Naive or authentic?

I was witness to a series of presentations this week that had me spellbound. It was not because of the brilliance of their oratory, or the slides they used, which some might argue were middling to average.

These presenters weren’t industry veterans; on the contrary, they were young folks often dismissed by the corporate machinery with epithets such as “naive” or “green”. The depth of their understanding of the subject, and the fresh perspective they brought to the discussion was refreshing.

What got me hooked was their authenticity and the humility with which they made their case. They stated the problem they were tackling, where the wanted to be, and how they anticipated getting there.  I noticed this pattern after hearing change practitioner & “thinking partner” Alan Arnett articulate it in his TED Talk titled Sensemaking.

Connections

I have two distinct memories of my childhood.

My parents work meant that they’d be transferred every so often & we’d move. The first memory is as a student who kept changing schools, & being picked on by every new group of classmates. It would take a while until I had somehow become one of them, at which point it was time to change schools. Again.

The other was much more fun: meeting new kids who lived nearby, making friends, getting into all sorts of mischief. Some of them are still in touch.

Connecting with other humans has seemingly come easily to me. The Internet has made it even easier to do so. It gives me great pleasure, knowing fully well that while they’re not deep friendships, they’re not superficial either. I remember things about people*  I don’t find it hard to reconnect when something relevant to the person comes to my attention either.

There’s no big reveal here for you, if you’re reading (thank you if you are). It’s just becoming apparent to me that a lot of people struggle with reaching out, even to their friends. Lockdowns are making it even harder to do so.

I’m grateful for this little big gift of easy connection, & for the wonderful conversations I have had today with three – until a few hours ago – strangers.

*It might be a superpower, and sometimes it does feel strange that I do remember little things, as a good friend told me recently!

Quote of the Day

Today I heard someone use the phrase “Guide on the side, not a sage on the stage” to describe their leader.

Over the course of the last decade, I’ve seen so many of the latter: their flamboyant style of “leadership” supposed to “lift up the troops & march boldly ahead to success”.  Work is not war, & I have come to loathe that language.

Occasionally, I have had the privilege of being around good leaders, to learn from them.  Of course I fail awfully, but if only 1 in 10 of the ideas become part of me, the compounding effects have been invaluable.

 

Sleeping beauty

“What are your strategies for resilience?”

That was one of several prompts for discussion between the young women of Bankstown Girls High School and their mentors at the recent ABCN Empower program that I was part of.

The answer that resonated me was “sleep”. I was reminded that my own sleep habits have changed substantially over the last year, thanks to the time saved on commuting.  I’ve slept much better than in the last decade.

While much of the discussion I’m reading about “returning to work” revolves around the pros & cons of human interaction, I’ve not (yet) come across much on the impacts on sleep, & its second-order effects.

One Post to Another

One of the joys of having your children learn a musical instrument is having to discover things about the instrument.

For example, the cello has a little piece of wood that isn’t visible unless you’re actively peering inside the hollow chamber through the f-holes (yep, that’s what they’re called!). It’s called the sound post, and it apparently plays (pun intended) a very important role.

I learnt how not to change the strings on the cello thanks to that little post. Long story short, unlike on a guitar, you NEVER change them all at once.  I should have done a search before I set about changing the strings – mistake number 1 listed on the first google search would have given me the insight I needed.

But of course I didn’t, so I had to take it to a luthier to get the sound post reset. I got three references from my son’s cello tutor, & the first one  responded immediately to my plea for help.

It was the best decision to go to this luthier.

Not because the post was reset & the cello sounds better than before (it does!)

But because I met a master craftsman.

In the short time it took him to put the post back in its precise place, I learnt that John started making violins & cellos when he was in his forties, an accidental hobby he got involved in because of his son’s broken violin. I learnt that John’s parents were violinists, & his sister was a pianist. Unlike his family’s musical inclinations, John loved the smell of wood, & working with it. John claims not to be a very good string instrument player.

John said it takes him over 120 hours to make a violin, and over 300 hours to make a cello! I learnt a little about John’s family, his family name & the journey of discovering his ancestry – which is not Dutch, despite his Dutch-sounding name.

In the shed were several violins, violas & a couple of cellos in various stages of construction or repair, & several blocks of wood that he was patiently waiting  for to mature, along with tools I’ve never seen before. The smell of wood & varnish & history & knowledge in the little shed was literally breathtaking.

I learnt why the master luthiers obsess about a particular kind of grain in the wood (I’d heard this before), & the effect the distance between the grains has on tonal quality of the instrument (I’d never heard that before).

John is a wonderful conversationalist, & has an easy laugh. There was an old  framed picture hanging over his workbench – and when I asked, John told me about Asmira Woodward-Page. The violin she was holding in the picture, with John fondly looking on, was one of John’s creations: the first prize at a Sydney Eisteddfod quite a few years ago.

I asked permission to take a picture of the violin he is making; and while I did, I also learned about one of his heroes, Arthur E Smith,  Australia’s foremost violin makers- and it was one of Smith’s original 1947 designs that was coming to life in John’s little shed. If his memory serves him right, John has made more cellos than Smith (10 vs 3), & is well on his way to Smith’s 200 (John’s made 172!)

John is 82. He may be retired, but his enthusiasm for his craft & the instruments he makes & repairs is infectious. I learnt why my son’s cello, while a reasonable instrument, was probably causing much playing discomfort for my ten-year old son.

So infectious that he generously invited my son & I to return to John’s shed in a couple of weeks, to get a little more love and care for his cello – and a lot more education for me – from the master craftsman.

A little piece of wood called the sound post led me to this blog post 🙂

PS: Check out John’s website here.

[Link] The Untapped Potential Of Personal Narratives

John Hagel draws attention to the possibilities that always show up when we are able to continuously evolve our personal narratives, and acting on those along with others in ways that help us learn faster:

..most of us are pursuing personal narratives today that don’t provide a call to action for others to join us.

..if we’ve found a really exciting opportunity out in the future, we can become very motivated to ask for help from others and, if the opportunity is appropriately framed, it can motivate many to invest time and effort in addressing the opportunity. This helps us to get significant leverage and have far more impact than if we try to do it all by ourselves. If it’s a big opportunity that will take years to achieve, it can also help us to build long-term, trust-based relationships that will play a significant role in overcoming our fear.

[Link] 50 Short Rules For Life From the Stoics

Ryan Holiday synthesizes from the vast body of Stoic philosophy:

Don’t talk about it, be about it. The whole point of Stoicism is what you do. It’s who you are. It’s the act of virtue, not the act of talking about virtue. Or reading about it. Or writing about it. It’s about embodying your rules and principles. Letting your actions speak for you.

Pause

For the last few weeks, writing – and reading for that matter – became luxuries. My handwritten journal was my solace on occasion, but not as consistently as I’d have liked.

I wish Life doesn’t get in the way, but of course that’s all there is. I’ll have to find a way to write my way through it all anyway. I’ll still forgive myself for not doing this as often as I have desired.

This is yet another restart.

Have your say

My wife had a harrowing experience at the local branch of a large national chain of home improvement stores this afternoon.  The details are unimportant for the purposes of this post, but it left the incredibly strong woman I’ve known for nearly two decades shaken, & in her words, publicly humiliated.

Her afternoon plans, and worse, her self-esteem, were in shreds. The lack of an apology for the mistake made by the woman at the check-out counter left her seething. The eventual success she had in recovering her own money from the store was barely any comfort.

The series of rather rudimentary mistakes – and the staff’s inability to figure out how to solve them – needed two corrections, drawn out over nearly an hour. She got home with three invoices, with the staff’s handwritten notes on a couple of them.

All three invoices all had an online survey link, one that I’ve rarely taken any notice of, despite how often we shop there. It felt like the only lifeline my wife had left to make her case to this behemoth organisation. She could have her say. I filled out the survey on her behalf, while the incident was still fresh & vivid, with as much detail as I could gather. I hit send, expecting a days-long silence before a polite “sorry you had  a shitty experience” auto-response email.

So it was a surprise when she received an email within the hour, asking if she was willing to talk to a human, about her experience, to the name listed on the mail, on the local store number she could call on.  Despite how shaken she still was, she did. The gentleman at the other end was patient, listened to my wife, empathised with her, apologised on the store’s behalf, & offered a token gift card for the trouble she’d gone through.

Lessons:

It’s unlikely my wife will stop going to this particular store. She knows that this incident was an aberration – not once in the last decade has she had to deal with someone as vitriolic & prejudiced as the woman at the customer service counter this afternoon.

It’s also very unlikely she’ll feel as comfortable in the store as she did prior to this experience.  She knows now that the person at the counter may not know arithmetic (which I would previously always say is okay – technology that solves arithmetic problems has existed for a long time now), may be unwilling to accept they’ve made a mistake, may be unwilling to listen, may be prejudiced against someone that doesn’t look or sound like them, may feel superior for any number of other reasons, may never apologise for something that may have genuinely been a common, honest, forgivable mistake, ad infinitum.

I’m also glad to have discovered a survey response system that seems to have worked as intended. The speed with which it elicited a response was, well, surprising for someone who’d never had to use this service. My wife & I are both glad that it was a human voice. That the person at the other end truly listened. An apology that wasn’t forthcoming from woman at the customer service came from someone likely paid to do so.

I hope that the store chooses to help their staff learn how to step in & solve the problem when they notice their colleague raise their voice or behave as if the customer was a thief as a response to their quietly expressed question.

I also don’t expect that prejudices will ever disappear – but one can entertain some hope, no?

The Office

I needed to clear my head so walked down to the beach mid-morning.  Something I can agree with the local vandal, for sure.



The thoughts in my head were reflected in the choppy waves – and both, I think, needed a change of environment to calm down.