Tag Archives: social critique

On Speaking Out Effectively


I’m enjoying the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. In sum: talent does not exist. People excel through “deliberate practice”: hard, focused work on key skills that stretch their growth, repeated with feedback for a lot of hours; followed by similar work on the next set of skills to extend their growth. It is hard; it is time intensive; it is self-aware; it is rare.

Reading the first part, I thought to myself “okay, how can I apply this to my life?” because that’s what I do with all self-improvement: I try to do it. On the bandwagon, instantly! About half way through I started to ask, “do I want to do this?” And now I feel like it may be the only reasonable choice, though I am not really trying to excel or become world class – I just want to do well and grow.

Reflecting on the principles helps me understand better people who do excel: who hold high level positions, have extraordinary jobs or do anything with incredible skill. You learn how to improve yourself; you get on an improvement track; you start becoming who you want and it is, I imagine, hard to stop the momentum in spite of the hard work it takes. If you make a habit of working, and those habits are designed for maximum learning, then you may have set yourself up to succeed in spite of your best efforts. I can now wrap my head around people who climb the academic ladder, for example: they start learning, growing and excelling and their progress fuels further growth.

Relevance to me: I spoke on the radio on Friday morning. Check out the Facebook page for the interview (scroll down to Friday, September 21, 2012 and the segment on diversity and Kelowna) and community comments. Honestly, though I knew there would be views on both sides, I expected at least a few more people to identify with the concerns I raised. Great learning opportunity, I must say, and a chance to check why I spoke out about the issue.

I’ve been on the radio & TV a reasonable number of times for someone who’s not in the media. I generally like public speaking and generally do pretty well. The Talent book has me wondering what I can do to do it not just well, but better. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

  • General prep: in preparing for a specific interview, I can (as I did) consider the key aspects of the issue and have imaginary conversations in my head (or with friends), responding to a variety of questions. I could take this more seriously, generating a list of key questions – supportive and critical – and the key aspects of a response
  • Study: I could do some research on the issue; look for similar stories or related studies that can support what I want to say.
  • Set my message: I could, after the two above steps, highlight the top 2 – 5 points that I want to make. I then can expand on and condense them so I have a sense of different ways I could integrate those ideas into the interview. At that point, I could look back on my questions and find ways that they could fit into responses
  • Practice: I could practice with a friend: fire questions at me, I respond!
  • Speech therapy: I lithp. I’m okay with it, but it’s occasionally a bit embarrassing the way some words come out. I could take classes, get a coach or find a way to speak more clearly. This also could help me eliminate pauses and “ums” in my speech.

There you have it. The next time I’m in demand as the go-to speaker on a topic, I know what I need to do to make it not just “pretty good” but great.


Observing kids and parenting


On Friday I spent some time walking downtown with my girl and spent some time at the library. There I observed some interesting interactions between parents, kids and authority.

Baby was playing on the big pillows in the kids’ area with another, bigger boy. After his mother reminded him to be careful as he played, he jumped onto her pillow and shoved her off. She fell over and landed on her head. And started to cry. Not nice, but they’re kids – it happens. The mom reprimanded her son, was quite critical of him and told him to apologize. She didn’t focus on his attention on the impact of his actions on the baby – she focused on having him conform to a socially appropriate response.

I then happened into a preschool storytime (I thought it was the toddler age group). Again, fascinating. First off, it was loud. The librarian/story reader used a big, loud voice. The music was loud. I can see how loud seems right when working with kids – they’re loud, it gets their attention. At the same time, their ears are more sensitive than adults. If anything, they are fine with LESS volume. I know it was too much for me. I should add that I’m particularly sensitive to noise, and have been since I was a baby.

The children were expected to take a seat on the carpet and stay there, aside from the songs, when they were asked to move around in prescribed ways (dance in a circle, jiggle your hands, etc.). Both the parents and the librarian made repeated attempts to get non-conformers to sit in the “right” place and “right” way throughout the half-hour. One father whose daughter didn’t want to get on the carpet continued to encourage her to go there. He also, pleasantly, didn’t insist and remained there for her to return to and sit on when she needed.

The librarian brought out different stuffed toys to introduce the various stories. They then went onto the table beside her and, as she told the kids whenever one tried to go up and touch them, they could play with them once storytime was over. But not during. Parents called kids back who dared to go forward and touch. One girl in particular seemed to start it off, then others took courage or inspiration from her and followed. But no: the animals were for looking, not touching.

Overall: I don’t get it. There were maybe 12 – 15 kids, with an almost equal number of parents (plus an assortment of younger siblings). It wasn’t an out of control mob. They were kids! At a FUN storytime! Why was sitting in a certain place and manner required? Why should fun and sensory interaction be saved until the end of the event? How does restricting initiative and curiosity advance children’s development? And why is there such pressure on parents to have their children behave in socially acceptable ways?

I left the event somewhat sad to observe the omnipresence of the demands for what was, to me, mindless social conformity. It leaves me somewhat relieved that I haven’t done too many group activities with baby, as I can see how that pressure could have influenced my interactions with her over time to demand greater conformity rather than letting her be herself. I would love to see children given the space to BE, explore, learn, interact, and be guided rather than pushed into shape. From a more open environment I can imagine children growing up more true to themselves and better engaged with others and the world.

And of course, you are welcome to completely disagree with my analysis.