New Directions

I have been thinking a lot about my goals and how they tie into the writing that I do. The first thing is that I do not write nearly as often as I should. This is true from a marketing standpoint, as any book about blogging or marketing will tell you. It is also true from an intellectual standpoint. I should be practicing expressing my ideas much oftener than I have up to now.

I guess if you are setting out to be a writer, the proof of the pudding is in actually having written material available to people on a regular basis. My habit of writing something once a month, or every other month, is not doing me any favors. I have to do something about that.

I am giving up on the blog How to Get There. I started it because I am interested in strategy, wisdom, and the meaning of success. I am finding, however, that as I progress in my studies and collect more information about my particular sets of interests, generally speaking photography and overcoming power asymmetries, that I can cover those topics adequately in this blog. I am going to rewrite whatever material I have from HTGT and adapt it to this blog. I am not shutting it down, but I will no longer be working on it.

Photography is just something I do. I don’t intend it to be a money making enterprise in my life. I do it because it makes me happy. I will always have new material for my photography blog.

Power asymmetries are a passion as well. There is more than enough info to keep me going on that topic for years.

The topics of HTGT fit in with what I am going to be writing about on this blog. Beside, as you do things and get into doing them, you often learn that some of the things you did when you first started are no longer useful to you. Live and learn.

My First Lessons in Conflict Resolution

I first learned about conflict resolution in the United States Army. They didn’t call it conflict resolution in the army, they called it combat. The idea was that you win or you die. A tad confrontational, yes, but it has proven effective enough to be the go to tactic for many nations.

The army was the first place where I learned that conflict was there to be resolved. I learned that there are strategies and tactics available to deal with, and emerge victorious from, conflict. It was where I discovered the work of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. It was where I first learned to that to be successful in conflict you have to prepare yourself before you go looking for your foes.

Now I can safely say that I understand conflict a little better than I did as a private in the army. It seems to me that in many of the conflicts I have observed over the years, the people involved did not have any clearly defined reasons for getting involved in a conflict in the first place. Most of the time they were just angry at something, that may or may not have had anything to do with the conflict they involved themselves in.

One of the keys to being successful in conflict is knowing and understanding what your objectives are. If you don’t understand what you are attempting to accomplish, all the wisdom from every strategic genius in the world will do you little, probably no, good. It will be difficult even to judge whether you won that particular, and probably pointless, battle.

The army did teach me how to prepare for battle; how to fight and win. The only problem is that in the army somebody else picks your battles for you. If you are fighting someone else’s battles, only they can tell you if you have won, or not. As an individual, there is no way to win these battles; you are only along for the ride.

There is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, learn how to pick your battles.

Building an Audience

I have read several books on social media marketing. Many of them offer really good advice that sounds great when you are reading it. Growing an audience for your blog is usually a well covered subject. My difficulty has been trying to put those recommendations into practice.

For example, most of these books tell you to define your market. Figure out who is your perfect reader or follower. Honestly, I don’t know who I am writing my blogs for other than myself. I am writing about some narrow sets of interests that I have, but I really don’t know if there is a natural audience for any of this stuff. Nor am I motivated to find out. I follow my interests and occasionally I write something on my blogs. 

I aspire to writing that can serve a practical purpose for the people who read it.  I want to help people. So, I have a blog about strategy, wisdom, and success. All of these subjects are well covered by many other blogs and writers, and there is a lot of noise to deal with. I am writing what I think, but I can’t quite figure out whether my humble observations are contributing to clarity or just adding more noise to the cacophony.

Even if I am not sure that I am building an audience, I am happy that I can write what I want to write. I like the fact that I am building a store of intellectual capital for use in the future. Whether I am offering brilliance or bullshit, it is my own. If it ever comes up, I would be happy to point out that I have written on whatever subject on my blogs.

Maybe that is how it is supposed to work. I am supposed to write and toil away in obscurity. Then one day a set of outside operators and circumstances will conspire to make me the next internet sensation. My writing will no longer belong to me, but I will be making a shitload of money. Or not. I guess you just have to ride the torpedo to find out where you are going.

On Thinking and Writing

I tend to experience the world cerebrally, so I spend a lot of time thinking. Not just because I am in school. Everywhere, all the time, I am thinking about everything. Sometimes my wife has to ask me if I am thinking about what we are talking about or ignoring her.

Sometimes I even get pretty good ideas. The problem is that I want to continue thinking about them until I feel they are fully formed models that are strong enough to withstand intensive scrutiny. I am learning this doesn’t work well for my career as a blogger.

It seems to me that bloggers, if they want to be good, have to write something more often than once a month or so. I can say, in my defense, that I have no necessity to be a successful blogger. I don’t suffer any for my lack of reliability. But that may be part of the problem.

I would like to be a successful writer. I think my blogs, which cover areas that I find interesting, will be helpful in getting me there. Now I just need to do the writing.

Wish me luck.

Problems with Problem Solving

I have spent a lot of time analyzing the dual concern model. The basic idea of this model is that the actors in a conflict must determine how important a particular goal of theirs is in relation to the other party’s concern for or against the same goal. Basically you are weighing your own willingness to fight for something against your perception of your opponent’s willingness to fight against it.

The model provide four basic strategies, plus a fifth alternative. Pruitt and Kim describe them this way: when neither side cares about a particular outcome, you avoid, that is you take no action. If you care about a particular outcome and the other side doesn’t, you contend, or push the other side to concede. If you don’t care about something that is important to the other side, you yield, let them have what they want. If both sides care about a particular outcome then they work together to problem solve. The fifth alternative is compromise, a mutually disagreeable solution.

Problem solve sounds so nice. It makes it seem like the contending parties are just going to come together and work everything out, calmly and rationally. That leads me to my biggest criticism of my field of study: the blind optimism that every conflict that can be resolved.

Don’t get me wrong, problem solving can be calm and rational, but it requires calm and rational participants. In my personal experience, not all people approach conflict in a calm and rational manner. To be fair, Pruitt and Kim do have a chapter on contentious tactics in their book, they are not turning a blind eye to the fact that conflict is not always so easily resolved.

Problem solving describes a situation where both sides are placing a high level of importance on the outcome. Both sides want it to go their way. If both sides are calm and rational, then there is a good chance that they can discuss the issues and create a solution that fully satisfies each side.  I would guess that more often than not emotion and pride quickly move participants beyond calmness and rationality.

I suppose it is philosophically a good idea for we students of conflict resolution to be taught that all conflict is resolvable. I suppose as a matter of pragmatism it is heartening for people to believe that all problems can be solved. I may be a little cynical, but it only takes one bad actor to destroy an optimistic  outlook. One of my colleagues put it best when he wrote, “Conflict is inevitable, resolution is not.”

The semester is over!

I have just finished, more or less, my first semester of grad school. Like many things in my life thus far, it was much more challenging than I thought it would be, and at the same time not as hard as I thought it would be. I am glad it is just about over (I have one more paper to submit, online, that I am doing the final editing for now).

I have to say I learned a lot. The interesting thing is not that I learned some new tidbits of information, or gained some heretofore unknown perspective on life. The most interesting thing is what I have learned about myself. It is not that I learned something new about myself either.

I have learned that I have been on the right path for myself for many years. It has not always been easy. I guess I don’t really do things the way they are supposed to be done. But none of that really matters. I know I am going where I need to go.

So I have about a month to actually get to writing some things that have been on my mind for a while. Leo’s World (the weblog site, anyway) is going to be used for more than just posting pictures or stuff from my other blogs. I am now going to be posting things that don’t fit on my other blogs. It may get kind of random at times, but anyone who knows me knows that I have a tendency to go off on tangents.

Don’t be scared if it gets a little weird, I will bring it back to make my point. So relax a little. You just might enjoy it.