Monday, March 31, 2008

Being in Tune with Others Matters

Last year I attended a conference for entrepreneurs who are passionate about ethics in business. The conference organizer is a well known pastor who had a star-studded list of presenters. As I listened to everyone intently there were some speakers that resonated more than others. But I learned an invaluable lesson about myself concerning one who had not immediately struck a cord with me. An interesting encounter happened the morning of my departure that caused me to see myself better and to love deeper. The principles gleaned from the conference were immediately enacted.

I arose very early that morning to prepare for my departure back to Michigan. As I had some hours before checkout, I went to get my usual Starbucks and took a walk along the boardwalk. Walking, I noticed a young African American man, no more than 21 or so writing the name “Mike” on a bench and doing so with considerable skill. On the other half of the bench was the name “Alton.” Both were beautifully drawn, perfectly aligned. I praised the artwork, asking him which name was his and wondered if his talent could have found another surface besides the public bench that graced the boardwalk.

In soft respectful tones the budding artist agreed that it wasn’t the proper place to display his art work and apologized. I loved him immediately. His name is Alton and Mike is his younger brother. After speaking for a little while, Alton reached deeply into his pant pocket that seemed to be sweeping the ground, pulled out a picture of his brother, and a laminated wallet-size copy of his high school diploma. He was very proud of both.

“This is my brother Mike,” Alton said, with great pride. “It’s just me and him.” Mike was a young athelte all suited up in his football jersey with outstreatched arm, skin in hand, as if he was about to throw a touchdown pass. Yes! He was beautiful. But so was the leaner frailer darker less confident young man that stood before me. Though, I don’t think he thought so. The character “Bigger Thomas” from Richard Wright’s Native Son came to mind. There was a deep longing and angst in his body that drew me to him.

Everything in me wanted to help this kid, besides giving him all the money in my pocket; there must be something more I could do for him. I was soon fighting feelings of complete helplessness until I remembered a speaker from the conference, a native of the city that seemed to have a great love for young people. Immediately, my heart leapt with joy and tears filled my eyes. And this speaker was one who did not hold my interest as the others, whose name I could not even recall.

At that moment this nameless speaker meant more to me than all of the other speakers combined! I could direct my new young friend to him; surely he could help Alton. I learned something standing there, something that I knew but came to me afresh: everyone has a role to play and it is not about us individually, but about mutual respect for our diverse understanding, level and role; it’s about our individual roles played out together in the greater scheme of things to lift us collectively higher, greater, further still. I felt ashamed of my selfishness and wished to apologize for my silent disrespect, that of not listening patiently.

As I could not think of this particular speaker’s name readily, I gave Alton my cell phone number written on a paper wristband he had in his pocket from a party the night before. (It appeared that he had not even been home; he had not even slept.) I would find the schedule from the conference and give him the speaker’s name when he called. Surely, I could find a number if I had a name. I hugged Alton, told him I loved him, and we parted.

As I walked away from him down the boardwalk, I felt my heart thumping louder and louder with each step. I turned around to see Alton bent over on the bench, caressing the wristband that held my name. My heart was breaking. When he saw me in the distance coming toward him, he jumped up and running towards me asked if he could walk with me. We talked and walked along the river and I invited him back to the hotel for breakfast. As we entered the hotel I could tell that he was quite impressed. I had him take a seat as I went upstairs to get the speaker's name that eluded me, but whose face now loomed large in my consciousness.

“John Jones!” John Jones!” (I've changed the name here.) I said his name again and again, being ecstatic with its refrain! I rushed down to the lobby as not to keep Alton waiting, not to cause him any discomfort, sitting in a new environment all alone. But he appeared just fine when I arrived—perhaps a little out of sorts, but happy to be at the Omni nonetheless. There was a cool confidence in his expression that I held on to, a confidence that could be developed. This confidence showed itself again as we sat for breakfast.

At breakfast Alton watched me intently, mimicking me precisely and doing a fine job at it--even down to eating with both fork and knife simultaneously, the European way. I introduced him to the waitstaff, as I had become friendly with them over the past three days; he responded respectfully and warmly. How beautiful he was sitting across from me.

While upstairs I grabbed a book that I had purchased at the conference about living in the moment and embarcing possibilites. When we sat for breakfast I inscribed it to him. He promised to read it and write to give me the highlights. As we stood saying our goodbyes, he seemed to loose his footing. I reached to assist him, asking if he was OK. He responded. “I’m just a little weak,” he said, holding his stomach. “Nobody’s ever taken me to breakfast before. Nobody ever pays any attention to me.” I assured him that I noticed him immediately and that the pleasure was truly mine. He had made my day.

But the story doesn’t end there. A few hours later, just as I was actually boarding the plane at the airport, I got a call from a Brother Golden, a youth minister who was at the conference who owned a business in the city in which the conference was held. He had introduced himself to Alton after noticing the book he was reading. Alton had gone back to the boardwalk to read the book I had inscribed to him and Brother Golden happened to notice what he was reading. They spent a couple of hours together and Brother Golden even hired him that very morning. The last words I spoke to Alton were “from this day on your life will make a sharp change for the better.” I wanted to infuse him with hope and this kind of hope does not disappoint. Words could not express the joy I had as I flew back to Michigan.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Being Rhythmic

Rhythm is important in life. In fact, rhythm is life itself. The heart pumps in rhythm. Blood flows in rhythm. Sinews move in rhythm. Love is made in rhythm. In my family, rhythm is important. We are in business, but we are also musical, even the littlest nephew. As most children, my nieces and nephews move instinctively, improvise spontaneously, sing innately, create automatically, innovate instantly, doodle naturally, and learn intuitively. Rhythm, which is aligned with passion and variance (our heart beat, for example, varies depending on our passion or lack thereof) can assist us at any age. Listen.

Rhythm is the stuff of life and music; it is also the stuff of business. In music, time signatures refer to the beats per measure in a composition; time signatures could be looked at as part of the overall architecture of the piece. As composers or arrangers look at the composition of a symphony or jazz piece, so might a consultant, for example, look at the overall architecture of a change management process. Timing factors in each significantly as does passion and variance.

The tempos of each phrase or riff are as equally important as time signatures. Whereas time signatures determine beats, tempos determine speed. In business, the question of both timing and speed is important. Consultants consider the time and speed when moving forward with a change management process and its multi-layered phases. Tempos decide pace. Should we speed up? Should we slow down? Should we swing it? Should we rock it?

How can we recapture the rhythm of our youth?

Being Georgia O'Keeffe

In the discussion of being it is most important to distinguish between self-absorption and self-expression. The former draws in only; the latter both draws in and gives out, allowing for the creation and innovation of inanimate being and the shaping of animate being through individual and collective thought and action. In painting, Georgia O'Keeffe made the inanimate animate through the personal and universal: colors, shapes, lines, earth, sky, mountains, plants, etc.

The distinction between self-absorption and self-expression is found in personal and universal passions. The personal soley creates and innovates from inward passions, while the universal does so from both personal and univeral passions. Universal passions are formed collectively through conscensus building innate to all, though formed uniquely...differently. It is in giving and receiving that we best understand our individuality and fulfill our purpose. Step outside of yourself.

Georgia O'Keeffe writes:

"I know now that most people are so closely concerned with themselves that they are not aware of their own individuality, I can see myself, and it has helped me to say what I want to paint."

Here's an homage to the individuality of being:

Are you both receiving and giving?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Being Observant and Sympathetic: Darwin's Keys to Service

Reading The Autobiography of Charles Darwin recently got me to thinking about a lot of different things and its amazing how all things converge. It is also amazing how our understanding of a person or thing is often colored by our sense of self and not necessarily the other. In order to be observant and sympathetic we have to step outside of ourselves.

I was wonderfully surprised to read, though I should not have been, that Darwin was not dogmatic in his principles at all, though many of his followers are. Great scientists, thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs rarely are. (I really like the idea of talent essentially becoming entrepreneurs, given the freedom of thought and action within the goals and objectives of the company. This releases negative control and yields greater results.) Consider this quote from the introduction of Darwin's Autobiography:

"Darwin's whole trend of thought was against facile speculation, yet theories flowed freely through his mind ready for the essential tests of observation and experiment. (Since a child Charles Darwin was ruminating on various things and picking them apart i.e., bugs and flowers. This is both random thought and action in motion, the kind of prototyping encouraged by Tom Peters.) He took twenty years of combined theorising and fact-finding to prepare his case for evolution in the face of a predominately antagonistic world." (Where others have left off, others begin. Technology did not begin in the 21st Century. Process is cumulative.)

"He had to convince others, and his doubts are as freely expressed as his convictions. (Be honest in prototyping.) His books lie like stepping stones to future knowledge. Dogmatic fixity was wholly alien to his central idea...Darwin's faith in Natural Selection as a (not the) main agent never wavered, but this admission of other causes showed his awareness of difficulties still unsolved." Without dogma, we communicate more effectively, hearing each other honestly and producing innovatively. We also discover truths that would otherwise be lost. Our customers and clients, those who hire us, want to heard. Listen.

"Darwin shares some interesting characteristics of his father that aligns beautifully with our relationship with customers and clients, those who hire us. He writes, "His chief mental characteristics were his power of observation and his sympathy, neither of which have I ever seen exceeded or even equalled. His sympathy was not only with the distresses of others, but in a greater degree with the pleasure of all around. This led him to be always scheming to give pleasure to others, and though hating extravagance, to perform many generous actions...I suppose that it was his sympathy which gave him unbounded power of winning confidence, as a consequence made him highly successful as a physician."

Are you observant to the needs of your customers and clients? Are you sympathetic not only to their needs, but to a greater degree with their pleasures all around, including those of others on the job? What makes customers and clients happy? What pleases them? Discovering the pleasures of our customers and clients may be the best way to discover their needs. This will lead to how to best serve them. Are you highly observant and sympathetic? Being indifferent will never do. Let's be passionate about service. Stepping outside of ourselves is the only way to serve. This is the distinguishing factor that brings great success.

Another relevant question: on the curiosity scale of one to ten, where are you?

Being Real about Our Founding Documents

Whether you support President Bush's policies and respect his cabinet members, Condoleezza Rice's words about our "founding documents" and "black Americans" abiding love for this country, ring incredibly true. What do you think? Below are her words in response to Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech. The interview appeard in Yahoo News! on Friday, March, 28, 2008.

"I think it was important that he (Obama) gave it for a whole host of reasons," said Rice in a transcript of the interview released by the State Department.

While saying repeatedly she did not want to talk about the election campaign -- "I don't do politics" -- and also reiterating her lack of interest in the vice presidential slot, Rice said the United States had a hard time dealing with racial issues.

"There is a paradox for this country and a contradiction of this country and we still haven't resolved it," she said in a detailed reply to questions about Obama and race issues as a whole before next week's 40th anniversary of the slaying of civil rights leader Marin Luther King.

"But what I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn't love and have faith in them, and that's our legacy."

Rice said her own father, grandmother and great-grandmother had endured "terrible humiliations" growing up in the segregated south and yet they still loved America.

While many blacks called themselves African American, Rice said they should not be looked at as immigrants.

"We don't mimic the immigrant story. Where this conversation has got to go is that black Americans and white Americans founded this country together and I think we've always wanted the same thing," she said.

Later on Friday, when asked what Americans had learned about race since the civil rights movement, Rice told reporters: "You have to work hard every day to make the extraordinary, moving and inspirational words of our founding documents a reality for all Americans."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Being Your Profession

To profess something in the sense of proclaiming that a thing is true is, at the very least, a declaration of how we see things. Professions in this regard point to either who we think we are, who we really are, or who we wish to be. What are your professions? Do they affect your profession?

This idea of profession is interesting, as I am quite impressed with the British jazz soul eclectic sensation, Amy Winehouse - - what a talent! But she, like so many great artists of the past and present, has seemingly become her professions.

There is the question of which came first the professions or profession. What do you think? Is there a way to avoid this trap? Are professions self-fulfilling prophecies? Below are lyrics like "I cheated myself like I knew I would. I told you I was trouble. You know that I'm no good."

Enjoy the brilliance of this voice and talent:

Amy Winehouse seems to have become exactly what she has professed. She has indeed been sent to rehab despite her often repeated open professions of not going to Rehab. Her actions also seem to indicate a rather low self-esteem. With the likes of "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good" she garnered 5 Grammy Awards this year. Her performance at the Grammy's via satellite in an intimate cabaret setting in London was brilliant... is the "Back to Black" video:

What we profess may indeed have consequences on our profession. Being denied a US visa, Amy Winehouse could not even appear at the Grammy's to collect her stunning 5 Awards. But she did, nonetheless, deliver to an enraptured Shrine Auditorium audience and millions of others worldwide, including me, great renditions of "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good."

All the very best to this young new brilliant artist. God-speed! Perhaps her professions will change, beginning first with an inward look. Our words are often an outward expression of our inward anxieties.

What are you professing? Is it positively or negatively affecting your profession?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Being Inconsistent, though Consistent

The inconsistency that brands need for survival and success is inherent in the being brand which includes people and entities of which the latter could not exist without the former. Simply put, it's all about people; it's all about being: the animate (people) and inanimate (entities, products, etc) which are produced by (guess who?) people. Who's peopling your business?

Personal branding and corporate branding are clearly based in being - employees, managers, corporations, sole proprietorships (which is an interesting reality, as the person is the entity and product. should this be an aim?), customers, products, etc. Basic questions to ask consistently are: Who are we? Why do we exist? What is our purpose? Are we relevant? How do we innovate? When do we innovate? Who are we serving? Are we serving well?

When we are in step with the ever-increasing global economy, personal and corporate branding are shaped and re-shaped again and again. It is the inconsistency of being that brings consistency. What remains consistent is the fact that being is inconsistent. People change. Corporations innovate. Products vary. Customer needs fluctuate.

Being is inconsistent, though consistent. It is the built-in changeability of people who re-create and innovate. In this inconsistency is consistency.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Being Both and Oneful

e.e. cumming's poem, "i am so glad and very," speaks so beautifully to our being one and the other, "both and oneful." It speaks to our countless efforts, our infinite rise, our personal evolutions, our daring defies, the bountiful few, being the other, though differently hewed.

i am so glad and very
merely my fourth will cure
the laziest self of weary
the hugest sea of shore

so fare your nearness reaches
a lucky fifth of you
turns people into eachs
and cowards into grow

our can’ts were born to happen
our mosts were died in more
our twentieth will open
wide a wide open door

we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Being in the Likeness of God

Recently, I read a Blog which spoke of research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The study shows that many Americans are by in large leaving the Christian religion, choosing others and in doing so entering the global world of consumerism. The author of the post likened it to "informed the global market place." He convincingly writes of John Lennon's diverse religious path as a "disregard for authority" that "usually extends to the domain of religion as well—which I endorse."

In response to this post, let me begin by clearly asserting my belief in Christianity through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That said...I completely loved the author's comments and understand well the reason so many Americans now seek various means to God. Christianity has so often exalted dogma above love, and legalism above faith, hope, and grace. God is love. This love is best expressed for me in the personage and radical beliefs and actions of Jesus Christ.

Christ Himself was radical; it was he who said, "I and my Father are One." It was also he who said, "when you see the Father, you see Me." And it was he who prayed, "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me that they may be made perfect in one and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me...And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

Considering the climate of that time, it would have been heretical or foolish indeed to say such things. Who has such power, to endow such things, save God himself? But what gave His words such validity is the great compassion He showed and the miracles He performed, which He professed we would perform, "greater works." Mother Teresa and others have been recorded to have done such works, even considering in hindsight her wrestles with her own faith in the recently published diaries and letters. But Mother Teresa was no different than Christ himself who asked on the cross that infamous question, "my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The truth for me in Christianity, with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which considers discontentedness and unbelief ("Lord, I believe but help my unbelief") is the element of our humanity, our frailties. It is also the greatness of love and grace that supercede all disbelief and doubt. We all -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, Bahaists, and Rock and Rollers alike -- are in search of the Kingdom of God on each of us. We are all one being in the very likeness of God.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Being a More Perfect Union

I am most proud to be among those who, in a forum such as this, share their hearts and thoughts so we can truly have "A More Perfect Union" across all divides, nationally and internationally. From the deepest part in me, I am thankful for the words that I read from Trevor Gay, Richard Lipscombe, and Dave Wheeler on other Blogs. Thank you for your words. They matter.

As an African American woman born after the "I Have a Dream Speech," it is incredibly heartening to read such thoughts by those of different ethnicity, nationality, and undoubtedly political persuasion. In this vein, I understood the words spoken by Michelle Obama when she said "for the first time, I am proud to be an American." Although the quote has been grossly misaligned, I understood perfectly what she meant. It did not come from a place of anti-Americanism, but rather from a place of true community across racial divides. She may have, however, forgotten her audience. And this is a good thing, a real thing.

In a real sense her open transparency bespoke, in fact, of the overwhelming pride she felt as an American in that so many of different races, ages, and people of various economic backgrounds were linking up and embracing the beauty and truth of Obama, this remarkable change agent, despite his race. We have not forgotten the not too distant past, though we believe so joyously in the future. Also, Michelle Obama was speaking of none less than her beloved husband and father of her two beautiful daughters. The response of others to her husband, whom she knows best, I'm sure made her feel particularly proud of being an American. This "first time" may simply imply the first time of such a candidacy.

I had the opportunity to hear Obama's speech live and was incredibly moved by its honesty and spirit of truth. As Obama, I could not have denounced the man, the Rev. Dr. Wright, though I denounce his words of anger and hyperbole. But I too understand the history from which he was hewn and the spirit of self-reliance that he embraced and taught his congregants for 30 years. I have a question regarding our response. Do we tend to be less vehement in our responses to various ultra religious conservatives who in essence speak of overthrowing local and national governments when the laws of God are violated? Are our responses less vehement when liberal or conservative talk show hosts spew hatred on the radio and TV daily? Yes, I know we're choosing a president here. But, after all, these were not his words.

For years the Rev. Dr. Wright has been a fierce advocate of self-reliance and a great supporter and advocate for the poor and sick. The many programs at his church, including assistance for those suffering with HIV/Aids, are indeed laudable. I too could not have denounced the man, as I also have relatives with histories that are amazing in spite of the intense discrimination they faced, ranging back from the late 1800s. Sometimes they have spoken in anger, but it is definitely not who they are. My great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, by in large, have survived with their dignity and love of humanity in tack, teaching their offspring to move forward in love and determination.

The reverent and irreverent alike are a part of our families...and undoubtedly yours too. My mother is Richard Pryor's cousin and the stories told about my great grandmother and legendary connections with the underworld are hair raising and quite funny indeed. She ran speakeasies in the Chicago area, though by all accounts she appeared to be quite loving and caring. But she was indeed a fierce business woman. Have you heard Richard Pryor speak of his relatives? Funny, eh? But I digress.

Denouncing the Rev. Dr. Wright would be tantamount to denouncing the Black church that has long been a place where we express great joy and vehement discontent. It is a raucous joyous experience each and every Sunday for both the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor, the young and old. It is a place that no matter how far we progress up the socio-economic ladder and live in the whitest poshest communities (these areas are not typically predominately African American), we invariably go back to the 'hood every Sunday to get our brand of religion that only the Black church gives.

Having said is not to say that other brands of Christianity are less in any way. It is, however, to say that African Americans -- as so many others -- have great respect and love for our churches, pastors and communities. The Black church has for nearly two centuries been a place for African Americans to share, vent, and simply love on each other. It is a place that lifts us to great heights, no matter what the following week has been and prepares us for the upcoming week. The Black church has and remains our safest haven, our greatest place of inspiration. Yes...havens are still needed, nurturing still required, though not exclusive to our ethnicity alone. All are welcomed.

My paternal great grandfather, Bishop Garfield Thomas Haywood, had a church of 1500 people in the late 1800s in Indianapolis, home of the KKK, where half the congregants were white. People of all races spoke of his kindness and brilliance and his great love for all people. He was a sort of Renaissance man. He was a pastor, businessman, composer and artist. Along with establishing churches in the US, my great grandfather led multi-racial groups of pastors to establish churches abroad. He was a Black man in the late 1800s who brought the experience of the Black church to the masses and they brought their particular brand of Christianity to him. Together they formed a great union. If they could come together during a time that could have left massive bloodshed in its wake, and if they could deal with preconceived notions of each other and undoubtedly unsavory words, surely we can move towards "A More Perfect Union" in our time.

God bless us all. God bless the United States of America.