When I started blogging regularly back in the autumn I started with a series of posts about my favourite acronyms. Acronyms sometimes get a raw deal, mistaken for being trite or silly – but actually I think they can be really useful in summarising valuable ideas. In working with researchers for the last six years I’ve shared many (hopefully!) helpful techniques using acronyms. The posts I’m collecting here are eight of my favourites.
Every two weeks or so I intend to write a post just like this one – where I’ll talk about what I’ve been posting for the last few weeks, and link to any posts or things I’ve seen that I think are also worth having a read or look at. OK?
On this blog
The last – and first! – two weeks of posts here have been about acronyms, the neatly encapsulated ideas that I use all the time both for myself and for working with postgraduate researchers. I’ve written about INTRO, which helps start presentations; STAR, a technique for talking about your skills; PMI, an idea evaluation tool; and five other acronyms. If you haven’t already, take a look, and let me know in the comments what acronym ideas you find really useful!
Today’s post is the last in my series on acronyms and ideas that have really helped me – and that I’ve seen help others. It will also be shorter than the other seven in this series. My hope is that these posts have been clear, and that they are straight forward for people to apply.
You can use INTRO to start a talk or think through your work, set objectives with SMART and use 5W1H to dig into problems. DRC is a simple process for generating ideas and PMI is great for critiquing them. STAR is an effective tool for thinking about and communicating your strengths and BOOST helps people give feedback that others can base future actions and development on.
All of these can help, and I don’t think they are difficult ideas to pick up. You will have heard of other great concepts and useful tools, and in coming months I’m planning to review a book each month that I think has some great ideas or techniques. There are tons of blogs and people and products and services that aim to take the load off, or give you a way to get something done.
Above all else, whatever you do, KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Make any system, tool, resolution, goal, task, interaction related to your work as simple as it can be (without impairing it). Engaging or completing anything is a function of will, time and work – the simpler the expression, the easier it is to do. Life is complex, and it is easy to take a simple idea and spin a web of confusion around it. Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Thanks for reading!
What’s worse: giving or receiving feedback? Does it make a difference in either case if you know that the feedback is going to be positive or negative? No-one likes to be the bearer of “bad” news, and negative feedback could always be taken that way, even if we want to frame it as constructive. If we are receiving feedback we want it to be in a form that means we can do something with it (whether it is positive or constructive). Hopefully if you have to deliver feedback you want it to be something that the other person can then do something with. In either case then…
What does effective feedback look like?
Does anyone reading this like being interviewed?
How many times have you sat in an interview and not known what to say? On the few occasions when I have been in an interview, I felt uncomfortable when I was asked “about a time that I worked well in a team,” or “showed leadership” or “solved a problem”. I knew of times that I had been in those situations, but didn’t know what to say about them really… Something good, that shows me in a good light – but what?
Or have you ever been in a situation where you’ve wanted to be part of a project but not known how to convince others that you’re the one for them?
STAR is for you.
Previously, on this blog…
I finished last week’s series of posts with DRC – Dreamer, Realist, Critic. It’s easy, I think to be a Critic, but much harder to be a Critic in a rigorous or fair way. Today’s acronym gives a way to do that. PMI or Plus, Minus, Interesting is a thinking tool made popular by Edward de Bono. One can think of it as an improvement to Pros & Cons lists that people make when they’re trying to make a decision.
I’ve used it a lot over the last few years, because it is a neat and simple approach to getting information for evaluating ideas. Simply, it delivers three lists of points about factors that people find positive (Plus), negative (Minus) and things that people find Interesting, or find curious in some way. For example, an idea that I have heard about recently is that of scheduling specific times when I read and write email, rather than be open to it through the day (which is how I generally engage).
I am trying to decide about whether or not to practice this behaviour now, so it makes for a good example.
That’s not what it stands for
In the first post next week I want to share a great concept for evaluating ideas; to round out this week’s posts I thought I would share something that has had a profound impact on the way I approach creativity over the last few years. I’ve heard feedback from lots of people who say that this simple process has transformed the way they look for ideas.
DRC stands for Dreamer, Realist, Critic: it came from research by Robert Dilts, who was looking at the practices of companies that succeed. At Disney he found that there were three steps – three deliberate steps – taken to ideas and creativity.
How do you approach problems?
Whenever I get stuck on any kind of problem, typically my first thought is “Cup of tea?” – and actually there is a really neat and direct way to start examining the problem and figuring it out.
Whenever we start to think about problems we are often thinking about EFFECTS: we see symptoms, but we may not know what the root cause is. It may be that when we come to solve a problem that if we can treat the symptoms, that will be enough; more often though, we need to address those root causes if we are to have some lasting solution.
We see a similar situation if our problem is more along the lines of not knowing what the next step is in a process or piece of research. How many times have you sat down to do something but not known what to do? How many times have you wondered what you should do next but just gone blank?
Above all other acronyms, mnemonics and mental shortcuts, 5W1H is the thing for you.
Is that even an acronym?
How do you make plans?
Setting goals – and planning for how to achieve them – is important. So important that there are books and courses and gurus and people on the internet who will scream at you telling you how to do it. “My way is the best!” “Fail at failing!!” “No Credit Card Required!!!”
I’m going to be one of those people today. I’m not going to ask you for any money but I am going to tell you that what I’m describing is the best. Time after time over the years I have just seen it work. I’ve seen people who couldn’t get a thing done turn around their productivity, just by remembering five words when it came to setting their goals.
These people had learned what it was to be SMART.
Start with a Factoid
Did you know that over 99% of PhDs experience difficulty with their research at some point of their studies? There is a real need, in my opinion, for researchers to be exposed to helpful concepts and tools to simply allow them more time to get on with the really important stuff. So I want to share with you a selection of really useful tools – the Beginner’s Guide To Useful Acronyms (BGTUA). Over the next two weeks I’ll be sharing eight posts to illustrate ideas that I have found really useful, both in my PhD and working with PGRs. I really want to hear your comments as I share these, and I’d love to know what your most useful acronyms are too! My aim with these posts is to show that acronyms are not just jargon – they are helpful constructs that can have big benefits.
That first paragraph, as well as being an introduction to upcoming posts, is a demonstration of the first idea that I want to share with you. It’s a neat little concept for starting talks that I’ve seen work really, really well in many settings. My good friend Dr Aimee Blackledge, a researcher-developer at the University of Liverpool, shared it with me, and now I pass it on to you. This tool is called INTRO.