Think Week (Change Week)

Posted on February 23, 2018

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I recently completed my version of a think week, taking some time for reflection in New York and West Texas during a natural work transition. My think week was apparently less stringent than the isolated-cabin-in-the-woods version of the think week, but I also oriented more toward actionable changing in addition to just thinking. Here are five questions to consider when structuring a think (change) week:

Confirm Commitment

Do you really just want a vacation? If you’re primarily looking for a break from work, consider taking a nice vacation. You can step away from usual routines, visit different places, and socialize with friends and family. You can physically and mentally refresh. A vacation is not the same as an intentional, structured, immersive thinking experience. In my case, I knew I wanted a solo week with more intellectual stimulation than a typical vacation.

Set Objectives

What do you want to accomplish from your think week? As you develop contextual goals for your think week (and you definitely should have goals of some sort), consider the active mind’s continuous cycle of saturation-incubation-illumination. Saturate with new information, incubate to form your understanding, and illuminate to actionable ideas. Many think weeks are focused on saturation (read 100 articles, etc.), which is great, but it’s worthwhile to take things further in the cycle. I personally had objectives related to saturation (art immersion), incubation (idea engagement), and illumination (mindset shifts).

“Time allows us to saturate our mind with context, so we can incubate and spark the eureka moments of illumination that connect the dots, snap together patterns, and discover the options that allow us to find our paths.” –Pete Blaber

Work a Plan

What is the optimal ecosystem for your think week? Intentionally select an environment suited to your objectives. Consider your preferred levels of seclusion, stimulation, convenience, etc. as well as timing and location. Determine what to bring with you and what to set aside. Set a simple schedule for each day going into the week to help provide structure and minimize random activities. My week had an art theme and an intentional urban-rural contrast, hence New York and West Texas.

Leave Space

How will you adapt your schedule during your think week? Build enough flexibility into your week to incorporate positive distractions. Rather than overloading your week with expectations and to-do lists, focus on a few key items each day and maintain a more natural cycle. Lingering on an activity of interest? Fine. Dinner runs long? Fine. Topics pivot into more exploration? Fine. Have the space to chase ideas and evolve the week as you go. I wouldn’t have stumbled upon Aki Onda if I had kept a super tight schedule, for example.

Make Change

What will you do differently after your think week? Develop your thinking into tangible actions to realize change. Identify things you can do (or stop doing) immediately as you complete the think week. Having brought Russell Brand’s Recovery book on my think week, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about addictions, and more precisely how to either bolster or break routines and habits to better align my life. Thinking has to get to action to be meaningful, even if the action is stripping away other action.


Summary think week (change week) checklist:

  • Confirm Commitment – Do you really just want a vacation?
  • Set Objectives – What do you want to accomplish?
  • Work a Plan – What is the optimal ecosystem?
  • Leave Space – How will you adapt your schedule?
  • Make Change – What will you do differently?

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Sounds Extreme

Posted on December 10, 2017

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The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum sits on New York’s Upper East Side in a renovated Andrew Carnegie mansion. When Carnegie purchased the land in 1898, it was more than a mile north of what was then considered fashionable society and many levels removed from the deafening steel mills that accelerated his fortune. It seems he wanted space for a garden.

On a sunny Sunday morning in October of this year, the Cooper Hewitt galleries are quiet with only a few visitors at such an early hour. I break the silence by tapping a few keys on a dot piano in the Designing with Sound exhibit. The notes present a stark reminder of how sound surrounds us, how sound influences us, and how sound is often most noticeable in its extremes – the overwhelming excess in its presence or the overwhelming quiet in its absence.

“It’s this hidden actor in our lives that changes our mood in an instant, guides our choices and makes or breaks emotional connections.” –Joel Beckerman

Discovering Sound: Max Neuhaus in Times Square

In an understatement, artist Max Neuhaus described Times Square as a “rich and complex” aural and visual environment. From a sound perspective I’d call it noisy. Vehicles rumble by with horns honking, tourists wander through excitedly chattering, and commuters stride across metal clattering. It’s a veritable Dr. Seuss soundscape.

So it’s really no surprise that Neuhaus’s Times Square sound installation often goes unnoticed or is easily dismissed as machine noise emanating from underground. Standing by it on the 46th Street and 7th Avenue pedestrian island, 2.5 miles south of the Cooper Hewitt, I see no one else acknowledge the installation or the sound. While for me, the sound anchors my environmental perception in the area, and the island is a different place.

“It’s meant for people who are ready to discover” –Max Neuhaus

Exploring Sound: Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki

Four days later Aki Onda walks past me in a dark performance hall rapping an object on the wall. Akio Suzuki, an older artist who first explored how sound can be part of a performance by throwing “a bucket full of junk down a staircase” at Nagoya train station in Japan, stands at a table in the middle of the hall. Suzuki and Onda are sound artists on their fu-rai North American tour, and I’ve happened on a performance in Marfa, Texas.

Rocks click, bottles tap, rubber squeaks, and amplifiers hum into space as Suzuki and Onda explore the “infinite and variegated possibilities” of sound. In an otherwise hushed room (an extreme away from the Times Square environment), each isolated sound dominates the senses, and the crowd appears transfixed. Walking into the evening afterward, the crunching gravel underfoot sounds at least twice as loud as usual, and I consciously slow a few footsteps to hear the variety.

“Some musicians, when they play, they imagine the notes, but I’m the opposite, I imagine the soundscape.” –Aki Onda

Integrating Sound: Artists at Work

I continue to notice sounds and extremes over the next month. In New Orleans, I see how some venues are structured around stages (and all that jazz), how some performers integrate into existing structures, and how The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood serves as a musical playground of sorts:

At home in Minneapolis I hear the different ways conductors announce the arrival of light rail stops, the extended way sound carries across theater stages, and the flow of DJs working holiday parties. I’m reminded that some designs are intentionally constructed around sound – Warner Brothers drew full animation cartoons around Mel Blanc’s voice, after the voice was recorded, to better synchronize lip movements – while other designs treat sound as a byproduct. You can guess which designs work better.

“Sound design is part of the interaction design process, and not something to be tacked on to the end.” –Aaron Day

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Double Negative

Posted on April 16, 2017

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In 1969, artist Michael Heizer began displacing 240,000 tons of rock in a Nevada mesa. Dynamiting two facing trenches across a canyon, he cut downward into the earth, contrasting both the canyon ridge and physical art structures built upward into the sky. When he finished in 1970, he left behind negative space in the landscape and one of his first monumental earthworksDouble Negative.

Nearly fifty years later I wait alone in the darkness above the mesa, listening to the wind and watching for sunrise. As dawn breaks over the desert, I hike into the North cut and toward the Virgin River below. Sometimes it’s not what you add, it’s what you strip away.

“There is nothing there, yet it is still a sculpture.” –Michael Heizer

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Future You

Posted on January 8, 2017

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My best personal planning occurs when I consider the context of my situation – past, present, future – and act in the best interest of my future self. In its simplest form it’s asking, will I tomorrow be pleased with the decisions I make today? Especially as New Year’s resolutions start to fade into post-holiday realities, I encourage you to plan – and progress – the optimal future you.

The Past

Recognize the connection of past decisions to present situations. Personal histories in health, in education, in career, in relationships, etc. are too frequently rationalized in hindsight, rather than fully related to the present. In financial hardships, for example, the real villain is often the victim’s past self. The point is not to beat yourself up over past decisions, it’s to recognize how your decisions impact your situation. As one of my colleagues likes to say, life is not a series of independent events.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been.” –Ghost of Christmas Past

The Future

Your future is a chance to begin again. The future you will have a personal history that includes where you are today plus the decisions you make up until the next point you look back. Even with a debilitating illness, you can embrace a version of yourself that you positively influence. Take ownership of your future self.

“You are what you choose to be tomorrow.” –James Altucher

The Present

This is where the work happens to create your future. Take one step at a time if dramatic transformation is difficult. As long as steps are in the desired direction, you’re making progress. Make mindful trade-offs between what you do and what you don’t do, between the present you and the future you.

“You have to participate in your own recovery.” –Gregg Popovich


Ask yourself – Where do I want to be in the future? How will I get there on an acceptable timeline? Are my decisions helping or hindering my future self? – and align your actions this year. The future you will appreciate it.

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Collect, Edit, Showcase

Posted on June 30, 2014

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Much of my consulting work (the work within the work, so to speak) involves collecting, editing and showcasing information. The more successful the project, the more likely each of these processes has been well planned and executed, even if they are only underlying activities within the project.

Collect

Gather information relevant to the question at hand. Understand the context, obtain qualitative and quantitative data (note: the most challenging step in data analysis is usually getting the data) and review opinions from a wide range of sources. Consider the source of the source. Compare to prior experiences, existing knowledge and recent trends. Begin to analyze and fill in gaps.

Edit

Perform analysis iterations using an appropriate framework. Understand the evolving conclusions and messages. Prioritize and conduct further research. Focus on conciseness and eliminate non-essential information. Determine whether this is a crisis and the appropriate level of response. Editing is the most neglected of the three processes, and similar to the study of history, it’s easy to forget the biases influencing the facts.

“The study of ancient history is as much about how we know as what we know, an engagement with all the processes of selection, constructive blindness, revolutionary reinterpretation and willful misinterpretation that together produces ‘the facts’…out of the messy, confusing, and contradictory evidence that survives.” –Mary Beard

Showcase

Package and share the findings. Tailor the form, frequency and mode of communication to the important of the message and the intended audience. Establish or connect to existing mechanisms in order to archive and sustain the material.


When done well, these processes logically connect to a structured outcome, one that can be traced back and forth in the sequence. It also brings an awareness that when you receive a message, you’re usually only seeing one part of the showcase process.

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Amsterdam 2014

Posted on June 20, 2014

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The more I’ve traveled over the last 10+ years, the more I’ve come to appreciate the small moments in a normally busy travel schedule. Thoughtful dinner conversation. A peaceful courtyard. An interesting shop on a random walk. Sharing in the local rhythms. The perfect cup of tea. Amsterdam during World Cup week fit the bill.

Amsterdam01 Amsterdam02

 

Amsterdam03

Amsterdam04

Amsterdam05

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A Hackcrash of Reality

Posted on May 18, 2013

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On April 23, 2013 a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account stated that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. Stock prices immediately dropped, wiping more than $130 billion off the value of the S&P 500, and market liquidity dramatically declined:

Liquidity GoneIn addition to raising further concerns about high-frequency trading algorithms, the hackcrash provides an opportunity to rethink how reality is created, framed and reported.

Creating Reality

In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel Boorstin writes that in contemporary culture the fabricated, the inauthentic, and the theatrical have displaced the natural, the genuine, and the spontaneous, until reality itself has been converted into stagecraft. This concept of pseudo-events is quite powerful if we can differentiate between what is meaningful and what is merely represented to be meaningful in our environment – or if we structure our own pseudo-events to produce desired outcomes. (See Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion for further analysis).

The most essential skill in political theater and consumer culture is artifice. -Chris Hedges

Events help define reality. The activities and communities in which we participate (and those we choose to recognize or ignore) begin to create our reality.

Framing Reality

In baseball, there is increasing evidence that specific actions of catchers influence umpire’s calls. By providing a more stable target and minimizing glove movement (i.e., pitch framing), a catcher can increase the likelihood that pitches are called strikes. In effect, certain catchers provide different outcomes for physically-identical events, as depicted in Baseball Prospectus:

varitek_2011_rhb_called_pitches

lucroy_2011_rhb_called_pitchesReactions help define reality. They do in baseball particularly because the umpire’s call becomes the record. Once the call is final, what occurred in the physical world no longer matters – whether it’s a pitch a few inches off of home plate or a potential perfect game. Officially, it never happened.

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past. -George Orwell

The phrase “perception is reality” comes to mind. I hear it too often on projects when someone either doesn’t want to delve into historical facts or someone hasn’t adequately addressed a performance issue. Sometimes what actually happened matters less than what is agreed and communicated (i.e., how it is framed).

Reporting Reality

British con man John Drewe introduced false records into official archives to legitimize forged works of art. By placing documentation of his fakes next to established masterpieces, he manipulated the art market’s records and reputation. Similar to the hackcrash, he also demonstrated the potential impact of compromised sources of truth. Think about this the next time you see strongly partisan news broadcasts; the concept of manipulating reality undercuts a great deal of modern, mainstream reporting.


While the hackcrash was a result of (fictitious) reporting from a traditionally reputable source of information, the speed with which it occurred and the resulting impact demonstrate that reality is too often taken at face value – rather than evaluated with a careful consideration of how reality is created, framed and reported.

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Fingerprints

Posted on July 22, 2018

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Whose fingerprints are on the gun? When an outcome is reached, there is a natural tendency to look for the primary influencer in order to impart blame or direct praise. It’s an interesting exercise considering the complexities of most performance environments and the nuances of human behavior. Sure, focusing on the closest trigger and the freshest fingerprints is an easy start, just recognize those may not tell the full story.

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It Is What It Is

Posted on May 19, 2018

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It is what it is…except when we don’t know what it is. Is a project plan a one page graphic or 1,000+ lines of linked activities? Is a fitness plan a five minute video, a meal kit, or a holistic package of things? What does a company vice president do? (Hint: it depends.) What does expensive mean? What is the definition of fair share? What does a proposal, a business case, or a deliverable actual entail? If we’re not speaking common language, it’s hard to have a productive conversation.

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Seamless Change

Posted on April 6, 2018

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Seamless change must be enabled change:

Whether with physical moves, job rotations, system upgrades, financial changes, or any other transitions that come to mind, we often expect change to come with a flip of a switch or through a series of basic handoffs. Out with the old, in with the new. And have it done by the end of the day. For complex change, transitions require more thought and attention to be seamless. Consider motivation, capacity, capabilities, relationships, interdependencies, scope, sequence, timing, measurement, etc. Paraphrasing David Chase: we can all sit around and decide we want a new normal, but eventually somebody has to do the changing.

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Paradigms

Posted on March 23, 2018

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From Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:

MR: I used to play chess. When I was in the army I played. I was unbeatable. I was very, very good at it. With chess there’s ratings, and chess master is about 2100, and I was playing a computer on a 2100 level.
JS: Really?!
MR: Yeah, so I’d been playing that machine for weeks, and then I happened to be out on Hollywood Boulevard standing on the corner. And I saw this man – tattered, dirty – it was a street person. He had a chess set there to play, and I said, “Do you play chess?” And he said, “Yeah, I do, I do.”
JS: But it was a homeless guy?
MR: It was a homeless guy. I said, “Yeah you do. I’ll tell you what, I’ll play you a game.” He said, “I’ll play you two games. I beat you two times, you can’t play me no more.” Puts out his hands, you know, see who’s going to go first – black, white.
JS: Right, right.
MR: I pick, I’m white. That means I have the first move. I already have the advantage.
JS: Now are you sitting on the sidewalk?
MR: I’m sitting on the sidewalk with him! I’m down here like this [sits on the floor].
JS: Right.
MR: So, I move my piece out, he moves his piece out very quickly. I said, “Oh, he stops that move.” So I move out another knight, he moves out a pawn, he moves another bishop, dadada, two minutes he’s moving in, got me on the defense, BOOM checkmate. I’m like, “Whoa!” He checkmated me in two minutes! NOBODY has EVER checkmated me in two minutes! Nobody, not even the MACHINE can checkmate me in two minutes!
JS: Ha!
MR: But this time I said, “Ok, let’s play. Let’s play chess.” Makes me pick, I go first again. Ok, I lean in. He moves out his knight, I move out my bishop, bumpabum, checkmate! Faster than the first time!
JS: Ha-ha!
MR: So now, he’s putting his stuff away, and I’m going, “Come on, come on, let’s play again, let’s play again.” And he’s, “No, no, no, I beat you two times, you can’t play me no more.” And I’m walking, following the guy down the street going, “Come on let’s play.” And he’s, “No, no, leave me alone, I don’t want to play, I don’t want to play.” I went, “Come on, let’s just play another game, come on, come on.” He wouldn’t play me. I went home, I called a friend who’s a professional chess player. I called him up. I said, “Leon, I played a guy on the street who beat me twice.” He goes, “Yeah, you played a savant. When I’m in a tournament in a city I look for those guys to play those guys.” I said, “You beat them?” He goes, “Never.”
JS: Really?
MR: Really. I always thought, “God can you get one of those guys in a tournament? Imagine!” He says, “You can’t hold them in place, they’re crazy…but they’re unbeatable.”
JS: So, he could really be the greatest chess player in the world?
MR: Possibly…most likely. He told me in the beginning, “I beat you two times, that’s it, we don’t play anymore, you can’t play me anymore.”
JS: Why would he set a rule like that?
MR: Because he’s done it over and over and over again, and he doesn’t have a lot of time to be fooling around with somebody he can beat so easily. That’s probably why.
JS: What was it that he was able to do so well…that he could win so fast?
MR: He saw the moves before they took place. This is where it gets a bit metaphysical. Perhaps you have to be ultimately crazy or…
JS: You think there’s a little clairvoyance involved?
MR: …dislodged from the kind of reality that we are all adjusting to. There are other kinds of realities, other kinds of zones to inhabit.
JS: Right, right.
MR: Great artists have inhabited zones, and then it becomes a new paradigm. People go, “Wow, we haven’t thought about going there.”

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