Monday, August 10, 2015

Four Quadrants for Success

Sociologist Randall Collins argues that for any endeavor to be successful, you have to pay attention to four quadrants: economic, political, social, and culture. That is, material and practical concerns, conflict and power, emotions and networks, and ideas.

These four quadrants may vary in relative importance, but all four must always be taken into consideration. The four can either reinforce each other and create a healthy system, or they can undermine each other and create an unhealthy system that may eventually collapse.

You also need to consider all four to have a complete understanding of the world. Leave one out, or insist that one dominates all others, and you have at best an incomplete understanding of the world.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The First Should Be Last and the Last Should be Somewhere In the Middle

When you write, you ought to be aware of the fact that some parts of your sentence, line, paragraph, and essay or article or email or whatever the entire document may be are more important than others.

Studies show that people better remember the end of a sentence, line, etc. than they do any other part. The beginning of the sentence, etc. is remembered second best. And the middle of the sentence, etc. is remembered least well.

This has implications for your writing. Of course, your standard sentence is structured such that the subject comes first, then the verb, then the object (at least, in English sentences are so structured). Sentences structured this way imply that the object is most important, followed, by the subject, followed by the action engaged in by the subject. Yet, there are ways in which we can vary our sentences. Also, take the sentence I just wrote. The fact that it begins with "yet" suggests that the comparison is important. In addition, I ended it with the word "sentences," suggesting that that is the most important part of the sentence. I could have written it "Yet, we can vary our sentences in many ways." In this sentence, "ways" is suggested to be the most important; specifically, "in many ways," as "ways" is part of a prepositional phrase. In the second sentence, the variation is emphasized, while in the first sentence, the topic "sentence" is emphasized. Which is more important? It depends on what you want to emphasize. What the subject/topic of your paragraph or paper may be.

Probably prepositions are not the most interesting or important words in your sentence. It is for this reason more than any that you should not end your sentences in prepositions. What should you end sentences with? With what you should end sentences? Which is more important? "With" or "sentences"? Which reflects the general topic of this post?

Do you want to emphasize action? Do you want people to act? There are probably ways you can rearrange your sentences so that your verbs find themselves at the end, where they can show that they are doing their work. Some languages, like German, make emphasizing the action easier because the end is where their verbs appear. English, of course, typically places verbs in the middle, suggesting action is not very important. To place it at the beginning or the end will emphasize the importance of verbs.

Given the way English is structured, you would think that adjectives -- the qualities things have -- are quite important, since we typically place our adjectives before our nouns. French, Spanish, and many other languages put most of their adjectives after the nouns, emphasizing the importance of the nouns over the qualities. So important are qualities that the immediate way one thinks of rearranging sentences to place adjectives after nouns results in the following:

The small, brick house . . .
The house was small and brick.

That revision actually makes the adjectives more importance, since they come at the end of the sentence! But consider this revision:

The small, brick house was nestled in the woods.
The house -- small and brick -- was nestled in the woods.

Here we emphasize "house," but at the expense of the fluidity of the sentence. We have to break it up, make it choppier.

The long and short of it is that whatever you most want to emphasize, you need to place it in either the first position, making it the first thing your reader reads, or in the last position, making it the final thing they read. Because whatever you end with is what they are most likely to remember.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Improve Your Energy, Improve Your Life

Scott H. Young has 10 Ways to Improve Your Energy. The suggestions range from ways to increase your physical energy -- by eating smaller meals, drinking plenty of water, and exercising more -- to ways to increase your mental and emotional energy.

Among the suggestions on how to increase emotional and mental energy:
  • Learn new things every day
  • Play games
  • Find a hobby
  • Inject your day with optimism
  • Align action with conscience (be the kind of person you admire)
  • Set goals
  • Find a purpose
In addition, Myrko Thum gives 5 ways to increase energy:
  • Breathing
  • Eating well
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Mental and Emotional energy (see above)
I include his because of his addition of breathing and sleeping. We know we need enough sleep -- we also ought to take naps during the day -- but we rarely think about good breathing. This is something that those who take yoga or tai chi know, however. Knowing how to breath correctly improves your energy. It's worth learning how to do.

In addition, there is increased attention to mindfulness. This is paying attention to what you are doing in the moment rather than doing things without thinking about them. The benefits of mindfulness are decreased stress and improved mental and emotional energy. Among the ways to improve mindfulness are:
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Listening to music (calming, slow-tempo)
  • Cleaning house
  • Observing your thoughts (rather than fighting them)
Also, check out this 60 Minutes piece by Anderson Cooper on mindfulness.

I could definitely improve on the physical energy front, I could probably learn how to inject my day with more optimism, and I definitely need to work on mindfulness techniques, but I think I am good on all the rest.

It is vital to have a great deal of energy to accomplish anything. Those with low energy will find that they not only do not accomplish much in life, but are generally unhappy with themselves, their lives, and those around them. 

How are you doing on these ways to improve your energy?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Writing vs. Speaking -- Two Different Brain Systems

It may seem strange at first that people can write sentences they would never have spoken. Yet, this is a phenomenon every writing teacher has encountered -- from pretty much every student, even if in different degrees. Well, it turns out that writing and speaking are different brain systems.

When I have taught students writing, I have always encouraged them to read aloud what they have written so that they can pick up on errors in writing they would not make when speaking. You can hear what you wrote wrong, but only if you read it aloud to hear it. I doubt many students ever listened to me. This research shows I was right to suggest this, and that they all should have listened to me. I hope readers of this blog will listen to the science.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

My Ideal English Major

If I were to design an English literature major, this is what I would require:

Fall Freshman:

English I -- Composition
Biology -- Human Biology
Western Civilization to 1648
Intro to Logic

Spring Freshman:

English II -- Intro to Literature
Western Civilization since 1648
Intro. to Philosophy

Fall Sophomore:

English III -- Composition/Research Papers
British History
The Bible as Literature

Spring Sophomore:

Creative Writing
U.S. History
Ancient Greek literature -- Homer and the tragedies

Fall Junior:

Roman Literature -- Aeneid and the plays
British Literature I -- to the Renaissance

Spring Junior

Shakespeare I --comedies and poems
British Literature II -- Renaissance to Milton
Continental European Literature
Comparative Religion

Fall Senior

Shakespeare II --  tragedies and histories
British Literature  III -- 18th and 19th centuries
American Literature I -- to 20th century
Literary Theory

Spring Senior

British Literature IV -- 20th century and Anglophone literatures
American Literature II -- 20th century
World Literature

There should of course also be classes offered on different periods of poetry and plays and novels, specifically. And on different authors. So that students can begin to specialize. We have to realize, though, that specialization ought to take place in grad school, while undergrad school ought to be a broad survey so students can learn what is out there and find what they are really interested in.

You will note that I have included classes in the social sciences, philosophy, and religion. These classes will give students potential interpretive frameworks. The literary theory class will then show how past theorists have applied knowledge from other fields to understanding literature.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Some Thoughts On Partnership

What is a partner?

We use the word "partner" in a variety of contexts. We have business partners, life partners, sexual partners, creative partners, etc. We often refer to our spouses as our partners, which is where we get the term "life partner." I suspect that the healthiest marriages are those in which the couple consider each other to be partners. Sometimes these different kinds of partners overlap. Obviously one's life partner is going to be one's sexual partner, but it is not uncommon for one's life partner or spouse to be one's business partner as well.

Since this is a consulting blog, let's concentrate on business and creative partners.

The word "partner" comes from the Middle English parcener, meaning "joint heir." That is, the partners inherit things together. That may be a literal inheritance of property or money, the inheritance of offspring, or the inheritance of a co-created work or business. ME parcener is in turn derived from from Old French parçonier, which means "partner, associate; joint owner; joint heir." When you own things in common, you are partners. The word "own" is derived from the
Old English āgen ‘owned, possessed,’ past participle of āgan ‘owe’; Old English āgnian ‘possess,’ also ‘make one's own’. So the concept of ownership needs to be understood as being related to what one owes. Ownership implies debt. Co-owners are, thus, co-debtors. They are indebted to each other because they each possess what the other possesses. Coincidentally, the word "ought" comes from the Old English āhte, which is the past tense of āgan ‘owe'. Thus, debt, morals, and possession are intimately related to each other.

A partner, then, is someone so completely involved in each others' lives that they are in debt to each other; they are joint possessors. In relationships, that means, among other things, that they possess each other. In business or create endeavors, that means the partners share possession of what they created. And they behave morally toward each other. Without this equal debt to each other, without equal ownership, there is no partnership. Those partnerships that fall apart reflect inequalities within that partnership -- they reflect the unequal ownership of what was created. In other words, if you want to create and maintain a healthy partnership, you have to make sure that you are equally invested.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Project-Based Learning

As a project-oriented person, I was excited to learn about Project-Based Learning (PBL). If you haven't heard of it either, it is exactly what it sounds like. Students learn through the practical creation of a project. Naturally, the projects have to be complex enough to include development of reading and writing skills, math skills, and various social skills as well as learn things about science and technology and society.

PBL involves collaborative learning, meaning students have to make use of collaboration and communication. Further, since there is a project, and the project has a goal and a process to achieve that goal, students have to engage in problem solving, which involves asking questions and coming up with a variety of answers, critical thinking, and creativity/innovation. If there is one thing that schools consistently do not teach, it is creativity and innovation. But with PBL, these things are explicitly taught and assessed.

But here is the bottom line: with a project and a goal to achieve, students are able to see the need to gain certain kinds of knowledge, to understand concepts, and to develop and apply necessary skills in order to achieve the project's goal(s) and create the project products or services. All of this makes it more likely the students will themselves seek out what they need to know, meaning they will be more likely to retain the knowledge. It is also hard to say, "I'm never going to use this knowledge," when you are learning it to use for your projects.

Suppose that you had students put on a play. You would have them read some plays to see how playwrights construct their plays. Then you could have them collaborate first on writing the play. That would mean the students would have to learn to write well -- and poorly written sentences will become very clear when the students read them aloud. This will result in revisions to clean up the play, to make it something you want to perform in front of people. Students would spend time discussing the plot and the characters, and would likely discover the importance of plot and character -- and well-written dialogue. Motivation of the characters introduces elements of psychology. And if the story is based on a historical figure, the students could do research into the time and place and people of that time period.

A historical time would also result in investigations into the architecture and dress of the time, since sets and costumes have to be made. The sets would have to be designed -- meaning math would be needed for all the measurements necessary to create the sets. Math is also needed for creating costumes, since you have to measure your actors to fit them and make some basic calculations to make sure everything fits properly.

Then there would be practice, acting, directing, etc. Putting on a play is fundamentally collaborative.

And we must not forget that the play must be advertised and sold, so students would also be introduced to elements of economics.

We can see the extent to which such a project encompasses practically everything students need to be learning. We have reading, writing, arithmetic, history, psychology, and economics, just to name a few -- and this is ignoring some of the practical skills, such as carpentry and sewing and management. Who wouldn't learn in such an environment?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Repetition Good; Synonyms Bad

One of the worst pieces of writing advice I have ever received was from my high school teachers. I was told that you should never repeat words or phrases, but look for synonyms. Of course, if you have actually ever read anything, you will see the greatest writers repeating words and phrases all the time. That is because repetition creates meaning. And, more, there are really no such things as synonyms, as each word has subtle differences in meaning.

Unfortunately, most people do not read a great deal, nor do they continue on to graduate school to study writing, where you will learn this in a direct manner. I don't know where these high school teachers get this nonsense about synonyms, but if you want to be a bad writer, I strongly recommend you use nothing but synonyms and never repeat words.

One of the things you should do as a writing consultant is to help your client understand what good writing looks like. If they insist that they don't want repetitions, it is your job as a writing consultant to help them understand why this is wrong.

There are several reasons why avoiding repetition is wrong.
  • Repetition Creates Meaning: Repeated words are perceived as meaningful. I am not talking about words like "the" and "a," of course, but rather theme words like "repetition" and "meaning."
  • Repetition Creates Rhythms: There are a variety of ways to create rhythms, from the regular beats of formal poetry to repeated words. The latter are sometimes more complex, but they create patterns all the same. And when you have patterns, your brains pick up those patterns and remember those patterns. If you want people to remember your texts, you need repetition.
  • Search Engines Pick Up Repeated Words: Search engines search for number of precise words used. They do not pick up synonyms. Thus, for any online text, it is particularly important that you have important words repeated.
All of these are important things to consider when dealing with style. At the same time, I am hardly arguing for overuse of repetition. Nor am I arguing for redundancy. There is too much of a good thing, after all. But reasonable repetition is desirable, advantageous, and necessary. Overall, the advice of your high school English teacher has no place in professional writing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Value of Other Values to Business

Businesses exist in civil society, not just in the market economy. Thus, it is important to understand the values supported by other social orders within that society--orders such as the philanthropic order or the democratic order--if one wants to maximize profits.

A great example of this is reported here that corporations that engage in philanthropy can create goodwill that can overcome negative experiences with the company. That is, customers may ignore bad service if they like things the company is doing in the realm of philanthropy. Companies don't just need to accumulate physical capital and human capital, but moral capital as well.

In fact, the above linked research showed that when customers were given an opportunity to have a portion of their payment for their purchase go to a philanthropy of their choice (say, among three offered), customers were particularly forgiving.
"Offering customers a choice of their favorite good cause is a true win-win-win solution to the inevitable service failure," the authors conclude. "Customers win, firms win, and society as a whole wins."
A company can of course compete on cost and/or quality of their product or service, which is the typical way of doing things, but now they can compete on generosity--or at least aiding customer generosity--as well. Give yourself that extra margin over your competition, and help out your fellow man. Now that's a great way to profit.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Ideas

I am hoping this year to really develop and expand Camplin Creative Consulting. The first thing to note is that I am renaming Camplin Creative Consulting as Camplin Creative Consulting and Education Services. I will of course be providing consultation services, but I have decided that that is not the only service I want to provide. I want to expand my services into my full repertoire of expertise. Thus, I will be developing the following products and services:
  1. Writing Consulting Services
  2. Workshops for Business -- including "Leadership and Values" and "Asperger's, Autism, and Business"
  3. Educational Services -- including poetry writing classes and play writing classes
I have written on the idea of free-lance professors, and I think I ought to take myself seriously in that. I will be providing most of these services in person in the immediate future, with the intention of developing a large, interactive website.

I am very excited to be moving in this direction. I am very excited to provide these services. I think there is a desire for poetry writing, fiction, writing, and play writing classes among those who don't want to sign up for a university class. And I can do it cheaper, cutting out the bureaucracy. Most of this will have to be provided locally at first, but as I accumulate the capital I need, I will get my website up and running and make this a truly international offering. Personally, I cannot wait for that to happen.