2013: Kill the Status Quo and SEE Your Laughable Dreams.

Steve and Dana Watkins in Ecuador

“It is impossible to travel South without turning one’s back to the North.” ~ A.W. Tozier

Gordon McKenzie’s unofficial title at Hallmark was vice president for creative disruption.

Not too many years ago, McKenzie conducted an informal, yet profound experiment.

He visited a nearby elementary school, walked into five different classrooms, grades one through five, and asked each student group this same question:

“How many of you consider yourselves creative artists?”

His findings? Nearly every student in the first grade raised their hand. Second grade, maybe two-thirds. Third grade, half. Fourth grade, one-third, and by the fifth grade, only two or three students raised their hands, and they were obviously embarrassed to do so.

How could this be?

McKenzie surmised that the school – the students’ actual supportive organization – actively  participated in the suppression of creative genius, and that it’s a trait among almost all organizations. Schools, the workplace, church, anywhere you might imagine, it’s the organization’s desperate attempt to maintain the status quo. At the heart of it all is that the organization takes on its own life to radically curtail change, that which would often be change for the good.

The organization, you see, wants to “survive” just as it is, and always has been.

I’ve learned to hate the status quo. Succumbing to the status quo would have prevented every dream I ever had.No Status Quo

A go-along attitude would have quashed my dreams as a writer, creative marketer and I’d surely never have written this post from a new base in the peaceful fishing village of Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, a place I consider an entrepreneur’s paradise where the risks are low and the potential for success is high.

No Status QuoJust like me, I’ll bet you have dreams for 2013, and I want you to realize every single one of them. Here’s what I want you to do:

DON’T pull out a pen and paper tonight and jot down 10 quick “resolutions” five minutes before midnight.

DON’T get an accountability partner to hold you to your mutual commitment.

DON’T buy new batteries for the bathroom scales.

***

I want you to VISUALIZE your success stories in 2013.

For years, Tiger Woods visualized sinking a 40-foot putt to win Augusta’s Masters.

In many NBA pre-seasons Michael Jordan paid a professional who would help him see his final shot in the championship series seventh game.

A few years ago, I even did it myself as I trained for my first marathon and at the end of each Saturday’s long run (which was just a bit further than the previous Saturday’s training run) I visualized myself crossing the 26.2 mile finish line as a volunteer placed a finisher’s medal around my neck.

So stop hoping, stop dreaming, and start SEEING your laughable dream now.

Try any of these six ways to begin visualizing your laughable dreams, many of which I’ve adopted from the book, On the Verge, by Alan Hirsh and Dave Ferguson.

1. Use this formula: L = P + Q. That is LEARNING takes place when PROGRAMMING (that of your organization’s status quo) is subject to QUESTION. Learn how to ask the right questions to initiate a genuine quest for the answers.

2. Take more RISKS. Conformity is the result of obsession with safety. Diversity and adventure result from a willingness to take risks. Take yourself entirely out of your comfort zone. I’ve failed in a huge way, many, many times.

3. Think like a BEGINNER, not an expert. Even if you must “unlearn” much of what you think you already know.

4. Know that it’s okay to FEEL. I admire the great thinkers around me, but I wouldn’t take anything for my feelings and gut instincts.

5. Learn to PLAY. In the beginning, even if you must be so anal as to require scheduling for

I took this photo on the streets of Puerto Cayo less than 24 hours ago and must have gone back to look at it a dozen times. I love how these guys just threw caution to the wind just to have a little fun.

I took this photo on the streets of Puerto Cayo less than 24 hours ago and must have gone back to look at it a dozen times. I love how these guys threw caution to the wind just to have a little fun.

play, do it, so that it becomes second nature.

6. Develop your personal MANTRA – that is, adopt, or create a set of words with a certain rhythm that resonates with everything you do. Five years ago, I adopted as my mantra a quote by renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That mantra changed, and continues to change my life, and it’s the very thing I pursue every day.

Lay claim to your dreams right now.

Don’t be denied.

Hate the status quo.

(Dedicated to my buddy, Brady Cornish, who’s dropped just about 80 pounds in the last 11 months, on the fast track now to his goal.)

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On the Topic of Prepositional Phrases in Writing

A few months ago, a pastor/author I’d never heard of contacted me and asked if I’d consider reviewing a book he’d written before it hit the market.

The book’s topic about owning your Christian faith sounded interesting enough, so I said sure,Prepositional phrase and maybe he could reciprocate some time. No problem, he responded, and a virtual handshake deal was done.

A few days later the book arrived, and I carved out some time to give it a thorough read. Just into page two, this paragraph screamed:

“I have long been compelled to write this book because I have discovered solidarity with my fellow second-generation Christians as we search for authentic faith. Children of the church live in a paradox between the biblical knowledge in our heads and the wanderlust in our hearts. Ours is a misunderstood struggle, unknown to those who have been dramatically rescued from enslavement to the world, their faith still fresh.” emphasis mine.

Let’s bypass the passive voice, and save that for another post.

This man is a previously published author, represented by a fairly prominent agent.

Prepositional phraseI read the paragraph several times fighting for comprehension that never came. I read on, hopeful it was an anomaly, only to find it was just the beginning of a literary disaster – in my opinion – which is exactly what he’d requested.

I struggled with a response. Who was I, in particular, to judge this man’s work? I wanted to rip the text apart, and offer an honest reply that it was among the most convoluted things I’d read. My editor would have had a field day with it.

So with respect, realizing he was previously published, and represented by an agent of some regard, this is what I said:

“Dear XXX: Thank you for your contact and book review inquiry. Because I cannot give your book a favorable review, I’d prefer to pass this time. I believe your editor, and your agency have done you a serious injustice, allowing text into a book that’s not yet ready for publication. If you’d like to know my concerns more specifically, please feel free to contact me via email.”

The author did contact me, and I pointed to countless areas in his book where prepositional phrases were rampant. It’s not that prepositions are bad things. They’re just not the best of things, and overuse points to seriously amateur work.

Prepositional Phrase

Every writer does it. It’s a terrible trap, and one I work hard to avoid  (see there) – and it does take work. But to make our writing its best, we should avoid prepositional phrases like the plague.:)

It’s a subliminal thing. When a reader pours through copy permeated with prepositional phases, he/she may not know exactly what is bothering them, but they know something is bothering them. It may not be enough to compel them to toss your work aside, but it may well be distraction enough that they never get a clear picture of what you really mean.

Example:

Incorrect: The opinion of the manager.

Correct: The manager’s opinion.

Another example:

Incorrect: The obvious effect of such a range of reference is to assure the audience of the author’s range of learning and intellect.

Correct: The wide-ranging references in this talk assure the audience the author is intelligent and well-read.

See the difference?

Sentences and paragraphs with too many prepositional phrases, simply lose their point. It’s in there somewhere. The reader just can’t find it, and he can’t pull it from your brain, or what you meant.

Take a look at your own work and see how many prepositional phrases you can eliminate. Then go back and judge for yourself if your work’s not clearer, more concise and more to the point of what you want your reader to know.

What tips do you have for using, or not using prepositional phrases, or better writing in general?

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