Archive for October, 2016

Actually, gentle reader, most artists can’t draw.  AND (there is always an ‘And’): All artists can see.  Artists can ‘see’ what’s right and what’s wrong.  Artists can ‘see’ opportunities AND then select and respond to the ‘difference makers.’  Perhaps most importantly, artists can ‘see’ art.

‘Art’ is anything that is creative, passionate, and personal.  Great art resonates deeply with the ‘viewer’ and with the ‘creator.’

What makes a person an artist?  For example, in the past I have ‘painted by the numbers’ – as many folks have – and we are not artists.  On the other hand, the Marx Brothers were artists – no doubt about it.  So was the inventor of the iPod (the first of the great ‘i’s).  There are, as we know, artists who work with clay, or marble, or paint and brush.  There are other artists who work with numbers, or business models or customer conversations.  Art is about intent and communication.

An artist is someone who uses courage (think: ‘heart’), insight, creativity and boldness to challenge – among others things – the status quo.  AND the artist takes it personally.

That’s why Bob Dylan (see my post about Bob) is an artist.  That’s why Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is an artist.  Max De Pree, author and past president of the Herman Miller Company is an artist.

I have had the privilege of spending time with Max De Pree.  Max is an artist because he takes a stand, he takes his work (being an author or being a corporate leader) personally – and he invites challenge and disagreement (one of the ways he learns).  His art is part of who he is – his art is his soul; when you receive his art you receive Max (anyone who has read his books knows of what I write).  As an artist, Max is compelled to share his art (his wisdom, insights, learning, etc.).  Max is compelled because artists are compelled to emerge and share their art.

Art is a gift – a personal gift – that changes both the recipient and the artist.  For the artist, the medium does not matter – the intent does.  Walt Whitman noted that ‘The gift is to the giver, and comes back to him. . .’   Art is a personal act – something one human does that creates change in another.

Given all of this I return to the question: ‘What is Art?’  [Tolstoy offered us one response in his book, ‘What is Art’]  Art is not about the craft.  If Shakespeare is art then certainly Jerry Seinfeld must be art too, right?

Is it art when Harvard scientist Jill Bolte Taylor holds us spellbound as she tells us about her near-fatal stroke?  You Bet! [Check out her TED Talk: ‘My Stroke of Insight’]

This morning I leave us with Tolstoy’s words: “To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.” [Tolstoy: ‘What is Art?’]

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Gentle reader please see my 14 October, 2016 post for the context of what follows.  I, again, offer us some of Epictetus’ ‘Wisdom.’  My invitation is for us to take some time and reflect upon his ideas – the ideas that resonate with you or that challenge you or the ones you dismiss out of hand or the ones you might blindly accept.

BOOK I-Chapter 24.  Epictetus writes: The true man is revealed in difficult times.  So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.  For what purpose?  To turn you into Olympic-class material.  But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish.  Remember, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours…

 BOOK I-Chapter 24. Epictetus writes: No one has power over your principles, and what other people control we don’t care about.  So what is your problem?  ‘My problem is that I want specific instructions on how to act in line with my principles.’ 

 What other orders do you need than those Zeus has given you already?  He has given you what is your own unrestricted and unrestrained; what is not yours he has made restricted and restrained.  What commandments, then, did you arrive with when he sent you here?  ‘Protect what belongs to you at all costs; don’t’ desire what belongs to another.’  Trustworthiness is your own, decency and a sense of shame; no one can take them from you or prevent you from using these qualities except yourself – which you do the moment you begin to care about what isn’t yours, surrendering what is yours in the process.

 Keep Zeus’ commandments and you won’t need others. 

 Some dour, inflexible types will say, ‘I can’t eat at this man’s table if it means listening to his war stories again…  But another person in the same situation might say, ‘The meal is what matters; let him rattle on to his heart’s content.’  It is for you to arrange your priorities; but whatever you decide to do, don’t do it resentfully, as if you were being imposed upon.  And don’t believe your situation is genuinely bad – no one can make you do that. 

 If you don’t want to be crowded, don’t attend the theater.

 …remember that it is we who torment, we who make the difficulties for ourselves – that is, our opinions do.  What for instance, does it mean to be insulted?  Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished?  If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?  If, however, he has his victim’s weakness to exploit, then his efforts are worth his while.

 Philosophers speak in paradoxes.  …What is more paradoxical than cutting into a person’s eye to restore their vision?  If a philosopher suggested this procedure to a person ignorant of philosophy, they would laugh…  Little wonder, then, if many of the truths of philosophy also impress the masses as foolish. 

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Acceptance = favorable reception, approval.

For the leader (by role or by situation) the issue of acceptance begins as one simple, haunting question: When your effort is measured, will it be measured as leadership?  This is a basic question; its antecedents stretch all of the way back to childhood.  Do you, gentle reader, remember those dreaded playground rituals, when you would feel disappointed (or worse) if you were not quickly chosen – or God forbid, you were chosen last, by default?

As a leader, if the need is to have your effort accepted as leadership, then the accompanying fear is finding it (and you) dismissed as ‘decoration’ or, worse, as insignificant – nothing at all.  For the past forty-plus years I have spent time reading and seeking to learn from hundreds of books focusing on leaders and leadership.  Many of their authors hold up to us examples of and stories about the most effective theories of leadership or they hold up to us examples of and stories about the most ineffective theories of leadership.

One would think that the folks whose theories were complimented would be honored and that those whose theories were criticized would be upset or angered or ‘put-off.’  Actually, as far as I can determine from reading the responses of both that neither were offended.  The one’s that were offended, it seems, were those who were not mentioned at all.  The theories that never made the books were the ones that were most damaged – or ignored all together.  It seems the old adage, ‘any publicity is good publicity’ holds even here.

The other thing that can happen is that a leadership theory can be put forth and ignored for years and years and years.  Yet it can also be nurtured and sustained by a few and then by a few more and then by a growing number and then all of a sudden, it seems, it becomes the ‘new wave.’  I am thinking of Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept of ‘The Servant as Leader’ (or ‘Servant-Leadership’).

For more than twenty-five years Greenleaf’s concept was ignored and dismissed (dismissed as irrelevant by the ‘big names’ in leadership theory).  His concept was, at the same time, nurtured by a few and then by a few more and then by many more and then it became a ‘wave’ that literally washed over the world.  Some of the ‘big names’ now said that all along they had admired Greenleaf’s concept and they even began to write books about his concept – some even said that they ‘had always’ held his concept.

All leaders (by role or by situation) are charged with identifying the leadership theory that complements who they are as persons (who one is will determine the leadership style that one chooses).  In doing so they become clear – or clearer – as to who they are and as to how they will lead.  This loops us back to ‘Acceptance.’

At some point the leader’s need for acceptance will probably collide head-on with the need to ‘be who they are.’  On the surface it seems so simple: The leader wants to lead rooted in who he or she is AND the leader wants to be accepted for being so and doing so.  Think of the ‘Sesame Street’ idea: sing the song of your heart and sooner or later the world will accept and reward your authentic voice and story.  Cynics laugh at this idea and yet over time they end up buying into it along the way (as Greenleaf’s critics did).

By and large the world does recognize and reward ‘authenticity’ – the autocratic leader, the charismatic leader and the servant-leader have all been admired.  On the other hand, your acceptance might not come until after you die – you are not around to collect it (think: Greenleaf, or Melville, or Schubert or Marx or Lincoln, to name but a few).

By the by, there is a fairly straightforward explanation for this: At any given moment the world offers vastly more acceptance of what it already understands.  In our case, the acceptance of leaders and their styles that have been deemed to be worthy.  The rest are mulling about on the playground waiting to be chosen – waiting for acceptance.


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SIX ‘Fs’. . .

Two mornings ago I overheard two women talking; they were sitting in a booth that was close to my writing table at Panera Bread.  They were talking about our presidential election and one of them remarked how fearful she was regarding the outcome.  A question emerged into my little brain: ‘What is fear?’  I have been holding this question for two days and this morning I decided to write a bit about ‘fear.’

When it comes to ‘Fear’ there are ‘SIX ‘Fs’ that come to my mind: Fear, Fearful, Fear-full, Fearless, Fear-less and Feckless.

Fear = a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, or pain. [By the by, the difference between Fear and Anxiety is that ‘fear’ involves a ‘real-direct threat’ while ‘anxiety’ involves a possible or potential ‘threat’ or an ‘imagined threat.’]

Fearful = causing fear, feeling fear, feeling awe or reverence.

 Fear-full = when we ‘become’ our fear.

 Fearless = bold, brave.

 Fear-less = reckless, rash.

 Feckless = ineffective, incompetent; have little or no sense of response-ability or responsibility – often triggered by either fear of failure, fear of ‘not measuring up’ or fear of succeeding.

When I step off the curb and all of a sudden a car is bearing down upon me I experience a direct threat and I have a feeling of ‘fear.’  I am fearful.  If, after that, terrifying experience, I have the same feeling of ‘fear’ every time I approach a cross-walk (either on foot or while in a vehicle) then I ‘have become my fear’ – I am ‘fear-full.’  If I have never experienced a direct ‘cross-walk’ threat and yet when I step off the curb and I have the same feelings as one who is directly threatened by a car bearing down on him then I experience what is called ‘anxiety’ (fear of the unknown or of the possible or of the potential).

If I am walking down the street and I notice a child wandering in the middle of the street and I see a car bearing down on him or her I will feel anxious and fearful.  If I then, in spite of my anxiety and fear, rush into the street and save the child from impending tragedy I am being ‘fearless’ – I am being ‘brave.’

A number of years ago I was in Australia.  As we were driving along I noticed a sign by the river that read: ‘Stay Away, Crocodiles are Present!’  My host then told me about a tourist who, the week before I arrived, had ignored this warning and ‘bravely’ walked to the river’s edge and was, in a flash, snatched into the river by a large, hungry, crocodile.  This is a great description of ‘Fear-less’ – of being ‘reckless’ and ‘rash’ (and, in this case, dead).

I love the concept of ‘feckless.’  For me, it captures quite well, if not eloquently, one of the reasons why one becomes ineffective or incompetent or irresponsible or non-respone-able.  When one is rooted in ‘fear of failure’ or in ‘fear of not measuring up’ or in ‘fear of success’ one might resort to becoming ‘feckless.’  Being ‘feckless’ is a protection – or at least one seems to believe that being so is a ‘protection-from.’

I conclude this morning with two quotations that came to my mind a few minutes ago.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. –Franklin D. Roosevelt

 We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato

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This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’  The folks who want to present Bob with this award are a bit frustrated for they are unable to locate him.  If they were able to do so then Bob Dylan would not be Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan is an Artist.  This means, among other things, that he does not seek ‘perfection.’  As an artist he also lives on the edge – perhaps this is where he is now hiding out, on the edge.  Here is Bob in his own words:

Daltrey, Townshend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel.  They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly…exactly the way people remember them.  My records were never perfect.  So there is no point in trying to duplicate them.  Anyway, I’m no mainstream artist. 

 …I guess most of my influences could be thought of as eccentric.  Mass media had no overwhelming reach so I was drawn to the traveling performers passing through.  The side show performers – the bluegrass singer…the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent…the fire-eaters, the teachers preachers, the blues singers.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I got close to some of these people.  I learned dignity from them.  Freedom too.  Civil rights, human rights.  How to stay within yourself. 

The interviewer the reminded Bob Dylan, “But you’ve sold over a hundred million records.”

Dylan’s answer gets to the heart of what it means to be an artist: “Yeah I know. It’s a mystery to me too.”

Avoiding the trap of ‘defect-free’ is not easy to think about for us (think: most of us in the United States) who have been trained in the search for perfection since pre-school.  The ‘true’ artists embraced the mystery of our innate genius.  The ‘true’ artists understand that there is no map – all are surveyors of the road less traveled.

Some wise person (‘Anonymous’ is his/her name – the most quoted person in the world) once noted: If it wasn’t a mystery, it would be easy.  If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth much.

How many of us spend our day attempting to avoid making a mistake?  It seems that we are searching to be ‘defect-free’ (think: ‘Blameless’).  Our education has taught us that the goal of any test is to get 100 percent.  No errors.  No mistakes.

How many of us when reading someone’s resume or essay or letter or email find ourselves focusing on the one typo?  When we respond to the person how often do we first mention the one typo?

Most organizations hire for perfect, manage for perfect, measure for perfect and reward for perfect.  So, gentle reader, why are we so surprised that folks then spend inordinate amounts of time trying to be perfect (or seeking to be ‘blameless’)?

Bob Dylan reminds us, over and over, that: Art is never defect-free.  Things that are remarkable never meet spec, because that would make them un-remarkable – And, they would not be worth thinking about nor talking about.  Bob Dylan remains remarkable for he does not ‘meet spec’ – he is a living definition of ‘Artist’ and he continues to be worth talking about.

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