Month: February 2017

Each of Us is Needed

In his wonderful 1987 book Leadership is an Art, retired Herman Miller CEO Max DePree tells a story about diversity.  He notes that one of the key people in the 1920 furniture business founded by his father was the millwright, who oversaw the steam engine that powered the enterprise.  One day the millwright died. DePree’s father went to visit the family, and after some awkward conversation the widow asked if it would be all right if she read aloud some poetry. DePree continues with his story. “Naturally, he agreed.  She went into another room, came back with a bound book, and for many minutes read selected pieces of beautiful poetry.  When she finished, my father commented on how beautiful the poetry was and asked who wrote it.  She replied that her husband, the millwright, was the poet.  It is now sixty years since the millwright died, and my father and many of us at Herman Miller continue to wonder:  Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?” …

Quest for the Best (Picture): The Best-Laid Plans Edition

Well, Candice and I were on a roll to get to all nine Best Picture nominees prior to Sunday night’s Academy Awards show.  But then two sold-out theatres (when we tried to see Fences and Lion), trips to Tennessee (both of us) and Florida (Candice), a board meeting, and a very bad head cold (the last two are mine) intervened. So the four I ranked on February 18th are the only ones we’ll see prior to the awards show.  I’m sorry we did not see the other five nominees, and especially Fences and Arrival.  This was an especially rich year for Best Picture nominees. Of the four that we saw, the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar is La La Land.  It is a delightful movie, but compared to the other three we saw, it is a lightweight.  What most reviewers note is that the voters love nothing better than to award good films about making films. In reflecting on the other three – Hidden Figures, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight – I think …

The Spirit of Our Institutions

When I was young, we did not celebrate the generic “Presidents Day.”  Instead, we attached the names of real men — flawed but great, each in his own ways — in celebrating first Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12th, followed shortly by Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd.  I am pretty sure — growing up in the South — that we were not given a day-off from school on the 12th, but we did generally receive the 22nd off…even if it was smack in the middle of the week. There is an interesting history to this holiday, beginning with its name and including the story of how it was moved to the third Monday in February.  According to the federal government, what we celebrate today is officially Washington’s Birthday.  But states actually decide which federal holidays to celebrate, and they can also rename them.  So in Maryland, where I live, we celebrate Presidents Day. I’m a bit old-fashioned and like my holidays well defined and not simply an occasion to get an extra-long weekend and a great …

Those Who Do Not Know Their History…

The recent executive order temporarily banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries brings to many minds an earlier, ugly incident from American history.  As is often the case, those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it. An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times spoke to this earlier, discriminatory ban.  When Lies Overruled Rights tells the story of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. “Seventy-five years ago on Sunday, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes and report to incarceration camps. Two-thirds were American citizens. Fred Korematsu, my father, then 23, refused to go. A proud and loyal citizen, he had tried to enlist in the National Guard but was rejected and was wrongly fired from his job as a welder in an Oakland, Calif., shipyard He was arrested and tried for defying the executive order. Upon conviction, he was held in a horse stall at a hastily converted racetrack until he and …

Quest for the Best (Picture) – Part 3

Earlier this week Candice and I saw the fourth of this year’s Best Picture nominees.  Manchester by the Sea is both a tragic story and a well-crated, artful movie.  It is very much a deserving nominee for the Oscar for Best Picture of the year. The script is the first star here, in that the movie tells a story full of flashbacks and dreams that let the story unfold at a pace that is never rushed yet seems appropriately paced.  Lee Chandler – played masterfully by Casey Affleck – returns to his hometown after his brother Joe dies of heart failure.  He quickly learns that Joe has made him the guardian of his 16-year-old son, Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges.  The relationship of Lee and Patrick could normally be seen as sharing a common grief – if from different perspectives – but as the movie unfolds it becomes clearer that Lee’s grief is much deeper and longer, and is sparked by a return to a town he had to leave in order to live. There …

Habits Are Not Destiny

“Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not.  They’re habits.”  That’s according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:  Why we Do What We Do in Life and Business. I got to thinking about the habits that we undertake while reflecting on the discussions from a recent management team retreat.  We were probing how and why we do certain things to see if there were routines – or habits – we wanted to break or establish. Scientists tell us that habits emerge because our brains are looking for ways to save effort.  We all can identify habits – both personal and professional – that impact our lives.  Just as we have good and bad personal habits, organizations have good and bad routines.  We want to avoid habits that turn important decision-making over to a process that occurs “without actually thinking,” but at the same time we want to build routines that support our goals and aspirations. Thankfully, habits and routines can …

The Priorities in Life

I have read two books recently where I could simply and honestly say, “You should read this.”  The second of the two, which I finished reading Saturday morning, seemed to be the appropriate one where I should sit down and capture my thoughts immediately. When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi has been on the New York Times Bestseller list and was a top book of 2016 on many lists.  There’s a reason.  This is a book where, as the Times reviewer noted, “Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.” Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and writer who – at age 36 and near the end of residency training at Stanford – was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  This memoir is his look at confronting death with all the knowledge of a top-trained doctor and all the uncertainty of a human being who imagined a whole life of promise in front of him. Kalanithi studied English literature, human biology and philosophy before turning to a decade of …