New Release: Positive Cultural Impact

You’re leading a team: could be you and one child, or you and a sales team, or you and a massive corporation or nonprofit institution. In any case, you have a culture you want to build, values to instill. But how?

For the last few months I’ve been blogging less as I was working to refine a concept into a concise e-book which details my formula for making a positive cultural impact in the form of a cycle which I very creatively decided to call the Cultural Impact Cycle.

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Last Friday I published this e-book, reasonably priced at $2.99 USD. Here’s the link: How to Make a Positive Cultural Impact.

In a recent discussion with a random stranger, I told the stranger I am a life coach.

“What do you teach people?” he asked.

“Coaches don’t teach… but I’m also a writer,” I said, and proceeded to give him the elevator version of the cycle and the book.

“So, it’s the simple things,” he said.

Yes… it’s simple. The concepts here aren’t complicated. It’s implementation that may be difficult… perhaps even challenging enough you’ll want to work on them with a coach.

There’s more to come. Soon I’ll have a video course available for purchase that includes a workbook and an online forum. In the meantime, you can check out the book itself, it’s a short read at 8,300 words.

Enjoy!

–Adam G. Fleming

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!

 

The Garden Gnome

Want to improve your empathy? Go read a novel.

Once upon a time, there was a simple garden gnome named Bill. Bill was the kindly looking type of gnome, with half-glasses he used for reading. It wasn’t so much that he was looking down his nose at you, as he was looking over his cheeks. You know the type. Of course he wore a red cap and a green vest, except on Tuesdays when he wore his plaid one. Bill the Gnome knew all the woodland creatures by name. Hubert the Turtle, Wally the Rabbit… Bill even had tea with Guinevere the Red Fox on occasion. One sunny morning, as he walked along, he came across an old copy of The Wind in the Willows, upside down in a patch of ferns. “I know,” said Bill, “I’ll take this over to Nancy the Field-mouse. She’ll love this story.” So off he waddled, to find Mrs. Nancy, without even stopping to wonder who might have lost this beautiful book. And so his adventure began.

I have for some time this year had a theory that reading fiction would make one a better listener. But now I’ve found some exciting research that proves it, so don’t take it from me. When it comes to social sciences, I’m no academic. I’m just a simple practitioner of empathy and fiction. But some folks discovered that fiction does indeed increase empathy – and even more importantly, reading non-fiction is a negative indicator!

Of course the volume was something Old Gravel-Pit the Snow Owl had dropped one night. He’d been reading by the light of the moon when he saw something far below his treetop perch that caught his attention. It glistened as though it were a very large rodent with one eye open and the other eye closed. Was some cheeky woodchuck winking at him? How dare he? And so, forgetting his book, Old Gravel-Pit (we have long forgotten how he came by this name, I suppose that somewhere along the line they added the “Old” part, though perhaps he was born with it, being an Owl and all) and … Where was I? Oh – and forgetting his book he swooped down to take what was rightfully his; that is, anything he sees, as far as he is concerned, be it a woodchuck or a pocket-watch.

Here is the Abstract from an October, 2006 paper by Raymond A. Mar, et al, in the Journal of Research in Personality:

While frequent readers are often stereotyped as socially awkward, this may only be true of non-fiction readers and not readers of fiction. Comprehending characters in a narrative fiction appears to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels. Frequent fiction readers may thus bolster or maintain their social abilities unlike frequent readers of non-fiction. Lifetime exposure to fiction and non-fiction texts was examined along with performance on empathy/social-acumen measures. In general, fiction print-exposure positively predicted measures of social ability, while non-fiction print-exposure was a negative predictor. The tendency to become absorbed in a story also predicted empathy scores. Participant age, experience with English, and intelligence (g) were statistically controlled.

Of course it turned out to be a pocket-watch some careless gnome had dropped; it would go nicely with a plaid vest. Gravel-Pit the Snow Owl was disgusted to find that it was both inedible and also useless at telling any sort of story. He went in search of his book again the next evening as the sun went down, and it was just as Bill the Gnome turned out of the woods and into the field, that Gravel-Pit finally saw his book waddling along. Without thinking how the book might be moving on its own, he snagged it in one talon. Poor, surprised Bill forgot to let go of The Wind in the Willows as it lifted off, and soon he realized that he didn’t want to let go of it anymore, now, being so high off the ground, and up he went, higher and higher, sailing towards the Great Wheat Field where one could get lost, and beyond!

Do you feel for Bill? What would you rather do, read more about Bill, or go find this Study online and read it all? Did you really read the abstract, or just skim it? Did you just jump ahead, absorbed in the story, to read more about the silly gnome? (If so it’s a good sign for you as an empathetic person and for me as a writer!) Now I’m not saying that this little story I slapped out in a few minutes about a gnome and an owl contains any sort of literary brilliance, but the truth is, we hunger for story (which gives us something to think about), more than we do for non-fiction (which is where we get told what to think). Chances are you aren’t reading this article while on a date. No, you go to a movie!

Today I was working with a new coach, who was trying to get a visual picture for himself of what he wants to become in this next phase of life as a coach. I asked him to think of characters in movies or books that he admired, and he came up with Gandalf the wizard, (for how he’d like to be) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (for the types of clients he wants). The key is becoming deeply involved in reading a story, not in movies.  Movies don’t count for developing empathy (at least not as far as the research shows.) Still, asking people about movie characters is an excellent way to help them visualize. Fewer people are reading fiction all the time. And we wonder why we’re lacking soft skills? You could go read the report, or you could take my word for it and go grab a novel.

Adam G. Fleming is a leadership coach specializing in creativity and the author of one novel, White Buffalo Gold, 2012, available on Amazon.