books like Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli or Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate. Richard Peck makes me laugh out loud. (My husband, too.) I haven’t even begun to speak of picture books, which are now published as collaborations between the most brilliant artists and authors in the world. They are treats for the eyes, heart, and mind. Go to the new book section in the children’s department of your library. You’ll see what I mean. Once again, I say: it’s okay. No one will think you are a simpleton just because you are reading a children’s book. Besides, who cares what someone else thinks? Picture books and juvenile fiction can be just the right tonic for very weary people who really need what’s inside. I’m very, very serious about this. You just don’t know what you are missing.

3. Read poetry. The very word is an affront to some people. I sincerely hope and pray that some English teacher in your past hasn’t ruined this art form for you. Poetry is made for time-pressed people. A whole book in a few lines. What’s not to like? Don’t approach poetry like you did when you were in school. You don’t have to get every metaphor and simile to appreciate it and have it improve your life. Liberate yourself. What do you think the poem is about? Pick up a poetry collection. If you don’t like your first choice, keep searching. Spend some time with one poem every night. Make it part of an evening ritual when you are slowing down, taking time to reflect on your life. You might even decide to memorize a line or two.

4. Know when to put a book down. I belong to a book discussion group. What I love about reading with a group is exposure to unlikely or difficult books. I like learning from the insight other people bring. Being part of the group also pushes me to finish one way or another. Even so, I don’t hesitate to lay one down after I’ve given it a good effort. If it doesn’t grab me in the first 100 pages, it is a goner. Sometimes I decide that a book’s negative messages aren’t good for me. That’s my prerogative. It’s yours, too. On the other hand, some authors make it worthwhile to press beyond your threshold to the end. The journey is worth it. Set your limit and don’t let some arbitrary need to finish make reading a chore. Nothing good can come from that.

5. Include audio books. I don’t care who you are, if you’ve got a job, you’ve only got so much time to sit and read. Think of all the time you spend in traffic or running errands, frustrated and captive. You can recapture some of that time with audio books. My 45-minute commute to work two days a week is like a ride on a magic carpet when I’m listening to an audio book. If you’ve ever felt wistful about all the books you are missing because you are too busy to read, audio books can help you live more and read more.

For a beautiful little treatise on the pleasures and benefits of reading, try The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to Get More Books in Your Life and More Life from Your Books, by Steve Leveen, co-founder of Levenger, a catalog of gadgets for serious readers. This gem of a book is definitely not an infomercial. I keep several copies to give recent graduates as an inspiring reminder that learning isn’t over when school ends.

October 7, 2009

Kids and computers: pondering the ways technology is changing our kids

As a Sunday school teacher in search of ways to make Bible stories engaging for first and second graders, I was thrilled when I discovered a flashy PowerPoint presentation that tells the story of Joshua to kids. Without another thought, I carried my laptop to class and introduced Joshua by inviting each child to read aloud from one of seven slides. Their eyes sparkled with anticipation. Even the shiest readers were eager to interact with a computer. Attention? Mission accomplished. Afterwards I spent some time second guessing my attention-getting strategy for the class. How could I have accomplished the same thing with a book?

The verdict is still out on how computer use impacts brain development in kids. There isn’t much research to weigh the long-term pros and cons of a technology-driven world. Anecdotally, we already see the potential impact in young adults joining the workforce. One of my friends is a change-management consultant who works with leaders and managers in technology-driven companies. Most of her clients are in their 20s and 30s. She recently described giving a 90-minute training session for managers on techniques to help employees cope with the rapid pace of change in the workplace. “At the end of the session, the feedback I got was that the training was way too long.” Get the paradox? Her example may reflect a concern neurologists and educators are still studying:  how does early computer use influence the ability to stay focused for long periods?

Here's what's already known about brain development. Children practice age-appropriate attention skills in stages and then move on to higher levels of concentration.  Until the age of seven, kids are acquiring basic attention skills. Too much input at this stage can cause children to either ignore sensory input or become jittery in unjustified ways. When the senses are teased all at once (as many computer programs and games do) it can impede the ability to focus on one thing at a time. The latest counter-argument in brain research says kids may gain better abilities to multi-task.

The question is: can we overtax the multi-tasking skill? The need to sustain attention on things that aren’t necessarily interesting or immediately gratifying hasn’t declined. Could this same struggle be reflected in our propensity to disobey traffic signals when we can get away with it? Stop for a traffic light? Who’s got the time? Boring. We are in such a hurry to be in the next place that we don’t quite have time to be where we are now.

Consider two more potential hazards of early computer use identified by researchers:

1)    Decreased ability to organize responses in a planned way. Some scientists warn that computer programs tend to lead kids through these steps, so they don’t learn as much as they should about taking steps toward a goal.
2)    Unnatural chemical response from computer stimulation. Many games stimulate hormones and chemicals in the brain. Responses to fear and excitement influence heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle changes. These responses become a habit that happens disproportionately to the situation, causing long-term health implications. Development of the part of the brain that governs emotion and complex thought may also be stunted.

As a librarian, I can’t help but wonder whether increased computer use is blurring the lines between information and knowledge. The teachers and college professors I know confirm that easy access to information has caused a loss of context for real knowledge. The only proven ways to accumulate knowledge is from deep study, experimentation, observation and reading—not the media snacking most of us do daily. Those skills will become increasingly difficult for kids and adults without appropriate development of attention. Parents and educators need to remain cautious about computer use for kids. For now, the recommended daily allowance may be comparable to meat in a healthy diet. It should be treated as a side dish—not the main entree.

Three great resources on kids and computers

The Successful Child: What Parents Can Do to Help Kids Turn Out Well, by Martha Sears, Elizabeth Pantley

Brain Development in a Hyper-Tech World, The Dana Foundation

Who Needs Books When We Have Computers, by Jim Trelease

October 2, 2009

How to love a Kindle reader

My Kindle was a birthday present I gave myself last year after Oprah plugged it on her show. I don’t watch Oprah, but Amazon was giving a $50 discount to anyone who used the Oprah coupon code. The discount was enough to reel me in.

As it approaches its first birthday in my personal library, the Kindle is road-tested and I feel ready to tell all: it’s been like an adulterous affair—exhilarating perhaps, but lacking the deep and abiding love of a lifelong marriage. Books clutter my house and ruin my budget, but we are joined for life, for better or for worse. That said, I lack the willpower to end my relationship with this exciting version of a book. Here’s why:

1) The Kindle is oh-so-portable. If you travel and like having reading choices along, the Kindle is a joy. You may still carry an extra library book or magazine, but you’ll quit packing an entire suitcase or tote bag full of books to accommodate your roving eye.
2) Books are cheap. I’ve always got my eye on the next book I want to read. But we all know that the latest thing costs more. Not with a Kindle. You’ll seldom pay more than $9.99 for a book, even when the new hardback is $24.99. Classics in the public domain are only 99 cents.
3) The Kindle is the perfect companion for the gym. While other people are staring at CNN and Fox, filling their minds with what passes for news today, you can download one of dozens of newspapers or magazines, sampling a different newspaper everyday for a mere 99 cents. This includes international newspapers that provide a larger take on current events. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust the folks that report the news on television anymore. They are in the entertainment business. I still get my news from people who write it or give it to me by ear. They are only half as inclined as their television brethren to spin it.) If the news is depressing, you can choose inspiration, fiction, or non-fiction. Either way, 30 minutes of cardio work on a treadmill passes in a heartbeat. With a Kindle, there’s no wrestling the pages of a book or straining to see. Turning the page or increasing the point size is only a touch. The Kindle is a productivity tool that allows you to read at times you wouldn’t otherwise be reading.
4) You can highlight points and make notes about things you want to remember. Most avid readers mark ideas that hold meaning or contribute to a presentation or article. You can do all this with a Kindle, too.
5) Downloading is easy. Turn on the built in wireless device. Unless you’re out in the boondocks, connecting to the Amazon store is a breeze.

That’s where it ends for me. The reality is this: I can’t bring myself to read fiction on my toy. I suppose it’s because most of the online reading I do is non-fiction. That makes non-fiction on the Kindle seem okay. I’ve tried curling up in bed with an electronic novel, but decades of romantic connection to pages are embedded in my brain as surely as ink is on paper. You can read the pages just fine, but it’s like—well, it’s like committing adultery. You just know it’s wrong. How can that be enjoyable?

There’s another hazard for the true bibliophile. Remember the cheap books I mentioned earlier? That all sounds wonderful until you come to the realization that you must also own a hard copy. Oh, yes. You need it. It must be sitting comfortably on your bookcase where you can reach for it like a spouse. What can I say? Bibliophiles remember things by where they are on a page or within a book. We know the anatomy of a book. Go ahead and buy a Kindle for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. It’ll light your fire, but don’t expect it to be a permanent relationship. The market keeps producing wonderful tools to lure us away. If you’re a hardened addict, it won’t matter. You’re already married.

September 30, 2009

Living a greener lifestyle

People who cook outside and go to the bathroom inside baffled my grandfather. He had a contrarian’s view on many things, including progress: when you’ve come so far that you have to go out of the way to seem natural, something’s wrong, he figured.

I can’t think about the green movement without wondering where he’d stand if he were alive today. As a lifelong farmer and outdoorsman who grew his own food and, yes, killed his own meat, would he be glad to see people interested in protecting the earth? Or would he be among the chorus of conservative contrarians who deny the environmental impact of the past four generations?

At every turn, I find myself surrounded by global warming mockers. They catch a whiff of environmental hypocrisy in people like me: we cling to destructive consumer habits and justify creature comforts, sucking up resources unconsciously for most of our lives. When we realize our yoga mats are decidedly unfriendly to the environment, we suddenly become evangelists for the green movement. Some are truly committed. Others are still so clueless that we’d probably trash our old mats and buy a new “eco-friendly” mat upon learning the bad news. We deserve to be embarrassed.

If you’re among the recent converts who are sincere about reducing your own environmental hypocrisy, read Ecoholic (when you’re addicted to the planet): Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services. This book is loaded with realistic, eco-friendly tips on clothing, food, cosmetics, transportation, and money. Written by Adria Vasil, a Canadian author and journalist who writes a regular Ecoholic column for NOW magazine, this tomb suggests hundreds of micro-decisions you can make to live a greener lifestyle. You can check it out at your local library, but it’s an exhaustive reference book, so you’ll eventually want to buy a copy for your bookshelf. It’s organized in an approachable way with informative sidebars and suggested electronic resources to check products you use.

Two detractions:
1) There’s no bibliography to support the science that’s cited within. That’s unfortunate because it probably weakens the book’s validity, especially with our global-warming-mocker friends.
2) The designers of the book have done a wonderful job of making the book accessible—except for the solid green sidebars, underscoring the book’s green theme in a literal way. Anyone who is familiar with printing processes knows that black type on a solid background decreases readability—a lot.

Those factors aside, I’d still recommend the book as a first step for people who aspire to be an ecoholic. If you’re not already there, this book may be your guide. Beware: you might need to join Ecoholics Anonymous after reading the book!

September 25, 2009

Know more about your food

The way Americans eat is killing us. It’s cheaper and easier by far to eat junk than it is to choose a healthy diet. We gotta change that, according to Michael Pollan, author of three important works about food:

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer, And What You Can Do About It

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

If you want a real education on our food chain and how your diet choices impact the world, start reading! Pollan makes a strong argument for how better diet choices could make a serious dent in other problems like energy consumption and pollution.

Why would a blog that’s all about personal development would take on this subject? Two reasons: 1) Food is a powerful representation of how we view ourselves in relationship to the world. 2) It’s tough to be effective when you aren’t healthy.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how to make a serious change in the way you eat, here are two resources: is an Indianapolis organization with all kinds of resources and events designed to support a healthier take on food. New chapters of this international organization are popping up in cities all over the world as people become aware of how they can contribute to more sustainable lifestyles. If you aren’t in Indianapolis or Cincinnati, you can search for one in your area at

If time is your obstacle to buying and preparing local foods, check out Farm Fresh Delivery, a local service that delivers organic and locally grown foods right to your door. They operate in Indianapolis and Cincinnati. This has been a lifesaver in our busy household. For a minimum $35 delivery, we get a crate loaded with fresh vegetables and fruits every other week. You can set up more frequent delivery and add on a wide variety of products, from meats to dairy and spices. They also allow for substitutions within each standard crate if you have picky eaters in your family. If you live in a major metropolitan area outside Indy or Cincinnati, search for a comparable service in your area.

We love the surprise of opening each crate and seeing what’s for dinner. It forces us to cook new things we might not otherwise try. Rather than wandering the store wondering what to buy, you build meals around each delivery. This expands the variety of foods you consume and reduces the monotony of deciding what’s for dinner. What’s more, you’ll find yourself spending less time at the grocery and taking lunches to work/school more often to make sure what you buy isn’t wasted.

You might think this service would be expensive, but I find it’s no more expensive than shopping the grocery, plus I save time shopping and eat fewer lunches out when I always have fresh produce on hand. Give these things a try and see how they work for you!

September 23, 2009

Earn a free book just for following my blog!

I have a favor to ask: will you follow LeadingReads, the blog? What’s in it for you? Well, for starters, I’m offering a free book (your choice) to the first 20 people who’ll subscribe to LeadingReads feeds (the RSS link is in the column on your right) or follow from Facebook’s Networked Blogs before next Friday, October 2.

Choose any single children’s title up to $20 in value from my Usborne Bookstore. E-mail your name and mailing address plus the title of the book and ISBN# to If you’re an adult reader who has no children, choose a title from Amazon and I’ll gladly oblige you with the book of your choice up to $20. Not to worry: I’m not checking on who actually follows or subscribes. There’s no reason to do that because readers are the most honest of people.

In addition to the free book, you’ll receive regular inspiration for daily life based on books, ideas, resources, and people I discover––all devoted to helping people find ways to become their best. LeadingReads covers a wide range of topics related to good health, better relationships and communication, self-examination, positive thinking and spiritual wisdom drawn from modern and ancient sources. If you dig that sort of thing, I invite you to follow, comment, and perhaps, be a guest blogger whenever appropriate.

I began LeadingReads in 2007 because I missed the kind of writing I once did as a corporate writer for a company that believed in developing people. That got me hooked on learning about the world from other people and sharing what I learned with others. Operating outside the boundary of a company stance, I have more freedom than ever to write in ways that encourage personal effectiveness. On a strictly personal level, I’m on my own quest to give my best effort in this life. That keeps me vigilant about learning and applying principles that contribute to my goal. It’s a pleasure to exchange energy and ideas with anyone who is on the same quest. I hope you’ll join me at LeadingReads!

September 21, 2009

A better kind of internet than the one you know (Part one in a series)

If you write, present, or conduct competitive research, here’s a resource you should add to your toolbox. Would it be helpful to you to have free, full-text access to an exhaustive archive of content from blogs, academic and trade journals, newspapers and other periodicals? Well, in most cases you already have that. You just don’t know it. Unless, of course, you’ve been in an institution of higher learning in the past five to eight years, and in some cases, not even then.

Public libraries offer patrons remote access to some very powerful (read: searchable) full-text databases. Most people’s eyes (and brains) glaze over when you share a statement like that. So maybe it's best if I share where to find them and how to use them. That way you can see for yourself. A few words of preparation for those new to the concept: it isn’t Shake n’ Bake, but it isn’t rocket science either. You’ll figure it out once you get there. But don’t expect to be good at search until you’ve done at least a little investigation.

Where to find free databases
If you live in Indiana, visit INSPIRE. Your IP address authenticates you as an Indiana resident. If you live elsewhere, search by your state’s name and a term like “digital libraries” or “database.” You should also visit your local library’s web site to see what additional databases they beyond INSPIRE. If you live in a community that has a college or university, you probably have access to an even greater universe of databases if you’re willing to go onsite or become a student. These are so powerful you might even want to become a student just for the access. Remember, friends, this is the same sort of content that corporations, marketing research firms and law firms buy for bazillions. Organizations don’t buy what they can get for free. The reason they pay is that the content is better (and more searchable) than what you get on the free web! Better, better, better. And more precise than an internet search.

As an Indiana resident, INSPIRE is free to you because it has already been financed by the Indiana General Assembly through Build Indiana Funds, the Institute of Museums and Library Services (under the Library Services and Technology Act and in partnership with Academic Libraries of Indiana.)

How to use databases in your life
Think medical research, business research, professional development, consumer research, or academic research.

In the next part to this series, I’ll share ways you can databases to your advantage. Meanwhile, if you're a writer, presenter, or sales and marketing whiz, get searching!

September 19, 2009

Vive la difference: How anatomy can (and should) influence your yoga practice on and off the mat.

Ever been in a yoga or fitness class, working your way through a certain pose or movement and wondered what’s wrong with you because you don’t look like your neighbor? Everyone else is doing it, but you feel trapped in a painful distortion that makes the goal seem impossible. No matter how much we try not to compare, it’s part of our social conditioning.

Here’s a kernel of wisdom to help you reconcile that discrepancy and bring you to a new place of awareness in your yoga practice and in life: our Creator made no duplicates. We’re all unique. Our parts are similar in some ways, but not at all alike in others, according to Paul Grilley, a yoga expert who specializes in anatomy. When we find a movement difficult or impossible, Grilley says it’s usually due to one or any combination of four anatomy factors: compression, tension, proportion or orientation.

In his DVD, Anatomy for Yoga, Grilley introduces a wide array of body structures that illustrate why some people may never safely touch their toes, do a headstand, or swing freely between their arms from a seated position, no matter how strong or how flexible they become. From one person to the next, our range of motion in joints can vary widely, not because of flexibility (tension), but because of structure. A bigger or smaller socket or ball at the elbow joint (or some combination of both), for example, can restrict or liberate rotation of the lower arm from 50 to 180 degrees. We’ll only move a joint so far until we reach bone on bone. Grilley calls that compression. The same goes for ankles, hips, knees, necks, shoulders and just about any other hinge in the body.

Grilley says the proportion of the body—the relationship between arms and legs, for example–– also plays a role. One of the best revelations of my yoga training was realizing that my failure to touch my toes in a forward reaching position was no failure. It’s a factor of proportion. The length of my legs compared to my arms and upper body prohibit it no matter how flexible I become. Through practice, I may get closer to my toes than I’ve ever come before, but it’s doubtful that I will ever reach them. I will forever adore the yoga instructor, an amazing woman in her seventies, who lovingly introduced me to this fact. Thank you, Dona Robinson, for showing me that it’s okay to bend my knees in a forward fold.

I’m a relatively slight person. But if I had to guess, I’d say that two-thirds of my weight is in the lower half of my body. My neck is small and it already has a few injuries. Know what that means? I’ll never do a headstand. Trying it would be like inviting a serious injury to the party that is my life. All that weight on a tiny injured neck…it wouldn’t be good.

This information is equally important for yoga students and instructors. It means people are as unique as snowflakes. When we can’t achieve a certain move, it doesn’t mean we’re defective. When we can, it doesn’t make us superior. We can marvel at the differences that allow our neighbors to pivot differently from us, but we should never judge that difference. To do so is to overlook the uniqueness of our own God-designed bodies and will most certainly cause harm.

From now on, promise yourself that you won’t succumb to an ill-advised instructor who pushes you past your comfort zone when reaching for your toes, or the peer pressure of a student who casts a sidelong glance of superiority when flopping her forehead to the floor in a wide-legged stretch. Take it a step further and promise not to judge yourself or others because of weight, a number that depends on a lot of things, not all of which we control.

Beyond the mat, here’s the lesson that sticks: no matter what experiences we share, it’ll be different for you than for me. Different in our bodies, different in our minds. It means I need to cultivate more compassion and respect for my fellow man and for myself. It means forcing myself or someone else beyond the point of discipline or need, especially when there are other winning alternatives, may be harmful. A co-worker, student, employee, or spouse who doesn’t want to do things my way isn’t always purposefully uncooperative. They may just be showing a nature that’s unique to mine. This isn’t an excuse to skirt rules that exist for the greater good or tread over others. It’s just a fact.

When we can’t understand why a co-worker triggers our anger, why a sibling resents a parent so deeply, or why a child gets under our skin, it’s best for everyone not to invest too deeply in the right or wrong of our position or theirs. We can’t possibly know how another person has processed life, even when we share a wide range of common experiences. We all feel differently, even while experiencing the same things. In some cases, the gap is so enormous that it’s almost impossible to appreciate or respect our differences. Meanwhile, at a bare minimum we must learn to accept. To compete, compare, or judge each other is pure foolishness because it keeps us from living and expressing our God-given individuality.

September 5, 2009

A not-so-ordinary day: reframing life as we know it

Let’s face it. We all have days when life seems kind of…well, ordinary. Days when no one notices you and you don’t notice much either. You wake up, go to work, eat and sleep, but nothing amazing happens. No Pulitzers. No comments to your blog posts or Tweets. No praise. No blame. No reaction. You’re just here living your life, not hating it, but not loving it either. Not even close to suicidal or despondent, but wondering if anything you do really matters all that much.

One day last week, I was purging a file cabinet and ran across a notebook of messages I had saved from a job I left in 1999. I had stuffed the entire binder with hard copies of the e-mails people sent me while I worked there. Some were heartfelt expressions of sorrow upon hearing my plans to leave the company. Others complimented me on a contribution or the inspiration I offered during and after a rough reorganization. I read them one by one and realized that I do matter. All the ordinary things I had done day by day had really amounted to something, not just professionally, but personally. People had noticed. I must have known that the notebook would one day provide inspiration and remind me of my own significance, and most of all, of their significance in my life.

At that moment, I decided to pay more attention to people in my life, naming each day for meaningful things that happen (READ: extraordinary) on an otherwise ordinary day. It started with Cute-Little-Girl-Day on Wednesday, aptly named for three cute little girls under the age of seven who approached the library reference desk where I work.

The first was a bespectacled little girl in a floor-length dress, carrying a tote over one shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said in a disarmingly grown-up voice. “Could you tell me where the Molly books are?” The pattern continued with another little girl, also wearing glasses--same height, and probably the same age as the American Girl fan that preceded her. She was on a quest for “pig books”. The final lassie in the trio was a preschooler who wanted to know where the suckers were. Her grandmother shrugged, speculating that her darling companion apparently associates the library with candy because one of my colleagues gave her a sucker on her last visit.

These weren’t the only connections I made that day. Nevertheless, I found a bit of wonder in crossing paths with not just one, but three charming little girls in a single day. They’d each given me a reason to smile and even connect with my former self. Remember how you were as a kid?

Now, see what I mean? If each of us named our days by the extraordinary people and events in them, I’ll bet we’d find many extraordinary things to wonder about on an otherwise ordinary day. The act of noticing our blessings and small little wonders helps us understand how to lead a significant life, with or without fanfare. Now, I’d better sign off before this becomes “Spent-Too-Much-Time-Blogging-And-Got-Nothing-Else-Done-Day”.

Suggested Reading: The Little Book on Meaning: Why We Crave It, How We Create It, by Laura Berman Fortgang.

August 24, 2009

Big Bold Moves

During Indianapolis rush hour traffic one night last week, I saw a guy jump out of his truck in the middle of a torrential storm. He parked hastily on the side of an exit ramp in a major road construction project on Indianapolis’ west side. From my rear view mirror, I saw him run across the ramp toward a set of concrete barriers, preparing to hurl himself over the barricades and into a lane of oncoming traffic that had come to a standstill after a construction sign had blown over and slid across the highway into a lane of moving traffic. In an instant, this man recognized that the sign had the potential to kill a lot of people who were forced to come to a complete stop unexpectedly. He placed himself in harm’s way with the faith that he might just save a few lives if he could remove that sign. Talk about a big, bold move. Most barriers in daily life are far less dangerous than that, don’t you think?

Inspirational Book of the Day: If you can get past the nasty language in Hugh MacLeod’s illustrations, his book Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity is a wonderful treatise on living a creative life. It's written with an edgy attitude and contains a lot of truths grownups need to know about creativity. It's just too bad MacLeod didn't leave his offensive language on his now famous Gaping Void blog. They actually subtracted from some very worthwhile wisdom for people who are pursuing dreams of one kind or another. But that's what's in vogue today.

August 16, 2009

Invest in you: tips for getting the most out of your conference attendance

Blog Indiana isn’t over for me. Sponsored by the School of Informatics at IUPUI and other corporate sponsors, this three-day conference on blogging and social media ended yesterday. It jangled my nerves. It reconnected me with someone I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. It freed me of some self-limiting beliefs that have dogged me for years. And it introduced me to a bunch of people and ideas that made it hard to fall asleep two nights in a row. That’s the most exciting way I’ve spent $250 in a long time.

What about you? When was the last time you attended a conference? Here are some tips for getting the most of your investment in professional development:

1) Go to conferences whether you have the money or not. It’s one of the few things in life where the “buy now, pay later” plan isn’t such a bad idea. People tend to wince over the cost of registration and travel expenses during tough economic times. These are the most important times to invest in you. You’ll learn things that make you more marketable. People (read: prospective employers or customers) will automatically think well of you because you are someone who is interested, engaged and all about growth.

2) Don’t stick too close to home. I’m not talking about geography here. Get outside your immediate discipline and get a bigger lens on the world. Think the way other people think for a few days. Every profession is guilty of myopia to some extent. You get tired of your same old tools and approaches to every problem. Look beyond the obvious conferences for your profession. I’m a part-time librarian and former writer who is involved in my husband’s manufacturer’s rep firm. This summer, I attended a conference for manufacturers rep agents and one for people who are involved with blogging and social media for business. I decided not to attend the big national conference for librarians even though it was just a three-hour drive and travel expenses would be low. Why? My potential for growth was greater when I put myself a little outside my immediate work experience.

3) Don’t be afraid to look stupid. You never know when this may help. In one standing-room-only session of Blog Indiana, I sat down on the floor next to a guy who was busy setting up his laptop. While we waited for the session to start, he asked why I had come. I said I wasn’t sure yet. “We don’t know if it’s wise for our business to use social networking tools due to unique circumstances in our market,” I said, explaining the nature of our business. I braced myself for the reaction I’d gotten earlier that day from a CEO and sponsor of the event: he poked fun of a group he’d spoken to the previous week, a group of stodgy men in their sixties who own businesses that make industrial products. They challenged his notion that they should jump on the social networking bandwagon. He dismissed them as a clueless lot, revealing his own brand of narrow-mindedness. I picture successful entrepreneurs I know personally who have made a lot of money because of good timing. They know they don’t always need to be first to the table to win, especially now that exit strategies like retirement are looming. Realizing their own short horizon for making money with new tools doesn’t make them idiots. The smart guy with the laptop, Chip McComb, director of internet marketing at Fuseworks Studios, respected the fact that we know more about our business than he does. He introduced me by e-mail to a colleague who has used these tools successfully in a similar business. I now have a link to someone with the right set of experiences to inform our deliberation. Think I’ll remember Chip? You bet I will.

4) Be open. Be curious. Talk to everyone. I met some people who are doing truly fascinating things. They know that I admire them because I listened intently. They enlarged my view of what is possible. I have at least a dozen new friends I can talk to because of my summer conference attendance. In my book, he who dies with the most friends wins.

5) Tell someone what you’ve learned immediately. I couldn’t wait for my husband to get home on the final night of the Blog Indiana conference. I called a friend the next morning and got her out of bed to share the part I wanted her to know. I probably crossed a boundary there, selfishly calling early on a Saturday morning. The act of telling someone what you learned at a conference is like teaching. When we teach, we reinforce what we learn.

6) Prepare a one-page action plan. If the conference is really good, your head may be spinning with ideas. Your notes may be copious. Don’t try to do everything. Make a one-page action plan, pick the top three items and start working on them immediately. Make a resource list of every person or source you may want to explore further.

7) Visit your notes frequently. It’s easy to attend a conference, take a lot of notes, and go back to work unchanged. Challenge yourself to sit with your notes and review them again and again. What’s the point of professional development if it doesn’t somehow change who you are and how you operate for a better result?

August 13, 2009

Can digital libraries remain relevant in a world brimming with free information?

Two of my life’s professions collided today in Indianapolis at the Blog Indiana 2009 Blogging and Social Media Conference. As a former corporate communications writer turned librarian, I left today’s meetings befuddled and thrilled. The communication realm I left in 2004 to become a librarian has changed so much that it I can’t help but review why I left just when things were getting so exciting.

I’m wondering about that presentation I’ll be making next week. It’s designed for a group of incoming college freshman to introduce them to Indiana’s digital libraries where they can use the internet to access thousands of full-text periodicals, from consumer magazines and newspapers to academic and professional journals. Librarians call these resources “the invisible web.” And they’re not free. Institutions of higher learning, Indiana’s General Assembly and other supporters set aside millions for powerful research tools like INSPIRE.

My presentation will differentiate these sources from the free web by showing the precision and superiority of their search features. I’ll emphasize the credibility of the sources. But these students are media snackers. How many of them will have the metal to research and read full text articles? Can they succeed in college without that skill? And what if that skill is so old school that it doesn’t prepare them for the demands that will be placed on them today?

Of the highly evolved humans that were at this conference, I’ll bet 90 percent know nothing about digital libraries. They haven’t needed them because they live in a world that teems with free information.

When libraries eagerly introduced these digital resources, we imagined that we finally had a tool that competed and perhaps even surpassed the web. That may be true, but we'll have to work hard to prove it now that the bomb of social media has been detonated.

June 25, 2009

"If a man asks for your shirt, give him your coat also."--Jesus, from the Bible

The workplace provides endless opportunities to put yoga principles into practice. Yesterday it was asteya or honor or non-stealing, however you like to define it. One of my colleagues approached me and asked to assume part of my job assignment simply because she wants to perform that function to build her resume. It looks fun to her and she wants to be helpful. My colleague recently completed a graduate program in library science. She wants the professional growth experience for herself. I can’t blame her for that. Besides that, I really, really like her. She's the one of the gentlest souls I know.

First thoughts: Mine. I was here first--all the stuff we teach our kids when another kid tries to take their toy. Second thoughts: Fear of loss. Fear that I will become more disposable if I give up part of what I do.

After a recent round of layoffs (and the looming threat of another round later this year) her offer felt more like a threat or a theft than assistance. If I gave away part of my responsibilities, wouldn't I be a greater layoff target later this year? We had already lost a teammate earlier this month and all our teammate's tasks were in flux, waiting to be re-assigned or cancelled. Although I'm spread pretty thin, I wondered why she sought work that is already covered (theoretically)—why my work? Her offer also chipped away at the justification for the flexible work schedule my boss configured to accommodate another part-time job I have in a family-owned business where my schedule varies.

I knew that a defensive reaction might place me in the ranks of the barracudas as far as my librarian colleagues were concerned. I suspect they already view my tendency to extrapolate meaning from such things as a trait that belongs back in the business world where I once worked full-time. They swap duties and delegate work without giving a second thought to consulting their bosses or considering fundamentals like job descriptions. This practice is endemic to public libraries and librarians as part of a fluid atmosphere we strive to create for ourselves and others. It's a trait I enjoy most of the time. I paused to examine whether my colleague's offer is the right place for me to practice asteya or whether it is her chance to do so.

I scan myself to determine whether I am out of bounds on this one, readily finding four other opportunities in the past week where I practiced asteya with pleasure: two bridal shower gifts, a going away present for our laid-off colleague, and a meal for a family in need. Could it be that the opportunity I resist offers the greater potential for personal growth for me AND my younger colleague? Mentoring her and receiving some help at the same time may be the right place to be. The question is: how often are people like me struggling with these issues at work due to tight market conditions for jobs? And how can leaders coach them through it? What do you think?