Friday, January 28, 2011

Sorting Your Treasure

This is the seventh post in the Digging for Treasure series. Wow. Go find the rest of them at the end of this post and let me know what you think in the comments!

Well, hello, treasure-digger! You’ve been observing your process, remembering your experiences, and gathering your subconscious knowledge. Your shovel has lovely mud on it, and you have a whole pile of treasure.

You have the right words for explaining to a parent that their child is struggling with math.

You have your list of useful macros to use in your indexing software.

You have the way you feel a little panicked when you’ve finished a piece of art and don’t know yet what the next one will be.

You have the time you got up to perform your very first folk songs and only two people were listening.

You have your stories. Your feelings. Your resources. Your riches to share.

But what on earth are you to do with it now? These are bits of treasure. They’re random. They don’t seem to add up to anything. They may be overwhelming you a little. And you’re right—in order to use these observations, they’ll have to be organized.

It’s important to organize your information because:

  • Breaking it into small nuggets makes it easier to absorb and remember.
  • Eventually, you’ll need to make an order for your presentation. Having categories gives you sections to put in order.

But how are you going to organize it?

Fear not! It’s time for treasure sorting. In this stage of Digging for Treasure, you’ll put your bits into buckets. (Hmm, we captured them in baskets, now we’re sorting them into buckets. I’m still fine-tuning the metaphor!)

What do I mean by buckets?
  • Categories.
  • Goals for your learners.
  • Important points you want to make.
  • Principles illustrated by your specific examples.
  • Parts of an analogy.
Depending on the way you’re planning to share your knowledge, these categories could turn into sections of a workshop or teleclass, chapters of a book, or blog posts.

How are you going to find categories?

The neatest thing is that you already know some of them.

If you know a lot about something, there will be some kind of structure in your head. And the process of observing yourself and recording your observations almost certainly has called up more of it. So think about what categories have already popped up for you.

If your knowledge is a process, I’ll bet it has steps. Write them down—they might make good buckets!

When Trisha and I were observing the doll stories she uses to teach kids about diversity, we discovered that she was following distinct steps—and she didn’t even know it! Those steps became the sections of our workshops about the Kids Like Us technique—and the chapters of her book.

Okay, time to make a structure.

There are two ways to do this. You can use either one (or both), depending on how your brain works.

Method one: physical sorting. Cut up your bits or write each one on a card. Move them around until they fit into groups. Nice colored sticky notes are useful!

Method two: labeling. Jot down a list of possible categories, and label each bit with a category.

See what you find!

And guess what?
  • Your categories don’t have to be final at all. You can always change them later.
  • You don’t have to put them in order now. In fact, I recommend jotting them on a mindmap so that they’re not linear.
  • You might find one bit that doesn’t have a category. Don’t worry! Just label it “where” and move on.
  • You might realize that you need more examples and stories to fill in your categories. Right! That’s the next step in the process!

Here are the previous posts in the Digging for Treasure series:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 
Into the Baskets! 

Join me in the comments!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Me and Harriet the Spy

When I was little, I read Harriet the Spy over and over again. The cover of my Scholastic copy fell off.

They made a movie based on the book fifteen years ago. I hadn’t read the book in a long time, though the copy with no cover is on a shelf somewhere. I went to the movie on my birthday.

I started crying in the middle of the movie, and didn’t stop till twenty minutes after it ended.

Why did I love Harriet so much?

With her short hair, bangs and glasses, sweatshirt and jeans, short and stubby, she looked like me. I was almost the only kid I knew who wore glasses. I was short. I’m not sure I was really stubby, but I felt stubby. Harriet marching along on the cover of that book looked so familiar and comfortable.

She got teased and excluded. Really bad. Her ex-friends had a whole parade about hating her. I got teased and left out every day. So I liked being inside the head of someone who knew what it was like. And she fought back! She tried lots of things! She got her friends back.

She had backbone.

She wanted to be a writer. No, she was a writer. She filled a whole trunkful of notebooks. She had a special pouch to carry her notebook in.

I wanted to be a writer too. In fact, I made a spy notebook, which my friend stole, read, and was mad at me about. Should have seen that one coming. I think I wanted to be a writer because it was the first time I noticed that you could be something. For years I was going to be a novelist, until I discovered that plots aren’t my strong point. (I am a writer now, among other things. It just turned out that I'm better at explaining things.)

I was pretty vague about what would happen when I grew up. I really thought I was going to be a housewife (although maybe writing novels at the dining room table). Harriet at eleven years old had an ambition, no, a profession. Even through the vagueness that lasted into college, I had that seed: of wanting to be something.

Well, Harriet, now I am a thing or two.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's Scary About Teaching, Part 3

This is the third post in a series. Here are the others:

The authorities! The authorities!

I don’t do this in the standard way. Don’t I have to teach the standard way?
People will argue with me.
I’m not up to date.
The authorities will disapprove.

Okay. First, are there really authorities in your field? Are you imagining a committee that will have an official meeting and decide to condemn you for your uppitiness or incorrect methods?

Or, in your field, are there highly respected people with good ideas?

I went through this when I taught my first workshop about indexing. I felt as if I was coming from nowhere, suddenly stepping out and offering people advice and guidance. Who did I think I was? (See I’m not perfect). And more than that—I disagreed with some of the published authors in the field. Yikes!

Well, it turned out that my methods are extremely helpful to indexers. People love them.

I have become one of those highly respected people with good ideas myself!

What’s more, people did argue with me as I taught my workshops (you know who you are, Michael and Sylvia!) —and I survived. In fact, it was fun.

What do you do when someone argues? You listen to them. You say, how interesting. You see if there’s something you can learn.

And you explain why you do it your way. Because way more important than one strategy or another is the rationale for deciding. Why do you do it that way? For instance, in indexing the two most important principles are to be true to the text’s meaning and helpful to the reader. That’s what I want my students to understand. My specific strategies, although I’m quite opinionated about some of them, are really paths to those ends. If someone takes a different path, that’s fine.

My niece teaches kung fu. There are lots of different ways to put together a series of moves, and so she often gets, “My other teacher doesn’t do it that way! He says to do a hard block.” How does she answer? “Yes, there are many ways to do this. Because I have less muscle mass in my upper body, I choose to do a circle feint at this point. The most important thing is to respond appropriately to the attack.”

By opening up the discussion and giving learners permission to choose for themselves, you are empowering them much more than if you just pounded your own way into their heads.

And they will end up respecting and listening to you much more too.

Too many other people are already teaching about this.

Havi Brooks addressed this so eloquently and funnily in her Blogging Therapy post that I’m going to summarize a few points here and then send you over there to read the whole thing.

1. Yes, lots of other people are teaching about this. Art? How to give workshops? Parenting? Are you kidding? But the fact is that people who want to learn about something want to learn everything they can get their hands on. Just because there are lots of restaurants doesn’t mean no-one should open a new yummy one.

2. What you have to offer is unique to you. All of those other presenters are not teaching the same thing you are, because your knowledge comes from your own experience and process of discovery. Your Right People want exactly what you are giving. Don’t deprive them of it!

3. Everybody, including those Great People who are already teaching your subject, feels like this. Normal!!

I have to address everything that has been said about this subject.

Everything. Ever. Including the thing that hasn't even been written yet.

Short answer: nope.

And when I started teaching time management, I was boggled to paralysis by the thousands of other teachers/books/blogs/systems out there. Every time I thought of a good way to explain, say, the limits of working memory, I'd find someone else talking about the same topic. Oh no! I have to report their point of view too?

There’s no way to include thousands of points of view. People want my point of view.

I started to panic as I started to write my book about indexing, based on my workshop. A lot of people have talked about subheadings. How can I organize my own material about how I create them and also address all that stuff? And say which parts I agree with and which parts I disagree with? And answer all of the possible arguments? Oh no, oh no!

Fortunately, some indexing-expert supportive friends sat me down and said, “You don’t have to do that. People want to know how you do it. Just say it’s not a literature review and move on.”

Oh. What a relief!

People want to know how you do it.

Furthermore, they want guidance and direction. They want to trust your competence. That works better if you don’t waffle.

Of course you’ll acknowledge that there are a lot of different ways to do the thing. (See above.) And of course you'll credit people if you learned from them or you're quoting their ideas.

But there’s a reason you chose your way. Let your learners see your confidence, and they will confidently relax and learn.

Comment-land: has any of this helped you move towards teaching? I'd love to hear about it! And please tell me if I missed any fears! There could always be a number four...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Into the Baskets!

This is the sixth post in a series about the Digging for Treasure process. Go find the earlier ones at the end of this one!

So, you’ve been observing yourself, digging up bits of the treasure that is your knowledge of the subject that you want to teach. What will you do with all of those bits, with the first step in your knitting design, the way the view from the window looked at the moment you found out you had cancer, the most important question you ask at a job interview?

Basket #3by

Noticing and remembering is just the first step. You will have to capture all of those bits of treasure, gather them into baskets so that they don’t get lost. They’re precious!

I learned about capturing from the Getting Things Done system, and just this piece has made a huge difference in my life.

Oh, I’m sure I’ll remember it!

• Well, no. You can’t remember too many bits at once. Our working memory can hold about seven pieces of information at a time, and retrieving something that has fled into long-term memory seems to be a matter of random triggers. If you add an item to your memory, another one is likely to fall out.

• Besides, when you gather your treasure outside your mind, your psychic RAM is freed up to do more creative observing and thinking.

• As you keep going with the Digging for Treasure process, your awareness about your subject will expand. Connections, ideas, sentences, questions, and images will cascade like jewels through your mind. You’ll need every one of them, written down in detail, to go further with the teaching process.

What kinds of baskets?

Do you think your observations and ideas will wait until you’ve scheduled a time for them? I don’t think so! If my experience is any guide, your best ones are going to come right when you can’t easily write them down. In the car. When you’re almost but not quite asleep. Keep a capture tool with you all the time!

• Sticky notes! When I was observing my art process, I kept a stack next to my art table.
• Index cards. These, along with sticky notes, can be useful in the Treasure Sorting process.
• Paper lists.
• Word processor documents.
• A digital recorder. This is what I use when driving and almost-sleeping.

You can use several different methods. Just dump them into a central place periodically.

No order for now!

You might be tempted, especially if you’re a natural sorter/patterner like me, to start putting things into categories, analyzing them, planning with them. You don’t have to do this now. In fact, I think it’s better not to. Why?

You want as much raw material as you can. Concrete details, stories, emotions. If you start analyzing too soon, you’ll lift yourself out of the concrete realm and into the abstract.

Also, if you don’t start grouping your bits of treasure now, you’ll have much more creative space later, when you go to figure out the concepts you want people to understand.

So: keep the bits separate from each other. If you think of a possible category or concept, of course jot it down! But focus most on the down-to-earth process of observation. That’s where the gold is.

Here are the previous posts in the Digging for Treasure series:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The First Digging: Observation

Hi! This post is fifth in a series about Digging for Treasure: Learning to Teach What You Know. The other posts are linked at the end of this one.

So you’ve found something you know really well. Your treasure! And you want to share it with other people. It’s time to start working on that! What will your first step be?

Remember that when you know something well, your knowledge is subconscious. There are parts of it that you’re not even aware of.


Photo by USACE Europe District
So your next step is quite simple, but also magical. You go about your business, using your skill and paying close attention to the details. You watch yourself.

Plan your next party. Talk to your teenager. Put charcoal to paper. Observe with all of your senses: look, listen, touch, taste, feel. How does the living room look when it’s all ready for your guests? How does your child’s voice sound when he’s just about ready to start really talking to you? How does the charcoal feel as it moves across the grain?

You’re also going to think back to past times when you used this skill. You’ll think about how you learned it, decisions you had to make, problems you’ve encountered.

If your subject is an experience you’ve lived through, you’ll need to relive it in your memory. (This can take courage if it was a difficult experience!)

Every detail you think of is a bit of treasure. Don't worry about sorting them now! That's a different stage.

Finding Stories

I’m going to harp on stories all the way through this process. People learn best through stories. They engage, they think, they identify with you. They're entertained. They remember.

So you’re going to be looking for stories. Not necessarily epic novels. But small narratives that share what this process is really like. How did I decide what colors to mix to make the grey fur in my gorilla painting? What did the teacher say to the child who was melting down because he made a mistake?

How did you actually do this piece of your process?

Finding Feelings

And you’re going to pay attention to emotions—another thing that helps people to latch on to the concepts you want them to understand. Your emotions.

What was the frustration like when you decided your first design wasn’t worth keeping? How did you move through that to the next piece of sketch paper?

How can I describe the little click of satisfaction I get when I find another discussion that fits into an index heading I already made?

And anything funny is pure gold!


And you’re going to see things you never saw before. This kind of observation will give you a completely different angle on your knowledge and your process. You will actually know more when you’re done.

Next: what to do with all of those observations.

Comments: have you ever tried observing yourself like this? What was it like?

The Digging for Treasure series so far:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge

This post is part of a series on the Digging for Treasure process. Other posts in the series are listed at the end of this one.


You know you want to teach or write. You have riches to share. But you’re not sure what your subject is. Before you can dig for treasure, you need to do a survey.

Maybe you’re a really good teacher. You’ve taught and written about several different subjects successfully. You love the process and want to do more of it. The field of possibilities is wide open. This is where I was when I came up with Digging for Treasure.

Maybe you’re a scanner. If I said, “You have a treasure inside you to share,” you would answer (possibly with panic), “which one???” You know enough about raising goats, weaving, vegan nutrition, blogging, and international development consulting to teach a college course in each one. How on earth should you choose? (Oh yeah, this describes me too.) (Well, not those exact subjects.) (I could see myself liking goats, but…)

Maybe you wish you could share a philosophy or an attitude towards life that has helped you. Maybe you’ve been inspired by a wonderful teacher and wish you could spread the message. But you don’t know exactly how to do it.

A survey into subjects you could teach is by nature going to be very individual and personal. You’ll need to wander around in your lives and interests, and your next subject might appear through serendipity. But I’m going to give you some clues to help you find it.

If You’re a Scanner

…and you already have a list of possible topics, the answer is easy. Eventually you can teach them all, if you want to. It’s really important for scanners to know that they can embrace everything they love! You don’t have to choose just one in the long run.

But for now, you just need to pick one and get going! Learning to dig up your treasure and get it ready to share is a skill you can learn. Once you’ve done it consciously with one subject, teaching or writing about all the others will be easier. So the important thing now is to start on something.

But how should you choose? Here are some ways:
  • Pick the one you have the deepest knowledge about. This will make it easiest to prepare.
  • Pick the one you feel most passionate about. Your enthusiasm will drive you along!
  • Pick the one for which you have an audience. If you want to sell your expertise, it helps to have a market.
  • Or close your eyes and pick one at random! If you love and know them all, any one will be successful. Remember, you can always share the others later.

If You Want to Share an Attitude, Philosophy, or Teaching

…you will need to root your teaching in real life. Learners need stories and concrete details to engage with and to make them think. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • What experiences led you to this new attitude?
  • How did learning the philosophy change you? What were things like for you before and after you learned it?
  • Do you have stories of other people whose lives have been changed in the same way?
  • If you were inspired by a teacher, do you remember exactly how they inspired you? What did they say? How did you relate it to your life? Again, how did things change for you?
The answers to these questions will give you some places to start digging for your unique treasure.  


If you just know there’s something in you that needs to be shared, you will need to do some wandering.

I believe that everyone has deep knowledge of something. Even if you don’t think you’re highly competent in a particular skill, I bet you have been through life experiences (wonderful or awful) that other people could learn from. You need to explore your life and experiences to find your unexpected sources of knowledge and skill.

Below, in a mindmap, you’ll find some directions for your wandering.

I recommend that you try mindmapping for this exploration process. I’ll be writing more posts about mindmapping, which I use constantly. But it’s simple enough to jump right in. Just put your question in the middle and use each of the clues I give as a branch. As you have thoughts, extend them from the relevant branch. Working from the inside out mirrors the way our brains make connections and thus makes it easier to think. It doesn’t need to be beautiful or artistic. And there are no rules!

And One More Wonderful Exercise

This is the one that found me my Digging for Treasure program. I found it in Finding Your Perfect Work by Paul and Sarah Edwards (highly recommended if you’re wanting to start your own business).

I did this one in a mindmap too.

In the middle, put People Like Me. Then start adding branches. Who is like you? Homeschooling parents? Short men? People with lots of siblings? Accountants close to retirement? Ex-Catholics? Intermediate guitarists? Photoshop users?

You’re going to think about what you might have to offer each of those groups, with whom you share characteristics or experiences.

When I did this exercise, I found about thirty groups of “people like me.” Just doing it was fascinating, a whole different lense on my life and experiences.

One of those groups was “people who give workshops.” And I realized that I had given successful workshops in a lot of different fields. Maybe I had something to offer people who want to teach!

I'd love to hear from you. Did you try doing the survey? Which clue helped you most? Did you try mindmapping? What did it feel like?

The Digging for Treasure series so far:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's Scary About Teaching, Part 2

Here’s Part 1! And now I’m going to talk about more fears that don’t need to stop you from teaching or writing or sharing your knowledge.

They’ll ask me a question I don’t know the answer to.

And then I’ll just be paralyzed, standing there like an idiot, and they’ll know that I’m not really an expert. Oh yeah, not an expert. We talked about that in Part 1.

No matter how much you know, you won’t know everything. And that’s okay.

Keep firmly in mind that your audience is there to learn what you know. Your own specific expertise, the knowledge you dug out of your subconscious and organized and made into a beautiful thing that you can teach.

But the other thing you have to offer? The fact that you learned something. If you have deep knowledge of a skill, a process, a job, an experience, you have mastered the art of learning. And when someone asks that question you don’t know the answer to? You have an opportunity to model learning for them.

You also get to model that it's okay not to know everything.

That gives them permission to not know everything. Mini-empowerment lesson.

So what do you say when someone asks a question you can't answer?

"I don’t know the answer to that. How interesting! I’ll find out and get back to you."
"Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Thank you for the insight."
"I’m not sure. Let’s go over this process together and see if we can figure it out."

I was teaching people how to make a value gradation in colored pencil, changing smoothly from dark to light by lightening the pencil’s pressure. One student was having great trouble doing it, and I didn’t know what else to tell her. So I went to her table and demonstrated a gradation. We both watched me carefully as I did it, and she was the one who noticed that in addition to lightening the pencil’s pressure on the paper, I was also holding the pencil more loosely as the value got lighter.

I didn’t know I was doing that!

And I was able to say, “Wow, thank you. Now I’ll know better how to tell other people to do this.” She felt great because she helped me.

And that’s the other important thing: you can learn from your students. In fact, if you want to get better at something, the two things I would tell you to do are to go through the observation/organization process of Digging for Treasure, and then to actually teach your subject.

The more questions you can’t answer you get, the better a teacher and do-er you’ll be.

So much responsibility!

What if I miss something?
What if I teach something wrong?
What if one of my students gets hurt on the equipment?
What if I bring up heavy stuff and they can't handle it?

Oh yes, scary. If you teach or write, you’re putting your ideas out in the air, and in small or large ways, you’re changing people. Or preparing them to do a really important task. Or teaching them to do something that could be dangerous.


There are helpful two ways to think about this.

One is to accept the responsibility (whew) and prepare yourself down to the ground and up to the trees. Think deeply about your subject. Observe, plan, organize, prepare. That’s what the Digging for Treasure program is for. Figure out what to say. Change your mind a million times. Get advice and feedback. Get it just right. Practice practice practice, edit edit edit.

But also you have to know that your responsibility does not extend over the whole universe. You are accountable to your students to do the best job of teaching or writing that you can. But they are responsible for what they do with the knowledge you give them.

Do your best, and then let it go.

 I'll come back to some more fears later, but next I'd like to move on to the first step in Digging for Treasure!

Here's a link to What's Scary About Teaching, Part 3

I'd love to hear from you in Comment Land!