I was running along a beautiful trail, up Gwynn Creek, towards the back of the Perpetua Ridge here on the central Oregon Coast. It was a glorious day, and everything would have been perfect had I not been so scared. Of cougars. When I told people that, they smirked. But there are cougars, I saw one two weeks ago, on my own driveway. And the old timers living up the valley here say that house cats are disappearing at an alarming rate this year. And, they say, with a smug look, where are all the deer this year? Yep, the cougar population has exploded. (more…)
My friend David Bedrick, author of Talking Back to Dr. Phil, has been writing and posting a lot lately about “love based psychology,” a way of thinking about ourselves (and others) that prizes our unique natures.
Good for him, because there’s a price we pay for fitting in, as James Baldwin called it, the price of a ticket. To gain membership in the group, any group, we try to fit accepted image. And to do that, we have to cut off all those parts of ourselves that don’t fit in. It’s a Faustian bargain. We gain membership at the expense of our deepest essence. (more…)
Of all the American traditions that puzzle non-Americans, (you know, the Electoral College, 16 oz drinks, the right to bear arms) one of the most quintessential is happening now: yep, it’s Commencement Address season, in which famous people go to famous schools and impart wisdom and advice to the graduating class.
Commencement addresses have quite the following, as I discovered doing a little sleuthing for this post. And there’s a lot of pressure to give a good one. Whatever the speech, the basic formula is something like: give advice, make jokes, praise them about who they are or warn them about what’s come, and basically, try to say something memorable, which everyone knows will be quickly forgotten. Often, because the person is really famous, the speaker also talks about his or her own life and what they’ve learned along the way, bestowing their experience upon a freshly minted group of grads, ready to go out and encounter the world. (more…)
Last week, driving into work, I heard an old interview on Fresh Air with Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. And later in the day, I came across an interview with Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
And in both cases I was struck by the relatively mundane events the authors managed to turn into best-selling books. They’re both history books, but not the kind of history we’re used to reading. No big wars, no kings or queens or dictators of note. They both took two unremarkable events and through their persistence and passion, found an epic story. (more…)
Last week I wrote about setbacks, and interestingly (coincidently?) this week was a lesson in the importance of constraints. Constraints aren’t the same as setbacks. Setbacks are unexpected and are experienced as random events, whereas a constraint is inherent in the project itself. But both test our patience and resolve.
Our limits are seldom personal; if we’re working for, or with a group, what we experience as a limit is often a part of the system itself. And the beauty of limits, as I was just reminded, working with a group yesterday, is that your limit forces you to reach out for help, to share your struggles and make it a team, and not just a solo project. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s easy to become heroic and try to push past a constraint, forgetting that we can only go as far as the system itself can.
And without constraints, there is no creativity. The two dimensional canvas, the inflexibility of the sculptor’s wood, the non-negotiable deadline, the 140 character tweet – these limits produce impossible and creative results. And constraints are the key to innovation, as this post from last week shows.
And constraints create relationship. I attended a final project presentation as part of the graduation week at the Process Work Institute, and saw Hellene Gronda’s presentation about the nature of the edge that upholds identity. Having an edge or limit, she says, defines us but also limits us. And yet, precisely that limit creates a contact surface. We know ourselves only in opposition to something else. A limit, therefore, enables relationship, intimacy, love.
But to have limits, as I was reminded working with a group yesterday, is counter-intuitive. We want to muscle through, to push past, to take it as a sign of weakness. We need, as Hellene said, to be “edge activists,” to admit our limits and let the alchemy at the contact with the unknown take over. Hellene closed with a quote from Derrida which I find appropriate here as well,
I have to lack a certain strength, I have to lack it enough, for something to happen. If I were stronger than the other, or stronger than what happens, nothing would happen. There has to be weakness, which is not perforce debility, imbecility, deficiency, malady or infirmity. […] This affirmation of weakness is unconditional; it is thus neither relativistic nor tolerant (from Derrida, J. & Ferraris, M. (2001). I Have a Taste for the Secret. Cambridge: United Kingdom, Polity Press)
End of year reflections seem to come down to Best Of/Worst Of lists. It’s a quick and dirty way to look back at the changes we’ve been through, the highs and lows, accomplishments and losses.
Most of the lists are superficial, but the kind of list I’m always drawn to are the people who have died during the year. It’s funny how we phrase it “people we’ve lost,” as if they belonged to us personally. In a way, I suppose they do. For me, they are part of what inspires me. And I’m most drawn to those people who lived quietly but contributed mightily. It’s powerful to reflect on what people have done (and do) with their lives. But what I find most inspiring is what people do in spite of their lives: in spite of personal challenges, oppression, discrimination, etc.
Below are three people whose lives touched me in this way, and who died recently. Some of them were friends, some people I have only read about. But they all insisted on bringing themselves into the fray, following their passion against some serious odds.
Chris Walton, a friend who recently passed away in a freak accident when a shop awning collapsed as he was Christmas shopping. Chris, spurred on by a depression he couldn’t shake, decided to go all in, and created the most awarded environmental development in the world. I was privileged to know Chris and to have my seminar hosted in his development just this past November, just over a month before he died.
Rita Levi-Montalcini, a Nobel Prize winning Italian Jewish biologist, and a friend of my Aunt’s, a fellow scientist, died yesterday, at the age of 103. At a press conference on her 100th birthday she said, “At 100, I have a mind that is superior — thanks to experience — then when I was 20.” I love that. Levi-Montalcini, born in 1909, overcame many social obstacles to follow her passion: her father’s objection that women shouldn’t study, Italy’s fascist regime which barred Jews from universities and many professions, and the Nazi occupation during which she had to go underground. She worked tirelessly her whole life, conducting research on cells, and discovered nerve growth factor, the first substance known to regulate the growth of cells, and which led to her receipt of the Nobel Prize. After she retired, she continued to write and research and teach, and founded the Levi-Montalcini Foundation to grant scholarships and promote educational programs worldwide, particularly for women in Africa.
And last, Senator Daniel Inouye, from Hawaii who died this month. Inouye was the second longest serving senator in U.S. History, and the first Japanese-American to be elected to Congress. He was a senator since 1963, and hadn’t lost an election in 58 years as an elected official. Inouye was also a highly decorated WW II Veteran whose incredible acts of valor were featured in Ken Burns’ documentary, The War, But what strikes me most about Inouye is that as a Japanese American, he joined the Army immediately after Pearl Harbor, even as Japanese Americans were being interned by the U.S. Government. He defied incredible prejudice and discrimination in order to serve the country that was discriminating against him. He must have been serving, in the words of Rorty, a dream country, one that didn’t yet exist, but one he was determined to help achieve.
And many more who defied discrimination to give our world their gifts: Russel Means, Maurice Sendak, Etta James, Ravi Shankar, and names we may not know, but who, despite the odds, touched the world in indelible ways.
One of the hardest things about blogging and about social media in general is the constant inner chatter, or self evaluation of content. When I look at others’ posts on Facebook, or Google+, or read blogs, I can think I’m the only one with this problem. Of course, the sample population is a bit skewed, so my perceptions may be off.
The last several months have been a whirlwind of non-stop activity. Most of it really interesting, and at least half well worth sharing. But just as I go to hit the send or post button, a little voice comes in and says, “Meh. Really? What’s the point of it? What is the real contribution there?” (more…)
I’m fascinated by Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site that’s been all over the news lately. It offers people a chance to achieve their creative goals by asking the “crowd” for support. If you haven’t looked around the site, it’s a cross-section of innovation across the arts, technology, and social change. I’m struck, not only by Kickstarter’s variety, but by its uncompromising project policy. You either meet your goal and keep your funding, or come up short and lose everything.
It got me thinking about how we evaluate ideas, others’ and our own. Specifically, how do others’ investment (emotional, financial) influence our ideas? What makes an idea popular? How does other’s investment influence innovation? How does sharing change an idea? And who makes up that “crowd,” exactly?
I’ve written aboutinnovation in the past. Where it comes from, how we can make time for it. As a country, we place a high value on innovation, in all its forms–economic, technological, social, personal. It’s why we look up to leaders like Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King. It’s why computer programmers, like the ones who made Instagram, can become millionaires overnight.
But the hype around the next big idea, obscures some hard truths about innovation. For every one million dollar success story there are thousands of failed experiments, ideas that didn’t work. (more…)
Happy new year. This year a lot more space and time opens up for me, as I step down from my role as the director of training at the Process Work Institute. But I’m finding that the freedom of having more space and time comes with a huge challenge. Do I use this time for what’s most important? How do I know which one, of the many paths, I should pursue? (more…)
As I wrote in one of my last posts, I’m working on my seminar, The Leadership Lab, in Australia at the end of the year. I came across this interview this morning with Sally Jenkins, award winning sports journalist and author, with Lance Armstrong, of the best-seller, It’s Not About the Bike. She talks about performing under pressure, and compares writing to sports. I love how she makes the link between the body and mind in the writing process. Read the full interview here.