Learn to play, play to learn

IMG_6416Denise has been reacquainting herself with what it’s like to be a student. She’s started learning cello, taking two lessons a week. She loves the instrument as well as the chance to learn more about the student-teacher relationship. “As an adult you miss that sort of thing, a regular meeting with someone who’s helping you with some aspect of yourself and you feel very nurtured and cared about. You pay some shrink to listen to you every week, is what most people do. This week my cello teacher canceled a lesson, and I was upset about it. It’s a very intensely personal thing to study an instrument, and since adults are emotionally more rich and more mature, the nature of the relationship with a teacher tends to be that way as well. I’m so completely involved; it just takes you out of your life.” 

{Piano teacher, Denise Kahn, from the book Piano Lessons by Noah Adams}


An accomplished professional decides to learn something new for three clear and powerful reasons:

First, she wants to increase her empathy for her students, reminding herself of what it’s like to be in their shoes. Second, she wants to experience a mature and supportive relationship that will assist in her own teaching by helping her to (third reason) learn more about herself.

Her wisdom is demonstrated by her commitment to continuous learning about herself, others and her vocation.

This is the recipe for all who are committed to being the kind of human beings, perhaps the kind of leaders, who understand that to be well equipped for change and complexity means to willingly challenge our personal, relational, and professional status quo.

Finally, we’d do well to acknowledge that if the word “play” can be applied to something as difficult as learning an instrument, it can certainly be applied to our own pursuits.

What might happen if we played our way into and around these areas of learning? How might that alter our willingness to explore them even more deeply?

If it’s time to learn, it must be time to play. And it’s always time to learn.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Hiding in Plain Sight

“What is obscure we will eventually see;
what is obvious usually takes a little longer.”
{Edward R. Murrow}


Your team is hiding in plain sight. They are there, you can see them, they are working…all true.

But they are hiding, just the same.

What they are hiding is the depth of their creativity, their energy and their initiative because they do not (well, most of them, statistically speaking do not) feel engaged enough to do so.

In other words, most leaders of most workplaces haven’t earned the right to preserve, protect and defend the most important qualities of the human condition, those qualities that demonstrate who each of us is at our most open, and most vulnerable.

Knowing this as they do, they do not bring those best parts of themselves into the office. They leave them elsewhere for safe keeping…in the car, at home, online.

And the organization is impoverished for the lack of access to their best selves. Complex problems remain unsolved, possibilities remain unexplored, “craziness” remains unexpressed.

This is, technically speaking, a huge bummer.

But there is hope, here on a Tuesday, in the shape of you and your willingness to start a new kind of conversation in a brand new way. It goes like this:

“I would like to earn the right to get to know you at your most creative, energized and engaged. What would need to be true around here for that to happen?”


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

You have 30 seconds. Go!

Who are you?

What do you want to do?

Why should I care about that?

These questions are the backbone of any good “elevator pitch,” a brief statement of purposeful introduction that helps one person understand another person’s intentions.

I teach a Business Professional Development course for undergraduate students and this week in class I had the students form two circles in the center of the classroom – one facing in and one facing out – and stand face to face with one peer after another to practice their elevator pitches.

Including brief feedback comments after each round, each person had four chances to practice their pitch in just under twenty minutes. When we got to the final round I asked the students to put their notes away and simply share their pitch with their final partner as best they could. I wanted them to feel the anxiety and, as it turns out, the freedom of simply talking to someone else, off script, about what they want to do.

They ended up surprising themselves, reporting significant increases in confidence and composure from round one to round four. Most importantly, they learned that those first few practice rounds equipped them to leap without a net in the final round…and land safely on their feet.

Since we had an uneven number in our class that day, I joined the circle and took a few turns of my own. It was a fun and helpful challenge to make my pitch, to remind myself what I am here to do, why I want to do it and, most importantly, to ask for what I want. Until that happens, we can’t expect others to know how to help us!

Here’s what I said:

Hi, my name is David Berry. Six years ago I started a leadership coaching and consulting firm called RULE13 Learning. My mission is to equip leaders to be more effective, more confident and more human in the face of complexity and change. I am seeking speaking opportunities with organizations who are committed to continuous learning and whose leaders are hungry for both the encouragement and the tools they need to be successful. Does that sound like your company?

If only for a renewed sense of clarity about your particular mission and purpose, take some time to consider your pitch. It may awaken a dormant intention or spark a creative insight. It may remind you what you most want to do and give you the boost you need to go ahead and ask for it.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
{Seneca}


Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Movement is Life

Every time I see the movie, World War Z, I am struck by the scene in which Brad Pitt’s character implores a small family to join his own in escaping the zombies. “Movement is life,” he says, pleading with them to go. He leads his own family away and they survive. The other family stays and dies. 

World War Z was on again tonight and I thought, I should write about that line, “movement is life” and then remembered that I already had, last June. I also thought it was timely that just yesterday I wrote about how “winter” can lull us into stagnancy, getting stuck rather than getting ready. Here’s what I wrote in June. Please take heed: the zombies are closer than you think!


You’re not stuck. You’re just not moving. It’s a choice.

We know that physical movement is essential for a healthy life. And the evidence is mounting that short bursts of activity are just as valuable, sometimes even more so, than long workouts.

The same goes for your project, book, program, idea, concept or initiative.

Its viability over time is wholly dependent on you breathing life into some piece of it, some small piece.

You will never create a facsimile of what’s in your imagination. It just doesn’t work that way. But what it does become may just delight and inspire you in ways you can not predict. The sooner you get moving, the sooner you’ll find out.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world

How Should I Not Be Glad?

I sat to write the other day and the words came effortlessly, as if I were simply transcribing something already written. As I brought the piece to completion I overheard myself utter the words “the poems flow from the hand unbidden,” a line from the Derek Mahon poem, Everything is Going to be All Right.

Hearing myself speak these words made me smile. I happily recognized that the poem had sunk in, after many readings and “listenings,” most courtesy of David Whyte who references this work of Mahon’s in many of his talks.

I felt a strange sort of kinship with the author, his work helping me to connect with the feelings generated by my own work; a quiet mind and a more open heart.

Even more, I was confronted by my own commitment to welcome all that comes to me; to reconcile myself to his opening question: How should I not be glad?

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

A Child Again

cropped-dsc08616.jpg

“Getting Out of Our Heads” – David Berry, 2011

…See with every turning day,
how each season makes a child
of you again…

– from Coleman’s Bed by David Whyte

“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”  

from Eleven by Sandra Cisneros

I asked my students, third and fourth year undergraduates, if they considered themselves creative. They do not.

I disagreed.

I said, “It’s impossible to be alive and not be creative. Living is the purest act of creativity there is.”

They stared back at me.

I said, “Living equals learning. Learning equals creativity. Therefore, you are creative.”

Some nods. A lot of blank faces.

They don’t see themselves as creative. Few mature people do. At around 7 or 8 years old our spontaneous creativity dries up and we learn to devote more time to comparison than to creation.

And, the great news? The great news for every enterprise that needs to evolve, shift, change and grow to survive and to thrive? (That is, all of them.)

The great news is that the 7 and 8-year-old version of every single person you meet is still there, right there inside of them.

And your job…my job…as teacher, leader, parent, supervisor…is to help them reconnect to that kid and activate his or her inherent creative genius.

They will fight you. Maybe even vigorously. Because that pure creative expression is a scary kind of power. It’s chaos unleashed. But only for a little while. Only until you learn how to work with it again. And then, like all good positive disciplines it becomes an extraordinary, reliable source of opportunity and possibility.

Become a child again this weekend. Go get dirty. Go build something, paint something, construct something, play something, learn something. Forget “good enough.”

Your creativity is an alarm clock with no snooze button and it’s going off right now.

Wake up!


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

To Be An Artist

“Because self-knowledge is the most difficult of the arts of living, because understanding ourselves is a prerequisite for understanding anybody else, and because we can hardly fathom the reality of another without first plumbing our own depths, art is what makes us not only human but humane.”
Maria Popova


What a wonderful phrase, the arts of living. It’s a compelling reminder that we make our lives, they don’t just happen.

And we can shape them any way we want to.

What’s exciting and beautiful is that we can choose to be artists. We can mold and construct our lives. We can blend, shade, color our lives. We can design them from any kind of resource into something else entirely. What a gift. What an opportunity.

And, what a challenge. Because “any kind of resource” often means the hard stuff of our inheritance and the hard stuff of our own choices. To transform those pieces means we must recognize them, first, and then do the heavy lifting required to understand them intimately. Before we make any art, we have to know our medium.

And once we do, if we do, worlds of creative opportunity open up to us. How we shape ourselves and how we shape the masterworks of our relationships comes down to how willing we are to recognize our own artistry…the very best of being human.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Out of Your Head

Just because it makes sense in your head doesn’t mean it makes sense.

In fact, the moment when it makes sense in your head is the time to question if it makes sense at all.

Getting it – the conversation, the idea, the next sentence – from your head and out of your mouth or onto the page is another thing entirely.

And that’s the moment when you have to rely on others to help you explore, challenge and expand your new idea if you’re going to make any sense of it.

Your next “great thought” will not be fully formed. That’s as it should be.

Test it out with people who will make it better. Be committed to making it better.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.