“We must use time creatively,” MLK, Jr.

January 17, 2011

Last week I was in DC delivering a keynote to a group of educators—superintendents, principals and vice principals. The event theme, Turning Problems Into Solutions, is the subtitle of my book, Pink Bat. My challenge was to inspire the audience to embrace creative thinking, look at “problems” in a new light, and to provide tools they could use to motivate the many teachers they influence. The client had great expectations… and I had only 45 minutes to make it happen. I’m happy to report the audience was wonderful, and based on the feedback, the event was a success. It seems I made my 45 minutes count…

Since Anne was able to join me, we decided to stay an extra day and explore our nation’s capital. We walked a good ten miles, taking in the many sites DC has to offer. At some point we found ourselves climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And then, unintentionally, we both stopped short of reaching the massive marble statue and bowed our heads… eighteen steps short to be exact. With heads bowed, we read the inscription engraved in the step, “I HAVE A DREAM. Martin Luther King, Jr., The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.” My mind raced and I became overwhelmed with emotions. Without thinking about it, we found ourselves standing on the very step from which Dr. King delivered his historic speech.

After a moment… I honestly don’t know how long we stood there… we eventually made our way up the remaining steps and listened to the National Park Ranger’s presentation. While his presentation was informative and the monument was inspiring, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. King. I returned to the step and stood directly on it. Looking out over the National Mall, I closed my eyes and traveled back to 1963. I was five years old when Dr. King shared his dream, but I remember it vividly… watching it on a black and white TV screen, hearing it repeated on the radio, listening to adults and kids discuss it as I tried to reconcile his words, their words, and my thoughts about the turbulent times. Dr. King was then… and remains… one of my heroes.

I opened my eyes briefly to take in the entire scene before closing them again and trying to remember the words spoken here some 48 years ago. He conveyed so much in such a profoundly eloquent and compelling way. But it was the end of his speech—the part where Dr. King departed from his prepared notes and improvised—when his vision became known to the world. Apparently, Mahalia Jackson, an African-American gospel singer, prompted him by shouting, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” And tell us he did.

When we returned to our hotel that evening, I looked up the “I Have a Dream” transcript and read the words several times. Then something profound struck me. In this iconic speech, this brilliant man masterfully referenced numerous biblical allusions, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” an old Negro spiritual, and so much more… all in seventeen minutes! What more can be said?

I’ll Go To Hell

July 6, 2010

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is considered one of America’s greatest writers. He had a brilliant mind and an unprecedented ability to express himself through words that still resonate today. In his book, Huckleberry Finn, young Huck (the narrator) recounts his adventures on the Mississippi River in the company of Jim—a slave who’s seeking freedom so he can work and buy his family’s freedom.

During the journey, Huck is bothered by the fact he’s helping Jim escape. He realizes by doing so he’s actually “stealing” someone’s property. At one point, his conscience gets the best of him and here’s what follows:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. Read more

One Basket

June 25, 2010

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When I first heard this expression, I was very young… but even then, it resonated. Over the years it has proven to be true time and again. Don’t invest all your money in one stock… don’t keep all your data on one drive… don’t put all your trust in one person or idea… and so on. By concentrating all our energy, prospects or resources in one area, we risk losing everything.

A few years ago, one of my employees asked why we weren’t pursuing a specific client more aggressively. “They’re huge,” he said. “We could be doing far more business with them.” He was right… and that’s exactly why we weren’t pursuing them. We already had too many resources focused on that account. Having started my company from nothing, I quickly learned the importance of having a diversified client base. It’s easy to be enticed by a huge client. The money and perceived stability are great… until the real cost comes due. Freedom always has a price. I told my employee, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… the same holds true with a big client.” As tempting as it may be, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket… or focus all your resources on one account.”

In 1894, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson wrote, “Behold, the fool saith, ‘Put not all thine eggs in the one basket’—which is but a manner of saying, ‘Scatter your money and your attention’; but the wise man saith, ‘Put all your eggs in the one basket and—watch that basket!’”

I’m not suggesting you scatter your money or attention… but being human, we eventually stop watching the basket. This is especially true at the macro level. Without critically thinking, we along with countless others continue putting all our eggs in the same basket. The more we do it, the easier and more natural it becomes. Eventually, the number of eggs expands beyond our individual or collective comprehension. Its reach becomes so intrusive we stop seeing it.

To accommodate the growing number of eggs, the basket must continually expand. This expansion necessitates additional employees and mangers to service, direct and control activities. Initially, the experts in charge assure us that they are acting in our best interests and protecting our eggs. In time they find communicating a waste of time… so they stop. Besides, as the basket grows, more and more people are employed to keep it running… friends and family members, too. The basket expands far beyond eggs and infiltrates every aspect of society. Read more

Sheep Follow Blindly…

October 28, 2009

*Journal-BelieveBelieve nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. —Buddha

Buddha’s words seem more pertinent than ever today. Maybe time is the truest test of wisdom?

Back in high school, a friend of mine from a neighboring town was arrested for smoking pot. The following day I nervously stopped by his house, uncertain of what to expect. His mom, whom I knew well and respected greatly, answered the door. She was clearly (and understandably) shaken up by the event. At some point, my buddy, his mom and I ended up at the kitchen table talking about what happened… and more importantly, what my buddy’s future held.

I will never forget that discussion, mostly because of the way his mom reacted to the problem at hand. She seemed less concerned about him getting caught, or even smoking pot—than the fact it wasn’t his idea to smoke it. Unlike most parents who would have been screaming about the dangers of drugs, how marijuana was an illegal gateway drug, how this would hurt the family’s reputation, and so on… she mentioned none of these things. At first I thought I must be missing her point. But as the conversation continued, she made it perfectly clear—I wasn’t. Read more