Three words

What three words would you use to describe yourself? It’s a hard question, don’t you think?

At a recent job interview my daughter was asked to describe herself in just three words. I don’t think she was given any time to think about it, but her description of herself was interesting. She described herself as bossy, efficient and collaborative, all of which are true, but if she’d had a bit more time she could easily have added smart, funny, beautiful and kind, and these things would have been true as well.

I thought this might be a useful exercise for my team at work but when I broached the idea they misunderstood and thought I was asking them to describe me in three words. I was dismayed to find that the first thing they thought of to describe me was “grammar nazi”.

No, no, no! This is not how I want people to think of me. I like writing and I’m really interested in words and language, but heavens above, I’m not a grammar nazi. Perhaps they didn’t read my previous post where I made if perfectly clear that it’s not my aim in life to be a grammar snob.

Having said that I really enjoyed reading this post by Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes. There are some excellent links in this post if you’re interested in improving your writing skills. She also addresses, but doesn’t really answer the question of why we are so delighted to be able to point out other people’s mistakes. Perhaps this is just part of human nature?

I can’t quite decide on the three words I’d use to describe myself. I like to think that I’m collaborative, thoughtful (in the sense of being a person who thinks a lot, rather than being a lovely thoughtful person). I like to think that I’m loyal and supportive as these are qualities that I value in other people, but I’d be interested to know what three words you’d choose to describe yourself?

Don’t judge me

Do you ever worry about people judging you because of your reading choices? I’m ashamed to say I do.

Last week I was in the middle of a pretty intense workshop when we decided to take a short lunch break. The workshop facilitator wanted to pop out and get a coffee so I thought I’d take the chance to get a bit of fresh air and pick up some books from the library. I’d reserved them during the holidays but forgotten what they were, so when I arrived I was a bit surprised to find that they were definitely holiday reads (very light thrillers) and I wondered briefly if I should take them back to my desk and chuck them in a drawer or take them back into the workshop and have the inevitable conversation which starts with “so what are you reading?”.

I decided to take them with me but somewhat embarrassingly, I found myself mumbling about this not being indicative of my usual reading fare (as if anyone cares). The facilitator, lovely woman that she is, said kindly, “I’m not judging you” but this made me wonder how much we judge people by their reading choices and more importantly how much we judge ourselves.

I never try to make people think that I’m a literary kind of person, but I do read a lot and people often ask me what I’m reading. At any one time that could range from thrillers to literary fiction to memoirs to self-help books. I read most genres except perhaps horror and fantasy books. I’m a pretty fussy reader unless I’m stuck in an airport in which case I’ll probably read anything, or if it’s the holidays and then I’m allowed to read whatever I like. It’s part of the holiday splurge and something I rather enjoy. Good food, lots of nice wine and some unchallenging books. Lovely!

I’ll get back to something more nourishing soon.


Not enough books!

I haven’t read enough books this year! I know this because I read this post by an author who said she had read a whopping 81 books as well as finishing her second novel and having a baby. I was impressed but also pretty sure that I hadn’t read anywhere near that many, so I must have been either very lazy or very busy. Let’s go with very busy…

This set me to the task of trying to work out how many books I HAVE actually read this year and I can tell you truthfully that it’s closer to two dozen than 81. I was feeling a bit like an under-achiever until I worked out that this is two books a month, which is not too shabby and also doesn’t take into account the many books that I started but didn’t finish because they were boring, too long-winded or just didn’t grab my attention for some reason. It also doesn’t include books I’ve read but forgotten about already, but in my view, if you can’t remember the plot line of a book then it probably isn’t worth counting.

I realise that it’s not important how many books you’ve read, but how much enjoyment they’ve given you. So instead of impressing you with my amazing reading prowess, I thought I would just pass on a few recommendations about books I actually finished and enjoyed as well.

Top of my list would be The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood. This book tells the story of a 100 year old Lithuanian woman who meets an 11 year old boy obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did as I’m not always keen on books about old people, but this really is a charming book. It’s message is that it’s never too late to strive for something.

Other books I enjoyed were:

Before we visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This is a cross generational and cross cultural book about mothers and daughters facing obstacles and making wise and sometimes foolish choices.

Station Eleven by Hilary St John Mandel. This is a science fiction book that I made my book group read despite their reservations. This post- apocalyptic novel tells the story of a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. I really enjoyed this book and so did my book group!

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson. Another book about old people! What’s going on here?  I read this book mainly because it won the Miles Franklin Literary Award and also because it was written by a West Australian which is where I’m from. And although it’s about old people, it’s also above love, secrets and coming to terms with your past. It also features the work of some iconic designers and it made me happy to think that I actually knew who these people were.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This is a book for people who like reading books about people who like reading books. It’s not especially profound and is based on a very unlikely premise, but it’s also as comforting as a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day.

I could go on and on, but I’m really interested in your recommendations for books I should read in 2018. I already have a TBR list but I’m happy to add more books. There’s never enough time to read all the books on my list so a few extra won’t hurt.

How do you spell that again?

The ability to spot spelling and grammatical errors is both a blessing and a curse. It’s helpful at work when you are asked to proof someone’s report but it can drive your partner crazy. My husband is still annoyed at me for correcting his spelling in a poem that he wrote for me forty years ago and I’m still sorry that I didn’t restrain myself. It was a stupid and unnecessary thing to do and I still regret it.

I have managed to stop myself from correcting the shopping list as there’s really no point and it doesn’t really matter.

Shopping list

I share this skill/curse with other members of my family, all of whom find it difficult not to comment on errors on signs in public places, for example on menus and the like.

Sign with spelling error

But no-one really appreciates being corrected, and who want to be a grammar nazi? Not me.

On the other hand, spelling can matter a lot in a professional environment. This week I signed up to become an member of an organisation for evaluation professionals and I was surprised to see quite an obvious error in their sign-up form.

It made me pause and think about whether I wanted to join an organisation that could let such an obvious mistake slip through until I realised that the people running the organisation probably never see their sign-up form because they are already members.

If you’re thinking that I should just discreetly get in touch with them so that they can fix it, you are right and I probably will, but it did make me think about how much we judge people by their writing skills.

I’m currently working with a very nice person who has English as his second language. He often asks me to double check that his syntax is correct and that any colloquialisms have been used correctly. I commented the other day that his writing sometimes contains some linguistic oddities which I find charming, but he said that some people don’t find it charming, they just see it as wrong. I guess he’s right, but in reality his writing is almost perfect. Better than most of the things that come across my desk.

Another thing I try to keep in mind is that everyone makes mistakes and that includes me. I was reading a note I wrote for my mother’s funeral the other day and I realised that I had misspelt my sister’s name. Sorry about that Beverley.

It’s never a good idea to be too high and mighty about these things, lest you be hoist on your own petard (thank you Mr Shakespeare for that lovely saying). And God bless whoever (or should that be whomever?) invented spell check.



I’ve been wanting to write about personality tests for quite some time but I’ve been a little hesitant in case people thought I was a bit flakey.

It all started with me doing a Myers Briggs personality test at work as part of a team development exercise. This test helps you decide if you are an introvert (I) or an extrovert (E), whether you are drawn to facts (S) or intuition (N), whether you are more concerned with thinking (T) or feeling (F), and whether you prefer structure (J) or like to go with the flow (P).

I have done this test quite a few times (actually they don’t like you to call it a test as there are no right or wrong answers, it’s really called a type indicator quiz) but this time around I was very unhappy with the results. Apparently I’m tactless and not a team player. Alternatively I could have interpreted the results as ‘honest to a fault’ and ‘makes a great leader’ but I chose to think the worst of myself. Why is that? Is that a personality thing?

Then my sister wrote to say that she was doing a course called ‘understanding yourself and others’ and that she was finding it helpful in explaining why she and her partner disagreed about a range of tiny (but important) issues. The course helped her to make sense of their differences and gave her some insight into understanding herself and her husband. It also gave her valuable tips on how to improve their communication which can’t be a bad thing. You can take the test here if you are interested.

Like many people, I secretly love personality tests. I love the moment when you read the “results” that tell you that you are just who you thought you were. The detailed profile that confirms that you are sensitive/creative/practical or whatever it is that you want to be. It very much appeals to our vanity by proclaiming that yes, we are capable of writing that great novel or making some kind of difference in the world.

But in her new book “Reading People”, Anne Bogel says that the trouble with doing personality quizzes is that we always answer the questions based on who we want to be, rather than answering them as who we really are. When we describe our traits we are aspirational, rather than realistic. This leads to us make wild claims about our capacity to be organised and efficient when in reality we spend a lot of time dithering about or worrying if people are going to be upset or hurt by our actions. (By the way, I don’t think of myself as cold and distant. In fact I’ve often think that I’m over-sensitive to other people’s moods.)

So is there value in knowing more about yourself and your significant others, and what makes them tick?

Yes, I think so. If you know that as an introvert you really need some time alone after a big day talking to people, then you can share this with your partner so that they are less likely to be offended when you go to your room to recover by reading 100 pages of your book in peaceful silence. Hopefully they’ll understand that it’s not that you don’t want to spend time with them, it’s just that you need time alone to rest and recover your good humour. More than anything else, introverts need some peace and quiet every day.

Your strategy might be walking or listening to music, but for me the ultimate respite from overstimulation (usually caused by too many people and too much noise) is swimming. I find it relieves stress and tension better than any other activity. It doesn’t stop me from thinking (quite the opposite) but there’s something about being in the water that just works for me.

What about you? Do you like doing personality quizzes and have they helped improve your relationships or have you got a tip for recovering your equanimity without offending people. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Read Harder 2016

If any of you readers are up for more of a challenge, here are some excellent ways to expand your reading habits. It’s not always good to stick to the same kind of book, that’s why book groups are such an excellent idea. They force you to read different genres and styles.

Books Can Save A Life

Have you heard about Bookriot’sRead HarderChallenge?

I thought it would be interesting to see which books I’ve read in these categories, since Ann Patchett just wrote about her own progress in making her way through the list.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, too, so let us know in the comments. Book suggestions are appreciated and welcome, especially for those categories I’ve left blank.

commonwealthBy the way, Ann just released her new novel, Commonwealth. Many of you know she’s one of my favorite novelists, so I’ll be sure to get my hands on it as soon as I can.

True story, when Ann was a girl, one morning she woke up to find kids she didn’t know in the kitchen. Turned out, her mother had gotten remarried, and these were her new half siblings.

Ann has translated some of that strange family experience into a novel…

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Who can you trust to recommend a good book?

I’m an avid reader and I’m always keen to talk about books and swap recommendations. After you’ve read a few books that someone recommends, you get a pretty good idea of whether or not you have the same tastes. It can be quite tricky when a friend tells you that a certain book is fabulous and you hate it.

In my book group we don’t always agree on the books we read, and we certainly have different tastes, but since we’ve been meeting for about 20 years we have a very good understanding of the sort of books that each member enjoys reading. One of my friends is a huge fan of Louise Penny and Nordic noir, and another really likes historical fiction and British murder mysteries. We often recommend books to one another, rather than suggesting that the whole group read them.

I tend to like books that move along quickly, but are well written. I often read contemporary fiction, for example Paula Hawkins’ book The Girl on the Trainbut to be honest these type of books don’t really stay with me after I’ve read them and I often can’t really remember the plot line or what happened in the end. I don’t particularly like books with long descriptive passages and I tend to like books with likable (but flawed) characters. I like books that make me feel and think.

I was overjoyed when I discovered the podcast What Should I Read Next? Each week the host (Anne Bogel) talks to a different guest about what books they like (and dislike) and then recommends what they should read next. If your reading tastes align with the guest, then its worthwhile tracking down their recommendations and giving these a whirl.

On top of this Anne Bogel has an online book group and every year she releases a list of recommended reading for summer. She also releases a list of her top five books and I’ve come to really trust her judgement. One book that she recommended during the year was The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I really enjoyed this book which is set in a contemporary black community in Southern California. Brit is currently in Sydney appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival which is on this week, so I’ll be looking out for a chance to hear her interviewed around the town.

I’m planning to read all of her top five books over the next six months. I’m already reading The Dry, by Jane Harper and I’m looking forward to reading the next one on the list. If you borrow most of your books from the local library, you might like to work your way through last year’s shortlist as these are likely to have hit the shelves of you library.

So do let me know if you have read any good books lately. I’m always keen to swap ideas.

Designing for humans

I’ve just finished a course in human centred design which was really interesting. If you’ve never heard of this before, it involves designing solutions to problems in an entirely new way, or at least that’s how it’s promoted. Even if it’s not a new idea, it’s a very different approach to the one we normally use in most organisations. The course was designed by IDEO who are a global design company with a strong interest in creating social change through design.

The normal process

What we usually do is identify a problem that we think needs fixing and then go about fixing it in the best way we know how. We rarely think about whether the solution meets the needs of the target group or the end user. Our solutions seem to be more about meeting our organisational needs, rather than meeting the needs of customers. We often design quite complex and expensive solutions that may or may not work for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we develop solutions that are so expensive that even when it becomes apparent that they don’t work very well, we have to keep on rolling out the program because it cost a lot of money to put it into action and as a result, it’s virtually unstoppable. We may make minor adjustments along the way, but we tend to work on the principle of “you’ve made your bed now lie in it”. We have to see it through to the bitter end even if it’s clearly not working.

The new approach – develop empathy

Human centred design is different because the needs of the people impacted by the problem are considered at every step of the design process. This means walking in the shoes of other people and finding out what the real problem is. This might involve watching people go about their daily lives and noting what they do, or talking to people about their lives, or standing in the queue or waiting on the telephone speak to a real person. It’s about gaining a very real appreciation of what it’s really like to be in the shoes of a customer or a client. Human centred design considers what people experience as well as how they experience it.

Define the problem

Once you’ve spent time really considering the problem from the point of view of the people experiencing the problem, then its time to define the real issue so that you can come up with an innovative solution. This may not sound like a particularly new approach, but in my experience we do jump to solutions rather quickly.


The next step in the process involves having millions of ideas. Well maybe not millions, but lots of ideas without worrying too much about whether they are good ideas, or if they are feasible or too expensive. People often don’t voice their ideas because they make judgements about whether they are sensible or realistic before they even leave their mouths. Many good ideas are lost this way.


My favourite stage was developing cheap and cheerful prototypes of solutions. A prototype is nothing more than a mock-up of your solution. You can make a prototype with cardboard and test it to see if the idea will work, and best of all, it’s super cheap. We had an idea about developing an app to help people communicate more effectively with customers who don’t speak or understand English very well and when we tested our prototype with potential users, it was fine to just use a simple drawing of what we had in mind.


When we tested the idea we found that it was full of holes and needed a lot of refinement, but gosh it was cheap! It was just drawn on butchers paper so it was really easy to make a new version and test that with a different group of users. So much better than rolling out a whole program that didn’t quite work. The mantra of human centred design is to fail as early as possible. Failure is excellent because it helps you to improve quickly. The more you test and refine your ideas, the better. It’s so much better than refining your ideas almost to the point of perfection before you test it. You really can’t tell if something is going to work until you test it. You need to adopt an attitude that embraces failure. There’s a famous quote from Edison who said “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.


Although we didn’t intend to take our idea to market, the implementation phase of the course involved developing a “pitch” for our idea. This was extraordinarily difficult as it meant getting down to the nitty gritty of what the real problem was and how we thought that our solution would solve the problem. Writing a pitch for any idea that you have is a really worthwhile activity. I recommend it. It can really help you clarify what the main issues are.

And finally…

I did this course with three of my workmates and working collaboratively with them was awesome. We were all different and able to bring together a range of ideas and viewpoints. If you are going to embark on a human centred design project or you are interested in doing the course (which is free) I highly recommend getting together with a diverse group of people. It really works much better when you don’t all think the same way.

Finding work you love

In a recent post I talked about contemplating my future and a few people have asked me what the outcome was. Did I get the job I was after or otherwise find a way to reinvent myself?

It’s really gratifying that people care enough to ask, however the answer is no on both counts. I didn’t get chosen for the new role I was after, and I haven’t quite gotten around to reinventing myself, but I have begun to think that I’m pretty fortunate to have a choice about what I do for work.

It’s occurred to me that expecting to do something you love when you’re at work is a very middle class preoccupation. It’s very strange that we think that work should be fulfilling when in some countries it’s enough to come home from work safe and unharmed. So many people work are forced to do jobs that are physically dangerous, or so stressful that they live in a state of constant fear. I’m thinking about people who work in hot or cold environments and people who are bullied on a daily basis.

Then there are people who have to stack shelves or work on production lines; not to mention people who have to put up with angry or disgruntled customers. How appalling to have to face that every day. By contrast, my job is heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s foolish to think about doing meaningful work, after all most people would like to live a meaningful life. I was not really surprised to find that a short course run by the School of Life called ‘finding work you love’ is fully booked, so clearly I’m not the only person pondering this. This video from the Book of Life also confirms that many people are interested in doing something worthwhile and interesting with their lives.

Options and advice

Given those caveats, I do enjoy reading books about finding out what you were ‘born to do’. One piece of advice is to write down everything you’ve ever enjoyed doing and then see if you can think of a way to make a living out of one or more of those activities. In my case those activities would be reading, writing, cooking, eating, talking and watching movies. Clearly, there are some opportunities here if I was willing to consider cooking on a large scale, becoming a movie critic, or writing that elusive book. Actually, there’s nothing stopping me from doing any of those things. Oh  and I forgot swimming, but I can’t quite see myself as an Olympic swimmer. It’s a tiny bit late for that.

Another piece of advice I quite like is to work out what sort of things you like doing (and with whom) and try to incorporate that into the job you already have. I’ve been doing this lately in my job and it’s working quite well. I like working with like-minded people so I’ve been putting up my hand to work on projects that interest me with people I like.

The best advice I’ve read is to keep your day job and be open to new opportunities and trying new things. It’s a good idea to spend more time doing the activities you really like doing and less time doing things that don’t bring you any joy.

Working out what you enjoy doing is easy. They’re the things that you do without resentment and you choose to do first. They’re the projects that you start doing and lose track of time. They’re the projects that you take the time to polish and get just right. They’re the things that make you feel strangely proud when you’ve finished. Where you know that you put in the extra effort but it doesn’t matter if anyone else knows or cares.

These are the things that you should spend more time doing. Pretty simple really.


Getting cosy

img_0606I’ve recently come across the Danish concept of hygge. In English it roughly translates as ‘getting cosy’ or more accurately the art of being convivial and relaxed. The Danes claim to have invented hygge (pronounced hoo-gah or maybe hue-gah) and it’s currently a very trendy thing.  There are nine new books available on the topic in the bookstores for Christmas.

Many of the books on how to do hyyge involve scented candles, open fires, chocolate, red wine and cake (all of which sound great to me) but on a more serious level, getting cosy is more about being kind and comforting to oneself. So whilst hygge is the trendy new thing and will result in many candles being purchased this Christmas, I must admit that I’m more than attracted to the idea of self care.

Self care is about being nice to yourself. Why wouldn’t you? It seems strange that we need to be reminded, but perhaps we do.

One of the nine books has been written by Charlotte Abrahams (definitely not a Dane) who writes…

“Hygge is about taking pleasure in the small things in life: having a cup of coffee; walking in the sunshine or spending time with loved ones. Hygge is about enjoying the moment and feeling content in that moment.”

It sounds very much like a rebranding of mindfulness, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Abrahams writes that hygge appeals to her because it’s not about denial, it’s about being generous with yourself as well as others. Of course being generous doesn’t mean overdoing the wine, the chocolate, or the cake, but it does mean treating yourself to a walk before work, or spending time with family and friends and generally easing up on yourself.

Hygge makes people nicer and happier. It’s about paying attention to what makes us feel open and alive and I can’t see how this could be a bad thing.

Here’s some more ideas on how to be more Danish.