“In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” — Anton Chekhov
This morning this few words appeared in my mind while I was doing some stretching to wake up my body; “show, don’t tell”.
It’s an expression used to summarise a writing technique. If you’re writing about something, you can describe what’s going on, providing all the information and details, including feelings and emotions. Or you can paint a picture through which the readers can feel the experience as if they were living it.
In the first case, you’re telling, in the second one you’re showing.
The short excerpt at the opening of this post comes from a letter that Chekhov wrote to his brother, and I think it explains the concept perfectly.
Now that we know what “show, don’t tell” means, I’m left with a big question mark and only two minutes to finish this post.
Where is this thought coming from? And what should I do with it?
Maybe it’s related to the experience of last days. I had been talking and coaching with people from different part of the worlds. We used the English language for our conversations even thou, it was not the native language for any of us. And the different styles are just the surface of a more profound richness of cultural nuances.
In those situations, telling doesn’t work.
If I tell how I feel using the words I know, the other person may never really feel the connection. I won’t be able to spark empathy. But if I show how I feel, I can go beyond the boundaries of words and create a real connection.
“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” — W. Edwards Deming
Talking about synchronicity; this morning I found this quote in the book that I’m currently reading, and it would be the perfect summary of a conversation I had yesterday afternoon. I was talking with a friend about the role leaders play in the change processes within their organisations.
The image that keeps coming back for me is “a piece of cloth”.
An organisation can be seen as a piece of cloth, an intricated system of interwoven threads. Every organisation has its own unique size, material, fabric and texture. So, each piece of cloth will react differently to changes. If you pick a point in the fabric and lift it, depending on the strength and elasticity of the threads and the weight of the material you may be able to lift the whole piece from that one point. Or you may be able to hold it only for a moment before it is pulled back in place by the strength of the texture.
So, if you lift the cloth from one single point, the rest of the material will follow with some delay. And, no matter its unique characteristics, the parts that are farther from the lifting point, will be left behind. Sure, that lifted point will stand out, but what happens when it is released? It’s highly probable that the whole piece of cloth will fall back in the previous flat state.
What if instead of lifting the piece of cloth from one point, we lift it from many points at the same time? Or even better, what if we create a system, like a frame, that will allow raising the whole piece of cloth at the same time?
Just replace “piece of cloth” with “organisation” and “lifting point” with “leader”, and I believe the questions still work.
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon here in Valencia. I’m about to leave to go celebrate the birthday of my favourite place in town, and usually on the weekend I don’t write posts.
But I feel this urge to write a thought that emerged in my head while I was taking a shower and I don’t think I can resist until the next Apple A Day on Monday morning.
So here I am, writing about lines.
Let me start from something that happened a few weeks ago when I was in Italy. I was listening to the news on the radio while driving. As you may know, the political situation in my country is quite tense at the moment. The journalist was talking about some friction within the government. I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember a brief interview of a politician from one of the opposition parties. She said that the tensions going on between the parties in the government was a sign of their weakness and that her party was the only viable alternative. I remember thinking “hey, but aren’t you all there because you want to serve the country? So, wouldn’t be better to offer your help to solve their problems for the benefit of the whole nation instead of trash talking them?”
Yesterday I was joking with a dear friend about our work descriptions, and I told her that I should write “I draw lines” on my business card. It wasn’t the first time we joked about me drawing lines, but yesterday I had a small a-ha moment. One can draw a line to separate two spaces or to connect two points. The gesture is the same, but the intention is totally different.
Then a few moments ago, in the shower, I was thinking about all of this. At how good we are in drawing lines that separate; right and wrong, good and bad, left and right, winners and losers, us and them. We surround ourselves with all these lines that are imaginary but feel as real as concrete walls. What would happen if we would start drawing lines to connect? If when we see a fracture, we draw a line to connect the opposing sides?
After a while, we would create a network. Like a spider web or a texture when we will be all interwoven so when someone rises everyone will rise.
All of this to share with you that I love “drawing lines“, but I prefer the ones that connect.
I’ll be honest. This morning I couldn’t find anything to write about.
So, I started by looking back at the conversations I had in the last few days. Since I started this project, I discovered that there are always a lot of hidden nuggets in-between the words shared in every conversation.
Sometimes these gems kept lingering in my mind without me being aware of it.
So, this morning my mind went back to a conversation I had with two friends while we were walking back to our cars. We started by talking about “Free Solo”, the documentary about Alex Honnold climbing El Capitan without any ropes or other protective gears. We ended up talking about fear.
How can someone do something so risky?
I mean, fear would paralyze anyone else.
So, this morning I thought I could write about fear, but I couldn’t find the spark and 15 minutes ends quickly.
Luckily for me, I always have the Be The Change cards with me.
I pick the card “Power + Love”.
And I remember that a dear friend and mentor once told me that fear is the opposite of love. So I did a quick search, and this is the first quote I found.
“The opposite of love is not, as we many times or almost always think, hatred, but the fear to love, and fear to love is the fear of being free.” — Paulo Freire, a Brazilian expert on education.
I think the quote above closes perfectly the loop of my thinking this morning.
All the words I need for today are there; free, love, fear.
I love how things connected if we just stay with the flow.
Oh, I haven’t watched Free Solo yet, but I’ll do it soon.
“Before you step into someone else’s shoes, remember to take off your own.” — Devan Capur*
We all have a frame through which we perceive and interpret reality. This frame, or filter, is based on the beliefs, assumptions we develop through our life since we were kids. This frame is vital, it helps us get through life filtering out the flood of data flowing through our senses.
Problems arise when we mistake our frame for the truth, and we lock ourselves inside a bubble becoming blind to the infinite possibilities outside it.
When we enter a conversation with this mindset, we create conflicts and tensions. Because we assume to know the truth, we can’t understand why others can’t see it. It’s so obvious.
We use expressions such as “you should …”, “you think …”.
We can really understand the perspective of someone else until we step out of our bubble.
If you really want to have a meaningful creative conversation, enter empty.
* I found the quote on the book Nonflict by Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht
The last workshop that I co-facilitate was held inside a gorgeous farm. The whole area was a delight for the senses; the blooming cherry trees, the peacock welcoming us in the morning, the shiny green of the spring all over the fields.
The area is quite vast, so to have lunch we had to walk for about 10 minutes from the building where we were working to the restaurant. Midway on the walk, we passed by a vegetable garden where an old man was working. When he saw us, the old man stops what he was doing, and he asked us if we knew how to smell a plant. We were late for lunch, but earlier, at the beginning of the workshop, we made a commitment among ourselves to slow down.
So we stop and, like a group of curious kids, we naturally spread around him. We learned that to sense the scent of a plant the secret is being kind and loving.
But we learn a lot more than that.
Mario, that was his name, told us a personal story of how he discovered love holding his one years old niece in his arms.
It was a magical moment for him and for us.
And it happened because we intentionally slowed down and left space for the unexpected.
Every story needs someone willing to listen. We all have extraordinary stories to share but too often there is nobody there to listen to us.
Our life is to busy. There is always something we have to do and somewhere we have to be.
When we slow down, we can create space to welcome the stories of others.
And discover extraordinary people.
I’ve lately been to a conference where people where talking about the right to work. A “decent work” is also the 8th of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda.
I heard people saying that every person has the right to access a decent work.
But what is work?
In the 2030 agenda, the 8th goal full title is “Decent work and economic growth”. So, work is related to economic growth.
Are we saying that we all should have works that contribute to economic growth?
The dictionary says that work is an “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result”. There is nothing in this definition about compensation or economic reward.
When I take care of my garden, am I working?
When I dedicate my time to listen to a friend in need, am I working?
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I have the feeling that work is mostly seen as something we have to do in order to earn enough money to do what we want to do. Every study says that machines will do more and more of our work. Maybe we should ask ourselves what work in the first place is.
Sometimes all we need is just a nudge.
A little push to break the inertia and start moving.
I discovered it soon after I decided to write every morning.
The first days I was so excited that it was easy to find something to write about. And to be completely honest, I just wanted to write, so I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was writing about.
Soon, I found myself consuming most of my writing time to search for something to write about.
In the beginning, I thought that I needed a topic. A destination or at least a direction for my words. But this search wasn’t easy and, even when I found a direction, I wasn’t satisfied with the final result. Having the end in mind was narrowing my creativity, and the outcome wasn’t very inspired.
Then I discovered The Write Practice and its prompts. A prompt is a great way to inspire the writing process. It gives you a starting point, not the destination. It’s a little push, so you start moving, but being free to go anywhere.
Anything can be a prompt; a word, a question, a picture, a sound.
You just need to be willing to surrender to it, open the gate and go with the flow. Prompts are great for writing, in conversations, in self-reflection.
It’s a way to start without the end in mind.
Years ago I went to a conference about eyesight. Among the various information that I’ve learned that day, one really surprised me.
When we discuss eyesight and its related problems, we put most of our attention into our focal vision, yet it covers only 5 to 8 degrees out of the almost 180º of the human field of view.
We see most of the world through our peripheral view.
I think it has to do with our hunting heritage. If we want to snatch the prey, we must entirely focus on it.
The focal mode is almost exclusively visual, while the peripheral vision acts in concert with all the other senses. When we focus all our energy on the focal vision, we reduce our ability to perceive the world.
The other day I was talking with an old friend about the beginning of our careers almost two decades ago. He reminded me of the endless and boundaryless conversations we used to have at crazy times of the day or night. We were able to spend hours talking about impossible things and visionary stuff disconnected from reality. Though, a lot of great ideas that flew into our work came out of those conversations.
Unfortunately, because of their nature, nowadays those conversations can’t find space inside our work time. We are so focused on the outcome, the prey, that we put all our energy in the focal vision becoming blind to most of what’s happening around us.
This ability to have an extreme narrowed focus has surely improved our performances, but I believe it is affecting our creativity.
Those open conversations were our way of nurturing our peripheral vision.
Are you still able to find space for open and aimless conversations?
I began journaling years ago.
It’s one of the morning rituals that help me reconnect with myself.
Over the year I’ve adapted my journaling to my changes, but one thing never changed; I never read what I write. Never.
Once my thoughts and feelings are out of my mind and heart, black ink on white paper, they are gone.
I don’t read what I write in my journal because I soon realized how hard it can be to have an honest conversation with myself.
Every transformation starts with an honest conversation. One in which we acknowledge that we want to change something and we bring it out in the light.
I always knew that these kinds of conversations with others are difficult. There is the fear of the judgment, of the pain that we can feel or cause, of the unknown that can emerge.
But it was only when I started journaling that I realized how hard it can be to have an honest conversation with myself.
I never thought that I could be so good avoiding the truth when talking with myself. I could lie to myself even when I know, obviously, that I am lying.
Yet, no transformation can start without an honest conversation with myself. My never-read-it-again journaling ritual is a safe space where I can have a frank dialogue with me.
Do you have a safe space where you can talk honestly with yourself?