Crossing The Threshold, Hemingway Style

“The first meal in Spain was always a shock with the hors d’oeuvres, an egg course, two meat courses, vegetables, salad, and dessert and fruit. You have to drink plenty of wine to get it all down.”
– Ernest Hemingway, from The Sun Also Rises

Spain, in TSAR, represents another world for Jake Barnes & friends. It’s the world of the fiesta; there’s also a Spain that’s Spain before the fiesta, and it’s the closest thing to returning to the war that the gang can have without going back to war. In Spain men are men, realities are realities and death lingers in the afternoon in the form of a charging bull. And people eat. They eat well.

This ain’t Kansas anymore, Brett… let alone Paris.

Green, Yellow, Red

So I’m at the Doctor’s office the other day. Annual checkup. He shows me a chart with three colored ‘health zones':

Red, for mediocre health.
Yellow, for decent health.
Green, for tip-top health.

The doc asks “Which of these zones do you want to be in?”

green-yellow-red-bell-pepper

Well duh.

Doc begins the exam. Diagnosis: Probing and looking and listening with instruments. While the patient stays cool and tries to pretend he isn’t the machine in question.

The diagnosis ends like this: Doc shows you the three colored health zones again. You might be in the red. Most likely, you’re in the yellow, because you haven’t had X tests in Y years. So go to the lab and go to the optometrist and get it done.

And then you’ll be in The Green.

This is Doctor as Consultant. Doctor as Coach. Doctor giving a simplified representation of your health. And it’s not always what we want“Give me details Doc! Break it down! What about such-and-such and what-not and will gingko biloba help?” – but most of the time, it’s kinda what we need.

Simple = Clear = I know what I need to do next.

And this is the challenge, whenever we’re delivering: Do we have the courage (and the moxie) to give the client/boss/teacher/mentor/parent what they need? Clean, clear and simple. Red, yellow, green. Where do you want to be. Here’s where you are now. Let’s talk about how we get you where you want to go.

Or, do we fall back on delivering what they want, which often is too much, too soon, and in the process muck up the picture?

Nel Mezzo Del Cammin Di Nostra Vita

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita”, or Now I have journeyed halfway through my life.

They have you read Dante at 17, or 20. The Divine Comedy to a 17-year-old means bupkis.

Dante means something to me now, this morning, as I sit here in Bend, OR having my birthday machiatto at the ripe young/old age of 36. Here is a man, 1300s man, who realized he was dissatisfied with how his life was progressing. So he decided to write a poem to figure out how best to live from that day forward. Art as sketch. Art as plan. A medieval version of What Should I Do With My Life.

(I arrived at Dante through Bill Buford’s Heat, which in turn is another man’s documentation of his own middle life decision making process. As well as a biography of sorts of Mario Batali. It’s a great book.)

Me, I’m greedy. I see those Biblical ages – 70, or 80 if you’re especially hale – as just the beginning. Why not? We have all the ability today to supercharge our bodies with vitamins, exercise, care. We have medicine to stave off catastrophe – like the malaria that nailed Dante twenty years after he wrote that poem.

Mostly though, as Jack Lalanne often said, I just want to be alive while I’m living. Henry Miller: “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”

The name of this category of posts is How Art Teaches Us How To Live. Why? Because one of the few things I know with any degree of certainty, as I walk my own way through the woods, is that art doesn’t only represent. Art doesn’t only give us beauty. Art also provides us with paths towards such awareness.

Lines About An Equine Ox

Storm this morning.
Walked to the café.
Table after table, tapping away.
I am one of them and they are me, beside
the strangeness of you being you, and me being me.

Off to himself
in the far corner
he sits, his hands folded behind his head.
Looking out the window.
Looking at the day.

(this guy has a fun post on the Equine Ox… as a huge aside, sometimes I’m staggered by the depth and quantity of our writing, how much we put out there, what good writers we’ve all become these 15 years of Net.)

The CreativITy Team

I’m an only child. We tend to be self-reliant. Strong. Disciplined. Natural cowboys, solo roamers of the uncharted range.

We also tend to be dismissive when someone dares suggest that we might need help with something.

So when Bill suggested “Jon do you think you might need some help down there?” – down there meaning the ‘IT dungeon’ , the ground floor suite where I kept myself and our growing network infrastructure – I said “I’ll get back to you on that one Z.”

Help? What the heck did I need help for? Besides, help in the end meant less meat in the pie for me, all else being fair in love and budgets. At least that’s the way I thought of it.

***

Some people try to tell you how wrong you are. Bill’s not one of them. Why waste time talking to someone, when you can just hand him a rope?

(There’s a quality some people have of being able to proverbially hang themselves and learn from it… I seem to be blessed with it)

So I work away, trying to do everything, trying to play about seven different roles – which is ok for someone with an entrepenuerial mindset – but, come on. Even a hardheaded only child eventually sees the light.

“Ok Boss. You were right. I need some help. Let’s get somebody.”

***

I wish I could report that my first hire was an inspiration, that he was a freshfaced young man who started Tabula Rasa, that i patiently helped him go from 0 to 100 and launched a brilliant understudy’s career.

That would not be the case.

There’s an art to having an understudy, and it starts with selection and moves on through all of these stages: Training, oversight, managing, leading, coaching. None of which are intuitive. All of which have to be learned. And, as we may have already established, I learn best by failing.

So the brilliant young man who because the promising understudy? It took a few iterations to get to him. And as it turned out, there was no single ‘him’. It turned out that I needed a Data Analyst and a Systems Administrator. And a mouthpiece, too.

***

So I had help with the infrastructure, and I had help with data processing. I was still struggling with learning to lead, going through the growing pains that any new leader goes through. One day Bill Z say “Jon, do you think we might need to find someone dedicated to website marketing?”

What do you think my answer was?

Only children…

***

My title was IT Director. My team was called “The IT Department”. I knew it wasn’t fair to my marketing leader, graphic artist and web designer, being lumped in with the IT side. My marketing leader, a bold woman who pulls no punches, came up with the answer: CreativITy.

Just a title. Sure. “It’s just marketing”.

***

Learning to trust. To start a new employee with step by step instructions, move on to task assignment, and then to area of responsibility. To go from teacher to counselor to mentor.

To give someone else responsibility and freedom, and then to watch them blow away my expectations with something I never expected. Such a beautiful thing. I was hooked.

And then to watch someone you’ve taken through the steps repeat the steps themselves with their own sub-team… now that’s management paradise.

Not that management is paradise…

***

We had our share of troubles. Growing pains. Times when communications broke down, when responsibility and priority became mixed up. Getting over the simple ‘finding fault’ mentality.

I knew I needed to avoid the common traps as we grew. CYA mentality. I loathe it. Skunk smell. Recoil the moment I sniff it. So there were times I had to ‘get out the mallet’ (figuratively of course) and smash out sentiments of “Well he *asked* me to do this but when I did…” and “She didn’t tell to do *that*, I did was I was asked”, etc etc.

***

Management and Leadership. Two completely different roles. Both necessary.

My attitude as a leader is straightforward: I lead from the front, I lead by example, and I try to give all the credit to those behind me.

How can I expect anyone else to perform unless I’m performing?

So I do what I do. That’s what I learned. People will respect you if you’re not an expert in their field or if you can’t perform in their field, IF you CAN perform in your own, and if you give them the respect and recognition they deserve for their contributions.

There’s a magical thing that happens when you’re leading well… I read the other day a quote from John Hamm on his experiences directing Mad Men episodes:

“I had a lot more to do in my episode this season as an actor. It was sort of a degree of difficulty more challenging in that respect. You are completely of two minds on set. It’s a very very difficult mindset to stay in. You’re watching one thing as a director and especially if you’re in the scene you’re watching one thing as an actor. I remember doing scenes with Ben [Affleck] on ‘The Town’ where I would be like ‘Wow, you are totally watching me as a director right now and not as an actor.’ It’s a very interesting switch to be able to flip. He’s very good at it and justifiably lauded for his talent.”

It’s like that. You can slide back and forth between leader and cohort. It takes guts to do that. An insecure leader can’t. But it’s magic in terms of performance.

***

There’s an idea of a business like a home. A theme borrowed from the NFL perhaps: “This is our house”. It is measured infintisimally. How a person carries him or herself. How we act when nobody is looking. Whether we bend over and pick up a piece of paper that we know someone else dropped.

It is pride. It is confidence. It becomes, when a business makes it past the bootstrapped stage and becomes a going interest, the most precious thing, a virtual guaranteer of profitability.

Culture.

Don’t Boil The Ocean

The task is simple enough: Take two numbers and sum’em. Three steps from Hello World.

Only I am Devver Genius. Why stop at the solution? I’m adding value. A login. Three page reg. New features, translate the numbers into words in 78 languages. Satisfaction surveys. Blast emails. Integration into every CRM ever made. You’ll get blasted with emails for years. Take you demographics, model your life, find you a date, a school for your babe, a castle and a retirement home.

If you’ve developed software at any level, you know what I’m talking about. The temptation is within all of us: To turn a simple thing into something that does so much more.

In the meantime, while I’m off being a genius, who’s tweaking the app? Crushing the bugs? Making the design simple and elegant? Improving speed?

Maybe I would have been better suited focusing on the task at hand: Making a great app that sums two numbers together.

Poetry, moreso than any other art form, teaches us this lesson of not complicating things. Poetry is all about taking away, simplifying. Condensing towards the sublime. Casting out extraneous words and wayward notions until we’re left with, as Wallace Stevens put it, “not ideas about the Thing but the Thing itself.”

And who says poetry ain’t relevant anymore?

Lines About An Eddy

Today is the Ides of March 2013 and I Jon Eddy am
sitting at my table at my café with my back to the wall
typing these idle thoughts into a connected laptop
looking out at the pink trees along the avenue
having a macchiato
breathing.