shortbread

short, sweet, and to-the-point — by Keith Elder

Archive for the tag “creativity”

“Einstein’s Desk…Burns…and an Organizing Principle”

Einstein's face

My first job after college was that of “Youth Director” at Huffman United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. My supervisor was Director of Christian Education, Burns Nesbitt. Burns was a 50-something, retired Air Force chaplain with way too much life and knowledge to spend it golfing away the golden years, so, Burns took on the challenge of cultivating the educational ministries of a 1500-member congregation.

How to describe Burns?

Burns was a dreamer/planner/world-thinker/justice-seeker/teacher/trainer/ uproarious laugh-er/theologian/connoisseur of life’s simple gifts—not to mention, husband to Mary Alice (delightful, strong, and refreshingly honest), and father to Phil, Jaye, and Chris. All this said, Burns tried his best to bring it all together and live a life of integrity.

My first visit to Burns’ office was unsettling. How do I describe that 8’ x 12’ish space? Overstuffed bookshelves reaching floor-to-ceiling… institutional, gray-green metal desk…a couple of mismatched chairs—all upstaged by two-foot-high stacks of file folders, open reference books, periodicals, and do-dad keepsakes from people and places past. There were 2’ x 3’ sheets of white newsprint masking-taped around the walls with barely legible, color-coded, Magic Marker scribbles from recent meetings. There was a flip chart in the corner on a flimsey aluminum easel, and a fire hazard of a desktop strewn with loose papers, sticky notes and cheap pens. The words “tsunami” and “tetanus shot” come to mind. John Wesley, father of our Methodist OCD-ness would not have seen eye-to-eye with Burns—and not just because Burns was a foot taller. 

In time, I came to understand that Burns was perfectly comfortable in his little disaster area. The disorder was his order—and Burns could put his hand on anything he needed at a moment’s notice. He knew exactly where the red Magic Marker was, and the children’s Sunday School material, and the book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Question: Have you ever seen a photo of Einstein’s desk?…or Mark Twain’s?… or Steve Jobs? Take a look….

Desk-Einstein

Desk-Mark Twain

Desk-Steve Jobs

My point?   Different people have different ways of making sense of their world—that is, different organizing principles.  Maybe it’s do-lists, PDA’s, calendars, personal assistants, executive secretaries.  For some, it’s mentors, managers, coaches, or trainers.  Maybe it’s a favorite philosopher or theologian.

What’s important is that you find something that works for you—a simple truth or system that helps you figure out the specifics of your life…that helps you make sense of a discombobulated world, and make a little hay while your mortal sun shines.

Now, Burns was no Einstein—though he had his occasional bursts of brilliance—but Burns had found a system that worked for him….

Amazing that he could find it in that office!

Keith Elder

2-3-2015

http://keithelder.com/

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“This is TV… This is Your Brain on TV…”

“Hello, My name is Keith and I’m a TV-holic.”  Well, maybe not quite–but I could be, and if I was, I would probably have plenty of company.

According to the Nielsen folks, the average American watches 34 hours of television per week.  A little statistical breakdown… (not a nerd dance):

“Children 2-11 watch an average of 24 hours of TV a week, or 31/2 hours a day.

That number dips to 22 hours for teens, ages 12-17, then goes back up to 25 for 18-24s.  After that it rises steadily until people over 65 average 48 hours a week, or nearly seven hours a day.” *

Let’s do a little math.  Say you watch even 20 hours of TV per week x 4 weeks per month = 80 hours of TV per month.  Eighty hours!  That is two full work weeks.  Waking hours.  Primetime hours for reading or writing the book, or painting or gardening or learning to play an instrument or getting in shape or going to the zoo with your kids.  You get my drift.  “But,” some say, “I do other things while I watch.”  Maybe…and maybe not.

I was in the fitness room at our local rec center.  There are seven screens across the front of the room and more on the other walls.  It occurred to me, one day, while trying to multi-screen, that it is literally impossible to focus on one screen while trying to keep up with what is happening on the others. We are wired to focus on one thing at a time.  Multiple “screens” fragment us.

Now, add one more screen to the conversation.  That would be the “screen” of your imagination. That place you dream dreams and hope hopes.  That place you see your potential works of art and solutions to problems.  That mental Etch-a-sketch where you conceive new ideas and plans to realize them.

But on other screens across the front of your room, you’re watching The Today Show or ESPN or CNN or “Duck Dynasty” (I know, I know—I just “stopped preaching and went to meddling!”).  Bottom line, the screen of your imagination—your seat of potential and greatness—gets trumped, short-circuited, upstaged by all of those lesser screens.

So, the average American watches 34 hours of television per week.  Might explain why most of us are just average when we could be great.   The great ones turn off the TV—or, at least, they don’t turn it on nearly so often.

–Keith   10-4-13

* If you are interested in more stats: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/americans-spend-34-hours-week-watching-tv-nielsen-numbers-article-1.1162285#ixzz2gkUHR100.

“Cosby…gift-giving…and adding value”

Holding a doctoral degree in education from UMass, comic icon, Bill Cosby has always been one to teach as well as to entertain.  Thursday evenings from 1984-1992, Cosby, a.k.a. Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable taught us about marriage and family, friends (go, Cockroach), honesty and integrity, history and culture, and life in general.

Teaching, in and of itself, can be a bit dry.  Entertainment alone can also lose it’s buzz.  (Example: you can only ride Space Mountain at Disney World so many times before it loses it’s zippity doo da.)  Put the two together, though—fresh insight and a good laugh—and people will tune-in again next Thursday night.

In one episode of “The Cosby Show”, the Huxtable kids decide they will break the time-honored tradition of giving lousy Father’s Day presents. I recall a couple of the new-and-improved gifts.  Vanessa gave her dad a weather vane.  Why?… because he was always asking about the weather. Now, he could know what the weather was like outside without having to ask.  Theo’s gift was house slippers that, turned inside-out, became galoshes.  Why?  Dad loved the morning paper, so this way, he could go out to get his paper, even on rainy mornings.

All of the gifts were a little goofy. Still, Heathcliff gushed about how much he loved them—for the items themselves, but more, for the thought behind the gifts.

Keeper insight: a good gift adds value to the other person’s life—practical or sentimental.  Picking or creating such a gift takes time and thought, which means you have to actually think about the other person.  What do they like?  What might make them happy?  What might make their life a little better?  Good gift giving grows love muscles.

You can build a business around the concept. Just ask, “How can I add value to people’s lives?”  Create a product or service that addresses a legitimate need at a fair price—like the Slinky!  (O.K., bad example.)

Add value to other folks’ lives today. It’s a little humor.  It’s an on-point idea.  It’s a sincere compliment.  It’s not about getting your two-cents-worth in—that’s about you. Think about them…then offer a gift.  But, warning—they probably already have a weather vane.

Keith   2/25/2013

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