Monthly Archives: September 2010

Inspire Yourself

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Go outside and play, you are driving me crazy!”   – My Mom

In the summer of 1971, I was briefly under house arrest for some crime or other. Cat juggling or lighting things on fire or something equally unacceptable in the house of Jacob. My father was the disciplinarian, my mother was the unfortunate recipient of the consequences of the consequences.  At the time I was listening daily to a comedy album that had impressions of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and for some reason Robert Goulet singing “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot. To make a long story short, I devised a plan to get out of my grounding by following my mother around incessantly repeating  (in my best Nixon) “I am not a crook” while flashing peace signs and singing the Camelot song in my 11 year old’s squeaky Baritone. It worked.

Why bring this up now? Well for one thing, it’s still kind of funny and for another it was deviously inspired. I conceived it, I believed it, I executed and I received instant reward. Well, not instant, it took a few hours, but I was well versed on the limits of my mother. I knew she would eventually crack and indeed she gave me early release for annoying behavior.  It was also the perfect plan, as it left my father completely defenseless. It was the funniest thing he’d heard since I belched half the alphabet, so he couldn’t stop laughing as he tried to reincarcerate me that evening. In the end, I went over the wall and the guards just let me keep running.

How are you inspiring yourself? I didn’t want to be inside on a fine summer day, perfectly made for wiffle ball, cat juggling and arson.  I had a strong eleven year old’s motivation behind me.  So, I ask you:  how bad do you want what you want?

Can you move through the various fears we experience in business and the arts: rejection, judgement, being too strong, not being strong enough.  What will inspire you to push through those fears? What will inspire you to risk it all for what you really want to accomplish?

Here’s the key; don’t look to the outside for your inspiration, IT HAS TO COME FROM WITHIN. Outside you are motivations only. Inside, well that’s another story.  There lies your imagination, where you can conceive the future and the career you really want. Inside you is also the plan to get there.  If you’re wondering where to look for it?  That’s the easiest part of all, it’s right behind the fear.

Imagination is the pure light of the soul and the soul is massive. But, fear takes up too much room and makes the soul seem tiny. Such are the seeds of defeat and hopelessness. I’m here to tell you, there’s only one way out.  Inspire yourself. Push through the fear, inspire yourself and see what’s possible!

You think it was easy to get out of a grounding at my house?  I have news for you, it wasn’t.  But, I looked deep within to my inner impersonator.  I was inspired.

Inspiration is generally seen as something on the outside greater than ourselves moving us to action.  What happens if we change that definition to include our inner greatness?  Is that idea not humble enough?  Is it too audacious? Consider these words:

The Invitation
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
And if you dare to dream of meeting
Your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
For love, for your dream,
For the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
If you have been opened by life’s betrayals,
Or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain,
Mine or your own,
Without moving
To hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy,
Mine or your own,
If you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
Without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

So, get inspired.  There’s cat juggling to do and only so much time to do it in.

It Takes A Village

“It takes a village.”  That old saying that everyone uses for everything from the success of a child to a business project gone completely awry. In my experience, I would say that it’s a very true metaphor. Even in art that appears to be a solo endeavor. Painters need someone to loom canvas and manufacture acrylic paints. You could argue that a dancer doing a solo might qualify. But, that would be a naked dancer with no training, and we’ve all seen that before, usually being dragged (still dancing) into a police car. Entertaining? Yes. Art? Not really.

So, what do we really need to be creative? Collaborators seen and unseen. But before that we need to be motivated to create something.  Where does that come from? Somewhere in the soul is my guess.  The Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined it “flow” (and yeah, that’s really the guy’s name.)  Flow he discovered is that place we all have been, where we are so intently engaged in something that we lose track of time and reach a level of focus so deep it is almost trance like.  We forego sleep, don’t feel fatigued and can ignore hunger. Based on the feeling of personal connectedness and engagement, we tend to come back to those activities again and again.

That’s where the concept of ‘opensource’ comes in.  It is a neighborhood in the new village of art, entertainment and hopefully collaborations well beyond.  In his book “Drive –  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel H. Pink cites numerous studies that determine:  the intrinsic value of our flow activities (that is, how they make us feel) far out weighs any extrinsic rewards like money that we might get for doing the activity.  You can want or need to be paid for your creativity, but according to the science, money will never be able to motivate you enough to enter flow and ‘true’ creativity.  You are far more likely to create your best work with like minded people regardless of whether or not you get paid for it at all.  So, money is one thing, but not the only thing.  Here is a version of Pink’s philosophy:

What is really interesting to me is the descriptions of Wikipedia and Firefox and how they came about.  Code wonks donating their talents (which they get paid for during the work day) build something together that not only is bigger than any one of them, but provides a space for those creating to gain mastery over their craft. They work for free, but they are free to work how they like, when they like without deadlines or the constraints of work for hire.  And that is the recipe for flow.

So what does this science mean to an agent that depends on 10% of my artistically gifted clients making a living?  It means I need to encourage my clients to recognize the concept of flow.  It means I need to encourage mastery. To realize that it’s my job, to get the issue of money off the table by striking fair deals, so they do not have to think about it. I believe that is the way I participate as a collaborator in their art.

I’m not a filmmaker, nor do I want to be or pretend to be. I’m a manager, a partner that can focus on the bigger picture of the business and find myself in “flow” by ways of listening, advising and negotiating.  Sounds strange, but flow exists in any talent you can think of and that’s where it exists for me.  But, more so my job is encouraging artists to create even when they are not working for money.  To take some down time to keep working for mastery and to open source with other like minded artists on projects of their choosing.

The definitions of success are changing.  In the wake of so much pain at the hands of economic collapse,  and the realization that consumerism as a social ideal merely trades flow for a quick endorphin rush, the next phase of human progress is upon us.  It may be Utopian to suggest, but there has never been a better time in modern history to be in the arts.  People are hungry again for beauty, for experience and open to the understanding the human potential is far more than survival and unlimited cheap gasoline.

So, lets see what we can create.  As artistic collaborators we can show the world that collaboration is exponential and born of compassion and empathy.  No doubt financial gain is important to sustain art and the artist, the business and the businessman. But, flow is the true goal to fixate on.  It may be too early to tell, but even science seems to be saying that flow, and it’s resulting mastery takes a village.

Turning The Corner

This past weekend I saw George Clooney in “The American.” Typical, hit man hiding out movie.  Clooney makes it pretty good I suppose, but we’ve seen it before. Something vaguely philosophical struck me about it though.  Clooney’s character is hiding out in this little French town waiting for some bad guys to come looking for him (which of course they do) and he spends a great deal of time peering around corners. You’ve never seen a town with more corners by the way. It seemed fairly obvious that if he went running around the corners he’d get shot, so he crept and peered and alternated with lots of peeks over his shoulder.

It strikes me, that’s what we do all the time when it comes to our lives and careers.  We creep, we peer, we peek as if when we round that corner we’ll get cut down in a hail of gun fire.  Most likely we won’t but that little voice inside says “ya never know!”

We encounter corners in life all the time.  Right now, Adrienne and I are struggling with being empty nesters.  Our youngest just moved 3000 miles away to go to school in New York, and well, here we are looking at each other asking “what now?”  As we turn this corner what will it mean?

Yeah, there's a few corners in this town.

Should we sell the big house now? It’s really not a good time but we could. It’s just two of us wandering around in this place yelling to each other from end to end.  What moves could I, should I make in business?  I’m not rushing out of work at odd times to the kids games and recitals anymore.  I could use the extra brain power to expand and at the same time be more efficient.

Here’s what really strikes me though:  not so much the big corners that we face, like the ones that I’ve been talking about, but the small corners that we avoid everyday.  What if I really let my feelings be known?  Will that create a big corner?  What if I take a small business risk?  Will that turn into a big one?

I’m beginning to believe that avoiding the small corners in daily life leads to great unavoidable big ones where the stakes get higher.  Ones with hails of gun fire. Avoidance really is the enemy here.  As in: don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today, for in one way or another avoided issues or tasks tend to grow into situations where our ability to control them evaporates.

So make the one call, send out the one promo piece, write out your goals for the next year.  Educate yourself by doing a little research on what practice could get you to the next level.  You can peer around the corner, sure, but then go forward. Make your move even as the bullets ricochet off the pavement.  Oh, and you’re right, there are only more corners ahead.  That’s life.  But, if you handle those small corners one at a time as they come, perhaps those big ones won’t seem so ominous and paralyzing.

And trust me, no matter how many corners you face, there won’t be as many as George faced in that freaky little town. It was ridiculous, the corners had corners, and then those corners had corners too.