Wednesday, April 22, 2009

General Petraeus Helps Harvard to Honor Its Vets

I was privileged to be among the lucky few who gathered yesterday at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to pay tribute to the men and women who have served in our military and are pursuing graduate degrees at the Law School, Kennedy School and Business School. It was a moving and fitting tribute to the scores of current Harvard students who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Gen. David Petraeus, Commanding General of the U.S. Central Command made the trip to add his own gravitas to this special tribute to Harvard soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

After a warm welcome by the Dean of the Kennedy School, Maura Sullivan addressed the gathering. Maura, a former Captain in the US Marines Corps, is a dual degree candidate at the Business School and Kennedy School, and has served as Co-President of the Armed Forces Alumni Association at HBS. Maura, whom I am pleased to call a friend, gave an impassioned plea and well-conceived rationale for reinstating ROTC training to the Harvard campus.

General Petraeus was introduced to us by Seth Moulton. A 2001 graduate of Harvard College, Seth joined the Marines Corps, and served two tours in Iraq as Special Assistant to General Petraeus. So, Seth’s introduction was personal, heart-felt and incisive.

David Gergen, Director of the Center for Public Leadership at KSG, moderated the session that featured General Petraeus responding to Gergen’s questions about the theme of the gathering: “21st Century Leadership – Lessons from the U.S. Military.”

Early in his remarks, Petraeus laid his cards on the table and revealed that he was in enemy territory in two regards; he is a Yankees fan and his Ph.D. is from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and not from Harvard! It became clear how deeply Petraeus appreciates the lessons that can be learned from history. He talked about going to sleep in Iraq reading from Bruce Catton’s classic study of Gen. Grant’s leadership in the midst of gloomy times in the Civil War, “Grant Takes Command.” He also alluded on several occasions to the writings of Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was in the audience.

The General outlined four over-arching tasks that are essential for a strategic leader to master:

1) Get the big ideas right

2) Communicate those ideas effectively down the organizational chain of command

3) Oversee the execution of those ideas.

4) Capture lessons learned and best practices.

As he fleshed out how each of those four major points had developed during his time of leadership in Iraq, I was struck by his emphasis on getting as close to the Iraqi people as possible. One of the “big ideas,” is to “secure and to serve the people.” The 21st century warrior needs to be able to figure out when it is appropriate to serve the people by removing intractable enemy elements using “kinetic force,” and when it appropriate to serve them by providing clean water, sewage, electricity and schools.

He emphasized how important it is for the leader to find a way for his people to embrace the big ideas – even if they are reluctant to do so. His phrase was: “Even if at first you have to hold their arms around the idea.” He told a marvelous story of how he helped a recalcitrant senior officer to embrace the concept of Nation Building. This soldier held a more traditional and monolithic view of the proper role for the military, and that world view did not include Nation Building. Petraeus addressed the problem by announcing that in 48 hours he would be visiting the leader to view the results of the great Nation Building activities that he and his troops were overseeing. When the General arrived for his inspection, he found lots of effective National Building activity under way! Brilliant!

He pointed out how crucial it was in Iraq in the execution of the big ideas that he and Ambassador Crocker presented a united front, whether it be in briefing Members of Congress or in interacting with Iraqi sheikhs. One of the complex challenges that he and his team faced in Iraq was separating the “irreconcilables from the reconcilables.” It takes a nuanced understanding of the culture and history to discern which enemies can be converted to allies and which need to be removed by force.

He spoke candidly about the need to tell the truth:“Be first with the truth.” He was told in the early days of the surge, “You have a messaging problem!” His retort was to say, “No, we have a success problem. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.”

He consistently reinforced seminal principles to his troops: Live your values. Exercise initiative. Learn and adapt. He showed a slide of what he calls “The Engine of Change” – a complex knowledge management system of systems that creates effective and immediate feedback mechanisms so that the lessons and best practices learned on the battlefield can be translated into policy and doctrine in a timely fashion.

A phrase that he repeated during the course of his remarks served for me as the capstone of his insights into military leadership in the 21st century: “You cannot kill or capture your way out of an industrial strength insurgency.”

We are fortunate to have a statesman, scholar, soldier calling the shots and leading the way at the helm of CENTCOM. He led the way yesterday in honoring Harvard’s men and women who have helped turn his big ideas into executable action on the ground.

Maura Sullivan just posted the video of yesterday’s event to Facebook:

Facebook – Petraeus at Harvard

An Op-Ed piece by Paula Broadwell in yesterday’s Boston Globe shares a personal perspective on General Petraeus’ leadership:

Broadwell Op-Ed Piece in Boston Globe

Pray for the men and women who continue to serve in implementing Petraeus’ “Big Ideas.”


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Never Judge a Book by Its Cover - How Susan Boyle Made Al Chase Cry and Simon Cowell Smile

My friend, Mike Ortlieb, and I share a passionate appreciation for all things Les Miserables - the book, the musical and anything tangential to the story. So, when he e-mailed me a link to a YouTube video, I thought maybe it was a cut from a cast album or something of that nature. I was not prepared for what I just saw.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about the amazing Paul Potts and his performance on Britain's Got Talent.

Paul Potts Blog piece

A few days ago, an etiolate 47-year woman named Susan Boyle took the stage for this year's edition of Britain's Got Talent. Her physical appearance can most charitably be described as "frumpy with attitude"! Hailing from a small Scottish village near Glasgow, she was sporting a hairdo I last saw in these parts sometime in the 1950's worn by a member of the Lady's Auxiliary of First Baptist Church. Currently an unemployed charity worker, she expressed a dream to someday be a famous professional singer. Close-ups of the audience and judges showed facial expressions ranging from scorn to incredulity to amusement. They clearly could not wait to pounce on this misguided dreamer who was over-reaching in her presumptions and pipe dreams.

And then she opened her mouth to sing - appropriately enough, Fantine's haunting and gut-wrenching torch song from Les Miserables,"I Dreamed a Dream,". Within a few seconds, audience members were standing and applauding; within 10 seconds Simon Cowell had arched his eyebrows in astonishment. Within 15 seconds the other judges were clapping. Within 30 seconds, Cowell was grinning like the Cheshire Cat and I was wiping tears from my eyes. I know this song inside and out. I have heard it sung by the best of the best - from Patti LuPone to Lea Salonga to Barbra Streisand. I have never been more moved by a presentation of this anthem.

Perhaps it was the sheer cognitive dissonance of Boyle transforming herself from frump to diva in just a few measures. Perhaps it was the wonder of watching an underdog emerge against all odds as top dog. It was magical and it was wonderful.

You must take time to watch the YouTube segment:

Susan Boyle on YouTube

Your heart will sing. I guarantee it.



P.S. Here is an update I just stumbled across about her reprising her song this morning on "Good Morning America." article

Meet Jake Harriman and the Work of Nuru International

Meet my friend, Jake Harriman, a former Marine (combat veteran) and graduate of the Naval Academy, and a 2008 graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Jake went to the GSB to start Nuru International, a non-profit that would build on a new model to eradicate poverty in Africa (a lofty goal no doubt). Jake feels called by God to develop a sustainable model for reaching out to the poorest of the poor in rural Africa.

I am convinced of the viability of this model, and encourage you to learn about the work that they are doing. You may be live to support them financially or to continue passing the word who share Jake’s passion for making a difference.

* * * * *

Nuru International Fact Sheet

About Nuru International

Nuru, a Kiswahili word meaning "light," is a new humanitarian organization at the crossroads of innovation and extreme poverty.

Nuru International is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, public benefit charity committed to pioneering holistic, sustainable solutions to end extreme poverty in partnership with the poor. Its mission is to empower rural communities to achieve self-sufficiency and to inspire the developed world to confront the crisis of extreme poverty.

The Crisis

According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion people live below the $1 a day extreme poverty line. 70% of these extreme poor live in rural areas. In this age of stunning advances in the natural sciences, technology, medicine, and business where developed nations can afford to offer their next generation the hope of a better tomorrow, millions still struggle every day to find enough food to ensure their children even see tomorrow.

How Nuru Works

Nuru is NGO 2.0

Nuru International is based on a groundbreaking eight-step model that addresses the interconnected problems of the extreme poor in a way that helps them lift themselves out of poverty, rather than creating a dependency on outside organizations.

These eight steps are:

(1) Listen,
(2) Innovate,
(3) Empower,
(4) Partner x3,
(5) Evaluate (then repeat),
(6) Sustain,
(7) Leave,
(8) Scale.

The Nuru Team

Nuru is a grassroots movement of thousands who have grown tired of waiting for someone else to end extreme poverty in Africa.

Nuru is the vision of Jake Harriman (CEO) and John Hancox (Board Chairman), and shaped by the innovation engine of the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). Philanthropic foundations, venture capitalists and successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs invested seed money to get Nuru off the ground, and since its launch in Fall 2008, more than 4,000 friends have joined its cause on Facebook. Now 5,000 inhabitants in Kuria, Kenya are counting on Nuru to innovate and empower, partner and refine the next generation of solutions in the fight against extreme poverty.

The Kuria Project

Nuru launched its initial Seed Project in Kuria, Kenya in September 2008, with participation from more than 450 families in the community. The project currently encompasses three core programs: agriculture, water and sanitation, and healthcare. The second Seed Project is expected to launch in Malawi in early 2010.

How to Get Involved

Nuru's goal of ending extreme poverty relies on the courage and action of people worldwide to get involved and Be Nuru. There are many ways to join the cause:

• Donate online at

• Sign up for the Nuru Newsletter

• Friend Nuru's Facebook Cause at

• Join a Nuru College Chapter

• Volunteer to Perform Research/Evaluation

More information on how to Be Nuru is available at:

Nuru Website

Thanks for helping Jake and Nuru to care.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Advance Notice – “Showboat” at Boston Conservatory April 24-26. Do Not Miss It!

If you are a fan of musical theater, the music of Jerome Kern or just a fan of great entertainment, pull out your calendar and pencil in the weekend of April 24-26. The Boston Conservatory will be offering, as a Main Stage production by their Department of Theater, a rare mounting of a concert version of Showboat.

The role of “Joe,” made famous by Paul Robeson with his rendition of “Ole Man River.” will be played by Nicholas Christopher. I recently saw Nick appear in the role of Don Quixote in a student-directed production of Man of La Mancha. This talented freshman had me believing he was an aged knight errant from La Mancha, so I cannot wait to see what he does with the role of “Joe.”

Boston Conservatory Ticket Information

See you there.


“Scenes from a Parish” – An Easter Story of Death and Resurrection in Lawrence, MA

Such is the state of communication in the 21st century that I learned about the existence of the film, Scenes from a Parish, by way of my son in Romania. He e-mailed me yesterday from Craiova, Romania to ask me if I had read Ty Burr’s review of the documentary film that had been made about St. Patrick’s Parish in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I had not yet gone on-line to see what Ty and his Boston Globe colleague, Wesley Morris, had to say about the latest batch of film releases. So, at my son's prompting, I read Ty’s review, and then looked to see when the film was next playing.

Boston Globe Review of "Scenes from a Parish"

I just returned from excursion to Boston’s Museum of Fine Art to see the morning showing of Scenes from a Parish. It was a moving experience. I know Lawrence reasonably well, having grown up a few miles downstream at the mouth of the Merrimac River in Newburyport. It may be the same river, but the two communities are worlds apart. Lawrence over the past 25 years has seen a flood of Hispanic immigration, and St. Patrick’s Parish in South Lawrence is a microcosm of that sea change from Irish immigrant families to Spanish speaking immigrants.

The film chronicles four years of snapshots and vignettes from the daily lives of individuals within the parish. Some of those captured on film hail from each side of the cultural divide, and some, like Father Paul O’Brien, try to bridge the chasm - much like the rusting bridge that spans the Merrimac near St. Patrick’s. The old iron bridge serves as a cinematic focal point and touchstone in this well-executed documentary.

I was particularly moved by the Easter pageant in the film that showed the community celebrating the Passion of Christ in a realistic enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. It was poignant to see this community, struggling to come back from the dead, uniting around a recreation and retelling of the world’s best known story of death and resurrection.

Father O’Brien, a product of privileged Chestnut Hill and Harvard University, has traveled as a missionary to this foreign land. He has made himself both a beloved member of the community and a lighting rod for resentment on the part of those who fear change and would like to hold back the tide of new arrivals and all that their coming means to the parish. TV talk show host, Conan O’Brien, Father O’Brien’s college roommate, appears in a cameo role to lend support to the ambitious plans that the rector has nurtured for creating a warm and welcoming place to feed the hungry. The opening of the Cora Unum Center is a highlight of the film. Father O’Brien’s comments on that occasion about the Harvard Club prompted spontaneous laughter among the Boston theatergoers at today’s screening.

The film provides no easy answers to the dilemmas that face the city, the parish and its parishioners. The film makers lovingly and unblinkingly train their lens on people living their lives and sharing their thoughts. Watching this film and vicariously visiting this parish is both heart-warming and heart-rending.

There are two more opportunities to see Scenes from a Parish at the MFA – tomorrow, Easter Sunday, at 3:15 and next Friday, April 17 at 2:00 PM.



Friday, April 10, 2009

Mini-Review: “Lowboy” by John Wray

I learned about the author, John Wray through a VeryShortList posting. The brief (VeryShort) description of this novel intrigued me, and I obtained a copy of Lowboy.

The story takes place mostly in the subterranean depths of the tunnels of the New York City subway system. Those intricately interwoven channels also serve as a metaphor for the labyrinthine thought patterns of the novel’s protagonist, Will Heller, a sixteen year-old paranoid schizophrenic.

Wray’s has a keen ear and eye for the detail of what life must look and feel like to a young man filled with paranoid delusions. His writing voice beautifully reflects the varied subcultures of New York. The pace of the action is breathtaking, as detective Ali Lateef and Violet, Heller’s mother, set out to find the troubled boy before he has the possibility of harming a young woman with whom he is infatuated and whom, he believes, holds the key to his being able to save the world from global warming.

I liked this book enough that I immediately ordered another of Wray’s novels, Canaan’s Tongue.

Take a ride with Heller and Wray on the A Train of a troubled mind.



Sharing a Wonderful Resource: Very Short List

My friend, Rick Cerf, regularly pounds me into submission on the tennis court. Yesterday was a good example: 6-3, 6-2, and 7-5. But, I keep coming back for more because off the court, he is a good friend. He often recommends books I should read and resources I should be aware of.

A few months ago he suggested that I subscribe to a site called “Very Short List.” Each day, in the space of a concise paragraph or two, the site highlights books, movies, concerts and other phenomena that I might not otherwise be aware of. As a result of my daily quick scans through the site, I have discovered authors,musicians, websites and films I might have otherwise missed.

Very Short List Link

You will see that there is a place to subscribe for free.

Today’s posting is a great example. Click on this link to take a wonderful tour of 4 places in Italy, shown through a 24-hour photo cycle of 100 photos for each day and location.

How To spend This Weekend in Italy


Thanks again, Rick. I am going to work on breaking that serve of yours!


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Promised Virgins – A Novel of Jihad by Jeffrey Fleishman

Sometimes the fractals of my life lead to some interesting and unanticipated connections. One of my favorite haunts is the bar at Legal Seafood in Copley Place. If the folks at Legal relied on my consumption of alcohol to remain a profitable concern, they would have gone out of business long ago. I come for the clam chowder, the bottomless glass of Diet Coke and the world-class service from the great staff of men and women who make this bar a destination for many of us regulars. It beats Cheers for being a place where everybody truly knows your name. A few weeks ago, I took my usual place at the bar and quickly became aware that I was sitting next to two distinguished journalists: Kevin Cullen, columnist for the Boston Globe and Jeffrey Fleishman, Cairo Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times. Fleishman was in town to as a recipient of a Harvard Nieman Fellowship. He has also been a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

As Cullen and Fleishman allowed me to hitchhike on their conversation, I learned that Fleishman had just published a novel, based on his experiences covering the conflict in Kosovo. I was intrigued enough to order a copy of the book. I am glad that I did.

Promised Virgins - A Novel of Jihad, looks at the war in Kosovo - and the larger global terror campaign - through the eyes of veteran war correspondent, Jay Morgan. A Bin Laden-like figure lurks in the background of the narrative that plays itself out with suspense and artistry. Morgan’s beautiful, but war-ravaged translator, Alijah, provides a link to the terrorists as she searches for her younger brother who has gone missing and may have joined the insurgents. One reviewer likened Fleishman’s writing style to that of Hemingway, but I find Fleishman’s literary voice to be more lyrical and less terse than Hemingway’s. I love his commentary on the art of writing, as limned through this conversation between Morgan and Alijah:

“You’re a fast writer. What’s the problem?


You’re not even forty, are you?

Not that kind of age. It’s details, you know. A lot of older hacks have lost the sense for detail, the precision of a simple thing. You can read it in their copy. There’s stuff missing. They go for big sweeping paragraphs because they don’t take the time anymore to collect the miniature. They think they already know it. But the grain changes. You have to see it. I never want to lose the details.” (Page 63)

It is clear to me that Fleishman, with his many years of covering conflicts, has become both world-weary and word-wise. So, too, has his alter ego protagonist, Jay Morgan. In this passage, Morgan reflects on the death of another journalist, who had looked forward to leaving the theater of war for a fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:

“By now, Vijay’s passed through the check-points and is in Pristina. They’ll cut off his clothes and wash him. Women will gather, and men will go out at first light and break the frost line to the soft earth. The grave will widen. Vijay will be carried through the snow and lowered into the dirt. People will whisper that war is insatiable, unfolding through mountains and creeping across valleys, taking the best and the worst, indiscriminately. They will hate the Serbs, as if they could hate them any more, for a death committed by another. Vijay, the new martyr, his picture photocopied and hung, his black eyes peering through streets and alleys, blowing in the wind, ripping and fading until he is diminished and all that’s left are staples and faded strips of paper. Then a new face will be hung. And another. And another. This is what I think, but what do I know about anything?” (Pages 180-1)

Fleishman’s philosophical reflection about war, as experienced by one charged with reporting the violence and death, reminds me a great deal of the brilliant novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Painter of Battles.

Review of The Painter of Battles

Let me share one final excerpt, a hauntingly poignant and poetic meditation on war, distilled in the microcosm of Alijah’s story and tragedy:

“Alijah’s silhouette is sharp. She says nothing more. In all the time we’ve been together, our conversations have mostly been with, and through, others, with Alijah the conduit, the alchemist turning two languages into one. She is my screen, my sieve, my word collector. I want her to whisper her secret to me again. I want to know more. I want her story to never end. It lies out there in remnants on a field of lightning and a galloping horse. She will never tell me all. I have been given images I can understand and process: rape, a dead boy soldier, escape. A tragedy in three acts. Language, this smattering of ink and sound, cannot explain all; there is a layer, an invisible space between syntax that cannot be bridged. You can write poems on the pain of fire, but you know nothing of fire until you place your hand on the stove. I live in that vocabulary between poem and stove.” (Page 220)

Fleishman has a keen eye, a well-tuned ear for the nuance of dialogue and an impressive grasp of the complexities of human relationships with a war zone. This novel sheds helpful light on those Byzantine dynamics. While offering illumination, Promised Virgins also provides entertainment. I look forward to reading more from the mind and pen of Fleishman.



Evan Wong: Remember That Name – A Prodigy of the Piano

It was a special Tuesday evening in Jordan Hall, the New England Conservatory of Music’s acoustically perfect and visually stunning concert venue. The NEC Philharmonia, one of three symphony orchestras that the school boasts, was presenting their spring concert. The hall was filled with anticipation and more than the usual assortment of the glitterati of the Boston music scene. The large crowd forced the house managers to open the balcony – in my experience, a rare occurrence for a student concert at Jordan Hall.

Under the baton of Julian Kuerti, assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony, the Philharmonia open with a stirring rendition of John Harbison’s The Most Often Used Chords (Gli accordi piu usati). Professor Harbison of MIT was in attendance and acknowledged the approbation and appreciation of the audience and members of the orchestra.

The musicians cleared the stage to allow for the school’s prized Steinway concert grand piano to be wheeled to center stage. The orchestra members returned, tuned up under the watchful gaze of concertmaster, Ying Xue, and welcomed to the stage Kuerti, now accompanied by young Evan Wong, a recent graduate of the Walnut Hill School. In his first year of studies at NEC, Wong is the winner of the 2009 NEC Piano Concerto Competition. With this performance he was making his orchestral debut. And what a debut it was!

From the opening strains of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, it was clear that the audience was in for a special treat. This piece is a part of the standard repertoire for almost every great pianist. It is technically challenging and emotionally draining. Wong, Kuerti and the orchestra played together in a glorious display of symphonic music at its best. Over the years, I have heard in concert many of the world’s finest pianists – from Van Cliburn to Emmanuel Ax to Peter Serkin to Evgeny Kissin. So, I am not easily impressed. Last evening, I was impressed. Not only did Wong demonstrate mastery of the keyboard and of Rachmaninoff’s complex rhythms, chord structures, scales and arpeggios, he showed an openness of spirit and a stage presence that belied his tender teenage years. This was a performance that would have brought the crowd to their feet in any of the great concert halls in the world. During the familiar and lyrical 18th variation, the andante cantabile movement that even most casual music fans would recognize, the effect was so beautiful and electrifying that I sat spellbound and moved to tears. That does not often happen to me during a classical concert.

As the final notes reverberated through the rafters of the historic concert hall, many in the audience leapt to their feet, clapping, hollering, and exulting in what we had just experienced. Wong and Kuerti were called back to the stage three times. As the lights came up to signal intermission, I began to reflect on what I had just heard and seen. Could Wong’s performance have been as exceptional as I had thought, or was I over reacting? So, I took advantage of the break to do a quick poll of the professional musicians I recognized in the audience. John Harbison affirmed my assessment that on a technical and emotional level, it was an extraordinary performance. Benjamin Zander, the legendary conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra was next in my sights. I waited for him to congratulate Wong and the pianist’s family, and then I asked his opinion:

“If Rachmaninoff were alive, he would be amazed that a high school kid was able to play his Rhapsody with such mastery. I have seen and heard Evan perform in the past, and he has always been somewhat reserved. Tonight, he opened himself up to the music and to the audience. It was very special.”

I feel privileged to have been at Jordan Hall to experience the magical moment. As I left the building, I was almost tempted to gaze at the sky to see if a super nova had appeared, signaling the birth of a king. A new star has appeared in the musical firmament. Remember the name Evan Wong.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Myron Bolitar is Back: Mini-Review of “Long Lost” by Harlan Coben

In my book, Harlan Coben gives the phrase “page turner” a new and positive connotation. I am especially susceptible to the self-deprecating charms of his protagonist, Myron Bolitar. Maybe it is this fictional sleuth’s ties to the Boston Celtics and Harvard Law School. I also find fascinating and entertaining the corporate culture that centers on Bolitar’s firm, which has him functioning as part-time sports agent and part-time private detective. The menagerie includes Win, who reeks of “Old Money” and has been Bolitar’s alter ego and personal body guard since their days together at Duke. “Big Cindy” and Esparanza “Little Pocahontas” are the tag teammates that grapple with keeping the agency office in NYC humming while Myron and Win fly around the globe playing superhero and righting wrongs.

In Long Lost, Coben injects his familiar cast of characters into the world of cord blood, DNA testing, global terrorism and the possible abduction of the daughter of Bolitar’s long ago flame, Terese. The resulting action is riveting and touching. A consistent thread that runs throughout almost all of Coben’s writing is the strong and unbreakable attachment between parent and child. Despite the violence and derring-do that he uses as an appliqué to the fabric of his narrative, that strong parental theme adds a sensitivity and tenderness that makes Coben unique as a writer of thrillers.

If you are a fan of Coben and Bolitar, you will love this book. If you are not yet a fan, this is a good time to climb aboard the bandwagon. I will gladly move over to make room for you.



A Sense of Perspective in Difficult Times

Many of my conversations in recent days have been with individuals who are facing discouragement in the face of a very tough economic climate and a daunting job market. Very talented women and men are finding – often for the first time in lives filled with strings of spectacular successes – that the world is no longer beating a pathway to their doors. This reality can be very disconcerting and often leads to a season of deep reflection and self-evaluation. Without a solid emotional and spiritual foundation under-girding that process of reflection, the result can too often be depression and despair.

I am not immune from discouraging moments of my own. I learned recently from a loyal client that some searches that he had been hoping to award to White Rhino Partners to fill vacancies in his organization would not be forthcoming because of the changed economic conditions. That change in fortunes has caused me to do some recalculation about business development trajectories and priorities.

I recall a recent phone conversation with a very gifted friend of mine. She was awaiting a crucial decision that would impact the next few years of her life. She was finding it very difficult to be graciously patient while awaiting that decision. We laughed together on the phone when I said to her: “I know you well enough to know that when you are praying about this situation, the prayer sounds something like this, ‘God, please grant me patience, and grant it to me RIGHT NOW!!!’

So, it was timely – for me and for my long suffering friends – when I opened my e-mail this morning and found a note from my friend, Alex Harris, one of the six Harris brothers who make up the acclaimed Gospel music group, A7. Alex offered a link to a meditation that had been written by his brother, Norman Harris. The meditation lifted my spirits, and I felt it was worth sharing with the readers of The White Rhino Report – even if you do not consider yourself particularly “religious.”

With thanks to Alex and Norman Harris, I share this message of hope and perspective:

With advanced technologies, modern American culture conditions us to expect instant solutions. With the invention of microwave ovens, we now have instant grits, instant oatmeal, instant eggs, instant dinners, and the list goes on. With the dominance of Internet, not only can we e-mail and communicate messages in a matter of seconds, but with instant messaging we can also engage instant conversations with each other online and even see each other via web cam as we online chat. When we take pictures, we are no longer required to wait a few days for photo development. Now with digital camera, picture development is made instantly available. We are living in an instant culture and are often caught off guard when life places us in situations that force us to have patience.

God has ordained destiny over our lives, but sometimes to reach our divine destinations God allows the particulars of life to place us in situations where there are no instant answers, where there are no instant solutions. We must be re-conditioned to hold on to what we know God has ordained for us and not be subdued by the pressure of struggles that we experience during the process between where we are and where we are going:

We must hold on when doors are shut in our face;

We must hold on when finances are distressed;

We must hold on when others do not believe in us;

We must hold on when we experience rejection;

We must hold on when it seems we have failed at something that is important to us;

We must hold on when evils confront us and try to break our spirits;

We must hold on when darkness comes in our lives and seems to be darker than a thousand mid-nights.

Isaiah 40:31 contemplates times when struggle will come and push us to our limits, especially when we can not find an instant solution or a quick fix. However, the scripture suggests that even in those times of struggle if we challenge ourselves to wait on the Lord, the Lord will refresh us with strength beyond our own abilities. Things that once challenged us would then become a fading memory as we walk in the victory of God’s strength and power in our lives. I encourage us to wait on God and allow God to use struggle to bring us into our destiny.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Inspirational Food For Thought from Norman Harris, M. Div., JD.

In Touch With Communities Around the World, Inc.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Unforgiving Minute – A Soldier’s Education by Craig M. Mullaney

Anyone who is a regular reader of The White Rhino Report is aware that there is a growing body of excellent books that are coming out of the conflicts that continue to rage in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are getting an excellent assortment of well-written and carefully reasoned first-hand accounts from young leaders who have been tested in the crucibles of battle, dizzying operational tempo and multiple deployments. Taken together, these books give us a broad view – not only of how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been proceeding- but also a deep look into the minds, hearts and characters of those who have been asked to lead the “boots on the ground” in these conflicts. If history repeats itself, many of these thoughtful and articulate battle-tested warriors will end up in positions of national-level responsibility in appointed and elected office. That process is already beginning to take place. Craig M. Mullaney, author of The Unforgiving Minute, served on the Obama Transition Team, along with Nate Fick, USMC veteran and author of One Bullet Away.

Within the space of a few days, I was told by three different individuals that I needed to read The Unforgiving Minute. One of those who was touting the book so highly was Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient, Capt. Paul Bucha, whom I met in Chicago when he spoke to a gathering there a few weeks ago. I took his advice, and that of 2LT Samir Patel, and procured a copy of the book. Shortly after I read the book, I was able to meet the author, Craig Mullaney, when he spoke to members of the Armed Forces Alumni Association of Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government. Mullaney, a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar, recounts the development of his sense of what it means to be both a soldier and a leader. The book deserves its place on the New York Times Bestseller List for Non-Fiction.

Early in the book, Mullaney sets the tone for his career as a West Point cadet and eventual Army officer by recounting his process of deciding to apply to a military academy rather than the liberal arts school that most of his friends were choosing:

’What am I doing here?’ I repeated to myself the well-rehearsed lines I had delivered to family, friends, and strangers. ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t be happier somewhere else?’ they’d ask. My happiness wasn’t the point, I would respond. I wanted to serve my country. Are you sure you want to be an Army officer? Yes, I told them.

I hadn’t come to that conclusion lightly. Like most of my high school classmates, I’d applied to a half-dozen universities. I’d gone with my parents to tour beautiful old colleges in New England. Admissions officers promised academic challenges and extracurricular fun. They promised well-paying jobs after graduation and powerful alumni networks. The hardest part, student tour guides confided to us, was getting in. I couldn’t explain at first why I felt so out of place. Afterward, flipping through their glossy brochures at home, I realized what was missing. They’d asked nothing of me.” (Page 13)

His studies at West Point, including literature, helped Mullaney to begin to develop a sense of what it would mean to lead soldiers:

“One author we read, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a daring pilot-intellectual, spoke of what I had been trying to articulate to my family about the draw of military service. Flying without instruments as a postal courier on the South American ‘Aeropostale,’ Saint-Exupery wrote of the camaraderie that developed between men engaged in dangerous enterprise for the benefit of mankind: ‘The grandeur of a profession is . . . above all, uniting men: there is only one true luxury, that of human relationships.’” (Page 52)

During a Spring Break trip to the beaches of Normandy, site of the historic D-Day invasion, Mullaney asked one of his professors, Lt. Col. Guy Lofaro, a decorated hero, about handling the pressures of combat:

’How do you know how you will handle combat?’ I asked

‘You don’t,’ he responded. ‘You’ll never know until you’re there.’

He paused and looked out over the cliff at the rollers drifting inexorably toward the shore. I nodded slowly as he discharged wisdom in measured, thoughtful bursts.

‘What you know for certain is that it will be chaotic and loud, and you’ll be ready to piss in your boots. You’ll be more scared of letting down your men than anything the enemy’s gonna do to you. And then you’ll lead from instinct and judgment. That’s the price of a salute.’” (Page 69)

Mullaney recounts a time of discouragement during Ranger training, and how reading helped him to regain a sense of perspective:

“A few days later I snapped out of the funk. I had picked up a book to read, Gates of Fire by Steve Pressfield. I zoomed through it in between the odd maintenance jobs they had us perform while we waited two weeks for the next cycle. Of Ranger students to arrive. In the book a Greek warrior recounts his brutal training with the Spartans and the Spartans’ heroic, outnumbered stand against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. I copied a passage from the book, and stuck it in my Ranger handbook: ‘The hardship of the exercises is intended less to strengthen the back than to toughen the mind.’” (Page 111)

As the number of warriors that I count among my friends has grown exponentially over the past decade, I have observed that the ones who strike me as the most effective as leaders are those who are not only brave and battle-hardened, but are also voracious readers – “people of the book,” if you will. Many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have asked me to give them recommendations of what they should bring with them to read while deployed.

Mullaney hammers home this point with the quotation that he chose to open the second half of the book: “The nation that will insist on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.” Sir William Francis Butler (Page 215)

Finally, let me share the author’s observations about courage that he made in the context of the time that he and his unit spent under fire and duress in Afghanistan:

“Sweat dripped onto my dog-eared copy of The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane had written his masterpiece about a young soldier in the Civil War without ever stepping on a battlefield. As a high school student, I had wondered with a groan why I had to read it. The Civil War was ancient history. What was courage to a fifteen-year-old? It made no sense at that age, but it made sense now.

Henry Fleming, the main character of the book, is a young soldier in the Union Army. He isn’t sure how he will stand up in battle. He postures along with the others, cloaking his fears in bombast. In his first test under fire, he runs. When next pressed into battle, Henry rises to the challenge carrying the colors forward under withering fire. He redeems his shame. In both fights, fear is a constant. It is Henry’s will to face that fear that changes.

I tore through the book, scribbling in the margins. Henry’s meditations on courage intrigued me now that I had observed courage firsthand. If, as some of Henry’s fellow soldiers contended, courage was an immutable characteristic, then you either had it or you didn’t; you were a hero or a coward. That wasn’t what I had observed, though. Inn combat, men were all heroes and cowards, at the same time and in varying degrees.” (Pages 337-8)

Mullaney’s thoughtful recounting of the classroom lessons he experienced at West Point, Oxford, Ranger training and Afghanistan represent a worthy addition to the literary "After Action Reviews" that are being offered to the reading public. I commend it to you.



Friday, April 03, 2009

White Rhino Intersection - If You Need an Invitation for April 18

Some readers of The White Rhino Report have already received a personal invitation to attend an event on April 18 known as The White Rhino Intersection.

White Rhino Intersection Link

If you are not already familiar with the event, to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I encourage you to open this link and learn about it. If you are going to be in the Boston area on Saturday, April 18 and would like to attend, send me an e-mail and ask for an invitation:

It promises to be a memorable day.


Review: "The Opposable Mind" by Roger Martin

Some of my best experiences in reading books have occurred when someone I trust and respect has said to me: "You need to read this book!" That is how I discovered the marvelous insights that Roger Martin shares in his book, "The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking." One day over lunch, my friend, Rick Cerf, showed me the book and told me that I needed to add it to my reading list. Thanks, Rick!

Martin, who is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, offers as his major premise the idea that the best leaders avoid simplistic binary choices, and put in the extra effort to find solutions to complex problems - solutions that go beyond false dichotomies. The best leaders think in terms of "Both/And" rather than "Either/Or."

"As I listened to some of the sharpest minds in business talk about how they thought through the most pressing and perplexing dilemmas of their careers, I searched for a metaphor that could give me deeper insight into the dynamic of their thinking. The skill with which these thinkers held two opposing ideas in fruitful tension reminded me of the way other highly skilled people use their hands. Human beings, it's well known, are distinguished from nearly every other creature by a physical feature known as the opposable thumb. Thanks to the tension we create by opposing the thumb and fingers, we can do marvelous things that no other creature can do - write, thread a needle, carve a diamond, paint a picture, guide a catheter up through an artery to unblock it. All those actions would be impossible without the crucial tension between the thumb and the fingers. . . Similarly, we were born with an opposable mind we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension." (Pages 6-7)

The language that Martin chooses here is very instructive, and is reminiscent of language I remember being used by one of my favorite graduate school professors - Dr. Gordon Fee. Dr. Fee, one of the translators of the New International Version of the Bible, is a brilliant biblical scholar and communicator. He would often describe difficult portions of Scripture that, on the surface, may appear to contradict each other, and he would declaim: "We hold these truths in tension!"

As an example of "opposable mind thinking," Martin offers the legendary choreographer, Martha Graham:

"Like Graham, the creative thinkers I interviewed knew they would need plenty of help to reach creative resolutions. They chose their collaboration expressly for what they would contribute to an integrated whole. Bruce Mau, a renowned designer and frequent collaborator with architect Frank Gehry, told me, 'You can't make a renaissance person any more, because the range of what you would need to do is just impossible. But you could actually assemble a renaissance team.' The integrative thinkers rely on their 'renaissance teams' to broaden salience, maintain sophisticated causality, and create a holistic architecture in their drive for creative resolution." (Page 82)

Throughout the book, Martin lays out principle for integrative thinking and fleshes out those principles using real world examples:

"Nandan Nilekani, the builder and CEO of what is perhaps India's most successful global IT powerhouse, Infosys Technologies Limited, says that when he's confronted with two fundamentally opposed sets of requirements, his first inclination is to ask, 'Are there solutions that satisfy both?' And when asked whether he thought strategy or execution was more important, Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, responded, 'I don't think it's an either-or.'" (Page 114)

Since Rick turned me on to this book and its treasure chest of ideas, I have had occasion to share those ideas with quite a few individuals. In several cases, they called me back a day or two later to thank me for the insights, and to tell me that they had ordered their own copy of the book. In the interest of "paying forward" the gift that Rick Cerf gave me of a marvelous suggestion that I read this book, I recommend that you procure a copy of "The Opposable Mind."