Juggling the ‘shiny balls’ of life

I’ve just read a guest post on the blog of the doctoral adviser site The Thesis Whisperer entitled ‘Shiny Balls’.   It’s a rational reflection by a young mother on how difficult it is to juggle all those balls of life in the air. She tells of the different parts of her life (the shiny balls) and the mundane practices that must have attention. The cakes to be baked for birthday parties, the three part time academic jobs she has to do to build up her cv, etc etc.  at the end of her list is her Phd work.

Before I read that post I had just answered a text message telling me about the death of an old friend – the third in three weeks. In my response I had written ‘Carpe diem’.  An easy and trite response you might say. But for me ‘Sieze the day’ really means ‘Seize the practices of your day’. Those mundane, habitual actions that make up our fleeting days. Here are ten practices at the beginning of my day, from the moment I wake up to the time I get started on my day:

1. Listen to the dawn chorus of kookaburras and butcher birds then rise.

2. Make tea and return to bed.

3. Think of where I am with my current life projects.
3. Arrange my day in the diary in my head.

4. Read my emails, Twitter and Facebook feeds.

5. Respond to any of these.

6. Read the latest text I need for my academic writing.

7. Write notes for myself.

8. Remember  those in my life who need some love and attention today.

9. Construct my ‘Three most important things’ action list for that day.
10. Rise. 

As I review my early morning habitual practice, I count my blessings that the context of my life enables such luxuries as reflection, thinking, writing, reading and planning.  I also note that all of these practices take place in one hour.

It is important that we examine our mundane practices as objects of consideration because such self-analysis shows us where we are making choices about what decisions we are making, why we are making them and what we should do next. Only then can we see if what we are doing is right for what we ultimately want out of lives

What is the difference between talent and genius?

Are geniuses born or made?

Jack Kerouac, American, Beat Generation author and poet, gave us early thoughts on that well-worn management question, ‘Are managers ‘born’ or ‘made’?’ when he wrote his 1962 essay for Writer’s Digest titled “Are Writers Made or Born?” (see Maria Popova‘s usual insightful essays on JK for a discussion on this topic). It was in this essay that he gave some deep thinking to considering writers who could be described as geniuses (e.g. Shakespeare, Melville and Whitman) and the genesis of their talent.

Kerouac argues that geniuses are born and those with talent are made, saying that the word genius ‘…is derived from the Latin word gignere (to beget)’, that ‘a genius is simply a person who originates something never known before’, that geniuses are the originators and talent the interpreters of that genius’ work’, so, essentially, ‘genius gives birth, talent delivers’.

Is exceptional talent a pre-cursor to genius?

Others, such as Chamorro-Premuzic, von Stumm, Furnham and Simonton, also discuss the different views taken between genius and talent, at times taking genius as an end result of developing exceptional talent.  Other titbits they provide on genius (and its relationship with talent) are:

  • The use of the word ‘genius’ can be tracked back to antiquity. It is derived from Latin. In Roman mythology each person was said to be born with a guardian spirit, called genius, the meaning of which is superlative intelligence and extraordinary achievement.
  • Galton’s Hereditary genius was the first scientific study of genius.


  • Francis Galton:
    • believed individuals differed in “natural ability,” that these individual differences, being distributed in general population;
    • saw genius as related to eminence or reputation, having made a name for themselves in some domain of human achievement
    • took genius to comprise three distinct categories: exceptional creativity, phenomenal leadership and prodigious accomplishments;
    • took genius and talent to be intimately related concepts.
    • Genius equates to superlative intelligence, one recognized definition of genius – relates to a person’s intelligence quotient, or IQ score, of 140 or above, minimum threshold for ascription. Other methods for measuring genius are psychometric and historiometric. [Galton’s work had a dark history].
  • Poet Owen Meredith (the pseudonym of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton, Viscount Knebworth of Knebworth, 2nd Baron Lytton of Knebworth) said ‘Genius does what it must, and Talent does what it can’ (Owen Meredith)
  • “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius”; and “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).
  • Situational factors are as critical for the manifestation of genius than individual factors – determining when and where exceptional talent becomes exceptional genius.


Malcolm Gladwell provides a list of American talent , 14 of whom all emerged within nine years of each other in the 19th century. 

The debates go on…

Developing scientific and technical talent has become a contemporary debate in educational circles and research in this area has thrown up interesting counter-findings to the well-worn discussions that practice makes for improvements in talents (and by implication, that practice encourages genius).  See Malcolm Gladwell’s work on Outliers for an interesting read:



“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Australian Spring is here..

It’s Spring and time for closure of winter writing projects such as academic journal articles and do time on those longer term projects, in my case spending the bulk of my writing time on my book.  

Over the winter I have been collecting content for the book by populating the writing database tool ‘Scrivener‘ and have 80,000 words now. However, as a ‘pantser’ rather than a ‘plotter’, this activity means many hours crafting in light of my new conceptual framework.  

My learning so far 

1. If I hadn’t been using Scrivener to collect information/knowledge in pieces I would be sitting looking at empty page today.

2. When I lost motivation I listened to podcasts such as ‘So you want to be a writer?’ by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait, both successful journalists and authors who provide the latest in news, opportunities, trends – and gossip – in the world of writing blogging and publishing.  

3. Reading accessible writers on writing, like Natalie Goldberg (e.g. Writing down the Bones’ )

4. That old advice to put in at least an hour a day writing helps too. 
Back to the PC now!

Being inspired by a book..on learning journals..

Jennifer MoonI recently re-visited a book I read years ago by Jennifer Moon called ‘Learning Journals’ (the photo is the newer 2006 version). The blurb for the newer book says:

‘This second edition of Learning Journals offers guidance on keeping and using journals and gives step-by-step advice on integrating journal writing on taught courses, in training and professional development and in supporting personal development planning (PDP) activities. Key topics covered include:

  • the nature of learning journals and how we learn from them
  • the broad range of uses of learning journals, including portfolios and personal and professional development
  • the depth and quality of reflection in learning journals
  • the assessment of learning journals and reflective writing
  • the use of narrative and story-telling techniques in journals.

With useful exercises and activities that enhance learning journal work in a structured manner, Learning Journals is invaluable reading for teachers and students in higher education, for all professionals, particularly those working in the health services and business and training and for all those who want to learn more about keeping a fulfilling personal journal.

It has inspired me to set up this section of my blog to record my learning and to ruminate on questions such as ‘What do we mean when we talk about learning?’ and ‘How can I learn by writing a learning journal?’.

I found a lovely quote by Barbara Bassot in her book ‘The Reflective Journal’:

‘The process of writing forces us to slow down and take time to reflect, which allows our knowledge and understandings to grow’.


I would love to hear from you on any aspects of your learning you feel adds to the conversation.

Men and their rites of passage…

Walking past Mullumbimby library recently I paused at the trolley they always have outside the front door with books and magazines for sale.  It’s not often I find anything of interest… there seems to be an insatiable appetite for fantasy and science fiction today and I haven’t yet managed to cultivate an interest in that genre.  This day, though, there was a gem worth buying, Peter O’Connor’s (1981) Understanding Mid-life Crisis published by Pan Macmillan.
O’Connor wrote a newspaper article where he talked about the way men can experience the years between 35 and 45, and he described this as a period ‘when feelings of frustration and personal inadequacy may surface and marital strains may be felt’. Although about men he suggests that the same could be felt by women, especially those who are/have been working.  His article generated many letters from men feeling they had experienced the same issues he described and offering to take part in his research as interviewees.  There are many interesting facts in the book but one I want to share today is where he talks about the four fantasies most commonly mentioned by his interviewees.  I thought these worth passing on.

Farmer one

First, the farmer fantasy, the most prevalent one, O’Connor describes as ‘To own, run and live on a farm or farmlet, to belong to the land, to know the pace of nature and the rhythm of animals’ (1991;59). Secondly, the nurseryman fantasy, ‘more to do with nurturing and growth’ (1991;60). The helper fantasy frequently took the form of doing social work or similar, with the desire to give back’ but the irony being ‘that often these men have sacrificed the well-being of their own families in the pursuit of their materialistic goals. In such cases the fantasy has much to do with attempting reparation and meeting needs for warm, caring relationships as it has to do with a desire to help others (1991, 61).


The writer fantasy or being some form of creative person, was next. Those whose ‘lives were lived predominantly on the intellectual plane’ tended to predominate in his group. Here the fantasy was of writing ‘the great work” which mainly meant a novel. O’Connor says this fantasy ‘has to do with an inner demand, arising around the mid-life period, to give some time and space to the neglected sides of one’s psyche’ with this fantasy expressing ‘he inner drive to be creative and to experience an alternative mode to the rational, empirical, logical mode’ (1991; 62). O’Connor argues that one should not deny these urges as ‘the desire represents an inner prompting, a reminder of a needed growth, an inner direction for partly resolving, in a creative way, the mid-life crisis (1991;62). Men, he argues, should not deny these urges saying “I’m too old for that now” for ‘To deny such possibilities is..to sentence oneself to death and to allow oneself to be captured like an insect in a web of inertia’ (1991;62).


The myriad of elements that make up your personal talent management

I have a colleague who is doing a doctorate study of managers managing autistic talent. I send her web links and academic references occasionally as I come across them. I found this tale from a young guy particularly impressive about the lived, meaningful experience of this condition. http://www.vox.com/2016/1/29/10860714/autism-diagnosis-adult?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits

It made me think of how talent management practice and writing takes little account of those aspects of the individuals which don’t match the common competency frameworks many organisations work to.

It also reminds me how the telling of personal stories is so powerful in enabling people to make sense of themselves and to provide learning and enlightenment for others.




How do you survive the doctoral supervisor’s comments?

As a Director of Studies working mainly with part time Doctorate in Business Studies (DBA) students, I look at a lot of thesis drafts and my mode of working is to use the reviewer’s tool and make a comment on the draft that way.  I tend to have a particular pattern of comment. Firstly I notice the English and the typographical errors.  I get so irritated at these that I have to make a comment, then I can concentrate on the actual content of what the doctoral student is saying. (I tell myself it is a useful set of comments as it is teaching the student that a lot of examiners are also like me in this way…).


Then I look at the way the paragraph is crafted in light of the argument coming through.  Depending on how my day is going I can be super-kind and supportive or sometimes I can be quite direct. Here is an example:

‘This is an important section of the thesis, [student], and it needs really good crafting to rhetorically demonstrate the implications you are suggesting are right. It reads as though it was written in a rushed way. Several of the sentences are too long, as are the paragraphs. Go through the whole of section one here, address the clumsy writing and re-craft the text to bring out the goodness. This includes ensuring each paragraph is a good size and contains the main elements of the part of the argument you are putting here’.

I often wonder how the student feels when they read this. I can imagine it also depends on where they are psychologically in their doctoral journey, how well it is going, what the doctorate means to them in identity terms, if they are resilient in taking criticism, even if it is well meant and is designed to help them get their thesis draft to a level which will attract a pass.