New Perspectives

The Next Level

The Next Level by Scott Eblin

In his book The Next Level, Scott Eblin warns against being too myopic, which can lead to silos in organizations or businesses. We all understand our organization or business, but often only from one seat or perspective.   I bring this up because of a conversation I had last week with one of our senior staff leaders in my organization, the National Trust. We were discussing ways in which we could help individuals on our team who become too closely identified with one program, their work in one city or region, or expertise in saving one type of historic resource. It reminded me of my own experience.

Several years ago I was working with an executive coach.  After receiving 360 degree feedback on my work, she asked to see my resume, which listed my various preservation jobs since I entered the field. Once she reviewed the resume, my coach had me undertake what I thought at the time was an unusual task.  I was to rewrite my vita without using the words “historic preservation” or without the name of any of the agencies or organizations where I had worked.  In other words, she wanted me to take a fresh perspective as to who I was and my capabilities at the professional level.  That led me to think about my eight-year stint as executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, for instance, in terms of skills and accomplishments without relying on the jargon of my profession.  No “I led an effort to enact Virginia’s historic preservation tax credit” for this exercise.  Instead I had to talk about coordination of a network of supporters, communication of key concepts to the media, collaboration with partners to reach new audiences outside my professional field, and providing effective testimony before legislative committees.

It was an eye-opening experience. I had become so identified in my own mind with my preservation career, that I simply never put much thought into how the skills required to do my job translated into a broader world of possibilities.  This exercise, along with several others she had me do, forced me to look at my career, skills, and life with a new perspective.

When one becomes myopic, you don’t step back to think about the type of skills you may bring to other work where you could be a valuable team member. Similarly, you don’t think of areas where you may want to seek training to broaden your expertise. Let me encourage you, as you think about your work and what you bring to making a difference in this world, that you think bigger and try a fresh perspective every now and then. I suspect you will be surprised at what you find.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

In Praise of (Useful) Meetings

One of the items that is a perennial in our staff satisfaction survey is the comment “we have too many meetings.”  Many organizations face the same feedback. A recent article I read on productivity suggested we should avoid meetings at all costs, quoting the billionaire Mark Cuban as saying that one should “never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.”  That’s easy for him to say. He pays people to have the meetings to get to the check-writing part of the deal.

Meetings for a dispersed organization with a value of collaboration are inevitable and necessary.  Useful meetings are, unfortunately, not inevitable.  I had a colleague tell me of an experience where someone blocked out two hours on her online calendar with a meeting request, then showed up at the appointed time without an agenda or even an understanding of why they had called the meeting.  No one was sure if the right people were in the room. The participants ended up stumbling around until the crux of the matter at hand was identified, which was then dispatched in less than 30 minutes.  I told this individual that anyone in our division has my permission to refuse to accept open-ended meeting requests for long blocks of time that do not have a clear agenda or purpose.

Death by Meeting

Death by Meeting

Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meetings suggests a different way.  Lencioni says we have to

“…fundamentally rethink much of the way we perceive and manage meetings.  That means we cannot keep hating them.  And we must abandon our search for technological solutions that will somehow free us from having to sit down face-to-face.  And we have to…accept the fact that bad meetings start with the attitudes and approaches of the people who lead and take part in them.”

In this work, Lencioni notes that the “single biggest structural problem facing leaders of meetings is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed into one meeting” instead of clearly distinguishing between various purposes, formats, and timings.  While the format won’t work all the time, he suggests we think about check-ins, tactical decision-making, strategic planning, and periodic review as different types of meetings with different timeframes, different participants, and different venues.

I am not a big fan of George Will, but he does have a good line about why baseball is preferable to football, and that is because the latter “combines the two worst things about America: violence punctuated by committee meetings.”  If we focus, we can do something to make the meetings in our lives much more useful.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Beware the Asides of Summer

Off Speed

Off Speed by Terry McDermott

When I write I often fall in love with my own asides.  (Aside: a remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion.)  I believe that what I want to say is so fascinating that it doesn’t matter if it fits the topic.  Nope, I’m going to interject it simply because I can.

I’ve just read a book that may—if not cure me—get me to think more deeply before heading down some rabbit hole.

Terry McDermott’s Off Speed:  Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception comes close to being a wonderful book. Using the framework of Felix Hernandez’s 2012 perfect game, Seattle Mariners fan McDermott takes the reader through a nine-inning/chapter history of pitching, pitches, and—naturally, given the subject—deception.  Hernandez is one of the best in the game and a terrific subject for this fan’s dive into the deep end of baseball.

McDermott is a life-long lover of baseball, having been reared in the rural Midwest in “Field of Dreams” country.  And that is where the trouble begins.  McDermott finds his upbringing fascinating, and he drops in stories, footnotes, phrases (parenthetical and otherwise), and all matter of stuff that simply distracts from what could have been a terrific little baseball book.

Let’s take those footnotes denoted with an asterisk and placed at the bottom of the page that McDermott overuses throughout the book.  He can’t even get past the second page of the preface without a long footnote about obscure Mariners relief pitcher Bobby Ayala and a call with his daughter.  These footnotes occur so frequently that you feel compelled to read them, yet when you finish, 9 times out of 10 you have the thought “this book could have used a better editor.” And the use of a different pitch for each of the 9 chapters “almost” works…until you get to chapter 5 and the knuckleball—which Felix Hernandez doesn’t throw.  That gives McDermott almost an entire chapter to chase down different stories, some of which are interesting and others of which are trite.

Which is all too bad.  When I read in that same preface that reliever Brandon League “is a pitcher with a great arm, two great pitches, and apparently no brain” I thought I had latched onto a book both interesting and fun.  And for the most part it is.  The story of Hernandez’s perfect game, told inning-by-inning and almost pitch-by-pitch, is fascinating.  McDermott does a good job of describing pitches, and for those who want to know the difference between a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a cutter, this book provides that information in  different ways that are almost all illuminating.

McDermott is a gifted writer, but he let’s his love get in the way of tighter editing.  I’ll still recommend Off Speed, but—with apologies to William Shakespeare—beware the asides of summer.

More to come…

DJB

I Am Not Invisible

Last evening I spoke in Athens, Georgia, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.  The topic was the future of preservation, and I took segments from remarks given by my colleague Tom Mayes at the recent EDRA conference on Why Old Places Matter and combined it with the basic elements of our recently released Preservation for People:  A Vision for the Future.

The first key concept from the vision is that a people-centered preservation movement hears, understands, and honors the full diversity of the ever-evolving American story.

I built on this concept by noting that,

“The recognition of our stories and the capacity to see yourself and others in the American narrative has a profound effect on our sense of identity.   A few years when the National Trust conference was held in Nashville, Congressman John Lewis challenged us to believe in the idea that ‘my house is your house.  My story is your story.  The history of my people is the history of all Americans not just African Americans.’”

The Well-Tempered City

The Well-Tempered City by Jonathan F.P. Rose

I followed that with a quote from The Well-Tempered City, by Jonathan Rose, the visionary developer, urbanist, and former NTHP trustee.  In that work he notes that cities emerge from the interdependence of related parts.  He says, “compassion is essential for a city to have a healthy balance between individual and collective well-being.”

It is my belief that hearing, understanding, and honoring the full diversity of America’s story helps provide “the connective tissue between the me and the we, and leads us to care for something larger than ourselves.”

After my remarks, a member of the Foundation’s board came to speak with me.  Linda Davis is a civic and business leader in Athens, a member of the local school board, and African American.  She told me that the vision is right in line with what she has been supporting in Athens in her five years on the ACHF board.  She said, “I am not invisible” and this future is “exactly what I hope for preservation.”  Her comment was straightforward, yet poignant.

Americans have conveniently forgotten most of the people whose lives are part of our layered history.  At this time of deep division in our national life, I believe—more than ever—that we each have to do whatever we can to hear, understand, and honor the stories of those who might have been forgotten in the past.  We have to make sure they are not invisible.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence

Every Saturday morning we’re in town, my wife and I do two things without fail:  we buy our weekly groceries at the local farmers market, and then we spend an hour at the French pastry shop Tout de Sweet drinking coffee, eating scones, and talking.  I call it my Candice time, and it is the one extended period during the week we have to focus on the week ahead and—more importantly—on bigger issues that are on our minds.  When it comes to Saturday mornings, empty nesting has its privileges.*

This past Saturday as we discussed the impact of stress on our lives, Candice asked me what was on mind.  I realized (with her help) that I had begun to focus on things I couldn’t control.  Reflecting later on that conversation took me back to a book I first read in the early 1990s, Stephen R. Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  “Be Proactive” is the very first habit, and early in the book Covey notes that we each have a wide range of concerns—“our health, our children, problems at work, the national debt, nuclear war.” He suggests we separate those from things in which we have no particular mental or emotional involvement by creating a “Circle of Concern.”

“As we look at those things within our Circle of Concern, it becomes apparent that there are some things over which we have no real control and others that we can do something about.  We could identify those concerns in the latter group by circumscribing them within a smaller Circle of Influence.  By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our proactivity.  Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence.  They work on things they can do something about.”

Covey writes that those who focus on things they can influence radiate positive energy, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.  Reactive people, however, focus on things they cannot control or influence with results that include blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization.

Circles of Concern and Influence

Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence (credit: Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing)

There are so many things that concern us on a daily basis, and it differs for everyone.  I realized that the first thing I could influence was where my focus was trained.  It was helpful advice more than 20 years ago, and I’m glad it came up again during this week’s Candice time.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

* I realize that with Andrew living at home while he builds experience and saves money for conservatory we aren’t “technically” empty nesters.  But having a 24-year-old who manages his own schedule and helps out with all types of chores around the house is even better than empty nesting…and we don’t have any more early Saturday morning swim team meets!

Places Teach Us, If We Let Them

I have just finished reading two books about the American West that were written in 1987 and 1994. As I finished the second one on a rainy Sunday afternoon I thought, “I hope I age as well.”  The older of the two—which I actually read second—was the first book cited by the author of the 1994 work in her “Sources” chapter.  Both are written by women I greatly admire as writers and thinkers.

So enough of the cat and mouse games.

Savage Dreams

Savage Dreams by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit‘s Savage Dreams:  A Journey Into the Hidden Wars of the American West, was republished in a 20th anniversary edition in 2014, with a new preface by the author. I’ve been on something of a Solnit kick lately, as she is one of the most thoughtful of writers exploring a wide variety of issues across the American landscape. This early work is often hailed as a foundational work of environmental thinking.  However, I saw this more as a book about place and unacknowledged history, and the title of the post comes from her 20th anniversary preface.

At the end of Savage Dreams, Solnit lists her sources and calls out Patricia Nelson Limerick‘s The Legacy of Conquest:  The Unbroken Past of the American West for special inspiration.  I have come to know Patty Limerick a bit from recent work we’ve undertaken together, and this book has been on my bookshelf since the early 2000s, which I first heard her speak in Denver.  She is unquestionably one of the leading scholars of Western history.

What I found enlightening about both works was the timeliness of the issues they discuss some 25-30 years later.  Immigration, the dominance of the military-industrial complex, the “owning” of the historical narrative, the complex layers of history that are the reality underneath our myth making of exceptionalism and manifest destiny—all are as present and divisive today as they were as the 1980s turned into the 1990s.

I could delve into so much in these two works, but will be content with a synopsis of each and some quotes that may lead you to want to explore them on your own.  Solnit and Limerick are easy-to-read writers who take a different path in getting to their conclusions.  Solnit’s work here is more of a meandering conversation that, amazingly, arrives at its destination at the end of each chapter and feels very satisfying.  Limerick did not rely on original research in her ground-breaking work, but pulled together strains in New Western study with a style that is easily accessible.

Solnit’s work is actually two books, although they do connect in surprising ways:

“In 1851, a war began in what would become Yosemite National Park, a war against the indigenous inhabitants. A century later–in 1951–and a hundred and fifty miles away, another war began when the U.S. government started setting off nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site. It was called a nuclear testing program, but functioned as a war against the land and people of the Great Basin.”

In her preface to the 20th anniversary edition, Solnit notes that she was writing as a period of “making visible, of rewriting history” was underway. She is in the parking lots at Yosemite ten years after her book was written and noticed that the signs had changed, with a “massive reimagining of native America” as the old language of discovery was mostly gone, and the idea of virgin wilderness was seen as outdated.

Right from the beginning Solnit notes that “it’s important to remember that this was not inevitable change but was the work of scholars and tribal spokespeople, activists, and storytellers.”  That is so important in today’s charged political environment, where thoughtful scholarship is often under attack. As she notes, “the people consigned to the past have emerged as our best hope for the future.”

I found this most compelling in the Yosemite story (not to downplay the importance and terrible nature of the test site history).  But as we think about hearing, understanding, and honoring all stories in historic places, I was especially taken by the stories of eradication of the Native American people and story at Yosemite right from the beginning of its conquest by white Americans.  As one small example out of many, the kind of plants growing in Yosemite Valley in the 1850s was largely the work of its original inhabitants.  So when “Bunnell, Olmstead, and their peers rode into the valley and wondered at it for its resemblance to an English landscape garden, it resembled such a garden because it was one.”  Since Yosemite is often considered an American Eden and a touchstone for wilderness, it is surprising (to many) to find that it was an “artifact of generations of human care.”

Legacy of Conquest

Legacy of Conquest by Patricia Nelson Limerick

Solnit’s is an activist’s book, which is “about how understanding history and making it are not really very different” to quote one reviewer.  Limerick’s activism is of a different sort.  She seeks to take the story of the “settling” of the American West as “a series of quaint, violent, and romantic adventures—most with happy endings—and a process that came to an end with the ‘closing’ of the frontier in the 1890s” and turn that on its head.  The west is not a process, but a place.  It is a place where competition, profit, loss, uneven business cycles and—always—conquests are what ground its history.

Limerick’s book is also divided into two sections.  First, “The Conquerors” followed by “The Conquerors Meet Their Match.”  In today’s fight over immigration rights, the antagonists on each side could do much worse than read Limerick’s chapter entitled “America the Borderland.”  Limerick notes that this antagonism has been with us from the beginning of our country.

“…some New England Puritans brooded over the presence of Spanish Catholics far to the south; the ‘New World’ seemed less than pure if the papists had a more sizable empire than the Puritans.  Two centuries later, Anglo-Americans moving into the borderlands encountered long-term Hispanic residents.  Much modified by the environment, time, and contact with native populations, northern and southern Europe met in odd circumstances and conflicts between them, unresolved since the Reformation, surfaced again.”

SE Utah Cliff Dwellings

Cliff Dwellings in the Bears Ears area of Southeast Utah, where centuries-old conflicts over the West are still present today

One of the more difficult parts of our past to square with the American myth is the treatment of Mormons. Today’s hatred of “the other” has—it appears—deep historical roots. Limerick dives in here as well, to make the point that just when the reader thinks race is a key factor in dividing people in the West, we come face to face with the Haun’s Mill Massacre.  As she says, this attack by a Missouri militia on a poorly defended settlement, where seventeen were killed and fifteen wounded, “restores one to a realistic confusion.”  All of the victims of this 1838 massacre were white—and Mormon.  She examines the prejudices behind the 1857 Mormon War, which is extraordinary in that the U.S. Army was deployed against a church primarily composed of U.S. citizens.

There is so much here I could explore, but suffice it to say that both Rebecca Solnit and Patty Limerick have written books that are as timely today as they were some 25-30 years ago.  That’s a remarkable place for writers to find themselves.  In these challenging times in which we live in 2017, we do well to remember Limerick’s point that we need to think as anthropologists, because “humans live in a world in which mental reality does not have to submit to narrow tests of accuracy.”

Recommended!

More to come…
DJB

The Importance of Mornings…and Evenings…to Increased Productivity

Improved productivity has been on my mind recently. Thankfully, there are tips, articles, and entire books on the topic.  A quick Google search will uncover…well, 97.9 million options.  (I just checked it for you.)

In looking through several recent articles as well as notes I’ve made in the past, I was struck by the importance so many writers put on mornings…and evenings.  This rings true, and let me tell you why.

An article in Forbes noted that highly productive people practice a consistent morning routine.  “My single greatest surprise while interviewing over 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with me,” said writer Kevin Kruse.  “While I heard about a wide variety of habits, most people I interviewed nurtured their body in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurtured their mind with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, and journaling.” And when they started to work in the morning…

“Ultra productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, ‘Invest the first part of your day working on your number one priority that will help build your business.’ What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal?”

As a morning person, I get this.  Your first hours awake can be a time of great clarity and focus.  So what were the suggestions that struck me about the evening?  In the same article by Kevin Kruse, he noted that productive people “make it home for dinner.”

“There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done. Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, values include: family time, exercise, giving back. They consciously allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e., they put it on their calendar) and then they stick to the schedule.”

Arcadia Farm Dinner June 2014

Making it home for dinner with family and friends helps increase productivity!

A different article on bad habits to break if you want to increase productivity, focused first on how one spends time in the evening.  Using your phone, tablet, or computer in bed is a sure-fire way to harm sleep and productivity.  But…I bet you knew that already.  You probably read it online at some point.

Here’s to productive mornings…and evenings.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB