To my civilian friends: I’m sorry

To my civilian friends: I’m sorry. 
I’m sorry you have to worry about my brother & sister law enforcement officers and me. 
I’m sorry the murder of two more of this nation’s finest has you scared and fearful for the future. 
I’m sorry that your friends, family, or spouse has to return to duty without the national support for the singular profession authorized to protect & serve you. 
I’m sorry that others whose agendas benefit from the desecration of the American symbol of order and civility have voices resonating louder than yours.
I’m not sorry that despite the fact one of us will die every 58 hours, the other 800,000 of us will never fail to report for duty. 
I’m not sorry that despite celebrities and athletes dishonoring the profession standing ready to protect, we will be there every time they call. 
I’m not sorry that despite a minuscule percentage of our total number of officers do bad things, that the rest of us serve with sacrificial honor. 
I’m also not sorry for the profession I, along with almost one million others have chosen. 
Mostly, I’m sorry I had to write this apology to my civilian friends. 
To my band of brothers & sisters – watch each other’s 6 like never before. 
God Bless the Blue. 

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Want To Be More Creative? Don’t Sleep

NOTE: I’ve often said that sleep is for the weak. Actually, I’ve been quoted and sometimes criticized for saying it. In my life, doing without it is a necessity for accomplishing the personal goals I’ve set. While not for everyone, the following article discusses how fatigue and creativity compliment each other. Believe it? Read on.

Want To Be More Creative? Don’t Sleep

Wednesday, famed sportswriter Bill Simmons released a podcast where he interviewed Lorne Michaels, the man who created and still runs Saturday Night Live. In the interview, Michaels said something particularly interesting about the creative process.

Simmons asked him about the grueling nature of SNL, where Michaels and his staff have been putting on a live hour of television each week for the past 40 years. Specifically, Simmons asked if that sort of schedule was too difficult, if there would be a benefit to cutting back.

Michaels’ answer: no.

“There’s a mantra that I have, which is fatigue is your friend,” Michaels said. “There’s a point at which, in anything artistic, at least from my perspective, the critical faculty can overwhelm the creative faculty… When you’re tired, you just write it, and all sorts of different kinds of work comes out.”

Michaels, who developed talent like Will Ferrell, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphy and hundreds of others, went on to say that when creative types are tired, they lose their filter. And then, “someone takes a chance that they would never, if they were cautious or they were smart, would have ever attempted.”

“And those kinds of things are what you remember now as hits,” he continued.

Simmons, who has built himself into one of the world’s most-famous sportswritersand an ESPN “heavyweight” thanks to his own creativity, agreed.

“That’s so funny you talk about that because that’s how I usually write my column,” Simmons told Michaels. “I either do it early in the morning or late at night because I don’t want to be fully awake. As weird as that sounds, I take more chances when I’m groggy.”

Does this phenomenon make any sense? Well, believe it or not, science says yes.

What The Science Says

There have been several scientific studies into the exact issue Simmons and Michaels talked about. And while there are some splits in the findings, the majority say that, indeed, sleep deprivation can actually increase creativity.

One study by Mareike Wieth at Albion College probed into this issue by giving people problems to answer at their non-optimal time of the day; i.e. times when they were tired (morning people were given problems in the evening and evening people were given problems in the morning).

What Wieth found was that people answered math questions better when they were well-rested. However, for problems that required more creative thinking, the people who were more tired did better.

“The findings indicate that tasks involving creativity might benefit from a non-optimal time of day,” Wieth wrote in her study.

Additionally, Italian researcher Marcello Massimini found that the brain becomes more sensitive throughout the day, as it continues to form new synapses for as long as you stay awake. When you finally sleep, those synapses are pruned down.

Therefore, it makes sense that basic math problems become more difficult to solve when you’re tired, because you are, quite literally, more scatterbrained. But it also means that the longer you stay awake, the more unique connections begin to form in your brain – a recipe for creative thinking.

Takeaway

By no means should you adopt a lifestyle of little-to-no sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to higher blood pressure, obesity and an increased chance of stroke, among other things.

Engineers or scientists wouldn’t benefit from sleep deprivation either, as it essentially inhibits logical thinking. But, for the creative type who needs to get something out, an all-nighter might just do the trick.

 

Want To Be More Creative? Don’t Sleep

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Crucibles of Leadership (part 4)

The Essentials of Leadership

In our interviews, we heard many other stories of crucible experiences. Take Jack Coleman, 78-year-old former president of Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He told us of one day, during the Vietnam War, when he heard that a group of students was planning to pull down the American flag and burn it—and that former members of the school’s football team were going to make sure the students didn’t succeed.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Coleman had the idea to preempt the violence by suggesting that the protesting students take down the flag, wash it, and then put it back up—a crucible moment that even now elicits tremendous emotion in Coleman as he describes that day.

There’s also Common Cause founder John W. Gardner, who died earlier this year at 89. He identified his arduous training as a Marine during World War II as the crucible in which his leadership abilities emerged. Architect Frank Gehry spoke of the biases he experienced as a Jew in college.

Jeff Wilke, a general manager at a major manufacturer, told us of the day he learned that an employee had been killed in his plant—an experience that taught him that leadership was about much more than making quarterly numbers.

So, what allowed these people to not only cope with these difficult situations but also learn from them? We believe that great leaders possess four essential skills, and, we were surprised to learn, these happen to be the same skills that allow a person to find meaning in what could be a debilitating experience. First is the ability to engage others in shared meaning.

Consider Sidney Harman, who dived into a chaotic work environment to mobilize employees around an entirely new approach to management. Second is a distinctive and compelling voice. Look at Jack Coleman’s ability to defuse a potentially violent situation with only his words. Third is a sense of integrity (including a strong set of values). Here, we point again to Coleman, whose values prevailed even during the emotionally charged clash between peace demonstrators and the angry (and strong) former football team members.

But by far the most critical skill of the four is what we call “adaptive capacity.” This is, in essence, applied creativity—an almost magical ability to transcend adversity, with all its attendant stresses, and to emerge stronger than before. It’s composed of two primary qualities: the ability to grasp context, and hardiness.

The ability to grasp context implies an ability to weigh a welter of factors, ranging from how very different groups of people will interpret a gesture to being able to put a situation in perspective. Without this, leaders are utterly lost, because they cannot connect with their constituents. M . Douglas Ivester, who succeeded Roberto Goizueta at Coca-Cola, exhibited a woeful inability to grasp context, lasting just 28 months on the job.

For example, he demoted his highest-ranked African-American employee even as the company was losing a $200 million class-action suit brought by black employees—and this in Atlanta, a city with a powerful African-American majority. Contrast Ivester with Vernon Jordan. Jordan realized his boss’s time was up—not just his time in power, but the era that formed him. And so Jordan was able to see past the insults and recognize his boss’s bitterness for what it was—desperate lashing out.

Hardiness is just what it sounds like—the perseverance and toughness that enable people to emerge from devastating circumstances without losing hope. Look at Michael Klein, who experienced failure but didn’t let it defeat him. He found himself with a single asset—a tiny software company he’d acquired.

Klein built it into Transoft Networks, which Hewlett-Packard acquired in 1999. Consider, too, Mickie Siebert, who used her sense of humor to curtail offensive conversations. Or Sidney Rittenberg’s strength during his imprisonment. He drew on his personal memories and inner strength to emerge from his lengthy prison term without bitterness.

It is the combination of hardiness and ability to grasp context that, above all, allows a person to not only survive an ordeal, but to learn from it, and to emerge stronger, more engaged, and more committed than ever. These attributes allow leaders to grow from their crucibles, instead of being destroyed by them—to find opportunity where others might find only despair. This is the stuff of true leadership.

Crucibles of Leadership (part 4)

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FITx50 \ week 19

2014-12-02 21.10.21

FITx50 \ week 19

This is my favorite Christmas picture for several reasons. For purposes of this post, the expressions illustrate the yin and yang of fitness and dieting. Santa’s look is how I feel after I blow my diet.

The sly grinning kiddo is how I feel once I’ve logged in the exercise and managed to avoid the sweets. I also think its funny because the photographer failed to notice the “horned” candles behind Santa’s head.

This week, I can say my FITx50 focus sided with the kiddo’s expression of satisfaction gained through exercise and moderation in diet.

Still moderate temps have allowed for evening jogs, which lead to very light eating at night. Heading into a hectic weekend that includes my city’s Christmas parade, it’ll be a challenge to exercise.

Momentum Gym’s child care services and Saturday’s community workout session will make finding the time much easier. Squeezing into gym time is much better than squeezing into pants.

See you next week,

Scott

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Crucibles of Leadership (part 3)

Some crucible experiences illuminate a hidden and suppressed area of the soul. These are often among the harshest of crucibles, involving, for instance, episodes of illness or violence. In the case of Sidney Rittenberg, now 79, the crucible took the form of 16 years of unjust imprisonment, in solitary confinement, in Communist China.

In 1949 Rittenberg was initially jailed, without explanation, by former friends in Chairman Mao Zedong’s government and spent his first year in total darkness when he wasn’t being interrogated. (Rittenberg later learned that his arrest came at the behest of Communist Party officials in Moscow, who had wrongly identified him as a CIA agent.)

Thrown into jail, confined to a tiny, pitch-dark cell, Rittenberg did not rail or panic. Instead, within minutes, he remembered a stanza of verse, four lines recited to him when he was a small child:

They drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that took them in!

That bit of verse (adapted from “Outwitted,” a poem by Edwin Markham) was the key to Rittenberg’s survival. “My God,” he thought, “there’s my strategy.” He drew the prison guards into his circle, developing relationships that would help him adapt to his confinement. Fluent in Chinese, he persuaded the guards to deliver him books and, eventually, provide a candle so that he could read.

He also decided, after his first year, to devote himself to improving his mind—making it more scientific, more pure, and more dedicated to socialism. He believed that if he raised his consciousness, his captors would understand him better. And when, over time, the years in the dark began to take an intellectual toll on him and he found his reason faltering, he could still summon fairy tales and childhood stories such as The Little Engine That Could and take comfort from their simple messages.

By contrast, many of Rittenberg’s fellow prisoners either lashed out in anger or withdrew. “They tended to go up the wall… They couldn’t make it. And I think the reason was that they didn’t understand…that happiness…is not a function of your circumstances; it’s a function of your outlook on life.”

Rittenberg’s commitment to his ideals continued upon his release. His cell door opened suddenly in 1955, after his first six-year term in prison. He recounts, “Here was a representative of the central government telling me that I had been wronged, that the government was making a formal apology to me…and that they would do everything possible to make restitution.”

When his captors offered him money to start a new life in the United States or to travel in Europe, Rittenberg declined, choosing instead to stay in China and continue his work for the Communist Party.

And even after a second arrest, which put him into solitary confinement for ten years as retaliation for his support of open democracy during the Cultural Revolution, Rittenberg did not allow his spirit to be broken. Instead, he used his time in prison as an opportunity to question his belief system—in particular, his commitment to Marxism and Chairman Mao. “In that sense, prison emancipated me,” he says.

Rittenberg studied, read, wrote, and thought, and he learned something about himself in the process: “I realized I had this great fear of being a turncoat, which…was so powerful that it prevented me from even looking at [my assumptions]… Even to question was an act of betrayal. After I got out…the scales fell away from my eyes and I understood that…the basic doctrine of arriving at democracy through dictatorship was wrong.”

What’s more, Rittenberg emerged from prison certain that absolutely nothing in his professional life could break him and went on to start a company with his wife. Rittenberg Associates is a consulting firm dedicated to developing business ties between the United States and China. Today, Rittenberg is as committed to his ideals—if not to his view of the best way to get there—as he was 50 years ago, when he was so severely tested.

Fortunately, not all crucible experiences are traumatic. In fact, they can involve a positive, if deeply challenging, experience such as having a demanding boss or mentor. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, for instance, attributes much of his success to his interaction with a splendid mentor. That mentor was J. Maynard Dickerson, a successful attorney—the first black city prosecutor in the United States—and editor of a local African-American newspaper.

Fortunately, not all crucible experiences are traumatic. In fact, they can involve a positive, if deeply challenging, experience such as having a demanding boss or mentor.

Dickerson influenced Jones at many levels. For instance, the older man brought Jones behind the scenes to witness firsthand the great civil rights struggle of the 1950s, inviting him to sit in on conversations with activists like Thurgood Marshall, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, and Robert C. Weaver. Says Jones, “I was struck by their resolve, their humor…and their determination not to let the system define them. Rather than just feel beaten down, they turned it around.” The experience no doubt influenced the many important opinions Judge Jones has written in regard to civil rights.

Dickerson was both model and coach. His lessons covered every aspect of Jones’s intellectual growth and presentation of self, including schooling in what we now call “emotional intelligence.” Dickerson set the highest standards for Jones, especially in the area of communication skills—a facility we’ve found essential to leadership.

Dickerson edited Jones’s early attempts at writing a sports column with respectful ruthlessness, in red ink, as Jones remembers to this day—marking up the copy so that it looked, as Jones says, “like something chickens had a fight over.” But Dickerson also took the time to explain every single mistake and why it mattered.

His mentor also expected the teenage Jones to speak correctly at all times and would hiss discreetly in his direction if he stumbled. Great expectations are evidence of great respect, and as Jones learned all the complex, often subtle lessons of how to succeed, he was motivated in no small measure by his desire not to disappoint the man he still calls “Mr. Dickerson.”

Dickerson gave Jones the kind of intensive mentoring that was tantamount to grooming him for a kind of professional and moral succession—and Jones has indeed become an instrument for the profound societal change for which Dickerson fought so courageously as well. Jones found life-changing meaning in the attention Dickerson paid to him—attention fueled by a conviction that he, too, though only a teenager, had a vital role to play in society and an important destiny.

Another story of a powerful mentor came to us from Michael Klein, a young man who made millions in Southern California real estate while still in his teens, only to lose it by the time he turned 20 and then go on to start several other businesses. His mentor was his grandfather Max S. Klein, who created the paint-by-numbers fad that swept the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Klein was only four or five years old when his grandfather approached him and offered to share his business expertise. Over the years, Michael Klein’s grandfather taught him to learn from and to cope with change, and the two spoke by phone for an hour every day until shortly before Max Klein’s death.

Crucibles of Leadership (part3)

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