In Jim Collin's book "Good To Great", he discusses what should be the focus of would be "great" businesses by using the parable of "The Fox and The Hedgehog".
In the parable, the fox, beautiful and sleek, cunning - tries many strategies to catch the Hedgehog, to no avail. It sneaks, it pounces, plays dead, and races. But each time, the fox is defeated by the hedgehog. Why? Because the hedgehog know one thing...how to defend it'self.
This is based on the Greek axiom that states: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
For much of my life, I have been a fox. I have run from project to project, idea to idea, opportunity to opportunity. And yet, despite vast amounts of effort, I never quite found what I was looking for in terms of either artistic or professional fulfillment. In other words, I got very good at a lot of things. But, I'm my own opinion, I don't believe that I'm truly great at any of them.
Contrast this with my brother, Dave. When he left high school he had one goal, to become a professional musician...a guitarist, in fact. He began by playing open mics and giving away CD's to anyone who wanted one. Eventually, he began sitting in with other people and recording with them. He recorded albums in his bedroom, getting better and better all of the time. He began writing for a local music publication. But he had still yet to have a "big break".
Then two things happened. Dave had recorded an album of ambient guitar music that managed to chart in the Top 30 New Age/Ambient charts. He suddenly began getting some traction with radio airplay. At the same time, he was offered an audition with an up and coming singer/songwriter with a major label deal. Long story short, Dave got the gig and ended up playing with this artist on Late Night With David Letterman, The George Lopez Show, The Ellen Show, and so on. He got to play with Justin Timberlake during the "Hope For Haiti" telethon. Ever since, he has worked continuously, touring for weeks at a time all around the world.
Now, what's the big difference? Was it just talent? Well, not really. Dave is a very talented guy, but talent runs abundantly in our family. The fact is that he hedgehogged it. He picked one thing, got good at it...and just kept going...and going. He didn't jump from one thing to another. He stuck in one lane. I give him all of the props for this.
I seem to be a bit behind the curve. I have become aware of, in recent years, what truly amounts to a real life super power. It's called "Consistent effort over time." No one can promise that anyone will become a multimillionaire off of such effort, but it always pays it's dividends in relationships, opportunities, or at the very least, the comfort of a life lived with that which resonates deeply with them.
That, in the end, is part of the ingenious part of the "hedgehog formula" - it forces you to only focus on what you care deeply about. It takes too much effort, otherwise.
The following quote is from Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon and one of the richest men in the world:
“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”
When starting World Poetry Open Mic in late 2012, we (and by that, I mean J Todd Underhill (who is no longer on the show), JT Gunter, and myself) focused on what would make the show a great experience for the listener. We weren't developing the show for any reasons of self gratification or ego-based nonsense. We weren't even developing the show based on the technology that we had available, which caused a few problems. The focus was entirely on creating something that wouldn't change. Something that we could do for the next 25 years.
Now, in March of 2018 as I record this, we have moved through multiple iterations of the show, eventually leaving our original radio station deal and going independent, and more. We've moved segments around, changed the rules several times, yet have always held fast to what won't change. Our goal has always been the same: to create a welcoming and fun community where poets can interact and share their work with each other. Everything else has been used to achieve that goal.
Dan Sullivan, entrepreneur and founder of Strategic Coach, often speaks of making a 25 year commitment part of taking on any new endeavor. One, the gravity of the decision seems to loom larges in front of you, making easy and blithe paths harder to say "yes" to, but it also has the effect of changing how you think about your commitment itself.
How differently would you conduct your life if you were to make a 25 year commitment to the path you are on? What might you remove from life? What would you add?
Focus on what won't change, not the transitory and short term gains that so many follow. This has fundamentally changed my life and I'm willing to bet that, if employed in your own, a similar effect will show itself.
When I was a child, I found the world to be a confusing and frustrating place. Other children were difficult and extremely unimaginative for my taste. Teachers were posturing authority figures with very little empathy. My family was wonderful, but I could sense their frustration with my lost-in-my-thoughts, hyper active ways. I began to think that there was something wrong with me, that I was somehow just born defective and that nothing could ever change that.
One of two places where I ever felt a truly deep sense of reverence and connection was in the darkened room of a movie theater. The other was listening to my father read to me stories of adventures, of Robin Hood, of King Arthur, of the legends. Both of these things were a deep education for me into what right or wrong was, what honor meant, and what it took to be a person of substance.
In the years following, I found myself tested again and again, like all of us have. Sometimes I succeeded. But many times, I failed. Horribly. Epically. Other times, I got distracted and got wedged into a situation where I didn't live up to those old values learned in my childhood. Each time, it was like a small piece of my spirit broke away and fell to the ground. It was almost unrecognizable in the moment, but over time, I felt the crumbling of "myself", the fracturing of the child in me. I felt broken. I felt lost. I felt the creeping nothingness that follows the decimation of who you were. I felt a confirmation of that recurring feeling: there was something wrong with me. I was born defective...
It was only after I returned to the stories of my youth, that I reread the books I had been read by my father, that I started to remember who I was. While I am definitely not perfect, I know find myself thinking about how I can live within the values I learned all of those years ago. I am committed to very intentionally living them for the rest of my days. I would rather die than lose that part of myself again.
But what about you? What do you stand for?
Working with children, as I do, takes an enormous amount of emotional intelligence. Teaching them music, poetry, and drama - even more so. It's my job to help them find a way into connecting with themselves and then infusing that connection with a real confidence that allows them to show it in front of others, even though they might be afraid.
It's a tall task, far beyond simply teaching them the musical staff, notation values, and the like. This is deep psychological and spiritual work. For me to do it, I have to constantly work on myself. This can take some ridiculous forms, like my wearing a crown and sunglasses while teaching nine year olds to battle rap, which I did earlier today.
Besides just general over reaching ridiculousness to soften the atmosphere, I am constantly on the look out for insightful new techniques and methods to emotionally connect with both my students and others.
Such a concept was introduced to me recently while hearing a report by two clinical psychologists who work primarily with abused children. They say that a vast majority of children who are abused will fall to say something because they don't feel that they can trust anyone, especially adults. They then lock away the deep pain caused by what they have gone through, letting it eventually turn toxic and manifest in other ways.
These men stated that often, when in distress, a child tends to be asked something along the lines of "What's wrong with you?" or "What's wrong?" The psychologists then stated that the best phrase to use in such a situation, when seeing a child in distress, is to ask "What happened to you?"
That phrasing is very specific, communicating that one; something has actually happened (they aren't making it up or exaggerating) and two; it recognizes them as being worthy of recognition in themselves - they matter and that you are taking an interest in them. It may seem overly cuddly feely, but these things really matter in the lives of children. The difference in obvious.
While I began using this phrase on a daily basis when children appeared to be distressed, I noticed a very marked change in how willingly they communicated their problems with me. There has been an overall deepening of many of my connections with my students and I plan on using this phrase well into the future.
However, this got me thinking. Sure, this technique may be designed for children, but how many adults walk through the work, anxious and desperate, depressed and never have someone ask them the same question, "What happened to you?" My guess is far too many.
It becomes so easy to push our way through life, eyes always ahead, only on our own business. I'm guilty of this. And I'm not suggesting that we become derailed in our lives, needing to save the entire planet through emphatic conversation. We all know what an energy drain that can become. However, I would like to offer the idea that if you have the inclination; if you ever feel the internal urging to do so, check on someone around you. Ask them how they are. If they are distressed, consider asking them "what happened to you?"
I know from experience that, during the darkest moments in my life, a question like that might have pulled me back from the edge before I got as close as I did.
One of the things I have struggled with ever since I was a young man is a creeping sense of cynicism. I have a knack for seeing the worst in things, the ulterior motives in others, and to perceive the inevitable entropy that will envelop almost any situation. It has made it hard in the past to be inspired by things, or to truly appreciate the things around me.
A girlfriend of mine in the past once told me that I had become "too cynical" about the world. Of course, in mentality I was exhibiting at the time, I thought that she was simply too optimistic. Oh, how wrong I was...
It took a lot of heartbreak and difficult situations to lead to me rediscovering the light again. I started seeing what was good in the world; what there was to be inspired by and what could be done to make things even better.
Despite at one point being more negative than most, I now feeling as if I've gone the other way. While many I know eventually succumb to cynicism, I have somehow pulled myself out of it. I have allowed myself to become moved, shockingly enough. It's one of things that I am most proud of.
So, how can it be done in your own life? I don't know. The journey is different for all of us. But, if I was a betting man, I would say that it has a lot to do with accepting your injuries, your scars, accepting that while there may be darkness in the world, there is also a whole lot of light too. And in the end, it's what we focus on that fills our life.
I choose inspiration. I choose creativity. I choose connection. I choose love. I choose light.
What about you?
My grandfather on my mother's side was the WW2 generation. He had an honorable heart, a classic Irish look in his eyes, and a deep commitment to his family. He passed away in 2004 and I miss him very much.
He had this phrase that he would offer me over and over again, through the initial pain of growing up, then through my bout with cancer, then early adulthood and, eventually as he went through pain later in his life. "Offer it up". This is what he meant:
Whatever pain you are going through in your life, whether it be physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental - make it about something bigger than you. Offer it up. Offer it for others to benefit from. Offer it up as tribute to make the world better. Offer it up, in his words, to God.
Make your suffering for something greater than yourself. Make it worthwhile.
We can see this used over and over by some of the most revered leaders of our time: Malala, Mandela, and so on.
The choice is ours. When we suffer, as we know that we will, offer it up. The only way out if through.
If you believe the scattered yet bombastic messages sent to us from every angle of the globe, truth is a relatively malleable thing; moldable and flexible, easily bent into whatever shape the messenger wants to force it into. This method of truth telling presupposes that there is nothing inherently true about the truth, nothing factual about the facts, in fact, nothing beyond finding that which fits the narrative that the supposed "facts" are being formed into.
How else can we so clearly see those who hold a particular point of view so adamantly defend their position, even when it is shown to be untrue. Well, nowadays a common response is to dismiss the source of the negative proof. The thing in question suddenly turns from the topic at hand to the "unmistakeable" lack of credibility of anyone who questions your perspective.
For that reason, many have begun to call this, either verbally or through their own actions "The Post Truth Age". Where facts no longer mean anything, yet emotions and opinions govern all. We're a funny lot, us humans, aren't we?
But are we, in actuality "post truth"? Of course not. The truth is like a beacon in the distance, a city on the hill - yet we confuse ourselves willingly. We need to be right. Our egos become wrapped up in it. We are like seekers who see something that might be the truth and then decide to rip out our eyes so as not have to see contradictory evidence.
But the truth, in all it's glory, is just that, undeniable. It pulses white light into the darkness of our confusion. It makes all of our arguments seem suddenly childish and invalid. It scatters it's critics like small insects underneath a rock.
The truth can be painful, it can be harsh, frightening, and might prove us wrong. But it is real. And that is beautiful.
We are like people who woke, not remembering our previous lives, on a new shore, with rolling hills of orchards around us, all that we need to sustain and grow. We have build homes, have children, and develop systems of government over time. Before long, commerce is in full effect, both we and our children begin setting goals and having dreams for the future, whether that be a desired lifestyle, relationship, or vocation. We build large structures as memorial to our institutions and ideals, our personal proof that we are conquering, made of more special stuff than all of the living things around us.
We forget that this was once a wild land, given to us in our unconsciousness. We forget that we have been placed here and our children's children children now operate from the assumption that this land will always be, because to them, it always has.
Then, the hand of God brings destruction to bear, a natural disaster, and all of our proud monuments are made low. We lament our losses naturally and just as naturally ask the question "How could this happen?" But the answer is very clear. The land is a gift. The disaster comes with the gift. It is a part of the whole.
For each effect, there is an opposite effect. For each wondrous creation, there is a wondrous destruction. For each Garden Of Eden, there is an eternal expulsion from the garden. For every birth, there is a death.
Each day, after the sun rises in our world, we settle into the reality of the mundane. The day to day tasks. We have to get ourselves and the children dressed, we have to get them breakfast, get to school and work. Once we arrive, there is a never ending list of things to do. Over the course of the day, we engage in many conversations and, in turn, likely pass many judgments within them.
Generally, most of us speak so many words or judge others so often that it's hard to imagine them not simply vanishing into the air, ineffectual and vaporous, as if they never existed in the first place. Except. we know the opposite to be true.
Words do have power, whether in actual conversation with others or in the more subtle cumulative effect on your own brain, your own subconscious. If you constantly speak from a place of anger, victim-hood, and suffering, you are vastly more likely to find causation of those experiences entering into your world. If you instead speak words of healing and love, even to yourself, you will begin to find more and more of that filling your life as it ingrains itself in your mind.
In this short message today, I implore you, pay attention to your words. Watch what you say. What your mouth. And even more so, watch your thoughts and your judgments. We are creating our lives every moment. It's up to us what they will be like.
Early this morning, as the moonlight poured in through my window, illuminating my room with soft blue light, the kind that makes your memory and sometimes, your fantasies come to bear. I was still in some sleep inspired reverie when my thoughts turned to Adam and Eve, that story told to us about the creation and fall of man.
I thought on the strangeness of the story - Man, woman made of man's rib, the snake, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...a fatal ploy that was oddly set to work against the female Oedipus complex of Eve. God had to have known that, when faced with such a challenge, the human condition would falter in vast instances.
Now, I'm here to debate theologians or those with alternative versions. This was and is, purely my own imaginings...
First we meet Adam, first human, created by God and set in the wondrous Garden Of Eden. I wonder, was he made as a child? Or as a fully grown man? What was his first year of life like? What was his first night like? How did he learn to communicate? How did he learn to name and hold dominion over others?
Then, comes Eve, woman. Given to Adam as a companion and constructed from his rib (which seems quite patriarchal and not at all likely), they are, for all intents and purposes, made for each other.
They are told by God, their parent that all trees are available to them, save one, the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil. Such a set up could not have been better planned. How could it have ended any other way?
So, who then is the snake? I've met several snakes in my life, some belonging to my own mind. They entice you, lure you with exhilaration, with what could be, what you could experience. Then, against the obviously subliminal warning of God, Eve takes it. Then, offers it to her husband.
Suddenly, they become aware of their nakedness... What does that mean? Don't tell me it's sex...That's too easy. How was it that the Knowledge of Good & Evil made them suddenly become aware of the need for couture? Why was nakedness tied to Good and Evil?
Then Adam, of course, blames his wife and, to make a long story short - they are booted out of the G.O.E. never to return. Cherubim with flaming swords guarding the entrance.
One of the things that struck me completely about this was the archetypal play at work: God creates a world and then a man to live in it, which he gives dominion. But the ruler is lonely, so God creates a companion from the man, who then disrupts the plan of both man and of God (or so God says).
It has been said before that man and woman are both perfectly built to throw off and screw up the opposite gender. No one quite knows how to distract somebody then a romantic partner. It seems almost inevitable, doesn't it? In the story, Eve wasn't being wicked, was she? She was simply wanting to experience what she was told that the tree would provide? Then, she shared with her husband - thus setting the entire course of humanity.
And ultimately, with all of the richness in this story, I was left with this: relationships do pull us one or another way. We can move further into responsibility and mastery over our lives or retreat into induced experiences (like the fruit from the Tree). But in this case, Eve pulled Adam, in fact all of us, from the land of quiet servitude, of blind, unknowing obedience, into the world where our ancestors and we suffer and grow stronger, suffer and grow stronger.
And from that suffering, we have created great things. Can you imagine what life would have been like without Eve and that little snake on the tree branch?