Thinking of JFK

November 22, 2013 at 9:16 AM | Posted in Growing up | 11 Comments
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Memory plays tricks: I have a distinct memory of Sr. Cecilia Anne pushing a TV into our 8th grade classroom, after the horrific news that the President was shot, but I can’t imagine that being true as we didn’t have a microscope – so could we have actually had a television? Perhaps I conflated this idea with all the television we did watch at home in the succeeding days.

Growing up in a world that was almost completely Catholic, Kennedy’s death was particularly trying but, as I think about it, that was not the main thing that struck me. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, 62 years before the fatal day in November, 1963 and to a thirteen year old boy, that seemed like a very long time ago, like the Civil War. I, and many of us, thought we were done all that business. It couldn’t happen anymore – right? Imagine how we would have felt if we knew then that the floodgates of assassination had just opened!

There was something else as well and that is the contrast between Eisenhower and Kennedy. To a 13-year-old, Eisenhower had been President forever and World War II was something that you read about in history books. That Ike was the greater man was beside the point: we were ready as a country for something completely different. It was like the shift from black and white TV to color.

Now in the fifty years since I have not read the hagiography or of the bedroom hijinks as I’d prefer to remember JFK as I thought of him back then, in Sr. Cecilia Anne’s very strict classroom. If anything, I think of the dignity of Jackie, perhaps the greatest Kennedy of them all.

Walking Itself 4 – A Business Stroll

November 21, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Posted in Annals of Sales, Walking | Leave a comment
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I think that it was the show The West Wing that introduced fast-walking to America: young lions walking down the hallways of government, two astride, fast-talking all the while. Now everybody fast-walks and fast-talks on TV and we’ve grown used to it.

I recall one particular walk that, in the midst of some urgency, had a needed calming effect. This may have been ten years ago and Chris Hageman was a sales manager for QAD. This was before he entered the House of Lords and began to rule globally. It was the last day of the quarter and at QAD that meant a lot of activity and hopefully business. Back then, it always came down to the last day or two.

Chris was waiting on a large deal from a good customer and had been waiting for over a week. We were confident that we would get it first thing in the morning on this, the last day and then later in the morning and then right after the customer came back from lunch. This was becoming wearing as we, as you can guess, “really needed it for the quarter.”

Outside our office in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, was a walking path that I had never been on. (After all, I’m a busy executive.) Now almost three PM, I said let’s go for a walk. I don’t recall what we spoke about but it was more than that one particular order – that we were sick of talking about.

Did the order come in later that day? Yes, dear reader, it did. It was a little smaller than we were expected but it was enough.

Did the walk help bring in the order? No, but it made us feel better and that counts too.

Walking Itself – 3 Ourselves

November 18, 2013 at 2:37 PM | Posted in Walking | 4 Comments

220px-CardinalRecently my sister Fran commented that the only people she sees walking are those with dogs. Since she told me this, I’ve been paying closer attention and I can report that, dogs aside, I encounter more runners than walkers. This is curious as it is far harder to run than walk and walking offers the same benefits as running (so “studies” say).

As it happens, I know why this is so. The difficulty of running masks the crucial inhibitor to walking: our boredom with ourselves. If we walk without a specific purpose, like walking a dog or to lose weight, we encounter, step by step, our own minds. Now, that is fine when walking from our car to the stores but is more daunting for an hour or two or three. Funny how we often say, ‘I barely have time to think’ that when we do have time, we don’t use it.

There is a second factor that leads to ever-shorter walks and that is our boredom with nature. Why look at a tree when you can examine your phone for the latest advertisement? I am not pointing fingers as I write from experience. In the woods where I often walk, there are all kinds of trees. I think this but I don’t know, for sure,  the names of any trees or flowers or birds. Yes, I could identify a tulip and a cardinal but not much more. Our walking forbears would cluck at this.

Walking through a woods with so blank an understanding, so limited a vocabulary,  would be like walking through a record store (when they existed) and not knowing that there were more than one kind of musician, not having heard of the Beatles or the Stones, the Dead or the Kinks.  Now that would be boring!

Walking Itself – 2 Thoreau

November 13, 2013 at 2:03 PM | Posted in Walking | 5 Comments
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Free on Amazon!

To everything in nature there is a corrective, something, someone to ‘pull our coats’ and say “hold on now, you have a long way to go before you think you’re any good.” One such curmudgeon is our old friend, Henry David Thoreau.

It is my long-held way to want literary companionship as I take up a new venture. Now that I am walking an hour to two-and-a-half a day, I thought I was ready to read what Thoreau had to say, as I remembered that he was a great walker. It is amusing to read him dismiss ‘old gentlemen’ who go for their salutary one hour jaunt before dinner – as if that was walking. Walking on roads, on paths? My dear Sir, please.

After just a few pages of Walking, I was feeling less heroic and then came:

We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.” 

Undying adventure! Now that is something to walk out the door for.

Walking Itself – 1

November 11, 2013 at 2:38 PM | Posted in Walking | 3 Comments

Most of us go for walks though less often than we think is good for us. On Thanksgiving, between the meal and desert, walks are elevated to an  Olympian status. Who hasn’t thought, on those vein-clearing strolls, that “we need to do this more often”? We think of the benefits of walking but not of walking itself.

For people like me, people with a new hip, walking seems a miracle at first. We are told that we will take a few steps even the day of the operation but we don’t quite believe it. So we take those first steps, left foot and let the right foot catches up, then again and then a few more and it is back to bed. We accept whatever kudos fly our way and we say how encouraged we are but deep within, we are far less sanguine. We wonder if Humpty-Dumpty will ever be able to hop up on the wall again.

Yesterday, on a walk with my daughter and granddog, she (my daughter) mentioned that this was the best she had seen me walk. She was right; I was walking well which I could tell because I had forgotten that I was walking. It’s been 12 weeks post-op and I get an unasked for compliment. My previous strategy was to tell people how well I am walking and coax them through an expectant silence to agree with me.

Now that I go on walks most days and some long ones, I’ve had time to think about walking – and why we struggle so to do it consistently. But enough of this for now, the outdoors awaits.

Jeremy Denk – An Appreciation

October 22, 2013 at 2:41 PM | Posted in Music, Piano | Leave a comment
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518bDq5YVxL._AA160_Jeremy Denk, the pianist, is not short of kudos these days as he recently won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and then, too, there are those standing ovations. Still, with the retirement of Alfred Brendel, he is my favorite pianist, my favorite musician and I want to say why.

Denk gives you more than the notes. He has a blog, ThinkDenk. His liner notes are classic, both super-knowledgeable and witty. He recently did a series of pieces for NPR on the Goldberg Variations by Bach and his spoof, Why I hate the Goldberg Variations is a must. My wife and I recently saw (experienced!) Jeremy Denk play the Goldbergs in Chicago and the experience was so much greater than normal because of what I refer to as his denkishness.

He recently recorded the Goldberg Variations and instead of liner notes, the recording came with 9 video segments in which Jeremy talks about the music. Frankly, priceless as he dishes knowledge with wonder.

This is why Denk and why I appreciate him so: he gives you so much of himself and as he plays and writes and talks about the music, he becomes super-alive – and some of that rubs off on us. A genius, yes – but oh so beautifully human.

In a follow-up post I will write about those very famous and yet to most unknown, Goldberg Variations.

“Is Music the Key to Success?”

October 15, 2013 at 3:07 PM | Posted in Growing up, Learning, Music, Personal Development | 2 Comments
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From a deep recess in my memory comes one of my younger brothers running down the stairs with my clarinet book opened to the page in which my teacher had marked a succession of incomplete assignments. My brother ran right to my parents to show them my ineptitude. That was the end of the clarinet. I was in 4th grade.

In this past Sunday’s NY Times,  Joanne Lipman makes the case in Is Music the Key to Success?, for the deep study of playing music as a key to future success in life. She calls upon the famous, like Woody Allen and Condoleezza Rice, to back up her argument. According to Lipman, “multiple studies link music study to academic achievement.”

While I’m sure nay-sayers can list all the bank robbers who mastered the bassoon, her point feels right to me. I’d give anything to start over as a young boy — perhaps I’d be playing clarinet next to Woody. Seriously: learning an instrument requires stick-to-itiveness and I lacked this early on. It was only when I learned that we could do just about anything if we tried really hard for really long that the world broke well for me.

Read the article and tell me what you think.

(Shout out to my sister Fran for alerting me to this article!)

The Last Barricade

October 7, 2013 at 2:43 PM | Posted in Awareness, Coffee, Sleep | 1 Comment
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photoFor many of us, when we have committed to a big goal, whether it is making a big quota, selling a big account, losing a lot of weight – anything big – while we are thinking we are committed, we hold something back. It is human to do so.

In these pages I’ve written about my commitment to being fully Awake. Integral to this is sleeping better. I’ve tried everything – well, not quite everything. Let’s see: I’ve stopped reading in bed, I try to keep to a schedule, I limit my caffeine and about 8 other things. It wasn’t working, though each individual routine change worked temporarily.

I have loved coffee for a  long time and became fanatical about it. I often found coffee and the process of making it – profound. I knew, of course, that coffee had something to do with my sleep issues and I began to decrease my consumption. First I eliminated half & half, thus decreasing the allure. Then I cut down the amount to a thimble-full and still I did not sleep well. In other words, I was doing everything except the one thing I needed to do: give it up entirely.

photoAs it has turned out, the amount of  caffeine in my system was not waking me up but the attachment I have for that one cup of coffee was. The idea of having that one, beautiful cup propelled me out of bed. I was like a young boy and every morning was Christmas.

Well, it’s been almost two weeks outside the hegemony of coffee and I am sleeping well and am as fresh as a daisy. I am delighted and not climbing the walls. My only concession so far is to admit that if I do go to Vienna again I know I will be looking up what time those famous coffeehouses open. A man must have something to look forward to.

“How Will You Measure Your Life?”

September 30, 2013 at 4:21 PM | Posted in Books, Business, Personal Development | 1 Comment
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41gcKwpimiL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Over lunch not long ago, my friend Dave Ramseur  mentioned a book as particularly worthwhile: How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen (and James Allworth and Karen Dillon). Dave is a thoughtful sort of fellow and my thinking was ruminating in this direction and so I went to one library and then another but came up empty. This was a break as I have now read it twice and the last chapter more times than that and owning it, I know I will turn to it again.

Christensen is a Professor at the Biz School at Harvard and he is most famous for, I think, his Innovator’s Dilemma. I read this book long ago and I thought his concept (that large organizations create their own barriers to innovation) was true then and think so still today. I also knew that he was a key thinker behind Romney’s campaign for President, which I took as a plus for Romney.

How Will You Measure Your Life? is a book that I wish was available when I was just starting out in business. HIs point that he delivers quite convincingly,  is that you cannot leave your purpose in life to chance. I don’t think that Clay would be impressed that my purpose has been to support my family. He would say that that was not sufficient and that I was selling myself, my family and the people I work with short.

It is never too late – or too early –  to think deep thoughts.

The User Interface Dilemma

September 19, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Posted in Business, Technology | Leave a comment
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My wife, Ingrid, woke up to find a new User Interface (UI) on her iPhone. Within seconds she reported that she didn’t like the look of it and had lost key functionality in the Calendar. Ah, well, she is a user and new interfaces are not designed for them.

In the software arena where I have hung my hat, I have been haunted by the dilemma of the UI. Even customers who moaned about the UI when they are buying, become comfortable with the old tried-and-true before long and would vote against a penny being spent on improving it. So why did Apple bring out a new UI? To win new business against the Jones and the Samsungs of the world and they are right to do so.

You see, users will get used to the new UI after some kvetching. But if you are perceived as old in the marketplace – well, that isn’t good for anyone.

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