All posts tagged: Monday Musings

Wonder

Imagine living 99 years inspired by a sense of wonder. Entering into the world as children, we began with the curiosity and amazement found at the heart of a wonder-filled life. Yet along our journeys, most step out of this sense of wonderment and instead become cautious, cynical, hardened, haughty or any number of other traits designed to protect our egos and allow us to function—or so we believe—in the adult world. In taking that step, we too often lose a generous, more imaginative perspective. Wonder came into my consciousness last week while I was in Charlottesville for the memorial service of a long-time friend, Anne Worrell. I met Anne soon after moving to Virginia in the early 1980s, and over the years I came to know her primarily as a historic preservationist, businesswoman, newspaper publisher, philanthropist, and convener extraordinaire. With her husband Gene she founded their first newspaper, the Virginia Tennessean, in Bristol, and together they grew the company to be one of the largest chains of small dailies in the country. Anne, who …

The Search for Wise Leaders

Is it possible to find wise leaders in this era dominated by 30-second soundbites, cable news demands for conflict, twitter-length pronouncements that take the place of rational discourse, and increasingly short — or nonexistent — attention spans? I began thinking anew about wisdom after hearing the Rev. Emily Griffin speak a few weeks ago on how those who are wise stay afloat in a figurative sea of rising waters. Those thoughts were carried forward in one new book that has been on my nightstand, along with another I’ve returned to in recent months. Both included perspectives on wisdom, insight, and discernment. Making the link between wisdom and leadership followed later as — with increasing frustration — I watched two nights of the Democratic presidential debates on CNN at the end of July. First, consider how we know that someone is wise. The writers I have been reading suggest that wisdom includes meaningful self-knowledge as well as an important outward-facing impact. Defining wisdom as “knowledge translated into action,” Emily struck a chord and helped begin my …

To Wander. To Dawdle. To Live.

Wander. Dawdle. Already two of my favorite words, they now seem perfect for a gap year. For years I looked for books to help encourage my desire for a slowing down of the daily rat race. Not surprisingly, I tended to find and read them while on vacation. One winter holiday, when one usually focuses on resolutions for the new year, I was instead leisurely enjoying a book on the wandering mind. Author Michael C. Corballis wrote, “It seems we are programmed to alternate between mind-wandering and paying attention, and our minds are designed to wander whether we like it or not.” That sure rings true in my experience. In The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You’re Not Looking, Corballis argues that, “Mind wandering has many constructive and adaptive features — indeed, we probably couldn’t do without it. It includes mental time travel — the wandering back and forth through time, not only to plan our futures based on past experience, but also to generate a continuous sense of who we are. Mind-wandering …

Making Big Decisions

After running through the woods in the gathering darkness, four young people warily approach an old house. The dialogue begins: “Let’s hide in the attic.  No, in the basement.” They look around wildly, and one female pleads “Why can’t we just get in the running car?” A male character responds, “Are you crazy? Let’s hide behind the chainsaws.” The voice-over comes in to say, “If you’re in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It’s what you do.” After the pitch for saving money with Geico Insurance, there is the scream, “Run for the cemetery!” and all four take off from the garage full of chainsaws to . . . who knows what.  But we’re safe in assuming it will be bad. I still laugh every time I see this clever commercial. Decisions. We all face them. And making big or difficult decisions isn’t easy, even if you’ve never been in a horror movie. But we all see examples of poor decisions leading to disastrous consequences on a daily basis. When we have to make quick …

Create at the Intersection of Experience and Innovation (Or: If You Never Invent Yourself, Reinvention Won’t Be Necessary)

In the recently released documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, country music legend Dolly Parton comments that “Linda could literally sing everything.” The film cuts to Ronstadt — who famously sang folk, pop, rock, country, R&B, Cajun, operetta, the Great American Songbook and traditional Mexican music in a long and successful career — as she dryly remarks, “People would think I was trying to remake myself, but I never invented myself in the first place.” There is a great deal of wisdom in those few words. Today we hear about reinventing yourself for the information age. Creating your new personal brand. Unmooring yourself from your past to create a new you. Most of that reinvention messaging is . . . what’s the technical term again? Ah yes. Hogwash. The assumption that you need to jettison the past as if it never existed and doesn’t matter is central to the modern idea of reinvention. Many writers have commented that the American myth is built upon jettisoning the old in order to glorify the new. …

Don’t Create Followers, Create More Leaders

Management guru Tom Peters has said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” In the middle of a week full of simple yet sublime pleasures, I also had the opportunity to experience unexpected leadership lessons with long-time colleagues and friends. This story begins with The National Trust of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which has been a model for preservation and conservation organizations since its founding in 1895. While many National Trusts exist around the world, all are modeled in one way or the other on this original National Trust. I’ve worked with U.K. Trust staff members over the years and have come to count several as dear friends. The Trust’s work to connect people with places and the willingness to give back out of its century of experience to the international preservation and conservation communities have long been an inspiration. I spent time last week interacting with the National Trust at several levels. The long-time connections were also how we found ourselves in Cambridge last Monday, visiting with Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of …

Our Country is Like a Really Old House

With instant communication and connections, one can travel the globe and still face issues from home.  We may try to block them out, but they come up in conversations in other countries. In feeds on social media. During sermons.* Even in a toy display in a store window! I’ve been reminded again during my travels that in today’s global world, there are many national issues with international ramifications. Thomas Fingar — the Shorenstein APARC Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and former Assistant Secretary of State — lectured on the Japan / Korea / China / United States relationships during the Asian portion of my current trip.  Fingar provided a realistic and sometimes sobering assessment of future difficulties (many self-inflicted) as we were visiting sites of great beauty and centuries-old history. A few days later I arrived in the U.K. as Prime Minister Theresa May was resigning and the airways were filled with commentary (some from the current resident of the White …