May 27, 2009

Now we're talkin' science!

On this morning's The Takeaway, law professor Jeffrey Rosen suggested that the Senators who will be questioning Judge Sotomayor at her confirmation hearing ask her not about abortion, but about "genetic selection or human cloning", to "fast forward 20 the controversies that are to come down the line."

May 17, 2009

Where did you get your real education?

For me, it was partially at University, but it wasn't in class. John Philip Jones, head of the Advertising Department at The Newhouse School and one of the most important mentors in my life, took me aside prior to a summer break, and told me that to really expand my intellect, I should read Nabokov over the summer. Lolita, especially.

My next true education occurred at Horizon Health Center, in Jersey City, NJ. Horizon is a health and social service provider, and I started working there during the height of the AIDS and the crack epidemics. Jersey City was the most diverse city in the nation, with over 130 languages spoken by the high school population alone. First, I volunteered in the abortion clinic. Then, I joined the Board. Two years later, I stepped down from the Board and served as Public Affairs Director. During my time there, we added primary care services, including
mental health and dental, and became a Federally Qualified Health Center; we were the first clinic in NJ to implement Medicaid Managed Care; we started anger management and substance abuse prevention programs in the jail; we fought off violent anti-choice protesters; we went to the NJ Supreme Court and obtained a buffer zone; we went to the US Supreme Court as plaintiffs in Rust v. Sullivan; and we opened a full service restaurant with a job training program for teens - long before the term "social entrepreneurship" was popular.

My colleagues included people vastly different from me, and from each other.
Race, religion, age, socio-economic status, family make up. Mostly, we took the time to really listen and learn from each other. Everyone knew things I would probably never have had a chance to learn about unless they told me, and they were respectfully sharing their knowledge and their stories. Each day, I learned something from a coworker, a client, a colleague, a journalist, a policymaker, an advocate, a donor, and a volunteer.

I don't want to aggrandize my experience - there were certainly many challenges and annoyances - but that's where I got my real education. Where did you get yours? What did you learn that influences your professional work and personal relationships? Where, or from whom, are you now getting truly educated?

May 13, 2009

deep thought

A big difference between kids and adults is that kids are good at making stuff up, while adults are good at seeing things through.

So, I think that the kids who have something up on most kids are the ones who can see things through, and the adults who have something up on most adults are the ones who can make stuff up.

May 12, 2009

Just play!

Baris Yuksel, one of my brilliant Improv classmates, shared his Improv-induced epiphany: "It's not about me; it's about getting the work done."

He was talking about writing a document that he had to share with a large group of colleagues, who were sure to offer ample edits, additions, and suggestions for improvement. Baris thought about waiting a couple of days after completing the draft to perfect it prior to sending it out. Then he realized, No, just send it; in two days, the project will be done.

This is leadership. Act at 80%; the last 20% doesn't make much difference - it is, essentially, time spent striving for perfection. Why stress about achieving perfection as a soloist when you are truly engaged in group process? Respect your team's creativity and contributions, and contribute with generosity and a true respect for pluralism: the openness to be changed by anothers' input. Allow every member of the team to own the project. Write the story together.

That vs. This

Or, the Past vs. the Present

Think of the difference between starting a story with "That was a crazy night" vs. "This is the craziest night."

Or, "I wanted my child to learn right from wrong" vs. "I want my child to learn right from wrong."

Invite your listeners into your story. Invite them to join you in the here and now. Make it about the present moment, the importance and immediacy of now.

May 6, 2009

To make something really beautiful, you have to treat it like a lover

"I believe in practicing one's own craft. You learn an astounding amount from the resistance of the medium. My projects always evolve enormously from initial concept to final form. Often you try something and it sucks, so you go in another direction. Often you make a mistake, and the mistake ends up showing you a better way. But unless you have an intimate relationship with the medium and with the piece, you will not notice these cues, and the work will suffer.

I think this is why so much of the work that comes from large companies is so mediocre. It gets specified by someone and executed by someone else, with feedback from someone else and final say from someone else. It's just a big mediocre mess. To make something really beautiful, you have to treat it like a lover. It has to be personal. It has to obsess you when you're falling asleep. It has to be in your dreams. It has to be with you when you wake. It has to torment you.”

Click here to read more from Jonathan Harris, storyteller, visual artist, computer scientist, anthropologist, data voyeur, photographer, digital anthropologist, interviewer, and designer.

keep it simple; don't rush

"If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one’s subject matter."
Yes, let's espouse simplicity, and let's remember that Dr. Margaret Mead's hypothetical twelve-year old has an attention span. Because sometimes, simple takes time.

May 5, 2009

Margaret Mead on the true test of intelligence

"If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one’s subject matter."

May 3, 2009

Story & Experiencing the Present

I have previously blogged about Improv, and Buddhism, and my quest to feel more present in the moment. Story construction offers another valuable tool for helping to ground me in the moment.

I ask myself, How did this story start? Where would you like it to end? Where are you now?

I am, invariably, in the middle. In the ordinary. In the place of change. In the moment of possibility.

Tragic Meetings

At the Smithsonian Storytelling Conference, Seth Kahan spoke from experience about "The Tragedy of the World Bank Meeting." He defined such tragic meetings as possessing these traits:
  1. You could predict the outcome of the meeting
  2. The content delivered at the meeting was so dumbed down that conflict and robust discussion was killed.
Ask yourself, What is going to happen at this meeting? If you seem to know the answer, then, why indeed, hold the meeting? Perhaps there is a better way in which to communicate the outcome.

Ideally, the question becomes, What do you want to learn? How might you elicit that information?

Sometimes, holding a meeting is not the answer. Sometimes, encouraging an entirely different kind of conversation is the answer.

the importance of story in the workplace

People do not contribute unless they feel appreciated. And stories are a valuable tool for creating a culture of appreciation. Specifically, sharing stories - listening to stories, being asked for stories, existing in a place where it feels safe to tell a personal or professional story - as well as hearing and understanding the larger story of why your work matters.

These stories get transformed into drive and possibility and innovation. They communicate meaning in a way that people get it and spread it.

Multiple Trace Memory & Love

Daniel Levitin talked about Multiple Trace Memory the other evening, defining it simply as "simultaneously experiencing the new thing alongside the old memories." He also talked about how "great composers hit that sweet spot of rewarding you enough of the time, and surprising you."

Isn't this, too, the definition of lasting love?

May 1, 2009

Applied Storytelling

I was interviewed about my work by Kathy Hansen, PhD, a leading proponent of Applied Storytelling. The full interview is available at her blog, A Storied Career.


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