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How to Gain Clarity

Congratulations, you've decided to take the path-less-travelled in pursuit of new opportunities! Need a map?

Your Lonely, Twisty Maze

Does it feel like you're alone in seeking something new? You may find that your friends, as supportive as they are, do not quite understand what you're trying to do. You're seeing few familiar landmarks, and finding even fewer roads to follow. So how do you know you're going in the right direction? I have two tips for you:

  • TIP #1: Realize you are not alone; you just need to find fellow seekers who get what you're doing because they are doing the same thing.
  • TIP #2: It's not that hard to find those people if you know where to look. After all, you just found me, and it happens that I like making maps!

I specialize in understanding and clarifying direction. I can show you the opportunities that may be right under your nose. I am one of the best sounding boards you'll ever come across, and I can help you gain clarity both in purpose and action in writing and on paper.

These are, I know, mighty claims. To explain, I must start by stating my personal philosophy about getting things done.

Finding The Magic Toaster

Clarity is the peace of mind that comes when you are confident that (1) the action (2) will have the desired outcome (3) for well-understood reasons. Sounds simple, right? In practice, it's actually a bit more complex.

Most of the time, people focus on action: "what can we do right now that works?" This is an entirely reasonable assumption to make if you are working with a process that is already working. For example, if you want to make toast, you put some bread in the toaster, press the button, and wait a few minutes. The fragrant outcome is practically guaranteed, because the toaster has been perfected over the past hundred years to toast without fail. So if you want to make toast, the "thing you do that works" is to go find a toaster. Duh.

Since you are doing something that's new to you, you are looking for the equivalent of that toaster. It either already exists, or you'll have to invent it yourself. This can be fun, starting with the investigation of what already exists, seeing what other people have already achieved, and feeling the excitement of making your first piece of toast with the equipment you've gathered for your research. And it's right about at this time, just when you are ready to take what you've learned and share it with the world, that the doubts start rising:

  • Will people want my version of toast?
  • How do I get people to try my version of toast?
  • Do I really want to spend my life making toast?

And that's when focusing only on the first element of clarity—action—gets you into trouble. Sure, you can make toast, but is that really what you want? How does it relate to your other desires? Do you even know what they are? And just how does toast really make that kind of sweeping change possible?

You can substitute the idea of "making toast" for just about any development process; making websites, writing software, arts and crafts, marketing techniques, and professional services are all activities that produce a "product" as the result of an applied process driven by common knowledge in your field. If you want your toast to be the most delicious in the land, you need more than just those basics. You need to have an edge. Clarity gives you the total understanding of what you're doing, so you can make the improvements you need and know that they are working.

Making Clarity, Not Toast

Clarity, as I define it, is comprised of three elements: action, expectation, and understanding. In other words, you know a particular action results in some kind of change, because you know the secrets of what is happening under surface appearances. Clarity gives you the edge.

If you are learning an existing craft, you can learn these secrets from a master once you find one. It's usually pretty easy when you're getting started, because you just need someone who is relatively more knowledgable than you. It's only when you are seeking a rare or non-existent craft that the search for mastery becomes difficult. It is in this latter case—the making of something new—that you have to create your own clarity.

This is where I can help. Here's how the consultation process works:

  • Applying the Investigative Design Process - I begin every project by asking a few basic questions: What do you want to do? What do you expect will happen? Why are you doing this right now? Why do you think it will work? This line of questioning uncovers the unspoken assumptions that we often forget to mention, and all you need to do is talk; I'll take all the notes and do all the writing while we chat. It takes about 30 minutes, and the end result is your action map that shows all your available courses of actions.
  • Identifying Your Storytelling Context - With your action map in front of you, we can take the time to explore your underlying motivations: What would you REALLY like to happen? What is most important to you?

    If you're not sure you know how to answer those questions, don't worry...I'm good at drawing out answers you didn't know you had. For example, I might ask you, "What movie director or movie portrays how you might like to live your life?" or "How did you get started doing what you're doing now?" Everyone has a story, and everyone has certain strengths that recur over and over. By understanding your strengths and underlying motivations, we can design a process that works with your natural tendencies.
  • Applying the Scientific Creative Method - You might be familiar with The Scientific Method from school. This is when you form a hypothesis about how something works (that is, you make an "informed guess") and then design an experiment that tests your hypothesis (in other words, "you make a bet"). If your hypothesis/guess was right, you have confirmed your understanding/won some money based on your powers of reasoning. If, however, you guessed wrong, you have to form a NEW hypothesis that explains what happened, and test again. This is how real understanding is built, experience by experience.

    The Scientific Creative Method (a term I've made up) works in a similar way, except our goal is to make change, not just observe. Our change-making experiments are built on the the insights gained from you in the first two steps, and are further informed by my experience with design, engineering, and business. The goal is to be able to explain how it all works so you can engineer a sure path toward your goals. It's very doable, and concrete.
  • Tracking Your Progress - It takes less time than you think to go through the first three steps; it can be done in a couple of hours. The rest of the time, you'll be building your own assets and resources, using the maps that we've created and the steps that we've outlined. To help keep you on track, I provide customized productivity forms and am reachable by email and our collaboration website so you can report on your progress. What I can help you with, I will provide.

Too Much Reading?

Lest you get the wrong idea, let me assure you that mostly you'll be talking while I listen. My goal is to simplify and distill what you're doing in the most accurate and concise manner I can. These words will becomes your guiding principles which simplify your decision-making while ensuring you're moving in the right direction.

That said, I do get along best with people who enjoy reading and thinking, so you may want to keep that in mind. Plus, there's a lot of alternative ways we can organize and visualize data. In other words, there's lots of different ways to make maps and wayfinders. For example...

Do you prefer drawing?

A drawing that represents choices, resources and goals. A drawing to capture a feeling about next directions. A hand written wish.

How about props that help you see the world a little differently?

A certificate to dispell chain letters...forever. A receipt that absolves you of blame. A ruler that measures social closeness.

Or maybe you like the flexibility of index cards!

Stacks of cards. Deck of task cards. Custom index cards for task management.

Or a customized Printable CEO™ form would do the trick?

High level goal tracking form. Life balance form. Resolutions progress tracking form.

Or perhaps custom digital tools are more your style...

Gantt charts to show dependencies. Online tools to track where time goes. Clock to keep you guessing about actual time.

Sometimes it just takes a good process diagram to put everything in perspective:

Notes assembled on-the-fly. Business processes distilled on one page. Complex systems diagrammed.

The possibilities are practically endless, and they are uniquely yours. I'll use any medium, experience or idea that will help get the idea across, if it's something you can get your mind around deeply and intuitively.

Get With The Program

You can choose from any one of the methodologies you see here, from the investigative processes to the visual organizations, to meet your needs. It starts with a quick phone call to see what you really need. I'm offering:

  • Consultations by the half-hour
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Product Design sessions
  • Long-term guidance for monthly retainer
  • Business development
  • Special design projects

I have masters degrees both in engineering and fine arts, and have been offering popular productivity tools on my website since 2005. I can relate to both technical and artistic people equally well. As with my design work, I can work within your budget and adapt to your situation, if you tell me well enough in advance. So why not schedule an initial consultation and find out if we click? It's less expensive than hiring someone full-time.