A holiday greeting for all

December 24, 2009


I hope that this holiday season can be a wonderful awakening for you, and the beginning of a year that offers peace, appropriate abundance, and great community.

For many, this has been a terribly difficult time. Many of us feel fragile, and we also have a heightened understanding of how delicate our earth is.  Old ways are not working, and new patterns have not yet set in.  We all need courage, compassion, faith, and patience.

That is my message to you — may you be filled with compassion, surrounded with love, blessed with faith, and given the gift of patience.  May this be your best year yet!

A female humpback whale had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines.

She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat.

She also had hundreds of  yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, and her torso, and a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Faralon Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed for help.

Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the  only way to save her was to dive in and untangle  her — a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her.

When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged them, and pushed gently, thanking them.

Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.

The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was  following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so fortunate … To be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you.

And may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.

Twitter is not Trivial

December 14, 2009

I’ll confess — For years, I regarded Twitter as a trivial exercise — couldn’t understand why I’d want to reduce my deep thoughts to tiny 140 character sound bites.  And when I joined Twitter, I could find some of those trivial tweets — many of them, in fact.

But I also found a pleasant surprise — lots of real content.  Some are just nuggets of wisdom, some are self-promotion well done.  And I’ve begun to write such myself.

This morning I sat on the boat from our island into town drafting seven such tweets.  Here they are:

  • Wanted: Creative projects, where deep questions, grounded in design thinking and spirit rich vision can bring insight, clarity, and results.
  • Real consultants listen more than they talk, have more questions than answers or solutions, cogitate, enjoy collaboration, bring value.
  • “What are we trying to do here?” Amazing how seldom this question stays on the table.
  • Listening is the key. Not talking. Not responding. Not correcting or interrupting. Listening is the key.
  • I’ve rarely met a problem that I understood at first. Yes, I had insights, possible answers, but it was bigger than I understood or imagined.
  • My key question in interviewing possible employees: What’s an interesting “mistake” that you made, and what did you learn from it?
  • A team that always agrees — deprives itself of joyful and creative diversity.

Can creativity be taught?

December 12, 2009

I don’t believe that creativity itself can be taught, but there are many other things that can:

  • Getting un-stuck (to release that creativity within).
  • Finding inspiration and vision
  • Technique (useful when creativity strikes)
  • Rhythm and persistence (we need to keep working, even in “dry” periods)
  • Balance and ease (so that we can receive critique, and change)
  • Social aggregation (satisfying our need to be with people, seeking honesty from them)

One of my coaching clients wants to be more active facilitating change in her organization, but is frustrated by the apparent lack of interest, or perhaps it’s hidden resistance, on the part of the managers who work under her.  Efforts to brainstorm needed change, or in other ways to create an agenda for the future, have not been successful. She was evidently worn down, perhaps really depressed, by this difficult and unrewarding process.

What might make a difference?

She had one very helpful insight: Part of what’s wearing her down is the negative attitude of so many around her, and she’d be better off spending more time with those staff people who are most agile, resourceful, and interested in real change.  Such attitudes and temperaments are indeed contagious, and I’ll be anxious to see what comes of this conscious effort to pick up the most constructive staff energy.

I also had an insight that might be fruitful. Listing possible changes brings up all sorts of resistance.  Why not spend more time  as a management group listing things about the organization that should be preserved — things that are really good or right?  This might give more staff permission to join the discussion in a non-threatening way.  We expect that the process of enumerating aspects to be preserved will actually highlight some things that need to be changed, but that would be the discovery and not the stated goal.

I tread very carefully in making any suggestions.  My role is not supposed to be that of a consultant, offering solutions, detailed strategies, or lots of content expertise.  Indeed, I’ve only a vague sense of this organization’s mission and program.  I’m there to help the director find insight and clarity herself, occasionally offering hints or suggestions, but primarily listening to her reflections and observations and helping her hear her own insights in the most constructive way.

That’s what coaching (which I call “clarifying”) is about.  Remember, you can have a free half hour session, in person or on the phone, to help you decide if this could add value to your life, or your organization.

Some people hugs trees, symbolizing their love for those glories of nature. I hug old buildings — noble witnesses to earlier times and to the careful work of artisans one rarely finds today. Surrounded by the old buildings that define much of Portland, I feel a joyful continuity with generations of people who built these homes and workplaces.

My narrow townhouse on Danforth Street predates any tree on the block. It’s probably older than most trees in Portland, having been built in 1834. It was standing as the great fire of 1866 destroyed much of the city, while Portland’s fire department enjoyed a July 4th picnic at Sebago Lake.

After buying the sadly neglected gem, I set about restoring it. With most of the ceilings torn out, a contractor spoke with me about installing an under-the-floor heating system. Answering my concern about burying flexible plastic pipes behind a wet plaster ceiling, he replied, “Don’t worry . . . they’ll last at least as long as the house . . . certainly a hundred years!” The house was more than a hundred fifty years old at that point. I imagined that any renovations should last at least that long again.

It seemed prudent to wear a hard hat as friends helped me take down the ceilings, and do much of the other demolition necessary before reconstruction could start. They thought my hard hat was a bit of unnecessary showmanship, but withdrew their criticism when a large metal dishpan fell out of the ceiling and onto my head, drenching me with filthy water. Evidently a previous owner had “fixed” a leaky drain pipe by inserting this pan beneath it, trusting the water would evaporate faster than the drip could fill it.

The following day our mail carrier, peering into the house, remarked that her sister had lived in my house “before the war”, and asked if the sister might visit. When she came a few days later, she laughed and asked if I’d ever found that dishpan her landlord put into the ceiling fix a leaky drain.

Walking from my old house going up Danforth Street, I enjoy passing the “Tracy-Causer block”. Once a merchant’s shop downstairs and his residence upstairs, this simple brick building had become an obstacle to the developers of Portland’s new downtown. The building’s death sentence had been commuted several times, as the city struggled to protect its history. But now there was another request to tear it down. I was privileged to sit on the Portland Historic Preservation Commission reviewing a plea from the owner who had allowed the building to deteriorate. A neighbor testifying before our group likened the situation to a boy charged with murdering his parents, pleading for mercy because he was an orphan. We commuted this last death sentence on the building, and it has now become an attractive gateway to Portland’s “Old Port” district.

Passing the Tracy-Causer block again, I always smile. I’m glad to see Sam Klammen’s bottle shop still on Fore street, even if his dusty old bottles no longer fill the window. I could go on listing such humble buildings that linger with their solid grace. Yes, do hug trees. But hug old buildings as well.

In consdiering the design challenges I face, I’d distinguish process from paradigm.

Many of the processes I use may be time worn, orthodox, etc. Contextual inquiry (or listening to users) is not new, paper prototyping was not invented last week. I use them not because they are “accepted orthodoxy” but because I find them functional steps towards creative solutions.  The fact that they may be “orthodox” does not make them wrong or outmoded.

But I’m stuck with too many old paradigms about how to understand the world. I imagine a vehicle having some controls, and would have trouble coming up with a Segway where you just lean to steer it. I imagine sound players will have knobs, and would not have expected the iPod model. I still expect cameras to look like those old film devices, even though the physical constraints that led to such designs are gone. I don’t choose these paradigms — I’m stuck with them, until I find a way to escape.

How will my processes, methods, whatever, help me to see the world outside the paradgms that limit my vision? That’s the burning question for me — each day, and with each new project.