Blogging can seriously help your career

February 17, 2008

Blogging in excess can be as harmful as other addictive pastimes. Or it can be something that’s enjoyable and you do for fun. I want to make the case that blogging can seriously help your career

Blogging has become a significant component in the communications game. Blogging can scoop the professional news media, and its whistle-blowers have already scored some notable hits.

A recent example in the UK was reported by the BBC

Blogger Guido Fawkes has claimed the internet’s first ministerial scalp with the resignation of Peter Hain.

As this post was being prepared, we learn how a blog ‘outed’ Prince Harry and ended his stint as a military officer in Afghanistan.

The Boston Globe reported on civic officials and their blogs.

Catching the blogging bug

It’s been just over a year since I caught the blogging bug, with the full addiction following shortly afterwards. At first, I was intrigued by the possibility of a new way of sharing ideas. Later I realized that it was helping me change the way in which I teach and research.

Blogging has brought about the most significant change to my teaching practices since I reluctantly abandoned the paraphernalia of the OHP and transparencies a few years ago.

When I began writing the posts for Leaderswedeserve, the original idea was to take a contemporary issue and summarize it in a single- post, with a few pointers to follow-up sources for student use.

I found that a convenient length for each post was about 800 words. That gave me enough freedom to provide adequate content, and something I could complete at one (or at most two) visits to the keyboard. While there are full-time bloggers able to generate copy each day, a target of three posts a week seemed manageable, and avoided the trap of blogging regardless of whether I was adding some personal insight in every post.

Giving up something else

Each such post now takes me about two to three hours, resulting in 800 words that I’m happy with. I still use preview and edit facilities a lot (these can become compulsive actions).

I now spend about twelve hours a week blogging. As a consequence, I gave up another web-based hobby for a while (playing internet chess), although I am now getting back into playing quick chess as well as blogging.

If I am likely to be away from home-base for a while I prepare a few ‘nearly ready’ blogs in advance, and try to post at least two a week.

How has blogging changed my working life?

One unexpected payoff is that blogging provides an unusual level of serendipitous findings which can be applied elsewhere.

An example: I have a long-running research project into charismatic leadership. From time to time there is a need to prepare a talk or lecture on leadership.

In the past, I would try to set aside some research time and augment this in hotel rooms or during long-distance travelling for reading and thinking and for keeping up through journal subscriptions. Lecture material tended to be generated too close to comfort as a deadline approached, under increasingly urgent reminders from anxious course director or administrators. The main sources of news were early morning newspapers and radio bulletins, and late night catch up (Newsnight, while becoming increasingly strident over the years, at least remained a reliable indication of the media preoccupations of the day).

Now I find I am much more up-to-date in everyday discussions with colleagues, not just on current affairs, but on professionally relevant ideas derived from the secondary investigations triggered. I find myself re-reading the classic articles of organization studies as well as those dealing with leadership.

A draft blog is somewhere to store the various references you found valuable. This work-in-progress turns out to be easier to pick-up and take forward than happened when reference materials were scattered around in notebooks, post-it slips, diaries, and assorted annotated stuff.

Developing writing skills

Another outcome of regular blogging: It’s a great way of honing your writing skills. If you have to produce reports, dissertations, or even books, you are likely to need fluency in producing material on a regular basis. That fluency can be developed by regular practice to practical time constraints. The quality and style can also be improved, but you need constructive feedback. At very least you need to be a good critic to your own work, neither too lenient, not too critical of work in progress.

Making money from blogging

This post is not about making money from blogging. It is possible for part-time hobbies to become money earners. A business model is emerging for such bloggers to study.

This post is directed at to encourage beginners. I found a lot of help and advice via WordPress FAQs.

Rule of thumb: know your commitment level

Level one: You find spend a minimum of three quality time slots of at least an hour preparing your blog each week.

This will be enough to produce one post, including revisions.

Level 2: Minimum of three quality-time slots of one-to two hours, and additional fill-in time to produce two posts every week, and some ‘work in progress on a third. Time needed is likely to be ten to twenty hours, which most people will have to manage around many other conflicting time demands.

Level 3: Becoming a professional. I have no ambition in this direction, as I can see the effort and skill required. I’m sure it will require daily efforts, and maybe demanding weekly hours on a par with other professional disciplines (say fifty hours a week minimum).

Can a blog become a book?

Yeeees. Just about. Technically it’s quite easy. One or two bloggers have claimed to be en route to a traditional book. A few best-selling authors are experimenting with blogs (just as musicians are experimenting with web-based production models for distributing their work).

A regular blogger might be expected to generate some hundred thousand words a year, which is the scale of a 300 page text-book. You will have built-in tags to the blog posts, and these provide the raw materials for a good index system . So in principle, a blog can be turned into a book.

An interesting possibility is team blogging, in which a group of authors co-edit and write the blog which then is turned into a collection of chapters in a traditional edited text.

But why go down that route to produce a traditional book?

Regular blog posts are not dissimilar to the old-style diary, sometimes written with more than one eye on eventual publication. Furthermore, blog posts are easier to cut, paste, revise, annotate, than most first drafts. Even final drafts submitted to publishers often do not reach the level of revision required for coherence, and style, regardless of intellectual rigour.

In summary, the work you put into a blog post is a useful discipline towards the content of a first draft of a book. It also means you are not under the same pressure from a publisher to work to a deadline until long after you have most of the material to hand. However, it helps if you have been writing a blog with the intention of turning it into a book. That way you take different planning decisions about what to blog about.

Personal Therapy

Much blogging is personal therapy. You can argue it as personal development. Or exhibitionism. Sometimes it can be compulsive. Or tiresome. Or seriously disturbed and disturbing. Sometimes reading a blog leaves me with those feelings produced when I find myself watching celebrity reality shows. And, anyway, as with the shows, you can always click out of the scene and do something else …

Blogging and your career

I have hinted how blogging may trigger a compulsive side of a personality. On the other hand, like music, love, mathematics, chess, sport, and toad watching, it has the power to make you happy.

But can it seriously improve your career? Maybe you are a superstar waiting to be discovered by the blogging world, and through that revealed as an exceptional talent in ways that enhance your career. But let’s get real. One in a zillion authors becomes best-sellers. It is more likely will find a lot of pleasure from blogging, or you will move on to something else.

There are exciting career opportunities through blogging. Perhaps you be among their number.

On the other hand, blogging may seriously damage your career. (Although it seems to me that some of the whistle-blowers and moles may be at some level wanting out, and wanting to be outed.

Best bloggers

The following from WordPress guidance for bloggers:

Best Bloggers hook you. They have drawn you in from the first sentence. That can happen in as many ways as there are imaginations, but it never, ever means this sort of beginning: Sorry I haven’t blogged in so long, but I’ve been busy. Or Not much to say, but I don’t have anything else to do but blog. A Best Blogger has got something to say, and they make you want to hear it.

Best Bloggers know how to use the tools at their disposal. Mostly, that means they’re good at the language in which they blog. Their writing is clear and sharp, they can punctuate, they proofread, and they sound like the smart people they are.
Best Bloggers are generous. They know there’s room for everyone. They know that another great blog in no way diminishes them. They link to people they admire, regardless of whether that other blog is bigger or smaller than they are.

Acknowledgements

To friends, colleagues, and the blogging community. Special thanks goes to black-belt social networker Paul Carruthers, who got me started.


The date of the general election is fixed beyond doubt

October 4, 2007

The date of the next general election in the United Kingdom will be announced imminently. This is a belief now fixed beyond doubt in the mind of politicians and political commentators, who even believe that the day will be either the first or second Thursday of November 2007

As the Conservative Party Conference drew to a close, uncertainty over the next general election was virtually over. Professional gambling firms placed November as odd-on favourite. Commentators also shifted from ‘likely’ to ‘probable’. In the conference hall it was clear that the party activists had reached a curious and heightened state of excitement.

The story changes

At the start of the Conference season, a few weeks ago, there was little talk of a general election. Interest was mainly on whether poor old Ming Campbell was going to survive, (he did), and whether an heir apparent could be identified (Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne).

Then at the Labour party conference, the story was at first whether wooden Gordon would survive comparison with charismatic David. This notion was weakened as various opinion polls suggested that Gordon was increasingly rated as more capable in a crisis than David. At this point my own perception began to diverge from that of the emerging story, that that the new Prime Minister was preparing for a snap General Election.

What had Gordon Brown said to have left this impression? Not for the first time, I found myself reminded of the phenomena impression management and sense making. A story was developing to help those involved deal with their deeper psychological needs.

Lack of trust helps create a story

Taken out of context, Gordon Brown’s speech could be observed as a politician doing what politicians do, presenting himself and his party as favourably as possible. The reactions of the political observers and activists was quite different. Elsewhere I have written of how fear and suspicion can turn into conviction that something very bad is about to happen. The threat has become psychologically potent.

Coverage of the election by Press and Electronic media become more frenzied. To such an extent, that not saying there was not going to be an election was taken as evidence there would be one (hope you get my drift). The news becomes “Gordon Brown hasn’t ruled an election out” Or, “He hasn’t made up his mind but is thinking had about it”.

Then every statement and action of anyone offering a view is interpreted in these terms. The conference speech is demonstrated to be one designed to kick off an election campaign. For example, Gordon hardly mentioned the conservatives (or the other political parties). That’s blatant electioneering, pretending to be above such knockabout matters. He hardly mentioned Iraq. Later the conservatives quoted the puny number of words devoted to Iraq in the speech. So there, the point is scientifically buttressed.

More straws in the wind
Then, more straws in the wind. The Prime Minister’s diary is being rejigged. That clears the way for a General Election. Even if he doesn’t decide to go to the country in November, all these actions are about outmanoeuvring the conservatives, those bastards to be ground into the dust, in the typically restrained and considered words of Lord Kinnock, at a fringe meeting this week.

Why this all seems a bit hysterical

I just don’t get it. The views of political commentators have converged on the significance of a general election. Gordon Brown could have stopped such speculation if he had wanted to. Perhaps. If he could. If he had to. But not just because he could. Now, the media argue, if he decides not to hold an election, it will demonstrate he has bottled it.

The sort of mood around at present seems to me to be that of ritualized posturing that conceals nervousness. I’m reminded of herd behaviour. The combined galloping herd of media and political hacks are galloping about, instinctively sticking close together in a state of panic, seemingly unaware that ‘it’s not the election, stupid’.

If the Prime Minister now avoids an election he’s timid. Afraid he won’t win. If he does, it’s because he’s afraid that the economy will be in a worse state in a year or two. At least, that’s the analysis of former Chancellor Ken Clarke, remembering Clinton’s motto always that ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.

In the disdainful words of Margaret Thatcher many years ago, he’s frit. Challenged that she might ‘cut and run’ she responded to questions by Michael Foot and some barracking by Dennis Healy.

The right hon. Gentleman is afraid of an election, is he? Afraid? Frightened? Frit? Could not take it? Cannot stand it? If I were going to cut and run, I should have gone after the Falklands [when her political standing was at the highest it would ever be].

A political insight

Listening carefully to insiders interviewing insiders, I arrived at a political insight. The view heard, and the herd view is a genuine belief that Gordon Brown’s actions are all part of carefully prepared plan to gain short-term electoral advantage to reinforce the decision to call an election.

During the conference, we learn that Mr Brown is going to Iraq. More electioneering. On the brief visit he announces a troop reduction. Even more electioneering. Could his words be shown to be a form of stealth electioneering, this time taxing credulity?

The anger expressed by two former Conservative leaders, John Major and Ian Duncan Smith in interviews was intense and utterly convincing.

What David did next

David Cameron made a speech that was billed as significant for the very future of the conservative party. I will reconstruct my notes for a further blog. The test was now whether David’s assured style could prevail against Gordon’s weighty woodenness.

Suffice to say that the speech was reported as impressive in style. I take the BBC view, as that venerated agency still attempts to provide a balanced view of the political scene.

It was also a performance that fired up the party faithful.

He spoke without notes … warning the audience that it might be a bit “messy”. It wasn’t. It was a highly polished performance – and a lot more measured, serious and policy-heavy than we are used to from Mr Cameron. He once again tried to cast himself as the voice of optimism and sincerity – compared with the “cynical” Gordon Brown, who was trapped in the “old politics”.
Mr Cameron ended with a challenge to Gordon Brown to call an election.
Come on Gordon, make my day.
But it was exactly what the party faithful wanted to hear. He told them to “get out and fight” for the changes they want to make and they cheered him to the rafters.

Fear and threat had temporarily been abolished in the hall.


Tony Blair went at the moment of his choosing

May 10, 2007

200px-tony_blair_with_romano_prodi_at_g8%2c_cropped_to_blair.jpgTony Blair went at the moment of his choosing. But eventually, the moment was largely determined by a narrow window of opportunity. This was the week where his contributions to peace in Northern Ireland eclipsed his contributions to the conflict in Iraq. It also was the week of his tenth anniversary as Prime Minister.

The Times makes its sentiments clear. Its article reads like a long-prepared, mischievous (but fascinating) obituary.

Remember when ASBOs were first proposed by a fresh-faced Tony Blair in 1995? Or when Sharon Storer publicly ambushed Blair in 2001? And who could forget the G8 Summit in St Petersberg in 2007, when a live microphone picked up President Bush greeting the Prime Minister with the words: “Yo Blair”?

Equally unbalanced in the opposite direction was the glossy PM Pics on the Official Downing Street website

This gave the clue to the planning behind this week’s announcement: Ten years at number ten, May 2nd 1997- 2007.

Taking both views together, we quickly recapture some of the highlights and lowlights of his leadership.

Maggie’s influence on Blair

By 2005, Tony Blair was being compared with Margaret Thatcher for his Presidential style of leadership. There were also prescient suggestions that he might also have further parallels in the nature of his departure. Political Journalist John Sergeant was one such commentator. His insightful remarks, almost as an aside, can be found in his biographic description of his own encounters with Margaret Thatcher.

But if Maggie could claim political gain from her military adventure in The Falklands, Blair’s legacy increasingly is seen as the architect of the Iraq war, and (most cruelly) as Bush’s poodle.

‘Blair has been widely criticized from within his own party for championing the policy on Iraq of U.S. President George W. Bush. There is a general perception in the UK that Blair repeatedly misled the UK parliament and public in echoing the U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that invading and occupying Iraq was legal. As a result, some Members of Parliament have formed a group to call for impeachment hearings. Further pressure was put on Blair in September 2004, during the UK Labour Party conference, when the London Evening Standard newspaper published details of a leaked Pentagon briefing paper, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategic Lessons Learned. The document reveals that in October 2002, the Pentagon finalized its Full Operational Battle Plan 1003V for the Iraq war, at a time when Blair was insisting that no decisions had been made about whether to go to war.

Independent political editor Andrew Grice pinpointed the moment Tony Blair lost his authority as November 9th 2005, 4:56 pm.

Mr Blair’s first Commons defeat since coming to power in 1997 was heavier than expected and provoked speculation at Westminster about how long he could remain Prime Minister. [His] personal authority was badly dented … when he suffered a humiliating defeat over his plan to allow the police to detain suspected terrorists for up to 90 days without charge. [The defeat] was heavier than expected and provoked speculation at Westminster about how long he could remain Prime Minister.

Leadership choice and The Tarrasch principle

I have sometimes mused on Chess as a powerful metaphor for strategic decision-making. Specifically, The Tarrasch Principle, advices chess players to take action ‘because you want, or because you must, and not just because you can’. Tony Blair, like so many leaders, wanted to preserve his options on that biggest decision of all, the moment of his going. As hard as he tried to secure wriggle room, he found himself being pinned down. Eventually the next best thing to clinging on, was to go ‘before things got worse’. It was a symbolically convincing moment. He went not because he wanted to, nor because he was able, but because he had to, lest there would be no better time in the future.


England expects a heroic performance: No pressure then, Jonny

February 3, 2007

[Updated post] A new international rugby coach risks all by bringing back world-cup hero Jonny Wilkinson into a vital international match between England and Scotland. Wilkinson, sidelined by injury for several years, may be unable to meet the expectations of coach Brian Ashton and England’s supporters. The decision, regardless of Wilco’s performance, seems to place short-term gain over longer-term investment in his and England Rugby’s recovery to full health.

Update

The original post anticipated the importance of Jonny Wilkinsono England’s prospects before a major international game. It had renewed relevance, as England faced the prospect of going out of the 2007 World Cup after the preliminary stage, in September 2007

The six nations rugby tournament begins this weekend, with matches in Italy (against last year’s six nations champions, France), England, current world champions (against Scotland), and Wales (against this year’s six-nations favourites, Ireland). All clear? Probably not unless you are a rugby fan already knowledgeable about the fluctuations in fortunes of the six national teams involved.

Leadership stories abound in these contests. In England rugby, for example, the current team still suffers from comparisons with World Cup victory through the on-field heroics of a team, and off field back-up largely conceived and marshalled by Clive Woodward (subsequently knighted for his achievement). The hero of heroes on field was, by universal acclaim, Jonny Wilkinson. After the world cup, England’s fortunes and Wilkinson’s health dipped drastically. The team, widely regarded as aging, had peaked in that last-gasp win. Sir Clive sets off on a personal Odyssey which takes him out of Rugby, into a top administrator for the forthcoming Olympic games in London, via a curious stay in the another sort of football (no, not Rugby league but soccer). The majority of the world cup winners are pensioned off. And, worse of all, Jonny Wilkinson suffered injury after injury.

On the coaching side, Sir Clive’s replacement Andy Robinson presided over the decline before paying the ultimate penalty (after a sequence of losses, and stout denials that his job was in danger). The chop came shortly after a super-coach was appointed to review such matters. The super-coach was Rob Andrew, an iconic former international, and ironically Wilkinson’s mentor and successful coach at the Newcastle Falcons team. Andrew brought in the new coach Brian Ashton prior to the six seasons tourney.

AS the BBC reported it

The BBC reported on the decision to play Wilkinson.

It will have been 1,169 long days. On Saturday, Jonny Wilkinson finally returns to action in an England shirt. Another Saturday way back in November 2003 was the historic moment when the Newcastle fly-half dropped the goal that clinched the Rugby World Cup against Australia in Sydney. From the peak of that iconic moment, Wilkinson has been plagued by a host of injuries.

The article provides a helpful and vivid graphic of Jonny, pinpointing no fewer than eleven body parts that have received medical treatment. Further details are provided of the injuries to the Wilkinson neck, shoulder, arms, knees, groin, appendix and (most recently) kidney.

Informed opinion is divided on the decision to play Jonny Wilkinson. Like many other rugby supporters I have an opinion that is considerably less well-informed than the various views expressed in the media.

Nevertheless, here’s what I think

The decision to play Wilkinson is foolishly courageous. Two risks have been balanced. The first is the risk of playing Wilko when he is less that prepared for his international return. The newly departed coach Andy Robinson argued that the risk would be too high. The other risk is that a good start today is important for England’s future as it will get the new coaching regime off to a positive start. So the win is vital not just short-term but longer term. The new coach does not argue this way, but insists that Jonny is ready and able to play.

I think we have an example of the Tarrasch leadership principle. The decision might have been made for one of several reasons: because the coach could select Jonny (he’s available), because he felt he had to select him (compulsion), or because he balanced the options are decided he wanted to select him (voluntary option).

I don’t think it’s the first of the reasons. Pre-match, the coach talks as if there’s no compulsion, and that he had taken an obvious decision (A non-brainer, in fact). Not sure I find that convincing. It seems more likely that Brian Ashton was all too aware of the pressures on him as coach to succeed, not just soon, but now, this weekend. This is particularly acute, as Scotland is not seen as among the strongest of the teams in the tournament. To lose today would set off the critics about England’s subsequent chances of success.

I don’t know how the gamble will turn out. I’m looking forward to finding out, and suspect the result will not be determined by a JW act of genius. I am more sure that Brian Ashton will take the credit or blame for the decision. Also, that the decision has weighed up the future of one of the team’s greatest possible assets and decided to risk that for a short-term gain. I’m with Andy Robinson on this, and will have to be convinced otherwise unless there truly is a heroic and magical performance this afternoon. No pressures then, Jonny.

Postscript: And so it came to pass

And so it came to pass that Jonny Wilkinson played a heroic and magical game. And played a great part in an England victory. And it will be written that a great leader off the field was justified in what I considered a foolishly courageous leadership decision. And am I therefore convinced that Brian Ashton’s leadership decision was ‘right’?

He was right that Wilco was ready to play at international level. Respect and credit for that. I’m still musing on the possibility that sporting leaders, like military leaders have to be prepared to put at people at risk to increase chances of achieving strategic goals, whether the goals can be justified or not. And that may differentiate such leaders from a lot of other people.


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