Creativity Vs Commerce

Writing prompt: “The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world, and why not finally carry that secret out with our bodies into the living room and our porches, backyards and grocery stores? Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem. And let us always be kind in this world.” from Writing Down the Bones

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Art installation made of old life preservers in Copenhagen.

I am realizing how deep the conditioning of capitalism is in my life. I carry the automatic monetization of everything I do in my head like a calculator on auto pilot. If I write the travel guide, is it worth it, as in will it make money? The bitter irony is that nothing creates resistance to creativity like this cha-ching habit. I can’t get JK Rowling’s fabulous financial success out of my head.

As a self-employed person, wait, let’s examine that phrase. We are all “self-employed” deciding how we will spend our time and creative resources even if it is to give it to an organization for 8-10 hours a day. As a consultant paid because of a contract, I have been listening to Side Hustle School podcast by Chris Guillebeau. I am realizing that I let it feed the monetization monster. All of my side hustle ideas started with my long time writing projects. I told myself that this would be motivational.

In fact, what I know now is my creative life works best when I give it space to happen and enjoy it for the pleasure of being a human with opposable thumbs that can create art or write with a pen.

My life works best when I have a work/life balance that holds the space for art and respects my need for creativity. This was thrown into relief when I thought of a side hustle that is truly commerce only. And the thought that I could pursue my collage/assemblage and writing projects without pressure to make money was so soul lifting and smile making. Confirmation that it is the right choice for me.

Is there a “Right Size” for Cooperation?

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Libraries, like this massive one in Copenhagen, are a sign of a healthy, collaborative society.

While I’ve been in Europe I am following what is happening nationally in the USA via Vox news, the Atlantic and New Yorker social media, and FiveThirtyEight and other podcasts. They are bearing witness to extreme democratic dysfunction. Clowns appointed as judges, bills written in secret, a President tweeting his id. Meanwhile in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries they are quietly inventing ways to turn household waste into energy without pollution and cooperating with one another to ensure everyone has enough.

I mention this to my friend UK Sarah on our walks and she says what she said in New Zealand, “Yes, but how many people are there?” Denmark has 5.5 million, New Zealand 4.5 million. It is a bit of a conversation ender. However, this morning I woke up wondering if those who predicted the USA would break into regions were in fact prescient. Perhaps democracy works best on a small scale. Not the scale of the town hall meeting alone, which frankly I’ve experienced as both a tyranny of petty-crats and a glorious thing. Maybe something on the scale of a region like the Pacific Coast states. We share a coastline and I-5.  In Denmark, they maintain their social democracy, in part, through a strong consensus on what Danishness is and is not. The Pacific Coast states share a pioneering history, plus an orientation to the Pacific and a majority of the populations are post-modern. It would be easy to also include Hawaii, and harder to include Alaska.

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Public Transportation is another sign of collaboration. (Waterloo Station in London)

I remember in the 80s there were a number of intellectuals writing articles about the demise of California. One that sticks in my memory compared it to ancient Alexandria and proposed that with so many languages spoken in the schools and so much conflict over the environment and resources that surely the ship of democracy will sink. Actually, thanks to the creative and technology economies, California is thriving in many ways that many parts of the USA are not.

Another intellectual recently argued that the way forward in the USA will be led by our great cities. The Pacific Coast states have many excellent cities, but they are only sustained by the agricultural production and the watersheds of the associated rural places around them. So while there may be much innovation in cities for many things, a city cannot live behind a wall. Their survival depends on a dense network of connection to the outside world.

Do we need a federal government? Or a European Union? This is the open question that I am faced with in the U.K. and reading news from home. The righty-right leaning Republicans have been arguing the federal government is too expensive, too large, too meddlesome for many years. By electing an unqualified person to the chief executive they are perhaps forcing the question on the rest of the electorate. They may not like the answer that the collective comes up with.

Maturity Versus Age

I’m on the Isle of Wight for my friend UK Sarah’s 60th birthday celebration. It took quite a lot of effort to physically get here and that somehow befits what it takes to reach age 60 with grace. Last night, in a conversation with two women friends, we discussed how frustrating it can be when family members confuse that grace we’ve earned with luck. They envy our good fortune, glossing over all of the hard stuff we’ve endured or overcome. It is especially confusing if there is a disparity in wealth. This is hardest with family because we all started at the same address so to speak.

Each of us, in our own way, expressed our desire to encourage our family members but couldn’t break through the jealousy or the victimhood or the depression. We paused in a moment of sadness.

This morning I woke up from my first good night of sleep in my travels and remembered my cousin Kim’s meme she shared in honor of her 44th birthday:18953077_10209369588185158_4451343193687950954_n

Maybe life is more like video gaming than we care to admit. Those who persist even after they’ve been “destroyed” reach new levels. Along the way they learn shortcuts that help to seemingly “skip” through levels to get back to where they left off in the last game and work on the next level.

Those of us who persist in life-learning reach new levels too. What we earn is maturity. This is not a guarantee of wealth, some of my most mature friends have not experienced the added blessing of wealth. And I know at least one very wealthy person who did not gain in maturity in spite of her age. Often though, it does result in material blessing because we stop making bad choices about money or we made different choices about work and it eventually pays dividends.

While my cousin’s meme inspired this post, it is slightly off in one respect. Age does not equal your level. If it did my cousin would always be 10 levels behind me. Whereas, in real life, she may well outstrip me in maturity.

How then do we encourage family and friends to live towards lives of maturity? Share our experiences as transparently as we can. Love them just as they are right now. Pray for humility because sometimes life will knock you back a few levels. Value our mature friends.

Hmmm. I have some work to do.

(Forgive me if I get some aspects of video game playing wrong as I’ve not spent much time actually playing.)

P.S. This TED Talk by Anne Lamott is on topic. Enjoy.

Your Life is Calling: Redesign Anytime

jane pauley bookWhen I first started reading Your Life Calling by Jane Pauley, I had wished I read this during my life redesign in 2010-11, then I realized it is a kind of Chicken Soup for the Mid-Life Crises. It feels good while reading but is forgettable when you put it down.

The cover implies that it is more self-help than it is: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life. I did glean a couple of useful ideas from her memoir/show notes (from recurring feature on The Today Show of same name).

The target audience are baby boomers who are blessed with ample retirement funds and good health to explore a second career. The baby boomers are the most blessed generation, benefiting from the rapid economic expansion, inexpensive college educations, and generous pensions. They are also going to be the longest lived in the US. However, everyone, at whatever age, should seek purpose in their life either through their main income or as a volunteer.

You have to do the work to figure out your purpose and the best way to pursue it. It is going to be unique to each person. If you apply Stephen Covey’s “begin with the end in mind” then you need to define what success looks like for you. As in Sylvia Abrigo-Araiza’s story, “She said, ‘I would define success as pouring yourself into what do into what you have a passion for doing, giving compassion for others, and basically changing the world one individual at a time.” (p  ) For Sylvia it is counseling teens struggling with substance abuse.

your life callingWhen you do decide to redesign then the advice from the hiker Joe/Braid: “Moving into uncertainty involves managing risks–planning, preparing, and practicing–like Joe did before he took his first step on the [Appalachian] trail. But even then, as Joe put it, ‘Nothing can prepare you for the trail like getting out on the trail and just doing it.” (p 162)

And many times it also requires a change in thinking. In the story about a professional golfer giving the tournament another go, his wife said: “If you are going to do this again, you must do something different.’ As Michael explained it to me, she meant, ‘You can’t go about it the same old way. You can’t just keep beating your head against the wall, working on the same things. You need a different approach.”

 

#MarchforScience: Why I March

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Mom and I marched in Sacramento on Earth Day 2017

These remarks were prepared for a panel presentation at St John’s Lutheran Church on Earth Sunday April 23, 2017.

I am trained as a political scientist and work in California water policy on the big questions of how to keep water flowing to 40 million people and 7.9 million acres of irrigated farmland whilst sustaining native threatened and endangered species.

The water policy discussions I have been a part of are gaining in sophistication and specialization. Policy makers are relying on science more and more; demanding real time data to make decisions about daily water operations. This is driven in large part by environmental regulation: the California Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, to name a few.

As a result, there is a growing gap between the voting public’s understanding of the issues and the amount of technical information used to decide if water will be released from, say Shasta reservoir, or pumped at Tracy and so forth. This is eroding trust in decision-making processes and is part of the larger story of distrust of experts and anti-intellectualism in the US today.

Political scientists study power: for example, how it is held and exercised, and how tradeoffs are brokered. The story of the state of California can be told in the story of water rights, land use battles entwined with water, and battles for control of water. Whether water is absent in drought or over abundant in floods, Californians have debated water policy for its entire modern existence.

In the first half of the 20th century, civil engineers were the heroes of the story as they built the reservoirs, canals and pumping plants of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, plus the flood control structures of levees and bypasses. That generation’s gifts have allowed us to rapidly grow economically with both cheap hydroelectric power and relatively cheap and abundant water.

In the second half of the 20th century the chemists and the ecologists began to play a more prominent role in the story. We demanded better water quality, and sewage treatment, and we became aware of the damage we were doing to the environment by disrupting natural ecosystems–95% of the floodplain is gone; almost as much of the wetlands and vernal pools are gone.

In my work I am always looking for more information to better understand the challenges and to look for solutions to the conflicts that continually arise over water. I look to knowledge gained through science. I also look to what I call “native wisdom” from people who have worked or lived on the land for much longer—in some instances before we developed the water systems we have today. Wisdom can come in many forms.

Humility is invaluable especially humbly acknowledging what we do not know whether it is in the field of science or while reading my Bible. I also appreciate the times when the Holy Spirit inspired actions or ideas in my work.

When I became a Christian in the 1970s, the evangelical Presbyterian Church I attended was full of engineers and doctors. Over time, as the church became more and more certain or rigid about faith matters, I felt increasingly alienated. I thought then and now that since God gave me an intellect, it is my vocation to use it in ways that make the world in better alignment with the way God calls us to live and with reverence for God’s creation.

Scientists and persons of faith need not be mutually exclusive—listening to debates amongst scientists about salmon habitat has convinced me that there is as much faith in action amongst scientists arguing their theories as there is among theologians.

And in my experience there isn’t a conflict between the stories in the Bible and the truths that social science and physical science discover, because I do not always interpret God’s wisdom in the Bible literally nor do I swallow whole every hypotheses posed by scientists.

I have learned there are many ways to understanding reality and much mystery remains. This is true if you are trying to understand the mind of God, human behavior or determine the needs of Delta Smelt.

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One sign read “GOP, Science Doesn’t Care What You Believe”

My friend and retired science teacher Michael Bickford recently posted this on his Facebook page: “All humans are qualified to be scientists! Many people misunderstand what science is. It’s a way of defining, knowing and understanding truth. We use the truth (facts) in turn, like a tool, to determine the nature of reality and then, individually and collectively through communication, the meaning and direction of our lives together.”

Michael is a self-proclaimed atheist. And he is as hostile to the Church as some evangelicals are to science. In fact he wrote: “(Science is) under attack by those with alternatives systems of defining the truth.” In my experience it need not be a battle. While we may not seek the truth with the same methods, we are all truth seekers.

For the person of faith I would ask: why must God have created the earth in a literal 6 days for creation to be divinely awesome and amazing? And for the scientist who may be an atheist or agnostic, why is it threatening to leave room in the equation for the divine?

Growth as a Boredom Buster

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I doubt anyone would call artist and writer Julia Couzens’ life dull. She is an art critic for the Sacramento Bee, and a productive fine artist. She recently gave a presentation as part of the Centennial Lecture Series at the Sacramento City College Art Department. Her first slide said:

It’s the journey, not the destination.

Questions live longer than answers.

Sometimes the back side is the piece.

She also distributed the “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” by Bruce Mau. This manifesto, she said, is the secret of life. It certainly is the key to understanding her creative life. In the subsequent slides she showed us her work. “I like chaos. I like dissonance.” Her work shows 3. Process is more important than outcome and 4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). 

I was able to participate in this lecture series because I enrolled in a Collage/Assemblage studio art class at Sacramento City College. It has been terrific for opening up both sides of my brain to more creativity.  I recommend all leaders find a creative expression that helps them to be more intuitive and get back in touch with something you enjoy doing.

This weekend I caught up with my major professor now retired from USC. John Odell is taking voice lessons and sings in two vocal groups. He is finding great pleasure in this creative expression. Don’t wait until retirement to make time for this in your leadership life.

I am realizing that much of my redesign at 49 has evolved into finding the space for a creative life–writing, doing art, or taking naps. And in so doing I am approaching all of my work challenges more creatively. Taking the class this semester has helped me be much more intentional. Listening to Side Hustle School podcast has helped motivate me to work towards it every day.

Last week I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast “The Importance of Boredom” but I don’t think he really meant boredom. What he was really talking about is making time to unplug and allow creative thought. I am finding since I started the class that I am less interested in watching movies or television shows and more interested in creating my own stuff. And it is anything but boring because you inevitably grow and change when you create.

One last thought, I looked up a few of Julia Couzen’s reviews in the Sacramento Bee’s Arts & Theater and loved her review of the Diebenkorn and Matisse show at SFMOMA (March 23, 2017). It is is a beautiful example of Mou’s Manifesto #23. Stand on someone’s shoulders. You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better. 

Leaders Say I’m Sorry

Or do they? Thinking about the “Leaders Say…” series, I brainstormed topics and wrote down “I’m sorry” without a second thought. There has been a fair amount of criticism of 45 because he seems incapable of admitting a mistake or giving a sincere apology. But do we really see an apology as a sign of leadership or as a sign of weakness?

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About once a year a Japanese CEO makes a very public apology on behalf of his organization’s failings. My friend Keiko Sakurai is an expert on cross-cultural business practices as a consultant for Aperian Global. I skyped with her to learn more about apologies from her experience.

She graduated from UC Berkeley’s Haas Management program after working in Japan. In her first role with a U.S. team her supervisor gave her feedback that she was apologizing too much. “In Japan saying you are sorry is a social lubricant; we say it all the time in social and business situations.” It is expected especially from people with less status to people with more status, consultants to clients, and peer to peer.

In Japan if an organization makes a mistake and does not publicly apologize, it is perceived they will pay a price in public opinion. This does prompt some superficial apologies and we agreed these probably do not restore much trust. And behind every apology is a desire to repair a relationship and to begin to restore trust. Apologies, in our experience, work most effectively when they are specific and sincere and are undermined when accompanied by justifications.

We were troubled that we could not think of more examples of a US leader effectively apologizing. Keiko related a story from a workshop she led with participants from several cultures. She posed a situation: Your boss and team are giving a presentation to potential clients when you realize the boss is presenting old pricing information. What would you do?

–Pause and think of your response.—Read on.

I thought of a team I work with where we share mutual respect and I replied, “I would say, excuse me, I am so sorry there is more recent pricing information and I did not update this slide. Please let me share the most up to date pricing.” Keiko shared this is what the participant from Korea said they would do. Whereas the participant from Japan said they would call for a break and then pull aside the boss to point out the mistake and then they could introduce the information after the break saying they just got a call or email from the Head Office.”

What did the participant from the USA say? He would interject and state the facts objectively, without apology or blaming anyone, “There is more recent pricing available.” And offer a new slide. Or, he qualified his response, if he was competing with his boss and gunning for his position, he would actually point out to the client that the Boss made the critical mistake, and he will stand up and take over the presentation with the correct information, causing the boss to lose face. .

All I could say was, “Wow!”

Keiko explained that in Asian culture there is much more interest in maintaining harmony and people are more willing to put the organization’s needs ahead of their individual aspirations than in the USA.

I wondered how research says about on apologies and in a recent Washington Post article journalist Jena McGregor assembled a nifty summary. She found that the research is not totally clear.

  • Harvard Business School professor Francisca Gino finds that apologizing is generally beneficial for leaders, with even superfluous, unnecessary apologies leading to greater trust. If an apology is botched or if the leaders isn’t trustworthy, then there may be downsides and may be seen as backing down from a dispute.
  • Researchers from Queen’s University in Canada tested whether apologizing was a sign of weakness. They surveyed hockey coaches and referees as well as other lab experiments, and they found generally, those who apologized were seen as more “transformational.” Rather than weak these leaders were perceived as having the ability to inspire, motivate and challenge their followers.
  • Research has also shown that apologizing is associated with better psychological well-being among a boss’s employees and for themselves.
  • In another study, CEOs who show expressions of sadness on their faces when they issued public apologies were viewed as more remorseful and their customers tended to be more willing to do business with them in the future.

On the flip-side, there are some who do perceive apologies as weak, an admission of responsibility, or accepting blame. And in the US litigious culture often leads to non-apology, apologies. “Writing in the Washington Post in late 2015, political scientist Richard Hanania said that people, particularly men, who don’t ‘back down in the face of controversy [show] confidence by not giving in to social pressure, and [take] a risk refusing to follow the conventional path. Some on the right openly suggest that part of Trump’s appeal lies in his refusal to apologize and his unwillingness to be ‘politically correct’.”

Keiko and I met through CTI Co-Active Leadership training where we learned how to “stay and recover” when we make mistakes as leaders, when we are attacked, or when events do not unfold as intended. Sometimes we need to “repair” with colleagues—a boss, a direct report or a customer. A repair is just what it sounds like—doing what is needed to restore the relationship. In our experience, apologies have strengthened trust in relationships and have served our leadership well.

In closing, let’s look at the McGregor’s checklist for an apology to be effective: “an expression of regret and an explanation of what went wrong to an acknowledgement of responsibility, a statement of repentance, and request for forgiveness.”