Month: March 2017

Problem Solvers

I spent much of last week with eight mayors, and seven other resource panelists at the Mayors’ Institute on City Design in Charleston, South Carolina.  The mayors – two women and six men – came from cities as large as San Bernardino, California, and as small as Juneau, Alaska.  Three of the cities were state capitols, at least two were located on historic Route 66, they spread from coast to coast, every community had a historic core that the mayors saw as vital to their identity and future, and all were ethnically diverse. The political leanings of the mayors – and those of their cities – spanned the spectrum.  Some had been in office for several years, others were relatively new to either the mayoral office and/or public service.  One was a writer on social justice.  Two were accountants by training, while another was a banker.  One had spent much of his career running YMCAs.  As befits the mayor of a city that abuts Canada, the mayor of Juneau had worked for the U.S. Customs …

The Blessing of Silence

Madeleine L’Engle – the well-known author of A Wrinkle in Time and many other works of both fiction and nonfiction – is a writer I return to again-and-again when I’m looking for wisdom from a different perspective.  As Candice and I took time off this past weekend to celebrate our anniversary, I found time to re-read L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention:  The Story of a Marriage, which is the one book both of us included several years ago on a list of influential readings. Reading that book made me think of L’Engle’s other writings, selections of which became the basis for a collection of daily readings entitled Glimpses of Grace.  Over the weekend I looked at the reading for March 20th.  It was titled “The Blessing of Silence” and while the references to transistors and records are dated, it is still worth a read. “Why are we so afraid of silence?  Teenagers cannot study without their records; they walk along the street with their transistors. Grownups are as bad if not worse; we turn on the TV …

35 Reasons I’d Do It All Over Again

Thirty-five years ago tomorrow – March 20th – Candice and I started our adventure together.  I remember the first time I saw Candice.  She was coming around the corner of an office cubicle at the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office – where we’d both just been hired – and I thought, “Wow!”  (That’s a technical term meaning, “This could be interesting!”) As I got to know her over the months and years, my initial assessment was more than confirmed. In her book Two-Part Invention:  The Story of a Marriage, Madeleine L’Engle describes the evening that her husband Hugh proposed to her. “We went to one of our favorite restaurants in the Village, and after dinner he came home with me.  We talked.  About this, about that. He suggested that we play records, and chose Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. He picked up a book of poetry off the shelf and began leafing through it, and then read me Conrad Aiken’s beautiful words: Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you …

The “Risk” of Values

At the National Trust, we begin each executive team meeting with an example of our values in action. Discussing how our colleagues have exemplified our values of integrity, collaboration, diversity, and innovation – all focused on making a difference – is often my favorite part of the meeting. National Trust Trustee emeritus Ken Woodcock was a consistent proponent of the importance of organizational values, an approach that came from his years at the energy company AES.  At Ken’s urging, I read Joy at Work by the highly unconventional AES co-founder and CEO Dennis Bakke, who spoke eloquently about the importance of values.  In one especially telling example, Bakke quoted from the company’s public-offering memo, which read in part: “An important element of AES is its commitment to four major “shared” values:  to act with integrity, to be fair, to have fun, and to be socially responsible….AES believes that earning a fair profit is an important result of providing a quality product to its customers.  However, if the Company perceives a conflict between these values and …

Two Unexpected Books for These Times

It wasn’t until I was well into the second of two books I’ve devoured in the past few weeks that the timeliness of these very different works dawned on me.  Nothing in either the biography or novel – both released in 2016 – would have suggested that they were important books for our time, much less that there would be common threads. And as a bonus, both are terrific reads. Timothy Egan has produced a page-turning biography that captures the incredible saga of Thomas Francis Meagher (pronounced Mar), one of the most famous Irish Americans of all time.  Egan – one of my favorite writers (see the “Writers I Enjoy” list on the side of my blog page) – has previously written highly readable and well-researched histories on the Dust Bowl (The Worst Hard Time) and the founding of the U.S. Forest Service (The Big Burn).  In The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, Egan bring Francis Meagher’s time and story to life. Meagher was born to comfort in Ireland, but …

What I Learned From Reading the Obituaries

Every day I get an email with the daily Ted Talk.  I have to admit, I end up deleting the majority of them without opening the video.  But every now and then, a title catches my eye, and I decide I want to indulge. “What I Learned from 2,000 Obituaries” which showed up in last week’s email fell in the latter category.  Here was the teaser: “Lux Narayan starts his day with scrambled eggs and the question: ‘Who died today?’ Why? By analyzing 2,000 New York Times obituaries over a 20-month period, Narayan gleaned, in just a few words, what achievement looks like over a lifetime. Here he shares what those immortalized in print can teach us about a life well lived.” Spoiler alert…I’m going to tell you the punch line in just a few sentences, so if you want to watch a very entertaining, short (for Ted Talks) and thoughtful piece, just click straight on the video (also inserted below). The premise is easy to understand.  Reading the New York Times obituaries with a …

The Two Year Anniversary of My (In)Famous Encounter with an Ambulance

I was at work today when someone in a meeting reminded me that today was the second anniversary of my (in)famous encounter with a sliding ambulance. What, you haven’t heard that story?  Well, go here to be reminded. You don’t want me to tell you about it now, because the story becomes “better” with every retelling.  I was reminded again that I was once “famous in cabs!” After it came up today, I mentioned this anniversary to a guest in the meeting and he said, “You can’t say you were hit by an ambulance without telling the story,” so I’ve already had a chance to recount it once today. When I ended he said, “That’s means you’ll be 62 tomorrow on your birthday?”  I replied, “If I make it!”  After my ambulance encounter at 59 years, 364 days, and 21 hours on March 3, 2015, I don’t take anything for granted. Fingers crossed that this evening is uneventful. At least there is no ice in the forecast. More to come… DJB