Making big mistakes

October 13, 2011

I still remember that deadly class period in Junior High School — social dance class.  After reminding us to stand up tall, lead firmly, look your partner right in the eye, smile, start with the right foot, listen to the music, be aware of other couples on the dance floor, point your feet straight forward, hope that your teeth were brushed and that your breath is okay, and more pointers that I’ve surely forgotten, she gave us one last piece of deadly advice:

 “If you take little steps, you’ll make only little mistakes”.

That was horrible advice for the dance floor and for life, for me in Junior High, and for every later period of my life.  Even as I first heard those words, I knew they were a motto for the life I didn’t want to live. Read the rest of this entry »

An Ugly American Story (sorry)

September 19, 2010

Why did I have to travel with this colleague, for whom everything about Europe was wrong?

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when we arrived at the Holmenkollen Ski Hotel, atop a small mountain on the east side of Oslo.  I took a quick shower, then a short nap to recover from the long airline flight, and a delightful buffet breakfast before starting my trek down the small road to Oslo city center.  But my colleague stayed behind, “to watch television”.  And when I completed my downhill adventures, enjoyed a quiet day of art galleries, city walking, and gourmet foot, and took a train back up the mountain to the hotel, his only comments was, “The coke was warm!”.

Our next stop was the town of Hilversum, the radio and TV center of Holland.  I always like to work hard and live well, and so when our consulting was finished  I took him to one of the finest but least formal restaurants I knew — a small auberge in the seaside village of Oude Loosdrecht.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not all money is green

January 28, 2010

An important lesson for any professional to learn is that not all money is green.  There are some clients you just don’t want as clients, and the sooner you learn to turn them away the better. Some lack integrity, others don’t really want advice, guidance, or collaboration. Others don’t know how to work respectfully with professionals.

Yes, the sooner you move away from them (even if at some cost), and cast you lot with great clients, the more you’ll prosper and enjoy life.

Effective managing involves catalyzing, facilitating, inspiring, modeling, organizing, creating respected methods of accountability, and much more.

But there’s more than just such outward tasks, I believe. Dancers take class every day to keep up their physical agility. Creative and successful professionals need to nourish our right-brain agility. One of the important tasks of management today is to foster that agility, and the kinds of preparation that lead to it.

How to do that? Well, that’s why we have  organizations like the Center For Creative Emergence in the Washington DC area.  That’s why I do the consulting and run the workshops that I run in New England, that’s why many of us are exploring other initiatives in this relatively new area.

States of Creativity

January 28, 2010

I can be in several different  states of creativity:

  • Creating: Feeling that something exciting is coming out through me, and though related to my intention, my vision, and my skill, is larger than me.
  • Editing: Doing good — though perhaps not exciting —  work, that ties together or refines what I’ve created.  I’m using my skills, vision, perhaps even my imagination to see more.
  • Marking time: Balancing my checkbook, and doing all those other things that are neither exciting and creativity  nor so mindless as to be great for meditation.
  • Using my other senses and muscles: Walking or shoveling snow, or doing exercises at the gym . . . doing out of mind things that are nourishing in other ways.

My challenge is to get enough of all of these (along with social life, worship, prayer, etc), keeping them all in balance.  The words or definitions don’t really matter; balance does matter.

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.

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)

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.

How art acquires value

November 25, 2009

I might spend an hour, a day, or a week in a dance studio, take a number of pictures, print a few, frame one, hang it in a gallery, and sell it for $200 or $1,200, or might imagine selling it in New York for $2,400 or $24,000.  How does such art acquire value.  Clearly it’s not the cost of paper, ink, and framing materials.  Nor does it translate into my time by any simple formula.

To help understand what’s going on, I asked this question on Facebook:  “Wondering how art acquires value … my art, and yours?”.  The responses I received form an interesting dialog.  I’m reproduced most of the text, with only a little editing, below.  The responders were Deidre Johnson, student at the Muskie School of Public Policy, who has worked at several architectural offices; Gary Gurney, a certified rolfer, who also has several creative business ventures’ Ellis Vener, photographer and writer about photography;  Scott Augé, systems analyst and programmer; and Stoney Cook, dancer, lighting designer, and computer professional.

Deidre: Value is built, one brick at a time, so to speak. Value is the equity accumulated over time, with one’s energy and integrity (learning, exploring, community, intuition and hard work); on the skirt tail of broad insight. It applies to any profession, purpose or art; everything else is false advertising. Read the rest of this entry »

Many years ago General Electric acquired the small firm that I worked for, and my job changed from being a a senior figure in this firm to a mid-level manager within one of GE’s companies.  This was not my dream job, and when GE had a “reduction in force” I was delighted to be able to leave it with a very desirable packet of benefits.  The one I thought I didn’t need was the job counseling — but it turned out to be one of the most valuable benefits I received.

“Don’t just write a resume of positions you’ve held”, the counselor told us.  “Think of all the times you’ve added value to your company, or to a client, and write each of these up as a ‘worth point”.  Your resume should be a set of these worth points, and you can save others for use in particular job interviews.”  The format of a “worth point” was very specific:

  1. In my job, I noticed a need / opportunity.
  2. Responding to that, I took initiative — with very specific action
  3. My company / organization experience some direct benefit from my effort.

For example:

  1. We wrote custom specifications for each of our clients.  I noticed that many elements of each spec were common.
  2. So, I designed a generic specification form, that would make it much easier to re-use specifications pages from one document in another (that was for a different client).
  3. As a result, the time to prepare each spec was reduced by xx%, typically a saving of $yyy.

I ended up working for myself as a consultant, and never again seeking a full time job, but this advice in building my resume was still very helpful.  I learned to think of what I was doing as adding value, rather than just performing tasks.  And when telling prospects about how I can help them, my story is not about thingss I can do, but about how my work will add value.

Indeed, clients hire me to add value to their organization, and not just to provide a product, perform a service, train somebody in a skill.

When asked to help clients in marketing strategy, this idea informs the question that I always ask them:  How will you add value to your clients?

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds.

There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.

Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

— T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”

Back from Holland — lots to write about, but first a few pictures:

Sorry, folks — getting ready to spend a week in Holland, so probably no or few posts for the next week.

Maybe I’ll do better than that.  Business is the art of creating and then exceeding expectations!

In Holland,  I’ll be giving an address about usablity and user centered design, and then seeking galleries that might represent my dance photography and dancers and choreographers with whom I can collaborate.  I will welcome names of people and institutions that I should contact or visit.

Meanwhile, there’s lots here.  And please use the RSS feed to make sure that you do get posts when they come out.

When I return, I’ll be actively seeking clients for coaching, consulting, photography.  Remember, a 1/2 hour coaching (clarifying) session is free — a way for you to experience the kind of value you can receive.

DSCN1289-cropMost of the articles in this blog are practical, utilitarian, encouraging.  I’ve not wanted to put forward political views, or other such advocacy.

But I can’t hide my sadness at the recent election, in which Maine voters overthrew the law that would have allowed same gender marriages.  I know couples who feel locked out, discounted, marginalized.  And as rights are denied to a few (or more than a few), all of us suffer. All of us!  I’d love to believe that  on the highway, “Maine – The way life should be”.

Here are some of my concerns:

  • Putting basic civil right up for majority vote is questionable to begin with.  Voters should set policy, choose public servants — but not decide whether all people can be treated equally.
  • The campaign to overturn same gender marriage was based on an appeal to fears — fear that an imagined “agenda” would overtake our society, fear that our children would become homosexuals, and — strangest of all  — fear that our heterosexual marriages would somehow be weakened were same gender marriage to be approved.  In fact, a conservative columnist writing in the Portland Press Herald recently thanked Mainers for “defending marriage”.  I want to ask , “defended it against what?”.
  • The law that was overthrown in Maine would not have required any church to conduct same gender marriage.  It simply recognized that as one option for civil marriages, or for churches that wanted to marry such a couple.
  • The campaign to overthrow the law was largely overwritten by the Catholic Church, and by outside organizations.  Names of donors should, by law, have been disclosed,  but were not.  And for the Catholic church to intrude in the private lives of non-Catholics is just plain wrong.

Clearly, there’s a need for a strategic analysis of how best to make the right of marriage available to all Mainers — indeed, to all Americans.  But, right now, I just find myself mourning the denial of that right in this brutal election.