Month: April 2019

A Crisis Is A Terrible Thing to Waste

A bad report from the doctor.  An unexpected shift downward in job prospects.  A jarring call in the middle of the night.  An unwelcomed story on the front page of the New York Times. Each is a crisis. Crises are inevitable. How we respond says a great deal about our courage and fortitude.  It was Stanford economist Paul Romer who coined the famous soundbite, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  Others have used similar language, including former Intel CEO and Chairman Andrew Grove.  When speaking of his company’s Pentium Processor flaw in 1994, Grove said, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis, Good companies survive them, Great companies are improved by them.” In a recent Politics and Prose presentation, Reed Hundt—author of A Crisis Wasted* and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission—discussed the global financial meltdown and Great Recession of 2008-2009.  While his new book studies the courage and fortitude of those addressing this financial crisis, Hundt goes further to describe key elements in responding effectively to moments of upheaval. First, correct diagnosis of …

From the Bookshelf

The world’s landscape has shifted. Two books came off my “to be read” pile this month, and both focused on a theme as current as the day’s headlines. The more substantive is a deep analysis of the 2008 financial crisis and how early decisions made in the midst of the Great Recession still affect us today.  The other, a charming novel set in a luxury hotel in Moscow, takes the reader from the upheaval of the Russian Revolution through the mid-1950s.  President Barack Obama and Count Alexander Rostov, main characters in fact and fiction respectively, nonetheless face similar challenges when their world shifts underneath them. A Crisis Wasted:  Beginning in 2008 through at least 2009, the United States faced the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.  With the Bush Administration transitioning out of power, President Barack Obama and his administration took on the lion’s share of the work to address this challenge, often while battling opposing forces in both political parties.  That the United States survived without falling into national and worldwide chaos …

The Gap Year Chronicles

At some point in describing my “not quite” retirement after 42 years in preservation, I began to refer to what was next as the “gap year” I never had in my 20s.  It was said only partially in jest. Gap years are a first world phenomenon that—as far as I was concerned—didn’t exist in my middle class/public school upbringing in Tennessee in the 1970s.  At least they didn’t exist for a young man who wanted to get on with his career (the ambitious slice of my personality); who, as the number two child/son, always did what was expected and “right” (the getting the job done segment of my personality); and, finally, who needed a job to pay the bills (the persistent part of my personality coupled with the reality of rolling off the family payroll). But here I am, having said “I’m taking a gap year” enough that it has become a reality, even for me, and I’m working on understanding what it all means. Will this period cover a full year? To be honest, …

Stretch Your Mind

We have an “almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” With that simple observation, the Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, writing in his landmark book Thinking, Fast and Slow, gets at the heart of how we create an illusion of understanding even when our knowledge is limited or based on false information. The week after the redacted Mueller report was released to the public seems an appropriate time to explore Kahneman’s assertion.  Everywhere one turns there are those making stronger and stronger claims based on less and less factual evidence, even when those facts are clear and in the public realm.  One of the culprits is most certainly the way we now consume news. We skim or graze over news feeds from sources chosen by tech giants’ algorithms, so that we grasp only the barest of essentials run through a filter of group think. In The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that we vastly overestimate what we know (a point also made by Kahneman).  Quoting Sloman and …

Move in Traffic With Good Sense and Prudence

Who knew that Pope Francis was an urbanist? I’m not a Catholic and only occasionally follow news out of the Vatican, but I was taken by reports that Pope Francis had commented on driving habits during his most recent New Year’s Eve homily. As reported in the press, Francis — who is also the Bishop of Rome — included the following in his remarks: “’I feel gratitude in my soul, thinking about the people who live with open hearts in the city,’ Francis said.  As examples of that spirit, the pope began with a for-instance that will echo the frustrations of many a Roman resident – ‘those people,’ he said, ‘who move in traffic with good sense and prudence.’ By consensus, the poor state of maintenance on Rome’s roads, the lack of accessible public parking, and the city’s paralyzing traffic, are among the top complaints from locals…. The pope then went on to cite other examples of heroism from the silent majority.  He praised ‘those who respect public places, and report things that aren’t right; …

Legacy and Promise

NOTE: This post first appeared on the Preservation Leadership Forum blog.  It is adapted from remarks I made at the February 23, 2019, National Trust for Historic Preservation Board of Trustees meeting, my last Board meeting after more than two decades with the National Trust. Over the past 22 years, I made it a practice to regularly reflect on both the legacy and the promise of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We were founded by Congressional Charter after America’s leaders had seen the destruction that war could inflict not only on people but also on a nation’s culture and heritage. Our founding chairman, David Finley, was one of the famous Monuments Men who risked their lives to save the cultural patrimony of Europe during World War II. Bill Murtagh, an early predecessor of mine in senior management, went on to a distinguished career in preservation as the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, establishing the tool to tell America’s story. Clearly, we stand on the shoulders of giants. The National Trust …

About “More to Come…The DJB Blog”

Hi.  I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this blog in 2008 to send random thoughts on a few things I care about to friends, family, and others who may share the same passions.  I began this as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation.  After the trip was over, I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus, which is reflected in the updated menu items and look.  Several years ago I began writing a Monday email to my staff about things that were on my mind, and this discipline led to a regular feature on the blog which you can find under “Monday Musings.”  Professionally, I am a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. Throughout my career, I have been passionate about connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities. You can learn more about my professional consulting work through my Bearden Brown LLC …

Writer's Block

Honing your craft

Vision. Skill. Time.  All are usually required to produce something of lasting value.  All are at the heart of craftsmanship. Traditionally linked to items made by hand, craftsmanship can be applied to a wider array of undertakings that benefit from an attention to detail through the application of a skill sharpened over time and practice. Take writing, for instance. For several years I’ve considered how best to refine my writing skills. However, other commitments became excuses for never taking serious steps forward to actually hone that craft until a former colleague recently noted that my passion has always been best expressed in my writing. It is where I seek to tell a story or share a memory in hopes of inspiring and making a meaningful connection to colleagues and friends. One of my favorite sayings is “Let’s see how it writes.” This same colleague suggested that I may have been the best first draft writer in the organization. I knew exactly what she meant, and it was that particular comment that led me to pick …

Patty Griffin

Last Wednesday, singer-songwriter Patty Griffin performed to a large and appreciative audience at Washington’s 9:30 Club. Featuring songs from her recent self-titled album, Griffin showcased her significant songwriting chops and wide-ranging musical interests from rock to Latin romanticism to gospel to beautiful acoustic folk. It was my first time to see Griffin live, but not the first time I was smitten with her work. No, that would have been about fifteen years ago while standing in a record shop listlessly flipping through CD bins while fixated on the sound of Griffin’s 1000 Kisses album and the unique, emotional vocals coming out of the store’s sound system. I’m happy to report that the decades haven’t diminished that vulnerable voice. Wednesday evening she performed Long Ride Home, one of my favorites from that 2002 album, as well as the rousing Move Up from the remarkable Downtown Church album, recorded in a historic Nashville house of worship that is an architectural masterpiece and, from a personal interest standpoint, was founded by a great uncle of mine six-or-seven times back. Patty Griffin remains on tour …

On becoming who you are

You’ve no doubt heard the motivational quote, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  Frankly, it has always struck me as excessively sentimental, or—to use my preferred description—sappy. But on my first day of unemployment since 1977—even though a planned move—I’ve certainly been thinking about who I am and what’s next. To help in that process, I turned to John Kaag’s recent book, Hiking With Nietzsche:  On Becoming Who You Are.  I’ll be honest: I know nothing about philosophy, but was simply taken by the book’s title and jacket blurbs.  We buy books for all different reasons, I suppose, and I’m glad I picked this one up a few weeks ago.  Kaag, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, writes about two journeys he took to Piz Corvatsch, the Swiss mountain so important to the writing and life of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The author’s first journey to Corvatsch was when he was a youthful nineteen-year-old.  The more recent one came at age 36, with wife …