How Georges Simenon Wrote Nearly 200 Books

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simenon productivty tips

Georges Simenon wrote nearly 200 books and is the creator of Jules Maigret, the world’s second most famous pipe-smoking detective. Each of Simenon’s books are not only critical successes, but they remain popular and in print.

But how did Simenon do it? Follows are Simeon’s productivity strategies that we can all learn from.

1. Build Momentum

“On the eve of the first day I know what will happen in the first chapter. Then, day after day, chapter after chapter, I find what comes later,” says Simenon. “After I have started a novel I write a chapter each day, without ever missing a day. Because it is a strain, I have to keep pace with the novel. If, for example, I am ill for forty-eight hours, I have to throw away the previous chapters. And I never return to that novel.” If the momentum is lost the energy and creativity of an idea may be drained. Build momentum for projects; don’t start and stop them.

2. Work in Bursts

Simenon cannot maintain his work rate for weeks at a time. “It’s almost unbearable after five or six days [of writing],” Simenon says. “That is one of the reasons my novels are so short; after eleven days I can’t—it’s impossible…it’s physical. I am too tired.”

After six to eleven days of writing Simenon would spend “three days to a week” editing and cutting down.

He elaborates, “Five or six times a year, at the very most, I retire into my own shell for eight days and, at the end of that time, a novel emerges.”

3. Eliminate Distractions

When asked about his impressive output, Simenon says, “My literary colleagues: they live in Paris, they lead quite worldly lives, and they pursue the manifold activities of men of letters. They give lectures, they write articles, they give innumerable interviews…. But I don’t do any of those things. I live tucked away with my family.” By eliminating all other distraction Simenon can focus on one thing.

4. Don’t Listen to Critics

“All the critics for twenty years have said the same thing: ‘It is time for Simenon to give us a big novel, a novel with twenty or thirty characters.’ They do not understand. I will never write a big novel.” Simeon didn’t let the opinion of critics change is writing style or creative output. He continued to do what he did best.

5. Passion

Simenon, of course, was able to produce so much as a result of pure passion. In one interview he says, “I need to write. If someone gave me the biggest fortune in the world tomorrow, it would make me miserable and physically sick if it served to prevent me from writing.”

Simeon wrote not as a hobby, but as a physical compulsion.

6. Use a Simple Outline 

I know nothing about the events when I begin the novel,” says Simenon. Instead, Simenon simply decides on an atmosphere and, “On [a] envelope I put only the names of the characters, their ages, their families. I know nothing whatever about the events that will occur later. Otherwise it would not be interesting to me.”

Explore problems without working toward a set goal. Let creativity and playfulness yield results.

**

If you want to increase your productivity, it takes some planning and hard work–and a focus on things that are important to you. Even if your goal isn’t to write detective novels, you can still take a page from Georges Simenon.

Can Innovation Be Taught With a Children’s Story?

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New PictureHow Stella Saved the Farm: A Tale about Making Innovation Happen is a delightful foray into the challenge of innovation in organizations.  From two of business’s prominent thought leaders, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, this short read tells a compelling story, a la Orwell’s Animal Farm, about a once successful farm that needs to reinvent itself in the face of intense competitive threats. Sounds like an everyman’s story these days, doesn’t it?

The authors touch on the common and key challenges that any new product or service effort faces in an organization. Resistance to new ideas, territorial behavior, departmental feelings of superiority, premature judgments, and so on. In a very simple way, they manage to paint a vivid picture of a treacherous innovation landscape using dry humor to keep the story light and fast paced.  It’s refreshing to see a pair of serious academics present their research and experience in a genre akin to a children’s story.

At the end of the book the authors provide a useful set of questions that help you draw broader and deeper conclusions about your own innovation efforts and challenges.  And then they offer their important lessons.  These lessons are based on the authors’ deep research and experience and lead-in nicely to their in-depth leadership book, The Other Side of Innovation:  Solving the Executive Challenge.

Proactive leaders will resonate with the context and subtext of How Stella Saved the Farm. Reading between the lines, you’ll gain a greater appreciation as to why a pragmatic, disciplined focus on execution and getting things done is at the core of successful innovation.  The book shows that by managing the micro-politics and diverse relationships within an organization can be the difference between “betting the farm” and “saving the farm.” As the authors say, “in any great innovation story, the idea is only the beginning.”

Don’t expect this book to solve all your innovation problems. Think about it as an innovation story that everyone in your organization can understand and follow. You don’t need an MBA, nor would you even need to have majored in business to understand the challenges and situation that Windsor Farm faces. Use it exactly as what it is — a metaphor for helping people in your organization understand the challenges of innovation and to understand the different perspectives that exist in a changing environment.

How Important Is Natural Talent?

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In a recent article written in the Wall Street Journal, author Heidi Grant Halvorson tries to dispel the “Success Myth.”

So what is this myth about? According to her research, it is about how people attribute success and high accomplishments to innate ability or inborn talent. In other words, because most of us believe that there are things we are naturally better at than others, we tend to invest our time in those things that come easily to us and divest our time from things that require more effort.

The problem with this approach is that Halvorson does not buy into the idea that success is really about innate ability in the first place. As a Ph.D. in motivational psychology and an author who essentially studies achievement for a living, she repeatedly finds that measures of “ability” such as intelligence, creativity, and IQ are quite poor predictors of future success.

According to her findings, the real predictor of success is strategizing. Strategies like being committed, recognizing temptations, planning ahead, monitoring progress, and persisting when the going gets tough, are amongst those that she claims make all the difference between success and failure.

Thinking that success is contingent on innate ability can lead down a slippery slope and unnecessarily become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Buy into her theory? If so, read about in her own words: “The Success Myth

Word Processed Plagiarism

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I used to doze off at night chanting obscure citation formatting rules from all the major players in town: MLA, APA, Chicago, even Turabian on some particularly insomnia-stained evenings. For a brief period before I fabricated some semblance of a social life, my homepage was EasyBib.com. As a law-abiding citizen who only jaywalked when a red light obstructed a closing kitty-corner Chipotle, plagiarism seemed like a surefire way to win a date with the 5-o. I figured citations would avoid (police) citations and I cited to within an inch of my life. I even fantasized of winning a Pulitzer someday for one of my immaculate bibliographies.

Why then do I feel like a corrupted, plagiarizing criminal? Maybe it is because even as I compose this confession, I wage a literary crime spree. I plead the Fifth as I reveal that everything from that last paragraph to this clause is riddled with lifted language. If someone handcuffed me now I would start typing with my nose because you should know of the unprosecuted plagiarism saturating our word-processed existence.

The culprit: Almost everyone

The mechanism: A Thesaurus

Aliases: Review: Proofing: Thesaurus; Shift-F7; Thesaurus.com;

I’d pause for dramatic effect but my thesaurus suggests that I might alternately adjourn for theatrical suspense. So go to the bathroom/lavatory, call your lawyer/attorney, and we’ll resume/commence in the next section/paragraph.

Ok welcome back…We’re all guilty of the occasional thesaurus indulgence. Personally, when my creative juices run dry, I’ve leaned on the thesaurus like it’s a Segway that will effortlessly transport me to my conclusion. My thesaurus probably deserves a Cornell degree for its brilliant text on subjects ranging from “Scientology and American Dissent” to “Andorra’s Crisis in Democracy”. You can argue that the thesaurus is as innocuous as an internet translator but when you’re translating from shoddy slang to polished prose is it really a pardonable offense?

Well you tell me. I think similar to sourcing Wikipedia and leaning on a Smartphone during a trivia competition, thesaurus plagiarism falls into a certain ethical purgatory. Is it dishonest, corrupt, amoral, immoral, devious, deceitful, wrong, unethical, and dishonorable? Possibly. But maybe it’s also practical, proactive, pragmatic, realistic, and sensible.

Fundamentally, does a leader use a thesaurus? Is leadership synonymous with plagiarism?

Pic Credit: autumn_bliss

Mourning Commute

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As a freshly minted college graduate waiting for the paint to dry on my diploma (there was a spill…), I’m still developing my capacity to complete the daily commute. I have heard horror stories of road weary professionals commuting by plane, train, Segway, or blimp to locations ranging from Andorra to Mordor. This stands in distressing contrast to my understanding of a commute, which during academia years meant the journey from my bed to the bathroom. During that voyage, the only traffic I encountered was other roommates and debris from last night’s party. Now, as I ricochet from school into real world, it’s time for my real education in the morning commute.

I live on the border of two Chicago neighborhoods: Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. Occasionally I straddle this abstract border and loiter in Wicker Village or Ukrainian Park. One phantasmagorical afternoon I think I even discovered a Wicker Ukrainian.

I work on the 16th floor of the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s downtown Loop. Google Maps tells me it is 2.6 miles away but as someone who struggles with punctuality I think they should factor in the vertical commute at the receiving end. So with a 331 ft elevation change let’s call my commute an even 2.6627 miles.

Until Chicago finally completes a zeppelin and zip line system—sustainable, but a safety hazard—my commuting options include the paradoxical underground elevated train, bus, taxi, foot, bike, hitchhiking, Zamboni, or infant stroller. While I’ve considered each individually and in combination, I’ve settled on bicycling because I have a snazzy helmet that reminds me of the Commander Keen video game.

So after the howls from my “Agitated Lemur” alarm clock rouse me from slumber town I sprint through my bathroom commute, toss on a neck noose, and jump on my wheels. The first person I interact with in the morning is the drowsy Dodge driver I cut off as I cross Ashland Ave. Then like butter on a chalkboard, I glide over to Milwaukee and sew myself into the string of bicycles commuting to work.

Every morning has ups, downs, potholes, snowdrifts and loopty-loops when I enter the Loop. At the corner of Kinzie and Milwaukee, I bike past the Blommer Chocolate Company where I enjoy approximately 13 seconds of sublime olfactory bliss. Soon fudge melts into urban haze and I arrive at the Thompson Center.

It would take an intricate novella or nimble interpretative dance to explain how I deposit my bike in my building’s basement and trek up 331 ft but let me just say Blommer Chocolate is not the only Willy Wonka-esque moment of my commute.

So I suppose I’m now an adult with an adult commute. Yet is this really something to mourn when my mornings are full of cocoa loops in addition to Cocoa Pebbles? Maybe I should celebrate the quacking lemurs as a sign of a new morning adventure. That or I should just lobby the governor to finish the zip line…

Pic Credit: Art Rock (Hennie)

Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 2)

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Part 2: Recycling a Plant

Ok here we go. A “Part 2”. This is a very adventurous and presumptuous endeavor on my part to attempt a Part 2 of anything. Part 2 suggests that I have some loyal audience that meticulously follows my work and was left trembling in anticipation at the end of my Part 1. I think George Lucas had it right in his Star Wars chronology. Next time I’ll start a blog post at Part 4 and leave readers scrambling to find the previous contributions. When they discover these do not exist, perhaps they will appreciate the creativity and eagerly await the missing posts. Ok, enough of this meta blog analysis. On to Part 2:

In Part 1 of this series, I praised the efforts of a for-profit recycling plant in Chicago, IL. Now with the insertion of “an” indefinite article, I have the opportunity to share a story of Chicago creativity and innovation that elevates modern recycling into the stratosphere (or onto the 5th floor of a Chinatown loft to be more precise). Consider this story of “Recycling a Plant”.

In an earlier post on this blog, I introduced the site CouchSurfing.com, “a social networking site designed to connect travelers around the universe,” to generous hosts. The site also offers a local events page that sustains and enhances community involvement. On that page, I discovered this event for “Funky Chinatown – A Funk, Soul, and Disco Loft Party.” The page included this notice about the event:

For exact directions, please RSVP to CHINATOWNFUNK@GMAIL.COM
– include Name + # of Guests so I can get a good headcount.”

My mom once mentioned something in passing about avoiding secret, funky, CouchSurfing, Chinatown parties staged in abandoned lofts with “a ton of beer and cocktails for free.” On the other hand, my mom often offers advice so sometimes I have to pick and choose when to comply…

I’m glad I followed my gut (even if my liver is slightly peeved) because the evening illustrated how a group of creative individuals can convert an abandoned loft into a productive community music and art space. In between funky dancing that put my Bar Mitzvah to shame, I connected with travelers from around the world and exchanged gripping stories of Couch Surfing exploits. Instead of wasting my evening consuming money, time, and space at a neighborhood haunt, I recycled stories and a stunning loft space and converted them into an unforgettable evening.

I started this series with the question: what is the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? The answer is that they offer distinct and innovative ways to enhance sustainability and create community. The recycling plant promoted environmentalism through pragmatic corporate action while the loft party enhanced community while using an abandoned industrial space.

I guess the essential difference is then that the recycling plant did not play funky tunes. Maybe that would increase efficiency?

To read (or re-read) Part 1: Recycling Plant, click here.

Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 1)

By | BLG Leadership Insights, Creativity, Features, Ideas | One Comment

Part 1: Recycling Plant

What’s the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? Just to clarify, I am not speaking about agriculture here; in my urban Chicagoland jungle, plant means industry. As is my nature, after moving to a new location, I frenetically bushwhack through metropolitan mulch. I dodge chain restaurants like weeds (aside from Chipotle) and sniff out those hidden flowers that flash the true colors of the city.

My recent harried wanderings have delivered me to this recycling riddle comparing a recycling plant and recycling an (industrial) plant. This first post introduces the recycling plant with my commentary progressing soon on the interwebs.

During my first month blustering around the windy city, I have happened upon various hidden gems of the visual, theatrical, and edible persuasions. All were stunning or enlightening with the exception of an unfortunate goat tostada from La Basura Bodega that seemed to enlighten nothing but my septic system.

A rapid run bike through of my few weeks here would reveal adventures including but not limited to:

1)  Watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan

2)  Doing headstands in my office where I work for the Governor of Illinois

3)  Driving an entirely electric car from Nissan at sunset along the lake

4)  Going out for pizza with the Governor

5)  Assembling a bicycle (with help) and then biking 20 miles roundtrip to Chicago’s Desi corridor for delicious delicacies from Pakistan and India

6)  Hula hooping with 500+ people and professional fire dancers/drummers during a Chicago Full Moon Fire Jam. Click here and here for stunning pictures.

7)  Attending and participating in various art and performance installations around the city

8)  Blasting Kanye/Jay-Z while driving a government car around Illinois to report on hearings

9)  Mingling with glitterati at a wine and hors d’oeuvre reception at the Chicago Yacht Club

10) Exploding over bike handlebars and onto pavement after losing a battle with a curb

Yet this week may take the cake (or flan depending on where you are).  Last Thursday in a nostalgic reminder of the pleasures of elementary school, I took a field trip during work. No need to forge any parental permission slips, though. It was a sanctioned tour of Recycling Services, a private company that exists as the largest recycling service in Chicago.

My tour was a refreshing reminder that matter does not simply disappear after you flush the toilet or drag a trash bag to the curb. My enthusiasm waxed as I watched in graphic, gory detail the process of collecting, sorting, sanitizing, and monetizing our recycling goods. I saw employees meticulously extract waste materials from accelerating conveyor belts and shred materials before compressing and packaging the scraps. The tour culminated with a delicious feast of wine, cheese, shrimp, and gourmet hamburgers after which I was sure to recycle and compost my utensils and food.

It was an impressive display in a city that proactively sustains recycling infrastructure. It even allays conservative or libertarian environmental skepticism because it succeeds through capitalistic, free market participation. This for-profit recycling plant wants to make money. It makes money by increasing recycling. It’s a win-win.

In a recessionary world of big industry that wants to Thank You for Smoking, it’s exciting to see this type of plant thriving. As the owner explained, “Paper is booming in the capital markets”. It’s almost enough to make me print this blog out and recycle the paper. But not quite. Yet how does one go further and actually recycle an industrial plant. Stay tuned…

The adventure continues in Part 2: Recycling a Plant, available by clicking here.

Icy (Unpaid) Internships

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Back in my youth, I was a precocious and ambitious achiever who parsed the NY Times and political blogs with the enthusiasm of a child scrutinizing the back of a Fruit Loops cereal box. Maybe it was genetics, maybe it was circumstance but probably it was my poor athletic skills and the futility of a career in ping-pong that motivated my interest in politics.

Fortunately, I fell into Cornell’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations (ILR) like an icicle falls into an Ithaca gorge after it outgrows its elevated perch. I was absorbed by a Career Services department that trumpeted “Resumaniacs Resume Critiques” and “Mock Interview Madness” before it even knew my name. They say ILR is a fiercely pre-professional labor school and while I didn’t sleep with my CV under my pillow while waiting for a Recruiter Fairy to deliver me a job, I was indoctrinated into this occupation-obsessed bubble.

So during summer 2009 I did what any spoiled, ambitious achiever would; I capitalized on the generous support of my family and plunged into the icy waters of unpaid internships. Armed with an inflated resume and naïveté, I pounced on job postings and began selling myself to political organizations in Washington D.C.

With the lascivious constituent outreach that has come to define dodgy politicos, I won’t make too many explicit metaphors linking my internships to prostitution. The metaphor doesn’t hold anyway because I was selling my services for free, far below escort market value.

Ultimately, I settled into the swanky offices of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) housed in an abandoned nook of the World Wildlife Fund headquarters. For purposes of brevity and loyalty to the (now defunct) SAVE organization, let me explain just one section of my internship.

SAVE, a non-profit advocacy group, frequently lobbied legislators to support Gen Y economic health. By the end of the summer, I was leading hill action meetings where I would present gloomy data about youth employment and fiscal security. One of my main talking points was an impassioned critique of one of our country’s greatest acts of economic exploitation: the unpaid internship.

The irony dripped down my shoulders alongside the sweat from a swampy D.C. summer and anxiety-inducing Capitol Hill meetings.  I was an ambitious icicle swimming in a pre-professional gorge but suddenly I was melting. The system demanded proactive prostitution complete with cover letter and ironed collar but it reeked of inequity and exploitation. I reeked of privilege as I padded my resume with internships and my stomach with Pinkberry all on my parents’ dime. It was not good.

Now I sit in a job that is partly facilitated by my unpaid internships. I somehow prevented myself from melting long enough to send a polished resume and cover letter to the Governor of Illinois. I ironed the shirt and I spit out my mock interview honed answers. My brother’s an actor but it runs in our blood; I got the job.

So now I’m in a position of (slight) power and it’s time to sound the alarm from within. Unpaid internships and the terrifying thrills of “Mock Interview Madness” are not available to everyone. The new data shows the rich and poor sprinting in opposite directions. New icicles keep forming and falling into pre-professional waters. Meanwhile the unlucky icicles shatter onto neglected ground. It’s a self-propagating system that needs to be put to bed and the antidote must come from inside.

Oh and to finish my D.C. summer 2010 story, I figured if I was already sweating profusely in Capital City I might as well make a buck. I applied to be the McGruff the Crime Dog® mascot for the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. It was great and at least they gave me ice packs.

Editor’s note: While the Institute for Workplace Studies & Smithers Institute has interns, these interns are compensated with credit through ILR’s Credit Internship Program

Easy Ratatouille

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Two months ago, I received a rude awakening when I discovered my Cornell meal plan card no longer delivers an all-I-care-to-eat playground of delicious delicacies. In cafés, restaurants, bodegas, bistros, and nosheries across the world, the Cornell card nourishes me with nothing but spoiled stares. Outside of the culinary orb of campus, the card is then rendered useless and inedible (even marinated, spiced, and flambéed, the plastic card provides a poor meal replacement).

Cut off from my meal ticket, I stumble around the grocery store collecting rice cakes, cereal, peanut butter, and canned hominy. Occasionally I read the NY Times while munching on my hominy and today I stumbled upon a link to “The Minimalist: Easy Ratatouille”.

In the post, Mark Bittman explains that the intricate name translates to a simple, “tossed vegetable dish”. Unfortunately, easy ratatouille requires more than a spoon and frozen vegetables and involves a delicately choreographed sauté ballet of vegetables. Eggplant, “must be cooked until it’s very soft”; zucchini, “takes less time to cook”; tomatoes, “break apart so quickly that you have to be careful” (Bittman, 2011).

Call me old-fashioned (or malnourished), but my frozen vegetables, without stirring, occupy a stable place in my food pyramid (or Food Yin-Yang). In the 30-60 minute prep time required for the Easy Ratatouille, I could probably stage a compressed adaptation of War and Peace starring raw vegetables. Clearly, Bittman and I disagree on the culinary definition of “easy”.

While the recipe failed to produce its promised yield of 4 to 6 servings of ratatouille, it did in fact yield about 4 to 6 servings of philosophical food for thought. We toss around words like “easy” without considering their essential relativity. In conversations ranging from disability accommodations to environmental conservation, “easy” does not yield a universal translation. This challenge is acutely apparent as I work in public administration and attempt to create standardized language that can communicate to all constituencies.

Here, Bittman deserves a pass. For the culinary connoisseurs perusing his post, this recipe probably reads like a Ratatouille-for-Dummies guide. Yet for the average Cocoa Pebbles connoisseur like me, it looks like a federal grant proposal accidentally translated to Esperanto. Let’s at least agree this is an easy, or convenient, opportunity to reevaluate our approach to language and audience. And if someone wants to cook me ratatouille that would be nice too.

Chat & Cut

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Last month on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David dissected the sly social exercise, the Chat & Cut. Clearly a Machiavellian maneuver in line dynamics, David describes the Chat & Cut as, “feigning familiarity with someone [you] vaguely know for the sole purpose of cutting in line” (Curb, 8/7/11). Whether you are seeking entrance into an Indian Buffet or a Leonard Cohen concert, the Chat & Cut means you can end up in the front of the line while potentially forging a new friendship.

In full disclosure, I come from a frantic family with an allergy to gluten and waiting. From my 5-week premature birth to my parents’ entrance onto various domestic  and international flights, we find innovative ways to bypass lines. As this queue queasiness springs from my short statured maternal lineage, we usually opt for the low road to the front rather than the more perilous Chat & Cut. Even when we fail in our pursuit, it always delivers fodder for sociological and therapeutic analysis.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of witnessing an amateur Chat & Cut performed in broad daylight during Chicago’s What’s Happening!! Outdoor Dance Party & Pig Roast featuring The Windy City Soul Club. The C&C unfolded after my own line-cutting efforts were stymied by the critical gaze of my companions and the soulful sounds emanating from the DJ booth.

A woman wobbled up to me as I was about to receive my smorgasbord and gaped inquisitively at the display.

“I don’t understand–is this where you order your food and drink?”

I replied in the affirmative.

“So you order food here but you also can get drinks? That’s very interesting.”

As I started moving forward and the woman casually tucked into the line behind me, I realized what was happening. Like Larry David, I accused her of a C&C but then encouraged her to stay in line.

I think it is important to recognize these micro social maneuvers. We are quick to discuss those macro manipulations when a president spars with a speaker over speech timing or a company uses a beta label to boost interest and “appeal to digerati”. Yet these high profile maneuvers are often slight adaptations of schoolyard counterparts. A playground quarrel can lead to classroom snub just as a cafeteria may offer Turbo vegetables to appeal to finicky children.

So who knows? Maybe Larry David provides the tools we need to analyze meaty global politics; at minimum, he helps expose a Chat & Cut at a pig roast.