Friday, July 24, 2015

Seven Top Summer Reads

Schools are out, bags are packed and many of you will be jetting off on holiday at some point over the summer. So that you can make the most of your time, here are my seven top summer reads for your inspiration and encouragement. I’ve deliberately chosen these titles as I think they will all challenge your thinking in a good way. So in no particular order, here goes!

The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do
Jeff Goins

If ever there’s a time to take some space to re-think your “why”, then it’s the summer break, and Jeff’s book The Art of Work is a really helpful perspective on discovering your calling. As the book explains, it’s not always a light bulb moment, it takes time, and often it’s our failures which lead us to success. 

I was fortunate to be able to interview Jeff this week for The Potting Shed Podcast, so look out for that episode coming out soon – it’s well worth a listen!

Spencer Johnson

Dealing with change can be difficult, in whatever area of our life we face it. In the area of our work change can make us fearful and we can often resistant it. The lessons in this short parable have stuck with me ever since I first read it over ten years ago. 

It’s a quick read, but given that studies predict up to 35% of jobs will become redundant due to automation and robotics over the next 20 years, change is inevitable so it’s best to be ahead of the curve…

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s books are all bestsellers, and there’s a good reason for that. He has a rare ability to view things from a different perspective and challenge conventional thinking. In David and Goliath he challenges our perceptions of weakness and encourages us to question our giants – often our giants aren’t what they seem, and our weaknesses can lead us to other strengths. 

A really engaging book, and I’d recommend getting his entire back catalogue from the library and reading those too!

George Monbiot

I’m passionate about the environment, and so is journalist George Monbiot. His book Feral encourages us to re-wild our lives and our landscapes from the sanitised and degraded condition we find them in the 21st century. 

More than just a call to get ourselves back out into nature, Feral is a well-researched and compelling argument about how we need to re-think our approach to conservation.


Matthew Crawford

It’s no secret that I love making things and mending things, and Matthew Crawford’s excellent book is an insight into why this is good for us. As a society we’ve become as a society quite disconnected with how things are made and how to mend things, and this book is an encouragement to develop our skills in this area, exploring how it improves our thinking and versatility in an increasingly technological world.



Christopher McDougall

We all need to be healthier, and rather than join a gym we should all be outside making the most of the natural world around us. Running is such a simple form of exercise, but counter intuitively, cushioned trainers are making us do it all wrong and injuring ourselves! Christopher goes back to basics, exploring bare foot running, and meets some fascinating groups along the way. 

A classic in running related literature, and you may find you shorten your stride length and ditch excess cushioning as a result!

Luke Strickland

At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, Life Space is an excellent book to encourage you to re-connect with those dreams, ambitions and passions that seem to have been left along the wayside while “life” happened. 

It won’t take you all summer to read, and you’ll hopefully be inspired to make room in your life for those things that really matter in the long run. 

Please leave me a nice review as well when you get to the end!


So those are my seven top summer reads, do grab copies from the library, Amazon or wherever, and let me know what you think! What are you reading over the summer? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment below!


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Thanks for taking the time to read Seven Top Summer Reads. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

The Dad Network
My Random Musings

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What's your story?

We need each other
Reading the news this week a story caught my eye about the practice of solitary confinement in prison. There is a debate around this technique as a form of punishment, and in simplistic terms you could argue that the reason it's seen by some as damaging is that we are hard wired for relationship.

We all need other people in order to survive. As babies we are completely dependent on others to meet our needs. We become more independent as we mature, but then as we enter old age we may find ourselves increasingly reliant on others again. 
"We all need other people in order to survive."
That's not to say that we all need people in the same way. Extroverts may gain energy from being in a large group, whilst for introverts large group situations could be a cause of stress!  And it's likely that we're a blend of both character types anyway - for me there are times when I enjoy the big crowd, the stage, the limelight, and other times when I need to escape into myself and recharge. 

Susan Cain's inspiring TED talk on the power of introverts is well worth a watch on this subject, whether you're introverted or not. She makes an excellent point that we may over value extroverted behaviour in our schools and workplaces, and she goes into more detail in her book Quiet which a friend was recommending to me last night at the pub.

Family is to be cherished
I love the proverb that 'it takes a village to raise a child', particularly for the implicit notion it brings of relationship with a wide variety of people and across the generations. In Ken Robinson's book The Element, he tells a story of a primary school in America that moved some of it's pre-school classes into a nursing home over the road. 

The rooms where the classes were held had glass walls, the doors were open so the residents could hear the babble of the children's lessons, and the residents had to walk past it to get to the canteen. Soon many of the residents started to help read with the pre-schoolers, not only improving the pre-schoolers' literacy well above the state average, but as an added bonus the residents also began to need less medication. 

Relationship with others, especially across the generations, is good for our health! I still find this story very moving, especially when I hear the statistics in the UK about loneliness amongst older people, some of whom can get so isolated that they may go for long periods without meaningful human contact. Sadly solitary confinement doesn't seem to be limited to prisons in our society.
"Relationship with others, especially across the generations, is good for our health!"
As a family, a huge benefit for us has been moving closer to family in the last few years. A highlight and regular fixture in our week is tea together on Saturday afternoons. Round the table the age ranges from 2 to 93, and it's priceless for my children to spend time with their grandparents and great grandparents (I enjoy it very much too, in case that reads like the only reason we do it is for the kids!).

For many years of human history, history itself was passed on by oral tradition, and in my opinion our family stories are still really important to pass on. We need to know where we fit in the bigger story, and family history helps with that. Living memory connects us with the past in a way that textbooks and documentaries can't. This becomes especially poingnent around major world events, where our family stories can make what can seem to be distant events much more personal. My parents have done a great job of recording and researching the family stories, going back generations, and I love the mix of quirkiness and ordinariness in our family tree. 

"We need to know where we fit in the bigger story"
The subject my fellow bloggers and I were set this week is a quote from a film: 'We need relationships because we need a witness to our lives'. For me, knowing and passing on our stories is the 'witness to our lives' that's such a key reason we need relationship.

It's good to share stories around the campfire
We need to hear each other's stories, and we need to pass our stories on. And it's only once you know someone's story that you can really get to know and appreciate them. 

It's good to share stories over the dinner table, or round a campfire, or over a beer.  For extroverts, it's equally important (maybe more important!) to take the time to listen to other people's stories rather than just telling their own (I'm talking to myself here). 

Likewise it's really important for introverts to open up and tell their stories too - often it's the introverts who might have the most profound thing to say anyway (a point Susan Cain makes!).

So now that Summer's arrived and school's out, maybe it's a good opportunity to catch up with family and friends, share a meal and take some time out to listen to each other's stories again. Happy holidays everyone.
"Maybe it's a good opportunity to take some time out to listen to each other's stories again."

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Thanks for taking the time to read What's Your Story. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What you see is what you get?

Those non WISIWYG days!
WYSIWYG. "What you see is what you get" - a term that back in the 80s and early 90s was a
marketing tool for word processing software. What it looked like on the screen was what it would look like printed out. This was a big deal, especially in the days of dot matrix printers and giant beige screens!

WYSIWYG may be fine in vintage computing, but despite what we tell ourselves, the world is rarely exactly how we see it. We are constantly interpreting and filtering information, and often these filters change the picture we "see" dramatically - like a neural Instragram making pretty pictures in our mind.
"Despite what we tell ourselves, the world is rarely exactly how we see it"
In a recent article for Ipsos MORI called "The Perils of Perception", James Stannard and Bobby Duffy explore some of the ways that our mental filters mean we get the picture wrong. For instance, our worries about issues that concern us can skew our thinking. An example of this is a sample of Americans who thought that 25% of US teenage girls get pregnant each year, when the answer is just 3%. The concern people felt about this issue led to a significant overestimate of the percentage.

We often perceive things to be the wrong size
Stannard and Duffy point out that in terms of the relationship between physical stimuli and our response, people often overestimate small things and underestimate big things. This plays out in our national consciousness, for example people overestimating the extent of immigration or the number of people who observe a particular faith. No doubt these misperceptions and stereotypes aren't helped by the media!

As a result of our upbringing and environment we also all hold deeply held convictions about numerous issues. We have a particular mental framework through which we interpret the world. The problem is that we're often unaware of it, and we tend to exhibit "confirmation bias" when presented with information.

This term was introduced in the 1960s by the English psychologist Peter Watson in response to a series of experiments. Essentially he suggested that we like our beliefs about the world around us to be confirmed and not proved false. We do this by subconsciously focusing on data that confirms our beliefs and disregarding information that doesn't.
"We all tend to exhibit 'confirmation bias' when presented with information"
Phobias are a classic example - phobics display a confirmation bias for threatening information. Everything, for them, tends to confirm their phobia. As the proverb goes, "we don't see things as they are, we see things as we are". And as Bart Ehrman states "People almost always find what they're expecting to find if they allow their expectations to guide their search."

Straight after my degree I was summoned to undertake Jury Service at the local crown court. As the judge was at pains to point out at the end of the trial, we could only make our judgement based on the evidence. Both sides presented a compelling argument, but we had to be objective and boil the case down to the facts.

Outside of the courtroom it's not all that easy to be objective about things we're passionate about, or work we've produced. At it's worst, confirmation bias can lead us just to wishful thinking - a bit like the people who audition for X-factor and believe they're the next Whitney Houston but in fact can't sing a single note and are tragically brought down to earth by the judges.
"It's not all that easy to be objective about things we're passionate about"
I don't know about you, but I don't want to delude myself about my dreams, talents and ambitions. That's not to say that I'm just going to give up if I am more like the failed X-factor hopeful than the A-list talent I think I am, but that I just need to work harder at getting an objective viewpoint on my output.

It helps to get a different viewpoint to our own
This can also be hard, because everything inside screams at the thought of criticism and the vulnerability of people not liking your work!

But in the long run, the only way to improve is to find out which bits need improving, and the only way to do that is to get someone else's perspective.

Otherwise, like a talentless X-factor hopeful, our confirmation bias might go into overdrive and we'll believe our own hype! It's an iterative process - the more viewpoints we get on our stuff, the better it will be.

So what conventions do you need to challenge in your own life? Where might it help to see something from another perspective? Our challenge this week is to open up to some alternative views and different opinions from our own. It's in allowing our thinking to be challenged that we begin to step outside our own confirmation bias, and that's a good thing.
"It's in allowing our thinking to be challenged that we begin to step outside our own confirmation bias."

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Thanks for taking the time to read What You See Is What You Get. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Opportunity knocks!

Is opportunity knocking?

  • How do we make the most of the opportunities presented to us? 
  • What do we do when opportunity knocks? 
  • And can you ever have too much of a good thing? 

These are some of the questions I've been thinking over this week. 

Of course 
you only need to read the gossip magazines to see that it IS possible to have too much of see a good thing -  many music and film stars fall off the rails and fill their lives with regret once they're rich and famous. Money doesn't buy you happiness, and instant fame comes with a cost, as many a former celebrity will tell you. 
"There is meaning to be found in the journey towards success."
In Malcolm Gladwell's book David and Goliath he presents the theory of Desirable Difficulty. This theory is that we actually need a healthy dose of struggle in our lives. So often we focus on overcoming overwhelming difficulty, but self made millionaires almost inevitably raise children who are less able to understand the value of money - there actually comes a point where too much money is undesirable.

Gladwell quotes an unnamed Hollywood executive, a self made man, who says this:

"My instinct is that it's much harder than anybody believes to bring up kids in a wealthy environment. People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they're ruined by wealth as well because they lose their ambition and they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self worth. It's difficult at both ends of the spectrum. There's some place in the middle which probably works best of all."

There is meaning to be found in the journey towards success. Life shouldn't come easy, else we're inclined to take it for granted. Part of the reward is the toil, which helps us to be thankful for opportunities when they present themselves.

"Part of the reward is the toil, which helps us to be thankful for opportunities when they present themselves."

Yes, you CAN have too much money!!
I must emphasise that being presented with overwhelming opportunity is something of a theoretical question for me.

I've not had overnight success with my writing and music. I haven't yet reached millions. My phone isn't ringing off the hook with speaking requests and no-one's trampling my door down to read my stuff! 

That's not to say that it won't happen, it just hasn't happened yet - and in many ways I think that's a good thing. I don't want to end up like so many lottery millionaires, ruined by a good thing. 

Success takes many forms, and for me the big win is about being a blessing to others whilst preserving and improving my relationships with my wife and family. 

As I identified in my recent post Nine Ways To Be More Creative, it's important to "go long" - working for the long term reward rather than instant success. Part of that is developing your craft and honing your skill, and there are few shortcuts to this - it's about putting in the hours, making mistakes and getting better. Making progress through marginal and incremental gains, with the occasional step change. 


For me this looks like writing this weekly blog, seeing what does and doesn't connect with my audience, and building that audience through various channels. It's also about improving the presentation of my content, finding different ways to use it and developing the entrepreneurial mindset to go with it. 

With social media these days, you may be only one "share" away from going viral - my question is how you prepare yourself to make the most of this! When opportunity knocks, are you ready to open the door? I often joke with my colleagues in the office about my ambition to make a viral YouTube video that will earn me millions of pounds! (A pipe dream at this stage since I've not yet made any YouTube videos!).


"When opportunity knocks, are you ready to open the door?"
Putting in those ten thousand hours to master your craft can take a while, and a picture I found helpful in this regard is a fishing net. In many ways, I feel like the regular hours that I put in are like weaving my net. Each post, each connection, each improvement is another section of the net. The more you put in, the bigger your net gets and the more you can catch when opportunity knocks!

Are your nets ready?
I take encouragement of a story about some fishermen in the Bible. They're experienced fishermen, and they've been fishing all night without catching anything. Just one of those nights, but then opportunity doesn't always come when you expect it. 

Jesus tells the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, upon which their nets almost burst with a record haul of fish! They need all of their net and all of their skill to haul in the catch. 

It's all very well wanting opportunity, seeking success, but if you're going to make the most of it you've got to be in the boat, plying your trade through those fishless nights, with the net you've made and with the skill to be able to pull it in in the first place! And just remember the theory of desirable difficulty - maybe there's a way to re-frame what you've already achieved and be thankful for that.

So how can you enlarge your net this week? And how can you refine your craft? Maybe you feel like you're not catching anything right now... in which case it could be time to consider casting your nets in a different place. 

Be thankful for opportunity, it doesn't come easy, and listen out for those knocks!


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Thanks for taking the time to read Opportunity Knocks. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Nine Ways To Be More Creative

I love being creative, but it doesn't always come easy - there are times I get stuck, feel uninspired or lose motivation! For a long time I didn't think I was very creative at all, and you can read about that in my book Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.

Over the last few years the topic of creativity has cropped up regularly in my blogging, podcasting and writing.

So here are my top nine ways to boost personal creativity, overcome obstacles and stay motivated. Maybe you can apply them to your own creative endeavours, whatever shape they take!

1. Collaborate

It's good to find your tribe!
In the words of U2 "Sometimes you can't make it on your own", and in my experience this can be especially true in the area of personal creativity.

It's easy to get self absorbed, so collaborating with others can be a healthy way to get a different perspective to our own - let alone it can be really fun!

We're not always strong in every area, so finding others to create with can bring strength in different areas and help us produce something better as a result.

Instead of seeing others as competitors how about seeing a tribe who share our passions?

At the same time, we can move away from a "scarcity" mindset, feeling like there's only a limited amount of creativity to go around, and instead focus on an "abundance" mindset. Collaboration multiplies creativity rather than diminishing it!

The role of collaboration in innovation is a theme in the fantastic book Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, which is worth a read for more detail on the topic.

So go on, find some other collaborators in your tribe and see what you can make together!

2. Play

Seriousness can lead to blockage.
Let's face it, we can all get far too serious about our creative endeavours. Of course we want our creations to be brilliant and world changing, but sometimes we end up piling pressure on ourselves and producing nothing as a result.

Getting writer's block or wallowing in creative meltdown.

There's much to be said for taking a more playful approach. Instead of creativity becoming a chore why not treat it like a game? Just fail faster!

I've done this with songwriting - after years of struggling to write that perfect song I changed approach. Inspired by The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook, I dedicated a day as an "immersion" songwriting day.

The challenge was to write and record 20 songs in 12 hours.

Not 20 perfect songs, just 20 songs.

On my first immersion songwriting day I "only" got up to 16 songs but the amazing thing was that some of them were pretty good! I've done this a few times now and have written more great songs in 2 years than previous decade before.

As a way of unblocking creative constipation, taking a more playful approach works wonders. So how could you be more playful with your art? Stop working and start playing!

3. Go for a walk

Pop your shoes on and off you go!
There's plenty of evidence out there that physical activity boosts brain function. And taking a walk or going for a run is a healthy thing to do for any reason.

Even in general terms staying fit and healthy is good for our creativity. For instance I know that the fitter I am the better my lung capacity and tone tend to be when I'm singing.

But that's not the only reason to go for a walk. In his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman goes into great detail about how our brains work. Suffice to say that sometimes we need to give our subconscious mind space to surface by doing something physical that isn't task-oriented.

Walking or running with no fixed purpose allows our minds to wander and can bring deep insight or inspiration to the front of our minds.

I can testify to this - when I've been mulling over what to blog about, or how to overcome an obstacle, more often than not the answer will come to me when I'm running. For instance the title for my book Life Space came to me in a flash of inspiration during a morning plod.

So take a break, put on your trainers, and build some regular walking or running time into your routine!

4. Listen

What could you listen to this week for inspiration?
I take plenty of inspiration from hearing about other peoples' creative successes and failures. I find it really helpful hearing about someone else's alternative approach and their lessons learnt.

These days there's more inspiration than ever available online, and no matter what your interest or activity there will be someone talking about it in some form!

Podcasts in particular are a great way to connect with your favorite authors, topics or passions for free. Most smartphones enable you to subscribe and there are numerous apps out there to allow you to listen to podcasts at home, on the move and on whatever device you choose!

If you've never listened my own podcast, The Potting Shed Podcast then that's a great place to start!

Other shows I regularly listen to are The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins, Blogging your Passion and the Self Publishing Podcast. I also have a show about Home Education called The Home Ed Matters podcast which is really fun!

Aside from podcasts, I regularly watch TED talks, and there's thousands you can listen and watch across all kinds of subjects. I think that listening to podcasts and watching TED talks are a form of creative cross-pollination - what inspiration could you listen to this week that might pollinate your own creativity?

5. Slow it down

Really slowing down enables us to improve our technique
If you really want to improve your technique, whether it's your tennis serve or playing the violin, then a good way to do this is to really slow it down.

This is something the top performers do very well, according to Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code. I'd really recommend the book in terms of how to become more skilled in effective practice.

Going extra slow enables you to perfect all the aspects that make up the whole, each note of a piece of music, each action of a sports move.

We're often in such a rush, wanting to skip to the end, but taking things slowly enables us to improve our technique and ultimately be better at what we do.

Another tip for effective practice is to become outcome-focused rather than time-focused. So when learning a song for instance instead of planning to practice for a set period of time, like half an hour, plan for outcomes, like playing a song five times perfectly. This creates extra focus and self-correction - deep learning - and part of playing it perfectly might be playing it perfectly slowly to begin with, before speeding up.

It's better to be perfectly slow than badly rushed!

6. Be Yourself

George is secure in his identity
I'd hazard a guess that comparison has stifled more dreams than almost anything else. There's always likely to be someone better than you at what you do, and the difficultly is taking inspiration from that rather than becoming disheartened!

With social media, the temptation of artistic and creative comparison can be compounded when we see other people's perfect creations, workspaces, families and lives!

Too often we compare our messy process with other people's neat outcomes, when the truth is that their process is probably at least as messy, they've just chosen to frame the best bits.

We all have a unique blend of skills, experiences and hopes, and there's room for all of us to combine that in a unique way. What we may see as our biggest flaw might instead be our biggest selling point! We're all diamonds, even if we can't always see it to begin with - I interviewed Cathy Madavan on this topic recently. Embrace your inner buzzard rather than being jealous of eagles!

Becoming the best expression of who we're made to be is the biggest gift we can give to those around us. Creatively that might mean our style is unique, but that's ok! The Impressionists of the 19th century like Monet and Manet were widely criticised by the conventional French art world of the time, but they stayed true to their own unique style of painting,  and the world is richer for it!

Maybe you need to stop conforming to other people's perceptions of your life and release your inner Monet! As Oscar Wilde said: Be yourself, everyone else is taken!

7. Go public

Going public helped me regularly create...
If you're anything like me, you've got a million projects that you've never finished. You started enthusiastically but then motivation waned and you've never quite found the time to finish it off.

Without a deadline, without anyone shouting for it, it's easy for our creative works to gather dust on the shelf. This is where going public can really help. It's a way of being accountable and regularly "showing up".

For my writing it takes the form of my Blog Buddies group - we set each other a title to blog to each week and agree to post at the weekend.

Over the last few years I've found this weekly routine and deadline SO helpful to make me regularly write blogs and post them for the world to see.

As a result my writing has improved, I've been more consistent with my output, and it's generally been an all round "win".

Is it time for you to Go Public and get that extra motivation you need to keep creating? If you blog, you're welcome to join our Blog Buddies group!

8. Start small

Permit yourself build your masterpiece block by block
Confession - I am quite competitive.

This means that I don't always like being a beginner at things. For instance I like the idea of playing golf, but I'm not sure I have the patience to learn!

Likewise when it comes to creativity the gap between what I aspire to produce and what I'm actually able to produce can sometimes feel huge. For instance, I aspire to be a fantastic luthier and make beautiful stringed instruments, however my woodworking skills fall a little short of this ideal.

Now it's important to aim high, but sometimes I've been so disappointed that I'm not an expert straight away that I've been put off from even trying.

A lesson I've been learning over the last few years is to allow myself to be a bit rubbish. It's ok to start small. Our skills and talents grow over time through repeated use. It's ok that I'm not as good at making things in my workshop as my dad is, because he's had quite a headstart over me! And though I never saw it, even he was a beginner once.

So embrace small starts and baby steps - "Do not despise the day of small things". Even Usain Bolt had to learn to walk before he could run.

9. Go long

How long are you thinking?
More than ever our culture wants everything instantaneously, and this can rub off on our creative ambition.

It can feel like everyone else achieves overnight success and being brutally honest it's hard to keep from feeling jealous or resentful in darker moments. However, there's much to be said for playing the long game.

The artist Hokusai, most famous for The Great Wave off Kanagawa, is considered to have produced his best work in his 80s! So what if we don't achieve overnight success?

Perfecting our art and becoming a masterpiece is more important in the long run than short term and hollow acclaim. As Erwin McManus says, we're all "works of art and artists at work".

And as Bill Gates said, "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years".

There's a tree conservancy charity in Scotland that is thinking in a 250 year horizon. We might not need to think quite so far ahead, but maybe we just need to keep showing up, growing our skills and playing  the long game. Good things come to those who wait!


Collaborate. Play. Go for a walk. Listen. 

Slow it down. Be yourself. Go Public. Start Small. Go Long.

So there are my top nine ways to be more creative - which of these could you put in to practice first?

Why not try to apply one creativity booster a week for the next 9 weeks? I'd love to hear how you got on, so get in touch and let me know!

What are your top creativity boosters? I'd love to hear those too!


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Thanks for taking the time to read Nine Ways To Be More Creative. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.




The Dad Network

My Random Musings

Friday, June 26, 2015

Finding your niche

We're more than simple dominoes...
I’ve been reading a book recently about how nature is adapting to climate change. It’s much more positive than the doom and gloom messages we see in the global press.

Funnily enough our global flora and fauna are far more resilient than we might imagine, and while it’s still important for us to reduce our polluting and damaging activities, our natural environments are likely to recover much more quickly than some predict.

The book reminded me that our ecosystems aren’t static and closed systems but open, adaptable and collaborative.
"Our ecosystems are open, adaptable and collaborative"
It's a misconception that each animal or plant only has a single vital role to play, each with its own unique niche, and all stacked up like a fragile row of dominoes. The reality is that different species collectively tend to perform niche functions within an ecosystem - functions like providing specific habitat, pollinating flowers or dispersing seeds.

Happily, plenty of different species are surprisingly resilient to a changing climate. Yes there are niches, but they're big enough for a number of species!

I was a big fan of Roald Dahl books when I was growing up. To be honest I still am and I'm looking forward to introducing them to my kids when they're old enough. I'm sure that many of you will be familiar with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. In the story Charlie finds a winning golden ticket in a chocolate bar which leads him into adventures beyond his wildest dreams. I do wonder whether we have times in our lives where we feel that finding our place, our calling, our niche is like searching for that golden ticket. Maybe we'll find it, more likely we won't, but at least we'll have a nice chocolate bar to eat anyway!
"Different species collectively tend to perform niche functions within an ecosystem"
The "golden ticket" mindset that we've only got a narrow niche to fill in life, that we're a single domino to be placed in line, can be restrictive and discouraging. Of course there's no harm in searching for that golden ticket, but maybe there isn't just one ticket to be found. Like the broad ecological niches, our lives are best thought of as a broad portfolio, richer and more nuanced than being a single domino with a single position. As Jeff Goins might say, we can be a jack of all trades and master of some.

Still looking for the golden ticket??
That doesn't make it any easier to find our place in the world, but it does mean that you don't need to panic if you don't feel you've found your purpose yet.

Thinking in ecosystem terms, one thing about niches is that they don't exist in isolation - they can only function as part of something bigger, and they tend to be something to grow into.

When I studied Civil Engineering I didn't have a fixed idea in my mind of what I'd end up doing with it.

I figured that was a sensible vocational degree to study, especially in the absence of any other good ideas! Thinking back I picked it because it was the broadest engineering discipline and so it left my options open.
"The Golden Ticket mindset that we've only got a narrow niche to fill in life can be restrictive and discouraging."
Fast forward over thirteen years and I've found myself to be a specialist generalist - by which I mean I have broad skills in lots of areas but have ended up pretty specialist in the area of water and flood risk. I must say that this wasn't an intentional niche to fill, but as I've been part of a diverse organisation I've learnt lots of skills, undertaken lots of projects and found myself especially adept in one area above others. But it's a wide niche, accommodating others, and it's not exclusive - I can cover lots of other bases too. It's good to be adaptable!

In my working life this is a niche I happen to be filling at the moment, but it's unlikely to always be the case. Change is inevitable, and thinking in portfolio terms helps us to consider other niches we could fill. If you've never read Who Moved My Cheese? it's a fantastic little parable about dealing with change in our lives, especially in our working lives.

So don't worry if you don't feel like you've found your niche yet, if you're still searching for your golden ticket. The main thing is to be a part of a wider ecosystem, to be connected to something bigger, and see what grows - maybe there's a dozen silver tickets to find instead!

Likewise, if you're happily in your niche, don't get complacent - change is happening faster than you may think! So stay open-minded, grateful and aware of your environment. Your next niche may be closer than you know...
"Change is inevitable, and thinking in portfolio terms helps us to consider other niches we could fill."
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Thanks for taking the time to read Finding Your Niche. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here).

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Interview with Cathy Madavan

I recently had a fantastic interview with Cathy Madavan, author of the book Digging for Diamonds, for The Potting Shed Podcast. If you haven't caught up with my podcast yet then you can find it on iTunes here and listen in a variety of ways here as well - I'd love for you to subscribe and it's completely free!

Cathy and I talk about becoming the diamond we're made to be, and Cathy had such great insight I've embedded the episode below so you can listen to it here too!

I really hope you enjoy it, I got so much out of it myself, and as always I'd love to hear your comments!



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Thanks for taking the time to check out my interview with Cathy Madavan. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here).

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.