Ordering Chaos: Reverse Outlining Useful After Freewriting

Sometimes I have so many thoughts written up but a hard time putting them into a concise argument. To create order from chaos, I have learned to love a technique called Reverse Outlining.

In reverse outlining, you start with all of your scraps and freewriting. Print it up, and chunk it into meaningful units (topics, or ideally steps in your logical argument – even if you don’t know how they’ll all fit together yet). For example, one of my paragraphs was titled “Constraints make being original feel less risky” and the next one was “…especially for people in low power positions.” Don’t worry about the right way to do this part. It gets worked out sort of naturally.

Now write out an outline using the titles you gave things. Here’s your reverse outline. Now save a duplicate version of the file, and play around with different ways to order the outline. This really helps with finding an economical and compelling way to make your argument – and the bonus is that you’ve already written a lot of the material!

1. This process identifies that some parts are redundant, so you don’t have to edit them. This makes your writing cleaner and tighter and gives you more time to sleep and go out dancing. 🙂
2. It glaringly identifies gaps in your argument early on in the process – much better than identifying them once you’ve already crafted your elegantly phrased transition sentences, etc.

I did not invent this method but it works well. I’d love to hear what you think.

How do you measure organizational success?

A student recently asked me this question, so I thought I’d share my answer with you.

Her question: “I have a quick question. Does Organizational Behavior theory address how you measure success? For instance, when HR implements new strategies to align its people with culture and business strategy; what are some ways they measure the success of these initiatives?”

My answer: Oh boy, big question. And great question. Answering it requires more background information, so I’ll let you know what you should find out about before deciding how to measure success.

There are two questions you’d always want to ask before you measure something as vague as “success”:
1. what kind of success is important to the organization or the work unit?
2. what were the aims of the new strategies?

Constructing the definition of success itself could actually take months; then deciding on how to measure that kind of success can take another few months. Begin by finding out which metrics are
(1) readily available
(2) reliably measured (without bias; measuring what they say they measure)
(3) valid (the observables measured do in fact predict the thing you really would love to measure but can’t because it’s invisible)
(4) relevant (commonly used in the industry, the company, and the relevant departments & other stakeholders)

Finally, you want to make sure that you’re measuring the thing that will actually show the effects the strategy is supposed to produce. Usually these are specified before the strategy is even implemented – if the HR group didn’t know they wanted something to change then presumably they shouldn’t have / wouldn’t have done something new anyway!

A relevant article (Sutton & Hargadon, 1996, Brainstorming Groups in Context, ASQ) says:

“…These writings conclude that if effectiveness can be defined and measured at all, it is a multidimensional construct, because social systems produce many consequences and have multiple participants with inconsistent preferences. Researchers must ask “effectiveness at what?” and “effectiveness for whom?” to assess effectiveness in social systems.”

Environmentally Worst Way to Get a Date: SuperFly Wednesdays by Virgin America Airlines

Virgin America airlines, in a snazzy but shamelessly carbon-ious move to capture the cool urban childless professional, just announced it’s new offering: mid-air mingling.


Network, chat and socialize at 35,000 feet on SuperFly Wednesdays. Enjoy 2 free drinks plus lots of mixing and mingling. Meet new people with seat-to-seat chat or start a chat room with everyone onboard. The fun continues when you reach your destination. Enjoy some more complimentary drinks and special room rates from our hotel and bar partners. Your boarding pass is your ticket to play.

SuperFly Wednesdays

Click here for more information, exciting updates and to grab a seat.

And you felt guilty about eschewing public transport and cabbing to the bar!

That this event happens on Wednesday makes sense: Wednesdays are farthest from the weekend so probably the fewest seats are booked that day, so this should help convert some business travelers who have a choice in carrier. And if you’re lonely and traveling often, Virgin might be your best bet for meeting a handsome stranger who will understand your frenetic lifestyle. (And if you can get tanked without reporting your drinks on your expense report, all the better.)

But the fact that it comes with hotel discounts could suggest that Virgin America is hoping for people to fly mid-week just for the hell of it.

QUESTION: So who will you meet if you fly SuperFly Wednesdays?

ANSWER: Someone who is willing to pay a $100 cover charge just to force a seat-mate to talk to them. Not only is this person a lonely, desperate, expense-report-fudging lush, they are also a carbon conservationist’s nightmare. They are also [financially] loaded.

That said, the next time I have to fly mid-week, you can bet your last reimbursement check I’ll fly Wednesday and milk Virgin for every martini they’ll serve.

Generate Ideas In Moderation!

Idea generation is intoxicating. And like all intoxicants, Behance advocates, idea generation can be an addiction, and must be done in moderation if one is to get any creative work DONE. “New ideas have the potential to transform your life in wonderful ways, but they are also the most notorious source of distraction.”

I had this realization myself a year ago when I decided to focus my dissertation on the immense value of constraints for creativity. What we don’t need is too many new ideas. We need focus, depth, concentration, and clear constraints…. and lest we ever forget, IMPLEMENTATION. Ideas must be executed to be truly creative.

Why Multi-Tasking and Task Switching Prevent “Flow”

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the distracting, information overload (or “infomania”) world that most of us live and especially WORK in. Too much on our computer screens. Too much in our inboxes.

Many have pointed out that the human brain “cannot multi-task” but rather that we sequentially move from one task to the next, and back again…. thus preventing getting too immersed in any one task. The increasing speed at which today’s work environment entices (and sometimes demands) us to switch between tasks is unfortunate – especially for creatives.

Why should creatives beware of task switching? Psychologists have shown that we are at our most creative when we are in [what Csiksentmihalyi calls] a state of flow. Yet flow is earned only after being deeply immersed in a task for a steady period of time. (I find it never takes me less than 15 minutes to get into Flow, but can take 45.)

That means that even temporarily “stopping the clock” on creative work to attend to another task can hijack your route to Flow. If deep, focused, and exuberantly creative work is your aim, you must stay in your task for long enough to allow this to happen. Stopping the Clock in creative work is more like Resetting the Clock. If it keeps being reset you will never get to where you want to be. Recovering alcoholics do not boast “60 days sobriety, not counting the seventeen days I was on vacation from sobriety.”

In this light, small indulgences like I.M. and widgets are not as innocent as they seem.

If your desire to allow interruptions, distractions, and task-switching is strong enough, then go ahead. But all creative types (read, everyone) deserves a lifetime full of Flow experiences. The buzz is just too good to pass up.

Lora Oehlberg on Logbooks, Journals, Sketchbooks, and Idea Notebooks

Today at UC Berkeley’s Grouptalk brownbag seminar, Lora Oehlberg from the Berkeley Institute of Design discussed her research on logbooks, how they are used by designers and other creative folk, and the personal meaning we attach to them.

To me, notebooks (or logbooks or sketchbooks or journals…) are a key part of living a creative – and believe it or not spiritual life. My morning pages-inspired “semi-ritual” of going to a favorite local cafe and writing, listing, or just visually concepting the stuff of my mind both slows me down and gets me going. Reflection and generation become simultaneous. Awareness is peaked while the chatter of hipsters and hippie/yuppie part time working moms fades into the buzzing caffeine-y background.

For me, logbooks also have a social acceptability aspect. My notebook is a nice toy to carry around, just in case I am seated too long or have to listen to something that I can’t keep my mind on without active note-taking and elaborating my own connected ideas on paper. If I ever get bored – or more likely, restless – I can just open it up and write or draw. People usually don’t get insulted by this, as they would another other hyperactive fidget I develop if forced to sit still. It gets my brain engaged and enables me to take in auditory information while staying in my seat (or at least standing somewhere in the same room!).

But that’s just me. Oehlberg points out that both the value and mystery of logbooking is its idiosyncrasy. Each person has a unique way of keeping (and sometimes not keeping) a journal or sketchbook. Their meaning is at least as important as their apparent content. The meaning of logbooks is private, dynamic, and heavily linked to the cognitive, temporal, social, and personal context in which they are created.

Books on Logbooks
The diversity of logbooking practices is the subject of several interesting books. Drawing from Life is a rich and fascinating peek into all kinds of personal sketchbooks and idea journals (and my favorite inspiring bedtime reading!)…

Inspired is all about the spaces and tools used by creatives of all kinds, and includes many pictures of sketchbooks, desks, and workrooms…

Famous Notebooks
The Visual Thinking Curator’s Choice publishes the sketchbooks of several famous artists online….

Six Degrees of Logbook
Relevant to Oehlberg’s interest in the sharing of logbooks, the 1000 journals project is a fascinating experiment; the modern equivalent of letters sent to see in bottles and notes tied to the ends of ribbons on helium balloons.

I also find a lot of inspiration, fixation, anal retention, organization, idea generation, and procrastination on Flickr’s photo groups, like Notebookism, and Flickr’s clusters, like this one, which semantically clusters public photos of all things tagged with ‘moleskine’. Several like this are annotated which gives interesting glimpses into people’s logbooking styles, habits, theories, and processes.

There’s just something about paper: Logbooking Tools and Ideas

I’m always interested in different formats for generating, capturing, and organizing ideas on paper. Recently a designer friend showed me the Action Pad series by Behance, which has a lot of thought behind it
and is getting lots of attention lately, e.g. over at Wishful Thinking.

I love my
Circa Notebooks by Levenger
and am interested by, but haven’t been able to justify purchasing their Viz Notepads, which provide more structure than a blank-paper-lover like myself usually wants, but might be a nice tool to have lying around. Levenger’s luxuriously big Concept Pads are oh so tempting. If only I had the desk space!

Of course, 43folders is always a nice place to see what people are thinking about their personal notebooks and capture tools of all kinds.

Academic Work on Logbooks
Lora Oehlberg is one of the few researchers looking at logbooking practices and tools. She did refer us to an academic paper on the topic though:
“An investigation into the use and content of the engineer’s logbook” H. McAlpine, B. J. Hicks, G. Huet and S. J. Culley, Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

Tensions in Choice of Logbooking Tools and Format
The tensions I can’t stop myself from obsessing about:
– small, light, and inconspicuous vs. big, generous, and ergonomically graceful for writing in
– blank and flexible vs. lined, graphed, dotted, storyboarded, or otherwise structured
– three-, six-, seven-, or circa- ringed (and dynamically arrangeable by category, date, etc) vs. bound (and reliably more or less chronological)
– all paper vs all electronic vs somewhere in between

There are a few unresolved questions too:
– how in the world to remember what I put in there???
– how many logbooks is it useful to have???
– how to scan in and archive my paper notes quickly and often so that I can search and tag them???

What are your personal logbooking bugs? How do you try to resolve them?