My 3Rs for 2016 — Resolution, Writing, Revolutionize

It’s the start of a new year, a time for resolutions and so a confluence of that and 2 other things over the last few days triggered me thinking of 3Rs for 2016. The second R was on TV, and the third was on the Radio.

The dictionary definition of Resolution is, firstly, a firm decision to do or not to do something and secondly, the quality of being determined or resolute. It’s my firm and determined belief that Alvin Tofler’s quote, that I’ve used in several presentations and posts recently, is spot on for suggesting that the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. So I’m resolving to make learning and relearning the cornerstone of my approach to 2016.

As well as considering totally new things to learn in 2016 to spark some creativity, I wan’t to reinforce, relearn and improve skills I already have. A key one is to be a better writer, and supporting that is one ambition for 2016 — to publish or collaborate on one (or more) books. Actually I regret not having done this already and have two partially written attempts, and several ideas on the “unfinished business” pile. I’m envious of friends and associates with the kudos that comes with book titles against their name — some have been published by the likes of John Wiley and others have taken the self publishing route. I realise there are big differences in quality and approach here, but getting something out there is my goal. So with writing in mind, I was flicking around the TV channels over coffee yesterday morning I saw 5 minutes from a West Wing episode in series 2 where Toby Ziegler is talking to a Policewoman called Sachs outside some sort of world trade conference, in front of some demonstrators. By the way, I’m a huge West Wing fan — I have all 7 series on DVD boxed sets. The quality of the writing means they can be revisited often. Picking out just Toby’s words in the exchange he says:

“You want the benefits of free trade? Food is cheaper. Food is cheaper, clothes are cheaper, steel is cheaper, cars are cheaper, phone service is cheaper. You feel me building a rhythm here? That’s ’cause I’m a speechwriter and I know how to make a point. It lowers prices, it raises income. You see what I did with “lowers” and “raises” there? It’s called the science of listener attention. We did repetition, we did floating opposites and now you end with the one that’s not like the others. Ready? Free trade stops wars. And that’s it. Free trade stops wars! And we figure out a way to fix the rest! One world, one peace. I’m sure I’ve seen that on a sign somewhere.”

If you Google “the science of listener attention” like I did, you’ll find a lot of references to this very dialogue (and no easy references to the science, which is a shame). But encapsulated in those words are some important techniques to help with the rhythm and cadence of a speech or a presentation. In fact, picking out another West Wing quote, this time from President Bartlett:

“Words. Words when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and timbre and volume. These are the properties of music, and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can’t.”

So with Aaron Sorkin’s fine words I’m inspired to find out more about the science and techniques of listener attention and speech writing, and I’ll resolve to become a better writer and presenter this year.

The third thing is aspiring to be revolutionary. Earlier in the week I was listening to a snippet (in the car) of Front Row on Radio 4 — an interview with Andrea Wulf talking about her Costa Award winning autobiography called “The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science”.

Humboldt who? Well, the programme says that:

“more places, animals and plants have been named after him than anybody in history, that Charles Darwin wouldn’t have written The Origin of Species without him, and that at one time only Napoleon could claim greater global fame!”
The Invention of Nature — Andrea Wulf

He was a Prussian geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of romantic philosophy. He was well ahead of his time. He came up with the idea that Nature was a web of life, earth as a living organism with all plants and creatures connected. Wulf describes him as the forgotten father of environmentalism — he predicted Human induced climate change back in 1800! He made connections and saw patterns that others didn’t. The state of Nevada was almost called Humboldt! He invented isotherms, a truly innovative way of visualising data that is the basis for meteorology. He was a Polymath, a political radical, a campaigner against slavery — he’s well worth an investment of your time. So being reminded of him I’m resolved to try and make connections, visualise things, and think differently in 2016 and to move the needle in more radical and fundamental ways.

Those are my 3Rs — and since The Force Awakens has been heavily influencing news and entertainment over the last month I’m reminded that Yoda’s philosophy was the embodiment of resolution with his “do or do not”.

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