We Grow Strong or We Grow Weak

Consider this from Katharine Butler Hathaway, “If you let fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”

The implication here is that fear of consequence is pretty normal; so having some, or maybe even a lot, isn’t that much of a big deal. The big deal is having a life that is safe, expedient, and thin. What the problem with this actually is remains hidden; so you are simply expected to intuit it, it seems. The rub is that you have little faith in your abilities and less faith in your basic grasp or understanding of situations or circumstances. Since you don’t believe that you can trust your judgment or instinct, you don’t take a chance on yourself. You likewise don’t have much faith in your ability to anticipate or predict the behavior of other people. Your belief is that you cannot predict if a specific action of yours will lead to good or bad outcomes. Usually, you think the likely outcome of following your judgment will be bad. You don’t trust yourself and feel that any errors or mistakes you might make will likely be just another example of your screwing up. Given that reality, a life that is safe, expedient, and thin sounds like a reasonable alternative. There is a potential glitch in going with the safe alternative, though. Brooke Foss Westcott described it this way, “Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.” Fortunately, Eleanor Roosevelt suggested another alternative that you may want to consider. “I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experiences behind him.”

Sure, conquering fear sounds good in theory; but it’s certainly easier said than done. As you weigh your choices, Glenn Turner’s point deserves your attention, “Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Ruth Gordon also joined the fear fighters, “Courage is like a muscle; it is strengthened by use;” and as you might have expected, the famous Anon. added a tidbit as well, “The mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.”

Since the Fear vs. Safe debate can’t be resolved here, another thought or two will be enough for now. Haddon W. Robinson said, “What worries you, masters you;” and Roger Babson said, “If things go wrong, don’t go with them.” There you go. Do what you need to do, when you need to do it; and while you’re at it, adopt the Charlie Brown philosophy for fear management, “I’ve developed a new philosophy … I only dread one day at a time.”

Now you know so there you go.

Real Writers Get With The Program

Real Writers Get With The Program

It would be very cool to be a real writer. I experience the creations of people who are and I usually can’t get enough. Once I get started, I can’t quit. They draw me in and there is no letting go until they turn me loose, satisfied and wondering how they do it. It’s amazing.

I suspect it’s a little like singing. I don’t know anyone who can’t sing. Even I can sing. The difference is somewhere between singing and being a real singer. There is a point in there where it isn’t just singing anymore. It’s music.

That’s the way it is with writing. It somehow moves past writing and becomes a novel or a poem or an article. It’s alive and out there, full of energy and meaning. It tugs at your heart. It causes a shiver down your back. It gets you to thinking thoughts you’ve never thought before. It makes you smile. It makes you frown. It gets you up–and–moving. It’s alive and has inserted itself into your world without so much as a please or thank you.

I certainly don’t want to mislead you. You may be getting the impression that I’ve merely been sitting around hoping and wishing. Nope. I’ve been hard at it. Well, maybe not as hard at it as a real writer but I’ve been clicking those computer keys for many years.

It’s not like I get up every morning and chain myself to the keyboard until I’ve produced a thousand words or even a dozen words. I am more of a potato chip kind of guy. That’s someone who nibbles now and then and occasionally stuffs down half a bag. In a good week, a lot of words flow into the computer and out of the printer but most weeks it’s not worth mentioning.

Real writers are dedicated to their craft. They are self–disciplined. They write an article a week or maybe one every day. They write a book a year and maybe two or three. I’m very serious when I tell you that I think that would be very cool.

It would be at least as cool as being a real singer or a real artist or a real whatever. There are those special people who are world–class at what they do. Writers are among my favorite examples of such perfection.

I have spent a lot of time and energy over the years practicing writing. I was told when I was young that practice makes perfect so I keep practicing. I keep working at it. I write and read and then I try it the other way around, I read and write.

Okay. You got me there. It’s the potato chip thing. I likely don’t write and read with enough self–discipline and consistent attention to the task at hand. I just keep on nibbling and occasionally wolfing down half a bag when I can’t resist the urge. I need to get with the program, equal amounts of writing and reading, every day. That’s the minimum commitment required to be a real writer.

What do you think? Is there any hope for those of us who can’t get with the program and if we do get with it for a while, we backslide? I got to thinking about this today when I was supposed to be writing or reading or doing something else that confirms how productive and self–disciplined I am. It’s not that I spend all of my time pondering these types of important questions. I do write now and then, between important thoughts and whatever else I find to do to avoid becoming a real writer. It’s just that I can’t quite find the key to the perfection they told me that practice would unlock.

What will it take to become a real writer? I don’t know yet but I keep thinking about it. As I pondered that today, I figured out that I have made it up to a million published words and still don’t know what it takes to be a real writer. Yep, that’s about a hundred articles and columns, a dozen or so books for adults and three for children, and even a few training manuals.

I write better today than I did when I started, way back then, a million words ago. Maybe by the time I get another million words on down this writing road, I’ll figure it out. Now that would be very very cool. Perhaps you will decide to join me in my journey. We can write a little, read a little, and maybe even stop to munch on a bag of chips as we think those important thoughts that are so interesting when we don’t quite find the self–discipline to get with the program.

Leave Foot Prints

“Stubbornness does have its helpful features. You always know what you are going to be thinking tomorrow.” — Glen Beaman

Stubbornness certainly has its up side. It’s like the famous Anon. said, “Most people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions.” While you are considering how relaxed you will be though, ponder Doug Floyd’s point, “You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.” The truth of the matter is that it can quickly get down right boring.

There is another snag that can seriously temp you to stick to the same ol’, same ol’. J. K. Galbraith described it this way, “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” Sure, thinking can be painful; but more to the point, it’s frequently hard work. As Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. ” If you were born tired and haven’t rested up yet, thinking probably just isn’t for you; but…. – and there’s always a “but.” This particular “but” was slipped in by Bertrand Russell who said, “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

If you are like many other folks, you may believe that you are doing fine and don’t need to bother hanging a question mark on anything. You may strongly feel that you are in good company and on the right road; but the famous Anon. had a bit of homespun wisdom worth a moment’s thought, “Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path;” and while you are on a roll with the famous Anon., don’t forget that, “Before you can break out of prison, you must first realize you’re locked up.”

Are you ready to make a break for it? If so, Dr. Seuss suggested the perfect strategy for you, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

If the notion of having your own thoughts and ideas causes you discomfort and anxiety, Tolkien had a helpful insight, “Not all those who wander are lost.” At the same time, John Locke had a further insight to help you make it through the transition to thinking for yourself, “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” People’s disagreeing does not mean you are wrong. It’s like the famous Anon. said, “One who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints;” and footprints of your own you will and should leave. As you leave your footprints along the road to thinking for yourself, Satchel Paige had what may be the only advice you need, “Ain’t no man can avoid being average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.”

Now you know so there you go.


Even a cursory review of leadership literature and what purports to be expert opinion forces a simple conclusion. There is low consensus around a single definition of leadership and similarly low agreement about the roles and responsibilities of leaders. Accept the observation as cautionary. The propositions here represent one perspective among many. Test their validity against your experience and expertise as you evaluate their merit and utility.

Proposition one:

“Organizations continuously transition from the present state to a future state. The leader’s role is to affect the transition so as to actualize the desired future state by reducing and eliminating the disparity between the present and future states, without redefining or compromising the future state.”

Action corollary 1: Manage for today, lead for tomorrow.

Action corollary 2: Focus management on what is, leadership on what aught to be.

Action corollary 3: Management keeps the organization on the road and moving forward; leadership assures the road taken leads to what aught to be.

Action corollary 4: Managers typically determine Plan “A” will not work as expected; leaders expeditiously move the organization to plan “B.”

Proposition two:

“The leadership of an organization is always an exact fit with the current path of the organization.”

Action corollary 1: Managers maintain the status quo and control whatever threatens or may threaten the current state; leaders seek Change and Transformation in the interest of an envisioned future state.

Action corollary 2: Managers preserve; leaders innovate.

Proposition three:

“Organizations trend toward stabilization.”

Corollary 1: Management and leadership are inherently opposing forces within an organization.


Conclusion 1: Management represents organizational stability and permanence. Leadership represents instability and impermanence.

Conclusion 2: Change and transformation threaten the status quo and intensify organizational inertia.

Conclusion 3: The effectiveness of leadership is inversely related to the degree of inertia intensification caused by leadership.


An intermediary between management and leadership is needed. Think of it as a modulating function. This function serves to mitigate the threat coming from leadership on the one hand and weaken the inertia coming from management on the other. Managers come to see benefit in change and transformation, and leaders moderate their enthusiasm and insistence. The touch point occurs when inertia reduces enough to permit change, and leadership exuberance and insistence are restrained enough to avoid increasing resistance and further management opposition.

This modulating function could be the responsibility of an individual; but in all but the smallest organizations, it is likely best assumed by a small modulation team. Just as organizational leadership and organizational management each has recognized position, status, and authority, so must the modulation team have equivalent position, status, and authority. The modulation team succeeds when the momentum for change slightly exceeds the level of inertia required to maintain the status quo, with neither side (management nor leadership) reverting to more structured or intensified strategies to support their interests. The tension is present and continuous but remains within the comfort zones of both.


Although it’s usually not the wrong choice to stand up, speek up, shut up and sitdown, it’s worth considering if this may be the time to just shut up and sit down. We’ve all heard about the benefits of being able to speek well, but just because you can speek well doesn’t mean you should. Let’s give some thought to the benefits of keeping our mouths shut.

For example, Will Rogers pointed out what seems obvious but is frequently ignored. He said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Austin O’Malley knew the chief benefit of silence, “If you keep your mouth shut you will never put your foot in it.”

Earl Wilson also had a useful take on whether to speek or shut up. He put the point this way, “If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.” I think that perspective is way too limiting but does hold a grain of truth. Perhaps Arnot L Sheppard Jr. had a more doable caution, “Isn’t it surprising how many things, if not said immediately, seem not worth saying ten minutes from now?” There is a Spanish Proverb that I suspect goes Sheppard one step better. It gives us this advice, “Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

Okay, you get it and so do I. When we are tempted to speek up, we should first consider listening instead. We don’t want to be one of those people Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was referring to when he said, “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.” I think James Lendall Basford was making the same point when he said, “Many talk as easily as they breathe, and with quite as little thought.”

What I need to remember and perhaps you will also think worth filing away comes from someone who’s name I have forgotten. I hope it is enough to admit that I didn’t say it first but wish I had. The keeper tells us, “The difference between a smart man and a wise man is that a smart man knows what to say, a wise man knows whether or not to say it.” Dorothy Nevill also had advice for us about when to speek and when to just shut up. She said, “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

It’s like Hermann Hesse warned, “Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” The popular Anonymous also spoke up here, “Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut;” and “Foolishness always results when the tongue outraces the brain.” Ira Gassen joind the chorus with this, “Be careful of your thoughts; they may become words at any moment;” and Karl Popper added, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.”

I suspect it’s close to or perhaps time to just shut up and sit down, or at least wrap this up. I’m reminding myself what Maurice Switzer told us, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” We might all do well to remember that his point also applies to writing, blogging and even to podcasting.

So let me leave you with this advice from Horace, “Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled;” so let’s agree to follow the advice of our friend Anonymous, “Keep your words soft and tender because tomorrow you may have to eat them.”

Now you know so there you go.

The Perfect Rejoinder

I have made what may be one of the world’s seventeen greatest discoveries. It is this: “Always keep it short and to the point.” You may disagree, citing Robert Southey who said, “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn,” or Shakespeare who promised in Hamlet, “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”

Of course you are not questioning my point, just my assertion that I personally made the discovery. Naturally, I know that Baltasar Gracián said that “Good things, when short, are twice as good.,” in The Art of Worldly Wisdom; and Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

These great minds along with many others counsel us to be concise and not impose on the patience of anyone when we can avoid it. They have mostly intended their advice for the written word. For example, Lord Sandwich advised, “If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over
the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”

Or even more expansively and intending his point for every-day conversation, Mozart reported this, “My great-grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my grandmother, who repeated it to her daughter, my
mother, who used to remind her daughter, my own sister, that to talk well and eloquently was a very great art, but that an equally great one was to know
the right moment to stop.”

Dennis Roth made the same point but even briefer, “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought;” and David Belasco was even more pithy, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” The point is whether writing or talking, don’t be who Rabelais was talking about when he said, “He replies nothing but monosyllables. I believe he would make three bites of a cherry.” William Strunk Jr.cut to the chace for us, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Just omit whatever is not necessarily necessary.

That brings me back to my great discovery. Yes, I am still saying that it is my discovery, even though others have argued for brevity and conciseness long before I ever had a useful thought. Here is the discovery part of my discovery.

Whenever anyone starts to argue with whatever you have said or done, always keep it short and to the point. You will be tempted to reciprocate with a counter-argument, further explanation or justification, but there is seldom any point to the effort. Winning arguments is most always a futile hope. Instead, calmly wait until the other person has stopped pressing their argument – and they will stop sooner or later. At that point, simply say, “Thanks for sharing your perspective.” If the other person picks back up with arguing, wait and repeat.

You may not think this is one of the seventeen greatest discoveries ever, but don’t reject it until you’ve tried it.

Now you know so there you go.

Locking the Golden Door

I don’t believe this but maybe you will. Probably you won’t believe it either.

The time is now, and the place is a yet undiscovered planet toward the edge of the Milky way. Of course, the beings who live on this planet know who they are and where they live. By undiscovered, I mean that other than you and I, no one who doesn’t live on the planet knows about it; and even if they did, it and the people living on it would be of little to no interest. Neither they nor their planet is anything special in the scheme of the universe, at least the universe where they find themselves.

On this insignificant planet, there are areas and divisions that seem fairly arbitrary but are of great significance to the planet’s people. For the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to these arbitrary areas as countries. The current count is 195 countries, with seven and a half billion people inhabiting the 195 countries.

If each country got its fair share of the planet’s people, each would have nearly 40 million citizens, but not much is fair on this planet. I won’t bore you with a list of everything that is not fair but just know that it would be much easier to catalog what is fair. That would be a tiny catalog indeed.

Hang in there with me. I’m getting to the crux of this tale. One of the 195 countries – call it USA – sprawls between two of the Planet’s oceans between two other countries: Canada and Mexico. USA has states and territories beyond these boundaries, but the only point is that it is really big and has way more than its fair share of resources and people: 327 million.

Press play to hear the full story.

The Very Dickens To Change

Samuel Johnson told us that the chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken; and John Dryden added that ill habits gather by unseen degrees — As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.

The truth of it is that Arnold Bennett got it right when he said that habits are the very dickens to change. Abigail Van Buren was also on point when she added that a bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project. Of course Mark Twain was also there, egar to join in, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Naturally, St. Augustine had a wise caution for us, “Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.;” and as we would expect, Mark Twain inserted his take here on putting too much stock in saints and wisdom, “To have nothing the matter with you and no habits is pretty tame, pretty colorless. It is just the way a saint feels, I reckon; it is at least the way he looks. I never could stand a saint.”

“Habit is a man’s sole comfort. We dislike doing without even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed,” according to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. We already knew that habbits are sticky and not easily abandoned so aren’t surprised that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg added that habit might be described as a kind of moral friction — as something not allowing easy passage to the mind, but rather so binding it to things that to work loose from them is difficult. A Spanish Proverb puts it like this, “Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables;” and Horace Mann like this, “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.”

As much as there is to say on the side of giving up our bad habbits, Eng’s Principle advises that “The easier it is to do, the harder it is to change;” and bad habbits are definitly hard to change. At least mine are and I suspect yours are too, so we don’t want to stop short, without reminding ourselves that habbits are not without virtue. Frank Crane said that habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them, either. They keep you. Well that may not be quite the virtue we had in mind so let’s leave it with this from William James, “Habit is thus the enormous flywheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor.”

Now you know so there you go.