Monday, May 31, 2010

Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard - Part Three

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
This is the final section of a three-part summary (Part One and Part Two) of the key ideas in Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Good luck with your change efforts!

Shape the Path
We have a tendency to blame problems on the people, not the situation. If we are annoyed with our spouse or a co-worker, we blame it on their personality, whereas the problem may actually be caused by the situation. “A good change leader never thinks, ‘Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.’ A change leader thinks, ‘How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?’”

Tweak the Environment
It’s often easier to change the environment than human behaviour. For example, one individual was determined not to use his cell phone while driving so he locked it in the trunk of his car. Lawn mowers and many other pieces of machinery have an automatic off to make sure that people don’t cut their toes or fingers off. “Tweaking the environment is about making the right behaviors a little bit easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.”

Build Habits
It is easier to change our habits if we change our environment because the two are linked. If you imagine a time and a place when you will do something, you are more likely to do it. For example, if you decide you will go to the gym after dropping your kids off at school, you are more likely to actually do it. By creating an action trigger, you are passing control over to the environment and protecting yourself from bad habits, distractions and competing goals.

Rally the Herd
People are strongly influenced by their peers. Consciously or subconsciously, we imitate other people’s behaviour. If you have obese friends, you are more likely to be obese. We are even more likely to imitate other people’s behaviour in ambiguous situations. For example, at a formal dinner, we watch other people to see what fork or spoon they are using.

Peer pressure encourages people to change their behaviour. For example, signs in hotel bathrooms asking people to use their towels more than once are more persuasive if they say that most hotel guests reuse their towels.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard - Part Two

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
This is the second part of a three-part summary of the key ideas in Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It draws heavily on the book and is not intended to be read as original content. (See also: Part One)

Motivate the Elephant

Find the Feeling
The Heath brothers state that, “In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought. . . . in almost all successful change efforts, the sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.”

Jon Stegner believed that the large manufacturer he was working for could drive down purchasing costs by $1 billion, but it would require a significant change in the company’s ways of work. So he looked for a compelling example of poor purchasing habits. His research showed that the factories were purchasing 424 different kinds of gloves costing from $5 to $17 dollars a pair. He collected an example of each type of glove, attached a price tag, and piled them in a heap on the conference room table. Rather than a spread sheet that could be easily ignored, Stegner provided physical evidence that motivated the executives to action.

A short-term way to bring about change is to create a crisis – “We’re in the red! We’ll be bankrupt within a month unless we do something drastic.” However, negative emotions such as fear narrow our focus and are not an effective response to complex, ambiguous problems. In contrast, “When we’re interested, we want to get involved, to learn new things, to tackle new experiences. We become more open to new ideas. The positive emotion of pride, experienced when we achieve a personal goal, broadens the kinds of tasks we contemplate for the future, encouraging us to pursue even bigger goals.”

Shrink the Change
The Elephant is easily discouraged. A task may appear so large and difficult that we avoid tackling it. The Heath brothers recommend finding ways to make the task look smaller and less daunting. For example, a car wash distributed two types of loyalty cards. With one card, customers needed to collect eight stamps in order to get a free wash. With the other card, they needed to collect 10 stamps, but two were already filled in, giving the customers a “head start.” Several months later, only 19% of the eight-stamp customers had earned a free wash versus 34% of the head start group. As the Heath brothers explain, “People find it more motivating to be partly finished with a long journey than to be at the starting gate of a shorter one.”

The Five-Minute Room Rescue is a similar approach to making a large task seem less intimidating. We’ll postpone indefinitely the seemingly mammoth task of cleaning the whole house but are prepared to tackle it in short bites, five minutes at a time.

“Big changes come from a succession of small changes. It’s OK if the first changes seem almost trivial. The challenge is to get the Elephant moving, even if the movement is slow at first. . . . The Elephant has no trouble conquering these micro-milestones, and as it does, something else happens. With each step the Elephant feels less scared and less reluctant, because things are working. With each step, the Elephant starts feeling the change. A journey that started with dread is evolving, slowly, toward a feeling of confidence and pride. And at the same time, the change is shrinking, the Elephant is growing.”

Grow Your People
Another approach is to grow your people by inspiring them to feel more determined, more motivated – and hence more ready to act.

Lovelace Hospital was concerned about the rapid turnover of its nursing staff. Rather than examine why nurses were leaving, they chose to look at why nurses stayed, and they discovered that the nurses who stayed were deeply committed to the profession of nursing. So the hospital decided to find ways to help nurses cultivate their identity. They developed a new orientation program that emphasized the value of nursing and found new ways to reward people for extraordinary nursing performance. Nursing satisfaction scores increased noticeably and turnover decreased by 30%.

A new identity can be established quickly, but maintaining it is hard. Elephants hate to fail, so the Heath brothers recommend creating an “expectation of failure,” an understanding that although you will succeed eventually there will be setbacks along the way. The growth mindset “reframes failure as a natural part of the change process. And that’s critical, because people will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard - Part One

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is HardI thought Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath was an amazing book - both insightful and practical. I applied some of their ideas immediately at a volunteer meeting. Over the next three days, I will be posting a summary of the book's key concepts. The summary draws heavily on the ideas, examples, and language of Switch and in no way pretends to be original content.

The Heath brothers outline three key ingredients for change. First of all, there is the human component. The Rider is the rational, reflective, deliberative side of human behaviour. His counterpart is the Elephant, the emotional, instinctive side of human behaviour. Finally, there is the Path, the environment or situation surrounding the human players.

You can bring about change by Directing the Rider, Motivating the Elephant, or Shaping the Path.

Direct the Rider

Find the Bright Spots.
Riders tend to focus their attention on what isn’t working rather than identifying what is. In addition, they spend a great deal of time trying to find big solutions for big problems rather than recognizing the value of applying small-scale solutions over an extended period of time.

Change will happen more easily by focussing on the bright spots. Study the data to find the unusually positive performers and determine what they do that is different from the “normal” way of doing things. Then try and reproduce it.

Jerry Sternin was sent to Vietnam by Save the Children and told that he had six months to reduce the levels of childhood malnutrition. He didn’t have time to resolve the underlying problems of poverty and inadequate sanitation systems. Instead, he went to a village and observed what the parents fed their children. Most of the children ate rice twice a day like their parents. But a few families fed their children four times a day, and included unusual foods like shrimps and crabs and greens. These children weren’t suffering from malnutrition. Sternin helped the families to form cooking circles to learn and implement these better practices.

Script the Critical Moves
The Rider is a thinker and a planner, but he has a tendency to spin his wheels and delay making a decision. When Riders thinks too much, it results in decision paralysis. “Ambiguity is the enemy. Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviours. In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves.”

Two researchers in West Virginia wanted to find ways to encourage people to eat more healthily. They knew that people were more likely to change when the required change was crystal clear. But there are countless ways in which to eat more healthily. How could they single out one specific action? They realized that most Americans drink milk. If Americans switched from whole milk to 1% or skim milk, they would immediately be in line with the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat. The researchers initiated an advertising campaign promoting the benefits of drinking 1% milk, and the market share of low-fat milk doubled.

Point to the Destination
Change is easier when you know where you’re going. Provide the Rider with a destination postcard – a vivid picture from the near-future that shows what is possible – and he will apply his strengths to figuring out how to get there.

An effective destination will pass the Champagne Test as it will be clear when you have arrived at your destination (e.g. put a man on the moon). Focussing on an outcome rather than a process is more motivational (“0% hospital-acquired infections” vs. “100% handwashing compliance”). If backsliding is a problem, choose a black and white goal (e.g. “always return a support call within 24 hours”).

Part Two:  Motivate the Elephant

Part Three: Shape the Path

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Public Speaking Tip #3

Spark your audience’s curiosity

“You can entice, inspire, cajole, stimulate, or fascinate but you cannot make anyone listen to anything.” – Annette Simmons, The Story Factor

Or, as the Heath brothers say, “Curiosity must come before content . . . tease, don’t tell.”

For example, the Heath brothers recount the story of David Foster who was asked to make a presentation on his church’s finances. He doubled attendance by posting a quiz in the church bulletin the week before the meeting with questions like, “How much does St. Timothy’s spend to host coffee-hour after services in a year? a) $3,500; b) $8,000; c) $8,750; d) $9,250” and “If income and expenses are on track with the budget, at the end of the year, we will have: a) a large surplus; b) a large deficit; c) break even; d) a small deficit.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s Easier to Read Multiple Columns with Short Lines

I came across an interesting piece of information on Susan Weinschenk’s website, What Makes Them Click. Research has demonstrated that we read faster with a longer line length (100 characters per line) but prefer multiple columns with short line lengths (45 to 72 characters per line).

I took a look at a monthly newsletter that I prepare, and it is normally laid out with 2 or 3 columns of 36-52 characters per line. I do occasionally use a one-column format with lines that go right the way across the page because it’s easier to fit the text around large images. But overall I’m comfortable that the current layout fits the research recommendations.

On the other hand, the online software documentation that I write has a line length of 75-100 characters. I was already concerned that the Help was not very user friendly as it is long, wordy and detailed. This is just one more argument in favour of trying to find a more user-friendly layout.

What line length do you prefer? Does it depend on what you’re writing?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Online Magazine with a Difference

Patagonia’s Tin Shed is not your typical online magazine. It’s fun; it arouses your curiosity; and it’s interactive. And the layout is unusual and attractive – a collage that combines layers of frames and photographs and drawings and videos.

The experts say you shouldn’t force viewers to click too frequently. But I didn’t mind clicking on this site because I was curious and one click led to another as I uncovered the hidden information.

I think the Tin Shed proves the value of building your communications instrument around beautiful, imaginative design, curiosity, fun, and audience participation. What do you think?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Resumes: Position Yourself for your Dream Job

I was helping a friend’s son with his resume this week, and it reminded me that resumes are not only a record of our past experience. We are also positioning ourselves for the dream job that we hope to obtain in the future. And, in order to be successful, we have to keep that dream job front and centre in our minds as we write our resume.

Research is always the first step. If my dream job is to be a chef in a three-star Michelin restaurant, my resume should highlight my experience in high-end restaurants. Or if I really want to work for a company that writes open source software, I should highlight my experience with open source.

We may not have all the qualifications our dream employer is looking for, but we can highlight those we do have and start thinking about ways to improve our qualifications and increase our odds of landing that job we’ve always wanted.

Be Concrete
A bare bones resume that simply lists where I’ve worked and when doesn’t give a potential employer very much information. I recommend including one or two concrete examples of your successes, achievements, or accomplishments for every position. Mention that you organized a highly successful event that drew a crowd of over 3000 people. State that you increased sales by over 30% in six months. Etc.

If your research indicates that your dream employer values leadership or strong organizational skills, be sure to include those qualifications in your examples.

I also recommend including relevant educational achievements as well, particularly if you are a recent graduate. If you graduated with Honour’s or your research project received media coverage, say so. I have a Master’s degree in Public Affairs and not everyone knows what that means so I list some of the classes I took to make it easier to understand.

Focus on What You Have to Offer
My friend’s son had included an introductory paragraph listing his employment objectives. But employers don’t care what YOUR goals are. Their focus is on finding someone who will help them meet THEIR needs – who has the skills and the personality to move THEIR organization forward.

He had also written a really great section listing his most outstanding qualities – team-building, organization and logic, calm under pressure. I suggested he move this paragraph to the top of the page where it would get the attention it deserved and omit the paragraph on his personal employment objectives.

Don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like help with your resume.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Communicating with Numbers #2


Graphic artists are awesome. They can turn a mundane piece of information into a dramatic statement. Here are two great examples.

Airspace Rebooted
From ItoWorld - A visualisation of the northern European airspace returning to use after being closed due to volcanic ash.

Airspace Rebooted CO2 from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

Hockey Night in Canada
From Flowing Data – Canada: the country that pees together stays together.

As writers, we don’t always have the resources to produce such amazing infographics. But we can always consider the visual impact of our work.

See Also:  Communicating with Numbers #1

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prairie Ramble: Contemplative Communication

I played hooky this morning and went for a walk in the country. Now, people who don’t live on the Canadian Prairies tend to think they are flat and boring. But that just isn’t the case if you take the time to walk slowly and look carefully.

There were so many tiny flowers blooming along the paths – early blue violet, American vetch, golden-bean, late yellow locoweed, and prairie onion (slideshow below). There were baby ducklings on the river, and five deer were startled but curious about my presence. And, completely unexpected, I found a small patch of morel mushrooms when I bent down to take a photograph.

Business Writing
As I observed the river’s gentle, circular currents, I thought about how business writing is so often forced to be loud and showy in order to catch the attention of busy people. But what if we want to create a document or website that still captures people’s attention but encourages them to slow down and look and think?

Here are some tools that I think would slow the reader down so that they spend time with the material. I would be interested to know what has worked for you.
     • Leave lots of white space.
     • Have several minor focus points distributed across the page rather than one central focus.
     • Use calming colours and graphics.
     • Partial images – a face in silhouette, a deer only partially visible through the trees – will invite viewers to stop and look more closely.
     • Use visual elements to quietly direct the readers’ attention from one spot to another (e.g. a person in one image is looking at a section of text).
     • Create balance and harmony between the different elements on the page.
     • Use curiosity and surprise to attract attention. For example, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins combines words in evocative, imaginative ways: “Praise be to God for dappled things - / For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; / For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;”

Zen Design
I am a great admirer of Garr Reynolds. His most recent book, Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, discusses Japanese aesthetic principles as well as Gestalt – valuable ideas for creating harmony and simplicity in our communication.

See also: Avoiding Visual Clutter
               Writing with Harmony and Balance

Spring on the Prairies

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tables & Graphs, PowerPoint, Plain Language

Free resource materials on my website.

I have fixed the links to the following handouts. My apologies for the broken links in the original version.

Plain Language Tips

Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Dynamic Tables and Graphs

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Too Much Information

Imagine that you are offered a free trip to one of 36 countries. That’s a tough choice. How are you going to decide? Now, imagine that you’re offered a free trip to one of 3 places. That’s an easier decision, isn’t it?

Let’s look at another scenario. Imagine that you have 12 items on your To Do list. How are you going to remember them all? It could be tricky.

Human beings crave information, but if we’re offered too much information all at the same time, we can’t cope with it.

Lots of Choices = No Decision
Researchers set up two sample tables in a supermarket. One table offered 24 varieties of jam while the other only offered 6. 60% of the people stopped and tasted jam at the table with 24 options. 40% tasted the jam at the table with 6 options.

So the table with more options was more successful at attracting attention. However, only 3% of the people who stopped at the table with 24 jars actually made a purchase. Six times as many people purchased jam from the table with only 6 jars.

The research will apply to written materials as well. If you are preparing a proposal or providing links to other documents on your website, don’t provide more than 3 or 4 options. Any more than that and people will freeze and be unable to make a choice.

Chunk It
In addition, research indicates that it’s very difficult for us to remember more than 3 or 4 things at a time. But we can remember more things if we organize them into small groups. For example, we remember phone numbers as groups of numbers (306-444-2222).

So, instead of preparing a To Do list with 12 items, we should group the information – 3 phone calls, 3 emails, 3 household chores, etc. That will make it much easier for us to remember.

The same principle applies to communications. We should avoid long, bulleted lists, grouping the items under sub-headings instead. And rather than creating a web page with 12 menu options, we should have 4 menu items, each of which leads to a further 3 items.

With thanks to Susan Weinschenk, What Makes Them Click

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Public Speaking Tip #2

Show and Tell

Involve the audience in your presentation and you’ll keep their attention.

Steve Jobs includes a demo and stage props in all his presentations. When he introduced the new MacBook, he passed around samples so the audience could touch and feel them for themselves.

Jobs has fun too. He demonstrated the use of the iPhone by calling Starbucks and ordering 4,000 lattes – and then telling them he had the wrong number.

The Heath brothers recommend skipping the long-winded introduction and bio. Instead, capture the audience’s attention by parachuting into the action. One woman introduced her presentation by turning out all the lights in the meeting room. As she explained to the audience, this is what it is like for people who are blind in a museum.

Additional Resources:
     The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
     Presentations Made to Stick

Tip #1: Capture the audience’s attention with the title of your presentation

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Be Precise

This post originally appeared on The Software Life, thoughts and experiences from the world of commercial and open source software.

I’m sure all of us have used the Help feature on a software program and been frustrated and annoyed because it didn’t make sense or didn’t answer our question.

One of my goals as a technical writer is to develop a good relationship with the customer. I want them to turn to the documentation feeling confident that it will help them complete their task quickly and successfully. I don’t want to confuse or antagonize them.

Avoid Confusion
I prepare the online documentation for customers of an integrated trucking and accounting software package. I used to use the verb “select” when telling customers to pick the appropriate option on a pull-down menu.

Fortunately, one of the trainers pointed out to me that this was really confusing for the customers because there was a Select button at the bottom of many of the screens. Now, I only use the word “select” if I am referring to this button.

The Help carefully distinguishes between “placing a checkmark in the checkbox” and “generating a check.” And we deliberately use the American spelling of “check” so as not to irritate or confuse American customers.

We consistently refer to “Owner Operators” rather than switching back and forth between “Owner Operators,” “Leased Carriers,” and “Third-Party Contractors.”

Don’t Annoy the Customer
I try and write the Help from the user’s perspective: “you will not be able to invoice your Order until you do this” or “use this report to review outstanding trucking transactions.”

We used to say that the software would “allow” customers to do certain things, but we realized that the word “allow” was really condescending. Now, we use phrases such as “this screen will help you to . . . .”

We also try very hard to avoid jargon because it’s intimidating and makes readers feel stupid. Software programmers talk about “parameters” and “locking down.” The Help talks about “options” and “protecting.”

Writing Tips
Be precise, be consistent, consider your audience – good things to keep in mind whatever we’re writing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Powerful Writing Tips

Free resource materials to help you communicate more effectively are now available on my website:

Plain Language Tips – for business writing that is easy to read and easy to understand

Dynamic Tables and Graphs – to help you communicate with numbers

Effective PowerPoint Presentations – to visually enhance your public speaking

Resumes – a series of articles to help you prepare a killer resume

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Resumes: Identifying and Describing Your Talents

One of the most important things I do when helping someone with their resume is to listen to them talk, press them for details and help them identify what they have to offer an employer.

Here are a few examples with names changed to protect people’s privacy. I hope they help you to identify your own abilities and to include them on your resume.

People Skills Trump Lack of Education
Jake doesn’t have much formal education, but he’s got fantastic people skills. So that’s what we highlighted in his resume:

“Recognized as the ‘go to’ guy who will find solutions to problems (knows who to phone and how to phrase the request in order to get the desired result)”

“Comes to the table with solutions not problems by using the knowledge of what different groups need to find mutually beneficial solutions”

Volunteer Skill Development
Lisa had a great deal of volunteer experience, but she failed to relate what she had learned or done to the skills required in the workplace. Everyone knew she was a climber and had participated in several Himalayan expeditions, but they didn’t know that she had assisted in the emergency evacuation of a team member by helicopter from Nepal.

And the revised Leadership section explained that she saw herself as a role model, “assisting climbers to overcome their fears and improve their climbing and leadership skills through honesty, trust, reliability and respect.”

Concrete and Specific
It’s not enough to state that you have leadership skills. You have to describe them with enough detail that employers can appreciate what you have to offer.

Colin’s team was young and inexperienced, so he emphasized the importance of “mentoring them to think critically and to be active participants in decision making.”

Colin also had substantial volunteer experience. We provided a detailed explanation of what that had entailed: “effective decision-making by researching the issues, consulting widely, building support in advance, and presenting proposals at the appropriate time.”

Cultural Sensitivity
Your resume needs to reflect what the employer is looking for. Several of the people I’ve worked with were applying for jobs that required an understanding and respect for other cultures. We included a section on Cultural Sensitivity for items such as the following: “played a lead role in organizing a neighbourhood Aboriginal healing ceremony.”

My advice to you:

1.  Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or co-worker to help you identify your strengths. They will think of things that you have missed.

2.  Provide concrete explanations or examples of abstract concepts like leadership.

3.  Show how your skills and experience, both volunteer and professional, are assets in the workplace.

For more information on writing your resume and applying for work, see my earlier posts:
     Writing a Killer Resume
     Want a Job? What do you have to Offer?
     Resume + Portfolio = Success

Coming up next: Cover Letters that really Work

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Communicating with Numbers #1

It’s Hard to Compare Shapes.

Which piece of the pie is bigger – and by how much? It’s hard to say because the human eye finds it very difficult to judge how much bigger one shape is than another.

Pie charts and three-dimensional shapes may look attractive, but they won’t do a good job of presenting your data because the viewer won’t be able to tell how much bigger one quantity is than another.

On the other hand, a simple bar graph makes it easy for readers to compare one line length to the next.

See Also: Dynamic Tables and Graphs

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Annual General Meetings with Zing

Celebrate the past year and plan for the next – those are just two of the ways that you can transform your organization’s annual meeting from boring to outstanding.

FTH:K in Capetown, South Africa, is a young, funky theatre company integrating deaf and hearing performers. They view annual meetings as “excellent marketing opportunities to publicly celebrate the successes of the previous year.”

Here’s how they describe this year’s AGM on their blog:

“This year, our AGM was a kid’s party. Not because we behaved like children (although…) but because we were turning 5! So all FTH:K members hauled out their most kid-like clothes (from Snoopy, to Superman, to nappies, to tutus, to PJ’s – we had it all), Tina from Queen of Tarts made personalised cupcakes, Angela made Chico Clowns and racing cars out of Boudoir Biscuits, Tink made Jelly Oranges (although it seems that not all mums made these for their kid’s parties!) and we even had a game of Pass-the-Parcel – wrapped expertly by Simangele. It was a great evening, one in which we got to reflect on 2009 and all its successes and challenges.”

Multi-Purpose Fun
Many organizations combine their AGM with another, more entertaining activity in order to attract members. The Akuna Bay Cruising Club enjoyed a buffet lunch while they cruised the harbour in Sidney, Australia. (Talk about a captive audience!)

A friend of mine, who is president of a seniors’ association, combined their AGM with a volunteer appreciation event and a variety/burlesque show. She was able to keep the official meeting to 24 minutes, and everyone had a great time.

I came across a thought-provoking post from a member of the Hampshire Cricket Members’ Club. He was commenting on their AGM and how they try and make it relevant. He said:

“It was part of the Chairman’s address that goes to the nub of the problem for me: the part when he asked us to remember that we are members of a club and not just holders of season tickets. Technically, he is right; but is that why most people who commit to Hampshire for the season join? To be part of something, or just to watch high quality cricket? Do the bulk of the members care about who’s on their Committee, or what their Committee does?”

I think the same can be said of many volunteer organizations. We join for the activities – not the responsibilities. So the biggest challenge at an annual general meeting is not simply to keep it short and interesting but to increase the members’ sense of ownership and involvement. And that’s not an simple task. It’s so much easier to be a bystander than to play an active role in shaping your organization.

See Also: Annual Reports with Zing

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Storytelling: Eco Barons

Imminent environmental catastrophe frightens me. And so I avoid reading about it. The books about global warming are too black, and leave me feeling helpless and hopeless. On the other hand, Eco Barons by Edward Humes filled me with hope and also pride. Some people are taking a stand. There are small triumphs. There are ways that I can contribute by following in their footsteps.

Eco Barons is the story of Doug Tompkins who “abandoned his fashion empire, found a rugged cabin . . . and started saving and restoring paradise, one plot, one fence, and one tree at a time.” It’s the story of “two owl hooters [who] lived like monks and found a way to use the law to save forests, species, and clean air.” It’s the story of a cosmetics queen who “is spending her fortune to save the last great forest of our forefathers”, of a media mogul who “lies awake at his ranch and listens for the return of the wolves,” and of a ‘turtle lady’ who “walks along a beach each spring and waits, her heart in her throat, for that homely, beautiful, beaked face to appear out of the waves and for the mother turtle to lay her precious eggs in the wet, warm sand.”

Eco Barons is storytelling at its best, carrying the reader forward with heroes and villains, action and drama. Humes vividly describes each person, using passion and emotions to move his readers.

These are tools that we can all employ, no matter what we are writing about. Share your passion for expanding the range of seniors’ programming in your community or for developing a pedestrian-friendly downtown core. Involve your readers in your story by establishing a hero with a quest. Lay out the events as a series of dramatic battles with victories and losses. Don’t be afraid to show some emotion. Your readers will thank you.

Photo: Beaver Creek Conservation Area lies 13 kilometres south of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.