Valentine’s Day has been around for centuries. Honestly, I was shocked when I learned that simple fact. I had always assumed that the folks down at Hallmark were just looking for a budgetary “pick-me-up” after the craziness of Christmas had subsided. So much for capitalism.
The truth of the story is still somewhat hard to decipher; although many have tried and, I suppose, there exists a kernel of truth in each part of the legend. Valentine’s Day or “The Feast of St. Valentine’s” as it is also known, was really made famous as a day to confess your undying love by Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, that great medieval Don Juan Casanova is the reason that the greeting card aisle at my local grocery store looked like downtown Baghdad after Operation Desert Storm. Men and women around the world scurry about looking for that special something that makes their special someone feel … well … special. It is a madness concocted of heart-shaped chocolates, precious gems, poetry, roses, candlelight and an inordinate amount of your salary. Still, the unspoken warning looms: Wo, wo, wo be unto he (or she) who feels that they have a relationship that is stronger than needing to fall into line with the pursuits of the day of the winged cupid. Divorce Court is populated with those morons.
Architects find inspiration in many places. We were recently inspired by some Valentine’s Day posts from our friends at Coffee with an Architect and thought we could come up with some “nerd-love” of our own. So, with apologies to some great architects, we present to you some of our architectural expressions of love. Enjoy!
I have often taken time in my blog to speak of happiness and its roots. The last few years have left me to reflect on the value structure of my life. Many of my past posts have dealt with ‘the important things of my life.’ I have tried to discuss the great moments, the little moments and even some of my not-so-great moments. I don’t think my life is much different than many of your lives, we have many ‘moments’ on our life that contribute to our search for happiness.
While I have a slightly different view on the root of true happiness and from whence it springs because if my religious beliefs; the Greeks have often presented stories that help is shed some light on our current situation. One of those stories is the tale of Croesus and the wise old sage – Solon.
Herodotus tells it, Croesus, the ancient king of Lydia, was once visited at his palace by Solon, a wise sage and Athenian lawgiver. The king was delighted to have the itinerant philosopher in residence, and welcomed him with warm hospitality. For several days, Croesus instructed his servants to show off the full measure of the king’s enormous power and wealth.
Once he felt Solon had been sufficiently awed by his riches, Croesus said to him:
“Well, my Athenian friend, I have heard a great deal about your wisdom, and how widely you have travelled in the pursuit of knowledge. I cannot resist my desire to ask you a question: who is the happiest man you have ever seen?”
King Croesus was already certain that he was in fact the happiest man in the world, but wanted to enjoy the satisfaction of hearing his name parroted back to him from such a venerated sage.
But Solon, who was not one for flattery, answered: “Tellus the Athenian.”
The king was quite taken aback and demanded to know how such a common man might be considered the happiest of all.
Tellus, Solon replied, had lived in a city with a government that allowed him to prosper and born fine sons, who had in turn given him many grandchildren who all survived into youth. After enjoying a contented life, he fought with his countrymen, bravely died on the battlefield while routing the enemy, and was given the honor of a public funeral by his fellow Athenians.
Croesus was perplexed by this explanation but pushed on to inquire as to who the next happiest man was, sure that if he wasn’t first, he had to be second.
But again Solon answered not with the king’s name, but with a pair of strapping young Argives: Cleobis and Biton.
Known for their devotion to family and athletic prowess, when their mother needed to be conveyed to the temple of Hera to celebrate the goddess’ festival, but did not have any oxen to pull her there, these brothers harnessed themselves to the incredibly heavy ox cart and dragged it over six miles with their mother aboard. When they arrived at the temple, an assembled crowd congratulated the young men on their astounding feat of strength, and complimented their mother on raising such fine sons. In gratitude for bestowing such honor upon her, the mother of these dutiful lads prayed to Hera to bestow upon them “the greatest blessing that can befall mortal men.” After the sacrifices and feasting, the young brothers laid down in the temple for a nap, and Hera granted their mother’s prayer by allowing them to die in their sleep. “The Argives,” Solon finished the tale, “considering them to be the best of men, had statues made of them, which they sent to Delphi.”
Now King Croesus was livid. Three relative nobodies, three dead men were happier than he was with his magnificent palace and an entire kingdom of his own to rule over? Surely the old sage had lost his marbles. Croesus snapped at Solon:
“That’s all very well, my Athenian friend; but what of my own happiness? Is it so utterly contemptible that you won’t even compare me with mere common folk like those you have mentioned?”
Solon explained that while the rich did have two advantages over the poor – “the means to bear calamity and satisfy their appetites” – they had no monopoly on the things that were truly valuable in life: civic service, raising healthy children, being self-sufficient, having a sound body, and honoring the gods and one’s family. Plus, riches tend to create more issues for their bearers – more money, more problems.
More importantly, Solon continued, if you live to be 70 years old, by the ancient calendar you will experience 26,250 days of mortal life, “and not a single one of them is like the next in what it brings.” In other words, just because things are going swimmingly today, doesn’t mean you won’t be hit with a calamity tomorrow. Thus a man who experiences good fortune can be called lucky, Solon explained, but the label of happy must be held in reserve until it is seen whether or not his good fortune lasts until his death.
“This is why,” Solon finally concludes to Croesus, “I cannot answer the question you asked me until I know the manner of your death. Count no man happy until the end is known.”
Croesus was now sure Solon was a fool, “for what could be more stupid” he thought, than being told he must “look to the ‘end’ of everything, without regard for present prosperity?” And so he dismissed the philosopher from his court.
While the king quickly put Solon’s admonitions out of his mind, the truth of it would soon be revealed to him in the most personal and painful way.
First, Croesus’ beloved son died in a hunting accident. Then, blinded by hubris (excessive pride), he misinterpreted the counsel of the oracles at Delphi and began an ill-advised attempt to conquer King Cyrus’ Persian Empire. As a result, the Persians laid siege to his home city of Sardis, captured the humbled ruler, and placed him in chains on top of a giant funeral pyre. As the flames began to lick at his feet, Croesus cried out, “Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Count no man happy until the end is known!”
Count No Man Happy Until the End Is Known
What did Solon mean by his seemingly cryptic statement?
Can a fulfilled life truly only be measured after all is said and done? This seems to fly in the face of modern Western thought. We see happiness as a subjective mood, a feeling that can fluctuate from day to day and be boosted by a pill or a bottle or a romp in the hay. For the ancient Greeks, however, happiness was encapsulated by the concept of eudaimonia, a word we do not have a modern equivalent for, but best translates as human flourishing. Happiness was not seen as an emotional state, but rather an assessment as to whether a man had attained virtue and excellence, achieved his aims, and truly made the most of his life. A man’s life might start well, and continue in prosperity through middle age, but if it ended poorly? His eudaimonia was not complete.
Thus, Solon was not arguing that men like Tellus and Biton were happier in death than in life; he was not referring to the afterlife. Rather, he argues that a man’s happiness can only be measured by a full accounting of it from start to finish, a measurement that cannot be taken until after he draws his last breath.
“Whoever has the greatest number of the good things I have mentioned [family, health, sufficiency, honor], and keeps them to the end, and dies a peaceful death,” that man, Solon argues, “deserves to be called happy.” Simply living a long life or attaining fine things does not make one happy; happiness is a label solely reserved for he who “dies as he has lived.”
The truth of this observation was not only lived out by Croesus (although his “end” upon the pyre was ultimately postponed by the mercy of Cyrus who decided to spare his life, and by the god Apollo who put out the flames), but in the lives of more modern men as well.
Ulysses S. Grant achieved one of the greatest degrees of success a man can possibly hope for: winning a war and then the White House. But after the presidency, he invested almost all of his assets in a banking firm his son had founded with a partner. The partner turned out to be a swindler, the firm went belly up, and Grant was left destitute, forcing him to sell his Civil War mementos to repay his loans. That same year, Grant, who had long had a habit of chain-smoking cigars, was diagnosed with throat cancer. In an attempt to pay off his debts, he worked on writing his memoirs until his death at age 63, only one year later.
William C. Durant became incredibly wealthy as he moved from lumberyard worker, to door-to-door cigar salesman, to founder of both General Motors and Chevrolet. Durant became a mover and shaker on Wall Street during the 1920s, and in the aftermath of the crash of ’29, though his friends advised against it, he joined with Rockefeller and others in buying large quantities of stock to shore up public confidence in the market. Durant subsequently lost his shirt and became bankrupt at age 75. A stroke in 1942 weakened his physical and cognitive abilities, and he lived out his days managing a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan until his death five years later.
Most recently, Joe Paterno could not more clearly embody Solon’s admonition to count no man happy until the end is known. For decades Paterno was revered as not just a football coach, but as an upstanding mentor who emphasized the importance of character to his players. Students bought shirts with his name emblazoned upon them and a statue of his energetic likeness was erected on the Penn State campus. But a luminous half-century long career ended not with adulation and fanfare, but a dismissal for his role in the Sandusky sex abuse scandal. He died two months later of cancer. A posthumous investigation heightened the blame for his role in the scandal, erased his record of achievements, crippled his beloved football program, and resulted in the removal of his statue. Truly, a tragedy of Greek proportions.
Four Lessons from the Tale of Solon & Croesus
Solon’s counsel may sound rather bleak – no one wants to think about the fact that each day could bring disaster and ruin our happiness – but Croesus’ cry of “Oh Solon! Oh Solon! Oh Solon!” has come to me quite often since hearing Herodotus’ tale, and has served to remind me of several important truths:
Don’t take things for granted. Solon’s forecast for life may be gloomy, but it’s realistic. Nobody knows if the things they enjoy today might be taken from them tomorrow. It’s important to be grateful for what you have each day – soak it in, make the most of it, don’t leave things unsaid and undone.
Focus on what matters most. Unfortunately, some of the wealthy concentrate on their riches to the exclusion of everything else. And yet, money can be so fleeting and contributes so little to “the good life”; if it disappears, they are left with nothing else from which to draw satisfaction. Solon argues that the man who dies with the most “things” that truly matter — self-sufficiency, health, virtue, family, piety, honor — is happiest. Concentrate on the things which last – that which remains after all else passes way.
Stay vigilant and beware of pride. Some calamities come to us by chance – disease and accidents can cause unforeseen reversals in our fortunes. We can only prepare for them by living providentially in our finances and cultivating the virtues of resiliency and calmness. But oftentimes, a man’s downfall could have been prevented through vigilance and humility. When men like Tiger Woods and John Edwards reflected on their downfall post-scandal, both said they had gotten to the point where they no longer believed the ordinary rules applied to them. When men become successful, they often get sloppy in their decision-making, less circumspect about with whom they associate, and indulge in vices that lead to ruin. A man who seeks eudaimonia can never afford to let down his guard.
Endure to the end. As soon as you think you’ve “made it,” you’ve already begun to decline. It’s easier, and a great deal more fun, to find success…much harder to maintain it over the long haul. But there’s no coasting in life – you’re either moving forward or backward. To attain happiness, a man must follow Solon’s counsel to look to the end, while also having the discipline to do the dull, unglamorous day-to-day tasks required to reach that end
Our lives and worlds are full of cautionary tales of men and women who burn so bright with the lights of riches and fame, only to fall to earth in a dazzling display of failure and shame. Truly, a long term perspective of where we have been and to where we are headed is a daily requisite for anyone who wishes to be considered truly happy.
Whether you’re a manager, a frontline worker, or an independent contractor, at one time or another you’ve surely had to influence, or even improve, the performance of people who don’t formally report to you. Experience in all three roles has taught me some basic principles about leading without authority. These principles work even in roles where you might assume authority is a given — I’ve used them in my work as a teacher.
1. Let your enthusiasm for the work be contagious. Every job, project, and activity has unique fundamentals that, when respected, naturally enhance the endeavor. Engineers who truly revere math and physics, for example, tend not only to build better things but also to motivate other people (whom they often don’t manage) with their love of the discipline. That doesn’t mean you need to be a purist, ignoring all external motivators, to succeed in leading people you don’t formally manage. But if what really drives you is the core of the challenge itself — and you let other people see that — most of them will be drawn toward your goal organically. Even in the classroom, where I am explicitly the one in charge, my passion for the subject moves students much more than any directive I give.
2. Demonstrate excellence without being cocky or solicitous of approval. Bearing the burden of someone else’s ego is always a turn-off, whether the ego is already big or in need of puffing up. When an ego-driven person is your direct manager, you just hold your nose and do your best to perform in spite of the stench. But, let’s face it, you’re not going to waste your time following someone like that if she doesn’t have real authority over you. Demanding egos have a way of hogging center stage and masking the inherent excellence of the performance. If people sense that a leader is seeking validation, the best she can hope for is muted applause. Needy leaders are rarely inspiring.
3. Don’t be overinvested in outcomes. Leaders who don’t have formal authority come under suspicion when they act more like a team captain than a curious scientist. Both know that outcomes matter, but the scientist subordinates the importance of outcomes as she leads quietly, whereas the captain — even one who isn’t driven by ego — tends to foreground them. In essence, the effective informal leader is inquisitive rather than watchful. The distinction is subtle, and the scientist approach is not one you should try to fake. But those who truly embody it make better unofficial leaders — and better teachers, too.
What are your techniques for leading when you don’t have formal authority or, when you do, for leading quietly despite your explicit role?
A special thanks to Steven Demaio for this blog
It can be tough to help new college graduates adjust to the real world. Joey, a 22-year-old, Ivy League graduate who joined one of my consulting teams, was a great example. He was bright, hardworking, and motivated. But he had bad habits that were hard to break. Joey would become so focused on the perfect answer to a problem, he wouldn’t consider implementation. He feared failure so much that he would hide his mistakes until they grew worse. He was only interested in getting his own work right — rarely helping the rest of the team proactively. And he saw the world in terms of hierarchy: I was his “boss,” and no one else’s opinion really mattered.
Joey isn’t real — more of a composite of many young people I’ve worked with. But his flaws are undeniable. The traits above are ones I’ve seen time and again out of many recent graduates ill-prepared to handle true leadership in an organization.
There is an ongoing debate about whether leadership can be taught, and whether business schools, in particular, are teaching it. There are fair arguments on both sides, but I would broaden the discussion. Our entire education system, from elementary school to graduate school, is poorly constructed to teach young people leadership. Schools do many things well, but they often cultivate habits that can be detrimental to future leaders. Given that most of us spend 13-20 years in educational institutions, those habits can be hard to break.
Consider first the emphasis schools have on authority. Schools are hierarchical: The teacher is the authority in the classroom. Principals or deans preside over teachers and professors. Seniors “rank” higher than juniors, and so on. In our years in the educational system, many of us become obsessed with hierarchy. We think we’re leaders if we’re the “boss,” and if we’re not the boss, we should simply do as we’re told. In reality, even the most senior people in organizations can’t rely solely on hierarchy, particularly given the much needed talents, experiences, and intelligence of the others who surround them. Leadership is an activity, not a position, a distinction explored deeply by Ron Heifetz in Leadership Without Easy Answers. Many great leaders like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela have led others, despite having little to no formal authority, and writers are now exploring methods for leading without formal authority. While some hierarchy may be needed, leaders who learn to lean too hard on formal authority often find themselves and their organizations frustrated, stunted, and stagnant.
Schools also teach us to deal with information as if it is certain and unchanging, when there’s rarely a stable “right answer.” In my first job, I was constantly frustrated by the lack of guidance I received. If you gave me a textbook, I could learn almost anything. But in the workplace, there were no textbooks. Real world problems are complex. They evolve. They’re organizational and analytical. And success is often driven as much (or more) by successful and rapid implementation as by developing the “correct” approach. Understanding that there’s rarely one right answer can make a person more adaptive, agile, and open to the thoughts of their peers. But that understanding is rarely cultivated through textbooks and multiple choice tests.
Given this dependency on the “right” answer, we’re also ingrained to have a misconception about making mistakes. Students most fear the dreaded “F,” but for most leaders, failure is an essential precursor to success. Steve Jobs found that being fired from Apple in the 1980s freed him to be more imaginative. He once said,
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life.
Critically, these failures teach us to reflect and to ask questions — of ourselves and of others — so that we can learn and grow (one of life’s worst failures can be wasting a failure). And failure itself indicates that we are taking on challenging tasks and stretching the limits of our current capabilities.
Finally, while many schools tell us to serve others, they are rarely structured to actively show us that leadership is serving others. In most educational environments, our primary goal is to serve ourselves — to improve our individual grades, to compete for individual positions, and to maximize our own employment, college, or grad school placements. But as Bill George once said in a panel discussion on next generation leadership, “We are not heroes of our own journey.” People follow leaders who care for them, who share their vision, and who are dedicated to serving a cause greater than one’s self.
A lot of people are raising questions about the way business schools and corporations teach leadership, but we need to dramatically broaden the scope of that question. In a world that’s growing ever flatter and more complex, we need societies full of capable leaders. But the only way to raise those leaders properly is to structure our educational system — from elementary school through graduate school — to train them.
Thanks to John Coleman of the Harvard Business Review for this great post and insight!
It’s a rare man that doesn’t—at some juncture of his life—stop to question how things might be different if he worked for himself. Even a man who loves his job occasionally wonders what it might be like to strike out on his own and follow some crazy, half-baked notion.
Self-employment is a dream held by many men but acted on by few.
The reasons for this are many, but from my vantage point, most of the reasons practical men decide never to give themselves a chance to start their own side hustle is because much of what we learn about it—at least in The U.S.—comes from television shows, movies, and the media rather than people who actually run businesses.
In my short life so far, I’ve run four different very-small-businesses (I call them micro-businesses) and I can say, without doubt, that the way they came to be do not match any fairytale seen on TV.
They were small. They were incredibly cheap to start. And, to most people besides me, they were boring! No fancy business models, sexy offices downtown, or intriguing business cards—just a product or service that people wanted.
If you’ve ever entertained a dream like this yourself, I argue that most of the objections you have to just getting started may not be actual objections at all. Instead, they may be objections to what you think you have to do start something on your own.
The truth may be quite different.
Time to Confront Your Objections
In my experience so far, many men have three main objections when it comes to starting their own side hustle. Ask yourself if one (or more) of these complaints is what’s holding you back.
1.Starting a business takes a lot of time, and I don’t have any.
2.It’s expensive to start a business, and I don’t have the cash available.
3.I don’t have a good idea for a business.
If any of those complaints come to mind when you think about starting a side hustle, then you’re in luck right now because we’re going to systematically debunk all three of them.
Let’s get started.
I don’t have the time to start a side hustle.
Creating a business from nothing is truly a labor of love, and one that takes some commitment. In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s started a business and found that things went far easier or faster than they expected.
If you have a demanding job, a family, a life outside of work, or all of the above, this is a real concern. Where are you going to find the hours and hours it takes to create a meaningful income with all of these commitments?
The truth is that you will have to make some changes to how you use your time, but probably not as drastically as you think.
Here’s the good news: A new business only demands a lot of time if you’re attached to the idea that it must be built quickly.
In the book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours theory—that almost anyone can master a skill if they dedicate 10,000 hours to it. The same is true for your side hustle. If you put in enough hours—into the right places (we’ll get to this later)—then you can build a successful side hustle, too.
The rate at which you put these hours in is up to you. Yes, if you go slower, then it will take longer. But compared to your other option—doing nothing at all—what’s the hurry?
Here’s the tried and true technique I use to put the necessary time into any new project without overwhelming myself:
Set aside 20 minutes—no more!— every single day to work on your project, and protect those 20 minutes with everything you have. Never let anything get in the way of this time.
This does two things:
1.It sets the habit of working on your project a little bit every day.
2.It gets you started each day, and you usually end up motivated to work much longer.
I’m too broke to start a business.
A micro-business, done right, should rarely cost more than $100 to get started. When you’re starting a business, the easiest thing to do is think about all the things you wish you had that would make running it easy and enjoyable—an office, lots of expensive electronics, maybe a few employees or expensive services that automate pieces of your business.
The funny (and sad) thing about all of these business “necessities” is that they are—at least in the beginning—much more effective at destroying a business than making it successful.
Why? Because these are the fun and sexy things about running a business. They’re the status symbols you use to tell others, “Hey, look at me. I have a business!”
They distract from the real important part of running a micro-business: making money. And, just like keeping up with The Joneses will probably get your family in financial trouble, it will jeopardize your little business, too.
We all love to hear stories about the risk-takers with a dream that sold everything they owned, took out massive loans, and started the “next big thing.”
These are the stories that catch our attention. But they account for an extremely small percentage of successful businesses. And the reason we love them is because the odds of success are so incredibly small. That makes them easy to keep in “fantasy mode.”
A micro-business does not need to be run this way. It’s possible to create a meaningful income with far less risk.
At the end of the day, the only things you need to make money in a micro-business are:
1.Something to sell.
2.A group of people who want what you’re offering.
3.A way to collect money.
That’s it. No fancy bells and whistles. No complicated business techniques, strategies, or elaborate business plans.
If you want to be a cobbler and sell handmade shoes, all you really need to get started are the raw materials for the first pair, enough tools to make that pair of shoes, and one single customer to buy them. You should be able to procure these things for less than $100.
If you can’t, you’re thinking too far ahead. Even the biggest companies in the world—think Coca Cola—needed very little to get off the ground: a few ingredients, something to put them in, and a place to sell the finished product.
I don’t have a good enough idea to start a business.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned and relearned (several times) in my career starting and building micro-businesses is that the idea—typically seen as the Holy Grail—is far less important than we like to make it out to be.
So far, I’ve been a landscaper with one client, a ticket scalper, a freelance farm hand, an amateur guitar dealer, and now a writer. Two things all of these little businesses have in common are:
1.They’re not incredibly unique or earth shattering.
2.They never got started until I got over the fact that they aren’t incredibly unique or earth shattering.
A common characteristic I see in many people trying to start their first business is that they give far too much credit to the value of their idea. If it’s not an earth shattering, ultra-unique, never-seen-before business model, then it’s not good enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to think this way also. Sometimes I still do, and I need a reminder from someone far more accomplished than me that I’m “thinking wrong.”
Once you’ve started a few business projects, you begin to see that the idea you start with is far less important than what you do with it.
I credit Derek Sivers with explaining this concept much better than I could.
The truth about your business idea is that it’s virtually worthless. If you hold some sort of romantic notion about this, let me crush it right now with a simple challenge:
Take the greatest business idea you’ve ever come up with, and list it for sale on eBay. See how many bids you get for it and just how much cash it brings in. My educated guess is “none.”
This is because an idea is worthless without a multiplier—something to be added to it that exponentially improves its value. In this case, that multiplier is effort, or execution.
Once you bring your idea to life, then it’s worth something. Once you’ve proven that it works, then someone might be willing to pay for it.
The most brilliant idea in the world with terrible execution might fail miserably and make no money at all—it happens all the time. On the other end of the spectrum, someone with a strong work ethic and the will to succeed can take a very average idea and make quite a lot of money with it.
These days, when I hear someone say “I don’t have an excellent business idea,” my immediate response is, “Good! How about an average one?”
To successfully start your own side hustle, you eventually have to stop thinking about the idea and just get to work. An additional benefit is that the faster you do this, the less time you’ll spend convincing yourself you need a whole bunch of extra things to get started.
The First Step to Starting any Side Hustle…
Before work can truly begin on any side hustle, the first thing a man must do is slay his own objections.
This week, spend some time deliberately thinking about all the barriers you’ve created for yourself. Think about the legitimate concerns you have when you tell yourself you want to start your own micro-business.
Then, think about the many creative ways there are to get around them. You now have a work-around for some of the biggest ones. What’s left for you to confront? More importantly, how will you confront them?
Next week, you’ll learn how to actually get started with your new business by picking a profitable idea and launching it for less than $100.
Do-It-Yourself entrepreneur Tyler Tervooren writes at Advanced Riskology, a site dedicated to living a better life through risk-taking. He’s also the creator of The Bootstrapper Guild, a program for DIY entrepreneurs to start their first micro-business.
We just moved in to a new office. It is plum full of new smells, sounds an many other unexpected surprises. It’s always a little unnerving to be in a new place at night with the new creeks and clomps that any building will have. Still, the building we are in has a large pigeon population and that makes the creeks and clomps a little more interesting. If you get past the shellacking of pigeon feathers and poop you can find a nice building. Pigeon’s are not good neighbors.
While you may assume the life of a pigeon is relatively simple: (find food, wait until human is distracted, take food, repeat ad infinitum) the truth is not always that rosy. My super-secret spy cam caught this video earlier today. I have added some images to set the stage for you as today I saw the darker side of pigeon life in the form of a sexual assault that took place next to my desk.
See the video here
This blog is a blessing or a curse. It has seemed so difficult to find enough time to organize a decent thought, much less sit down and formulate that thought into a proper discussion. Admittedly, for the last 60 days work has been overwhelming. Regardless, I have a blog post, perhaps a series of blog posts that I want to compose and send out into the ether to see if they gain any traction. I want to talk about the new nature of business; I want to talk about how dynamic new businesses can become and how future generations will seek out these dynamic, creative businesses. I just can’t. I’d like to explain why.
The image on this post is from a psychiatrist named Abraham Maslow who published an article about motivation theory in 1943. See a synopsis here. Maslow put forward a basic 5-step theory that was based on what he felt were un-met human physiological needs. (Physiological needs are just basic human needs — that is, everybody’s got ‘em) He ranked the needs in a very specific order, one could not develop the ability to meet stage 2 (safety) needs without first meeting the basic stage 1 (physiological) needs. The basis of the triangle are really, really basic needs: food, water, shelter, sex (somebody tell my wife.) They are not complex needs and, in today’s society, the majority of us have had most of these needs met.
As you climb the pyramid you can see the needs become more complex, more ethereal and less founded in basic survival. If you look at the tip-top of the diagram you can see where creativity lives. Self-actualization claims the red-headed step-child called creativity. Apparently, per Maslow, we are not motivated to be creative, nor do we need creativity, until all the other basic needs below that level are met. You could find arguments for the reality of this hierarchy throughout the history of mankind. Art and music developed complexity as civilization developed medicine, agriculture and technology. The robust creativity that surrounds us in today’s society is made possible by the safety and basic needs provided. The art of pre-historic man in the caves at Lascaux was basic by today’s standards. Most 1st graders can produce work of equal creativity. It stands to reason that the work on those cave walls did not worry about shading, perspective, color rendering or tone because the man or woman who created that work probably spent most of their days hunting wildebeest for survival. Basic needs were not met sufficiently to allow contemplation of higher motivation.
The current economic times have shaken the foundations of many of our own pyramids. Many people have lost jobs, homes or had friends move away due to lack of work. We have been cast adrift from the hierarchical moorings that we took for granted for so long. We have had our safety and love/belonging needs diminished or eradicated completely. More and more individuals find themselves fighting for basic physiological needs such as food, water or sleep. Without those basic needs being met, we cannot aspire to achieve self-actualization and creativity because we have lost the foundation upon which to build.
I consider my profession from this perspective. Architects are creative. Architects are expected to be creative. Nearly 70% of architects in the state of Nevada are currently struggling in one degree or another with the basic physiological or safety levels of human needs. Not all are unemployed, some are under-employed, others are over-utilized and some are working for free just to stay “busy”. I think this is a critical point because creativity is driven out of people in times such as this. Creativity is often times viewed in a negative light when compared to the power of the almighty dollar. In american society, we sacrifice our creativity everyday on the alter of finance. It is not always a purposeful decision to not be creative. At times, we don’t have the time or energy to be creative. Working 80 hours a week on technical tasks that MUST be done, doesn’t leave much time to explore diverse solutions. Worrying about where the money for the next mortgage payment will come from does not leave much desire to reconfigure the living room or invent the next “must-have” iPhone app.
As the days, weeks, months and years go by without critical thinking and, more importantly, creative thinking; our power to be creative withers. There is a similar epidemic with our children. I think every child is born with the power (and desire) to be extremely creative. Our society, and our schools slowly suffocate the childish creativity, found in most, until they conform with the standards and attitudes we have deemed acceptable (this is another discussion completely). What does the future hold for creative people who might have lost “the knack” to be creative? I was speaking with a friend who is in South Dakota now, due to losing an architecture job nearly 3 years ago. She hasn’t had a creative “job” since leaving the firm where she was employed. Her fears about being able to be creative again in her life strike at the very core of an architect’s identity. Who am I if I am no longer creative? I was creative my whole life, until life told me I only had time to survive. Now who am I?
Powerfully creative minds could be lost forever to mankind due to the greed and actions of a few. I, personally, worry that I will forget or lose my own creative knack. The only dream that scares me worse than the showing-up-to-work-naked dream, is the dream about being asked to come up with a creative solution for somebody and only having the sound of crickets rattle around in my head. I also think this is why I have had great difficulty in composing a creative and abstract blog post. The ability to be creative and abstract cannot manifest itself until basics are met.
How can we better maintain and support creativity? Is there something that you do that helps you feel creative? My wife scrapbooks, or decorates cakes, or does the kid’s science projects and I think that helps her remain creative. What about you? How do you achieve that highest level of self-actualization? Do you find that creativity is missing from your life? I think we need to add creativity to the endangered species list and start a watch-group…. at a minimum, we need a support group for creative people like architects.
Hello. My name is Eric. I used to be creative.
The last few days I have posted things that, at first, glance may appear disparate and incongruous. However, they are related to one over-arching thought regarding business. I wanted to share one more thing today, before I launch into my “big point” tomorrow; I thought I was going to type all of this directly out of Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” (a fun read) until I found this great link from somebody who had already done the work for me! Hooray for Cedar Sage Marketing (whomever you are… from wherever you are). They saved me a series of hand cramps and gave me back an hour of my life. A heartfelt thanks to you.
This post is regarding the rules of “improv” or improvisational acting. Improv is not related to the business that they teach in business school; but it is directly related to a creative business like architecture. You don’t have to look far to see similarities between creatives. I’ll dive in a little deeper in the next few days; but for now, ruminate on this:
Rule 1. Start with Yes
Tina Fey’s example:
Actor: “Freeze, I have a gun!”
Bad improv response: “No you don’t, that’s your finger.”
Good response: “The gun I gave you for Christmas? You jerk!”
When you say no, the interaction comes to a screeching halt. So even when ideas or questions seem otherworldly or catch you completely by surprise, you should open your mind to new possibilities. By starting with yes, you learn more about their situation and can uncover ways to provide value. Some of your most creative and satisfying work can stem from a client project that at first glance seemed either overwhelming or just a non-starter. As Tina says, “start with a yes, and see where that takes you.”
Rule 2. Say “Yes, and —–”
Actor: “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here.”
Bad improv response: “Yeah.”
Good response: “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth.”
Make a contribution; always add something of your own. Of course, responsible professionals address their clients’ most pressing needs. But most know we owe our clients more. If your experience tells you – or even nags you – that your client understands only part of the problem, you do your best to define the rest and propose a fuller solution. If their problem is outside of your expertise, you tell them and recommend another professional. If a new technology or solution appears on the horizon that will benefit them, you tell them. Keep your clients up to date, but know that they won’t always be willing or able to implement.
Rule 3. Make statements – Don’t ask questions all the time
Bad improv: Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?
(This puts pressure on the other actor to come up with all the answers.)
Good improv: Here we are in Spain, Dracula.
Don’t get me wrong – you have to ask your clients both open-ended and closed-ended questions to understand their situation. And you know it’s good practice to check your assumptions about their needs over time. But once you’re in a successful ongoing relationship, resist the urge to rest on your laurels. Avoid questions that you really should know the answer to, such as “Where are we on this?” and “Didn’t I get back to you on that already?”
Rule 4. There are no mistakes, only opportunities
Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes (Oscar Wilde). So don’t be afraid to make them. We all make mistakes – service professionals and clients alike. A mistake either magically morphs into something you can brag about later, or it’s one more notch on the old experience belt.
Tina Fey calls mistakes “beautiful, happy accidents” like Reese’s peanut butter cups or Botox.
You need not see what someone is doing
to know his vocation,
You have only to watch his eyes;
A cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon
making a primary incision,
A clerk completing a bill of lading,
wear the same rapt expression, forgetting
themselves in a function
How beautiful it is,
That eye-on-the-object look.