Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years' Eve Greetings

Many of us will spend the next few hours reflecting on the highs and lows of 2009 and thinking about what surprises 2010 may have in store.

I want to thank my family for the many wonderful hours of visits during the past 12 months. Having children, grandchildren, siblings and extended family scattered from New England to Virgina and Florida to the desert of Arizona to Romania and Poland provides both challenges and opportunities for staying in contact. Skype and Facebook and LinkedIn are all wonderful tools, but nothing beats the chance to visit face-to-face, so I am grateful for the visits we were able to have during 2009.

I am blessed with more special friends than any human being deserves to have, and I am perpetually grateful for that blessing. So, thank you for including me in your extended family of trusted friends and colleagues.

Financially, 2009 was a challenge for many of us. Recruiting is always impacted during an economic downturn, and many of my valued client companies were in hiring freeze mode during the past year, so we have had to scramble. As the new year dawns, please keep me and White Rhino Partners in mind if you are aware of companies that need help in identifying, recruiting and hiring gifted leaders, whether they be senior executives or promising bright young leaders of the future.

Finally, please keep in mind as you celebrate the turning of the page in the calendar the men and women - and their families - who continue to serve our nation in the military. These are challenging times for our soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors who are deployed, preparing for deployment or recovering from deployments. I am in frequent communication with our young leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I can tell you that they need our prayers as they carry out what often feel like thankless assignments under that most challenging of conditions. Knowing that those of us back home in the U.S. are remembering them with prayers, letters, packages, e-mails and phone calls makes the sacrifice a little less daunting.

God bless - and Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avatar - A Beautifully Flawed Film

I went last evening with my son, Scott, and his girlfriend, Lacey, to see the blockbuster film, "Avatar." I absolutely loved the film. So much so, that I was tempted to sit through it a second time - all 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Having told you how much I enjoyed the move, I must quickly add that James Cameron's epic contains some serious flaws. The villains, the head of the military and the local representative from "corporate headquarters," are so one-dimensional that they could easy have stepped out of the silver screen in an episode of the silent film serial, "The Perils of Pauline." In Ty Burr's apt words in his Boston Globe review of the movie, "the corporate suits and military men (represented, respectively, by Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang) both would twirl their mustaches if they had them."

Stripped of Cameron's simplistic eco-political sloganeering and anti-military bashing, the film stunningly creates a visually intoxicating world on the planet Pandora. The peaceful inhabitants, the Na'Vi, as perfectly attuned to the surrounding ecosystem and flora and fauna. They are able to communicate with the spiritual/natural world through connections that are both physical and noetic .

The film's hero, a paraplegic military veteran, an ex-Marine named Jake Sully, goes "native," a la Kevin Costner in "Dances with Wolves." and struggles to save the Na'Vi from annihilation at the hands of the evil military-industrial complex. The trials that he had to endure to gain the trust of the Na'Vi and to win the heart of the chieftain's nubile daughter, provide some of the most satisfying moments in the story. At this point, the story soars along with the characters, who mount pterodactyl-like airborne beasts of burden.

Despite the flaws in the story telling, and the simplistic - and some have even said racist - anthropology and cosmology and the sketchy character development, Cameron offers a film of titanic beauty. I recommend seeing it in 3-D (IMAX 3-D if it is available in your area.)



Saturday, December 19, 2009

An Inspiring Book to Launch the New Year - Review of "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller

A few weeks ago I was in Connecticut visiting with my friends, Craig and Kristen Doescher. I do not see them as often as I did when they lived in Cambridge and we attended the same church each Sunday. So, we had lots of topics to catch up on. During our conversation, Kristen asked me if I were familiar with Donald Miller’s new book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” I told her that I had not heard of it. She reminded me that Miller is best known for his best-seller “Blue Like Jazz.” She handed me her copy of the book and said: “You need to reads this. I know you will love it.”

Kristen, thank you! You were so right. I now number this book among the most impactful that I have read this decade. I am pleased to share with the readers of The White Rhino Report just enough of a taste of Miller’s writing to make you want to brave the blizzard that is raging in much of the Northeast U.S. right now and head for the nearest bookstore or click on While you are at it, buy an extra copy or two to give away to your most discerning family members and friends. This book is transformational.

In a very plain and unprepossessing way, Miller simply reflects about aspects of his life and the people with whom he engages. Among the significant individuals who populate this book are two men who helped him to appreciate the power of story and the power that comes from choosing to write a fresh and new life story. This is the essence of the magic that Miller offers to his readers.

Having heard about the famous "Story Seminars" that Robert McKee of the University of Southern California had pioneered, Miller decided to pay to attend one of the public versions of the seminar. McKee gave Miller and the other participants his view of the building blocks that it takes to construct a credible story, and then he challenged them to go out and tell great stories.

The seminar imparted to Miller a new way of viewing his life as a story that he had control over. One ramification of Miller’s discovery was his decision to join some friends on a trek to Machu Picchu, despite the knowledge that he would not be able to get his body into perfect “trekking shape” in the allotted time. After an arduous few days on the Inca Trail, they arrived.

“We didn’t hike to the Sun Gate the next morning; we ran. We ran on blistered feet and sore legs. We got there, and it was fogged in, so we sat along the rock, on the ruins, and waited for the fog to burn off. We sat and sang songs. And it was like Carlos said, because you can take a bus to Machu Picchu; you can take a train and then a bus, and you can hike a mile to the Sun Gate. But the people who took the bus didn’t experience the city as we experienced the city. The pain made the city more beautiful. The story made us different characters than we would have been if we had skipped the story and showed up at the ending an easier way.

We walked among the ruins in the fog all morning, in the footsteps of the Inca’s. We ran our fingers along the perfectly sculptured rocks used to create the walls of their dwellings, rocks cut square to sit on rocks cut square, all built without mortar.

It wasn’t only the pain of the trail that made you appreciate the city; it was the pain of the landscape, steep in the mountains of the Andes, spiraled towers of natural rock, cliffs dropping for a thousand feet to the river. And the houses, the weight of them and the perfection of their lines, spoke of the many dead Incas who gave their lives to build the city.

The pain made the city more beautiful. The story made us different characters than if we’d showed up at the ending an easier way. It made me think that the hard lives so many people have had, the sacrifices they’ve endured, and how those people will see heaven differently from those of us who have had easier lives.” (Page 143)

For me, the most inspiring part of this book is the saga of Bob Goff and his family and the unique story that they have crafted from what some might perceive as whimsy. Please indulge me as I share a rather protracted excerpt from the book as Miller describes the wonderful idea that the Goff family adopted. The context of this excerpt is that Miller and a few companions were kayaking in a remote section of the Pacific Northwest heading to a place called Chatterbox Falls. They came upon a remote homestead, and were invited by the Goff family to join them for a meal. Bob Goff began to tell the story of how the family had decided to build this retreat home far from civilization.

“Bob looked at the inlet, trying to organize the story in his mind. When his children were young, he told us, he was spending time in Uganda, helping the government work through some legislation, and they asked him if he would be willing to serve as the American consul, essentially Uganda’s official American lawyer. Bob agreed; but while he was a good lawyer, he’s never had to interact with diplomats.

On the flight home, he wondered what he’d say if he had to meet with the president of South Africa or the ambassador from France. When he kids asked how the trip went, he told them he’d been asked to serve as Uganda’s official lawyer, and he was a little nervous to meet the dignitaries. So Bob asked the kids what they would say if they had to meet with the leader of a foreign country. Adam, the youngest, said he’d ask them if they wanted to sleep over. Bob said that was a terrific idea, because when people sleep over you get to know them really well. Lindsey said she’s want to ask them what they put their hope in, and Bob and Maria agreed that was a beautiful and important question. Richard, the oldest, who had recently been given a video camera, said he’d want to record the interviews so he could make a movie. Bob and Maria thought that this was a terrific idea, too. Bob said that if he ever met with a foreign leader, he’d remember their suggestions. But after thinking about it, Bob decided tat the suggestions were too good to risk to chance.

‘Let’s write letters,’ Bob said. The kids wondered what their dad was suggesting. ‘I’m serious,’ Bob said. ‘Let’s write all the leaders in the world and ask if they want to come over for a sleepover, and if we can interview them and ask them what they hope in.’ The kids got very excited. Marie smiled and loved the idea. Bob told the kids that if any of the world leaders said yes to the interview, even if they couldn’t come for a sleepover, he’d fly them to that country and they could video tape Lindsey asking what they hope in.

Bob didn’t expect anybody to write back, so he brought home more than a thousand pieces of stationary and the kids researched world leaders and came up with more than twelve hundred addresses for heads of state and assistants. For a while, they heard nothing, and Bob confessed he was relieved, but then a single letter came in, and a few days after, another. Both of them granting an interview. And then another letter, until in all twenty-nine world leaders contacts the Goffs instructing them on how to make arrangements to interview their countries (sic) leader. Bob shrugged is shoulders when he told us the story.

He put his family on planes, flying them all over the world. The kids’ teachers were furious, saying that he was harming his children by taking them out of school. But Bob convinced them that his children might learn more interviewing the president of Paraguay than by reading a book about him, and the teachers reluctantly agreed.

Bob said the world leaders fell in love with the kids. He said there was no way he could have received as much hospitality on his own. Maria described one meeting in which the kids were waiting in the giant hall of a palace, sitting at a table for fifty, when the president walked into the room, stiff and formal. He leaned over and shook each of the children’s hand without smiling. The children were intimidated by the man and didn’t smile either. The president then asked if they wanted a glass of milk or a cookie. And the kids said they would, thank you. The man clapped his hands, and the doors flew open, and teams of servants flooded into the room, holding trays of cookies and trays of milk, setting them on the table in front of the children and their wide eyes. They president laughed and opened his arms and told them they were welcome in his country. At the end of each interview, Adam presented the world leader with a box that had a key in it, explaining that the key was an actual key to their family home in San Diego. He said they sometimes lock the door when they go to the store, but that he could just let himself in, and that if he ever wanted to have a sleepover, he was welcome in their home.

The relationships the family began that year would sustain. The world leaders wrote the children letters, and the children wrote back. And one world leader even came to San Diego and used his key and stayed over with the Goff family.” (Pages 163-165)

As I read the story, I was reminded of the Old Testament passage in Isaiah prophesying about what has been called the coming of “The Peaceable Kingdom”:

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6 NIV)

Another wonderful lesson that Miller learned, shared in the last section of the book, comes from the creative minds of Bob and Maria Goff and their kids.

“Bob and the family were sitting around on New Year’s Day when one of the kids mentioned that she was bored. Bob agreed and said he thought New Year’s Day was probably one of the more boring days of the year. He asked the kids what they could do to make New Year’s Day less boring.

The kids started tossing out ideas, things like buying a pony or building a rocket ship, and then one of the children mentioned that they could have a parade. Getting himself out of buying a pony, perhaps, Bob lit up and said a parade sounded great. . . .

Bob thought about it, though, and realized it’s more fun to be in a parade than to watch one. So he made a rule: nobody would be allowed to watch the parade. But anybody could participate. So he and the kids walked down their small street and knocked on doors, explaining to neighbors that they were having a parade, and anybody who wanted could be in the parade but nobody would be allowed to watch. . . .

Today, ten years later, the parade attracts hundreds of participants. People who have left the neighborhood fly back just to march in the parade. . . The Goff family turned the most boring day of the year into a community favorite that people mark on their calendars and plan their vacations around.” (Pages 233-235)

Miller takes the idea of the parade and turns it into a metaphor for how he and others should take ownership of the creating and the telling of their own stories. He was drawn into the gravitational field of the excitement and vision of the Goff family and began to join them in some of their pursuits and adventures.

“A good story teller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too.

When we were in Uganda, I went with Bob to break ground on a new school he was building. The school board was there, along with the local officials. The principal of the school had bought three trees that Bob, the government official, and the principal would plant to commemorate the breaking of the ground. Bob saw me standing off, taking pictures of the event and walked over and asked if I would plant his tree for him.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘It would be great for me to come back to this place and see the tree you planted, and be reminded of you every time I visit.’

I put down my camera and helped dig the hole and set the tree into the ground, covering it to its tiny trunk. And from that moment on, the school was no longer Bob’s school; the better story was no longer Bob’s story. It was my story too. I’d entered into the story with Bob. And it’s a great story about providing an education to children who would otherwise go without. After that I donated funds to Bob’s work in Uganda, and I’m even working to provide a scholarship to a child I met in a prison in Kampala who Bob and his lawyers helped free. I’m telling a better story with Bob.

Nobody gets to watch the parade.” (Pages 236-237)

I think you can tell that Donald Miller, in telling his story and that of Bob Goff and his family, has inspired me to spice up my own story. What a great way to prepare for the New Year by reading this book and then planning a metaphoric – or actual – parade.

And no one is allowed simply to watch.

I look forward to joining your parade!

God bless.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ben Casnocha Blog: Being Individuals in an Increasingly Individualistic Society

One of my friends made me aware of this fascinating article that gives an excellent sociological explanation to the growing phenomenon of individuals following their "passions" in looking for jobs and careers.

I thought that Ben Casnocha's insights were worth sharing with the readers of The White Rhino Report.


Ben Casnocha Blog


The White Rhino Unplugged - Off for a Few Days of Vacation

I just want to give a heads-up to those who may be trying to contact me in the next few days. I am going "unplugged" as I spend a few days away from the office catching up on some reading and writing.

I plan to be back in the office on Wednesday, Dec. 9.


In Memoriam - Dr. Hudson Taylor Armerding, President Emeritus of Wheaton College, Illinois

I have just learned of the passing last evening of Dr. Hudson Taylor Armerding, who served as President of Wheaton College in Illinois from 1965-1982. He was President during my years as a student at Wheaton. Among the family members that he leaves behind are a number of my friends, including his son, Taylor Armerding, and three of his grandsons, Jake, Luke and Jesse.

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."