Monday, July 28, 2008

Clarity, Elegance and Power

If you looked at the title of this entry and assumed that you can only have two of the three characteristics at any one time, it is time to reconsider your beliefs.

Clarity and elegance: yes.  These both describe a kind of beauty pared down to its essence, an ascetic aesthetic.

Elegance and power: yes.  Like big cats on the prowl or the sportscars modeled on them. Lean, mean, accurate.

Clarity and power: yes.  That moment of calm in the storm when you gather strength and get the job done.  We've been there - or admired someone who has.

Now, again: Clarity, Elegance, Power.  What does that look like? sound like? feel like?  It is hard to put all three together, hard to believe that the power and clarity can be held together and apart by a concept as lean as elegance.

Power and clarity, bound by elegance. Ability and desire, governed by intelligence. The bow, the arrow, and the hand that moves them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

10,000 hours of deliberate practice

Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point and blink) is working on genius.  You can listen to him at  

He reports on research on mastery that says it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master anything from sports to music to mathematics.  Mastery takes 10,000 hours of paying attention while you practice.  It is not a matter of brilliance or talent or luck.  It is a matter of paying attention to a particular problem or skillset for quite a long time.

So why do our universities offer masters degrees that take only one or two years after a bachelor's degree?  On the one hand, the fifth year of study would give one 10,000 hours of university study (mastering the art of being a student!).  On the other hand, that one year of study offers the skills to do the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  It does not make you a master: it puts you on the path to mastery.

I will be offering a master's level course in NLP next month.  On the one hand, this is nonsense. No one masters NLP in a classroom.  The difference between a course of 60 or 90 hours and a course of 600 hours is trivial when we understand that mastery requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  The purpose of a master's course is not to master the subject.

The purpose of a master's level course is to provide the additional tools necessary to structure 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  It is to provide the maps and pack the bags for a long climb up winding roads, knowing that there is no guarantee that the ground will not shift and that 10,000 hours might be just the beginning of a longer climb.

NLP is a way of thinking.  If your way of thinking will not sustain you for at least 10,000 hours, what are you going to do with the next ten or twenty or fifty years?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What would you change?

I know a young person who has been stuck for more than a year.  She trained hard for a career, had initial success, and then suffered a physical setback that made it impossible for her to continue in the same path.  That would be hard for anyone. It is especially hard for a much-loved child who had no reason to believe life could change that fast.

We say that the young are resilient - and they are. The forms of their resilience are not always what we would choose.  They can stay stuck quite ferociously. 

My young friend is stuck.  She does not yet want to be unstuck.  Having flung herself into one brick wall, it is understandable that she does not want to run into the next one.  From the point of view of stuck, any motion is dangerous.  From the point of view of stuck, we do not see that sometimes it is the walls that run at us.

I have other friends who are stuck because they are tired. They work hard and long and they make sincere efforts to meet the needs of the people around them.  Their activity is not just spinning wheels - they produce real results in many areas - but it is also not moving them forward.  At the end of the day, they are too tired to imagine change.

Rest is not stopping. Rest is the state where we are able to fully imagine difference.  We rest in trance (hypnotic or daydream) when we let our minds escape from external conditions to create their own.  We rest in our beds when we let go of the millionth item on the to-do list and sink into sleep.  We rest in activities that unwind the knots in our muscles and our minds.

The training I do is hard work, for me and for my clients.  It involves many hours of learning and doing.  At the end of the day, we are all ready to sleep.

The training I do is restful.  It unravels the tight and twisted places and allows us all to imagine difference.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why not call it like you see it?

I just read an article by a journalist, a lamentation really.  The subject was the proliferation of euphemisms which seemed to the journalist to represent a decadent inability to assign responsibility or acknowledge mundane realities.  She felt, as many people seem to feel, that words like "poor" or "crippled" or "junkie" were better descriptions than words like "disadvantaged" or "challenged" or "survivor."


Let's look at "poor" for a minute.  Does it mean that you do not have much money?  Okay.  Does it have a value judgment associated with it?  What if you are doing "poorly" at school or work? What if you are "needy?"  Maybe "poor" is not just the simplest word for the job.  Maybe it is the simplest word for reflecting a reality in which good people have enough and people who do not have enough can be presumed to be not good enough.

The poor will be with us always. As will our desire to label them.

I have no objection to any word.  A word is a set of letters combined according to some principles to represent something that it cannot possibly adequately represent.

I have no objection to people describing the world as they perceive it, whether that means they see "poor" people or "cripples" or see "at risk youth" trying to survive in an inhospitable world.

I do object to people who are unwilling to notice the difference between calling it as they see it, and calling it as it is.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Seeing the surface

On my recent trip to Europe, I visited lots of amazing art collections. None made as strong an impression on me as l'Orangerie in Paris.  The link is:

The first thing I notice as I look at the museum's website is that there were only two rooms filled by Monet's magnificent water lilies.  I remembered three or four.  That is a measure of how deep and wide a conversation I had with these paintings.

I stood before each and asked, "teach me to see."  That's what I believe great paintings teach us: they are not about what we see but about how we see it.  Monet's paintings rewarded me with a conversation about what it means to focus so intensely on the surface that the vision comes to include the changes above and below the surface.

There are no horizons in these paintings because the artist does not raise his eyes to the place where surface meets sky. Instead, he fixes his image-ination exclusively on the surface that is in front of him and pays so much attention to what he sees there that we - his audience - are able to enter a whole world through that surface.  Always the paintings tempt us to look upwards, beyond their edges. Always, with the artist's discipline and joy, we must consciously fix our eyes on the surface.

We talk about the superficial as though it were a trivial thing to be the plane where internal and external meet.  Perhaps that is a way to avoid the intensity of gaze that the surface requires if we are to enter into a dialogue with it.