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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Source of Information Versus Source of Energy

Inhaling is a key part of my meaning making mission.

I usually spend the first hour of my day scouring and learning and reading and annotating from any number of newspapers, blogs and online publications. By the time I’m done, my desktop is littered with new documents and ideas and perspective and insight. And my brain is ignited and ready to engage.

I’ve been practicing this daily ritual for about a year now, and it’s had a huge impact on me, for one simple reason:

I used to view news as a source information, but now I view it as a source of energy.

First, for me.

Reading it excites the citizen in me because I’m engaging with what’s going on in the world. Inhaling it expands the thinker in me because I constantly fill my reservoir with valuable perspective. Documenting it satisfies the artist in me because I’m making meaning through writing, organizing and responding to smart ideas.

Then, for others.

Sharing it fulfills the human in me because I’m giving gifts to people I care about. Discussing it energizes the extrovert in me because I can contribute to conversations in a valuable way. Referencing it elevates me as a resource because I can pick from my intellectual inventory at a moment’s notice and be a resource for others.


What did you inhale today?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Opposite Of Pulling Teeth

I like people who join people.

They’re the ones you don’t even have to ask. The ones who just want to be part of everything. Whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re thinking, whatever you’re feeling, they’re happy to be there. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. On board at a moment’s notice.

It’s the opposite of pulling teeth.

Relentless affirmation. Instant encouragement. Endless participation. Radical acceptance.

You’re never met with a tilted head.

The challenge is, you can’t really teach this. Otherliness, aka, the willingness to join others, is more of a fundamental bent than a learnable skill.

What you can do is notice it. And celebrate it. And model it. And understand why it’s valuable. And give thanks to the people who practice it. And remember what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it.

And over time, a sort of osmosis of the heart happens.

You wake up and realize you’ve become a joiner, too.

Someone who believes that saying yes to people is the ultimate love language.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Omnipotent Power Versus Organizing Principle

Everyone has religion.

Whether god is involved or not.

In fact, the world religion literally means, “to link back.”

So it’s less about an omnipotent power and more about an organizing principle. Our religion is the one thing in our life that all the other things in our life link back to.

Kelly Slater says surfing is his religion. Olivia Newton John says nature is her religion. Quentin Tarentino says cinema is his religion. Eric Maisel says creativity is his religion. Jim Gilliam says the internet is his religion. Dalai Lama says kindness is his religion. Alexander McQueen says fashion is his religion.

Proving, that religion doesn’t always have to be the inherently implausible theological insurance scam we’ve been brainwashed into believing.

It could simply be the primary venue where we choose to invest meaning.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

We Take Ourselves With Us, Wherever We Go

When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer.

Because I already was one.

Writing wasn’t my dream, it was my dominant reality. I can’t remember not doing it. It was the only territory I could always go to. The only instrument I could always just play. The one activity that, when I did it, put me back together again. If writing wasn't the answer, I rephrased the question.

Fortunately, that wiring never changed.

Certainly, what I write, who I write for, how I write and where I share my writing has changed––and will continue to change with every phase of life––but ultimately, why I write will not change.

Because I can’t help myself. What I do is the only thing that makes sense to me.

The point is, focus isn’t about activity, it’s about identity.

Gaining complete clarity about who we are, refusing to be anybody else other than ourselves, embracing our natural inclinations in every situation and doing the only thing that feels right to us.

Focus isn't about hammering one nail all our lives.

It’s about hammering lots of nails, one way, all our lives.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Treating Symptoms Always Feels Right, Treating Sources Always Feels Like Work

When I was in college, I had lower back problems.

Which is kind of embarrassing when you’re only nineteen and everybody expects you to be strong and flexible and resilient.

But your body never bullshits you.

I remember my low point. Literally and figuratively.

It was the summer before junior year. Just another night at our house. One minute I was eating dinner with my family, the next I was incapacitated on the living room floor with horrible, shooting lumbar pains that felt like an electric shock.

The worst part was, my eighty-year old grandfather had to run to the kitchen to fetch me an ice pack.

Probably a sign that I needed to make a change.

My mom, a personal trainer, suggested I start coming with her to the gym to stretch, strengthen my core muscles and improve my overall posture.

Ugh. Sounded like work to me. No thank you.

Instead, I opted for the deep tissue massage. Sixty bucks, sixty minutes, aromatherapy candles, relaxing music and a cute blonde with strong hands? Felt like the right choice to me.

And that was the problem.

Treating the symptom always feels right. Treating the source always feels like work.

It's no wonder my back never healed. At least, not until years later, when I started practicing yoga.

Maybe my mom was right.

If we truly want to make change that sticks, we ought to focus on the solution that involves burning calories, not burning candles.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Did You Do This Just For Me?

Every year, our family has a gift exchange.

But it's not the typical snow globes and picture frames and ugly sweaters. Our tradition is, you have to make your gift. By hand. From scratch.

What’s beautiful is, every gift is amazing in its own right. Over the years people have made leather belts, musical instruments, hot sauce dispensers, custom designed clothing, carry on luggage, even fine art pieces.

Proving that the best way to get the best out of people is not to tell them what to do.

And there’s another lesson. One that our culture seems to have forgotten.

Gift giving isn’t about finances, it’s about feelings.

It’s the generosity of giving yourself away to someone. It’s the thoughtfulness of expending intellectual energy for someone. It’s the physicality of burning real calories on someone. It’s the creativity of expressing yourself to someone. It’s the humanity of making that gift personal for someone.

And, it’s doing all of that in a manner that’s surprising, to the point where the recipient looks up in disbelief and wonders, did you do this just for me?

Yes I did.

The point is, people forget flowers.

If you truly want to make a meaningful deposit in someone’s emotional bank account, you need to throw in more than a few bucks at the corner store.

Throw in a little elbow grease, too.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It’s Hard To Resist A Man On A Mission

Nobody cares about nametags.

But I do.

Probably more than anyone on the planet.

In fact, caring is an understatement. Nametags are an obsession. A religion. An addiction. A pathological psychosis.

At least that’s what my therapist says.

But here’s the interesting part. A few years into my nametag crusade, once I started caring and believing and committing to this thing that was meaningful to me––even if it was mundane to the rest of the world––people started listening. Oh, they could play as tough as they wanted, but eventually, they paid attention.

And then they paid money.

Funny what happens when you refuse to go away.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Once We Have The Problems, The Real Work Can Begin

Yelp is great for reviews, but it’s gold for research.

Where else can you find such timely, honest and accurate insight into the user experience? Where else can you gain such an intimate perspective about what really happens in a store, at a home or on a job site?

Recommendation websites are veritable smorgasbords for cutting straight to the heart of the many problems customers are waking up with every morning.

I just read two pages of angry reviews from customers of a landscaping company. Fascinating stuff. One woman said she sent five emails and still couldn’t get through to schedule an estimator to come to her house.

That’s huge.

Because once we have the problems, the real work can begin.

By defining the problems, we’re forcing our brains to flex the muscle that solves them. We’re unlocking our ability to think without thinking. It’s just how we’re wired. Humans can’t think about problems without thinking about solutions.

Which means, we’re free to solve the problems clients can’t see past. We can spend two hours on a review website blowing our own minds.

Because we’re not encumbered by the day to day things that create those problems in the first place.

If I was trying to approach that industry as an innovator or supplier or consultant or vendor, that’s where I would start.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Scott Ginsberg, "Home is the Place," Live at The Scottany Wedding (8.30.13)


Home is the place where my soul rests
Where I am rooted and not diluted
Where I feel respect

Home where I'm met with accepting eyes

Where I am welcomed with wanting arms
Where I let the blood dry

Home is the place that remembers me

Where all the mirrors undress the fears
Where I feel pretty


Home where I'm 

Where I meet new sins
And the old ones I forget

Home is the place where my ship wrecks

Where all my bosses are not my crosses
Breathing down my neck

Home where I remember what

Who I was before you said I'm not enough

Monday, October 14, 2013

What If The Market Targeted You?

When I started my company, I didn’t have a logo.

My only priority was getting my book into people’s hands, getting my message into people’s hearts and getting my name into people’s heads. Everything else was secondary. Including design.

But about a year into my career, I noticed something pretty interesting.

My brand identity started taking on a life of its own.

Any time my book title, website address, company name, biography or surname showed up in the media, the editor would just go ahead and throw an image of a little nametag right next to it.

The thing is, I never asked them to do that. It just happened.

The marketplace was filling in the gaps.

They saw something that wasn’t there. Just like the human brain makes statistical estimates to complete the visual picture, people finished my story on their own.

Because the nametag was something that was already there.

It was the universal experience. The nametag made it easy for people to tell themselves a particular narrative. It was the handle by which the brand could be lifted.

So in the end, I never had to design my logo.

Because the audience defined it for me.

And it hasn't changed since.

What if the market targeted you?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Let Generosity Spring Up And Rise Again

I used to work at a youth leadership camp.

Teenagers from all around the world would gather in Geneva, bunk up with complete strangers and spend two weeks hiking, canyoning, running team exercises, learning problem solving skills and taking workshops on personal development.

Pretty cool stuff.

Made the summer camp I went to look like a chemistry class.

I remember my first year there. The camp director explained that my role was more than just leading a few workshops, but being a resource for the students.

Not a counselor or a staff member or a supervisor or an instructor.

A resource.

Their philosophy was, being a leader meant being a pointer. Somebody you could tap on the shoulder, spend five minutes with, and walk away from with a wealth of assets to support your journey. Somebody who opened up their schedule, opened up their heart, even opened up their entire mental reservoir, on a moment’s notice.

Interestingly, the term resource stems from two French words. One meaning, “the spring,” and the other meaning, “rises again.”

I think that’s a beautiful mantra.

As a friend, as a leader, as a human.

In someone’s time of need, let generosity spring up and rise again.

We're Not Supposed To Love One Thing

My business was my first love.

It was the first thing I gave everything to, and the first thing that gave everything to me. The two of us were absolutely faithful to each other. We were inseparable. You couldn’t tell where the company ended and I began.

Which was professionally helpful, but psychologically hazardous.

Because as with any first love, our flame slowly started to fade.

I was changing. She was changing. The world around us was changing. And both of us knew we were starting to outgrow the relationship.

So I freaked out.

This wasn’t just a breakup, this was an identity crisis.

And that’s the danger of throwing your heart into something and letting it become all you stand for. The moment it slips away, panic settles in. And you start wondering to yourself, what am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?

Identity diversification, that’s what.

Become more than what you’re known for. Live larger than your labels. Create a richer repertoire of meaning. Establish an identity independent of your profession.
                        
In short, stop being so goddamned one-dimensional. 

We’re not supposed to be one thing in life.

And we’re not supposed to love one thing either.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Selfish When You Create, Generous When You Share

When it comes to writing, I’ve always been as selfish as possible.

With the production, I write what I want, when I want and how I want. With the process, I don’t do drafts, I don’t use editors and I’m not interested in constructive feedback. And with the positioning, I never think about my ideal reader, I don’t care what will work in the marketplace and I’m not worried about people who don’t get the joke.

The purpose of creation is liberation. To make something to call my own. To have a body of work I can point to. One that that nobody can take away from me.

The most important word in an artist’s vocabulary may as well be mine.

Being selfish isn’t just our right, it’s our responsibility.

Until the work is done, that is.

Once I press the publish button and ship something out the door, all that selfishness vanishes like a fart in the wind, and into the jaws of generosity I go.

A copy of my new book? You bet. Here, take mine. Take the whole case. Seriously, put your wallet away. Actually, keep it out. I’ll pay you to read it. Twenty dollars sound good? Thirty? Better make it fifty. Say, can you break a hundred? That’s cool. Just keep the change.

The second most important word in an artist’s vocabulary may as well be here.



Friday, October 11, 2013

Scott Ginsberg, "Sweet Somethings," Live at The Scottany Wedding (8.30.13)


Pay ourselves in hope till silver crosses our palms 
Take this poverty of vow
Squinting at the mirror just to see if it's safe
It's the stain that won't wash out

Sweet, sweet somethings I 

Repeat on this salty night
Sweet, sweet somethings I 
Repeat on this salty night

Hanging all our fortunes not on chance

Making friends before we make requests
And we will go and eat the world if we can
To feed this starving artist bent

Sweet, sweet somethings I 

Repeat on this salty night
Sweet, sweet somethings I 
Repeat on this salty night

Set our palms against the stone

These two hearts are not alone
Protect us from what we want
All them statues shooting up

Sweet, sweet somethings I 

Repeat on this salty night
Sweet, sweet somethings I 
Repeat on this salty night

"Sweet Somethings" can be found on my fifth album, Let The City Crumble.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Learning To Love What's Good For You

When you’re genetically wired for hard work, the hardest thing to do is nothing.

The opposite of ambition. The antithesis of labor.

Idleness. Blech.

But just like in yoga––where the posture you hate the most is the posture you need the most––I figured doing nothing was the right move.

But not before doing a little research.

Sabbatical comes from the word sabbath, meaning day of rest. Figured. But the word also dates back to ancient agriculture. Mosaic law decreed that on the seventh year, a farmer’s land was to remain untilled while debtors and slaves were to be released.

Maybe that’s what I needed. To leave the land alone. To emancipate myself as a slave to achievement.

So last year, I decided to do nothing. For three straight months.

No working. No writing. No marketing. No strategizing. No nothing.

Just a lot of sleeping, a lot of walking, a lot of reading, a lot of singing and a lot of traveling. And cookies. Oh man were there cookies.

And it turns out, for someone who’s happiest when he’s productive and prolific, for someone who’s wired to find satisfaction by adding value through toil, taking a sabbatical was the best thing I could have done. By the time summer was over, I was rejuvenated and equipped for the next chapter of life.

Who knew doing nothing could be so productive?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

You Don’t Need More You

Introspection has interesting economics.

It’s our superpower for developing independent critical thinking skills, understanding ourselves better and deciding where we need to grow.

But after a while, introspection reaches a point of diminishing returns. And we end up sitting in a corner perfecting ourselves, trapped in our own heads, bouncing our thoughts off a thin wall, playing a never-ending game of inside baseball.

Sounds like a good time to stop introspecting and start interacting.

Humans, after all, understand the self in the context of other people. We regulate our emotions and understand the world by connecting with others. So if we truly want the highest understanding of who we are, eventually, we have to reach for someone else. When we co-create with someone, we expand our brain's repertoire and get new wiring out of it.

Aristotle said knowing ourselves was the beginning of all wisdom.

Perhaps knowing others is the rest of it.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

We Can't Run From Who We Are

I just watched this video of a toddler discovering his shadow for first time.

Awwwwww. I nearly choked by his adorableness.

But then, my hamster wheel started turning.

With million views, thousands of likes, hundreds of comments and dozens of articles written about this viral video, I knew there had to be a deeper layer of meaning. The cute factor may be hard to resist, but we can’t deny that something more interesting is going on here.

Devin’s shadow is a perfect example that we can’t run from who we are.

Our identity chooses us, not the other way around. No matter how hard we work to kick nature out, our truest self will still bubble up the surface.

Online. Offline. At work. At home. In the community. We can’t help but be ourselves.

Michelangelo famously said the sculpture was inside the stone.

He wasn’t talking about art, he was talking about us.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Negativity Is The Easy Way Out

I come from a long line of positivity beacons.

Fundamentally affirmative personalities who respond to others with of constant chorus of yeses. Relentless encouragers whose immediate optimism makes the people around them think to themselves, I believe in this, I can do this, I’m ready to try this.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to wrap my head around negativity. It doesn’t compute with my biology. When I encounter people whose native wiring is to soil conversations with shit, they might as well be speaking another language.

I guess I understand the allure. Negativity is easy to find, easy to dispense and even easier to rally people around. And resisting the pull of that force is no easy task.

But ninety percent of life is doing things that aren’t easy.

And our attitudes shouldn’t be any different.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Existential Pain Of Not Doing

Motivation doesn't happen to us, it happens in us.

If there's something we need to discipline ourselves to do, it's not a question of making the time to do it. Everybody knows nobody has time for anything. 

The secret is creating a rich context of meaning around the activity so it becomes existentially painful not to do it.

Dragging our butts out of bed and into the gym is no easy task. But it becomes a lot easier when we change our understanding of what the gym means to us. If we started viewing it as more than just a smelly room to pump iron, maybe we wouldn't hit the snooze button as often.

That's how I trick myself into working out everyday. My studio is more than just a place to sweat, it's a center of belonging. A neighborhood community. It's where I connect with people who have overlapping value systems.

And that's just externally. Internally, it's also the place where I work out my emotions, purge my stress and return to center. It's training to handle the demands of life. My studio is anti-depressant that keeps my sanity in tact.

Considering that depth of meaning, would you ever want to miss a day?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

In That Kiss I Saw A Vision Of My Future

“Your culture will kill you softly with its song, and you won’t even notice.” One of the first lessons I learned from wearing a nametag everyday was, if you don’t make a name for yourself, someone will make one for you. And it might not be the one you want. Proving, that identity is a proactive endeavor. We can’t be bystanders in defining who we are. It’s too important to leave up to chance. Interestingly, that same lesson could be applied to organizational culture, but on a larger scale. If we’re not intentional about creating an environment worth coming to––and passing on––the culture will create itself. And we’ll lose control of the collective experience of every individual who has anything to do with us. Because every organization has a culture. The question is whether it’s alive and breathing, and who’s running the ventilator.

"In that kiss I saw a vision of my future." So many things in life just go away. A prospective client reaches out, shows an interest in our work, asks tons of questions, requests a price quote, emails back immediately, gets our hopes up about working together, and then just magically disappears. No explanation. No apology. No nothing. They just go away. And despite our follow up efforts, courteous and professional and persistent as they may be, still nothing. What the hell. You came to me, remember? But that’s just it. Just because she kissed once doesn’t mean you’re in love forever. That’s good advice for love and work. Because we can obsess over what went wrong all night. Was it me? Was it them? Was it technology? But in the end, some things just go away. And although it’s wildly unsatisfying, although we’d rather hear no than nothing,


"The greatest verb might well be earn." Continuity is currency. It’s what earns us the benefit of the doubt when we make mistakes. Music is the perfect example. Some of my favorite bands, ones that I’ve been a loyal fan of for decades, occasionally put out a weak album. And it hurts my ears, but I usually get over it pretty quickly. Because I know there’s more where that came from. I trust my heroes. I forgive them quickly. They've brought so much joy to my life for so long, and I'm sure they'll be back soon enough. The point is, we should all work toward that level. More than talent and accuracy and perfection, we should all strive for continuity. Because when we're playing every day, we can afford to take shots and miss.