Discovering the Genius in Everyone

Greetings.  Sometimes people need a bit of help to discover the real genius inside them.  An outstretched hand, a caring smile, a willingness to listen to a story that is hard to tell, a bit of insight or learning in a few missing essentials, the welcome reassurance that they have what it takes to succeed in this complicated world, or even a bit of tough love.  

On Saturday evening our family had the privilege to host a very special dinner party.  It was a chance for friends to come together for relaxed conversation and delicious Swedish food.  But what made the evening so special was the fact that it was a fundraising event for a nonprofit organization that makes a real difference in helping formerly homeless families find stability on the journey to unlocking their real potential.  And, it was one of 50 parties being held throughout the Washington, D.C., area to support Sinai House, a four-unit apartment building that provides transitional housing, financial literary, educational and parental support, childcare, and a sense of community.

Sinai House was started in 1992 as an initiative of Temple Sinai–an initiative aimed at addressing the challenge of homelessness in our nation's capital.  The idea for the parties was the brainchild of Tricia Davis–an amazing woman who had a huge heart, an unstoppable spirit, and her own genius for fundraising and marketing causes that mattered.  She died of cancer much too early in life, but left a rich and enduring legacy.  And part of that legacy was the simple idea of hosting dinner parties for friends that ended up raising tens of thousands of dollars.  So on this Saturday night, hundreds of people attended parties with checkbooks in hand to continue an 18-year tradition of helping people discover the genius inside them in a world that had thrown a few obstacles in their way.  

And at the heart of each party were the stories of families that Sinai House has served.  Stories that brought smiles and tears with each telling.  Stories of abusive relationships, drug addiction, and life on less than kind streets.  Stories of mothers forced to give up their children with only faint hope of ever getting them back.  But stories that became personal triumphs as women got their lives together, were reunited with their families, and eventually found work and career success as employees, talented managers, and even business owners.

We win in business and in life by helping others to discover their own genius and potential.  And, in the process, helping ourselves to discover the best of what it means to be human.

Cheers and have a brilliant week ahead!

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!

Breaking Down Walls That Divide Us

Greetings.  Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It was an event that unfolded before many of our eyes and changed, in an instant, not only the face of Europe but our connection to the dreams and aspirations of many people we didn't really know.  People who yearned to reunite with family, friends, and the rest of their country.  People who imagined that participation in a broader world would mean greater opportunities for self-expression.  

But in the absence of these epic moments in history, do we really understand and value people in other places?  People who have very different ideas, insights, and genius.  Or do they remain little more than faces in news stories, too far away to matter to our lives as people, organizations, and nations.  One might argue that many of our biggest challenges today are due to a lack of understanding of other people and other places, and the often misplaced beliefs that they desire to be just like us or are too different from us to warrant our interest or attention. The truth is at neither extreme, which actually creates far more intriguing and powerful opportunities to share, learn, and eventually collaborate.

So as you begin this week, spend some time thinking about someplace in the news that seems different and also fascinating.  Then commit to learning more about it and what makes it remarkable.  After all, there is something remarkable about every place on earth.  Then try to imagine how its brilliance could help you and your colleagues to be even more brilliant and successful.

Berlin Wall 

We win in business and in life by breaking down the walls that divide. What walls keep you from reaching out and discovering the genius in other people and other places?  And what will you be doing in the days and weeks ahead to remove them?

Cheers!