Thursday, July 10, 2014

Small and Cluttered Part Two (On Creative Leadership)

At this point my top two (I mean 3.5) reasons for the "small and cluttered" aspect of my life are:
1. A chronic lack of taking seriously the need for resource gathering and realistic projections about accomplishing projects (and more importantly) grander visions. (I'm working on this.)
2. A need to cast vision and recruit help more consistently -- and (this probably deserves a separate entry, but I started with the top two and it's already grown to top three, so this is 2b) and then delegate well, with the kind of check ins that provides support but gives the person room to feel the weight of responsibility and make mistakes. (Steep learning curve here.)
3. Settling for small and acceptable outcomes rather than stretch goals. (This one I am regularly blind to.)

It's easy to err (and I have) on two opposite sides here -- the tendency to bite off more than you can chew on the one hand, and the tendency to settle for small, safe and manageable on the other. In any business, community or individual's life there are times to set achievable goals. . .  and achieve them. Steadily and responsibly. But it is also true that other situations call for innovation, creativity or nonlinear advance. . . which requires another way of thinking and planning.

From time to time I hit this sweet spot where the vision we cast is compelling enough that people feel privileged to jump on board -- and good planning pushes that team to the edge of what they can handle. . .  and just a little bit beyond.

Something powerful and catalytic happens when a team goes to that place near the edge where great ideas happen and you (sometimes) come up with that marvelous thing that not only surpasses peoples' expectations but changes what they expect moving forward. That is a target worth shooting for.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Small and Cluttered Part One

Someone recently described my work and achievements as "small and cluttered." This was a painful perspective to hear, and while it is certainly not the whole picture, neither is it completely inaccurate. (It's an art to find the helpful truth in the kind of statements that can just make you discouraged or angry).

To the extent that it is true, why is true? Am I ok with that? If not, what must I do to change.

My first shot at an answer to those questions coming up in part two. And hopefully, this has you thinking either about retracing some painful conversations for the thread of truth OR considering what the constraints are to you moving forward in the vision and callings that are core to who you need to become.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Stop, Think and Spit

The last eight months have been intense -- especially coming off of one of the slowest, most restful seasons of my whole life (sabbatical). Christa and I have traveled extensively, launched or helped grow a number of artistic projects and enjoyed expanded access to leaders and artists around the world.

In life there are seasonal upgrades -- like graduating from one year of school to the next, or going from high school to college. The new context requires a season of immersion, where it's all about watching, digging in, experimenting, learning as much as you can, usually for long hours. The last 8 months have been that for team Reuel.

But the time comes when it's wise to stop -- because there's only so much thinking you can do while you're going full speed. Re-calibration often means sitting down.

Once you stop, think. It's easy to vaguely ponder events; it's a whole different thing (and a challenging discipline) to dig deep, find patterns, ask hard questions, and name concrete learning.

And, finally, spit. After a certain point eating stops being healthy! In the first stage of an upgrade you take in a LOT of ideas, try a lot of things (sort of like eating). Once you stop and think, you need to sift through what you've found -- and spit out things that are not useful. Things need spit for a number of reasons: because they don't fit the season, don't fit who you are (individually or corporately), or because they are inedible or toxic. Sometimes it's hard to recognize the toxic elements in the rush of life, which is part of why regular course corrections are not only normal but a sign of health and growth. 

And, finally, think about where you spit. Depending on what you're spitting and why, a bit of thought might turn your waste into someone elses' benefit. And you might avoid causing bigger problems than the ones you avoid. Thinking metaphorically... If it's watermelons you've been eating, spit the seeds somewhere they can grow. If it's the bad part of a piece of meat, give it to the dogs. If it's something toxic, find out the best place to dispose of it. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Like it or Learn from it

When I was a kid my mother gave me the book Bridge to Terabithia. I got so mad at her when I finished reading it that I chewed her out in the strongest language my pre-teen, small town, committed Christian context allowed (grrrr)!  I most definitely did NOT like the book.

I like to read. As a kid the highlight of the week was the trip to library. My sisters and I came back with more books than we could carry. Each time. I liked and still like stories.

In college I graduated a few credits short of an English major. To get there I read books I didn't like. I discovered the value of books I didn't like but could learn from.

Steven Pressfield'  recent post on this subject is worth reading.

Reading for enjoyment is wonderful. . . and there's something to be said for reading texts that we don't enjoy but which help us to learn or grow, whether that's sorrow-inducing fiction, wince-worthy self help manuals, or biographies that make you angry.

I watched the Bridge to Terabithia movie when it came out. Just like when I was a kid I felt sad, but also thankful that I'm alive -- and aware of fragile gift that is.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My life as a landscape

Christa and I recently returned from a month long trip to Thailand. One of our responsibilities was to teach organizational core values to adult students. We had fun with this, using creative exercises and discussion to engage the students in different ways (intellectually, creatively, visually, relationally, spiritually).

We led one exercise we call "My Life as a Landscape". We've used this exercise for years and I don't remember where the idea came from. It's a fun little exercise that can yield profound results. 

We ask participants to imagine their life as a landscape. Is it rocky or smooth, mountainous or flat? Are there trees, shrubs, grass, rivers, oceans, hills? Is it cold or hot, rainy or dry? Is it summer or winter? These questions get people thinking about where they are at in life in a visual way.

Then participants draw their landscape. The results are fun and interesting. Because most adults don't draw regularly, it can feel vulnerable, but something childlike and profound often emerges.

The bigger payday usually comes when people share about what they have drawn. Talking about the visual picture opens a window into peoples' experiences, thoughts and emotions. 

In the context of a group of people committed to each others' growth, this kind of sharing is quite useful, since peoples' ability to be helpful to their friends, peers or coworkers depends partly on how well they are tracking the actual stuff of their life, stuff which can be surprisingly difficult to get to since most of us are not good a personal reflection, let alone sharing these inner processes with others. Growth, however, requires exactly this combination of personal reflection and transparency with others. 

This simple exercise helps people with the challenging task of personal reflection, and when done in a group context can be a catalyst for transparency and vulnerability -- opening up a window for people to see each other more clearly, providing an opportunity for the support, encouragement and accountability that leads to growth. 

Here is life as a landscape as of last week. The drawing is more complex than the ones we do in seminars, and I'm a trained artist, so don't take this as an example of how the exercise should look -- just as an example of the process. 

Here's how I describe the drawing:

I'm in a space ship traveling through space and an interesting array of planets and angels. Other ships are here near me. Some travel in similar directions, some not. I'm exploring, I'm on a mission. It is beautiful, it is a bit overwhelming and confusing as well. I am looking for a planet to call home, but I am already at home in my ship, in the dispersed fleet that I am part of, and in the context of my commanders' presence and his homeworld I have yet to discover. The wider context is vast and mysterious, dangerous and beautiful, but their are shipping routes that I'm familiar with. I travel these shipping lanes regularly making forays off into new territory then back to the familiar "paths".

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Songwriter for Hire: A Mask that Reveals

I write songs for people and organizations: a song for a spouse on their birthday, something for a grieving parent, for a friend who is getting married or graduating. Most recently I wrote nine songs for a network of people about the places they live and their vision to make those places better.

When I take a songwriting commission I put on a mask. I set my own identity and preferences behind a thin veil of colored paper, and imagine myself in the skin of that person or place or organization. I ask questions and listen (to the person and wikipedia). I grasp for words or images that capture something specific about who or what they are, then I reach beyond that -- towards a handhold on hope or possibility, a glimpse into an alternate universe or a glint in the eye of God.

When it works the person or group senses both the bones of reality and colors of transformation.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Leadership and the Arts: A Rocket Ship and a House on an Asteroid

I want to see artists grow -- as people and in their capacity to create things that are meaningful, surprising, and catalytic. Connections with peers, mentors, teachers and patrons are important in my own growth as a songwriter, and I enjoy helping other people develop the kind of relationships and practices they need to grow as artists and people.

I've coached and consulted a wide variety of artists and entrepreneurs over the years, but one of the challenges I've seen is that as helpful as coaching, conferences and the right word of advice can be, the reality is that most people need more consistent support, encouragement and accountability to really move forward, and that's not something that happens randomly, by accident, or without commitment. Because of this, in the next season I plan to do my coaching and mentoring as part of the Dandelion Seed Company, where there's a growing group of gifted and qualified people who are paying the price in their own lives for creative, intellectual and spiritual growth. . . and are committed to help others grow as well.

This rocket ship is moving; people need to grow, explore, fly (and people committed to see them do so).
This house is planted on an asteroid: people need roots and a place (relationally, creatively, spiritually, and intellectually) to come home to.