Monday, May 30, 2011

Thoughts on Art and Business

I lingered in bed this morning, enjoying the quiet of the dawning day. The encompassing warmth of my comforter was a pleasant cocoon as I lay there and looked out at the green trees beyond the window and the gray clouds beyond them. I am not sure if the sun is going to break through today, though the weather channel was forecasting what T.R. likes to call a "partly" day. Either way, I am looking forward to the day off. I am supposed to meet some of my friends for breakfast in about an hour and a half, so I am sitting here, writing, drinking coffee, and watching the day open up.

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Breakfast, a trip to Best Buy, then a trip up the the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford. Tony and I had drifted up there is spend the day just wandering. The weather was very nice, a cool, blue California spring day. Specifically, I'd wanted to go up to see "Illustrated Title Pages" exhibit and I'm planning on going up next weekend to see "The Art of the Book in California" exhibit. I'd considered just waiting until next weekend and going up to see both exhibits at the same time, but I decided to split the trip between two weekends. Sometimes, when you are in a Museum, seeing too many exhibits can dilute the impact of a singular exhibit. The Illustrated Title Pages was a very cool exhibit - the intricacy of the work on the face plates of older books was pretty astound, especially when you consider at it's very heart it is merely lines of varying thickness and spacing. Truly astounding stuff.

We grabbed lunch at the cafe there in the museum and it was also surprisingly good. We ate on the balcony outside of the cafe, overlooking the Rodin sculpture garden. I had a pulled pork sandwich on panini, which was excellent. After that, we checked out the sculptures, always one of my favorite parts of the Cantor Arts Center.

This was all followed by a lazy afternoon at home, including a short nap, a conversation with one of my sisters, reading Li Young Lee, and watching John Carpenters "The Thing" on HBO. Dinner was a tasty home made chili con queso, followed by a quiet evening reading and watching the DVR until "Game of Thrones" at nine. All it all, I have to say that it was a pretty nice day.

I was a little disappointed that I had work intruding on my brain off and on over the weekend. I would have liked to have made a clean separation to enjoy the three day weekend, but things are confused and lacking direction at work lately (not so much from my management, but from upper management), and there seems to be a lot of "activity without a purpose". We seem to be moving around a lot, gathering data, analyzing it - but there isn't a central underlying theme.

When it comes to leadership I've developed what I call "the theory of bright lines". I think the purpose of leadership is to draw bright lines. In short, leaders need to draw three bright lines. These lines delineate two things. The first line, the center-line, points to where the organization is going and the path it needs to take to get there. The second set of lines are the outer boundaries - these lines delineate where the organization is not going to go. These bright lines should clearly define what the organization does and why (the center line) and what the organization doesn't do and why (the boundary lines). The brighter these lines are drawn by leadership the more likely the organization is to be successful, in whatever terms are defined as being successful (the center line).

Leadership is responsible for drawing and communicating these lines. When leadership fails, organizations drift. We're currently caught in a situation right now in the work environment where our leadership is not drawing the bright lines. They are drawing lines, but there is discernible pattern to those lines. It is quite possible that the unifying theme is going to be revealed at some point in the future. More likely, upper management thinks they are drawing those lines clearly and simply doesn't realize that, to those of us in the functional levels, we're just seeing semi-random lines.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Songs of Friday

Well, we have reached the end of another work week, with little fanfare and a quiet slipping-into-the-weekend sort of feeling pervading us. It was quiet here in the office, beautifully so. I was productive and content to simply work, free of the incidents and accidents of the politics of work. I wrote and ran reports. I read and responded to email I considered things and drafted things and studied things. I had time, sweet time, so precious a commodity in a world where hurry-hurry-hurry is the rule and the exception to the rule is only hurry twice as fast. All the questions I was asked today were clear, not fraught with subtext, not subtle hunting expeditions, simply questions. There is a beauty to simplicity which is lost in the working world. It is the beauty of music and poetry and subtle passion. It is the dazzling contemplation of the blinding light that is life. It is the subtle whisper of the darkness that is our mortality as we contemplate Fridays and the Songs of Friday.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Savoring 1100

Ahhh, take a moment to savor it. This is the 1100th post to my blog since I started it. Even though I don't feel like I am writing as much, I still enjoy the act of blogging. So, I had logged on tonight with the intention to write about something else - but that can wait, it wasn't that important. Instead, I am going to take a long moment here tonight and just - savor the moment. Ahhhhhh.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Monday, May 23, 2011

Silence Is Powerful In Its Simplicity

We seem to live in a world of noise. A thousand different noises, some subtle, some not so subtle, some simple, some complex. It can be a struggle to find a place where the noise falls away and we slip into a blissful silence.

I’m a huge fan of technology-in-general but technology doesn’t necessarily contribute to silence. I don’t think it inherently makes noise since we can control the on, off and volume buttons, but I think it provides a very easy avenue into a very noisy part of modern life.

When was the last time you simply sat in silence, alone with your thoughts, for an extended period of time? Ten minutes? An hour? An afternoon? An entire day? If you are like most people, I doubt you can remember. There have probably been stolen moments of silence, perhaps when you wake in the middle of the night, but a deliberately constructed silence in the middle of the day is a pretty rare thing.

Silence is powerful in its simplicity.

Take some time. Find silence. Find a space to simply be.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Complicity of Neutrality

I woke up this morning and as I wandered through my morning routine, I was thinking about the complicity of neutrality. In the incidents and events that surround us people often take the position of studied neutrality. I know I do it some times as well. I think there are a variety of reasons why we do this.

For some things we are truly neutral, we simple do not have an opinion on them. They are things that do not matter to us, or things that we are not involved in, or things that we have been involved in and considered and neutrality is just where we happened to land.

For other things, our neutrality is not honest. It is a carefully considered mask that we have assumed, again for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we put on that mask because we care too much about a subject, because we don't want the depths of our feelings and involvement revealed. Other times the mask is to protect ourselves, to conceal our tender and vulnerable thoughts and ideas. Yet other times the mask is to protect others, to protect their tender and vulnerable thoughts and ideas.

What we need to watch out for is those times when we take up this mask to hide ourselves from ourselves. It is then that we risk the complicity of neutrality. In our internal world, when we care about something, when we care deeply about something, what something simply matters to us - and we take up the mask of neutrality, then we become complicit in our failure to nurture that thing, whatever it may be. In our external worlds, was also risk that same complicity. When we believe in something, we should believe in that thing. What we feel about something or someone, we should express. What we think should be different, we should strive to change. What we see as injustice we should oppose. What we see as justice we should support. The complicity of neutrality leads us to nothing more than mediocrity.

Looking Back Memoirs - Lou Andreas-Salome

T.R. recommended a book, which arrived on Friday, and I just started reading it. On waking this morning, I spent the first half hour re-reading the first chapter, which I had read the day before, in large part because I wanted to try and understand what the author was saying.

The book is "Looking Back: Memoirs" by Lou Andreas-Salome. Rather than go into great detail about the subject matter and author of the book, here's a link to Wikipedia, where may brains better than mine speak about her. If the remainder of the book is like the first chapter however, this is simply a very cool book.

I'm certain that, as I go forward, I am going to write in detail about some of the ideas in the book. I'm already mulling around what is contained in the first chapter.

Lou Andreas-Salome on Wikipedia

Here is a link to the book, if you're interested.

Looking Back: Memoirs by Lou Andreas-Salome

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Very Low Key Day

It was a very low key day. I woke from a dream of a magazine article in an issue I had not yet read. The morning was cool and gray. Breakfast was simple - coffee and oatmeal. A hot shower followed, then a lazy couple of hours watching the DVR and waiting for the clouds to burn off. I took a half hour nap. I went out to lunch with Tony, at Hawg's, for chowder and Cajun pasta, then we saw "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides". It was amusing and enjoyable. From there, I wandered through the market to pick up a few items, then wandered home and spent the evening alternating between watching DVR and reading "Looking Back: Memoirs" by Lou Andreas-Salome. I wrapped up with T.R. and now am ready to slide off to slip - all in all, a very lazy, very good day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just A Few Thoughts

The trend of the busy week continues, but I think today was the turning point. One of the four issues I was dealing with at work is resolved, two have wound way down and I think are near resolved, and the fourth has been successfully handed off to the next team that gets to work on it.

Now, of course any of them has the potential to surge back up, but I am not suspecting it. One of the things about data analysis is - there is always a bottom to the data. There is only so much information that can be gleaned from a data set, regardless of how expansive the data set is, and especially if the data is being evaluated to provide an answer to a specific question.

I can tell from the tone of this entry that I am still deep inside that portion of my brain where the analyst reigns supreme. When I get that far in, it generally takes a couple of days to find my way back out. So, I have a weekend of relaxation, maybe some wandering, good food and poetry planned. I should also be able to slip some writing in there as well.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some Thoughts on Now

One of the areas I continually struggle with is what I call “the challenge of now”. Over the years I’ve trained myself to multitask. I would like to think I was pretty good at it, but that is probably an illusion. In the last year or two (2010 and 2011), I’ve been making a conscious effort to focus on trying to single-task, trying to do one thing at a time, trying to focus on being in the moment and doing what is in that moment. It is a fairly difficult thing to do.

My mind takes to run away from me, take off in other directions, easily distracted by the thoughts of other things and other days. This captures us between the real and the unreal. The past is done, there is nothing that can be done about it, nothing that be undone in it – and it is no longer real.

The past is the echo of the real.

The past is the echo of now.

The future is also unreal. The future is unrealized potential. The future does not become real until that moment when it becomes the now.

That is a tough thing to get the brain around. Yes, the actions we choose in the now influence the availability of choices in the future, but that link is mostly unreal as well. There is rarelly anything that prevents us from making radically different choices, from taking actions that are a radical departure from the current course we’ve set ourselves on.

Realizing that life is in the moment, pulling our thoughts back into the here and the now, is always an ongoing challenge for me.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Six Days Later on Saturday

It hardly seems like it has been almost a week since I posted anything. The last work week passed quickly, with the evenings focused on relaxation and unwinding from the work days. I've got a couple of involved problems going on at work (a pair of data analysis questions and a pair of technical problems) and it took a lot of time during the week to figure out what all of the parameters of them are. I am still carrying them into the next week, but I think I have all four of them pointed toward resolution. It sometimes amazes me the amount of sheer energy that intellectual and knowledge based working takes.

So, today was about as lazy a day as I could conjure. I had breakfast with friends at the Hickory Pit, then we went and saw "Priest" with Paul Bettany and Maggie Q, a visually faithful adaption of the graphic novel. It was well done and enjoyable for what it was - your basic good v. evil, battling the vampires, with a nod to John Wayne's "The Searchers". I definitely liked it.

From there, I wandered home and spent the afternoon weaving my way through the poetry of Li Young Lee, "Our Kind of Traitor" by John Le Carre, and intermittent programs off my DVR (Camelot, Castle, Bones, and Fringe). Late in the afternoon I took a two hour nap, then rolled into a very pleasant evening, again balanced between DVR, reading, and time with T.R. All in all it was an excellent lazy day.

Tomorrow's plan is lunch up at the Texas Road House in Union City at noon, so that means I should move into a lazy morning, I've got four hours of Sanctuary on the DVR, which should be entertaining. I have some more thoughts that I would like to write down, but the day is sliding to an end and I can feel my eye's starting to get heavy.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Idle Sunday

It is early Sunday afternoon, just after 1:00 PM. I am sitting on my La-Z-Boy in the living, watching the last two episodes of HBO's Camelot and just contemplating things. It's been a good day, a mostly quiet day.

I didn't fall asleep until late last night. Oh, I went to bed early enough, slept about an hour, then woke up and tossed and turned until about 1:00 AM. There wasn't any particular reason, rather I hovered in that place between waking and sleeping where you are aware of the passage of time. Once I fell asleep, I slept deeply and woke at close to 6:30 AM. I tumbled through the shower, had a quick breakfast of oatmeal, and then called home and wished my mother a happy Mother's Day.

I then met two friends of mine for breakfast (Bob and Tyrone) at the Hickory Pit, where I had the Monte Cristo, which was tasty. From there, I stopped by the market, picked up groceries for the coming week, then stopped to pick up two new pairs of blue jeans. (I'd bought a pair of Wranglers a few months ago and strangely, both of them wore a hole in exactly the same spot. I am not sure what caused it - but I do have this thing about jeans with holes in them - I don't like them. While I was at the store I also picked up a pair of black khaki's.)

I found my way home and had lunch - a bowl of cream of mushroom soup and a peanut butter sandwich. Lunch finished, I cleaned the kitchen, straighten out some incidental stuff in the bedroom, and then came online to see if there was anything worth watching at the movie theater. I've already seen "Thor" (definitely recommend it and I see it did 66 million, which is a good opening). Other than that, there really wasn't anything that I was interested in. There is a movie in limited release that looks like it might be interesting, called "There Be Dragons", but it looks like one of those movies you have to be in the right mood to watch.

Since I've got quite a bit of stuff stacked up on my DVR, I thought I would watch the last two episodes of Camelot, which has been enjoyable, especially the performances by Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and Eva Green as Morgan La Fey. Combined with HBO's "Game of Thrones" they have an excellent pair of fantasy based original series running.

Well, I am going to settle in and enjoy the programs for a while, as well as working my way through the Sunday paper. I hope your day is going well, whoever you are.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seeking Simplicity, You Find Simplicity

Well, I have bounced through a couple of chaotic days – nothing major, just the usual bumpiness of the working world, short notice meetings, fast deadlines, strange requests – the stuff that makes companies work and drives workers insane. I often suspect that one of the things a highly successful organization can do very well is plan. Though, I think that might be a myth. I think back on some of the highly successful groups I’ve worked with over the years and it dawns on me that none of them were particularly good at planning. I do think one of the traits they all shared was that they didn’t lose a lot of time spinning, but kept a good focus. Over the years I’ve definitely seen entire organizations spinning out of control.

It all comes back to Simplicity I think. I’ve often said that the purpose of management is to “draw bright lines” for the workforce – lines that both show them the direction to take and delineate the edges of their responsibilities – both of which allow people to focus on what matters. A little over a year ago I went for near radical simplicity here in my office. I stripped it down to just what is needed an used on a daily basis. That was a good approach and it has definitely aided me here at work, helped me pull out of the aftermath of the high degree of stress I was under (with a little counseling of course), and helped to focus back on being highly productive.

I am still working, perhaps struggling, with simplicity in my home life. I’ve made huge strides, but I still have a way to go. I think of it as sanding wood, slowing working it with a finer and finer grade of sandpaper until it glistens. My office glistens. My home is still a work in progress. But, I feel like I have made very good process. This last weekend was a good example, at least for me.

I had a highly productive Sunday, where I got a lot done that needed to be done and that I wanted to do – and at the same time I managed to spent a lazy afternoon just being. (Well, being and watching episodes of HBO’s Rome on DVD, which I wanted to watch again since I read “Cleopatra: A Life”.) I think one of the contributing factors to being able to achieve that was overall sense of “lightness” that comes from having very simple living spaces. By clearing out the physical stuff that clutters, you also clear out the mental stuff that clutters – and both enable you to move through the world with less incidental turbulence.

Once you have that experience it inspires you to continue to seek that experience by clearing away more of the stuff, physical and mental, that clutters your life. In seeking simplicity, you find simplicity. It’s an interesting journey to be on.