Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Toastmasters makes time for practice, but not 10,000 hours

There's a notion that you need to have practiced something for 10,000 hours before you get good at it. Writer Malcolm Gladwell made the idea popular, and writers indeed spend that kind of time honing their trade. Spelling and grammar are just the basics: The only way I could get beyond them was to write, and write often. Working on deadline took practice, but once I met one deadline I became more confident I could meet the next one.

Public speaking takes practice too, but not 10,000 hours worth—or 10 years, if you figure three solid hours a day. Honestly, it doesn't take that long to see results. It does take an audience, but few speakers have logged 10,000 hours in front of a crowd.

Gladwell gets a lot of heat for his 10,000-hour rule, but those who've studied the idea agree with at least one facet of it. Practice will lead to mastery if it's deliberative. That means learning the elements of a skill, taking time to focus on those building blocks, and keeping at it without getting discouraged or burning out.

Amateur speakers have used those three steps for years to practice speaking in YMCAs, church basements and conference rooms. Toastmasters clubs all follow manuals that present the skills in sequence. Members work mindfully on each skill, and the audience gives feedback to improve. One skill bulds on another, and with practice they all come together. So while Toastmasters has a long history, its program fits the current thinking about mastery.

Still, when Toastmasters did a gap analysis on their program in 2010, they found gaps. Getting through its 10-speech basic regimen can take more than a year, and many people get stuck along the way. A separate leadership track doesn't mesh well with the public speaking program. And the best performers still must learn some skills elsewhere.

Toastmasters now has a restructuring nearly 10,000 hours in the making. This month it launches as Pathways for clubs in Washington, D.C., northern California and Malaysia. Originally billed as the revitalized education program, Pathways is due for a worldwide rollout.

The bugs will be worked out by the time we in the Midwest see it (I've been a member since my days on the Society of Professional Journalists board). Then the 345,000 members worldwide have two years or so to finish projects in the current format.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fighting Facebook fake news: a resolution


The Facebook app dialog to report a post includes the radio-button choice "It's a fake news story."

Trust the media, or trust your Facebook friends? Here are my 3 steps to making sure fake news cannot fake you out.

I've made countless resolutions. Some even last past New Year's Day. This time of year I'm usually resolving to eat better or swear less. This year I have another resolution that involves fudge. But I think I can keep it, and you can too. I'm resolving to fight fudged facts.

I'm taking on fake news. The pope's pick for president. Secret societies at pizza parlors. Political hit squads, gangsta style. Stories some people can't resist posting on Facebook. They're incredible. They're fantastic. No, really. They're not credible. They're fantasy.

I hadn't heard many of them till the presidential race got so close, then I heard a lot. Could the news that made the difference have been bogus? Facebook's chief, Mark Zukerberg, called that idea "crazy." Then just a month later, Facebook made fake news a thing. You can flag stories in your news feed. Volunteer fact-checkers are standing by. To report a news story to the Facebook authorities, you choose the reason from a list: It's "annoying or not interesting," inappropriate, spam or fake news.

Now, much of Facebook can be annoying, off-topic, spammy or sketchy. Choosing just one problem may not be easy. Still, many of us love Facebook or Twitter. It's where we catch up on our quirkier interests and share them with others. It's no fun to think that you have to be careful out there, but it seems some people's interests are quirkier than others.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

10 Questions: Columbus Day discoveries

I spent the Columbus Day weekend outside Columbus, Ohio, taking in the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville. It's a craft fair with an amazing amount of Ohio State gear, plus recipes from the local kraut cannery. Sauerkraut Jell-O was nowhere in sight.

Ohio is a battleground state, though yard signs mark this region as Trump country. Nevertheless, this was a no-drama weekend, even while watching the dispiriting Clinton-Trump debate with my inlaws. There was even spare time to assemble Columbus Day table topics for the week ahead.

Fun facts: Seattle and other jurisdictions mark Indigenous Peoples' Day instead. The 1893 Chicago World's Fair marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing. And reports of a Santa Maria shipwreck off Haiti for the most part have been discounted.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic:

  1. What's the New World you want to discover?
  2. What's your connection to other continents?
  3. Should Columbus Day continue as a holiday?
  4. Columbus sought a new route for the spice trade. What's your favorite spice?
  5. Turns out the Earth wasn't flat. How have you dealt with a mistaken idea?
  6. Tell us about your favorite journey.
  7. What was it like on the ship with Columbus?
  8. How do you plan a long trip?
  9. How would you deal with an unexpected visitor?
  10. What's the best result of Columbus' travels?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The curious increment of the blog at the right time

My gateway to the user experience was editing. In 20 years working on the internet, even as a designer I still think like an editor: I use my curiosity to make new connections.

Editors soak up inspiration indiscriminately, like a sponge. You can see this in sly headlines and pop-culture quotations. One day the musical “Hamilton” struts beyond the theater page. The next day, look for random references to Pok√©mon Go.

Our ability to connect seemingly unrelated element is a factor in our success, whatever we fall into. Maybe a critical factor: While few of us can stay in journalism, we keep searching for the next new thing. In my case, I haven't strayed far from publishing: I develop an association website, and start every weekday morning sending subscribers its news headlines.

Fans of the Mark Haddon novel shouldn’t read too much into this notion. Editors still have a fairly conventional view of the world. In this case, my wife was reading "The Curious Incident," and that started me thinking: What is it about editing that makes me at least incrementally better doing other things? Service designer Richard Verne brought a few of us writer-designers together for an IxDA Chicago panel this fall. Writers who fall into design and development fall back on many relatable skills. Working up my talking points, I thought back on the curious increment to my design portfolio.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Keep the unemployment line moving


Picture the number of construction workers. The workforce includes about as many involuntary part-timers.

Looking for confidence in the year ahead? Take heart in unemployment holding at 5 percent. Still, as statistics skeptic Ken Harrelson says, "Don't stop now, boys."

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress yesterday to expect "further improvement in the labor market." The unemployment report this morning doesn't quite back up CNBC's Fedspeak translation, "close to full employment."

One in 4 unemployed people have been searching for more than six months. For each of the nearly 8 million stories in the unemployment office, there are another 8 million tales of hanging onto the edge of the job market, settling for part-time work or abandoning the search entirely.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Lessons from a neighborhood dairy

The Leona's restaurant at 1938 W. Augusta Blvd. is due to be razed, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks today recommended that the city allow the demolition. A staff presentation suggested the 1920s dairy did not fit the East Village district, showing slides of my Victorian block as proof. The building's piecemeal construction also counted against it.

I've lived for 17 years in East Village, but I grew up in Milwaukee, and my grade school was a converted dairy. Like this building, it was built in sections over time. The dairy was actually the school gym: I played basketball there, I had band practice, I tried to learn the foxtrot. It served well as a school, and taught me something about city history.

This building is remarkably similar in structure. It stands as a lesson in Eastern European settlement of the West Town community and the commerce that kept it running. When I go to Leona's I look at the bones of the building and I see more than a restaurant. To my to mind it contributes greatly to the East Village landmark district, and I encouraged the commission (in just these words) to keep it in place.

Our new alderman, Brian Hopkins, also spoke for preserving the building. He'll have another chance in the City Council to defend a local landmark.