Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 33 - March 2008 - by Phil Chambers



TIME TO READ: 4 minutes (Average Reader), less than a minute (Speed Reader) - Word Count: 962. To learn more about Speed Reading Contact us.

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Welcome to the March issue of the Learning Technologies Newsletter, Please continue to forward it to friends and colleagues who you think would find it useful.

This month the main article is on how to avoid writers block and come up with new ideas plus we have our regular Mind Map tip and quote of the month.

Mind Mapping Tip of the Month

Experiment with different patterns filling your main branches: Checks, stripes, spots, waves, chevrons - Be creative. You can even use a pattern in the branch that relates to the word placed on it. For example on a Christmas card I used a wishbone pattern for the 'WISHES" branch and a collage of Brussels sprouts on the 'FOOD' branch.

For more tips see '101 Top Tips for Better Mind Maps'


March's Quote of the Month

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done."

•  Steven Wright

Overcoming Writer's Block

When I came to write this month's newsletter I couldn't think of anything to write - The harsh white screen of Microsoft Word stared back at me and nothing came to mind. I don't often feel blocked and uninspired but this was one of those times.

I thought I would take a look at my previous newsletters for some inspiration. Either finding areas that I haven't written about before or topics that I could expand upon. My web browser defaults to Apple's homepage when it starts up (I've never bothered to change the settings). So before typing in the URL of my website I was presented with the latest news from Apple. They have new upgraded Macbook Pro.

The laptop that I'm writing this on is slowly falling apart. It has been round the planet several times and has a few dents. As a result the DVD drive is a little temperamental, the hinge is starting to fall apart so I have to be careful how I open it, the Ethernet doesn't work and the processor is too slow to run the latest version of Mac OSX. It still works well enough for everything I need so I haven't replaced it. However, seeing the new machine, I had to have a look at the specs and new features. Half an hour later I realised I was procrastinating and my newsletter was still not started!

Shocked by how easily I was distracted, I decided to practice what I preach and do a Mind Map (see below). I started by defining the problem. Often focusing on the problem in detail leads to an obvious solution. Have you ever asked a colleague for advice and found that just explaining the problem to them leads you to a solution? The act of verbalising it clarifies things.

I still didn't see anything obvious to write about so I moved on to reversal. The technique of turning a problem on its head can give you a new perspective. In many of the martial arts such as Judo you are taught to use your opponent's superior strength against them. For example, if the attacker was to push against his opponent he would find his opponent stepping to the side and allowing his momentum to throw himself forwards. I remember how Douglas Adams said that he applied this idea to writing. In the radio series (and subsequently book, TV series and film), the two heroes find themselves ejected out of the airlock of a Vogon spacecraft to certain death in the vacuum of space with no spacesuit. The only way they could survive was by being picked up almost instantly by a passing ship. This is so improbable to be stretching belief too far (even in a science fiction fantasy). Adams took the problem of improbability and used it to his advantage:

" The Infinite Improbability Drive is a wonderful new method of crossing interstellar distances in a few seconds; without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace. As the Improbability Drive reaches infinite improbability, it passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe almost simultaneously. In other words, you're never sure where you'll end up or even what species you'll be when you get there. It's therefore important to dress accordingly. The Infinite Improbability Drive was invented following research into finite improbability which was often used to break the ice at parties by making all the molecules in the hostess' undergarments leap one foot simultaneously to the left in accordance with the theory of indeterminacy. Many respectful physicists said they weren't going to stand for that sort of thing, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn't get invited to those sort of parties. "

Similarly, I decided to use the problem of not having anything to write about to give me the subject of how to avoid such a problem!

When artists are faced with a scary blank canvas they often apply a colour wash and block in some very basic shapes. These are later painted over but it gets them started. Overcoming the initial hurdle of starting is a common problem. It is better to start and then revise later than not to start. This is expressed well in Goethe's famous quote, "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."

That's all for this month. Please contact me if you have any comments or questions

Best Wishes