Get In. Get to the Point. Get Out.

21 07 2017

The title of this post is tacked on the wall above my desk.  It’s a reminder to not waste time and multiply words needlessly.  “No one owes you a reading” (Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling mysteries and late philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame) is on the same page as well as famous Rule No. 17 from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, “omit needless words.”

We tend to multiply words in print or conversation for a variety of reasons.  Anxiety is a big one; an inflated sense of our own brilliance is another; and some of us simply like to hear ourselves talk and see our words in print.  None of these are good excuses for monopolizing someone else’s time and processing capacity.  Get in, get to the point, and get out.

I spent a good chunk of my time today listening to the wise words of Wall Street legend and Columbia University Adjunct Professor, Joel Greenblatt.  Here, watch this.  Joel was recommended by a cousin who attended Columbia Business School and, I suspect, studied under Greenblatt.

I know very little about the market and investing.  This post is not about that. What struck me as I listened to Joel was his ability to get to the point quickly, to use effective and homey metaphors to make arcane concepts accessible, and to avoid wasting the time of his moderator and audience, Google in this instance.  He isn’t in love with his own voice.  He’d rather get returns for his investors and himself and use his time doing so.

If you drone on and on.  If you “have to express yourself completely” in a torrent of words, either in conversation or in print–author Thomas Wolfe was famous for this, you need to be prepared for the following realities.  One, the attention spans of human beings are shorter than ever in 2017, about seven to eight seconds.  Two, time is money.  When you don’t distill and sum up, you will find out sooner or later that the “cost of doing business” with you—i.e. talking with you—is too expensive.  To be blunt, if you prattle on, people may avoid you because their time, like yours, is limited and valuable.

This has been a besetting sin of mine.  Family have said, “Okay Chris—get to the point.”  Now I’m taking stock and inventory with the help of people like Joel Greenblatt.

So, know what you want to say, say it quickly—think Hemingway and his sparse prose—then send people on their way.

You may find they come back more often.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Little Book That Still Beats the Market (Joel Greenblatt)

Get to the Point: How to Say What You Mean and Get What You Want (Andrew D. Gilman & Karen E. Berg)

Ernest Hemingway on Writing (Larry W. Phillips)

 

Image Credit





Show Your Work

2 07 2017

“What’s the rule everyone learned in third grade math?”

Mentor and counselor, Doug, asked me that question a few years ago as we sat in his office.  We were discussing what it means to be a curious individual.  By “curious” is meant not simply someone who surfs the internet, looks stuff up on Google, binges on Netflix or scrolls endlessly on Facebook to see what their friends are doing.

“Okay, what was the rule in third grade math?”

I was rusty and decades removed from Sister Siena and third grade math in Bishop Kelley school. Our discussion had to do with authors we read and why.  A curious person, I learned, was one constantly asking questions, seeking to think things through, make connections and, as it were, do the math about life, people, and reality.  Doug pulled a book out of his desk.  I was quite familiar with the book and the author.  He directed me to the endnotes, or lack of them, in the back of the book.

“The rule was ‘show your work’ or you don’t get credit even if you got the right answer.”

“Ah.  Now I remember.” Images of long division appeared in my mind.

Doug then contrasted the book he pulled from his desk (“he doesn’t show his work”) with the works of a scholar we both read and respected, Walter Brueggemann.  A peek at the endnotes and bibliography of any Brueggemann book show that he is 1) curious, having done voluminous research, 2) an author with integrity, giving attribution and not passing off brilliant insights he gleaned in his reading as his own, and 3) humble, realizing that seeking the solitary advice of his own brain was unwise and fraught with danger, if only in the blind spots.  Cave ab homine unius libri (“beware the man of one book”).

What’s my point?

One, question what you hear.  Nobody gets a pass.  Not you, not your parents, not President Trump, not your boss, not mainstream media of the Left or Right, not the Pope, not your minister.  And not the experts.  Review all and do your homework.  Caveat: You will be a pain in the neck to others when you do this, chiefly to the incurious with an agenda.  Be prepared.

Two, give credit when you’ve acquired something, learned something from someone else.  Plagiarism is not sniffed out in schools and print media only.  We are all composites of the people and influences that have touched our minds and lives.  You’re building on the work of others, even if that’s difficult to admit. (Attribution for this insight goes to a friend, Penn.)

Robert Dick Wilson was a biblical scholar of the late 19th and early 20th century.  He mastered forty-five languages and dialects.  (Resume breathing.  I did say forty-five.)  One thing that stirred one of his interviewers was the habit of Professor Wilson giving proof for every statement he made.

He showed his work.

Questions:

  • Are you able to describe the processes you follow to come up with answers? (In Information Technology, we call these algorithms.)
  • Are you curious or simply bored? A curious individual is known for many things, chiefly not accepting simple solutions and pat answers.
  • Do you give attribution, credit where credit is due?

Suggested Reading:

Show Your Work! (Austin Kleon)

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (Michael Gelb)

The Craft of Research, Fourth Edition (Wayne C. Booth et al)

 

Image Credit





Preparation: Key to Overcoming Fear

25 11 2013

Winston-Churchill-Flashing-Victory-SignAbout twenty years ago, I read a fascinating book–The Sir Winston Method–by James Humes.  At the time, I was doing a fair amount of public speaking.  The book, an exploration of Winston Churchill’s speaking techniques, was apropos.

One practical bit of information I gleaned from this book was this: The way to overcome the fear of public speaking is to know more about your subject than anyone else in the audience.

Hmm.

It is fairly well-known that there are a lot of people in our world who fear getting up in front of people and speaking more than death itself.  Fear of humiliation.  Fear of unpreparedness.  It is quite potent.

I’ve learned that when I do my homework, when I have put myself through the paces, when I own my subject–I am far more unafraid.

Here’s the challenge:  Prepare.  Put in the time and effort to know your topic.  I mean really know it.  Anticipate the arguments and objections.  Indeed, shoot holes through your subject before anyone else can.  Know the weaknesses, the tenuous spots, and strengthen them.

Watch fear dissipate!

Image Credit





Learn A Language Fast (It Can Be Done)

7 10 2013

LanguageI studied the French language for six years.  Four years in high school; two in college.  I’ve always been fascinated by language, symbols essentially for concepts.  The sounds of different tongues are color and music to my ears.

In my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to meet and interact every day with two foreign-exchange students from Europe who were fellow classmates in my French IV class.  Joachim hailed from West Germany (this, of course, before the Berlin Wall fell) and Bo from Sweden.

Given the close proximity of one country to another, most Europeans are, out of necessity, polyglots.  Both of my classmates could speak numerous languages.  It was inspiring, to say the least.

There are benefits to learning languages other than your native tongue.  You can communicate with those from another country and you can read classics, newspapers and other works that are not English.  Someone once said that reading Tolstoy in translation is like kissing through a veil.  You get the picture.

I read somewhere, once upon a time, how Near Eastern scholar Cyrus Gordon learned a number of foreign languages during the course of a summer.  He said–and he learned over twenty languages throughout his life–that if you took any book in a language other than your own, read the first twenty pages of the same and took the time to up the meaning and grammar of every word, you could have a reading knowledge of that particular language in short order.  During one summer, he mastered six languages by simply giving an hour a day to each following this study pattern.  Among them, he learned Portugese and Danish.

How about adding new language skills to your tool chest?  My eldest daughter Anna–who studied French for two years in high school–is now living in the south of France and has immersed herself in the language of Voltaire and Émile Zola.  She’s become quite conversant in it and can interact with people in places like Paris and Lyons.

You may follow Gordon’s study program.  Or you may benefit from the TED talk in the video I’ve attached.  Try it!

Image Credit