Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Akira Kurosawa

Just finished watching Kurosawa: A Documentary, a very interesting look at the man whose filmmaking inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars.

Some really good bits, including this quote:

"Although human beings are incapable of talking about themselves with total honesty, it is much harder to avoid the truth while pretending to be other people. They often reveal much more about themselves in a very straightforward way. I'm certain that I did."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Link: How I am becoming an astronaut

Welcome to Damaris's Page!

I was just mooching around the Blogger homepage (can you tell I don't have a busy week on?), and checked out the list of "interesting blogs". Often blog titles are very esoteric and, well, just odd. They often don't mean what they say.

But this one, How I am becoming an astronaut, is exactly that, the journey of one Damaris B Sarria towards her goal of becoming an astronaut.

She says: "I started this blog to document the actions I am taking in trying to become an astronaut. It's my ultimate goal, my dream. Every week I post a new update to recap the week or add cool shuttle pictures. I hope you enjoy the site and remember to follow your dreams no matter what others may think of them."

That is awesome! And it shows just how powerful blogs can be. Go for it Damaris!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Good resource for anger

In the working world, we can either take Henry Ford's view that "all we need are pairs of hands - the rest of the people are just taking up space", or we can attempt to be more emotionally intelligent. is quite a neat site in terms of understanding emotions, particularly anger and our reactions to stuff. Sure, there's a lot of stuff to read out there, but I like how this site gives you simple lists. Practical.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Great quote from Fast Company

Fast Company Now

I like this:

"The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?" -- Max De Pree (1924 - ) Former Chairman, Herman Miller Furniture

A bit of a reality test. Although I wonder, how does that affect the self-employed solo player like me? Hm. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Film Review: The Corporation

In 1900 corporations were a very small part of American cultural life. In the 2000s the Corporation plays the role once played by the Catholic Church, the Monarchy, or the Communist Party in other eras.

The Corporation has lots of stuff like this - facts, sometimes quite involved, which are shocking when presented so barefacedly.

Although it's an activist film, The Corporation is an intelligent film, showing multiple points of view and essentially letting the viewer make their own conclusions.

The key message of the film is: capitalism is out of control. Corporations are out of control.

It's best described by the courageous Ray Anderson, founder of Interface Carpets, who faced up to the impact his company had on the environment, and started making changes.

Anderson describes the current state of the business world like this: It's like the early days of flying when men in bird suits would launch off a cliff and, freefalling, believe they were flying.

Collectively we are all freefalling, but some of us believe we are flying, because the wind is still blowing in our hair. But others can see the ground.

Dramatic stuff! Is there anything we can do? Yes. It's at the end.

The DVD of The Corporation is fantastic - one disc of movie plus lots and lots and lots of background stuff. Second disc is a smorgasbord of extra interview material from people featured in the film, including Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Peter Drucker, Pfizer CEO Tom Kline, Naomi Klein, and many more.

The whole package is a remarkable example of making the most of what you've got when you have a camera and a world to document.

The Strong Shall Inherit the Earth

The Strong Shall Inherit the Earth

Essentially this guy is saying:

"Find out what you don’t like doing and stop doing it."

Sounds good to me. And yet is it realistic?

I guess as a sufferer of chronic illness, the constraints put on me from outside force me to grapple with this issue daily. I'd like to do everything, at least try everything, but I reach my limits long before "most people" (if such a group exists).

So, I pare. And it's not something you want to do in one sitting, otherwise the feelings and circumstances of that moment will have full sway in what you decide.

Instead, you pare over time. You look at what's not working for you, and pare it down.

And you don't take anything for granted. For instance, my strengths have me in the marketing business. But I'm not a "salesman type", the type you'd meet on Wall Street.

So, I pare down the kind of projects and clients I want to work on. Sure, sometimes beggars can't be choosers, but in the best possible world, I'm not a beggar.

That paring process lasts a lifetime. And in the process, I'll likely have some experiences that I don't enjoy. That happens. I'm learning to take them as what they are - learning experiences.

So, I'm not sure if I'm speaking the same language as Marcus Buckingham, but I'll probably find out when I download the free resources on his site.

PS: Just tried the free resources - they're only free if you've bought the book. But, there is a good video presentation, with a marvellous quote:

"Clarity is the antidote to anxiety. That's the preoccupation of the great leader. If you're nothing else as a leader, be clear."

Politics with heart - impossible?

With an election going on, I find myself wondering if politicians must be some kind of other species to survive in the parliamentary environment.

So much nastiness. Is it really necessary? Does it really help anyone?

I don't believe it does, but then I'm not really interested in politics. I'm far from likely to be a politician. In fact, I'm a dreamer.

Imagine, then, how I rubbed my eyes when I read this in Pico Iyer's amazing book, Sun After Dark : Flights Into the Foreign:

"If the Dalai Lama were a dreamer, it would be easy to write him off. In fact, he's an attentive, grounded, empirical soul whose optimism has only been bolstered by the breakthroughs achieved by his friends Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel. Havel, indeed, who became the first head of state to recognize the Dalai Lama, within thirteen hours of coming to power, has been a powerful spokesman for this new kind of statesmanship.

The politician of conscience, the Czech leader writes, need not have a graduate degree in political science, or years of training in duplicity. Instead, he may rely on "qualities like fellow-feeling, the ability to talk to others, insight, the capacity to grasp quickly not only problems but also human character, the ability to make contact, a sense of moderation."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Coca-Cola Company in the Zyman era

This Blog Sits at the: Story time 5: The Coca-Cola Company in the Zyman era

Absolutely brilliant story about how a simple question kicked off a simple meeting.

" We are gathered here today to hear Sergio Zyman, Senior Vice President of the Coca-Cola Company. He’s come to evaluate our project. By all appearances, he’s made up his mind.

“Well, thank you for this, but, really, it’s lazy marketing, isn’t it?”


If the opening remark was painful, this one is bewildering. We are deep inside the well-fortified Atlanta headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company. We are assembled, surely, to talk about soft drinks. But Mr. Zyman wants to talk about…the Catholic church. For some reason, everyone looks at Mr. Zyman’s half dozen assistants.

These men and women are, at the moment, not just looking at their boss, they are scanning him. Was there a memo? When did we talk about this? Did I miss something? They are x-raying the boss for any little sign. Mr. Zyman gives no hint.

“So, you’re the Catholic church, what’s your problem?”

Read the rest at the "This Blog sits at the intersection of Anthropology and Economics" blog.

Very well written, too. :)

Cross-Post: Self Deception

I posted this article to my Fundamentalist blog because it's a bit, y'know, spiritual. But there are definitely a few lessons for everyone there, even if you'd rather not take the spiritual stuff on board.

Favourite quote in it is from Bill Hybels: "We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions."

A bit like the killer quote from Batman Begins: "It's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you."

Leadership by Imagery

Too little has been expressed on this blog about the importance of the 'Visual Leadership' process, and about how critical it is to the rare animal known as Leading.

The methodology -- one of an infant's fistful of techniques employed during a recent false-started pipe dream named Epilogue -- was often maligned by certain individuals as being ineffective, callously manipulative, and -- horror of horrors -- Svengali-ish.

Rest assured, Imagery is vitally important to the maintenance of decorum amongst a diversified assortment of film professionals, be they either Heads of Departments, cast, or crew. When things begin to get hairy -- and as susceptible to Murphy's Law as things are -- the charismatic leader's got to step into a widening breach and shore up the leeching morale with a proven leadership flavour.

I know this to be true because I've seen this technique in action. On many occasions along the abortive Epilogue path, my methodology was utilized on countless days when a clearcut raison d'etre was hard to make out. This was so because as we engrossed ourselves in the shortmaking process, direction often became muddled and unfocussed due to circumstances beyond direct governance. People began to (as expected) freak out and so something therefore had to take minds off the encroaching dismay.

The foundational Imagery of, say, "standing as a triumphant gang in front of a packed-to-the-gills theatre of adoring film festival fans" was an example which was frequently used to buoy my courageous colleagues during our darker moments.

Magically, there exist few distractions to trounce this powerful device! I discovered our valiant bunch could overcome all and sundry just by referring back to this technique time and time again -- mentally or orally (and sometimes both). In our dealings with a handful of individuals fearful of the method, our imagery practicum became somewhat overtaxed, yet remained vitally robust. Despite the adversity raining down upon us, our imagery persevered and so did we.

Decision-making is never an easy task. It's especially difficult when an outcome may have possible negative consequences but also when the leader operates from a standpoint of fuzzy logic. In times like these, "best-of-all-circumstances" has to be culled and synthesized quickly. An optimal decison must be arrived at and someone's got to do it.

I was compelled to make such decisions during Epilogue early and often. Despite what certain members felt and continue to feel about my unsuitabilty for leadership and for governing, I've countless times received private off-the-record support from those same individuals thusly committed to our creative journey.

It's quite shameful more effort wasn't taken to investigate all available sources before forming conclusive opinions about my practice.

Were these individuals standing in my Florsheims, who knows how they might've fared. Moreover, they'd not even have had such chance to form their (false) opinions were it not for my intrepidness in seconding them to our team in the first instance.

Instead of unanimous support, I received fractious invective. Instead of a bridge, I could only see the chasm.

I was undermined.

Dirty pool, I say.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Film Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai

Someone - I forget who - said The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the best films ever made. I concur, although I can't exactly say why. It's very well put together, has some beautiful cinematography, and has fantastic depth of character and story. It's also extremely long, so make sure you have an afternoon free when you watch it.

My initial reason for getting it out on DVD was that I'd never seen it before, and having recently had a Star Wars-fest, I wanted to see what Alec Guinness was like when he wasn't playing Obi-Wan Kenobi. (He was great in Bridge as Col. Nicholson, by the way)

Thoughts that occurred to me while watching:
  • The need for meaning. Towards the end, Nicholson tells the Japanese commander Saito that he's often wondered what sort of mark his life would leave. Would anyone notice he'd ever lived? The bridge, for him, was a sort of answer to that - even though it was an enemy bridge, and as a British officer he had a duty to prevent it being completed. Sometimes our search for meaning takes us to strange places.
  • The difference between 1957's perspective (when Bridge was filmed) and the early 21st century (when, for example To End All Wars was filmed, a true story with many similarities to Bridge). Nicholson's search for meaning is tacitly frowned on in 1957, while in To End All Wars we see there is no other choice but to find some meaning - or utter madness.
  • Realism. In 1957 it was considered okay to portray the Japanese as bumbling, incompetent fools. But the reality was, this was an ancient culture that had combined with modern technology to become extremely powerful. And the psychological warfare used would have never let Nicholson or others have their clever lines.
  • The ending. One of the best endings in film. Utter chaos, and you'll be forever wondering - did he mean to fall on the plunger, or was it just accidental? What did he mean when he said, "What have I done?"

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Book Review: A Whole New Mind

The year's not over, but I might be ready to name my favourite book of the year already. It's A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age by Daniel Pink, the author of Free Agent Nation.

In a nutshell, the book says the future will be more right-brained. Well, R-directed thinking, as he puts it. Because even the most "right-brained" activity still involves your left hemisphere too.

What does it mean for your thinking to be more R-directed? It means picking up on the new six senses that are transforming our world: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.

Why do we need these six senses? The three A's: Asia, Abundance and Automation. In short, the knowledge-focused jobs of the late 20th century (for instance, just about anything to do with programming computers) are either being automated or outsourced to countries like India and China with a cheaper and very numerous workforce. Meanwhile, an abundance of choice is making it difficult for products and services to compete in the marketplace - the ones that do well, usually have an R-directed element to them.

As you can tell, A Whole New Mind is very well-organised. And it's entertaining to read, too. Especially if, like me, you have an underactive left hemisphere and feared that it will disadvantage you in the business world.

Now I can tell people with pride that I took an all-arts course in my final year of high school. If they ask me what good Music, Art History and Classical Studies did me, I'll just point them to A Whole New Mind!

I am, of course, being a little tongue-in-cheek. Pink never suggests we'll have no use for L-directed activities or thought processes; instead he says left and right need to work together like never before.

What's really exciting about A Whole New Mind is that it's not just theory: this stuff is really happening.

Just a few examples from the book:
  • GM is about art, not transportation.
  • New school tests are being introduced to supplement the heavily L-directed SAT tests, and these new tests, emphasising emotional and interpersonal abilities, close some of the racial and cultural gaps that show up in SAT tests.
  • Laughter groups are free to attend!
  • Hospitals and Public Housing organisations are seeing the importance of design to health and well being.
  • Doctors are (finally!) understanding the value of empathy and listening to their patients' stories.
  • Video games are good for kids.
There's a lot going on to connect the two hemispheres, and it's very exciting.

So A Whole New Mind is part theory, part practical examples and reportage, and part guidebook, to show you how to incorporate the vital six senses into your life.

In case you needed any more persuading, Po Bronson calls it "very important" and Tom Peters calls it "a miracle". Go buy the book already!

Book Review: Lincoln

The first unusual thing about Lincoln, by Thomas Keneally, is it's one-word title. Sure, you get lots of books with one-word titles these days, but they are often subtitled with really long explanatory bits. Lincoln stands alone.

Lincoln the book, like Lincoln the man, is simple yet profound. Keneally gives us narrative, and at the same time explores the world in which Lincoln grew, learned, strived to make his mark, and changed history.

As I started upon this book, I wondered why there was a need for another biography of Lincoln. Surely he's been biographed so often before? And yet as I read, I understood. Only a book written in our time can give us a genuine idea of what it must've been like in the 1800s.

Sounds counterintuitive, but it's not. A book written in the 1860s, or even the 1960s, assumes the reader knows cultural norms of the period in which it is written. When we read an old book with today's "glasses" on, we miss the nuances and mental shortcuts of an earlier age, unless we ourselves lived then and can remember well enough, or unless we study that time period.

So, what uniquely 21st-century observations has Keneally given us? My pick is the influence Lincoln's oratory had on all political presentation in the future. The now legendary Gettysburg address was at the time considered an after-thought, after the (then) stunning hour-and-a-half speech by classical scholar Edward Everett.

Lincoln took his extraordinary life experiences - including growing up in poverty and struggling through many years of failure - and used it to connect to people, whether politicians, soldiers or the public. He knew that politics is possibly more art than science, and his early years were filled with reading, studying not only works of law but also great works of literature.

An interesting aspect of Lincoln's life was how his faith evolved from scepticism in his youth to the kind of faith he weilded as President. Keneally doesn't attempt to answer the questions that arise: Was his faith real? Or was he merely saying the words he knew would comfort a largely Christian public? Had he come back to traditional Christianity, or embraced something similar to Jefferson's Deism? In the end, the reader is left with these questions. And I think that's the way it should be.

Don't keep reading any further unless you want a spoiler. Okay, so most people know he died. But thankfully Keneally doesn't keep dropping hints as some authors do, ruining the narrative by making the end inevitable. Instead, Lincoln's assassination comes as a shock, as does the abrupt end of the book as Lincoln quietly expires the next morning.

Thankfully, Keneally rounds off the book with a collection of sources, not just a list but a conversational guide to the books he used to put together this biography.

For an absorbing but brief look into the life of possibly America's greatest President, Lincoln will be hard to put down.

In memory of Lange

This week the whole country (New Zealand, if you hadn't been paying attention) paid homage to a great leader, admired even by those who disagreed with his politics.

David Lange (1942 - 2005) was most often remembered as a great storyteller with the common touch. And there lies the man's greatness - stories that reach the heart of everyone.

As a child growing up through the Lange years, I didn't understand much of the politics happening, but I do remember the jovial, literally larger-than-life character he was. Yet, as with so many comedians, his humour came from suffering.

In an interview earlier this week on Campbell Live, Lange's successor Geoffrey Palmer pointed out the severe health problems lived with during his time as Prime Minister. Illness can make you want sympathy, or can help you offer it.

Perhaps that was the best thing about Lange. Sympathy. Or maybe I'm talking about empathy. Don't know. But it was real, and it began long before his time as PM. Maybe it began in his law practice in the Far North and South Auckland, when he would take on the cases no-one else wanted to take on; the people who couldn't necessarily pay their way.

Probably the best part about when someone famous dies is the concentrated amount of information you get in the media coverage. It sounds morbid, but I've really enjoyed the interviews with Lange's colleagues (all looking very old now!) as they try to summarise what made the great man great, the popular man popular.

Update: Fantastic tribute in the NZ Herald from Jim Hopkins, another man who mixes wit with wisdom on a regular basis. Although admittedly, often more of the former.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Its about Particpatory Culture! not the Knowledge Economy | Stratagility

Interesting post about the post-knowledge economy. The spelling and grammar is not too good, but the post puts across an interesting idea.

I'm getting the same message, although from a different perspective, in Daniel Pink's latest book, A Whole New Mind. Review coming soon.