Taking the Time to Explore

Greetings.  The week between Christmas and New Year's is a wonderful time to explore the world around you.  To check out a performance, watch a documentary film, visit a picturesque or historic town off the beaten track, or wander through a museum close to home.  And, in the process, to discover a fresh perspective on the world around you.  A perspective that could provide new energy and insight as you and your colleagues approach the year ahead.  With this in mind, I love to use the end of the year to visit some of my favorite museums.  And, here in D.C., we have a lot to choose from.  But I'm sure that there are also great museums close to where you live or visit.

So yesterday I took our children and a friend from Sweden to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art to explore it's remarkable folk art collection.  And what struck me most was the sense of vision, originality, and accessibility of this work.  But that makes sense, because "folk art" is really art by regular "folks" who have little or no formal training and whose work reflects a fascinating fusion of traditional craft, deep-rooted social values, and often a desire to shine a light on an important issue of their time or their understanding of faith.  In addition to the art, the design of this exhibit also attempts to frame the artists' perspectives with quotes on the purpose of art in life and society, the act of creating something new, and the artist's place in the world.  And it even includes a compelling quote from the inventor Charles Kettering who wrote (though originally referring to business and innovation):

"Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier."

Not a bad thought to put on your wall as you get ready for the year ahead!

Among several galleries of thought-provoking pieces, one particular work seems to catch everyone's attention.  It's called "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly," and it is the only work ever done by the artist James Hampton.  Over fourteen years, he transformed a rented garage into "a heavenly vision" of a "spiritual environment" suitable for God's return to earth. It's really a statement of one man's great faith in God and hope for salvation that includes 180 unique pieces, based on his interpretation of teachings from the Old and New Testaments, build around a central throne.  And it's all constructed from discarded materials covered with shimmering silver and gold foils.  Whether you are a religious person, or not, the result is striking and inspiring (see below–or better yet, visit the museum in person).

Throne

We succeed in business and in life by being open to genius in the world around us, and by seeing the vision and passion that artists of all types bring to the work they create.  What vision and passion will you bring to your work in the year ahead?  Maybe this is the perfect week to discover it.  

Cheers and have a inspiring week of work, play, family, friends, and exploring!

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Greetings.  Last week I wrote about the importance of snow and, as luck would have it, the weekend brought a major snow storm to the Washington area.  The final accumulation at our backyard monitoring station was 19.2 inches (or about half a meter for those of you who think metrically).  More than enough to set one's sense of curiosity and wonder into motion.  There were forts to build, sleds to race, new snowball making techniques to perfect, experiments to test the healing power of a snow blanket, new snowshoes to try, and football games to play that conjured up notions of playing for the Green Bay Packers in the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field.  What could be better?  

And it was also a rare chance to fire up the Sears Craftsman snowblower, which I purchased just after our last big snowstorm in 2003 but had never actually used in competition.  Sure, I'd fantasized about clearing mountains of the white stuff, but it's barely worth the effort when our typical snowfall is about 2 – 3 inches.  So each winter since then I had looked at this beautiful machine in awe, then periodically started it up just to keep it in reasonable working order.  But I'd never taken it out of the garage to do the job it was intended for.  Until Saturday.  Yet somehow, the thought that it was there gave me confidence that I was prepared for any winter weather.

When it was finally thrust into service, this shiny red work of art and technology performed beyond my wildest imagination.  Carving through banks of snow with amazing power, and seemingly purring with delight that it was finally getting to do the task it was designed for.  And it got me thinking about people and organizations, and how many of us go unnoticed until the moment when our skills are vital to the success of those we serve.  And, how often our real genius lies in our ability to provide peace of mind.

Snowblower 

We win in business and in life by being ready for whatever hits us.  Who do you count on in the middle of a storm?  And, are they ready when you need them most?  And who counts on you?  And do they know, even when you're out of sight, that you're there for them and ready to be remarkable?

Cheers and have a brilliant week ahead!

Books: “What On Earth Evolved?”

Greetings.  When it comes to the pecking order of species large and small, we humans like to think that we're pretty hot stuff.  The Top Dogs, the Big Kahunas, the real Kings of the Jungle, the most civilized and important creatures on earth. And why not?  After all, aren't we the ones who invented the light bulb, crazy glue, disco music, the Lazy Boy chair, the Ab Tronic abdominal exerciser, the Pop-Up Hot Dog Cooker, and a whole host of other technological breakthroughs.

But what if we're not No. 1, as Christopher Lloyd suggests in his fascinating new book "What on Earth Evolved?"  It's really a tribute to the 150 anniversary of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" but a whole lot more.  Lloyd, a historian at Cambridge University, has taken on the relatively simple task of determining the 100 most important species to ever exist on earth.  And he does this using five criteria to sort out each one's place:

  • First, what was their impact on evolution.
  • Second, what was their impact on human history.
  • Third, what was their impact on the environment.
  • Fourth, how pervasive are they.
  • And Fifth, how long did they actually survive.

As humans or homo sapiens we do pretty well on most criteria with the exception of longevity.  We simply haven't been around long enough relative to many other species.  And that's what places us 6th–several spots down from, you guessed it, earthworms.  The species that has had the greatest impact on the world!  If you're curious about the Top 10, here they are:

  1. Earthworms
  2. Algae
  3. Cyanobacteria
  4. Rhizobia
  5. Lactobacillus
  6. Homo Sapiens (That would be us!)
  7. Stony Corals
  8. Yeast
  9. Influenza
  10. Penicillium

To learn more about the pivotal role of earthworms and all the other species you'll have to really dig into this unusual book.  But Lloyd's journey through time will be well worth the effort.  You might even find reason to be proud sharing the stage with so many seemingly lower life forms.  And you'll also get to hang with cows (No. 17), ants (No. 25), honey bees (No.33), bamboo (No. 40), dogs (No. 42), cats (No. 46), coffee (No. 85), camels (No. 87), and hamsters (No. 90).

Lloyd Cover 

Now here's your challenge.  Try to think about your company or organization and how it stacks up in line with Lloyd's five criteria.  What's been your impact on the industry and customers you serve?  How pervasive are you–in a good sense?  And how long are you likely to be around?

We win in business and in life by making a difference and changing with the times.  And by preparing the soil for a whole new generation of genius and innovation.   

Cheers!

Thanksgiving Wishes

Greetings.  Once again Fall has arrived with its beautiful colors, shorter days, cooler nights, and a clear reminder to slow down just a bit to count our blessings. Yet this year has been a very challenging year for many businesses, communities, families, and individuals.  A time of cutting back, barely getting by in some cases, and hoping that better days are just around the corner.  Hopefully the worst is behind us and the months ahead will bring new ideas, energy, and possibilities. Now is certainly a time for innovation and unlocking the brilliance in ourselves, our organizations, and the world around us.  In fact, it's the only way that we will be able to create real value for the customers we serve and real opportunity for those in need.    

At this time of year I also think about the wonder of childhood and the continuing magic of our own children Sara, Carly, and Noah.  Each day they remind me that nothing is impossible when we combine our innate sense of curiosity and openness with just the right attitude.  They are also a never-ending and enthusiastic source of new and powerful insight on leadership, innovation, music, movies, soccer, asking the right questions, making the right things happen, social networking, YouTube, and just plain having fun.  As they were on this day near our summer house on the beautiful west coast of Sweden…      

IMG_0652
As always, thank you for being an important part of the life of our company in the past year.  And sincere wishes for a Thanksgiving and holiday season filled with peace, joy, good health, laughter, learning, real attitude, and a new perspective on the genius and innovation all around us.

Cheers!

P.S.  Special thanks to all of you who subscribe to this blog and have been kind enough to share it with your friends, co-workers, customers, neighbors, clergy, and strangers.  In just two short months, the notion of unlocking the genius in ourselves, our colleagues, our organizations, and the world around us has really started to take hold!

Finding Magic in a Library

Greetings.  They are almost forgotten in this era of instant information that is driven right to our desks, PDAs, or phones.  In fact, we probably walk or drive by at least one library every day without giving it a second thought.  In a time when professionals in so many fields are satisfied with brief snippets of information, and students are allowed to do most of their research on line, we seem to have less use for them.  After all, it's a Wikipedia world–not that this brilliant idea isn't a valuable tool.  And a growing number of avid readers are now downloading books, MP3 files, and a host of other information onto their Kindles or other "reading" devices.  Again, very clever and valuable tools for people on the go who don't want to be weighed down by a bunch of hard copy.  

No, the sad truth is that we all seem way too busy to pause long enough to visit a library and read, relax, explore, and learn.  To discover today's genius and the genius of every generation before us.  To walk in without a destination in mind, only to be captivated by a book, or a magazine, or a film that we never anticipated or planned to find–but one with the power to transport us to a different world filled with new ideas, inspiration, and possibilities.  Libraries are places filled with magic, and as we race to forget that essential fact we lose a unique and wonderful opportunity to unlock our individual and collective curiosity and genius.  Curiosity and genius that could help us to be more remarkable at work, in our civic lives, or at anything worth doing. 

So this weekend, or any weekend when you aren't so overscheduled and overwhelmed, find an hour or two to visit a library near you.  It doesn't have to be the Library of Congress–though just walking in there makes me feel smarter and more inspired.  Or the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt, founded in the year 228 B.C. and a place where brilliant thinkers like Eratosthenes and Euclid use to hang out.  Or the the Yunju Temple in China that dates back to the 7th Century.  Or the British Library in London.  Or the New York Public Library. Any library will do.  Just as long as you commit to wandering the aisles, exploring the new and old book corners, and giving yourself the freedom to be taken on a journey to discover new places, perspectives, questions, and answers.

New-York-Public-Library 

We have the greatest chance to reach our potential as people, organizations, and communities when we open our eyes to rediscover the wonder of learning.  Maybe your remarkable story will be written in even more compelling ways by a visit around the corner.

Cheers and have a magical weekend!