Positive Cultural Impact (A Formula)

The following is an excerpt from a longer e-book I’m working on which should be published by the end of May, 2017:

If you are a leader who wants to make a positive cultural impact, you’ll need to manage your energy and focus your consumption so that you can leverage time differently. With the time you free up, you need to exercise your empathetic and creative muscles so that when the time comes to re-articulate values to your team or community, you’ll be able to do so with excellence. This is the formula for positive cultural impact.

For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to focus on why you need both empathy and creativity working in tandem, like iron and carbon coming together to form steel. The coming e-book will give people handles on how to do it.

Empathy without creativity results in a message that gets you less attention and lower retention. Think of this as sermonizing without excellence in storytelling. For example, a recent blog by Michele Perry in praise of the film “The Shack” notes that “…many Christian films miss the point of being films and are actually thinly veiled sermons that dismantle whatever creative effectiveness their story line might have had.” In context of my theme, Michele has pointed out that whatever empathy Christian filmmakers (previous to The Shack) may have had, (I have no doubt that their hearts ache for humans to find our Way,) has been compromised by poor storytelling, favoring empathy above creativity rather than melding the two. I have not yet gone to watch The Shack, perhaps because I’ve become wary of films branded as “Christian” for exactly the reason she pointed out. In fact, most of those films fail to get my attention. I won’t go see them. Fortunately for The Shack, reviews like Michele’s are going to buoy it along, and I’m now interested in seeing it.

Now let’s consider the flip side. What if your attempt to impact culture is heavily weighted toward creativity but has little sense of empathy? It’s no surprise to anyone that artists are interested in influencing culture; their motives may be rooted in empathy or something more self-serving, for example, fame or self-glorification. In the Modern Art movement, artists began speaking to an ever-narrowing, increasingly esoteric group of elites. Most of my friends scorned artists like Thomas Kinkade throughout our twenties, but as I’ve thought further about his work, I realize that his idea was to communicate to a much broader audience who wanted to look at something pleasant, welcoming, relaxing and inviting, images of cottages where they could imagine themselves at peace. And Kinkade cared about people who wanted that. Those same people never felt that Modern and Postmodern artists cared one whit about whether or not they “got it.” Kinkade’s commercial success was looked down upon by the elite postmodern highbrow gallery artists, but out of a certain empathy he spoke to a broader audience, using a great deal of creativity in the process, and earned both attention and a certain level of retention, too. Here’s a blog that’s a couple years old, but was published three years after his death at age 54, noting that his signed and numbered lithographs are likely to continue increasing in value. Long term, that remains to be seen, and monetary value is only one way of measuring retention. Another way to look at it is that if the monetary value is going up, that means people are keeping their lithographs — which means they’re either speculating, or they genuinely continue to appreciate his message and the values his work spoke about. Some might put his work in the same camp as those cheesy Christian movies which do a poor job of storytelling, but the truth is that Kinkade was a masterful painter whose technique may have been formulaic, but whose storytelling moved a generation of people to buy his paintings when other painters struggled to get any attention. (And when it comes to formulaic storytelling, Hollywood is all about that, so formulas are not a problem. Experimenters can search for new formulas, but there’s nothing wrong with using a recipe whether you’re baking chocolate-chip cookies or telling a story.)

I know, that’s a lot about art, and may mislead you to think that you will have to make a movie like The Shack or paint like Kinkade to make a positive cultural impact in your family, on your team at work, in your nonprofit organization. Not so. Use what you have, both exercising and building the muscles you have for empathy, and also those for creativity, so that your message will be driven by caring for others and delivered in a way they can appreciate, enjoy and remember for a long time.

Going back to the iron and carbon makes steel analogy, a good steel is both stronger and more flexible than either of its two main parts. The fusion of empathy and creativity will give your leadership both strength and flexibility, too.

Soon I’ll be releasing a how to course online, complete with a longer e-book, videos, a workbook, and a place for community.

Note — if you’re in the Goshen, Indiana area and would like to sit in on the live audience  video taping of the course instruction, that will be happening at Art House on April 18 at 7 PM, and is free for the public to attend.

Second note — if you’d like to get a copy of this e-book when it’s done, please email me at adam.fleming.lifecoach@gmail.com, reference this blog post, and I’ll put you on the email list for a FREE copy!

 

How Honest Abe would have Tweeted

“You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry.” — Abe Lincoln

Abe Lincoln had a practice when he was angry with someone. That practice was to write a letter in the heat of the moment; lay it all out there. Speak his mind. Say what he thinks.

Then, he slept on it before sending it.

Then, he didn’t send it. Ever.

I think it’s fair to say that Honest Abe would not have used Twitter much at all. The idea that you can get a message out blah, blah, blah, boom, would not have appealed to him.

If greatness is about what makes you angry (and you do get angry sometimes, if you’re passionate about life, and perhaps even about petty things) then your next best path is to write things down … and leave them out of the public discourse.

Lincoln did become angry. He also dealt with a country that was as divided as it has ever been. For us to reunite our country, we need leaders who don’t Tweet, they shut up. And I’m talking about you, dear reader. Oh, haven’t there been times when you got angry about something and posted about it on social media within the next two minutes? And have you looked back later to see how petty it was? Did you experience the shame you’ve thought others ought to experience? If our President-elect is going to use Twitter the way he has been, then the rest of us who are leaders in this country are going to have to rise above that. How? By not responding in kind. By not Tweeting in anger.

Does this mean we should never speak our minds? To heal the nation, aren’t we going to have to speak, and to take action? Of course we will, we do. That’s what I’m doing now.

I take consolation in the fact that a President is a figurehead – but we don’t have to follow his example. We can take our examples from other Presidents, other leaders. Leaders who didn’t fire off a postcard when they were mad, and send it by the next Pony-Express. Leaders who knew how to say what they thought, on paper, and then keep it to themselves. This will make you a better entrepreneur. A better parent. A better spouse. A better person.

Dream BIG Retreat coming soon!

Here’s an event I’m excited about attending. I’ll be one of the featured speakers! It’s called the Dream Big Retreat. It’s taking place in Chesterton, Indiana, from October 13-15 and is led and organized by a good friend of mine, Nancy Becher. She’s got a passion for seeing small business owners succeed.

There will be about half a dozen great business coaches there, sharing tips. Last year one guy came away with some new strategies that increased his business 83%!

This event is perfect for solopreneurs and small business owners who want to take a step back and work on the big picture. There’s a mantra (I think it’s from the E-Myth) that you should “work ON your business, not just IN your business.” Well, if you haven’t taken time to do that lately, now is the time.

There’s still space, and registration is ridiculously cheap, so get in on it now!

 

 

Getting Busy With It

Not another blog about how busy someone is and how they haven’t had time to write their blog and how they feel guilty about it. Please, not one of those. OK, I promise. Here’s a bit of what’s going on, followed by some encouragement to go out and work on your own stuff!

Besides working on multiple book projects, some with co-authors, there are as many as six or seven speeches, training groups or classes I’ll be leading this fall, two international trips (and fundraising to make that happen) and oh, yeah, I need to get my kid’s soccer schedule on my calendar. All that before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, I will probably get a bit of a break… except it will be prime time for fundraising for the nonprofit’s 2017 budget.

I’m starting to find a sweet spot in spending money on marketing that actually brings in a decent return on investment, so there are more clients these days for individual coaching.

I have this to say to aspiring life coaches, motivational speakers, and authors: if you think you’re good at one of those three, get better. Then learn to market, manage websites, network your butt off, give lots of real value in exchange for the buck you earn, earn that buck for real, no scams, and then start getting good at the other two disciplines. They all go hand in hand to support you, like a stool with three legs. The bottom line is that in addition to providing great service, giving good speeches, and writing good books, you have to learn a fourth skill: that of entrepreneurship. Which means sales. Which means recognizing you aren’t going to close every deal. Get over yourself. You aren’t the best coach for everybody, but for the right people you’re very good.

People are going to ask you if you’re like Tony Robbins or John Maxwell.

I liked what Simone Biles said the other day, something like: I’m not the next Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.

Yep. I’m the first Adam Fleming. I’m not like Tony Robbins or John Maxwell, but I have every reason to be confident I can help people just as much as one of those guys could, and certain people I’m going to be able to help a lot more. Realize that you’ve got a unique perspective, nobody else has it.

Then, when you can’t sleep at 1 AM, don’t watch TV. Post another blog. Keep working.

Then, when the weekend comes, know how to take a break.

This goes for a lot of people with the entrepreneurial spirit. Get good at what you do, present yourself with confidence, work hard, over-deliver, and learn how to rest.

Want to partner with my nonprofit efforts, get involved with one of the workshops I’m leading, or check out my books? Cool. I’m glad you said “yes, I’ll read on!”

Here are the two primary websites, followed by my Amazon author page:

www.motivationallistening.net

www.evergreenleaders.org

Adam G. Fleming author page

Learning to say I have enough

About a month ago an old acquaintance sat down with me and asked what I was doing.

Coaching full time, I said.

How many clients do you have?

Not enough, I replied, feeling like Eeyore again.

Five minutes later, I turned to him and apologized. I’m sorry, that’s a really negative way to look at it. God is providing what I need, when I need it.

I have enough. And I always want more!

Now, “I want more” still sounds like I’m discontented, but that’s not the attitude the statement carries in my mind.

“I want more” not because I’m greedy for the money that a fuller coaching load would bring. It’s because I have time to spare, and there are lots of people to care for. out there I want more, because I have so much more to give.

The Tao Teh Ching says “He who knows when he has enough is rich.”

Most of the people who can read this blog are rich. You have enough.

This change in attitude has been really helpful for my sense of internal peace. Coincidentally (?) within two or three weeks of that penitent moment, I landed several new clients.

Alive, on the Road Not Taken

My dad posted Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken this week on Facebook, in honor of the poem’s 100th anniversary.

I did not realize this poem was so old; as with many things that occur before our own time this poem was lumped in with “old stuff” in my brain and is kind of like my parents in that sense. Of course I know they lived through the Vietnam War but not WWII. I’ve seen my kids do this lumping thing with movies, “hey, was that movie made when you were a kid, dad?” (Um, no, Casablanca is a little older than I am.) All they know is it predates their own birth. So we all do this. There are only “before” and “in my days”. Before, there was Casablanca, Frost, Shakespeare, Lincoln and the Magna Carta. “In my days” includes things like Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth less than two months after I arrived, Nixon resigning less than six months into my stay on this blue and green orb, then, not soon enough, Vietnam evacuations. I don’t remember it, I just know it was in my days. Something I lived through, albeit unaware. Let’s call that a grey area, perhaps, I was young and it was my time but all grey until Reagan was shot. Then I begin to remember. After that it’s not old stuff, it’s really my stuff.

But my father loves this poem (I did not realize how much until now) and in fact he enjoys a fair number of poems. He even committed some French poetry to memory. Je mis mon kepi dans la cage et je suis sortie avec l’ouiseau sur la tete… I remember him reciting it, it’s so funny, you see, because he does all the voices, the birdie and the commander, too.

I’m reflecting on the difference that it made, this path my father took. A way leads to a way and you never end up going back to try the other. Frost says it with a sigh, but I wonder, could it be a sigh of contentment? Sure, the poem seems to speak of potential lost, but, many choices, ways and ways down the Way, is one so disappointed?

Dad chose Mom, then, with Mom, to go to Africa when I was in a vulnerable stage, then to move to an out of the way town in Iowa. He chose to become a nurse and care for people who were dying, many of them living with great regrets and bitterness, but he loved them. He chose to live in a town, not a city, in a forest outside the small town. He chose to love his neighbors. Sometimes they didn’t appreciate him, or his best friends. Some of his friends, people he chose, were losers. He did not fall into bad company; he chose them as friends, another way among many ways, to love them. He chose to burn wood to warm his cottage like some kindly pauper in a fairy tale. He sharpened his chainsaw and hauled timber with a two-wheeled hand cart. The more ways that he chose along his Way, the deeper he went into the jungles and along the ponds and beside still waters and tucked in among the trees in an orange cap and knee-patched jeans and steel-toed boots. The more he chose these things, the less he aspired to anything some would call “bigger”. His father lived in Texas, where bigger is better. He chose smaller, instead. He acquired love like a real estate mogul acquires land, with ease and without a second thought, and with interest compounding. He spends his money now to visit his grandchildren. Compounding love is all.

Or did he choose? Was the poem itself ever really about choice in the first place?  Maybe  we’re all reading it wrong. [the link above takes you to an interesting article on that question.] Oh well. This has become more about my father and less about Frost now, so we leave Frost at this crossroad to debate the meaning of his poem posthumously with living academics, and move on. If it’s true that Frost thought we really didn’t get to choose, and it was all the same, well, he never met my Dad.

When ways have led to other Ways, and we find we can’t go back and be someone we never were meant to be anyhow, (or when we find that the choices were intertwined with destiny) why would the sigh be anything other than one of peace, of having come so far only to find that, way back when, sometime after Casablanca and before the internet, we made a choice and it was good and had much laughter and a good wife and friends who we never would have met, if we hadn’t chosen to meet them, and so we kept choosing them every day, drifting back into history with the great poems, eventually to be lumped into “before”, but not quite yet, and even when those friends we knew die and we miss them so, we know they never would have been what they are to us without us having taken the Way we took.

Sigh, old men, but not with regret. Some of your laughter may already be in the grave in the silent mouths of friends gone before, but much of it follows you from points along the path where you made those choices to know and be known; you thought you had moved on, but the forks along your paths are tuned to a resonance that harmonizes with the chuckle in your throat which I can hear and will be able to hear so long as it is my time. You laughed when I said “are you waking up yet, Daddy?” and you still laugh when I amuse you, I can hear it in my ears whenever I have been humorous or clever. I can hear it in my heart when my son does the same. Because whenever I come to those forks myself I can hear you laugh, so, then; I weep with joy. Sigh, old women, your childbearing is done and your gardens can feature flowers instead of food. Instead of preserving for winters to come, you can paint pictures of desert sunrises because the sun keeps coming over that horizon as it travels on its own way. The earth herself makes no choices, she turns and turns, and “by turning, turning, she comes out right.” You have chosen a Way. I have heard the sigh, and no matter how you meant it, I interpreted it as one of peace with each decision, for that is how it appears to me, so therefore, I will follow it. My brother and my sister will follow it. You have shown us what is good: To love justice, to desire mercy and to walk humbly with your God. It’s all lumped in with the “old stuff” and that’s just fine with me in my days.

When the world is in possession of the Way, 

The galloping horses are led to fertilize the fields with their droppings. 

When the world has become Way-less, War horses breed themselves on the suburbs. 

There is no calamity like not knowing what is enough. There is no evil like covetousness. Only he who knows what is enough will always have enough. –Lao Tzu