Create Another

Patti Smith: “I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say.”

Sam Shepard: “Say anything. You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”

Patti: “What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”

Sam: “You can’t. It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”

{Patti Smith, Just Kids, 2010}


I don’t know anyone who’s not at least a little bit nervous starting something new. Patti Smith had never written a play and here was Sam Shepard encouraging her to just fall into it, to let it happen.

That’s easy for a seasoned pro to say but for a newbie, that falling feels endlessly scary.

The ability to begin, again and again and again, is the privilege of the human species. Reinvention is the best of who we are…it is, quite literally, why we are here.

Patti Smith was young, energized and on the verge of a breakthrough when she was doubting herself to Sam Shepard. That’s an “easy” space within which to be doubtful. But decades later, this proven poet, rock star, and author performed for the Swedish Academy at the Nobel Prize ceremony for Bob Dylan.

And she screwed it up. Improvisation in the moment eluded her. So she attempted a different kind; she politely asked if she could start again.

She did exactly that, beginning and completing a beautiful rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and the other laureates fell over themselves telling her how much they admired her for how she handled it.

Young or old, seasoned or new, we are invited to approach this moment as a beginner.
The only question is whether or not we will be willing to start again.


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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Beannacht
{John O’Donohue}
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

Help is on the way

Not only is help on the way, but it’s also surrounding us all the time.

In my experience, to find out for sure, you just have to ask for it.

Years ago, I longed to attend a leadership conference but the tuition was far greater than I could afford. I asked the organizers for a reduced fee and they said, “yes.”

Recently, one of my students cold-called a contact on LinkedIn and asked for an informational interview. The response was, “Sure, how about right now?”

I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to line up a speaker for one of my classes. She referred me to a colleague who, on short notice, said “Yes!” right away.

Maybe these are exceptions, anomalies in a cynical and selfish world.

Maybe not.

I believe that they are accurate representations of the truth that most people, most of the time will be of help if they are able.

Our job is to ask for it. And our job, when we’re on the other side of the equation is to be the ones who say “yes!”


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.

Passing Beauty

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Theresa scattered California poppy seeds in our front yard a few years ago. They came and went the following spring, a lovely and passing beauty mark on our property, or so it seemed.

Once they “bloom out,” poppies send up a seed pod that eventually breaks open, the seeds carried away on the breeze. For a couple of years, they were left to do their own thing. And they did.

That magical combination of natural forces has led to an annual poppy takeover, made all the more robust this year by a winter of consistent, drenching rain showers. We had our very own “super bloom.”

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours ripping poppies out of the ground. You see, lovely as they are, their carrot-like root system is a a favorite treat of our local and energetic gopher population. Hidden beneath those lovely orange blooms are mounds of evidence of a subterranean community hard at work.

I like the poppies and they’ve had a good run. But I truly hate those gophers and their feeding frenzy is now at an end.

In the middle of my efforts a neighbor passed by and noticed me removing the poppies. He said, “I was just thinking about scattering some seeds like you did.”

“Oh, you should,” I said. “But just know that the gophers love to eat them once they mature.” He winced a little, and said he might reconsider.

I hope he doesn’t, they really are lovely. But as with anything else worth cultivating, there is always an expiration date, a reality about which we are to be thoughtfully and cautiously aware.

When the gophers come, and they always do, they helpfully tell us that it’s time to move on, time to let the old season pass so that the new one may come.


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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Peace of Wild Things
{Wendell Berry}

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


 

The High Five Test

Vicki Gravlin is a local school district administrator who is responsible for “academic excellence and innovation.” She spoke to my business school undergraduate classes this week about the joys, challenges and every day realities of leading innovation and change in the highly diverse and complicated world of K-12 education.

In a common sense, often very funny and always inspirational style, she reminded us that an effective leader is “always on” and always engaged, especially when it’s the last thing they want to be. She challenged us to meet our people right where they are – at their school, in their office, in the classroom – to best understand what is going on, how they are feeling and what they need.

One of her proven methods for doing so is through the liberal application of the “High Five” test. It’s not complicated. She stands at the door of the classroom (or walks around her office environment) and as the students file past she gives them a high five. From this simple and brief act of physical contact she is able to gather a ton of information about both that individual and the state of the group overall.

A look away and a half-hearted effort probably means that the student is preoccupied or disengaged. A too aggressive slap of her hand lets her know there is something unresolved or unexpressed. She’s learned to pull a lot of data from these encounters but she doesn’t accept it all at face value. She connects and verifies with those around her through sincere questions and thoughtful listening to put the pieces together.

Vicki’s high five test is a reminder of the simple and potent power of connection. A small and sincere effort, in the classroom or the office, to even just momentarily connect with others kicks open the door of learning and awareness.

If you’re looking for evidence of thoughtful and committed leadership, the consistent pursuit of learning and awareness is about the best data you can get.


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.

What do you have to teach us?

The question is not, “do you have anything to teach us?” because, of course you do.

The question is, “what is it?” And it may be many things. But if it could only be one and we gave you our time and our attention, what would you help us to see that we do not yet see?

What story would you tell that would expand our perspective, increase our empathy, magnify our understanding of ourselves, our team, our shared work?

You are a teacher, by your every word and action, as are we all.

The choice we each get to make is what we want others to learn by having entrusted themselves to us.


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 to Adjust Your Default Setting

Two beliefs are highly problematic for the modern human being. The first is the belief that we are supposed to be rational actors and the second is the belief that we are.

Just five minutes of silence reveals that in each of our heads exists a chorus of competing, irrational voices that makes our decision-making, especially under stress, unreliable. For an even more clarifying experience, try something new, meet someone new, go someplace unfamiliar, navigate by landmarks instead of GPS, anything that increases your heart rate and decreases your sense of security. Now listen to the voices in your head. They should be practically chanting what amounts to your default setting, or how you see the world and your place in it under the stress of change.

That messy mix of voices is the aggregation of your preferences, perceptions, judgments and biases, the result of years of dragging a large collection net behind you through rich, rewarding, difficult and multifaceted lives.

Remember, your default setting has been working hard to help you make sense of your world and to protect your place in it for a very long time. It’s not that it’s bad or wrong, it’s just that it’s no longer as useful as it once was. It feels useful, and better than an alternative, because it’s familiar and that’s the thinking that gets us stuck in the status quo.

Here are three options for how to adjust your default setting, not so you can finally become rational, but so that you can more capably organize your competing voices of irrationality under stress.

One, in the category of highly desirable but completely unrealistic, you can find a wise teacher high on a distant mountain and take the next 10 years to get there, live there, and learn.

Two, in the category of moderately desirable and more realistic, you can find a counselor, therapist or coach somewhere in your neighborhood (or via the magic of Zoom!) and take the next couple of years to explore yourself, make sense of your learning and practice new ways of thinking and feeling.

Three, in the category of undesirable and totally realistic, you can do the following:

  1. Start noticing yourself more closely in familiar, stressful situations and notice what goes on inside. Write it down.
  2. Start putting yourself into unfamiliar situations and notice what goes on inside. Write it down.
  3. Share what you notice with someone you trust and who has your best interests at heart and see what they think and what feedback they have to share.
  4. Identify and clarify the few things that matter most to you (financial security, family happiness, health and well-being, new experiences, community building, environmental action, continuous learning, achievement, impact, etc.). Use your spending habits and your calendar for clues. Write them down and share them with the person in #3 above, among others. See what they think.
  5. Do the same thing with your strengths. Get as clear as you can about what you do best when you are at your best. Think of concrete examples, write those stories down and share them, as above.
  6. Repeat with an honest assessment of your weaknesses (“opportunities” or “challenges” for the euphemistically inclined). The more honest you get, the better off you will be.
  7. Now, your aspirations and goals. What do you want and why? Write it down. Who knows about this? Find the right people and let them know, you might even ask for help.

What’s happening here? How is this laborious (and therefore undesirable) process of self-reflection, paying attention, writing down and sharing going to lead to the better management of your inherent irrationality?

It’s going to ground you, root you, establish you in your corner of the world by using clarification and understanding as a means to build confidence. The irony of the  personal and relational insight that you will gain is that it will make you more aware of and accepting of your irrationality, as well as that of others, which in turn makes you one of the most rational people around.


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.

Called to Rise

We never know how high we are
{Emily Dickinson}

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
  Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—


My father was an Episcopal priest and so it was not entirely a surprise when, around my 13th birthday my mother asked me if I had any inclination to follow that path for myself.

“Absolutely not,” I declared.

“But what if you are called?,” she asked.

“I would hang up!,” I shot back.

A few years later I would have gladly borrowed some of that conviction for what I didn’t want in my search to figure out what I did.

It became clear with the benefit of hindsight that a path was taking shape in front of me but it was so difficult to believe it in the moment that I hesitated to step forward. I was being called to rise – into myself, into my gifts – but I lacked trust in what I had already done as evidence of what I could and would become. The pieces were there, but the puzzle remained a mystery.

The clues to the solution came with a couple of major revelations. First, that what I had to offer was wanted and valued and, second, that the way I would and could offer it would remain beyond my imagination until I lived it into being. I know that sounds squishy but for me it’s the difference between reading a recipe and wondering about how it will taste and going ahead and making it to find out. It may not turn out as you imagined it but now that there’s a baseline, adjustments can be made.

I still wrestle with the voice in the head that shouts that I dare not dream “to be a King.” And those I mentor and teach, along with good friends and colleagues, generously share their own version of that same inner struggle.

I encourage myself and I encourage them with the reminder that I remain the worst possible judge of my potential; that if I sincerely want to respond to the call that comes for me, I must surround myself with those who will not only help me hear it but also grab the phone away before I can hang it 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.