Lost Paragraphs

Posted: March 23, 2014 by Ian Gee in Learning, OD, Organization, People, Writing

Lost paragraphs

You may have noticed that Matthew and I have been a bit tardy in blogging this year.  It’s not that we have lost interest in the Illusion of Work, in all its forms, it’s just that we have been busy writing a book!   Last year we were asked by Palgrave Macmillan to write about our experience and practice of working with and supporting communities in the workplace. The book goes to the publishers at the end of May and will be published, fingers crossed, in January 2015.

Our working title for the book is Communites@Work.  The publishers aren’t that keen on the title, feeling the @ is a bit hackneyed. We like it, but are open to suggestions!  Let us know what you think and if you have any ideas!

This is the first time either of us has written a book and it’s a very interesting process on many levels.  One of the strange things I have found is how attached I can get to paragraphs!  When the heavy lifting of mapping out the chapters was complete and the editing started, I found a number of paragraphs that just did not work.  In some cases they did not fit where they were placed and could be moved to another part of the chapter or book.  In other cases, though not badly written, they were just out of place and did not fit anywhere.   As I was editing I found it harder and harder to just delete them.  I ended up starting a new document called “Lost Paragraphs” to store them!  I now have an eleven-page document that reads like something a crazed post modernist has written!  Something Gertrude Stein would be very happy with I am sure!

The lost paragraphs document has been more useful than I thought. It is not just been an archive or a repository but incredibly useful.  At times when I have felt stuck, something I am sure anyone who has written an extended piece will no doubt have experienced, I have read it through and found new inspiration!  The lost paragraphs have given me new ideas and a way forward, unsticking me in the process.

Here are a couple of examples of lost paragraph.  Though I suppose once they are published on the blog they will no longer be lost, but become found!:

What may look dysfunctional in a hierarchy may be perfectly normal and helpful in a workplace community.  For example, in a hierarchy people are normally discouraged from challenging authority, in an explicit and direct way.  Within a community, as leadership is a shared function, people find it easer to challenge and take on the mantel of leadership themselves. 

And another

Is what is happening in your workplace community what you expect to see and experience?  Do you have any slight niggles that things may not be totally as they should be? Use the community health diagnostic to raise community member’s awareness of this. It is always better to deal with issues as they arise, rather than wait for them to become major problems and stumbling blocks….

I am coming to the conclusion that there is something about the processes of creativity and writing where we need to be attached and committed to what we are doing while we are doing it and at the same time, be ready to let go and say goodbye to it!  In my case the lost paragraphs document is about letting go but not forgetting. As who knows when they might come in useful!

The idea of lost paragraphs started me thinking about other ‘lost’ things I have written over the years.  Such as proposals for work that were never taken up, OD interventions I designed but never implemented and even emails written but never sent!  If I still had them, I wonder what new thoughts and ideas they would stimulate and what I could learn? I guess this is all good for the soul in terms of developing a Buddhist type of non-attachment.

Matthew and I will share a bit more about our book and the writing process as things develop.  So watch this space!  In the meantime I will be really interested to hear if any of you have had a similar experience of not wanting to let go of what you have written or are doing, even if you know it doesn’t fit or doesn’t work? What do you do? What has your experience been?

  1. carolegrimwood says:

    I’m a bit of a fan of Gertrude Stein but never saw myself in the same company until I read your blog!

    When I left my last organisation and was clearing my office I found three remarkably similar proposals to introduce a talent and succession planning strategy which were produced at 5 year intervals. The third was received with enthusiasm and successfully adopted. What made the difference over time was a change of leadership, an increasingly urgent challenge and perhaps my ability to sell the idea.

    I could give other examples but the point remains if you thinks its good and you believe in it – hang on to it.

    I was also reminded by your blog of the many e mails I’ve written and never sent – usually at the end of a long day and filled with emotion. I find this a very therapeutic way to get something out of my system so that I can switch off and go home. I don’t hang onto these though. After a good night’s sleep I hit the delete button.

  2. Andrew Ginty says:

    I love the idea of “lost paragraphs”. I’ll certainly put that to use in my new project. One note – I’ve always found that some of the best intellectual capital created has been in bids that haven’t been won. They’re always there to be plundered for the next time, coupled with the knowledge of what didn’t work last time. I also have a repository of excruciatingly bad poetry which is good for one-liners.

  3. Kais Uddin says:

    Which communities are you thinking of Ian? The Emperors, or the slaves, The @ is 1999. We get paid by the Emperors, so why should the slaves believe you wear clothes? Names are always a problem in publishing. If you want the book on an airport shelf the name should be androgynous. If you want to sell the damn thing, best buy lots yourself at the beginning. As for words…MT said there is no such thing as society. The workplace is segregated and within that segregation there are communities of interest, as many multinationals are beginning to accept. The point is which community and why should they read ( watch or listen)? The Leopard might give you hope.Beyond that just make sure your name is Everyman..I mean .. person.

  4. Ahmed Tahir says:

    Very interesting blog, I must say. About the title of the book, I would go for “Communities at Work” and would like to avoid ‘@’. Technically, there is nothing wrong with this ‘@’ sign but, in my view, this may produce an effect, on the face of it, where various readers will not be opening the book after looking this e-tech sign. This sign has a tendency to create a perception that Mr. Reader is going to start a book, which is Internet related only or may be, is related to social media.

    “Communities at Work”, on the other hand, gives a general and literary touch to the title and will be more promising and attractive in expression – convincing enough for the readers to start the book; and they will stop after reading it, as is the case with this beautifully written blog.

    [Above is my personal view point and is subject to a more objective evaluation.]

  5. Lisa Trusty says:

    How exciting to learn of the book, Ian! As for the lost paragraphs, I suggest saving them. They represent key ideas or concepts that you want to talk about, and the trick is figuring how and when. It may or may not be the book. Don’t force it. They could have a different purpose at a later stage.

  6. Ben Emmens says:

    Very excited to hear about the book…
    And fascinating thoughts on lost paragraphs.
    I’ve often thought about those honed paragraphs which become ‘homeless’. I guess I’m learning to let them be and to move on – accepting that they maybe already served their purpose simply by being born. @euan always says that blogging is ‘writing ourselves into being’ and there is truth in that – I wear some of the ‘lost paragraphs’ like a mark, while others become enmeshed with my thinking or being. Sometimes my lost paragraphs end up on my blog, other times they lay, sleeping until something wakes them and they put on fresh clothes and step out into the world, ready to serve their purpose…

  7. Gail Kyle says:

    I love the idea of lost paragraphs. I, like Caole and many others I suspect, often draft an email (sometimes in anger) but which never gets sent after re-reading it in a more rational state of mind. Lost paragraphs is a great title for a book. I believe there is a book in all of us. I also find it difficult to take bits out of any piece of written work I have lovingly crafted, but sometimes less is more.

  8. Lex Konnerth says:

    Hello Ian,
    First – Congratulations on the opportunity of writing a book and becoming published. Fantastic.
    Sometime ago, I saw a piece about Andrew Lloyd Weber and the the creative process for “Phantom of the Opera”. Similar to “Lost paragraphs”, he had a number of melodic lines that he wrote for one purpose but in the end put aside, and then revisited them for another project years later.
    I think the creative process is a lot of trial and error, but those nuggets with real potential will eventually find their way into the light. Finding a way to organize and revisit “Lost Paragraphs” will help you avoid becoming a paragraph hoarder.
    As for “@”, I agree with Kais – your title should be directed at your audience and the market you want to sell to. Also, just a side thought, “@” is a virtual vernacular that is already being replaced by “#” and who know what else within the coming year. No point in unnecessarily dating your work before it goes to print.
    As always – kind regards.

  9. Carol B. says:

    I would love to read a book just on your lost paragraphs. They found a home in my experiences and were able to define some situations with clarity and understanding. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I love the idea of lost paragraphs- maybe they could link up with each other and have new conversations? I am studying art at the moment, and find that ideas and rough sketches for paintings often have to be discarded. I keep them all, though, as they are part of my learning about what works and what does not, now. but may work in the future. Many famous artists keep their sketchbooks for years and report that they ‘mine’ them all the time for inspiration.
    I am sure that your paragraphs will find a home Ian, in a new book. I agree with comments by others about ditching the @ in your title. Good luck with it.

  11. Bill Evans says:

    Thanks Ian

    It has taken me an unbelievably long time to get around to reading this but really enjoyed it.

    Maybe your observations about lost paragraphs is a metaphor of lots of things in life. We have all had the experience of investing time and energy on projects that turn out not to be right for that time. It can be so difficult to accept this and let go. We can invest even more energy defending our projects, holding on to them, fearing that if we do let go we will be seen as having wasted time, failed , or worse, to have lost.

    How much time and energy is wasted in organisations defending and hanging on to ideas, decisions, projects that just aren’t right at the moment.

    Your way of dealing with your lost paragraphs seems to me to be a model of dealing with lots of life’s “inappropriate paragraphs” Its not about deleting them forever but accepting that they may not be right at this moment, filing them somewhere so that they are still there when their time arrives

    Good luck with the Book


    PS there must be a happy medium between filing lost paragraphs and being a hoarder. I still have paper copies of all the “Space Programme” material that you and I developed 25 years ago, still waiting for their time to come again. Maybe it is time to delete them forever. Or maybe just put them in the re-cycling bin.

  12. Maria de los Angeles cinta & Jim Armstrong says:

    I read this article several times, and several times put it in “remission”— It touched me in ways that I knew were profound but I couldn’t articulate. Every so often the “Lost Paragraphs” came to my mind. And then I realized that it made me connect with the heart of the culture I come from, and with my belief that everything is alive and has its own purpose. Let me provide a bit more context. The title “Lost Paragraphs” reminded me of a novel written by an extraordinary and well know female writer from Mexico, Elena Garro the first wife of the laureate poet Octavio Paz. She wrote the manuscript and did not publish it for a long time, then one day, the chronicles say, she decided to burn it to ashes…once the pack of pages were in the fireplace, she had second thoughts and recovered it. Then she embarked on having it published. The title of this powerful novel is “Recuerdos del Porvenir” and in its English translation is called “Recollection of Things to Come.” The novel is set in a little town in Mexico at the time of the Mexican Revolution. The town is the actual narrator; it tells its own story against the “real” events taking place at the time. In so doing the town reveals a deeper story, the one that is being formed while people are busying themselves in the business of the revolution. Your lost paragraphs are alive my friend, and they are already telling a story that is yet to come. Thank you for the gift of this post.

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