e-O&P Vol 16(2) November 2009: Writing Futures: looking at writing with fresh eyes

Following the publication of the November 2009 issue of e-O&P, we have created this space for your to keep the conversations and writing flowing. Have your say!

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Dicussion of articles by Taptiklis and Hearsum from November Edition of e- O & P by Deb Booth

Writing that Connects by T. Taptiklis

A brilliantly incisive critique of self-decieving corporate writing which has been peddling an implicit Newtonian worldview of organisations which hides its own origins (the need for business leaders, McKinsey-type consultancies and Business Schools like Harvard to legitimise their power over organisations, and organisational thinking).

When he commends as an alternative, ‘writing that connects’ he shows us the value of authentic, context-bound experience for understanding organisations. This is most often found in oral communication, as Taptiklis acknowledges. It can however be used to provide an interpretative analysis of the dynamics of change in social systems (as it has in History and Anthropology) which can compete with the conventional ‘scientific’ theories of organisation which underpin the corporate writing about which Taptiklis is so critical .

To blog, or not to blog, that is the question….. by S. Hearsum

Hearsum is, in his own words, a ‘novice’ blogger for whom ‘The jury is still out on the success of his blog as a marketing tool’. He is in search of an audience: ‘I am valued by clients for my opinions and words’ ‘I want to be seen as having expertise.’ Yet shouldn’t a consultant who describes himself as in the facilitating and coaching business be focussing on his listening and process skills?

This is the essential dilemma for developer-bloggers. Blogs cannot provide direct evidence of our ability to practise our craft because of the very nature of that craft – an expertise, above all, in relationship building rather than broadcasting. It is no surprise that Hearsum’s testimonials page (not a blog page) ‘draws people in’, despite his assertion that he is employed for ‘how he thinks’. It is only the former which give potential clients evidence of his performance as a developer.

Hearsum seems to have covered some very useful ground which would be valuable to anyone thinking of starting a blog. His writing is clear and in a convivial style, so , on balance, I believe he deserves his audience
Hi Deborah,

Thank-you for the comments. In reply to a couple of your points:

"Yet shouldn’t a consultant who describes himself as in the facilitating and coaching business be focussing on his listening and process skills?" The implication in your comment seems to be that I do not focus on my listening and process skills sufficiently - not true. I am also unclear why they are mutually exclusive. Context is everything: if I am in e.g. 'facilitator mode', then my listening and process skills indeed come into play overtly.

"Blogs cannot provide direct evidence of our ability to practise our craft because of the very nature of that craft" - I agree, lived experience will tend to trump whatever someone reads on my blog.

"...despite his assertion that he is employed for ‘how he thinks’. It is only the former (testimonial page) which give potential clients evidence of his performance as a developer." I do not think it is as black and white as that sounds. The testimonials are a powerful way of offering evidence of how I work, certainly. The blog posts - good/bad/indifferent as they may be - over time offer evidence of on-going critical reflection and learning. In a broader context, I would argue that testimonials only help get you through the door. A potential client may like the reference, and be reassured by it, but the questions they ask will be geared at establishing how you think in the context of their organisation/problem.

Best wishes,

Steve

Deborah Ann Booth said:
Dicussion of articles by Taptiklis and Hearsum from November Edition of e- O & P by Deb Booth
Writing that Connects by T. Taptiklis A brilliantly incisive critique of self-decieving corporate writing which has been peddling an implicit Newtonian worldview of organisations which hides its own origins (the need for business leaders, McKinsey-type consultancies and Business Schools like Harvard to legitimise their power over organisations, and organisational thinking). When he commends as an alternative, ‘writing that connects’ he shows us the value of authentic, context-bound experience for understanding organisations. This is most often found in oral communication, as Taptiklis acknowledges. It can however be used to provide an interpretative analysis of the dynamics of change in social systems (as it has in History and Anthropology) which can compete with the conventional ‘scientific’ theories of organisation which underpin the corporate writing about which Taptiklis is so critical .

To blog, or not to blog, that is the question….. by S. Hearsum

Hearsum is, in his own words, a ‘novice’ blogger for whom ‘The jury is still out on the success of his blog as a marketing tool’. He is in search of an audience: ‘I am valued by clients for my opinions and words’ ‘I want to be seen as having expertise.’ Yet shouldn’t a consultant who describes himself as in the facilitating and coaching business be focussing on his listening and process skills?

This is the essential dilemma for developer-bloggers. Blogs cannot provide direct evidence of our ability to practise our craft because of the very nature of that craft – an expertise, above all, in relationship building rather than broadcasting. It is no surprise that Hearsum’s testimonials page (not a blog page) ‘draws people in’, despite his assertion that he is employed for ‘how he thinks’. It is only the former which give potential clients evidence of his performance as a developer.

Hearsum seems to have covered some very useful ground which would be valuable to anyone thinking of starting a blog. His writing is clear and in a convivial style, so , on balance, I believe he deserves his audience
Dear Steve

Thank you for pointing out that that I have unfairly implied that by blogging you are unable to also focus on your listening and process skills, it was the relative emphasis which I had intended to highlight - I have worked with brilliant writers about development who didn’t have the people skills to put their knowledge into practice. And of course I agree that your blogs provide excellent evidence of your on-going critical reflection and learning. I apologise if my remarks caused offence.

I am intrigued, however, by the way, if I have understood you correctly, that you describe your potential clients’ implicit criteria for employing you as a development consultant as whether your thinking in the context of their organisation matches their expectations.What does this mean? Are they are looking for someone who shares their understanding of the relevant business issues, or is able to articulate the processes of developing people and organisations, or someone who has tackled similar problems elsewhere or something else entirely?

I am not asking this out of idle curiosity. I would like to facilitate a discussion which could enable AMED to think differently about ways it can offer support to developers. To do so we need to identify developers’ changing needs - themselves partially a product of what they need to both gain and keep clients in the context of a fast changing business scene.

I would be very interested to hear more about what you and other readers think potential clients are looking for, right now, in a developer.Your data can help AMED to focus on the possible future needs of its customers (developers).

Kind regards, Deb.



Steve Hearsum said:
Hi Deborah,

Thank-you for the comments. In reply to a couple of your points:

"Yet shouldn’t a consultant who describes himself as in the facilitating and coaching business be focussing on his listening and process skills?" The implication in your comment seems to be that I do not focus on my listening and process skills sufficiently - not true. I am also unclear why they are mutually exclusive. Context is everything: if I am in e.g. 'facilitator mode', then my listening and process skills indeed come into play overtly.

"Blogs cannot provide direct evidence of our ability to practise our craft because of the very nature of that craft" - I agree, lived experience will tend to trump whatever someone reads on my blog.

"...despite his assertion that he is employed for ‘how he thinks’. It is only the former (testimonial page) which give potential clients evidence of his performance as a developer." I do not think it is as black and white as that sounds. The testimonials are a powerful way of offering evidence of how I work, certainly. The blog posts - good/bad/indifferent as they may be - over time offer evidence of on-going critical reflection and learning. In a broader context, I would argue that testimonials only help get you through the door. A potential client may like the reference, and be reassured by it, but the questions they ask will be geared at establishing how you think in the context of their organisation/problem.

Best wishes,

Steve

Deborah Ann Booth said:
Dicussion of articles by Taptiklis and Hearsum from November Edition of e- O & P by Deb Booth
Writing that Connects by T. Taptiklis A brilliantly incisive critique of self-decieving corporate writing which has been peddling an implicit Newtonian worldview of organisations which hides its own origins (the need for business leaders, McKinsey-type consultancies and Business Schools like Harvard to legitimise their power over organisations, and organisational thinking). When he commends as an alternative, ‘writing that connects’ he shows us the value of authentic, context-bound experience for understanding organisations. This is most often found in oral communication, as Taptiklis acknowledges. It can however be used to provide an interpretative analysis of the dynamics of change in social systems (as it has in History and Anthropology) which can compete with the conventional ‘scientific’ theories of organisation which underpin the corporate writing about which Taptiklis is so critical .

To blog, or not to blog, that is the question….. by S. Hearsum

Hearsum is, in his own words, a ‘novice’ blogger for whom ‘The jury is still out on the success of his blog as a marketing tool’. He is in search of an audience: ‘I am valued by clients for my opinions and words’ ‘I want to be seen as having expertise.’ Yet shouldn’t a consultant who describes himself as in the facilitating and coaching business be focussing on his listening and process skills?

This is the essential dilemma for developer-bloggers. Blogs cannot provide direct evidence of our ability to practise our craft because of the very nature of that craft – an expertise, above all, in relationship building rather than broadcasting. It is no surprise that Hearsum’s testimonials page (not a blog page) ‘draws people in’, despite his assertion that he is employed for ‘how he thinks’. It is only the former which give potential clients evidence of his performance as a developer.

Hearsum seems to have covered some very useful ground which would be valuable to anyone thinking of starting a blog. His writing is clear and in a convivial style, so , on balance, I believe he deserves his audience
Dicussion of November Edition of e- O & P by Deb Booth


Editorial by Bob MacKenzie and Alison Donaldson


I loved it.Bob and Alison magically created, through words, a warm and friendly atmosphere in which to frame their authors’ contributions . I felt both relaxed, and excited about reading the journal’s articles when you described ‘setting out on this journey, not quite knowing where it might take us’ .

I have had several conversations recently about the vital importance of humility in developers, Bob and Alion’s writing exudes a confidence in the state of not-knowing which few can match. Perhaps this (ie. the confidence that not-knowing is good and healthy, and belies openness to new knowledge) is something from which we can all learn. Potential business clients may be very anxious and insecure (about their business’s future). Perhaps there is a temptation amongst some developers to provide re-assurance in the form of Certainty (models, processes, scientific, etc) rather come clean that our real value lies in our Comfort with Not-knowing, which enables us to acknowledge the need to listen to people and understand them before Knowing anything. Bob and Alison’s editorial is one way this practical wisdom will be passed on.

The internet enables Writers to adapt to others’ desires for speed (Rachael West), brevity (Steve Hearsum) and spontaneity (Paul Jackson). As Alison Donaldson’s article shares with us, such writing might be an unconscious replacement for verbal conversation. This edition of e-O & P demonstrates Writers are still using more traditional forms of writing (such as reflective articles) for the purposes of yore: advocacy (Peter Franklin, Alison Donaldson), exploration and analysis (Theodore Taptiklis, Jeremy Clare) and sharing experience (Stephen Billing) and knowledge (Steve Hearsum). The internet is transforming the lives of professionals who write – but it may not be transforming their professional writing. The writing within November’s e- O & P shows that while modern technology is a powerful enabler of communication, it is in no way its determinant.
Dicussion of November Edition of e- O & P by Deb Booth


Editorial by Bob MacKenzie and Alison Donaldson


I loved it.Bob and Alison magically created, through words, a warm and friendly atmosphere in which to frame their authors’ contributions . I felt both relaxed, and excited about reading the journal’s articles when you described ‘setting out on this journey, not quite knowing where it might take us’ .

I have had several conversations recently about the vital importance of humility in developers, Bob and Alion’s writing exudes a confidence in the state of not-knowing which few can match. Perhaps this (ie. the confidence that not-knowing is good and healthy, and belies openness to new knowledge) is something from which we can all learn. Potential business clients may be very anxious and insecure (about their business’s future). Perhaps there is a temptation amongst some developers to provide re-assurance in the form of Certainty (models, processes, scientific, etc) rather come clean that our real value lies in our Comfort with Not-knowing, which enables us to acknowledge the need to listen to people and understand them before Knowing anything. Bob and Alison’s editorial shares and exemplifies this practical wisdom.

The internet enables Writers to adapt to others’ desires for speed (Rachael West), brevity (Steve Hearsum) and spontaneity (Paul Jackson). As Alison Donaldson’s article implies, such writing might be an unconscious replacement for verbal conversation. This edition of e-O & P demonstrates Writers are still using more traditional forms of writing (such as reflective articles) for the purposes of yore: advocacy (Peter Franklin, Alison Donaldson), exploration and analysis (Theodore Taptiklis, Jeremy Clare) and sharing experience (Stephen Billing) and knowledge (Steve Hearsum). The internet is transforming the lives of professionals who write – but it may not be transforming their professional writing. The writing within November’s e- O & P shows that while modern technology is a powerful enabler of communication, it is in no way its determinant.
Beyond paperwork: Conversation-entwined Writing by Alison Donaldson

This article made me think differently about Writing, and then act differently, and hopefully more effectively.

Accompanying Alison on her journey of exploration of what appeared to be a quite simple situation seemed trite at first. As I read further I learned that small decisions, especially the choice between writing and speaking, have very profound implications, mostly unnoticed. We tend to be imprisoned by the habits we’ve learnt not to question in this as in so many other areas of our lives. Alison has shared with us her own Conversation-entwined Writing Process which led her to discover some of these implications of her choice to write or speak, which she discusses with us. By enabling her readers to participate,vicariously, in the collaborative process she advocates she has given us a powerful piece of writing which draws its strength from her own raw authenticity as much as the invaluable reflections within.

Since reading Alison’s article I have consciously made the choice of speaking or writing according to my different purposes. I have also reflected on whether there might be some other interesting distinctions between written and verbal communication. Modern technology has enabled people to choose to conduct their conversations in writing, as perhaps have letter-writers down the ages . How might people benefit from choosing to collaborate sequentially, rather than simultaneously? (eg. better chance to finish my sentence, paragraph, before you respond, less risk of direct expression of spontaneous, emotions etc?). Can it give ME power or priority over YOU, or will , or will YOU be better able not to hear ME by ignoring my written conversation in away which might be more difficult if we spoke?

I am better able to think and express my ideas in writing, than I can in verbal conversations, where I’m partially pre-occupied with my concern for the exchange of feelings going on. Yet if what’s important, and this is more usually the case, is a practical outcome, I will need to engage others energy and emotions, much more than apply my intellect, or my power then verbal conversation is paramount. ‘Writing-entwined Conversation’ (sorry) is exactly as Alison suggests, a powerful collaborative tool, enabling me to both think alone and be part of a team.

Alison’s article also stimulated reflection on the content of November’s e-O & P as a whole. Is it possible that we have two forms of writing: (1)Conversational Writing which may be displacing and supplementing verbal conversations, and (2) Traditional forms of written communication, such as articles, books, permanent records, universal information etc which have been changed to a much lesser extent by our technological revolution?
Improvisational Writing: Miss Smith pokes back
by Paul Z Jackson

I love to read anything Paul writes. Paul’s beautiful prose can persuade me to believe (almost) anything. Although his advertorial paragraphs jar, I’m willing to bet none of the participants on his writing courses ask for their money back. He argues that the play’s the thing ie. what matters is the democratisation of the previously elite domains, such as journalism and professional writing and the jettisoning of our attachment (sentimental or self-interested) to the act of writing - possibly even to reading. But by expressing his views so eloquently he reminds us why we will always value the best writing above the rest. Not only will audiences (professional or otherwise) always prefer prose which strokes their senses, which takes its aesthetic function seriously, but they are also much more likely to be persuaded by its polemic. This he acknowledges when he says there will always be ‘protected spaces’ for well-crafted writing.

Whilst oral cultures produced Homer and Beowulf, the skill of the bard is a specialist craft requiring talent and a lifetime’s practise. It’s much easier for the ordinary person to express themselves clearly and concisely if they can see and reflect on what they are communicating. For this reason I cannot agree with William Crossman whom Paul quotes as predicting the death of reading as well as writing. Paul writes that managers work, once largely oral, now has a substantially higher written content. This is evidence of a wider trend towards choosing written communication over oral. Why do my teenagers text and facebook their close friends, instead of talking to them? I would have liked Paul to reflect on this apparent contradiction to the thrust of his argument. If I have a criticism of Paul’s article it is that it is not reflective enough, perhaps accepting others opinions too uncritically, and missing an opportunity to provide his own thought-leadership for a new generation of would-be communicators.
Hi Deborah,

Sorry for tardy reply - been a busy week. And thanks for clarifying your comments :-)

Your question re client expectations is a good one. You are right to point out that there are layers to how a client defines their relationship to a consultant's thinking. If I look at this through the lens of a long standing client of mine:
1. Understanding of relevant business issues - in the context of the work I tend to do with them, namely change consulting around IT led projects, typically impacting large numbers of people, yes this is important.
2. Able to articulate the processes of developing people and organisations - in this instance, not important, as the contract was not about developing people. However, do I bring some of my thinking and skills in that area to my work? Yes. Is it valued? Yes, although this tends to be when I engage at a 1-2-1 level with managers/execs and use coaching interventions to help them develop their thinking/planning around the change; or when I bring my facilitation skills into play in groups.
3. Someone who has tackled similar problems elsewhere - yes, it helps, and this is back to the evidencing of competency thread. The key to this would be the definition of 'similar problems', and whether consultant and client agree they are analogous and have relevance.
4. Something else entirely - this is the intangible bit, where it gets interesting. Why does a client 'like' one consultant more than another, and when does this take preference over competency/suitability? One consultant I worked with several times in this organisation has not been called back in the past 2 years, for reason(s) she and I are unaware of. This is in spite of the fact that she has, in some areas, far more knowledge and experience. Yet I was the one called back in.

If I was being contracted to work more in the territory of developing people, I would argue 1. & 2. are important. Yet that is subjective - if a client places more importance on similar experience, then that will count. I bid recently for some team building facilitation in a PCT. Although I was told I had accurately reflected what the client needed, and suggested an approach they liked, I lost out to a consultant who "had experience of the health sector". Now I would argue that having someone who is outside of the wider system might actually be able to offer something different and equally if not more valuable, yet that was not how they saw it. My 'thinking' played second fiddle to 'experience'.

Lot's to chew over here and I have more thoughts brewing, and I am desperate for a coffee, so I will leave it there for the moment.

Steve
Dear Deborah,
Here I am responding to your response weeks and weeks after you sent it! Yet I do want you to know that I really appreciated your thoughtful comments. I hope we meet face-to-face one of these days, perhaps in the AMED writers' group, for a "writing-entwined conversation". Perhaps you can make it to our Brighton workshop in May?
Warm regards,
Alison
Deborah Ann Booth said:
Beyond paperwork: Conversation-entwined Writing by Alison Donaldson

This article made me think differently about Writing, and then act differently, and hopefully more effectively.

Accompanying Alison on her journey of exploration of what appeared to be a quite simple situation seemed trite at first. As I read further I learned that small decisions, especially the choice between writing and speaking, have very profound implications, mostly unnoticed. We tend to be imprisoned by the habits we’ve learnt not to question in this as in so many other areas of our lives. Alison has shared with us her own Conversation-entwined Writing Process which led her to discover some of these implications of her choice to write or speak, which she discusses with us. By enabling her readers to participate,vicariously, in the collaborative process she advocates she has given us a powerful piece of writing which draws its strength from her own raw authenticity as much as the invaluable reflections within.

Since reading Alison’s article I have consciously made the choice of speaking or writing according to my different purposes. I have also reflected on whether there might be some other interesting distinctions between written and verbal communication. Modern technology has enabled people to choose to conduct their conversations in writing, as perhaps have letter-writers down the ages . How might people benefit from choosing to collaborate sequentially, rather than simultaneously? (eg. better chance to finish my sentence, paragraph, before you respond, less risk of direct expression of spontaneous, emotions etc?). Can it give ME power or priority over YOU, or will , or will YOU be better able not to hear ME by ignoring my written conversation in away which might be more difficult if we spoke?

I am better able to think and express my ideas in writing, than I can in verbal conversations, where I’m partially pre-occupied with my concern for the exchange of feelings going on. Yet if what’s important, and this is more usually the case, is a practical outcome, I will need to engage others energy and emotions, much more than apply my intellect, or my power then verbal conversation is paramount. ‘Writing-entwined Conversation’ (sorry) is exactly as Alison suggests, a powerful collaborative tool, enabling me to both think alone and be part of a team.

Alison’s article also stimulated reflection on the content of November’s e-O & P as a whole. Is it possible that we have two forms of writing: (1)Conversational Writing which may be displacing and supplementing verbal conversations, and (2) Traditional forms of written communication, such as articles, books, permanent records, universal information etc which have been changed to a much lesser extent by our technological revolution?
Dear Alison

thank you for appreciative response to my comments. Your article deserved more people responding . I hope we will see each other at Brighton if not at writers Group or ODiN before. Deb

Alison Donaldson said:
Dear Deborah,
Here I am responding to your response weeks and weeks after you sent it! Yet I do want you to know that I really appreciated your thoughtful comments. I hope we meet face-to-face one of these days, perhaps in the AMED writers' group, for a "writing-entwined conversation". Perhaps you can make it to our Brighton workshop in May?
Warm regards,
Alison
Deborah Ann Booth said:
Beyond paperwork: Conversation-entwined Writing by Alison Donaldson

This article made me think differently about Writing, and then act differently, and hopefully more effectively.

Accompanying Alison on her journey of exploration of what appeared to be a quite simple situation seemed trite at first. As I read further I learned that small decisions, especially the choice between writing and speaking, have very profound implications, mostly unnoticed. We tend to be imprisoned by the habits we’ve learnt not to question in this as in so many other areas of our lives. Alison has shared with us her own Conversation-entwined Writing Process which led her to discover some of these implications of her choice to write or speak, which she discusses with us. By enabling her readers to participate,vicariously, in the collaborative process she advocates she has given us a powerful piece of writing which draws its strength from her own raw authenticity as much as the invaluable reflections within.

Since reading Alison’s article I have consciously made the choice of speaking or writing according to my different purposes. I have also reflected on whether there might be some other interesting distinctions between written and verbal communication. Modern technology has enabled people to choose to conduct their conversations in writing, as perhaps have letter-writers down the ages . How might people benefit from choosing to collaborate sequentially, rather than simultaneously? (eg. better chance to finish my sentence, paragraph, before you respond, less risk of direct expression of spontaneous, emotions etc?). Can it give ME power or priority over YOU, or will , or will YOU be better able not to hear ME by ignoring my written conversation in away which might be more difficult if we spoke?

I am better able to think and express my ideas in writing, than I can in verbal conversations, where I’m partially pre-occupied with my concern for the exchange of feelings going on. Yet if what’s important, and this is more usually the case, is a practical outcome, I will need to engage others energy and emotions, much more than apply my intellect, or my power then verbal conversation is paramount. ‘Writing-entwined Conversation’ (sorry) is exactly as Alison suggests, a powerful collaborative tool, enabling me to both think alone and be part of a team.

Alison’s article also stimulated reflection on the content of November’s e-O & P as a whole. Is it possible that we have two forms of writing: (1)Conversational Writing which may be displacing and supplementing verbal conversations, and (2) Traditional forms of written communication, such as articles, books, permanent records, universal information etc which have been changed to a much lesser extent by our technological revolution?

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