“A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall” – Tuscany Project and human evolution

Last week was the week of the Tuscany Project, a wonderful annual singing workshop which I was lucky enough to attend several times. It has helped me tremendously not only with my singing, but with the whole idea of being seen and sharing with generosity. Last year I was able to go for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Tuscany Project, when we sang gospel songs together with Philip Woods. My “classmate” from last year, Jesi Mullins, an actor and singer in New York, writes beautifully about her experience with the Tuscany project on her blog. I could not attend this year, but I was thinking about my friends there the whole week –  Belle, Anja, B.Z., Ron and many others…

Recently, in a leadership training in Belgium, we were lucky enough to have Marcel, an accomplished pianist as one of the participants. Two evenings in a row, he sat at the piano at the seaside hotel, as an international group gathered around and sang. It was interesting to see what repertoire we could agree on – Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Evita, Queen – from Venezuela to India, through Spain and Holland, we all knew (roughly) the songs. And technology (two iPads  quickly searched for lyrics) helped. The playlist was still on a good old napkin … The following days, we all spoke about the incredible sense of bonding that these few hours of singing together have provided.


These two experiences made me re-read a book by Daniel Levitin: The World in Six Songs. Levitin, a musician and neuroscientist,  manages to fit all songs into six categories, which correspond to basic evolutionary functions – friendship, joy, religion, knowledge, comfort and love.

He also notes that “today, music is produced by few and consumed by many. But this is a situation of such historical and cultural rarity that it should hardly be considered. The dominant mode of musicality throughout the world has been communal and participatory. (…) One hundred years ago, families would gather around after supper and sing and play music together to pass the time.” In the radio documentary I completed last year for the Czech Radio, Ms Severova, born in 1922, talks to me about the times before the war in her mountain village: ”We used to sing, a lot. A lot. Every day”. And then she sings me a song. She was listening one day to the radio and heard a song about Třeboň and Prague and Kutná Hora, and thought: I should compose a song about Trinksaifen, my village. And she did. Lyrics and music. Ms Severová is unfortunately not alive any more, but her song is. She just sat down and wrote a song. That’s the spirit. Even without a Coursera course on Songwriting.

Levitin also believes that “synchronous, coordinated song and movement were what created the strongest bonds between early humans, and these allowed for the formation of larger living groups, and eventually society as we know it”. He quotes a study by Ian Cross, who shows that it is easier for an individual to synchronize finger tapping with another individual than with a metronome, even if the metronome is more predictable. Frictions within a group could be smoothed out by the feeling of togetherness created by singing together. He also quotes William McNeill’s study about synchronized military drill: “Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to the participation in collective ritual.”

OK, so few conclusions for you today: Sing! Sing with others! Move while singing! Or join a military band! Or find your own way! Go to Tuscany Project 2014! Make music! Write songs! Synchronize with people you like! Synchronize also with people you do not like that much! Change the world! Enjoy the summer!

Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous – how creativity disappears

“What I wish I knew when I was 20”, (A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World) – good title for a book, which made me buy it at the Frankfurt Airport bookshop.

Tina Seelig explains how she teaches her course on entrepreneurship and motivation at Stanford Design School – the main idea being that problems can be viewed as opportunities for creative solutions. One of her assignments for the students might be the following: as a team, you have 5 USD and 2 hours or 10 paper clips and 24 hours, generate as much value as possible. Students surprise themselves – in  the first one, the average winning teams bring in about 600 USD. The main learnings from the course is that 1) opportunities are abundant 2) regardless of the size of the problem, there are usually creative ways to use the resources already at your disposal to solve them.

I was reading it waiting for my late evening flight from Frankfurt to Prague, and looking forward to some rest after three days of training in Germany. At the end of the first chapter, as I was wishing I had had classes like that), Lufthansa announced that the flight was cancelled.

What unfolded next was a problem – and an opportunity – for Lufthansa. A difficult customer experience that could either build or destroy trust with customers just like me. Unfortunately, they treated it as a problem. After waiting for an hour in the queue, Klaus, the desk clerk rebooked me for 9.10 a.m. flight the following morning, and informed me there was no hotel available, so I would have to sleep at the airport. And I cannot get my luggage back. And no, there is also no toothbrush available.

Wow, what an opportunity for a creative solution! Rent a bus to get the 100 people or so to Prague during the night, as it takes just five hours (so we would not miss our morning meetings)? Rental cars? Get us on time to the train station for the night train? Find some hotel even if far from airport? Open a special lounge? Find an entertainer in the group? Make it into a networking event? Speed dating? Toothbrush-making workshop? When I suggested some of those to Klaus, his answer was a resolute “nein”. Impossible.

What is happening here? I think that if Klaus and his colleagues were in a creativity class, they would come up with many more creative options – 100 people, 7 hours, what an opportunity. I don’t believe that Klaus is inherently less capable than Tina Seelig’s students to come up with creative solutions.

But when you sit at midnight at the Frankfurt airport as one of the countless Lufthansa employees, you might feel that you cannot make a difference. Maybe you are afraid to take an initiative that could go wrong. It is easier to say “no” or “yes, but” than “yes, and”.So, as Tina puts it, you miss the opportunity to be fabulous. And you destroy trust with your customers.

P.S. I finished the book during that night, as it is really quite impossible to sleep at Frankfurt airport.

P.P.S. This week’s Economist mentions the D.school, Ideo and more generally design thinking and its growing application to the voluntary sector and government.

Nonstop You! Sleeping at Terminal 1, hall C in Frankfurt

I really like the Lufthansa slogan “Nonstop You”. It appeals to my self-centered self :-). And looks very customer oriented. On my way to Frankfurt, it seemed a fitting slogan – good service, uneventful flight, even a sandwich.

On my way back – cancelled flight to Prague at 11 at night. A mob of a hudred Czech and German travellers, with a few Spanish thrown in, roam through Frankfurt airport. Little help from Lufthansa. “Someone has to responsible” shouts the Spanish lady. Klaus, the clerk at the Lufthansa desk, books me for the following morning (making me miss an important meeting) and tells me calmly there is no hotel room in Frankfurt and invites me to spend the night at the airport (he is not staying, however, it is just me – non-stop me!).

I will write more about this (and about when you can quickly build or destroy trust with your customers – in a crisis) when I recover from that somewhat lonely night. A tip if this ever happens to you –  Terminal 1, hall C, arrivals, is the best one for a sort of sleeping. You learn every day!

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On a Ladder – inferences and kinesthetic speakers

Plane is a good place to read articles. This week, flying to Brusssels for a 4-day program with my Belgian client, I re-read an article about the “Kinesthetic Speaker” (Nick Morgan, Harvard Business Review, 2001). As often in HBR, the article is little bit longish, but the main idea is interesting: “Kinesthetic speakers feed an audience’s essentially primal hunger to experience a presentation on a physical, as well as an intellectual, level. Through an awareness of their own physical presence—their gestures, posture, and movements—and through the effective use of the space in which they give the presentation, kinesthetic speakers can create potent nonverbal messages that are consistent with and reinforce their verbal ones. At the same time, these speakers understand the audience’s need to respond physically; they read those needs during a speech, and they react accordingly. By generating kinesthetic, aural, and visual stimuli, kinesthetic speakers create a rich sensory experience for their audiences. This is in sharp contrast to many presentations, which often send audiences into a state of what can feel like total sensory deprivation.”.

Immediate application this week –  in order to explain the Ladder of Inference concept, we borrowed a real ladder from reception (Stap ladder in Flemish – very useful word) to demonstrate the concept. And my co-facilitator Philippe was so nice to ensure safety (high-heel shoes are NOT recommmended). Then, instead of talking their examples over at the table, participants went to the staircase to climb up and down their own ladders – of inference.

My impression was that it worked well. And in any case, it makes for a fun photo…


Facilitating the facilitation of a facilitation

The nice thing about training and coaching is that I learn every time. This week, one of my favorite Czech clients asked for a 1-day program about faciliation.

What I learned this week

1) Being a facilitator is a nice thing – “one that facilitatesespecially : one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision” says the online Merriam Webster dictionary. I especially like the unobtrusive, also a lovely word. Too lovely to be in the Webster dictionary (as Frank Sinatra sings?)

2) Facilitation is not as easy as it looks – preparing the training made me realize that. Managing process, deepening the dialogue, resolving difficult situations …

3) Russian dolls and metalevels – the idea of the training by doing was a Russian doll concept. One person (let’s call him Frank)  facilitates a meeting of 3 people about how to facilitate, another person (let’s call her Ella)  meta-facilitates the learning process John and his group, Eva walks around and meta-facilitates the meta-facilitation. And we swap roles several times. All this meta-stuff turned out to be slightly confusing for some (yes, I will make it clearer next time..). However, while doing this, I realized that the ability to switch between a “normal” and a “meta” position is absolutely key to any effective facilitation. It is also key to mindfulness and meditation practice, as my friend Bjorn Prins reminded me of.


Irrational behavior and Songwriting, not to mention Emotional Intelligence

What is currently inspiring me? Giving me energy? Putting me in a PEA (positive emotional attractor)? I mean, besides starting a blog, which is pretty exciting by itself.

As always for myself,  learning and exploring new things – currently mainly at www.coursera.org, one of the MOOC (massive online open courses) providers. I am especially thrilled by a class called  “A beginner’s guide to irrational behavior” by Dan Ariely – great content, great teaching, playful, engaging! And the impact – 60 thousand people watched some video lectures, 6000 people did all the exercises …

1305 statement accomplishment ariely

Coursera  raises quite a few questions, especially about being sustainable.  As it started for free,  it will be very difficult to make it payable later. Will the increased recognition and brand-building be enough to motivate the universities to provide content?

Also, free online courses provide great inspiration for trainings in general and online learning in particular. Dan Ariely’s lectures are not only strong on content, but on format too – photos, drawings, simple charts, audio effects. Many video lectures have little embedded quizzes to keep the audience’s attention. Another class I am taking, Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence, has a great personal journal to accompany the class (and also mentions the PEA – positive emotional attractor – a great thing overall), and Richard Boyatzis, who leads the class, stresses frequently how just watching the videos without doing the exercises, is pointless. Making me an active rather than a passive reader is a great advantage of online classed over just reading a book on the topic. In my Songwriting class provided by Berklee college of music, the highlight was uploading my songs to Soundcloud and getting comments on them from Ricardo in Argentina or Maria in Alma-Aty as well as providing my comments for them.

So, anybody wants to join me for Creativity, Innovation and Change, starting in September? Or just find your own topic and experiment. It is free!


P.S. My neighbor has welcomed two donkeys – a male and a female – in his field behind my house. It is such a pleasure to watch them! At first, Zuzka (the female) was not very friendly, but now, during the prolonged rains, as they spend lots of the time hiding in the shed, she is getting more cuddly (maybe another good blog topic)