Author of "This Is Rage" and "Endless Encores"

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Standing Your Ground

By on Oct 2, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

How do you know when it’s time to stand firm on a point and when it’s time to cave in and go with the flow? The answer is obvious: You never know, not for sure. The hardest calls are the ones you make alone. You listen intently, gather data, think about the situation, seek counsel from close advisors, but in the end if you decide to take a stand, consider yourself alone. Values, ethics, morals — all of them seem clear on paper when you are reading about someone else’s lapse. That’s called history. You read it in hindsight with reflection. You wonder in amazement at how something so rotten could have been advanced. Looking forward is another problem entirely. If you think making a decision on principle is easy you probably haven’t yet made a hard one. If you have put yourself on the line for a heartfelt conviction, you know that courage is not something usually acknowledged in the present tense. It is awarded upon completion of a task, win or lose, based on context. In the present you might be called something else entirely: Difficult. Difficult people tend to get a bad rap, and being difficult just to be difficult is not likely to lead you to the corner office. Some of the questions we face in staring down adversity include: Whether we have thoroughly thought through an objection to the more genially accepted plan we oppose. Whether dissension without triumph creates any intrinsic value of its own. Whether the cost of standing in isolation is worth it. Let’s think about those three filters as we ponder a few hypothetical but easily applicable real-world examples of standing your ground. Someone Getting Fired Unjustly. Suppose a colleague of yours, Charlie, has somehow become the fall-person for a project that has spiraled wildly off schedule and budget. The project team has found an easy out because your department VP is already known to dislike Charlie, so all the group has to do is subtly throw Charlie under the bus and the clock resets to zero. You don’t particularly like Charlie, but you know he is no more innocent or guilty than everyone else on the wayward team. When you...

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Jerry’s Kids Forever

By on Sep 3, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Labor Day weekend for me will always be connected to Jerry Lewis. His annual 21 ½ hour live telethon raised more than $2 billion over 45 years for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He died last month at the age of 91. I miss him already. Jerry meant a lot to me as a kid. I was an MDA volunteer from the age of 12. I used to help patients with mobility, assist with fundraising, and every year I would work the telethon in the local Honolulu studio. Satellite time in the 1970s was very expensive, so we didn’t get the national feed for most of the overnight hours. In those blackout periods our producers would put on a nonstop “telethon within a telethon” so we could stay on-air in synch with the east coast six hours ahead and the west coast three hours ahead. Pledges would come in all through the night. Jerry was with us in our hearts whether he was onstage in Vegas or we were broadcasting hula dancers. We did the show together no matter the separation of distance, and we loved the children at the heart of our mission. I never met the man, but sometimes he would come on the non-broadcast feed between segments and talk to the remote volunteers, so I felt like I knew him. He would thank us for our help and tell us the telethon could not happen without us. I believe he truly loved the kids we served. He wanted to beat neuromuscular diseases in our lifetime. We haven’t done that yet, but we have come a long way. He gets credit for some of that, along with the dedicated doctors and visionary scientists whose groundbreaking work he helped fund. For a zany borscht belt comedian, that’s a long way to travel in a single visit to our planet. Jerry took some heat for exploiting MDA patients in his depiction of their challenges. I never saw that. I saw a man devoted to curing a terrible, debilitating condition. He was a master of the stage, there is no question about that, but in the end I don’t believe the telethon was about him. It was about lending his name and global stardom...

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The Little We See

By on Aug 21, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I discovered the NBC television series This Is Us in summer reruns this year and I have become obsessed with it. If you enjoyed shows like Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, you’ll not only recognize the tone and structure in This Is Us, you’ll see familiar names pop up in the directing credits. It probably won’t surprise you that what has most attracted me to this show is the writing, both the quality of dialogue within episodes and the structural connections between episodes. Series creator Dan Fogelman has framed a milestone achievement in word-to-screen translation. If you are a student of fiction you know that narrative has the highest emotional impact when story and character are revealed on equal footing, one reinforcing the other. Whether you attempt the craft professionally or as an avocation, you know how immensely difficult this is to do, particularly consistently. Characters matter more when the story advances as a result of their arcs. The depth of characters is more fully rendered when plot points drive their change. It’s enormously challenging. Try it sometime. Or you can just watch This Is Us. I certainly don’t want to give away any spoilers surrounding this show in case you decide to binge on it after reading this post. At its core it is the story of three people born on the same day circa 1980 (the year I graduated from high school, go figure). The storyline follows them from infancy to adulthood with all of the many tangents in their lives around family, friends, loved ones lost and found, career highs and lows, and personal discoveries. The emotional complexity of the characters is what makes it powerful, yet surprise twists in their interwoven journeys jump out all the time, making it the kind of serial that leaves you both satisfied and wanting more. What consistently blows my mind in this show is how character development is revealed in snippets that link forward and back in time, particularly replaying events with increased detail layered into the unveiling of previously hidden moments. It is these hidden moments that led me to write about the show. What continually strikes me as gripping drama is how little we know about any...

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You Can’t Fix Morale

By on Aug 6, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Here’s a phone call I sometimes receive, usually from someone senior in executive management or the investment team behind a once promising company: Inquirer: Hey, we need your help with something. We have a situation and we’re not sure what to do about it. Me: Sounds intriguing. What is the situation? Inquirer: Well, we’re having… I’m not sure what you would call it exactly, I guess a problem with morale. Me: What would you like me to do? Inquirer: We would like you to help us fix morale. Me: Oh, that. I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Inquirer: We haven’t spoken two minutes and you already know that? Me: Yes, I’m quite sure. I certainly would like to take your money because I’m sure you are willing to pay a lot to do something about this, but I only take on projects where I can actually help someone. Inquirer: How can you be so sure? Me: You can’t fix morale. Inquirer: What do you mean? Morale gets fixed all the time. Me: Yes, exactly. Morale gets fixed because whatever is causing it to deteriorate gets fixed, but that is where you need to look, at the disease, not a symptom. Inquirer: Are you saying we need to fix something else in our company so that maybe it can have an impact on morale? Me: Yes, that is what I am saying. In fact, you probably need to fix your company. Inquirer: So a contract to fix morale is not big enough for you? You want a bigger contract to fix our company? But our company is not broken. Me: Then you probably don’t have a morale problem and don’t need any help. Inquirer: You’re not doing yourself any favors turning this down. It’s a big project. We have a sizeable budget for it. Me: It’s tempting, but why don’t you have another look at the situation and maybe we can talk again. The call usually ends there and we don’t talk again. Every once in a while we do talk again and then I tend to get involved in long stretches of dialogue with team members up and down the line. We talk about a lot of things: leadership...

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Can We Talk?

By on Jul 11, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Difficult topics, difficult times. It’s getting hotter out there. Is real conversation still possible? A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal got me thinking about that. It’s by Amanda Ripley, entitled: America, Meet America: Getting Past Our Toxic Partisanship (6/30/17). The author offers a powerful viewpoint on making peace with each other through interaction, in essence, the widened use of “exchange programs” like some of us experienced in high school or college. In many ways the premise is optimistic, even idealistic. People who have direct relationships with each other tend to be kinder to each other and less likely to be outright dismissive of ideological differences. I don’t think it is impossible for us tolerate each other’s differences in the abstract. The problem I see comes with the common allocation of shared resources. When we all pool our dollars into a fund, especially when we are compelled to do so by a tax system, we are likely to have ardent disagreements about how those dollars should be used. That’s when personal philosophy becomes policy, and policy as a matter of democracy is less about consensus than it is about majority opinion. That as we know can be ugly, messy, and leave seeds of resentment, because legislative action transpires on current majorities, but policies once adopted can be difficult to unwind. The problem with compromise is that it does not bridge values. If some people think universal healthcare is a civil right and some don’t, and we all have to pay for it, I don’t think there is a common worldview that bridges our differences. Same with a woman’s right to choose. That means we all become subject to prevailing law, like it or not, unless we wish to break the bounds of prevailing law, which inordinately few would ever consider reasonable. Again this is the sausage making of nightmares. No one stays happy for long, and bitterness has a compounding effect that is exacerbated by social media shorthand and abrupt defensiveness. Where does that leave us? Pragmatism suggests we need coping mechanisms or we become frozen. I think that means we will find comfort in our own circles and collectives. We will begin to ignore rather than constantly...

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And It’s One, Two, Three, What Are We Fighting For?

By on Jun 4, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I know people are exhausted with the political dialogue. I am as well. Government is not meant to be this far forward in our lives. It is meant to be the structural framework behind the scenes so we can pursue the individual and shared goals of our lives. These are very unusual times. Extraordinary times. But let’s not forget what is at stake. This is not petty bickering or pointless head bashing over immovable viewpoints. I believe we have unveiled competing visions of American purpose and responsibility, and many of the values that separate us seem irreconcilable. Until the millennium I believed Americans had more in common than not when it came to the notion of purpose. Now I have a hard time seeing the glue binding us together. That’s what I think we’re fighting over and what I think is at stake. That’s why our social media dialogue with each other is increasingly less civil, and that’s causing polar opposites to either stop talking with each other or openly despise each other. Unity for unity’s sake is an unholy compromise and not an option for me. We either have a treasure trove of shared values or we don’t. If we don’t, the divisiveness can’t be mended because morality is at the core of personal definition. If we don’t agree then we don’t agree. I see little evidence that at the core of national purpose there is broad agreement. It is the purpose of leadership to build consensus out of difference to unite disparate elements in strength. Politics is a different game, and it can be a nasty one. If there are competing visions of America up for grabs, I see little choice but to listen closely and then stand firm on moral imperatives. If we find that we have irreconcilable differences, then there is a reason why. I have already detailed a laundry list of apparently irreconcilable differences in a previous post. Our lack of consensus around civil rights, gender rights, a woman’s right to choose, economic inequality, healthcare, environmental justice, personal weapons, educational opportunity, and America’s international posture are ripping us apart with little healing on the horizon. Let me take a run at boiling it down...

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