Thanks for a great 7 years! Here’s to 7 more…
Thanks for a great 7 years! Here’s to 7 more…
There’s a famous Zen story about a farmer’s luck, and depending on what happens to this farmer, the neighbors proclaim that he has either good luck or bad luck. When something terrible happens, he has bad luck. When something wonderful happens, he has such good luck. Regardless, the farmer always replies, “Maybe.”
The point of the story is that in bad situations (what might be called bad luck), often times good things are born. And conversely, when things seem to be going so well, bad things can happen.
Lately, I’ve adapted this story in two ways:
Fortunately, I am going through a difficult divorce and some things that did not bother me before do now.
Fortunately, I was very sick last week and felt for the first time incredibly disoriented and out of balance.
Fortunately, I am feeling that my teaching is being compromised by other stresses in my life that make me tired and impatient.
Adding this simple word BEFORE the apparent “bad luck” opens up the opportunity for gratitude, which inevitably leads to “good luck”.
The pianist Lorin Hollander tells a wonderful story of arriving at the Academy of Music ahead of his performance with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra back in the late 1970s. He situated himself on stage for his warm up ahead of his rehearsal with the orchestra, and started to play the piano alone in the hall. As he worked through a few passages, he looked out to the empty seats and spotted a short man wearing a hat and coat near the back. He continued playing, but couldn’t stop himself from thinking about who was listening.
As he continued to play, he realized it was Maestro Ormandy. Hollander started to question in his mind how he was playing – criticizing his left hand, his articulation, his tempo – all while continuing to play more rigidly and less musically. As the voices got louder and louder in his head, he turned to his audience of one and shouted, “I’m sorry, Maestro. I’m not sure I like the way I’m playing right now.” There was no response.
Hollander stood up, and as he continued making excuses under his breath, as if in conversation with the Maestro, he walked down into the audience towards the back row. As he got closer and closer, he realized that there was no one actually there. Instead, there was simply a hat left on one of the seats from the night before. His mind had fabricated the rest of the person.
Hollander’s point in telling this story was to help the workshop of young musicians to recognize themselves as their worst critics. His point wasn’t to “unlearn” being critical, or to *not* listen to one’s self with critical ears, but instead to limit how those voices affect one’s perception of both the music and in this case, an entire conversation with a hat!
A former teacher of mine often used the analogy of trying to repair a roller coaster *while* on the ride. Impossible, right? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mechanic reaching outside the coaster box as it speeds down the track to fix a screw or repair the rails. Of course we need to listen (actively) while something is happening, and this is particularly tricky if *we* are the ones making the music, but criticism, evaluation, and analysis need to happen before and after, not during.
As artists, our perceptions of others are often the result of how we perceive ourselves. A healthy balance of critical listening and devil-may-care performing is a great recipe for meaningful communication.
I’ve been in several situations recently in which a concern expressed by an organization member was immediately interpreted as a problem that needed to be solved. Changes were made to ease the concerns, but the knee-jerk reaction to fix problems that didn’t actually exist adversely affected other people, and that, in turn, caused actual problems.
What I learned rather quickly was that taking a little bit of time to examine what is actually happening (i.e. whether there really *is* a problem) is critical to making good decisions. In both cases above, the “right” decision was to do nothing.
Of course, ignoring squeaky wheels is not ideal, either. So how do we find a balance?
Simply acknowledging that our human instinct is to fix things after they have been reported as broken goes a long way. Zingerman’s founder Ari Weinzweig asks ZingTrain attendees to identify three areas of time spent on “work” each week:
I’m convinced that spending more time on #2 & #3 helps to not only identify problems before they are reported, but it also offers a larger perspective that allows a team to correctly identify something as problematic (or not).
Why do we only question security practices on airlines when something goes terribly wrong? Why do we wait to install traffic lights or stop signs until one or two deaths have been reported at that very intersection? Why do 16-year olds start classes at 7:50 in the morning when all the scientific research tell us it’s wasted time (possibly even harmful to development)?
Recently at a local restaurant here in Chelsea, our waiter came to the table and said that our food was delayed because one of the batches of homemade pasta used to prepare the dish was not up to the standards of the chef. They refused to serve something that was just “good”. Moments later, the entire meal arrived. It was fabulous. His remarks did two things: explain (proactively) that there was a delay and they knew it; identify a problem before it was a problem.
I have never reached out to a customer with an honest explanation and regretted it. In fact, it typically leads to more business and happier customers.
I used to dread support emails. Inevitably I would feel my heart race as I saw a ticket come in, or got pinged on my phone by a long-time client.
About a year ago, I decided to make a change. I adopted the following guidelines to help me realize that “support emails” are the foundation of what we do:
Over the past 12 months, our average response time is measured in hours, not days.
Over the past 12 months, our own products have dramatically improved, and we are serving a record number of equally passionate clients.
I now *run towards* at any opportunity to interact with any organization interested in doing something better.
How do you find new ways to teach the same material? Set aside dedicated time every week to be a student. Inevitably this also exposes you to *new* material.
I get asked a lot what image editors are useful, intuitive and free.
When I’m without an Internet connection, I use Pixelmator on my Mac. It’s not free, but it is a good tool for a reasonable price.
For things like cropping and resizing, many of our online services have built-in editors. But for more advanced options, and better overall control (think homepage images for websites, headers for newsletters, etc.) you might just fall in love with PIXLR (linked above).
A while back, I taught an autistic child how to play the piano. We worked together for over a year, and I was regularly frustrated by how challenging it was. I was also amazed at how this boy would, seemingly out of nowhere, totally understand a fundamental skill that had apparently eluded him for weeks prior. It was clear he was listening, but not on my timeline.
During one particular lesson, as he started to play his piece on an electric piano in my office, he stopped and said, “This piano sounds funny.” I thought nothing of it until he started getting rather angry at my request that he continue anyway. I asked him if it was too loud or just sounded different. He simply repeated that it sounded funny. His father, who sat in during our lessons, looked as confused as I was, and to save the lesson, we moved to another room with a different instrument. He seemed content.
Not two weeks later, while arranging something for piano with my computer playing in the background, I noticed that the pitch of the electric piano didn’t quite match the recording on my computer. As I investigated, it seemed that the piano had been digitally adjusted (accidentally) to tune at 441 Hz, instead of the generally accepted 440 Hz. In other words, it was almost imperceptibly sharp.
The piano in my office did, indeed, sound “funny” — it was not tuned correctly, and after setting it back to 440, I immediately emailed my student to let him know that the piano had been “fixed” ahead of our next lesson.
I am a classically trained musician with 35 years of experience, and a 9 year old boy heard something that I did not. Was I embarrassed? No. Upset for not hearing what was so obvious to him? Absolutely not. I was and still am in total awe of each individual’s ability to perceive uniquely. I live with total appreciation that everything I do, every person I interact with every day offers me an opportunity to learn something new…to perceive something, however mundane, in a different way…to pass along my own passion for what I experience in a complete piece of music, or a simple A 440.
A recent family situation has helped me appreciate the distinction between two “lasts”: knowing when the last time is going to be (“the last day before this store closes” or “my last day in high school”) and only coming to know that it was the last time long after the moment passes (“the last hug or kiss of a loved one” or “the last day I would live in that house”).
“When” things happen is rarely in our control.
I am not sure that it’s the same as, “Live each day as if it was the last,” but I am certain that the more I observe and listen and explore the realm of what is happening NOW, the more I am actually in touch with what I did not “know” before – that is, I notice things that were previously unknown. Removing the assumption of “when” opens up the reality of the only certainty: what is happening right now.
As I boarded a flight this week from sunny Florida (lots of smiling faces) to snowy Michigan, the line came to a screeching halt about half way down the ramp onto the plane. As I got closer to the door, two flight attendants were there to greet passengers and one was discussing with a woman already seated why it takes so long to board.
“I can’t believe they charge us to check bags now” blurted the seated passenger.
“You are preaching to the choir” said the flight attendant. “They’ve got it all wrong. They should be charging to carry bags ON the plane. Check as much baggage as you want under the plane for free, but if you want to carry something on, it’s going to cost you. That’s what takes so long. If there was no baggage here in the cabin (or less of it), we’d have taken off 30 minutes ago.”
Here’s a question: Are you listening to the people who are actually carrying baggage on your plane? Who are your users and what are they saying about your product or service? Most of what you need to hear isn’t audible from your office desk.
Hart Public Schools
Tecumseh Public Schools
Trinity Episcopal Church
Pentwater Public Schools
Seventh-Day Adventist Church National Headquarters
Dexter Community Schools
Trenton Community Schools
Community Bible Study, Colorado
Transition Ministry Conference
Camp DeWolfe, New York
First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor
Village of Dexter, Michigan