Music is the River, but the Shore Keeps Moving…..

Recording at Home - 2019

jeffjuit / Pixabay

I have been casting about for a long time for someplace to focus my creative energies away from day-to-day and toward an endeavor that feeds my soul. I have tried a few different ones over the years, including some obvious ones, like:

  • reading
  • writing
  • movies
  • creating jewelry
  • drawing
What I found out about each of these is:

  • I love reading, but it’s not really creative on my part, and I don’t have the visual stamina (my eyes tire easily…) to crank into the volume of reading I aspire to.
  • While I like writing well enough, it isn’t enough of a compulsion for me to call it a true creative outlet.
  • Movies are fun, but, again, not really creative on my part.
  • Creating jewelry has been pretty fun for over 20 years now, but I do it only a couple of times a year. Again, the drive / compulsion to create in that medium isn’t there to enough of a degree for me.
  • Drawing….kind of fun, but basically I really suck, so not so much fun as it should be…
This leaves what should have been an obvious choice for me: music.

Although my parents didn’t play instruments, I grew up in a household that had music playing nearly all the time, and in which I was encouraged to play and explore. I started baritone horn lessons in fifth grade (our school district had the band directors giving weekly private lessons to every band student throughout the school year, which was a HUGE advantage…) and had decided that I wanted to be a musician by the time I was high school junior. I composed my first piece of music for a small jazz group at that time (it is entitled “Clams“, a nickname for a missed note when you play….seemed appropriate!), and haven’t really stopped composing in one form or another, ever since.

…However, the technology, broadly defined, has rocketed along. My early days as a composer / keyboardist had me using a Wurlitzer electric piano enhanced with a phase shifter, ring modulator and wah-wah pedal, recording to cassette recorder via a single microphone. Today’s default for a lot of composing is a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of some kind, a controller (maybe…) and a lot of computer-focused work. This isn’t necessarily  a bad thing, but the shift from analog to digital changes a lot of concepts in approaching composition, and I have other ‘legacy’ equipment (synthesizers, sound modules, sequencers and the like) that I hate to leave in the box, as I feel there is a lot to be gained by incorporating them all into the compositional mix, and the sounds are more authentic to what I hear in my head than many of the virtual sound modules I hear….also, the sounds that I hear reflect the talents of the numerous monster players I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of playing with over the years, and no virtual module can model them. It is a dilemma….

Nonetheless, I am excited to dig into the new stuff, incorporate the older stuff, and see what I can come up with. It is nice not to have a driving timeline to be pushed by, other than my internal desire to get what I hear in my head out into the world in a  way that sounds more and more like what I’m hearing. As I remarked to someone yesterday, I was able to create a short tune last week that that sounded only moderately spastic instead of remarkably bad, which is progress!

This part of the journey is proving to be more fun and a bigger challenge than I was expecting, which calls me further into the journey.

Yeah, this is what I have been looking for…

Not the neighbor I was expecting….

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

Just before Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he was asked “Who is my neighbor?” The reason this question arose was because that same person had asked Jesus a question about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The man answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him that he’d answered correctly and encouraged him to “do this, and you will live.” Then came the “clarifying question” about the identity of his neighbor and the parable followed.

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A Starting Point on Spiritual Direction

I am an explainer and a storyteller. What that can mean, as many who know me well can attest to, is that many times, when asked a question that I feel needs some context to understand, my answer can be long and seem convoluted (kind of like this sentence…). I’m not a bullet-point kind of guy (although I have gotten a little better at this over the years, to the relief of my family and friends…).

Why do I mention this? Well, I am a spiritual director (and have been for 13 years), and I want to frame the reasons why I have a hard time giving a succinct answer to the question, “What is spiritual direction?” I would like to share a few quotes by authors and spiritual directors that provide a starting point for understanding / dialogue:
“The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a person’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which one presents to the world, and to bring out one’s inner spiritual freedom, one’s inmost truth, which is what [Christians] call the likeness of Christ in one’s soul.  This is an entirely supernatural (spiritual) thing, for the work of rescuing the inner person from automatism belongs first of all to the Holy Spirit.”
“Spiritual direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director — the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul.” – Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, USA (both quotes)
“We define Christian spiritual direction as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.” – William A. Barry, SJ and William J. Connolly, SJ, Center for Religious Development, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
“The greatest teacher is silence. To come out of interior silence and to practice its radiance, its love, its concern for others, its submission to God’s will, its trust in God even in tragic situations is the fruit of living from your inmost center, from the contemplative space within. The signs of coming from this space are a peace that is rarely upset by events, other people and our reactions to them, and a calm that is a stabilizing force in whatever environment you may be in. God gives us everything we need to be happy in the present moment, no matter what the evidence to the contrary may be. A good spiritual director helps us to sustain that trust.” – Father Thomas Keating
A little over 2 years ago, I was approached by my pastor and our Synod to consider being trained as a Discipleship Coach (a program that is also referred to as From Promise to Practice or FP2P). Being unsure what this was, I asked for and received some clarification from several parties. This was helpful, as my first default visualization of the word “coach” was a picture of the famous football coach Vince Lombardi going after one of his players.

Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi

 Needless to say, that was unnerving. Certainly not my idea of my own or any else’s journey as a follower of Christ! Fortunately, I was completely wrong in that visualization, for which I am thankful.

While there are a few differences between spiritual direction and discipleship coaching, the role and call are really the same:
  • The role of the directee or person being coached is first of all to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life, calling you to a deeper, closer relationship with God, but desiring someone to “walk with you” and help you to pay attention to what God is doing
  • The role of the director (I prefer spiritual companion or friend) or coach is to be that person. It is a calling and a ministry.
From a more Lutheran perspective, consider the baptismal covenant for what the life of a disciple looks like:

Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
                to live among God’s faithful people,
                to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
                to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
                to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
                and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth? (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 236)
RESPONSE:  We (I) do, and ask God to help and guide us (me).

We know that baptism is not a “one and done” thing. It shapes who we are every moment, as there is no moment when we are not held and helped by God. This world, however, is constantly a-swirl and confronts us with confusing and conflicting messages and scenarios. Remaining mindful of God’s Presence, aiming to be intentional in our relationships and actions, is a real challenge. Discerning what our next move is, how to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly every day and not feel like we’re completely lost (or even just neutral…) is hard.

There can come a time when it would be just plain helpful to have someone we could get together with pretty regularly and be able to go over what’s going on your life. Spiritual direction, or discipleship coaching, is NOT counseling or therapy. In spiritual direction, the relationship is about the person “in direction” and God, and how that’s going. The director is there to “notice” and accompany that person along the way, being helpful and aware of what God is doing, especially if the person is kind of in the middle of it all and is trying to make sense of it. This is NOT a hierarchical relationship (God is in control, not the director!)!

One last thing to mention: this is NOT a new thing. While the most popular example of guidelines given for spiritual direction are the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (written around 1524), the descriptions of Jesus serving as a mentor to his disciples, Paul mentoring Timothy and Titus, and John Cassian (4th century) providing some of the earliest direction guidelines show a long history of this ministry and role in the church. It has been more visible in the past 50 years as Christians have become more and more attuned to their desire to deepen their relationship with God and the Spirit has responded through the church by drawing more and more people into this ministry and role.

Spiritual direction, among many, many other topics, is an area of interest for me and I intend to share how this has changed my way of being and what my ongoing experiences are like. Thanks for sharing this with me.

There are some CHANGES you should know about….


CHANGE – And Now For Something Different

Change signifies life and the movement through time we all take part in. The dual focus I have taken within this blog has been about things I have a long-time and deep abiding interest in AND the phenomenon we loosely and broadly call “social media” and the business and more human aspects of it.

As of this past few weeks my more business-focused writing will take place on the blog that is part of my new Social Sapiens site. Some of those will be cross-posted here (and vice versa…) as they have aspects of my passion for being human online or how what happens online impacts us in real life. I intend to continue to write for this blog in broader areas that include many of the things I’ve written about before, but that business owners and entrepreneurs may or may not find as directly pertinent to their bottom lines (although my hope is that the work published here will be valuable and thought-provoking to whomever takes the time to read and consider it…).

Please join me on my other blog soon, and keep your eye here for more articles too!


FOCUS: Of Course You’re Reliable! RIGHT??

Are you Reliable?

Are you Reliable?

The far end of reliability is taking things for granted, right?

You hop in your car, perform some kind of ignition action, and you just EXPECT the car to start up so you can go do what you need to do. You head into the barbershop or salon you’ve been frequenting for awhile, sit down for some kind of hair-related operation (maybe with the same barber or stylist you’ve been seeing the whole time…) and EXPECT to look a certain way when you leave. You flip a light switch in your living room and you EXPECT a light of some sort to go on.

It’s when you perform these actions and what you expected DOESN’T happen that you become intensely aware of reliability.

Each of these examples involves an inanimate object, but the same expectations and certainty are what define reliability in relationships as you build trust. In his book on trust, Charles Feltman defines reliability as “the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.” You make commitments in two ways: in response to someone else’s request (or, if they’re higher up the food chain than you are, it might be a direction or command…) OR by making an offer to someone. When the other persons accepts your offer they usually consider it a commitment on your part.

Requests can be the problem. Crystal clear communication is crucial here, because if you don’t have all the information you need AND you walk away with the request, the requester will assume you’ve committed to do exactly what they asked…..only you won’t be clear on the specifics, so you chances of success are, shall we say, variable. Sadly, many requests are the only-slightly-less-generic version “go do stuff with that thing and get back to me whenever…”

Feltman writes that you can increase real reliability through what he calls The Cycle of Commitment – basic elements that make for clear, complete, and direct requests:

  • CUSTOMER – Who’s doing the asking here? Who’s the request actually FOR? Never assume anything that looks obvious, here. When someone says something like, “We need to do some research on this” you desperately need to know who the research is for, so you can get to specific expectations about the research and also know to whom you go for further clarification or if you have concerns.
  • PERFORMER – Who’s going to do the work? Is it you? Are you qualified? Do you have the resources (time, talent, funds…) to fulfill the request? Is that clear to you AND to the requester?
  • ACTION – Just what EXACTLY does the customer want you to do? Can you actually do it? What measurements for the action or deliverables will be the outcomes of this action?
  • TIMEFRAME – When does the customer want it to be completed….Oh, and ASAP is not at all helpful.  Get a solid date, since ASAP may mean by the end of the week to you and by the end of the day to the customer.
Make sure you have complete clarity on each of these elements and your chance at success AND demonstrated reliability are significantly enhanced.

So, that’s what it looks like when others are making requests of you, but how can you help others by making your requests more effective?

Be Direct. Direct requests have a much better chance of clarity than indirect requests. Many people often “soften” their requests (making them indirect in a way…) because they feel that direct requests are impolite in some way. Granted, different cultures have different standards and mores surrounding the acceptable kinds of language used in making direct requests, so you need to be aware of that factor, however, what appears to work best in what I will call “typical” European and North American cultures, what seems to work best include the phrases:
  • I ask that you…
  • I request
  • Will you (please)…
  • (Please) do this….
 Less direct request, which are less clear and therefore less direct, include the phrases:
  • I want or I need…
  • Why don’t you…
  • …needs to be done.
 None of these is a real request, but most understand the intention.

Ridiculously indirect requests, which are usually not even perceived as requests, can include phrases like:
  • My coffee cup is empty. (Secret request: Get me more coffee.)
  • The conference room is a disaster. (Secret request: Clean up the conference room.)
  • It’s almost eleven o’clock. (Secret request: Get me the printed slides for the 11:00 team meeting.)
See how helpful being very indirect ISN’T?!

Of course, how you respond to a request is just as important as getting the request right if you’re demonstrating reliability. Once the Customer makes the request, the Performer (you, in this case…) need to respond. Here are the possible responses:

  • COMMIT – “Yes, I’ll do it.” To them this means, “I will do exactly what you’ve asked me to do. Here is where real clarity about the request is critical. If the request is vague or missing information, it is up to you to ask for it.
  • DECLINE – “No, I can’t (or won’t) do it.” This let’s the customer that you aren’t available to do whatever she’s requesting…..she needs to find a different resource. Sadly, in the workplace, many times “No” isn’t an option….however, saying “Yes” is truly setting yourself up for failure, so consider how “No” could be framed.
  • COUNTEROFFER – “I can’t do that, but instead I can do…” This is one way “No” in the workplace could be framed. Create something that MIGHT work. A counteroffer opens a negotiation scenario between you and the customer. This should end in either a commitment or a declination. Leaving things hanging in midair is the same as failure.
  • COMMIT-TO-COMMIT – “I need to check on something (resources, time, etc.) before I can get you an answer. I’ll get back to you by…” You might need more information. Regardless of the reason, be sure to designate a time at which they WILL get a firm answer.
Lastly, there’s the old favorite, the Drive-By Request. Seen mostly in offices, this type of request is the most easily tossed-off and the most likely to fail.

I remember vividly chasing my manager down the hall pleading for more information and clarification as she receded into a conference room and shut the door. As many of these requests are, it was a “short-fuse” request and I could either wait for her to return to her office AND lose precious time, or get hot on the request and HOPE that I hit at least SOME of the actual target. I usually did the latter and paid for it painfully. So, You can live with the stress of unclear deliverables or the stress of waiting for clarification so that success will be more likely. If possible, get together with this customer and go over the Cycle of Commitment with her…..for example, ask her not to assume “Yes” to a Drive-By request. Instead, she should give you a chance to respond to the request and get all the particulars. Everyone involved is much more likely to be happy with the result.

So here are some ways build your reputation of reliability:

  • Make sure you can actually do what is asked of you BEFORE you respond to a request.
  • If the request is unclear, ask for clarification and any missing bits of information.
  • If you are offering to do something, be sure they understand what you CAN and CANNOT do.
  • Listen to people to determine if they are making EXTREMELY indirect requests of you. Are they just talking, or are they creating a framework of expectations that are clear to them and vague to you? Decide which it is, and respond.
Reliability is more than just consistency. I know people who consistently make questionable choices…..that’s not the kind of reliable I’m looking for!

FOCUS: If You Read One Article About Sincerity, Read This One!


Charles Spurgeon and Sincerity

“Sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite.” – Charles Spurgeon.
Building and investing in relationships means building and investing in trust. In my last article, trust was defined as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” This holds true whether you working on building trust in yourself with others, or assessing whether others (loved ones, strangers, pets, organizations, businesses, politicians, whomever…) are worth risking the corresponding valuable thing (feelings, safety, economic well-being, future of the country, etc.)

Sincerity is a key component to building trust.

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AUGUST SAMPLER: 5 Informative and Imaginative Posts For You!

The end of summer is upon us. These diverse articles will tickle your imagination and start you thinking about what your autumn online activities might be!

10 Social Media Myths

10 Social Media Myths

 Many times I must slip into “Mythbusters” Mode when speaking to groups about what’s real, what’s imaginary, and what’s merely perceived when it comes to social media. These 10 myths are not comprehensive, but they do cover many of the common misperceptions. If you have more questions, let me know!

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FOCUS: Are They Twist Ties or Trust Ties?


Trust is more than a High Five!

Building trust is vital and required.
If you aren’t found to be trustworthy, that pretty much puts the end to having the kind of impact you want to have, whether personally or in business. While the same goes for those around you, you are the only one that can work on your own trustworthiness.

This week I read another mind-provoking article by Valeria Maltoni entitled “What Do We Do About Trust?”.  This led me to get a copy of a book mentioned in the article, The Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feltman, which I devoured in a couple hours. If you have a couple of hours (plane trip, hot afternoon on the patio, etc.) I recommend this. It is relatively short, very well written and focused on the topic in a way that you can absorb and use.

I am utterly fascinated by all of the relationship, network, cognitive and behavioral topics that surround us as human beings in our society and how they influence and guide our businesses and personal lives. Whether psychological studies into why we act the ways we do as they apply and “infect” other areas of study (like Behavioral Economics…how this influences how we actually make choices, both as business owners and consumers, and being aware of the WHY of these actions), to the kinds of thought and work that can make your business more effective, including marketing, VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community) and content research/strategies, along with the kinds of cognitive bias that keep us from being as successful and happy (…frankly…) as we can be. Much like the world of physics crawling toward The Grand Unifying Theory of Everything (not to be confused with the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything…), I feel there are a lot of overlaps and supporting science and studies that lead to A Grand Unifying Theory of How We Actually Think and Get Along.

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GO DEEP: Strong & Weak Ties – Your Genuine Challenge?

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Once upon a time, there were “Strong Ties” and “Weak Ties” in business.

Strong Ties existed between you and your best customers. You interacted frequently and knew each other well. The bulk of your business was from and through these Strong Ties. It took some work. Maintaining them required a big investment of time and effort, but the benefits of business, the sharing of high-quality information, and the transfer of complex or “hidden” industry knowledge was well worth the effort.

Weak Ties were…well…weak. However, over time there was a declining ROI of time and effort in a network based on mostly Strong Ties. Weak Ties exposed you (and the Ties) to a broader span of knowledge, expertise and opportunity. Exposure to more diverse information and resources has been shown to drive higher rates of radical innovation, and be especially useful when you have a tough problem to crack.

How things stand today?
It’s complicated…
First, there are roughly 2 billion social media users in the world.

Billion…..with a B.

Second, according to McKinsey Global Institute, at least 70% of companies are using some form of social media. Online search and social media sites have increasingly become the primary, if not sole, source of information for individuals and businesses alike.  These have largely displaced traditional sources such as printed company literature, the Yellow Pages and business directories. Organizations no longer have control over what is disseminated about them. As one publication states, “most of what is said about the company will not be said by the company” (AT&T, 2011). In a recent global consumer survey by BrightLocal, 88% of respondents said that they place greater trust in other people’s online recommendations for products and services than in other sources. The significance of this is reflected in the growing popularity of consumer websites based almost entirely on personal reviews, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, and the dominant role of consumer reviews on leading e-commerce sites such as Amazon, eBay, and Facebook Business pages.

OK, so Weak Ties are becoming more important, Strong Ties are evolving, and you have a business to run. What does this mean that you do?

  • You need to develop new relationship-based associations with your customers and other social media participants (All Ties…), especially to build and maintain brand loyalty and to manage or at least influence what is being said about you online. Instead of just disseminating information about the organization and its products, you need to actively participate in the discussions on social media sites and develop other methods to engage Internet users. Most people deal with information overload when surfing the Web or visiting social media sites, so you need to design and implement content and initiatives that are interesting, entertaining or thought-provoking, to capture and hold their attention.
  • You will also be judged by the way in which you respond to online customer feedback, especially negative comments or complaints. Your reputation is on the line here, since everyone on the Internet can observe the interaction and judge accordingly. You need to develop and maintain not just a brand but an online personality which is likeable and well-respected and with which individuals can develop a real sense of familiarity and emotional connection. It is now often argued that ROI on marketing should now be measured not in traditional sales terms, but in terms of “return on engagement”. What is important is a measurement of engagement or emotional investment in the brand, such as active participation on the company website or favorable references to it in blog posts. These not only translate into longer-term individual loyalty but also help to attract additional followers who may become fans and customers.
  • Key in both the B2B and the B2C social media contexts is the ability to identify and build relationships with “key influencers” in the business network or target market. Jay Baer writes about this topic regularly with keen insight. This observation returns us neatly to the concept of social networks and the concept of weak and strong ties. In order to achieve the desired business objectives, there is a need to plumb the mass of online users and identify those likely to have the greatest impact. Within social networks, for example, there are usually key individuals or “trusted experts” who have established a strong reputation in their field. You need to make positive connections with a few key influencers who will transmit positive information about you. This is likely to be much more effective a strategy, and much less resource-intensive, than direct relationship-building with large numbers of people in the target market. Similarly, when a business partner or expert is needed, it can be invaluable to locate and build a relationship first with a “critical enabler” or “trusted advisor” who can offer not only detailed knowledge of the relevant industry niche and its participants, but who also knows the key decision makers personally and can help arrange an introduction or advise on the best approach to them. The old saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” applies.
  • Curtis & Lewis (2010) argue that in order to develop effective relationships with key enablers or other stakeholders, the principle of progressive reciprocity should be followed, in which something of value is offered to the other party at the outset, not just after an offer of help is secured. You might benefit from developing and maintaining strong ties with key influencers or critical enablers who are likely to provide ongoing value and benefits in return. At the same time, you should maintain a wider network of weak ties with other stakeholders who hold relevant knowledge, expertise or market influence. One strategy that is likely to be effective across the board is to establish the your company itself, or individuals within it, as trusted experts in a particular subject area, for example by publishing well-researched, informative articles or blog posts on relevant topics.
Business relationships in the early 21st century have become much less binary and much more fuzzy. Your opportunity here is to establish a bit of order out of the seeming chaos online, think differently about relationship-building and your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community), and realize the untapped potential for explosive business growth this presents to you.

Go on……we’re waiting to hear from you!

FOCUS: Introducing a Summer Reading Sampler!

Summer Reading

Ah….summer reading!

I frequent the Conversation Agent blog published by Valeria Maltoni regularly, and take away more food for thought than I get from any other blog. She recently posted an article containing a Summer reading list. Heading into the last full month of summer (although here in the Pacific Northwest it actually feels like the first full month, as the summer to date has been rather cool and moist….), I felt this was a great idea and opportunity to bring to light a number of works I have or am reading and the ways they have enhanced by thoughts and are enriching who I am and making my business more worthwhile.

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