Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Inspiring The Next Generation – Yo-Yo Ma At Harvard

If you are a regular reader of this Blog, I have to assume that for you, Yo-Yo Ma needs no introduction. What you may not know is that the world’s greatest cellist graduated from Harvard College in 1976, and has maintained strong ties to his alma mater. Ma mantians a home in Cambridge. His son, Nicholas, is a recent Harvard graduate. Ma frequently finds low-key ways to encourage the next generation of Harvard-educated musicians.

On Monday morning, I made an early morning foray to Cabot House, a Harvard residence hall hidden away in a secluded corner of the campus near the Law School – just west of Massachusetts Ave. The occasion for my visit was a chance to catch up with my friend, Daron Roberts, a second year student at Harvard Law School. (Daron and I met last year on a flight to Dallas – but that is a story for another time.) Daron also serves as part of the residence hall staff at Cabot House, and he invited me to join him for an early breakfast. “We have a great waffle machine.” That’s all I needed to hear!

During our free wheeling conversation, Daron mentioned that there was a rumor circulating that Yo-Yo Ma might stop by on Tuesday evening to be part of a spontaneous jam session. There are some gifted undergraduate musicians who call Cabot House their Harvard home, and he might be joining them. When Daron saw my eyes dilate, he said: “I take it you are a Yo-Yo Ma fan; would you like to come?”

I arrived around 9:15, and a crowd was gathering in the dining area. Yo-Yo was talking quietly with several students while preparations were being made to create a small stage area. I came expecting to hear him play, and could not wait for the opportunity. Around 9:20, a young man mounted the makeshift stage and addressed the gathering crowd of students and sprinkling of faculty and staff: “Do you know why we are here?” The crowd responded: “Yeah, for a jam session!” He displayed and introduced an African drum, and gave a quick workshop on drumming techniques. He involved the crowd, and eventually invited 10 members of the audience to play the 10 carved wooden African drums and an assortment of bells from Ghana that were arrayed on stage. For the next half hour, we clapped and followed his lead in mouthing rhythm syllables in tribal syncopations – DOOM TK TK DOOM – DOOM TCKA TCKA TCKA TCKA DOOM!

While all of this was taking place, I was able to sense a quiet back beat. I was seated only a few feet from where Yo-Yo Ma had perched; he was sitting on the edge of a table off to one side of the room. He joined in the clapping and humming and DOOM TKing with a huge smile on his face. He would turn to face a group of students and lead them in a round of rhythmic clapping. He would pick out an individual member of the audience and engage him or her with his smile and a nod. I was the recipient of a few of those ebullient smiles and nods, and felt like I had just won the Boston Marathon! He was having the time of his life – not as the center of attention or star of the show, but in a quiet descant above the main theme being played out on stage.

Then I began to observe another dynamic at work. By ones and twos, student musicians began to arrive carrying violin cases and cello cases. Many of them were Asian students. In each case, as they entered through the door near where Yo-Yo was ensconced, they would come up to Yo-Yo and greet him – with a smile, a hug, a handshake. It was clear that they knew him and were comfortable in his presence. It was also clear that he was their guiding star, their role model, the template they hoped to somehow emulate through their own hard work and innate musical genius. He was their anchor and their inspiration.

The workshop leader invited the “melody musicians” to come on stage to join the “rhythm musicians.” Dozens of violins, violas, cellos, a mandolin, a sitar and several even more obscure instruments made their way to the stage and the jam session took on a new dimension.

Around this time, Yo-Yo quickly slipped to the back of the room, grabbed my friend, Daron, and said: “It’s hot in here; let’s try to open these windows.” And soon, a gentle and refreshing breeze began to blow. The metaphor was not lost on me. Yo-Yo – by not performing, but by humbly offering the encouragement of his presence, had blown a breath of fresh air into the evening and into the lives of a next generation of world-class musicians.

A few minutes after the second half of the jam session had begun, Yo-Yo slipped quietly through the door and out into the Cambridge night. He never did play the cello, but he had clearly come for a different purpose. I had come to hear the musician Yo-Yo Ma in all his glory; I ended up experiencing the man in all his humility and humanity. I would not have missed it for the world. I have always reveled in listening to his recordings. Now, my enjoyment of his music will be forever enhanced and deepened by my knowledge that his virtuosity with the cello is exceeded only by his generosity in sharing his spirit and enthusiasm with those drawn into his gentle gravitational field.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Fenway Park As The O.K. Corral

This coming weekend, Boston's venerable Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912, will serve as a latter day O.K. Corral.

In 1881, at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp engaged in a legendary gunfight with the Clantons and McClaurys. Folks around these parts are gearing up for some mean hombres who will be traveling up from the Bronx. Those cowboys in pinstripes have been none too happy since a new Sheriff rode into town and took over - beginning in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. They are coming to Beantown looking to settle some scores. "A-Rod," "Giambi," "Jeter," "The Big Unit," "Rivera" - whose names will be written on the new tombstones that will be installed at the end of the weekend at the Boothill Cemetery? Stay tuned. The bullets will start flying Friday at 7:05.

Go Sox!


Improvising A Book Review: “Prayer and All That Jazz” by Karen Cameron-Brook

Anyone who is a regular reader of this Blog is aware that I enjoy reading. I often review books in this space, and read many more books that I choose not to mention here. In many cases, after reading the work of an author, I have had a chance to meet that author face-to-face and have developed a relationship with her or him. In other situations, I have written to the author and have thereby started up a correspondence. So, it is not unusual for me to know authors whose works I enjoy. In the present case, the sequence has been reversed – in that someone who has been a special friend for many years has suddenly emerged as a gifted author whose first book I have just enjoyed reading.

Karen Cameron-Brook and her husband, Mitch Brook, have been friends of mine for years. We were part of the same church on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, and over the years, I have enjoyed their hospitality, musicianship, friendship and support on many occasions. Mitch and I play tennis together and share a passion for the Red Sox. Karen is kind enough to indulge our frequent forays into Fenway and onto the tennis court. (Karen even mentions in her book one of the Red Sox games that Mitch and I attended.) Karen has had a fabulous career as a jazz singer, and I have been privileged to hear her lovely voice in many settings and to sing with her on more than a few occasions. Karen is not only a gifted musician, but she is one of the kindest, sweetest, warmest and most welcoming human beings that I know. I guess one could say that Karen has a keen ear, a silky voice and a golden heart!

As is fitting for a jazz musician, Karen’s life has been a long string of improvisations and modulations – all of which are stories that have been begging to be told. She has finally taken the time to tell those stories and to craft them into a very readable and inspiring volume that she calls: “Prayer and All That Jazz.” In the space of 235 pages, Karen skillfully weaves together the tale of twin pilgrimages – her career as a musician and her spiritual journey as one who has come to embrace a faith that is both very personal and very public.

I picked up “Prayer and all That Jazz” expecting to read the written version of familiar stories I had heard Karen and Mitch tells over the years that I have known them. In some cases, the stories were familiar to me – in other cases, it was all new and intriguing information. I had no idea that my friend, Karen, had been runner-up in the Miss America Pageant’s contest to crown “Miss North Dakota”! Her music has beckoned her to such spots as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Buenos Aires and Alaska. Her journey of faith has called her to places as disparate as Chicago, Brooklyn, The Seacoast of New Hampshire and the remote village of Yetebon, Ethiopia.

Karen talks, in the chapter entitled “A Quiet Place,” about her first short-term Missions trip to Ethiopia, where she would spend a few weeks teaching music and English to several hundred school children:

“I was afraid to face the children with their toothpick limbs and swollen bellies. I was afraid that I would be covered with flies and bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to eat for two weeks. I prayed that God would take away all my fears. He did.

There had been several months of preparation – paperwork, visas, fundraising, collecting supplies. The trip was a long one – Boston to Newark, New Jersey, where we boarded Ethiopian Airlines; refueled in Rome; and landed, finally, in Addis Ababa twenty hours later. The Benedryl I took had not made me drowsy. More than once, I talked myself out of claustrophobia – strapped into a tight space – nowhere to move in the cabin crowded with Ethiopians. The six-hour drive through the Ethiopian countryside that followed customs clearance felt like sheer freedom and delight.

I now stood speechless in front of several acres of colorful, healthy, vegetable gardens – the only ones within a hundred miles. ‘Whether a garden small . . .’ the words from “A Quiet Place” were ringing in my ears. A magnificent, volcanic mountain range just a few miles away ('. . . or on a mountain tall,' the song continued) provided a dramatic backdrop for the school and medical center being constructed. I had expected arid plains, drought and famine. Instead, I found breathtaking beauty.”
(pages 193=194)

That is Karen and that is her song! She manages to find beauty in unexpected places, situations and people, and to find beauty and peace in God’s love and grace. This is a book for anyone who loves jazz, and it is also a book for anyone who enjoys eavesdropping on a life-long journey of spiritual discovery and fulfillment.

The book and Karen’s CD’s are available for order by e-mail at

Or by mail at:
Karen Cameron
Viva Voce
P.O. Box 391
North Hampton, NH 03862

Karen will soon be headlining a concert and book-signing event in Portsmouth, NH, but that will have to wait until she returns from her next trip. She leaves in a few days for a return visit to Ethiopia. Once the date and venue for the book-signing have been confirmed, I’ll let you know.



Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chuck O’Hara – Rest In Peace, Beloved Friend

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

This morning my head and my heart are full of Chuck O’Hara. He has that kind of effect on people – in life and in death. In a few moments, I’ll head out to my car to make the long drive – not long as measured in miles, but a trying trek when measured in thoughts – to St. Luke The Evangelist Parish in Westboro to join a few hundred fellow pilgrims in saying good-bye to Chuck.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Following the funeral Mass, and after the obligatory time for collation and conversation in the Parish Hall, Chuck’s family and a cadre of close friends will form a funeral procession that will head West. The cortege will ride the ribbon of the Mass. Turnpike to the New York border, where they will cross the Hudson River and proceed to Calvary Cemetery in Glenmont, NY. Chuck will be laid to rest hard by the graves of his parents, Charles Joseph and Mary Hanratty O’Hara, whom he both venerated and emulated. Over the past few days since Chuck’s death, I have come to understand that in the O’Hara clan, the apple does not often fall far from the tree. Chuck was renowned for his gregarious persona and the gravitational pull of his charisma and Irish wit. Both by nature and by nurture, Chuck inherited those traits from his parents.

Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion

I have been regaled with stories of Mother O’Hara, in the family’s home near Albany, feeling most fulfilled when she was playing hostess to several dozen souls around her table. In an atmosphere redolent of boiled corned beef and cabbage, there would often gather in convivial cacophony around that table a motley assortment of children, neighbors, extended family, and several members of the priesthood – all hungry for the food, fun and fellowship that were the hallmarks of the home over which Mary O’Hara presided with such grace and warmth.

Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem

Chuck left home to serve his nation. His first stop in military service was just a few miles down the Hudson River at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Chuck was a proud member of the Class of 1976 and a member of Company H-4. Chuck and I often talked about the regimental structure of the Corps of Cadets at West Point. While I myself was never a student at West Point, I have, over the past several years, become an eager student of West Point and of our nation’s other Service Academies. As an Executive Recruiter, I have been privileged to come to know many men and women of distinction whose skills as business leaders were first forged in the crucibles of the leadership training that are part of the fabric of our Service Academies’ curricula. Chuck O’Hara was a shining example of this phenomenon.

Exaudi orationem meam,

Chuck had a theory about each regimental company at West Point having its own unique personality. Chuck was convinced that there was something qualitatively different about life as a cadet in Company H-4 in contradistinction to life in Company A-1. According to Chuck’s theory, A-1 was always on the point in public parades, and under the most scrutiny from commanding officers and the adoring public that turned out on The Plain to see the Corps pass in review in all of its splendor and pomp. As a result, A-1 cadets tended to be serious, focused, by-the-book individuals who carried that ethos away from the Parade Ground. H-4 was hidden away in the back of the Corps, and under far less scrutiny. As a result, there tended to be a looser, more care free esprit among the denizens of H-4. It was not that they were any less skilled as soldiers-in-training; they just had more fun as they marched through their four years at USMA. Chuck claimed that years later, he could tell by the demeanor of someone whom he would meet from his era at West Point, which company that person had likely been assigned to.

Ad te omnis caro veniet.

From what I know of Chuck over the years, he carried that H-4 philosophy with him throughout his life – he worked hard and played hard and embraced life with all of its joys and challenges. Chuck was possessed of one of the most brilliant minds I have ever encountered. We first met a few years ago at a luncheon sponsored by the Service Academy Business Network in Boston. By dint of my working with many candidates and clients who are graduates of one of the Service Academies, I have become a “permanent guest member” of this monthly gathering of business leaders who hail from West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy. It was at one of these monthly gatherings that Chuck and I had our first conversation, and that conversation spilled over into breakfast the next week. Those breakfasts became regular events, and ones that I looked forward to with great anticipation.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

Chuck and I met for one of our breakfasts last Tuesday at our usual haunt – the breakfast nook in the Courtyard by Marriott in Natick – not far from Chuck’s office. As was his wont, before meeting me for breakfast Chuck had stopped by his local parish for morning Mass. This breakfast was to be a bit different from our usual bi-weekly get together. Chuck had specifically set an agenda; he wanted to talk about his new company and the funding that was immanent. He also wanted to talk with me about some ideas he had for two books that he wanted me to join him in writing. Chuck was excited about the fact that his chlorine dioxide project was about to gain traction and be funded so that he and his partners could move forward with producing prototypes for the gas generator. This idea that had been germinating in his mind for many years would finally be born as a fully formed and functioning company.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Chuck talked at length about the progress he was making with meeting with a patent attorney, filing patents, finalizing funding. He was as excited and as full of life as I have ever seen him. He often returned to the topic of the purity of the chlorine gas – purity was everything if the gas was to perform its all-important function of decontaminating and preserving the surfaces that had been exposed to the gas’s magical powers. We spent so much time talking about purity that we had to leave before we got the chance to discuss the book projects. Chuck’s final words to me that morning were: “That will be the topic of our next breakfast.” My final words to Chuck - after yet another two-hour breakfast in which we hardly stopped talking long enough to eat our food – words spoken with tongue in cheek were: “Chuck, maybe some day we’ll finally find something to talk about!” We both laughed.


A few days later, in the midst of a meeting that was to finalize funding for his nascent company, Chuck was suddenly stricken and in the blink of an eye he was gone. I received the shocking news over the weekend when Scott Leishman, a mutual friend and a fellow West Point colleague of Chuck’s, called me from New York. My first reactions were very human – I was shocked; I was angry; I was hurt. I shed lots of tears over the past few days. I had conversations with myself and with God: “What a waste! Chuck was only 51 years old. He was on the brink of an exciting new chapter in his life. How unfair! Think of the years worth of words unspoken, books not written, purifying gas not dispersed”

Kyrie eleison

And then I began trying to lift the veil of self-pity and to try to see things through the eyes of faith. Chuck had a strong faith, and my faith in the same Lord tells me that Chuck was instantly ushered into God’s presence when he left us on Friday. Do I understand God’s timing? No. Do I agree with God’s timing? Absolutely not! Do I trust Him to know what is best? Yes, even though it is sometimes hard and exquisitely painful to do so. As I sat last night in the parlor of the funeral home in Westboro where Chuck’s family and friends had gathered for his wake, I had a chance to observe and to think.

Christe eleison

The light of Chuck’s life was his relationship with his sons – Patrick and John. I had never met Patrick or John before last evening. Patrick now lives in Georgia with his wife, and John is taking the art world of New York by storm and lives in Brooklyn. I had a chance last night to meet them and to observe them. In the O’Hara clan, the apple does not often fall far from the tree. In the midst of their grief and loss and pain, Patrick and John - surrounded by a swirling cohort of mother, aunts and uncles and cousins galore, and friends beyond numbering – held court in a way that I know made Chuck enormously proud. In the physical sense, Chuck is gone from our midst, and the books he wanted to write will not be written on paper. Those two volumes of truth that he wanted to convey to the world will now have to be written through the chapters that his two sons - Patrick and John - will add to the story of the O’Hara family's passage through this life – making the world a safer, warmer and more satisfying place than it would be without this noble clan.

Kyrie eleison

Chuck, the brilliant chemist and inventor, dreamed of forming a company that would disperse a cloud of purifying chlorine dioxide gas – a cloud that would dispel disease and preserve purity. In a sense, he has succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. Through the chemistry of his personality, he gathered around him a company of family and friends who now will accept the responsibility of being a force for good in this world – of picking up the mantle that he lay down last Friday. I can already feel it happening. John said to me last night: “I am really going to miss him; we talked every night.” My first thought was: “I want to be that kind of a father.” I am going to use Chuck’s example and inspiration to be a better father to my sons. I know Chuck was pleased to hear and to watch Patrick and John last night rising to the challenge of setting aside their own pain to minister to those who had come to minister to them. Chuck must have been as pleased last night as I am sure he was on Friday when he heard the voice of his Lord welcoming him – no doubt with a lilting Galilean brogue – with these well-earned words:

“Well done, Chuck, thou good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

Friday, September 16, 2005


A few weeks ago (August 26) I posted a talent alert for Solutions Sales Professionals in a variety of territories. I want to thank all who have spread the word and sent resumes. Let me offer a couple of points of clarification so that I do not waste anyone's time:

* There is no open position in Boston or New England - that territory is fully staffed.

* The territories that are the top priority at the moment include: NYC, DC, BALT/PHIL, North Carolina, LA, DETROIT, TORONTO, ST. LOUIS, OHIO/Western PA, MIAMI.

* Qualified candidates need to already be in residence and well-established in the territory. The will be no relocations.

* Only candidates who are currently sole practitioners - not sales mangers - will be considered. These are classic "hunter" roles.

I will be happy to e-mail full job descriptions to anyone who inquires.

Thanks for your continuing help in spreading the word.


Bringing Good Things To Life: Jack Welch’s “Winning”

I must admit at the outset of this posting that I have never been a huge fan of Jack Welch - or of GE, for that matter. At one point in my life, I lived in Lynn, MA – very much a GE company town. I knew many neighbors - men and women who had given their whole careers to GE (or, to be more precise, “The GE,” as denizens of Lynn were wont to say) – without much to show for it at the end of the day except for a pension and a pat on the back. I recall the turmoil over plant closings, lay-offs, strikes and contretemps between the workers and “Neutron Jack.” More recently, I have known employees of GE in the executive ranks – Renaissance Men – who have found the GE culture to be stultifying and not a healthy place for them to express their creative and entrepreneurial passions. So, I was skeptical when I saw that Jack Welch had penned another book on business. I did not intend to read the book, but changed my mind after several colleagues whose opinion I respect told me that it was worth reading. They were right.

Harper Business, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, is working hard to increase their market share of the business publications sector. They clearly have a winner in Jack Welch’s latest offering. “Winning” is the most transparent of the writing I have read from Jack Welch. In the course of describing winning moves and strategies – at GE and in like-minded companies – Welch does not hesitate to point the finger at himself for lapses in judgment and mistakes along the way during his long tenure with GE. His genuine transparency made the book more readable to me than it would otherwise have been, and softened my view of Jack as an executive and as a human being. It does not hurt that Welch grew up on Boston’s North Shore and is a lifelong Red Sox fan! That fact covers a multitude of sins!

In the years since he stepped down as CEO of GE, Welch has traveled the world – speaking and consulting to a wide range of audiences and businesses. The structure of this book is that he has taken the frequently asked questions he has encountered in his travels, and grouped the questions and his responses under three broad categories: Your Company, Your Competition and Your Career. While I found the entire book to be worthwhile and full of informative stories and ideas, I will concentrate on sharing insights from three sections of the book I found to be particularly compelling.

In the chapter on Strategy entitled “It’s All In The Sauce,” Welch makes the following observations:

The first step of making strategy real is figuring out the big “aha” to gain sustainable competitive advantage – in other words, a significant, meaningful insight about how to win. To do that, you need to debate, grapple with, wallow in, and finally answer five sets of questions.

The five slides we’re going to look at here are a way to test you strategy . . .

SLIDE ONE – What The Playing Field Looks Like Now

Who are the competitors in this business, large and small, new and old?

Who has what share, globally and in each market? Where do we fit in?

What are the characteristics of this business? Is it commodity or high value or somewhere in between? Is it long cycle or short? Where is it on the growth curve? What are the drivers of profitability?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor? How good are their products? How much does each one spend on R&D? How big is each sales force? How performance-driven is each culture?

Who are this business’s main customers, and how do they buy?

SLIDE TWO – What The Competition Has Been Up To

What has each competitor done in the past year to change the playing field?

Has anyone introduced game-changing new products, new technologies, or a new distribution channel?

Are there any new entrants, and what have they been up to in the past year?

SLIDE THREE – What You’ve Been Up To

What have you done in the past year to change the competitive playing field?

Have you bought a company, introduced a new product, stolen a competitor’s key salesperson, or licensed a new technology from a start-up?

Have you lost any competitive advantages that you once had – a great salesperson, a special product, a proprietary technology?

SLIDE FOUR – What’s Around The Corner?

What scares you most in the year ahead – what one or two things could a competitor do to nail you?

What new products or technologies could your competitors launch that might change the game?

What M&A deals would knock you off your feet?

SLIDE FIVE – What’s Your Winning Move?

What can you do to change the playing field – is it an acquisition, a new product, globalization?

What can you do to make customers stick to you more than ever before and more than to anyone else?

(pages 172-180)

* * * * *

In the section on Mergers and Acquisitions, Welch shares salient observations drawn from the successes and mistakes he made while steering the ship at GE. He warns of seven common pitfalls. His point about the importance of post-acquisition integration and cultural fit strikes me as particularly poignant. I have observed too many integrations turn into disasters because not enough attention had been paid to the intangibles and issues of incompatible value systems. (pages 220-221)

Finally, I felt that in the section about The Right Job, he offers a very succinct and helpful chart to help someone contemplating a job transition to assess the pros and cons of a new job opportunity. (page 257)

If you have not yet taken the time to read this insightful book, I add the weight of my recommendation.



"The Big Moo" - Seth Godin's Latest Purple Cow Project

I am a big fan of Seth Godin. I have found something valuable and practicably applicable in each of his books on marketing and innovation. I regularly read his Blog - as a way of keeping my mind sharp when it comes to thinking about issues of marketing and branding. I love his latest project – “The Big Moo.”

A few months ago, Seth contacted 32 of the most creative business thinkers, thought leaders, writers and innovators that he knew and respected and challenged each of them to contribute a short essay that would be compiled into a book about how to be truly remarkable in business. The profits for the book project would all go to charity –

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
The Acumen Fund
Room to Read

Each of the authors immediately agreed to participate, and the resulting book – The Big Moo – will be published in the next few weeks and available on and in bookstores everywhere.

Many of the contributors to the project are individuals whose work I already know and admire – Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters, Daniel Pink, Dave Balter and Seth Godin himself. Each writer was willing to leave his or her ego “at the door,” since the resulting 33 essays are printed without author attribution. I have just finished reading a pre-publication copy of the book and found it to contain some very helpful and encouraging nuggets that spur my own ideas of how to work on being “remarkable.”

As an appetizer, let me share some ideas that grabbed me from just two of the essays:

From the chapter: Fire The Gatekeepers

In California, Hyland Baron, an independent arts, economic and urban-development-oriented community organizer, reads the Oakland Times religiously. She underlines people’s names, details about projects, and other useful information. Then she writes those people e-mails or calls them on the phone with recommended resources, incentives for introductions, and other expressions of support and congratulations.

I do the same thing. If I read a book I’ve found personally or professionally important and useful, I try to track down the author. If a piece of music affects me, I reach out to thank the artist for their effort. And if I want to meet, learn more from, or help someone I encounter on-line or off-line, I write to them.

I do this, not as a fan but as a comrade, as a coconspirator. Because if someone else’s work has improved my life or my work, it is my responsibility as a consumer, customer, fellow creator to help improve their lives and work in kind. . . .

Such an approach to life requires an assumption of indirect reciprocity. We must assume that the people who makes things happen are visible, accessible, and responsible to those who use their tools to make still more things happen. It also suggests that we need to open ourselves to such outreach from those who wish to approach us.
(pages 111-113)

* * * * *

Amen! I feel as though I could have written many of these words myself, since they reflect the modus operandi I have adopted over the past several years. My life has been immeasurably enriched from conversations and correspondence that have resulted from my having taken the risk to reach out to authors and public personalities such as Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Kelly Perdew, John Irving, Michael Abrashoff, Admiral Bill Owens, James Webb, Duncan Watts, David Lipsky, et al. I also make it a regular practice to offer feedback to actors and directors when I attend theater events, and to musicians when I attend live performances.

From the chapter, Stop Being Ordinary, I appreciated these five practical suggestions for behaving remarkably:

1) Avidly Collect Firsthand ExperiencesBe your own Sherlock Holmes. Take pains to observe and understand nuances from the front lines of your business . . . A.G. Lafley, CEO of $50 billion Procter & Gamble still regularly finds time to visit individual homes and talk with customers to keep current on what really matters to people.

2) Practice the Zen Principle of “Beginner’s Mind.” People with a thirst for learning can momentarily set aside what they “know.” They often have extensive academic backgrounds and ample professional experience, but they manage to look past tradition and preconceived notions. They’re confident in their knowledge, yet willing to challenge it when confronted with new information.

3) Keep an “Idea Wallet” So You Don’t Lose Momentary Insights - Real-world anthropologists carry a field notebook and a camera to record their discoveries. Try recording ideas in real time – on your PDA, or even on a folded sheet of paper you keep in your back pocket.

4) Embrace the Power of Storytelling to Bring It All TogetherStorytelling has an emotional appeal that trumps all the raw data in the world. Medtronic, a blue-chip medical-technology company, reports that when their teams need an extra spark, they bring in patients and ask them to talk about how a Medtronic product changed their lives. The results are positively electric. These life-affirming stories leave hardly a dry eye in the house, and the entire Medtronic team returns to work with a renewed energy, motivated to do their absolute best. (pages 114-116)

* * * *

I plan to purchase multiple copies of “The Big Moo” to give to colleagues and clients as holiday gifts. In that way everyone wins – the giver of the gift, the recipients and the charities whose work is being supported by this worthy publishing project. Remarkable!



Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Big Papi Steps Up To The Plate – Twice in One Night

The phone at my desk rang insistently. As I picked up the receiver I heard the man on the other end of the line blurt out: “Al Chase, you are in big trouble!” The caller did not identify himself, but there was no missing the inimitable West Indian lilt of the voice of my friend, Davey Valdez. Davey and I met several years ago at Fenway Park and we have been friends ever since. He grew up in the Dominican Republic, playing baseball with David Ortiz. The Valdez clan is a baseball-playing family. One of Davey’s older brothers has been a manager in the Cincinnati Reds system, and Davey himself was on a track towards a major league career when a serious knee injury ended that dream.

When Valdez and I first got to know each other, he said to me: “You have to meet my friend, David Ortiz; he would really like you.” At the time, Ortiz was toiling in relative obscurity for the Minnesota Twins. I met him briefly when the Twins visited Fenway Park. Imagine my delight when the Twins decided to let him go and the Red Sox picked him up and signed him as a free agent for the 2003 season. We all know what has happened in the intervening seasons: the once low-profile Minnesota Twin known as David Ortiz has become the darling of Red Sox Nation and is known by all as “Big Papi.” He is now widely considered to be the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history!

“Why am I in trouble, Davey?”

“Because Big Papi wants to know why he has not seen you lately.”

David runs the Valdez Baseball Academy out of Lynn, Massachusetts. He often arranges for boyhood friends, like Ortiz, to drop in to offer hitting clinics, fielding tips, etc. I have a standing invitation to stop by for these special events – which usually culminate in a delicious meal of Dominican specialties. I can recall several occasions when I was the only one at the table who was not born in the D.R.

“Al, I have having a special clinic today. Papi came by. He was just looking at a scrapbook of photos from clinics from last year, and when he saw a picture of you standing with him, he said to me: “I miss Al Chase; where is Al Chase – why isn’t he here today?”

“OK, Davey, please tell Papi I’ll try to see him as soon as I am able.”

* * * * *

Dennis and Callahan – anchor hosts of the eponymous “Dennis and Callahan Show” that airs during morning drive time on Boston’s WEEI – made the announcement yesterday morning. “Today’s fund-raising event at Fenway Park for the victims of Katrina will be David Ortiz and Tony Graffanino posing for photographs at Autograph Alley from 5:30-6:00. Anyone who donates at least $100.00 to the Red Cross relief efforts will be given a chance to be photographed with the two players.”

I got to Autograph Alley early last evening and talked with Rod Oreste as the final preparations were being made for the photo session. Rod is the Red Sox Manager of Publications and Archives, and is the staff person primarily responsible for the operation of Autograph Alley. Since I have been an Autograph Alley volunteer for the past three years, Rod is my “boss” at Fenway Park.

“Rod, this is a great fund-raising idea. Who suggested it – Dr. Charles?” [Dr. Charles Steinberg is the Red Sox visionary Executive Vice-President of Public Affairs, and is the genius behind many of the Red Sox fan-friendly initiatives in recent history.]

“No, this was Varitek’s idea.” In addition to individual contributions (see yesterday’s Blog posting about Curt Schilling), the players wanted to do something as a team to raise money, and turning Autograph Alley into a fund-raising venue seemed like a natural. The players offered to alter their pre-game routine to accommodate this opportunity.

I knew Ortiz and Graffanino would need to make the walk from the Red Sox Clubhouse to Autograph Alley at 5:30, so I headed down in the direction of the Clubhouse entrance. At 5:30 on the dot, the door swung open and out came a cadre of Red Sox front office personnel and security. As Ortiz walked down the ramp, he spotted me and smiled. The phalanx of security parted enough to allow me to fall in step beside Ortiz as the entourage continued the trek to Autograph Alley.

“Davey Valdez tells me you were asking about me, Papi.”

“Yeh, man, I wondered why you were not at the Clinic. It is good to see you.”

The conversation continued until we reached the destination, and a buzz arose from the assembled crowd of fans – hundreds of whom had gladly paid their $100 for a chance to be photographed with Big Papi.

* * * * * *

The game was a classic pitching duel between Tim Wakefield and the Angels’ John Laskey. The game was tied 2-2 going to the 9th inning. The public address announcer called the fans attention to the TV screen high above the Centerfield Bleachers. “In the past few days, Red Sox fans have contributed over $225,000 towards to the Red Cross Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.” A significant chunk of that money was raised by those who paid to sit with “Big Papi” and say “Cheese” for the photographer.

The game was a classic – great pitching, timely hitting, runners left on base, daring base running, plays at the plate, tremendous defense by both teams. It was a game worthy of two Division Leaders. Tim Wakefield completed his masterpiece and walked off the mound at the end the 9th inning to raucous applause and cheers from the crowd. But the crowd was just warming up. The bottom of the 9th brought Big Papi to the plate with one out. Angels’ closer, Scott Shields, had been terrific all season.

Sitting beside me in Section 20 of the Grandstands were two couples that were attending their very first Fenway game. As Ortiz stepped to the plate, I leaned towards them and said: “You are about to experience something special. See that number on the Angels bullpen – where it say 385 feet – watch that spot.”

Shields pitched carefully – starting Ortiz off with three balls away and out of the strike zone. I wondered if they would walk him intentionally and take their chances with Manny. Foul ball – count 3-1. Foul ball – full count, 3-2.

A few hours earlier, Ortiz had posed with fans in Autograph alley for Hurricane Katrina relief. Now, he posed a daunting challenge to reliever Scott Shields. The 3-2 pitch was high and inside – and it returned from whence it had come in a high parabola that carried it over the 385’ sign and into the chasm between Section 1 and the Bleachers – landing 457 feet from home plate and making it the longest homerun of the season at Fenway Park.

Papi rounded the bases and leapt into the waiting scrum of teammates. The crowd roared its approval and adulation. Papi had done it again. He was a hero. He stood tall – yet he never stood taller than he had four hours earlier when he sat to be photographed for the benefit of the thousands from New Orleans who are having a hard time picturing what the future may hold for them.

Papi, thanks for stepping up to the plate and delivering for those in need. You are a true hero on and off the field!

Go Sox!


Mini-Book Review – “The Rule of Four” by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

I enjoy Dan Brown’s writing. In the past year, I have made my way through “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons,” “Deception Point” and “Digital Fortress.” After awhile, Brown’s approach to plot and character development began to seem a bit formulaic, but the books were worth the time I invested in reading them. So, I was a bit skeptical when I picked up a copy of Caldwell and Thomason's collaborative first novel, and read a blurb that claimed: “If Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, and Dan Brown teamed up to write a novel, the result would be 'The Rule of Four.'” But I found that the reviewer was on target.

I consider a novel a success and a worthwhile read if I am entertained, intrigued, moved to feel something for the characters, or am offered new insights into human nature, a period of history or part of the world that interests me. “The Rule of Four” delivered on all fronts. The authors’ broad Ivy League educations are in evidence on every page of the novel. Caldwell graduated Phi Beta Kappa in history from Princeton, and Thomason won the Hoopes Prize at Harvard for outstanding scholarly work and research. The book toggles back and forth between the campus of present day Princeton University and Rome and Florence of the Renaissance. The action and intrigue center around several generations of obsessed scholars who sacrifice everything to crack the code of an obscure 15th Century text known as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

This book is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. I enjoyed it. If you want to learn more about Savanarola and his infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities” in the public square in Firenze, then start reading this tour de force first effort by a team of writers we will doubtless hear from again.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Notes Of Compassion Sounded In The Aftermath Of Katrina

Out of the cacophony of bad news and heart-rending tragedy emanating from dystopic New Orleans this past week, notes of hope and humanity are beginning to make themselves heard above the raucous clatter of looting and finger-wagging – notes as welcome and as sweet as a Dixieland Jazz riff from Pete Fountain’s clarinet.

Amidst all of the horror, small vignettes are emerging that show common decency and compassion at work. I heard a radio interview a few days ago with a woman who sounded like a retiree. She said something like this: "I sat in front of the TV and cried for the devastation and loss and suffering. And then I thought to myself: 'Don't just cry; you can do something. You can make a difference - even if it is for one family.' So, I went online to Craig's list and offered free housing in my home for a family that wants to take advantage of it."

Along the same lines, WEEI, Boston’s premier sport talk radio station, reported this morning that Curt Schilling and his family have made arrangements to take care of housing a displaced family of nine for the next year. The Boston Globe ran the story this morning. The Schillings had offered the gesture anonymously, but the Globe was tipped off and called the Schillings to verify the story.

What does not come across very clearly in this story is that much of the charitable work that the Schillings do as a couple and as a family is motivated by their strong personal faith. Curt was among ten Red Sox players featured on a fascinating DVD released by Athletes in Action. The DVD, “Reversing The Curse,” features Schilling, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and others sharing highlights from the Red Sox Championship season and talking about the role that their faith played in helping them to deal with the roller coaster ride of the 2004 season. (For information on how to receive a copy of this DVD, e-mail me, and I’ll be glad to share to contact information with you.)

The Red Sox organization is pulling out all the stops to find ways of funneling funds to victims of Katrina and her aftermath. Autograph Alley, where I volunteer several times a week during the baseball season, is normally a spot where former players make themselves available to sign free autographs for fans. The Red Sox, for the next several days, will transform Autograph Alley into an avenue for raising funds for the Red Cross disaster relief efforts. This evening, from 5:30-6:30, David Ortiz – known as Big Papi to his fans in Red Sox Nation – will be signing autographs for anyone willing to donate at least $100.00 to the Red Cross. In addition, the Red Sox have equipped Fenway Park with dozens of canisters for cash contributions to the Red Cross located in all corners of the stadium.

Gov. Mitt Romney of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held a news conference yesterday announcing that Camp Edwards at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod will be transformed into a refugee center for up to 2,500 displaced individuals. He urged citizens of The Commonwealth to volunteer in a variety of capacities.

The lesson I take away from all of this is that each of us needs to sit down and consider how we may be able to respond to the needs that we are becoming aware of. For some, it may mean sharing our home. For others, a cash contribution may be the most effective way to give. Still others may be in a position to offer a job and a fresh start to a person or family dispossessed by the storm. Or you may be in a position to be able to volunteer some time. How easy it is for us to curse the darkness. I urge you to find a way in keeping with your circumstances and your resources to light a candle to help dispel that darkness.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Mini Review of “Seizure” by Robin Cook

There must be something in the air in Boston and Cambridge that prompts doctors who train and practice in our storied medical schools and world-class hospitals to go beyond scribbling prescriptions to penning readable novels, screen plays and TV series. Michael Crichton comes immediately to mind. A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, this Renaissance Man taught anthropology at Cambridge University in England before pursuing his medical degree at Harvard Medical School. He financed his medical studies by writing thrillers under several pseudonyms. His best known works include Andromeda Strain, Rising Sun and Jurassic Park. He is the creator of the long-running TV series, ER.

Following in the tradition of medically-trained men of letters, Robin Cook is credited with: “introducing the word ‘medical’ to the thriller genre, and twenty years after the publication of his breakthrough novel, Coma, he continues to dominate the category he created.” (Quotation from Penguin Books bio page for Robin Cook).

Although he received his M.D. from Columbia University Medical School, the Boston influence is still there. He did post-doc work at Harvard and is currently on leave from his role as an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Eye and Ear Infirmary.

I have long enjoyed reading Dr. Cook’s writings. Were I to have an opportunity to meet Dr. Cook, I would - in my best Rene Zelweiger voice - proclaim: "You had me at 'Coma'!" As I read Coma, I loved his ability to tell a compelling story that used insider knowledge of medical procedures and “bleeding edge” research as a backdrop for creating fictional scenarios that address social, clinical, and bio-ethical issues.

His recent book, Seizure, is the latest in a steady stream of novels that flow from that stream. He has managed to created a body of work that uses the same mix of ingredients without becoming formulaic. In much the same way that Coma addressed issues presented by the growing availability of organ transplantation, Seizure tells a story that highlights the ethical Gordian Knot created by rapid advances in therapeutic cloning. A U.S. Senator from the Deep South – a Faulknerian cartoon of a Falstaff in white linen suit – grandstands for his constituency his opposition to therapeutic cloning. While he publicly opposes the new treatment in the political realm, behind the scenes the Senator is seeking to avail himself of this experimental treatment to cure the incipient Parkinson’s Disease that threatens to ruin his chances for a run at the White House. Throw in cloning blood cells form the Shroud of Turin, and you have a prescriptionfor an entrertaining summer read. The action occurs in milieus as disparate as the marshes of Revere Beach, the hallways of the U.S. Capitol, the cloisters of Turin and the splendors of the Atlantis Resort in Nassau.

I was just finishing the last few pages of this book on Monday evening as I sat in Section 20 at Fenway Park awaiting the first pitch of the game against Tampa Bay (My 1st Place Red Sox won 10-6!). Another citizen of Red Sox Nation stopped on the way to her seat in Row 1 – a seat she has occupied as a Season Ticket Holder since 1967! She remarked: “Can I borrow that book when you are finished? I love Robin Cook’s writing!”

That about says it all and is quintessential Boston – combining passion for the Red Sox, reading, writing, and medicine with our unique sense of community, order and tradition.



The Making Of A Mentor - Bob Glazer's Story

Bob Glazer and I have been friends for several years. Bob is currently VP of Corporate Development for Isis Maternity here in the Boston area. From the beginning of our friendship, I have been impressed with his commitment to mentoring and to his role as a member of the Board of Directors for Big Brothers of Mass Bay. On the eve of a big fundraising push and the annual Rodman Ride for Kids, I asked Bob to talk about his development as a mentor.

I share his story despite the fact the Bob recently humilated the old White Rhino on the tennis court, but we must rise above such petty concerns!

"I know that I would not be the person that I am today if it were not for the existence of mentors in my life. Like many boys, especially those who have no older siblings, my earliest mentor was my father. I feel lucky in that I chose to emulate someone who’s principles included respect for others, honesty and integrity. From the first grade, I told everyone that I wanted to be a lawyer like my father; I spent most of high school and college preparing for that course. Ironically, it was the emergence of another mentor, my cousin Scott, that made me rethink my chosen career path. Scott took me under his wing when I was in college and opened my eyes to the world of small businesses, which would ultimately be the direction I would choose for my career. I can also trace the existence of mentors in my early professional career being the difference between exceeding expectations and simply meeting the status quo.

Knowing how my own mentors have helped to shape my character and my decisions, I can only begin to imagine what my life would be like had my early role models included a convicted felon, the local drug dealer or the kid in class who always made everyone laugh, but was never in school long enough to be considered a student. It is becuase of this realization that I have been a Big Brother for almost six years now to a boy named Dion, who is now 13 and in the most impressionable period of his life. He is the only boy in a four-child family with a single mother. His father is incarcerated. When Dion and I first were matched, he had no male role model in his life and was increasingly acting out and making life difficult for this mother. Unfortunately, Dion’s profile is not very different from that of many of the almost 2000 children who are matched by the local
Big Brothers of Mass Bay chapter. It may not seem as if spending a few hours every few weekends could make much of a difference, but my own observations of Dion’s development over the past six years have shown me that a small investment of time can have a huge impact. Beyond my personal anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of mentoring, there is also a formal longitudinal study that showed that an at-risk youth with a Big Brother/Big Sister is:

52% less likely to skip a day of school
46% less likely to use illegal drugs
70% less likely to use illegal drugs for children of color
27% less likely to use alcohol
33% less likely to engage in violence with peers

More likely to respect adults

For me, the best part of being a mentor is that I know that I have learned as much from Dion as he has from me. I can only hope that our time together will help to reinforce a sense of motivation for him and will engender in him a desire to rise above the relatively moderate expectations that typically exist for someone with his socio-economic profile.

It is in the spirit of helping more children such as Dion to find positive role models that I will be riding in the Rodman Ride for Kids on October 1st as the Captain of the Big Brothers of Mass Bay (BBMB) team. The Rodman ride is a unique event as the sponsors have agreed to cover all of the overhead, meaning that 100% of the money I raise will go back to the agency to help make new and support existing matches. This will be my fifth year riding and I have been able to raise over $10,000 to date - all from individual contributors. If you are interested in making a donation to support this amazing organization, please click on
my personal donation page. Any amount you are able to give is appreciated and will bring me closer to my goal of $4000 for this year’s ride. If you know someone who believes in mentoring and who may be interested in making a donation, please feel free to forward this posting on to them. We are also still recruiting riders who want to Join Our Team for the October 1st ride."

* * * * *

It has been my privilege in the past to support financially Bob's involvement with The Rodman Ride for Kids, and I intend to so so again this year. I invite you to join me in multiplying the number of kids like Dion who will be matched in the future with other "Bigs" like Bob.