Sunday, January 30, 2005

Buongiorno Principessa! (Review: La vita e bella)

If you'd told me about a movie that put Marx Brothers-style slapstick in a concentration camp setting, I would've thought the movie maker was crazy and out to offend.

But somehow, Roberto Benigni did it, and did it in a way that made me cry as much as it made me laugh. Life is Beautiful is a fairy tale. Most of the things that happen in it could never happen. But it's not about the story so much as about Guido, the main character.

His own reality
Here's a man who refuses to take life as it's presented to him, but instead believes that it is the best of all possible worlds. The things he says are funny, but you also get the sense he really believes them.

His serious, studious friend Ferruccio tells him about the power of telling yourself something, and it happens. But I think Guido, in his fantasy world, knows more about that sort of thing than he realises.

An example ... he meets his future wife, Dora, when she falls on him out of a window. He sees her as "heaven-sent", and makes it his business to turn that into a reality!

Playing games to get through
Later, in the darker, scarier part of the movie, he draws on all his comic powers to make life bearable - and even beautiful - for his son. It certainly got me thinking.

Is denial a necessity sometimes? When we go through the darkest times of our lives, do we have to tell ourselves things really aren't as bad as they are? When we absolutely have to get through that experience, do we play games to get through?

Marie and I talked about how we use games to get through the boring or unpleasant parts of life - how Marie gets up at 5am for work, telling herself she's one of the chosen few who get to drive the streets before the traffic comes!

It's one thing to convince yourself of an untruth to help yourself get through; it's another thing to know the truth as it is, but to present the best possible truth for someone else's sake. In the circumstances portrayed, I think Guido showed amazing leadership.

Favourite quote
When Guido is training as a waiter, his wise, patient Uncle Eliseo advises him on bowing:

"Think of a sunflower: they bow to the sun, but if you see some that are too bowed down, it means they're dead.

You're serving. You're not a servant. Serving is a supreme art. God is the first servant. God serves men, but He's not a servant to men."


Friday, January 28, 2005

Simple advice

My simple advice became part of MarketingSherpa's Words of Wisdom! Check it out - it's a free downloadable PDF with the collective wisdom of marketers the world over!

Just download the PDF and, if you like, do a search for "Simon Young" ... otherwise just find it by reading; there's some other good stuff in there!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Four leaders to watch

Over the next months and years, four men will shape the histories of their respective nations. It's interesting how similar they all are, not in personality, but in the problems facing them.

George W Bush has a divided nation before him, whichever way you look at it.

If he is to live up to even just the domestic elements of his inauguration (or should it be reauguration?) speech, he has a mammoth task ahead of him.

Not only that, America is in huge financial trouble. At least, this is the impression I've got from my varied news sources on the net. In such a materialistic society as the USA, this is Real Bad Trouble.

Some obviously think Bush is an evil blockhead; or a puppet of the incredibly wicked Christian Right.

Others - although I haven't read much of this - think he is a good man with good ideas who is bravely pushing ahead with what he believes is right, even if it's unpopular.

Whatever your opinion of Bush, it will be very interesting to watch the next four years.

Mahmoud Abbas also faces a divided nation - if Palestine can even be called a nation yet.

I don't have in-depth knowledge of the whole Palestinian situation, so I won't say much. But if this newcomer has really been able to negotiate a ceasefire with groups like Hammas and Islamic Jihad, he must have something to him!

Again, I don't know much of the situation, so I'm open to correction here, but my perception is that Islamic Jihad exists to make war - that's what the name means. So for Abbas to get these guys to agree to NOT make war ... I'm impressed!

Victor Yuschenko has finally taken his rightful place as President of Ukraine.

He, too presides over a divided country. East Ukraine generally supports ties to Russia, which is physically and ethnically closer to them. West Ukraine generally supports getting closer to the EU, and this is the direction Yuschenko has favoured too.

It will be interesting to see how Yuschenko keeps the promises he has made in his inauguration speech, particularly to prevent Ukraine becoming a "buffer zone or a battleground for anyone".

Them's fighting words. The kind of words that win hearts, and create national pride where it's needed most.

The fourth leader is unknown as yet. In fact, I'm not even sure if it'll be one person or a committee ... I'm talking about the elections in Iraq. The problems of Bush, Abbas and Yuschenko sort of pale into insignificance compared with the struggles ahead for Iraq's leadership. If you pray to anyone about anything, pray for Iraq. I'm sure it needs it right now!

"Don't Die Wondering"

FOX SPORTS | Tennis | Big star eclipses Venus (January 25, 2005)

From the article:

"A MOTTO of 'don't die wondering' last night propelled Alicia Molik past former world No.1 Venus Williams and into her first Australian Open quarter-final.

Power play ... Molik pulverises a forehand back to Williams.
The Australian heroine lived up to her pre-match pledge of going for everything against the more experienced Williams."

Gotta love that attitude!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Paul Slater // fast and nimble on his feet

January is the month of paeans to all my talented thespian, artist, and writer dudes.

Paul "Slate" Slater is just such a gem.

I'd come across Paul -- or "Slate" as he's affectionately known -- as part of my scribbling duties for Richard's Home of the Future. (see the Richard Wicka and the HOTF blog entry for more info on that stellar endeavor).

You see, Paul's a real funny katt, see.

He seems to come up with gobbles of giggles mondo pronto, see. Think about it -- if I were having a shindig, I'd want to sprinkle this Gregarious Buffalonian Giggler into my dull northern-chilled crowd.

Ah jeez, these staunch "north of 45" types. Those whose passions are dampened by sub-zero temps and the copious lack of economic opportunity. Oh, My People of the North, strong and free...okay I'll quit while ahead.

But the most amazing thing about Slate, as I've come to learn, see -- he's been there and done that, like. He's seen all there is to see -- see -- and been around that city block. I kinda like that. You know, having someone like Paul around when the going gets rough and tough is better than a Lloyds of London insurance policy.

But in case you haven't viewed any of P's segments yet, I recommend a spirited watch of his following Five Minute Clips (all rights reserved, HOTF):

** Peanut butter & jelly (Week 18)
** Anger (Week 20)
** Bills game (Week 26)
** Reflections (Week 27) -- his funniest.

and the delightful

** Pickles (Week 29)

Paul's email is

Send him a message, tell the whole bunch.

You're not going to be dissatisfied, see?

von Groovy

Horatio Caine -- CSI: Miami

Off come the sunglasses, and you know he means business...

(Now would that make for an excellent tagline?)

Horatio Caine, masterfully portrayed by American actor David Caruso, is a dandy of an example of "leadership in action." As opposed to some of our more historical examples here on L.I., I've decided to present something a little more, er, current.

It's like this, see. Within seconds of arriving on any crime scene, Horatio's already knee-deep in the delegating.

So? Who cares? What makes Horatio such a dominating force, you ask?

Well, dear Reader, I've identified several characteristics which might shed some light on the issue:

1) Horatio's Experience --> there's nothing H don't know. While he does delegate most of the grunt work to his crew of Delko, Megan, Speed, & Calleigh ("sight for sore eyes" alert) -- in a pinch, "H" would know exactly where to begin if he had to dig right in.

2) "No" means "no" and "yes" means "yes" --> there's no double-talking with this dude. He earns the true respect of his crew because his word comes purely at face-value.

3) Decisive --> when Horatio decides on a particular course of action, there's zero deviating from the plan. And he's damn well relentless until the crime is solved and a job's well done.

4) The Paternal Figure --> while David Caruso is by no means an old geezer, his portrayal of H lends itself to mucho fatherly overtones. My professional belief is that it's Caruso's personal take on the drawn character, but that's too complicated for this blog entry. Let's just say he's, um, grown into this man, Caine. When Caine speaks, it's like a warm soothing balm.

5) Orderliness as Possible Sex Appeal? --> and there you have it, Ladies. Caruso is by no means a metrosexual looker, yet he does retain that cast-iron charm that's so highly attractive to the female folk. We'll tack it up to his, er, "X-Factor?"

I've been going through Season 1's episodes to gain a sharper angle on the evolution of the characters. Fine tooth comb like (can anyone think of a non-cliched way to say this -- I haven't slept all night?)

I've also invested myself heavily in this, um, Horatio. Was he -- for some asinine production reason -- no longer a part of the series, it might very well ring a death toll for my interest.

But I do recommend CSI. Any of them really. New York, Vegas, Miami, or trans fat-free.

Guess I love the Miami edition so much 'cause it's so damn-well Arctic-like up here...

Did I mention I dig Bruckheimer as well?

That, alas, is for another time.

-- Groovy

'You really ARE what you WEAR'!

(posted by Stephanie Mezei,

Just recently, I was window shopping at my local mall and there was a T-shirt on display that instantly grabbed my attention. I just had to have it. The avocado green and insignia were, in my opinion, very suitable for me. It dons the word, 'HOT', with a cartoon chickadee directly underneath it, inbright yellow. Bold. The greatest thing is, I look the part. And, I love myself! At this stage in my life, I feel my self-confidence is at an all-time high. And I truly appreciate how hard I've worked to get here, and stay here.So, I'm proud to announce that I'm a hot chick! Obviously, I'm not shy and have no issue letting the general public know it, too.I'm all for self-representation. Making yourself stick out like a sore thumb is a GOODthing.If you can hack it....So here's a test to all of you reading this: Are you proud of yourself? Right at thismoment?If you're going out in public today, try to do this one thing. Wear whatever it is thatmakes youfeel amazing about yourself. No need for justifications. Walk a little taller than usual; you can actually look up to 5 lbs. slimmer.When you're glowing, you'll attract all the right things. Practice glowing and soon,you'll gather some serious momentum and move forward with great strides! Consider when we dress up for a fancy affair versus heading to the gym. You can lookgreat inboth instances, but isn't the point to always feel sexy and desirable? Dress for success. When you lookgood, you'll most certainly feel good. Go out into the world and be the best version of you there is. Shine....SM:-)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Do video games make players better leaders?

Some "top researchers" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison assert that video games create better leaders.

According to the article (forgive the extensive quoting):
Video games let their players step into new personas and explore alternatives. Not only that, but people can try to solve problems they’re not good at yet, get immediate feedback on the consequences and try again immediately.

Gee said the ability to explore right away makes games more engaging than textbooks or lectures. In schools, “you have to read 500 pages of biology and then you get to do biology,” he said. “Of course you only actually read 200. [A video] game allows you to perform before you’re competent.”

Because games keep things “pleasantly frustrating,” Gee said, players have incentives to keep on improving their performance. That can lead to learning outside the game as well. After his son started playing Age of Mythology, he started reading more about real-world mythology, Gee said.

Does this sound very different from the breathless anticipation with which computerized education was predicted in the early and mid eighties? Although computers are undoubtedly a fixture of the classroom now, they are far from the primary teaching tool.

I'll continue to quote extensively from the article:

In Full Spectrum Warrior, Gee said, players lead a team of soldiers and must keep them all safe by using the right formations and maneuvers. Losing even one means the game is over.

Gee and his colleagues would like to make similar games that let players be scientists or take on other professional roles. Squire has worked on a game called Biohazard in which firefighters must react to dangerous situations. They learn the most effective ways to, for example,
evacuate people from a mall after a sarin-gas attack. Firefighters like the game and even play it over break because it allows them to be heroes, he said—and because the game characters are smartly dressed.

Games also let players be producers rather than just consumers. Many recent games allow “modding,” the insertion of new plot-lines, graphics and characters, or even the creation of entirely new games. Squire mentioned the strategy game Civilization III, as well as first-person shooters such as Half-life. Role-playing games such as Neverwinter Nights also allow players a high degree of control.

“You can use Neverwinter Nights as an application development environment,” said Preston Austin, chief architect at Clotho Advanced Media, Inc. The game includes an event-driven programming language that lets people set up their own complex plots and scenarios, which they can share over the Internet.

So the thesis is that games enable players to learn, er, some things. Or they might. Sometimes.

But what of leadership? I hate to harp on this, but unfortunately it was the focus of the article's title.

Because there is nothing whatsoever about leadership mentioned in the article (just search the page for instances of the term "lead"), I feel confident in making the following statements:
  • The authors of the article do not have a clear definition of leadership.
  • The authors of the study, if they have a clear definition of leadership, have not made it clear to the article's authors.
  • Leadership is not easily taught by video games.

I suspect that the root of the problem is that our society believes that leadership is a Good Thing but does not really think much about what it might be or how one might get some. That makes the discussion generated by this blog pretty important.

But the reason I read the article at all was the title, and after reading the article I find no reason to agree with the title's statement at all. I suspect that the facts that

  • games have an obvious point;
  • the problems in games are meant to be solved;
  • no intelligent force is acting against the player's agenda; and
  • the world of the game is necessarily limited

imply that games are far different from the leadership situations in the real world.

If games can help create leadership, their assistance must be moderate at best.

Anyone disagree?

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Last Temptation of Christ

A beautiful tour-de-force of guerilla filmmaking from a director (Scorsese) who had plenty on the line, at the time of its making.

Scorsese's $7M Biblical tale -- "The Last Temptation of Christ"-- is diligent visual artistry.

At the time of its release, Temptation was marred by controversy.

Revisiting it over fifteen (15) years hence, what a fascinating experience it has been to witness whether its critical stench still clings.

After the viewing, I boldly cast a "no."

Temptation seems to have withstood the rigors of the time/space continuum, and remains yet another in the series of insightful interpretations when Jesus of Nazareth supposedly walked the earth.

But we're not here to preach, nor pontificate -- and carrying on in allegorical splendor -- this surely isn't polemical.

Rather allow my post to serve more as statement on a masterful example of the low-budget filmmaking medium.

T'was said (during the DVD commentary) --> Marty's cast 'n' crew were so "riveted" to the making of Temptation, that many of the "natural accoutrements" professionals would normally expect were simply "dispensed with." (please dispense with my final quotations marks as well -- but as I was writing with flourishes, I figured what the, er, hell).

For instance, there weren't any "actor's trailers." Food was not of "Ritz-Carlton caliber." Plus adding to the "guerilla" nature of the project -- many of the locations were often an hour's hike away. Actors were thus said to have made Jesus' supposed "40-day meandering" a visceral part of their Thespian experience.


Um, several things were tickled within me while viewing:

1) My fascination with the Ancient World.
2) My curiosity with the endless interpretations of the "cruxifiction" and "resurrection."
3) Scorsese's relentless abiding respect for storytelling. (Scorsese looks upon filmmaking as religion. No better way to describe what he does, really.)

As Temptation opened to oodles of controversy, innocent bystanders and hapless blasphemers now have opportunity to view it like they never could way way back in 1988.

But -- golly gee -- and thanks to the wonder of DVD technology, you can too.

-- Chubby aka Earl von Groovy aka Aquiline Nose

David L. Wolper -- A prolific producer

David L. Wolper is known to those in the know as producer extraordinaire.

I recently blew through his autobiographical book of the same title, and golly-gee, it was chock-a-block with heaps of quotables and jim-dandy remarks -- the kind of swell things every producer should rely on for a rainy day, Beav'.

Okay, I'll stop being silly...

For example, there's the ever-exquisite:

" a towel boy in a whorehouse..." moniker.

Allow me to explain -- David L. used to say the producer is like a "towel boy in a brothel." After everyone's done having their fun, someone's got to come and clean up the, er, mess.

Or there's the hum-dinging:

"...hire the right people to do the job, then step out of the way..."

No spoon-feeding required here.

Yet in direct contrast to the mythic Producers of old -- who used to wield their colossal power and clout like an oak nightstick with those old Studios (David O. Selznick certainly comes to mind) -- Wolper was known in Tinseltown as a guy who had a capacity for easing off the proverbial reigns when needed.

Even better:

"I've never been satisfied to swim in the shallow, safe waters."

Far too often we can be our own worst enemies.

We tell ourselves we should be doing something better, when in fact we know our gut instincts are beckoning us to do the thing in our hearts.

And the best of all...

"The Producer's just gotta know how to say no. "

For, after all, the Producer is the Producer. Ain't that so?

What I most enjoyed about this highway robbery of a book (I won't tell you how much I'd paid) -- you often find the best nuggets of usable wisdom when you have the fewest expectations.

We should all take a few lessons from Wolper U.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Martin Luther King Jr - Happy Birthday!

It's not celebrated outside the US, but there aren't many people who haven't heard of Martin Luther King, Jr.

He's a leader if there ever was one - unafraid to live his beliefs at the risk of his life and those of his family.

I don't know all that much about King save the stuff most other people know - thankfully Black Civil Rights was part of our history curriculum - so I'll post some links to some more insightful stuff I've come across recently.

Martin Luther King, Birmingham, and the great letter
The Prophetic Voice
The content of our character - King's dream and ours
The Martin Luther King, Jr Papers Project (have your speakers turned up)
Wikipedia's list of further links

Friday, January 14, 2005

Now here's a leader

Good News India is published by a 63-year-old man who epitomises the word "resilient".

This article outlines his illegal arrest, release and then struggle with others in his area to recover from the tsunami. He says:

"Reality has caught up with its publisher, and his faith in India and life's ways is only reinforced. Often what we cannot achieve by fulminating, can be achieved by switching off disappointment and working for a greater objective."

Chris the Digital Camera Specialist

At Dick Smith Electronics yesterday, the ever-observant Marie noticed that the checkout guy's badge said "Digital Camera Specialist". We've been "researching" (translate: procrastinating) a digital camera purchase for months now, so she asked him to show us what's what.

Chris is good! He knows his stuff, and he recommends what he actually uses. (Canon is a really good brand, by the way. They make their own components, so service and repairs are simple) But what's really funny is how he became Digital Camera Specialist.

Turns out there was another Chris at the shop before him, who was Digital Camera Specialist. When he left, why not give the badge to the other Chris? Of course, Chris had been understudying so he knew about digital cameras, but it must've been great for the company - they didn't need to make another badge!

How about you? Who's badge do you find yourself wearing today? Are you going to step up to the mark, or shy away? Don't be like Bob Dylan:

"Mama take this badge from me... feels like I'm knocking on heaven's door"

Heaven is for when you're dead ... for now, live on earth! And wear the badge with pride!

Our landlord Reg

Who said investment properties provided passive income? Yesterday our landlord Reg had to remove leftover furniture from a flat where the tenants had flown the coops suddenly.

Then he had to fix some plumbing in our neighbour's flat, then fix our toilet. As we said our thankyous, my ever-curious wife asked him how he started in property investment.

Turns out he'd overcome huge barriers on his way to being financially comfortable. Coming from the small town Whangarei to New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, he found no-one would lend him money. He asked for a raise in his fruit auctioneering job, only to be told he wasn't worth it. Yeesh!

He noticed the ones doing really well were the carriers... they had nice trucks, boats, cars, etc. He heard one of them had had a heart attack, and so his run just stopped. Spotting the opportunity, Reg visited him in hospital. "Would you like me to buy your business?" he asked. Yes, said the carrier. Great, said Reg, but I don't have any money.

Borrowing from his wife, mother, the bank ("only $200 and they thought they were doing me a big favour!") and, ironically, from the seller (!), Reg bought the business and started to move up.

But he didn't stop there. He looked around Auckland to see who was making the money - and it wasn't the people who were working. It was property owners enjoying passive income - toilet repairs notwithstanding.

So - cutting a long story short - Reg used calculated risk to move up, step by step. He had no natural advantage, just an inquisitive mind. And he doesn't consider himself an entrepreneur, either. He just looked to see why others succeeded and he didn't.

I think Reg's attitude had as much to do with his success as the techniques he used. His openness and willingness to share his story with us was really touching. Here is someone willing to do good for others if he has it in his power at all.

And it's soooo good to have the toilet working again!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Fast Company | On Thin Ice - oh, yes!!

I so agree with this story. Some quotes:

"But Bancroft and Arnesen's deepest courage has shined not in enduring these environments but in allowing themselves to surrender -- to accept less than their ultimate goal, to fail for the right reasons."

"Doing what Ann and Liv did is much harder than reaching the peak of the mountain, flying a flag, and saying, 'We're heroes, take us to the parade.' " [world-renowned polar explorer Will] Steger says. "Real leadership is not about getting to the top. In this game, leadership is about coming back alive."

There's no courage when selfishness takes over. Bancroft and Arnesen showed the courage to act on their beliefs -- that the team's well-being mattered more than their own goals, that the true mission of the trip was not personal glory but setting an example. The price was high: relinquishing a lifelong dream. But the reward was in discovering their true mettle."

It's not about the mountain (or job, or project, or goal); it's about you.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Welcome aboard to Robyn and Dave

We have two new members on Leadership Issues ... and they're both from New Zealand!

Robyn sent me a post which I thought had gone on the blog, but I can't see it, so here it is:

"Kia ora Simon and friends,

Simon, I just got your electronic newsletter and was abruptly reminded that you sent me an invitation to join - so I did obviously. I have been an independent contractor for 14 years and moved to subcontracting other independent contractors who in turn sometimes sub-subcontract other independent contractors... one day Im going to get asked to sub-sub-sub-subcontract one of my own jobs!

What a wonderful life style - risky, unpredictable, exciting, rich one minute and in serious debt the next, forever challenging but not lonely - especially in Auckland where there is always a cafe to meet another contractor wanting a break and a chat and to share tips and tricks.

Anyway, why it took me so long to join this blog was after I received your invitation, I slipped a disk in my back, hit the deck, and that meant I studied the ceiling for a few weeks more than I really needed to. After reflecting on my life, my future and "leadership" I got so bloody bored that I decided to create a new business - another story ...

The most interesting part was that I was treated to insights about leadership in many forms. Two of my subcontractors took the initiative and took a couple of critical jobs, I rung every client and they all agreed to move deadlines and some even asked if I would like to be paid ahead of delivery, friends and some I had barely met came with food, supplies, took my children for well-deserved breaks, stayed over with us to help, walked my boisterous young dogs, and generally kept me out of mischief.

Today is my first day back on my computer working, yes new years eve and Im building my website for the new business - inspired by the leadership I was treated to over the past 6 weeks who helped me see that I needed to make a shift to more meaningful things.

Anyway, good to be here at last and I wish you all the best for the new year - nga mihi o te tau hou,


Thanks very much for that story, Robyn. Ain't it amazing how leadership comes through in the really little - but important - things of life.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Why don't some entrepreneurs get it? (Book Review: Monturiol's Dream)

Some inventors just don't get business. They are perhaps more artists than craftspeople, driven by something they feel is bigger than themselves. Narcis Monturiol was such a man, and Monturiol's Dream is his bittersweet story.

Be warned: this is a pretty exhaustive book. That's good, because there's something for everyone -
  • a very full life story of the individual,
  • fantastic contextual background of the Barcelona of the 1830s to 1870s (to the present, actually)
  • rigorous detail on how early submarines worked (actually quite interesting!)
  • a fly-on-the-wall view of radical communism, 1860s-Spanish-style
  • many salutary business lessons on dealing with investors
As you can see, a lot to read, and a lot for me to talk about. But I'll limit myself to addressing the last point - dealing with investors.

It doesn't need to be investors in the traditional sense - I guess the modern word would be stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders in your life? Are you paying attention to their needs?

Monturiol didn't, and it was part of his downfall. He had the perfect vision in his mind; he was the archetypal scientist or artist, driven, absolutely propelled by the possibilities he's working with.

Of course, in a later age, Monturiol might have done very well working in an academic science institution. He had the idea, but he had to prove that his submarine could either win war (he abhorred violence) or make stacks of money (he was a radical communist). Tough call.

At first glance, Monturiol seems very similar to Captain Cook. They both saw immense possibilities, immense improvements to be made on the status quo. But Cook didn't just look at the idea, he also looked at all the steps along the way. Monturiol saw obstacles as just that, obstacles that he hoped would disappear soon.

Monturiol and his friends worked incredibly hard to create two brilliant, ahead-of-their-time submarines but in the end he had to watch his machine torn apart for scrap by a government that couldn't see the here-and-now.

Which all goes to prove that the idea is never enough, and neither is hard work.

To really get where you're going, you need to know who else needs to be on board. You need to know what they need, and work out how they're going to get it.

Book Review: The Captain Cook Encyclopedia

"Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." (Proverbs 22:29)

As a child one of my many heroes was Captain James T. Kirk. His mission to seek out new life, new civilisations grabbed my imagination ... and it wasn't really that different from the similar mission of a similar-sounding captain: Captain James Cook. (No "T")

The Captain Cook Encyclopaedia could easily have been another biography of James Cook. But instead it's a vital resource for anyone fascinated by that magnificent time of discovery. (Magnificent, culturally disastrous ... whatever your historical perspective, there were some very exciting things going on! More on that in another post...)

Because it's not linear, it invites you (well, me anyway) to randomly dip in and indulge a thirst for knowledge. That's just what I did in my seemingly unquenchable desire to get context on history. Here's what happened.

I was reading Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples, volume 3, about the seven years' war between Britain and France, called by some the real first world war.

The theatre of action was Canada, and the action was exciting. Suddenly I wondered to myself, where was Cook? So I looked up "Canada" in the Encyclopedia ... what do you know, he was right in the middle of it!

But to my point (finally!), Cook was an example of someone who knew he was good at something, and pursued it.

He was a navigator, from his earliest years learning astronomy and mathematics. Partly he was the product of his time - such scientific knowledge was only then beginning to become available to the common people. Like Tupaia, he took opportunity when it came.

Although he didn't have a hope of attending university, Cook created his own learning programme, identifying his career goals and plotting his course around the important goals, sometimes sacrificing smaller gains ... like leaving his civilian employment to become a mere seaman in the Navy. He had bigger goals in mind.

And so we meet him in Canada, still young, and sharp as a tack. Going ashore at Louisbourg, he met a military surveyor, Samuel Holland. Cook learned the technique of land surveying from Holland, and combined it with his existing skill of naval chartmaking, creating a whole new world of accuracy in marine navigation.

Talk about a visionary. As he learnt, Cook envisioned how the information should be, and worked with what he had ... until he had what he had seen in his mind.

That's leadership! And that's just from the "Canada" entry ... imagine what must be under the New Zealand entry :) (Just a bit of baiting for Adam and Matt, the Canadians among us)

Tupaia - Cross-cultural champion

Like many others, I'd always thought this picture was painted by an English seaman. Today I discovered the truth.

This painting, and several others like it, were the work of an outstanding cultural ambassador: Tuapaia, a high priest from the Tahitian island of Raiatea.

In The Ship: Retracing Cook's Endeavour Voyage I learnt how Tupaia was willing to leave behind everything he'd known - literally - and throw his lot in with the mysterious pale creatures who had arrived out of nowhere.

He became a very important part of the Endeavour crew, serving as interpreter in several other of the Society Islands (Tahiti), and even in faraway New Zealand, where he found the Tahitian and Maori languages close enough to understand. Just imagine what that must've been like for him! Absolutely amazing ... like a science fiction novel where we travel to another galaxy, only to find people just like us.

And the art. At first I didn't believe he painted the above picture. It didn't "look" Tahitian - you know, curly and swirly. But then I realised, he learnt the western way of looking at things, even down to colour.

Sure, it's no award-winning artwork by western standards, but consider: this is a man with zero training in western styles of painting, perspective, or portraiture. (Alliteration, how pretentious is that?)

Sadly, Tupaia died of malaria in Indonesia. He never saw his home again, nor did he get to see Europe. But I see that he travelled - he was willing to travel - a greater distance even than those who had come so far in search of new life, new civilisations.

It's one thing to be the explorer and do what you came for ... but to be like Tupaia, and take the opportunity when it comes ... wow.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Ah, the music!

This doesn't have too much to do with leadership, but on the other hand, might have more to do with it that even I realise.

Over the holidays I've had a wonderful time listening to some old vinyl LPs. Wonderful stuff.

All of Beethoven's 9 symphonies, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Fingal's Cave, Holst's The Planets, Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica... just wonderful.

The orchestral music reminded me of how much passion can be communicated by a large group of people ... a lot depends on the conductor!

Then for a total change I listened to some of the early "Jesus music" of the 70s, when hippies and rockers discovered Jesus, and expressed their songs in the language they knew best. Before it all became big business. Wow. Talk about passion! What these folks lacked in musical finesse, they made up for in contagious emotion in their music. And many of them are still going today, like guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy, and at least two members of the Second Chapter of Acts (honestly, those guys sang like angels!).

Finally, I'm now listening to the mind-altering synthesiser work of Jean-Michel Jarre. Wow. The record I'm listening to now is 27 years old, but still manages to sound futuristic. This guy didn't just take new instruments to play old music; he took new instruments further, creating whole new worlds in the ear and in the mind.

And he crossed barriers too. The other album I listened to earlier has this Frenchman performing in Beijing in 1982 - "the first performances of rock or contemporary music ever given in the People's Republic of China".

The leadership connection? Well, it's a bit tenuous, but very important: The arts are crucial.

The arts are part of what makes us human. They take us places our rational mind won't take us. They help us see new and more effective ways to solve problems. And they help us understand others.

Jesuit Priest, 9/11, and Jackass leadership skills

I love career contrasts, so this interview with a Jesuit priest who used to work for GE is great. I also love the part about 'contemplation in action'.

The specific leadership issue here:

"This is not to generalize too much, but I found that when I worked at GE that the company rewarded people who acted like jackasses. So, I had this thing called the Jackass Theory. The jackasses were rewarded because they were tough as nails. They seemed to lack compassion and they treated their employees like dirt. As you moved up in the organization, with a few exceptions, you became more and more of a jackass.

I was very surprised when I began interviewing with the Jesuits, that it was quite the opposite. The higher up I got in the Jesuit hierarchy the nicer the people seemed to be-and that really appealed to me. I thought there is something here that makes a lot more sense than the GE way of things."

And here I was thinking Jesuits were evil soldiers of Satan :)

Leadership and Heroism

I think I've said before that I dislike the "hero" version of the leader -- the one who comes in, makes some snap decisions and stirring pronouncements... the Hollywood hero. Simplistic solutions that work only on sitcom-level problems. They're great on the screen, but worse than useless in real life.

But a recent article in the Toronto Star, a companion piece to the review of Hotel Rwanda, casts Romeo Dallaire in a similar light. Writer Geoff Pevere says:

No one else was trying to stir us from our O.J. stupor, and no one else seemed to represent the unflinching, if ultimately futile, moral certitude embodied by Dallaire.

Also notable is that, in this attitude-saturated day and age, Dallaire seems almost entirely unburdened by irony. In the book and the film, the soldier, an apparently genuine idealist, sees his military calling as a moral mission.

He sees what happened in Rwanda in stark, uncomplicated terms: a devil's victory.

A lot of the Hollywood-style leaders go wrong when they make all aspects of leadership as simple as the moral simplicity. The trick is to keep that moral simplicity and certainty intact while you use it to navigate through intense and complicated human situations. The simplicity is the easy part; it's the complexity of the actions that it leads to that separate the Hollywood leaders from truly heroic leaders like Romeo Dallaire.

(I'm not sure whether the article is available to non-subscribers to the Star, but the URL is

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Charisma and leadership

From Randall Wallace's excellent commentary on Man in the Iron Mask:

"Charisma is a part of leadership... and true charisma comes from character and caring."

Never a truer word spoken, Randall. The scene it was talking about:

Paris is rioting. They have no food. While others suggest firing on the crowd, D'artagnan says no, he will talk to them. He shuts himself in with the crowd, at their mercy - but they keep a wide berth of him. They respect him.

Well, most of them do. Someone throws an apple - in slow motion, no less! - and instead of taking it as an insult, D'artagnan cuts it in half, then impales it on his sword (now how did he do that? Must've been two apples... that wasn't mentioned in the commentary ... hmmm) , tastes it, and says, "yes, it is rotten. I'll sort it out." Or words to that effect.

Great stuff.

And it was very refreshing to hear a decent commentary, after sitting through the appaling commentary for The Matrix.

Oh, it was okay. Apart from the long silences. And the slightly defensive (slightly?) comments by Visual Effects director John Gaeta (after describing at length how they got the machines to look just right, he says, "What, you don't believe me?" to editor ... and then just basically goes off about how much work he put in... ah well, he did a freakin' fantastic job, personal paranoia notwithstanding).

Where was I? Oh yeah, Randall Wallace. Charisma ... comes from caring. That's right. Cheers.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

My seven-year old poem

Going through some old floppy disks (remember those?) and found a poem I'd written in 1998 about image. Interesting, considering I'm in the marketing industry, but I still believe what I wrote back then.

by Simon Young

Image is a trap
Image is a wall
Image isn't everything,
It's nothing at all

Image comes last
On my list
Image changes fast
Image isn't as important
As you'd like to think
Be freed from the pressure
To present yourself
As something you are not
Something you hope to be
Or wish you were

Just be yourself
Don't manipulate
Don't hesitate
To be real
Who are you and why?
I care about those things
I don't care about your walls
I don't care about your image
Who are you? Do you know?
Is your image really you
Or is it a guard over the
questioning hole that lies
at the centre of you?

(c) Copyright 1998 Simon Young