Seth's Difference That Matters

It was spring 1984. I was living and working in Atlanta. At the moment of awareness, I was sitting in a board meeting with about 40 people planning how to turn around a neighborhood of small businesses, old Atlanta residences, corporate offices and religious congregations. The Midtown area of downtown Atlanta had been declining during the 1960's and 70's as it was gathering place for drug deals, prostitution, strip bars and homelessness.

As I sat with these business people, corporate executives, developers, designers and artists, I saw what genuine leadership was. It is people with passion and commitment who are willing to do whatever is required to make a difference that matters. I knew then, that I wanted to be that kind of leader, and that leadership was going to be the focus of my professional life.

That moment of awareness began a continual process of study and exploration. Through all the reading and experimentation, I was never comfortable with what I found as the consensus view of leadership. It was far too much a matter of managing tasks rather than engagement with people. It seemed that leadership was nothing more than the tyranny of the efficient, rather than the excellence of the effective.

When I began my consulting practice in 1995, it wasn't because I had already figured it all out. Rather I started it to learn leadership from the ground up. I knew that leadership had to be focused on the relationship that leaders have with followers. I just didn’t understand how.

Then, in the spring of 2004 (if I remember correctly), twenty years after my initial initiation into the field of leadership, I saw this cereal box on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble. The book inside, Free Prize Inside, was by a marketing expert named Seth Godin. I bought it, and then, Purple Cow, and then free ebooks and manifestos. In Seth, was a writer who was different, provocative and had common sense. I began to think differently about my business, and began to see positive changes. I can date them to the time I began to read Seth’s work.

In 2008, Tribes was released, and, finally the leadership book that I had been looking for since 1984, was in print. The book brought affirmation and clarity to what I had been seeing for over three decades. And it is not an understatement to say that my life changed as a result.

Seth practices a type of leadership that I call, "leading by vacuum." This means that he stays focused on doing what he knows well, and lets others take the lead to do what they do best. The recent Linchpin MeetUp is a classic example of Seth’s influence. Float an idea, and people jump to implement it. They do so, not because they are ordered to or coerced, but because they want to do so. This is Seth’s kind of leadership. It is the kind that builds community and collaboration.

As a result of his approach, people across the globe have grown into being tribal leaders and Linchpins in their hometowns and businesses. The world is now filled with leaders who know that they are, and are motivated to make a difference that matters where they life and work.

Because of Seth, I now have friends around the world with whom I share a common vision for leadership, and a friendship that is supportive, trusting and caring.

Seth, I'm grateful for the work you have done, and the influence that you have had upon my life and work. Thank you and may you find peace in the difference you’ve made.

Happy Birthday, my friend. God bless.

In addition:

You can find additional celebrations of Seth Godin's 50th birthday here. The site where these celebrations are collected is the brain-child of Ben Love. He not only create a great way to honor Seth, but pull off an impossible task, while being willing to edit copy after it had been posted. Thank you, Ben for your Linchpin leadership.

And in typical Seth fashion, he diverts attention from his birthday to giving to Charity: Water. Do it if so led.

Becoming a Linchpin - An Interview with Seth Godin.

Seth Godin has a new book coming out in a few days - Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? Here's a little taste in this  interview with Seth.

In the interview Seth expresses his desire that people decide. In essence make a choice. This what I mean when I say that leadership begins with personal initiative.  The industrial age was one of passivity, compliance and dispensibility. 

This isn't just about the individual's responsibility to act. It is also about how the failure of our current organizational structures to be sustainable. When downsizing is your only hope for sustainability, then you know the problem is the structure not the people. It is a tacit admitting that we don't know how to utilize the full talent of our people to create a profitable organization.

I look forward to reading Seth's book. I felt that his Tribes book was the most important leadership book in a generation. I'm certain that Linchpin will carry its momentum futher.

HT: Bernd

From analog to digital, from paper to story

Here are four videos on books, the stories in them, how they are made, that fascinate me. I found them at Alan Jacobs blog which is worth reading. This will take about 18 minutes to watch, and is worth watching. Get a cup of coffee and enjoy.

The first is on the art of bookmaking.

Here's a bookmaking project that recreates the pictures from a Webster's Dictionary.

Pictorial Webster's: Inspiration to Completion from John Carrera on Vimeo.

This video is about how bookmaking now has moved from the analog world of the above videos to the digital world of on demand production.

And lastly, a fascinating video about the story that our imaginations find in a book.

Strategy + Business' Best Business Books 2009

Strategy + Business magazine distributes a monthly email highlighting articles. Today's email had a link to their selection of the best business books of 2009. The selections are divided into categories with a different writer describing the books for this year. Here are the links. It's worth a look. Good stuff here.

The Meltdown
A Wealth of Explanations
by Clive Crook

Means to a Greater End
by Charles Handy

The Capable and the Failed
by Phil Rosenzweig

Western Dominance in Decline
by Ayesha Khanna and Parag Khanna

In Search of the Silver Lining
by Judith F. Samuelson

Branding Goes Viral
by Catharine P. Taylor

Disruption 2.0
by Steven Levy

Unconventional Lives
by James O’Toole

You can find this month's S+B email here.

Seth Godin's Wizardry Explained ... by Seth

I'm an avid reader of Seth Godin's books and blog. He is wise and insightful, and worth your time. Here's a video of Seth talking about his approach to the publication of his books. It is very much like peaking behind the curtain to see the Wizard of Oz.
Watch the video. It is a little over a half hour. Well worth your time. I'll comment afterward.

This really isn't about books. It is about the spread of ideas. This means this talk is for all of us who have never published a book. If you have an idea, share it. If you like someone else's idea, share it. If someone's idea has changed your life, tell that story.

Remember the book is the souvenir, not the product. The idea is the product and conversation the vehicle for sharing it. The book is just a marker to remind you of the idea's importance.

See New Now - by Gerald de Jaager & James Ericson - a Leading Questions review

We've all heard that perception is reality. What is perception but a mixture of observation, assumptions, our own history and the real world context we are in. Our perceptions are changed into stories to help us explain why the world is the way it, and what we must do with it. When our perceptions become too narrow, too defensive, too calcified, then we stop learning and life's goodness begins to recede.

It from this perspective that I began to read Gerald de Jaager and James Ericson's fine new book - See New Now: New Lenses for Leadership and Life. It is a book of brief stories intended to open our perceptions about life and leadership. The authors speak of these stories as lens because the stories enable us to visualize more than the story itself. We can see simple, compelling truths that guide us to perceive how we can be better leaders.

De Jaager and Ericson are connected to the Masters Forum in Minnesota, a program that has brought top-level thinkers and business leaders to their community. I've been reading Jim Ericson's blog - Conversational Kindling - for some time, and just love his talent for telling a story. 

The stories are quite short, but well written, and the purpose of the story is clear. It would be a great tool for any leadership team that wanted to expand their ability to think and communicate together.

I'm going to focus on just one of the 24 stories in this book. It deals with the presence of fear in the workplace. The chapter is The Baboon Reflex. They begin with a description of how baboon's hunt better alone than in groups.

Anything like that ever happen in your organization, or your life? Forgetting the team's goal and worrying instead about who might be gaining on you? These baboons had a goal and they had motivation to achieve it that's just about as powerful as any motivation could be: food and survival. In today's terms, they were "highly incented." But fear undermined them nonetheless.

This is just part of one of many compelling stories. The authors have not just published a book of stories, but have also created study guides for each of the "lens." This is a valuable resource for leaders who want to deepen the interaction of their team.

I highly recommend this book. It is a book and resources that will open, simply, clarify your perceptions so that wisdom and insight for leading will result.

Conversations with Richard Bandler - a Leading Questions review

Almost twenty years ago, I was introduced to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP through the Anthony Robbins Unlimited Power tapes. At that time, I found that NLP to be a communication technique as an excellent device for manipulation and control over others. When offeredConversations Bandler - NLP the opportunity to review Conversations with Richard Bandler, who is co-founder of NLP, I welcomed it as a chance to revisit this perspective of human development to see whether my original skepticism was justified.

Owen Fitzpatrick, a student, mentee, and friend of Richard Bandler recorded a series of conversations that he conducted with Bandler over several years. The book as a result is not an introduction to the techniques of NLP, but rather a book that celebrates Bandler’s ideas and perspective about self-development.

For those who are uninitiated into the world of NLP, Fitzpatrick provides a description.

NLP studies the way we represent our experience through our neurology (neuro), how we communicate with ourselves and others (linguistic)  and how we can change our habitual ways of thinking, communicating and behaving (programming). … NLP is described as an “attitude,” “methodology,” and “technology.” It is an attitude that enables you to live life in a happy, productive, and successful way. It is a methodology that enables you to usefully model successful people in different areas, such as education, medicine and business. It is based on the principle that no matter what someone else can do, you can learn how to do the same thing once you understand what that person did in the way they thought as well as in action or behavior. It is a technology that contains within it systems and skills that enable you improve the quality of your life.

The book provides anecdotal illustrations of this approach to human development. It is written for people who already are practitioners and fans of Richard Bandler and NLP. It does not take a critical nor introductory approach to the methodology.  As a result, I found it less that helpful in providing a perspective of NLP that addressed my original skepticism.

The fundamental psychological assumptions that are the basis of the NLP philosophy I don't believe are credible. Their conception of personal freedom and the "chains of freedom" is confusing.

Personal freedom is the ability to feel what you want so that the "chains of the free" - of fear, sadness, and hate - are broken. Real personal freedom is about being able to go through and break as many of these chains as you possibly can. These chains are made up of negative feelings, limiting beliefs, and destructive behaviors. It's about being able to build the kinds of internal states that take people to good places through curiosity.

To be free you have to be moral, because then you won't have dilemmas about what's good and bad. If you are doing the right thing for the right reason, then every part of you will line up and do it perfectly.

Over simplifying emotions as either good or bad provides a false resolution to the link between our emotions and the outside world. A false dichotomy between good and bad emotions sets up a binary trap for those seeking to implement NLP in their lives.  Any emotion, regardless of whether labeled good or bad, can affirm and enhance the quality of our lives. The task is not to label them, but to interpret them in the situational context.

For example, sadness is considered a "chain of freedom." In other words, sadness is a bad emotion that inhibits our freedom. Is sadness the opposite of happiness, or is it a depth of emotion that affirms some good within us?

Sadness is a natural and often an affirming emotion. When we feel sad at the loss of a loved one, that feeling of sadness is not a bad emotion as it can affirm their contribution and place in our lives. Thirty one years and two days ago, I lost my mother. On the anniversary of her death, I feel more acutely her passing, and the loss of her relationship and the opportunity for her to know her children's spouses and her grandchildren. Because I feel sadness in her absence, I am closer to her because her memory lives on in me. The experience of sadness is an important part of the grieving process and I'm freer to love her because of my sadness links me closer to the reality of what I and my family have missed in her not being with us.

The underlying philosophy of freedom, as described in the book, reduces freedom to a psychological state. 

Freedom from these chains really comes from intelligence. Real freedom is not based on a personal inventory. It is based on bathing your neurology in other chemistry. Freedom is not about following rigid ideas. It is about going into a state where you find your own personal destiny. It is about having flexibility in your behavior, not rigidity. It is your ability to change your own internal state.

NLP is a way of thinking that places the self at odds with social obligation. Freedom is being released from rules that inhibit the self. The self lives by it own self-appointed rules. As a result, our personal freedom is at odds with our relationship to others and to society as a whole. In effect, NLP's conception of personal freedom is prescription for interpersonal conflict and social decline. This is what I concluded from Tony Robbins description of NLP. I don't believe this is their belief. I do believe this is logical outcome of a quest for personal freedom being at the center of life.

Fortunately, people do live by social rules and desire to fulfill the expectations of their social relationships. Those rules are the source of our freedom. They provide us values that establish a basis for relationships within a social environment. As a result, there is no self-development distinct from our development as social beings. The measure of our personal freedom is not what we feel inside, but how we live. It is not what society does for us, but rather what we give to society that is the measure of our freedom. 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming is described as a technology. Technologies are tools. It is the purpose and application of the tool that matters. My skepticism has not changed toward this approach to human communication. I find its philosophical foundation lacking a sound basis in human experience.

Practitioners and followers of NLP and Richard Bandler will find Conversations with Richard Bandler a reminder of Bandler's thought and contribution to NLP. However, those who are looking for an introduction to the techniques of NLP will need to look elsewhere. And for those of us who are open skeptics, the book lacks the critical perspective needed to provide a clear and compelling case for NLP.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership - A Leading Questions review

Almost twenty years ago, the conventional wisdom about organizational leadership Adaptive Leadership - Heifetz began to change. Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline was the first to acquaint me with the ideas of systems theory. Then Stuart Kaufman's At Home In the Universe came along to introduce me to the ideas of self-organization and complexity, followed by Margaret Wheatley's Leadership and The New Science. Since then, there have been many, many more writers that have come along to explore the nature of leadership from the vantage point of science.

My problem, and I'm sure this is true for many people, was the lack of background in quantum physics and evolutionary biology. As a result, applying these ideas was frustrating and discouraging.  Part of the problem was the conceptual difficulty of the ideas themselves, and the lack of a suitable organizational environment for them to take root.

The world has changed since this new world of leadership science began to be developed. Today, these ideas are finding greater receptivity as their application becomes more refined and real tools and guides are developed.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World is an important and welcomed addition to the growing body of thought on adaptive change in organizations.  The authors are Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard's Kennedy School colleagues and co-founders of Cambridge Leadership Associates, and Alexander Grashow, CLA's Managing Director. Heifetz is the author of Leadership Without Easy Answers and co-author with Linsky of Leadership on the Line They bring not only a first class understanding the theoretical understanding of leadership, but a real world perspective of having worked with leaders from around the world.  Since I first became acquainted with Heifetz's perspective in the early 1990's, I have found their perspective on leadership uniquely insightful.

The value of this book is its practicality. It is a guide book for how to be an adaptive leader.

This book is about possibility. Not daydreaming, wishful-thinking possibility, but rather a roll-up-your-sleeves, optimistic, realistic, courage-generating, and make-significant -progress kind of possibility. Leadership for change demands inspiration and perspiration.

The core focus is on learning to be an adaptive leader, with adaptation being the key idea. Here is their basic understanding of the adaptive nature of leadership.

Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. The concept of thriving is drawn from evolutionary biology, in which a successful adaptation has three characteristics: (1) it preserves the DNA essential for the species' continued survival; (2) it discards (reregulates or rearranges) the DNA that no longer serves the species' current needs; and (3) it creates DNA arrangements that give the species' the ability to flourish in new ways and in more challenging environments. Successful adaptations enable a living system to take the best from its history into its future.

For the authors, evolutionary biology is an analogy for how we function as leaders. Not to over simplify, but from this perspective leaders are change agents who practice the art of preservation and change. Leader is not a title or a role, but rather how one approaches ones relationships, decisions and activities.

Recently, I completed a two year long project with a client whose constituency was so focused on the past that you could consider them a museum. Over those months of work, they began to see how the values of the past could be actively lived out in the future with vitality and growth. The above quote describes what took place over those months.

The authors provide six ways to understand how being an adaptive leader makes a difference.

  • Adaptive leadership is specifically about change that enables the capacity to thrive.
  • Successful adaptive changes build on the past rather than jettison it.
  • Organizational adaptation occurs through experimentation.
  • Adaptation relies on diversity.
  • New adaptations significantly displace, reregulate, and rearrange some old DNA.
  • Adaptation takes time.

Even though this book is a guide to how to be an adaptive leader, it should not be read as simply a book of tactics. It builds upon a systems view of human interaction and organizational life. They provide a basic understanding of systems thinking in order to fully benefit from their practical wisdom.

There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way. In that sense, on the whole, on balance, the system is working fine, even though it may appear to be "dysfunctional" in some respects to some members and outside observers, and even though it faces danger just over the horizon.

If, then, you are in an organization that some people think it is broken, and others do not, as the person in authority, what is your job? Do you treat the critics as an annoyance and do everything possible to run them off to preserve peace and tranquility? Or is your job to look at the big picture and realize that there may be some truth in their criticism. To take this view means that you potentially become disliked by everyone because the steps you take as an adaptive leader please neither side.

To approach leading from this perspective requires a different view of the role of leader. The old paradigm held that there are a few leaders and the rest followers in an organization. The new paradigm is much different.

People have long confused the notion of leadership with authority, power, and influence. We find it extremely useful to see leadership as a practice, an activity that some people do some of the time. We view leadership as a verb, not a job. Authority, power, and influence are critical tools, but they do not define leadership.

It is important to understand the implications of this perspective. As a leader, you are not a place holder on the organizational chart, or some gatekeeper who believes that all decisions must come through you as the authority figure.

Exercising adaptive leadership is dangerous. ... The dangers reside in the need to challenge the expectations of the very people who give you formal and informal authority.

From my personal experience, what they say is true. To be a change agent, to create change, especially when you are unsure how it will be received, is one of the hardest aspects of leading. Yet, it is what secures the impact of we desire.

Leaders are change agents. My own perspective is: Leaders take personal initiative Change Tolerance - simple to create impact with ideas, through relationships and in organizational structures. A person's tolerance for change factors into how well they can be an adaptive leader. This diagram illustrates the various levels of tolerance of change that people have.  There are those people who are change-phobic, who resist change at all costs. There are those who embrace change to such a degree that there is no continuity established that allows for strength to be built and sustained. As a result, I find that people who are impact leaders have a change tolerance ranging from receptive to active initiation. It is never change for change sake, but rather, change that serves a higher purpose. This is why I too see leadership as a behavior that arises in the initiative of the individual regardless of what role they have in an organization.

I highly recommend The Practiced of Adaptive Leadership. Master the lessons that Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky provide us, and you'll begin to make a difference which encourages others to join you in leadership. I also recommend that you pair this book with Seth Godin's Tribes. Two very practical books on leadership, though very different, that provide an excellent grounding in the new paradigm of 21st century leadership.  I will carry both in my bag to use as reference in my own leadership opportunities.

Moving to Higher Ground - by Wynton Marsalis - a Leading Questions review

I've been a fan of Wynton Marsalis since the days he played with Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. Higher Ground - MarsalisHis seven CD set, Live at the Village Vanguard, is one of best jazz albums of the past 25 years. It was with great excitement when I saw that he had published a book on the relation of jazz to life.

Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life is a classic statement of Wynton's philosophy that can be seen all the things he does. It is a book that provides a rationale for why jazz is both an important American art form, but also a way of looking at life that can bring strength and goodness to people, their families and friends, and their communities.

He starts by telling about Danny Barker, a New Orleans musician who led the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band . The band was formed to provide a way to keep kids off the streets. Here's what Wynton says about Barker's influence on him.

There we met an old man whom I presumed to be Mr. Barker. He was a colorful character, full of fire and stories well told. He loved New Orleans music and he loved kids. That day, he taught us the most profound lesson about playing jazz - and the possibility of a life of self-expression and mutual respect - that I've ever encountered.

... The clarinet players squeaked and squawked. Mr. Barker listened. Then he said, "Everything you do, you got to do with personality. Scoop and bend and slide those notes." They tried to do that.

Mr. Barker said, "That's jazz! Now let's hear clarinets and trumpets on the melody. But when y'all play together, you got to talk to one another . ...

So he was hearing something in us way back then. And he was teaching us something, too: You are creative, whoever you are. Respect your own creativity and respect the creativity and creative space of other people.

That's the book in a nutshell,and it is a powerful message in a time where conflict and division are found in every sphere of life.

One of the hallmarks of the jazz art is the ability of musicians to improvise. It is a way to be creative with what the situation brings you. He describes the musicians that came to his house as a child, men who were friends of his family, a noted New Orleans musician and teacher.

It seemed to me that all of these people knew one another or at least had some type of connection. For all their hard, profane talk, there was an unusual type of gentleness in the way they treated one another. Always a hug upon greeting and - from even the most venerated musicians - sometimes a kiss on the cheek. A natural ease with those teetering on the edge of sanity. A way of admonishing but not alienating those who might have drug problems. Always the feeling that things in our country, in our culture, in our souls, in the world, would get better.  And beyond that, the feeling that this mysterious music would someday help people see how things fit together: segregation and integration, men and women, the political process, even the stock market.

That's why these were still confident, optimistic men. Even though they were broke and misunderstood , sometimes difficult of personality, sometimes impaired by a too intense encounter with mind-altering substances and trapped in a culture that was rapidly moving away from professional levels of musicianship, romantic expression, and the arts in general, they still believed in the value of this jazz they played and still understood that their job was inventing music - and making sense of it with one another.

They improvised.

Now, the ability to improvise - to make up things that could get you out of a tight spot - well, everyone needed to know how to do that, even if it was just coming up with the right words at the right time. I thought there must be something to this improvised music. I needed to learn more about it. And hanging around jazz musicians was a great education for a nine- or ten-year-old because they told great stories and they knew how to listen. That was their way, talking and listening, listening and talking.

What I hear in this description of his childhood is a way for people to relate to one another in an open, respectful way. Creativity, improvisation and human community is a process of listening, sharing, adapting and making something happen that elevates life.

I've been a lover of jazz since the early 70's. I found in it a life that was missing in other music. It was the experience of seeing musicians communicating on the bandstand that most impressed me. I was fortunate to see the Modern Jazz Quartet during their last tour. Each transition in their songs seemed to come effortlessly and without words being shared. The music that each of these men played was a conversation shared between them. They knew what the others were saying, and I was in awe of that level of connection.

Wynton helps us understand jazz and what it is like to play it. It isn't a dry, academic text, but rather a story told by one of the top jazz artists of our time. He writes about the language of jazz, which I find fascinating, on the importance of the blues to the music and to life, and he tells stories about some of the jazz greats of the past.

Here's what he says about some of them.

Louis Armstrong

... the deepest human feeling and the highest musical sophistication.

... a celebration of the freedom to be yourself. He always knew and loved himself. He embraced the things he was most proud of, like his artistry ...
Louis Armstrong never tried to be someone else. His playing is free of artifice. It's pure substance. ...

Louis Armstrong's sound has the power to heal. His playing is wisdom and forgiveness. ... That feeling's in all of Louis Armstrong's music, that warmth and familiarity and the feeling that whatever you say, he will understand it - and he will understand it from your point of view.

John Coltrane

'Trane is perseverance. His development demonstrates the unquestionable value of hard work and dogged persistence.

The fourth movement of the quartet's masterpiece, A Love Supreme, is a written prayer ... "He breathes through us so gently and yet so completely, " that to me, sums up what Coltrane was all about. He was a preacher, an exhorter. He wants to convert you through his horn. But for all his fire, he is never frantic, never rushing; he is always relaxed and certain. Something in his sound touches us with its depth and compassion, its sheer beauty - a loftiness. It's irresistible. He is so earnest you want to cry.
People love Coltrane.

'Trane went out, far out into interstellar space. His discoveries were very personal. His music became pure energy. Many of his discoveries got lost in an abstract cosmos of expression and never found their way home. But Coltrane himself is remembered as a master saxophonist, a genius at integrating the music of other cultures, a hyper-harmonically-sophisticated bluesman and an earnest spiritual seeker. He was all those things and more.

Thelonius Monk

... had the sound of the church in his playing, and he had the spiritual inevitability that comes only to somebody who knows the depth of human soul. It made him at once wise and childlike, a rare combination in a full-grown man. Children don't usually sort through things to remove the painful truth. Monk gave you that kind of cut-to-the-bone honesty with the oversight of the genius.

He had another kind of virtuosity: getting notes to bend and creak and moan. His style was neither old-fashioned nor modern.

... he looked at things - from the opposite side.
Somebody would ask him, "What's happening, Monk?"
"Everything is happening all the time, man."

Wynton also writes about Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Holiday and Miles Davis, among others. Frequently, on his radio show, In the Swing Seat, on Sirius/XM radio, he talks about these shapers of the jazz art form. Part of his his greatest is his love and respect for these artists who came before him.

Wynton ends his book with an exploration for That Thing with No Name - human creativity.

The creativity of our fellow citizens is all around us - in their dress, language, lifestyle, in so many combinations of things. You don't have to earn your creativity - you're born with it. All you have to do is tend to it and unleash it. Every human being on earth is given the gift to create, and that creativity manifests itself in trillions of ways.There are no laws or rules. Creativity is unruly. Like a dream - you can't control what comes to you. You only control what portion you choose to tell.

This is the message of jazz to us average folk. We have something within us to share, create, and bring goodness to the world. You don't have to be a superstar performer to do this.

In the simplest and most essential context, creativity and innovation reiterate the importance of soul. They are, separately and together, an expansion of feeling and a supreme expression of our humanity. We have an artistic imperative to understand and reengage creativity and innovation, not merely as tools for economic growth but as tools for democracy and accomplished citizenship. We have a culture imperative to find common ground with even our firercest competitors ... and to play with integrity.

It is this larger perspective, not just the quality of his music, that makes Wynton Marsalis one of the great human beings of our time. He has received a lot of criticism for his outspoken celebration of the tradition of jazz. Without him, our world would be greatly empoverished culturally.  He spends a lot of time helping children and young people learn to find their creative expression through jazz.

Moving to a Higher Ground
is a manifesto about the importance of jazz to our world today. As a long time jazz listener, I very much agree, and celebrate this fine book.  Just to complete this little tribute to him, here's a brief video of Wynton at the Harriet Tubman Charter School playing Buddy Bolden's Blues.

The Blue Sweater - by Jacqueline Novogratz - A Leading Questions review

Our perception of things when we lack physical proximity is often determined by the media we consume. When we come face-to-face with the reality that our perceptions are wrong, and possibly destructive, we need to change the way we think, and what we expect. This truth I believe is at work in our American perceptions of Africa.

Blue Sweater

For many people in my generation (over 50 years old) our perception of Africa was first formed by watching Tarzan movies that were produced during the 1930s and 1940s. The notion of the noble savage became a staple of Western perception. Africa was a land of romance and adventure and Western colonialism. Today, our perception is far more determined by news accounts of war, poverty, famine and genocide.  The one counter to this perception, at least for me, has come from hearing stories and having interaction with missionaries and African citizens who talk about their work and lives there. It is still a place of romance and adventure, but now, creating a place of hope and health with self-determination is the focus. 

It is from this perception that I came to Jacqueline Novogratz's fascinating book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected world. Novogratz is the founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund. Her book is both a memoir and a manifesto. It should be read by everyone who has any sense of connection to places on our planet where people lack the opportunities that you and I take for granted everyday.

She begins her story this way.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took mine and fell flat of my face. As a young woman, I dreamed of changing the world. In my twenties, I went to Africa to try and save the continent, only to learn that Africans neither wanted nor needed saving. Indeed, when I was there, I saw some of the worst that good intentions, traditional charity, and aid can produce: failed programs that left people in the same or worse conditions. The devastating impact of the Rwandan genocide on a people I'd come to love shrank my dreams even further. I concluded that if I could only nudge the world a little bit, maybe that would be enough.

But nudging isn't enough. The gap between rich and poor is widening across the world, creating a dire situation that is neither socially just nor economically sustainable. Moreover, my work in Africa also taught me about the extraordinary resilience of people for whom poverty is a reality not because they don't work hard, but because there are too many obstacles in their way.

The Blue Sweater is a book of stories. To tell you one is to possibly miss the importance of the flow of ideas and impressions that build a perception about how to address poverty in the world. She writes early on her experience in Africa,

I finally understood: In order to contribute to Africa, I would have to know myself better and be clearer about my goals. I would have to be ready to take Africa on its own terms, not mine, and to learn my limits and present myself not as a do-gooder with a big heart, but as someone with something to give and gain by being there. Compassion wasn't enough.

I think that was the moment when humility in its truest form - rather than an easy but false humbleness - began to creep in. Until then, I'd been too vested in knowing the answers and in being right. For the first time in my life, being right had nothing to do with being successful or effective. I also began to be more honest about what was happening around me - I couldn't stand all talk without action, and too many expatriates and elite Africans seemed to revel in it. I wanted to work directly with poor women themselves.

The Blue Sweater is the story of her growing into this person. The stories are vivid and engaging. We understand because she is an excellent story teller. And she understands that her own transformation is part of the story, and can become our story.

Jaqueline Novogratz's story is also about the kind of leadership that is needed now in our time.

After more than 20 years of working in African, India, and Pakistan, I've learned that solutions to poverty must be driven by discipline, accountability, and market strength, not easy sentimentality. I've learned that many of the answers to poverty lie in the space between the market and charity and that what is needed most of all is moral leadership willing to build solutions from the perspectives of poor people themselves rather than imposing grand theories and plans upon them.

This is true for all people working in all organizations. Big ideas that are impractical and are not shared by the people who implement them are doomed to failure. Rather, what is needed is leadership that understands how to facilitate the process of idea creation within the context of relationship building. Only from this foundation can the appropriate organizational structures be created to facilitate their success. This is what Acumen and other groups are now doing in Africa and other parts of the world.

The organization that Jacqueline Novogratz created is the Acumen Fund. Here's a brief description of their mission.

Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches.

They call this "patient capital." It is so because it is built around quarterly reports, but the sustainability of small centers of commerce and change.

The Blue Sweater is a book about leadership, the kind that is needed today, and what will be known as 21st century leadership in the future.

The entrepreneurs who will help us create the future for all people are individuals who exist in every country on earth. ... They are the ones who see a problem and don't stop working on it until it is solved. They refuse petty ideologies and reject trite assumptions.They balance their passion for change with an ability to get things done. Mostly, they believe fundamentally in the inherent capacity of every human being to contribute.

At the same time, today's most effective leaders have a pragmatic bottom-line orientation that results in focusing on measuring what they accomplish, building institutions that can sustain themselves long after their founders are gone.  They world will not change with inspiration alone; rather it requires systems, accountability, and clear measures of what works and what doesn't. Our most effective leaders, therefore, will strengthen their knowledge of how to build organizations while also having the vision and heart to help people imagine that change is possible in their lives.

Jacqueline Novogratz's story is one of perceptions. What we perceive becomes our reality. What is your perception? Are you open to having it challenged and radically altered? I hope so because if you let yourself be open to a different perception about charity, poverty, Africa, Asia and leadership, you may find your own life deeply enriched and impacted by her story. I highly encourage each of you to read her book and begin to imagine what you can do to encourage this kind of development.

Finally, here is Jacqueline speaking at the TED conference in 2007. It will give you a flavor for what you'll find in the book.