“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
With that in mind, here’s to continuing to strive for different thinking, as the calendar turns to 2019 in my first year as an MBA candidate at UC Davis Graduate School of Management.
“I think silence is one of the greatest gifts that we have.” – Fred Rogers
I finally watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor? this week, and I was reminded by how much I am still influenced today by the lessons I first saw through the screen back when I was just a toddler.
As an adult, I once had the honor of working with one of our countries best theater directors, Blanka Zizka of The Wilma Theater, who not only inspires by constantly reinventing herself and her company (see the linked article), but also gave me a memorable lesson in leadership over a decade ago.
She does a tremendous thing before she gives notes to her cast after a rehearsal… she sits in silence, and only speaks once she has figured out what she wants to say. At first, it’s highly uncomfortable for everyone in the room, as she just sits there, staring at us, sometimes for a couple of minutes. After the second or third time however, we all get used to it, and soon everyone does it, taking long pauses before they respond to a question or prompt. The power of thinking through what you want to say before you say it, so that your input can be well-constructed, empathetic, and clear, is a tremendous creative leadership tool.
Fred Rogers apparently once wanted to explore the element of time with his viewers so he set a timer for a minute and we all watched in silence as it counted down. He was also noted for not responding immediately after an interview subject finished a thought, giving them space and permission to continue, reaching topics and feelings they might not have otherwise. More on this later.
“For true story finders, the world is a scavenger hunt” – Latif Nasser
It’s probably appropriate that a lot of my business lessons I’m thinking about during my winter break off of business school come from the realms of art and story-telling, as they are the core of my professional background. If you are at all interested in how to ask good questions and investigate challenging problems thoroughly and dynamically however, which is a definite MBA skill, you should be listening to RadioLab, whose most recent episode explored one of their most prolific producer’s process in finding stories. Latif Nasser has great, practical examples of how to use google alerts and Wikipedia for exploration into the unknown, but I preferred to think about his larger message towards exploration.
In doing so, it coupled wonderfully with this great GQ interview with Andy Serkis that I found in my own idle surfing on YouTube this week, whom you may or, aptly, may not know from his motion capture roles as Gollum in the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong in King Kong, and Caesar in The Planet of the Apes re-make trilogy, and more.
When I was a director, I would talk about two main types of great actors, the “larger than life” ones and the “slow burners”. There are people who can just walk into a room and be the most outlandish, vibrant person there, think Jim Carrey, and that’s an amazing gift and skill, undoubtedly. But as a director, or more generically, a leader, it’s hard to work with those people, as you mostly need to leave them alone to be the genuises they are. But then there are the ones that you don’t recognize the genius in right away, who give a first read of the script and it’s relatively bland and shapeless and aren’t busy brooding in the corner refusing to lose character. But… they ask you great questions, and they come in the next day with their own pile of research on the character or something they were playing around with, in the mirror quietly at home perhaps… those are the ones you love working with. Andy Serkis really showcases this here, and, I believe, in his work.
So, there is probably some inherent MBA-style value in this notion for some of you, but those looking for a more specific connection…
GIVE GIFTS TO MY NETWORK
I started a new job last week with The Potrero Group, as a Thought Leadership and Branding Associate. I can’t describe what an amazing feeling it is to be offered the opportunity to put the learnings of this past year with my classes at Ideo U and now with my MBA into practice, while I continued my studies and growth simultaneously. Moreso, I am being offered a chance to explore and support the expansive thinking of a team that “are really great social scientists” and “think deeply about social processes and people”, as their clients have raved. So far, that couldn’t be more true.
One of the “Learning Resources” articles on their website, which I perused today AS PART OF MY JOB (how LUCKY AM I), had a section that just killed me, so I am going to present it to you here in whole. Please check out Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers to read it in its entirety.
“As former regional director for Habitat for Humanity International in the Middle East and East Africa, David Haskell oversaw HFHE’s meteoric rise in impact. In that role and his current role as Executive Director of Dreams InDeed International, he has observed many networks functioning in distressed communities. Haskell noted that networking to accomplish goals is the norm among people in poverty. ‘You have to make ends meet, so you are always finding solutions in suboptimal conditions. But beauty comes out of this. Imagine that you were tiling a floor. You could use uniform tiles that all fit together nicely but are rather expensive. Or, if you cannot afford those tiles, you can make a mosaic of discarded tile shards. It winds up far more beautiful and functional than the fine tiles. That’s the picture of how you do this networked approach,’ he said. ‘You look around, take stock of the broken and missing pieces, figure out how you can support each other, develop trusting relationships so everyone will work together and hang in there, and you finally create a multiparty collaborative effort that produces better results than a simple grantor-grantee relationship will ever achieve.’ Since any given situation will present a different collection of tile pieces, every network is unique.”
For any team, in this case, my cohort at my program, this is such an important and valuable ideal to strive towards. I titled this section “give gifts”, because again, to pull out from my artist bag of tricks, I once got to work with a playwright, Greg Romero, who believed in the creative expression of “gift exchange.” As you may guess, the idea of gifts could range from the very traditional, an item or a long hug, to the very untraditional, asking a great question of someone or sharing knowledge. That the very last thing my class did together before we breaked was an unprorious White Elephant was not lost on me!
We all benefit from gifting each other with our presence and knowledge. It’s why I love the American idea of networking, that simply by introducing yourself and sharing your journey with another and asking them to share theirs with you, that they then can genuinely want to help you, and vice versa. As another great Potrero Group resource article gifted me, “Emergent Learning: A Framework for Whole-System Strategy, Learning, and Adaptation”, we all “could learn something from ant colonies… the more they interact, the faster ant colonies learn where the best food sources are.”
I want to give gifts in 2019.
Hopefully, this was a good beginning.
“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute…
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.”