Stand With Hope

Untitled Narrative by David Robinson

Untitled Narrative by David Robinson

Here’s my gorgeous quote of the day. It came from Barney during a conference call with Skip. We were talking about yesterday’s striking quote, “lost is the new normal.” Barney reflected that being lost (not knowing) is a beginning. He said, “It necessitates that we stand in the presence of hope.”

Isn’t that elegant! Do you remember the last time you stood in uncertainty and whispered quietly to yourself, “I do not know what to do?”  Did you recognize the moment as a beginning? Why is “not knowing” what to do so frightful? What assumption set requires us at all times to know? Knowing what to do is, at best, an illusion.

“Not knowing” is the beginning of learning. Learning has nothing to do with knowing. Learning has to do with exploration. Life has nothing to do with knowing. Life has everything to do with experience and engagement. Every educator, mentor, guide, and leader should listen to Barney’s thought.

What if we understood that being lost was nothing more than a beginning and the gift of “not knowing” was that, for a moment, we might stand silently in the warm presence of hope? What if we understood the role of student to be a long walk in the presence of hope? Can you imagine who we might be as a society (and as individuals) if we understood the need to test for the presence of hope before we ran tests for knowing stuff?

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Choose. Tell.

Shadows Of Imagination by Maggie's World

Shadows Of Imagination by Maggie’s World

I went to the doctor this morning to have my yearly physical. This year I am in a new town with a new doctor so the first thing we did was discuss my medical history. A medical history is an interesting lens through which to see your life. Each health event defined an era just like certain songs call up a specific time period, “Ah, that was my favorite song in my junior year!” The only difference, of course, is that the health history locator is less likely to call up pleasant memories. I had the frozen shoulder era and I winced when I told my new doctor about it. He said, “Those are painful.” No kidding.

I can look at my life through the lens of relationship. I might see my life through the lens of achievement. I can certainly see my life through the foible lens. There are specific experiences that define a complete shift of perspective. 9/11 is one of those; I remember sitting in front of my television that bright September morning watching the towers fall and thinking, “The world will never be the same.”

In my life, there is the pre-Bali and post-Bali line. I went to Bali with one understanding of reality and came back with an entirely different set of assumptions. In my life story, 2013 will serve as one of those lines. I went on an unintentional pilgrimage and on the road I found angels and demons, I found the depth of my ugliness and the enormity of my joy. I dropped a lot of weight, literally and metaphorically. There is not much I fear anymore.

There is a lot that I love and am grateful for. Those are lenses, too: Love, Fear, Gratitude, Joy, Anger, Need,… And, not to labor a point, but they are lenses; they do not exist separate from the seer. I am capable of understanding my life through the lens of anger. I am capable of making sense of my life through the lens of fear. I am equally capable of making sense and defining my life through the lens of Love. I choose the lens. I tell the story.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Break Out The Crayons

John's Secret by David Robinson

John’s Secret by David Robinson

It is very cold and the entire community is hunkering down. I love these days of bright sun and super cold air. It’s like a sweet tart, a collision of opposites that pop the taste buds into awareness. I want to go outside – and do – for short periods of time; soaking up the sun, while the cold air bites, is life giving. The paper warned that, “frost bite is possible in less than 10 minutes! Stay inside!” Clearly, the good folks at the Kenosha News like their sweet without the tart.

Three times this morning I’ve crossed paths with a metaphor: Life is a blank page. It is a metaphor that is like the sun-cold of this day: it has two edges. The first refers to life as wide open to infinite possibility. There is nothing like a blank page to bring out the crayons. The other edge refers to emptiness: life as a void. Once, I was diving at night and we turned out our flashlights. It was the darkest dark I’ve ever experienced. It was darker than a cave because the water gave the darkness substance. There was no visible form. No boundary. No way of knowing up from down (unless you relaxed). A void is like a party invitation to the monsters in the mind. Peering into the blank page allows the shadow to peer back at you.

The first path crossing of the blank page metaphor came as a question, “How do I stay an open, blank page?” The second and third came as expressions of discomfort: my life is a blank page. Help! Both the sweet and the tart variations are invitations to life. The path may look and feel different but both lead to the same place. Pulling out the crayons and scribbling invites play. Standing in void, filled with fear, invites awe, silence, and the recognition that there is no path: it is all made up so what do you want to make up now? The terror is in the infinity of choices. There’s nothing to be done but to start scribbling.

As I was writing the last sentence the phone rang and it was Skip calling. He’s writing a book and is having a few folks read the early drafts. I laughed when he told me some of the feedback and insights his book evoked. Skip works with entrepreneurs and this is the phrase that made me laugh out loud:  ‘Being lost is the new normal.’ The world is moving too fast for us to really know where we are or where we are going. So, the metaphor comes a fourth time. There’s nothing to be done but break out the crayons.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Step Toward It

from the cartoon series, FLUB, by David Robinson

from the cartoon series, FLUB, by David Robinson

[continued from Expect The Possible]

Change processes are funky in a society wholeheartedly dedicated to maintaining comfort. Comfort and significant change are rarely bedfellows. Real change might include a sigh of relief or a temporary feeling of elation, but melting down an old form and forging it into something new requires plenty of heat and a sizeable hammer.

If the first Great Impossibility in transformation is the expectation of knowing “how to do it” before you do it, an insane expectation, the second Great Impossibility is insanity with thorns. It, too, is based upon a false expectation: the walk into the new thing will be a cakewalk. It won’t.

Pain plays a role in the body. It alerts us that something is wrong. Pain plays the same role in a psyche. It alerts us to discord. It wakes us up. It makes us look for options. It prompts us to seek health and the relief of pain. It motivates us to consider trying something new.

In story cycles, it is pain and discomfort that prompt the protagonist to step away from safety and the known and go on an impossible journey. Going into the belly of a whale is not supposed to be a party. Discomfort shakes the tree of perspective. It opens our eyes to whole new and previously unseen fields of opportunity.

To remove the discomfort is to stall growth and minimize potential.

In organizations there are people whose job it is to manage change. The change manager is supposed to make the change as painless as possible. It assumes the horse of change wears a rein. It doesn’t. Unless you are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, change cannot be managed.

Often in organizational change, people lose their jobs and that is the equivalent of an identity loss.  In personal change, people lose their way. Being lost in the woods or not knowing who you are is rarely fun. It is, however, painful and there’s nothing like discomfort to fuel movement toward something new.

Expect it. Court it. Walking into a fear is never fun but slaying the dragon you find in the fear is triumphant. The walk into fear is necessary to find the dragon. They go together. Just as life is not vital without the knowledge of death, transformation is not possible without discomfort. You might find that most of the pain actually comes from the attempt to avoid the pain. Step toward it.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You

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Expect The Possible

from the Flub series of cartoons by David Robinson

from the Flub series of cartoons by David Robinson

There is a Great Impossibility that looms when people or organizations step toward the creation of something new. See if you can catch it. It is a false expectation that is subtle but pure insanity once you see it. The conversation always goes something like this:

“We are trying to create something new but we’re having problems.”

“What’s stopping you?” I ask.

“We don’t know how to do it. We can’t move until we know how. Can you help us?”

I never answer this question. The only honest answer is, “It depends on what you’re willing to see and on your courage once you open your eyes.” That is not a very useful response. So, I usually ask, “What do you think you need help with?” That question is always a show-stopper!

Did you catch it? Did you see The Great Impossibility? It lives in the expectation that knowing “how” is a prerequisite to creating something new. The Great Impossibility is the belief that “how we do it” can be known ahead of time. “We have to know before we can step.” It is impossible. You can’t know. The skill is in learning to take a step anyway.

“How” is a trail that becomes visible after the path has been walked. “How” can only be known after the new thing is created. Think about it like this: if you know how to do it, you will inevitably recreate the old thing; it may have a new look but structurally it will be a repeat. If you follow a known path you will arrive at a known location. Creating, innovating, and learning, to be vital, are forays into unknown territory. They are explorations. They require leaving the known world behind for a while. They require exploding the expectation of “knowing how.”

The second Great Impossibility: expecting the walk into the new world to be comfortable. That’s a post for another day.

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Circle The Nutshell

An illustration from A Dragon's Tale by David Robinson

An illustration from A Dragon’s Tale by David Robinson

A few days ago someone asked me, in a nutshell, to describe my book. I am a circular thinker and nutshells are generally too tight for me. Also, I tend to rant (my apologies to the many of you who’ve had to sit through my bluster) even when I have no intention of ranting. Fortunately, I made concept maps as support material found at the back of the book; being required to practice concept brevity has helped me find some sense of concision.

Here is my answer to the question: The book is about how to flip into a creative mindset (actually, it’s about how to regain the fantastically creative mindset that we are all born with but that requires some explaining. It’s easier to say, “flip perspective into…” like you can change your clothes and become an innovator. And, actually, that might be true if you assumed the role that the clothes inspired. For instance, Keith Johnstone writes about a “creativity” study done in the 1960’s in which people scoring low on a creativity test were asked to dress and act like hippies. They were then asked to retake the test in their hippie role and scored much, much higher). I warned you – I’m a circular thinker.

The rest of the nutshell goes like this: The book follows 3 cycles and each cycle facilitates a perspective flip:

The first cycle is Pattern: the flip is from needing “to know” to embracing not knowing (orient to patterns of curiosity).

The second cycle is Story: the flip is from “Things happen to me” to “I make things happen” (orient as the teller of the story). This one is the big one: people become capable of fulfilling their extraordinary capacity when they see how they make things happen.

The third cycle is Choice: the flip is from identifying as a witness to life to identifying as a creator of life (orient as a participant – a bringer of life).

And, the meta-flip that runs through it is all: Have the experience first and make meaning second. This is how your brain actually works. When you fool yourself into believing that you bring meaning to an experience before you actually have it, you are either lying to yourself, dulling your senses, or protecting yourself from learning something. Innovators, artists, creators, leaders, seekers, visionaries, and learners make their meaning after they have an experience: they know that the world is new every day.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Look. See.

LOOKToday I heard this phrase: There’s nothing to be done about it. It’s just the way that it is.

Sometimes I carry a pocket camera with me, not to capture the events of the day or landscapes, but because it helps me “see.” I go into the world looking for small things, the stuff I take for granted or pass without really noticing.

For a while I was interested in the symbols and markings on the street. They are everywhere. The next time you take a city stroll, look down. You’ll find a world of marks and symbols, children’s drawings, construction tags, and unintentional Jackson Pollock-esque scuffle. It’s gorgeous. It seems both random and by design – and it is. Our minds look at the random and compose. We can’t help it. We are artist’s all!

We live in an environment that is designed. Look in any direction and you’ll see a constructed environment. Even in farm country the tree lines that define the space are by design (necessity is always at the heart of good design). The buildings, the trees, the streets, the signs, the roads, the dams, the waterways, the constraints, the wide open spaces populated by fence posts and wire; a human with a need to communicate or create or control or delineate was involved.

We walk in a world of our own making. It is the way that it is because that is what we make it. Things are not happening to us. We make them happen and there’s plenty to be done. The first step is always to open our eyes and see just how capable we are at shaping things.

Go here to get digital copies of my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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See The Majesty

Pidgeon Pier (Alan and David on the Sound) by David Robinson

Pidgeon Pier (Alan and David on the Sound) by David Robinson

This is a portion of the text I wrote Alan’s newsletter. He’s always been my champion and is helping spread the word for my book (hard copies available later this week! Stay tuned). I reread the rough text this morning and thought this chunk would also make a good post. 

Many years ago, during the first minute of my first class on the very first day of art school, a musty old professor stepped to the center of the studio and taught the class to see. The lesson took less than 5 minutes. As he stepped away from the center of the room he quietly said, “Learning to see is the only thing of value I will ever be able to teach you. The rest is nothing more than technique.”

He was right. Artistry is about how you see. Innovation is about how you see. Leadership is about how you see.  Transformation begins with how you see. Everything else is execution.

His lesson that day was simple. It was powerful. It was transformational. And, like all things simple and transformational, I didn’t recognize it at the time. I discounted it because it was so basic. He planted a seed that day that took me many years to understand. It took me a few more years to embody. It was with great delight that many years later I recognized his lesson as a threshold to my soul mission. I am on this planet to help people see.

The core of his lesson was this: most people merely look; they do not see. Their thinking gets in the way. In other words, we see what we think – which means we do not see at all. We miss the majesty of what is right in front of us. More importantly, it means we do not see the majesty of what is within us. I am on this planet to help people see the majesty within themselves. The Seer is a guide to seeing the majesty within so we might fulfill our extraordinary capacity.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Be Holy

Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

Pastor Tom asked the question, “What does it mean to be holy?” It caught me by surprise because I was sitting in the choir loft reading Paulo Coehlo’s, The Zahir. For the record, I usually pay attention to Pastor Tom’s sermons; he’s a gifted storyteller and one of a handful of preacher’s I’ve met who is actually rooted in a greater spirituality and not the rules and restrictions that bind the religious. He’s not a judger; he’s a seeker and his sense-making lens is Lutheran Christianity. We are just beginning our friendship and since I have a remarkably different lens I look forward to all that we have to share. But, on this Sunday I was plagued by an odd and surprising inner imperative to take The Zahir to church and read the next sections. I’d stopped in the middle of a chapter and I awoke with my inner nag screaming, “Take it with you! Finish the chapter! Now!!” I’ve learned to listen to my inner nag.

Life is funny. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be hanging out in a church. Many years ago I used to hang out with Father Lauren and talk theology. I was not Catholic but attended a Christian Brother’s college; the college had a great theatre program. Father Lauren was a Franciscan and came into the theatre one day to find an artist to help him make some banners for a high mass. I was the artist he found and we were immediate fast friends. He was more interested in the mystic than the pious aspects of his faith and I, too, am drawn to the mystic in any faith tradition. I began attending mass so we could compare notes. I found (and find) my greater spirituality in rivers, the arroyos, and the wind; his faith was solidly grounded in the rituals of the church.

Father Lauren believed in original sin: it is the idea that nature is corrupt – particularly human nature – and must be controlled. I believe the opposite: nature is perfect and health comes when we align with our nature and stop trying to control it. We talked for hours about the differences in our orientation to life. I appreciated our conversations because we weren’t trying to sway the other or win a point. He was not trying to convert me and I was not invested in being right. We were trying to appreciate and understand the other point of view. We were asking the other, “From your point of view, what does it mean to be holy?” To Father Lauren, a human might become holy if they transcended their nature. To me, a human is holy because he or she is nature; the challenge is to recognize the truth of your nature. As someone once said, “There are many paths up the mountain.” Father Lauren and I were like travelers swapping stories from the road. I loved our exploration of faith and life.

I was sitting in the choir loft and had just finished reading this passage from The Zahir: “Yes, we are all cathedrals, there is no doubt about it; but what lies in the empty inner space of my cathedral?” If you saw yourself as holy, how might you fill your space and time? Paulo’s response to his question: we need, each day, to rebuild ourselves, to improve our structure as best as we can so that we might understand and accept this: we are capable of loving another person more than we love our selves. To be holy is to love another more than you love yourself. To be holy is to fill your personal cathedral with the love of another. That’s the exact moment Pastor Tom asked, “What does it mean to be holy?” My inner nag smiled and whispered, “Told you so.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Learn To Play

Illustration from Play-to-Play by David Robinson

Illustration from Play-to-Play by David Robinson

This is from a yet-to-be-published children’s book I wrote and illustrated based on concepts from James Carse’s book, Finite And Infinite Games. The girl wants to play but the gorilla is reticent to start a game until he knows what she means by the word, “play.” Are they playing to win or playing to play? The gorilla helps the young girl make the distinction and set an intention to play to play.

At first glance this might seem like a ridiculous distinction until considering that one definition of play (playing to play) leads to mastery and the other definition (playing to win) leads to an outcome that might include a temporary sense of gratification (or despair if you lose). Do you remember the school lesson about angles? At the inception of the angle, a single point, vector variance seems minute but the further the vectors travel from their source the greater the paths diverge. Artists that play to win inevitably stop making art: losing is a painful business. Artists that play to play master their technique; mastery, in James Carse’s terminology, is an infinite game. There is no such thing as losing if mastery is the aim. If mastery is the aim, how an artist creates is as important as what they create. A life of mastery is a simple matter of where the focus is placed at the beginning of the journey.

This distinction is at the core of what ails many organizations. When the focus drops to the bottom line and stays there, organizations play to win and lose their reason for being. In fact, in today’s world, the rules of the game modify every few months amidst the rapid pace of change; playing to win is a great strategy for losing everything. Playing to play makes an organization nimble enough to survive and thrive amidst ever changing circumstances. Business, like learning, like art, is primarily centered on relationship and gets lost at sea when the focus becomes achievement. Relationship is an infinite game.

The power is in a choice made before the game begins. Are you going to play to win? Or, will you walk a mastery path and play to become a better and better player?

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.