How to Teach Strategic Thinking

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Recently in a conversation with a faculty at a reputable law school, I was asked what I saw as the biggest shortcoming in recently graduated young lawyers. I shot the answer out lickety split–no question about it–they completely lacked the ability to think strategically. The question that followed was–well, one naturally to be expected: Would you be willing to conduct a lecture as part of a post graduate offering, on how young lawyers can learn to think strategically?  Again, my answer was far too quick. Flooded with the a rush of self congratulation over the invitation, the answer oozed out of me as smoothly as a salted  caramel from chocolate on a hot day…” I’d love to.”

Thirty days into the process of designing the itinerary for the self-discovery journey to strategic thinking, apropos of the subject, I find myself murmuring: What was I thinking? Was I thinking at all? One thing for certain there was nothing measured or tempered about my enthusiasm to take on the challenge. Dare I say–nothing strategic about that decision.   So on this glorious weekend summer’s day  in a small Connecticut village that New Yorkers kill themselves to get to negotiating I-95 every Friday night, I sit. At my computer. An intentionally made-to-look-retro fan keeps me cooled while its rattle drowns out  bird tweets and competes with gentle breezes. “Help Me Rhonda” fittingly plays in the background.

In the last thirty days, I have spent most of my discretionary time reading everything in sight and googling every conceivable variation of the phrase “how to teach strategic thinking”…to adults, to millennials, nay even children. After querying  colleagues and daughter MBA candidate came the flood of recommendations… Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” A trip to the book store lured me with no fewer than ten different volumes of HBR (Harvard Business Review) compilations–promoted as “must reads.”  I got the one on “managing people” possibly influenced by  the tag line “If you read nothing else on managing people, read these definitive articles.”  Sold.

So, in these intervening weeks since the caramel oozed out of my chocolate,  my world has become an exploration of mastering outside the box inventiveness, analyzing human effectiveness and managing intuitions and interventions.

For those of you who are regular followers, this is the part of my blog where I pull something out of the hat of my past and draw an connection that most assuredly seems to have little to do with the blog topic. My personal paraprosdokian literary widget.
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Not too long ago  on my way home from work, I passed Tate Modern and read a poster about an exhibit of Matisse’s cutouts. It was there, on the south bank looking up at the billboard promoting the exhibition, where I  learned, for the first time, that my favorite Matisse art piece was actually a collage fashioned from cut out pieces of paper. How did I not know that in the 40 years since my first encounter and subsequent love affair with the piece? Now come to find out, he didn’t paint or even draw my favorite blue nude–he pasted it.    I believed I knew a Matisse  painting when I saw one.  Turns out, I didn’t. As for pornography and knowing it when I see it–I’m going to have to reconsider that as well.  Which brings us to strategic thinking…right now I can’t quite pin down for you what it is or how you can acquire a knack for it, but I can tell you this: if you work with me, trip up and make that strategic fail and I can be all over you like a wet t-shirt.

 

 

 

 

The lawyers will save us all.

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. -John Adams

Are we there yet? Seems we’re closer than ever before.

Those of us old enough to know, know that we have been here before. Republican vs. Democrat.  Liberal vs. Conservative. Vitriol. Slander. Venom…are words that come to mind almost daily. And, let’s not glorify the past too much, politics was as dirty then as it is today–only then, they settled disputes in a kindlier gentler way–in a gentleman’s duel which inevitably left one disputant dead. Death to the finish yesterday, today a musical. Oh, the irony. But, I digress.

I blame the conservatives. I blame the liberals. I blame the gun lobby.  I hold responsible the patrons for immigrants, refugees, women’s rights and right to lifers.   I blame them all because, as I watched them all march around DC this last week, it was clear that we have become a nation of private and special interests all jockeying for attention to our cause. Many, if not all,  have banded together in the “enemy of mine enemy is my friend,” fashion and our newly elected President is the glue that binds them.

By some lucky coincidence all the liberal interests number about 50 million and the conservative interests too, 50 million. In the middle possibly only 5 million or so who don’t really care to enter this very particular fray–because there interests weren’t at play in this go-around. There is real comfort in those numbers because it says that for every person whose voice is heard, there is a person of opposite view. In the 60’s there was a popular poster that made its way into every flower child’s dorm room “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”  The incorrect assumption in this last election was that which failed at interpreting the silence of 50 million people as everything other than the heartfelt righteous indignation it was. And the people, I might add, are good, god fearing, country loving people. Good like you and I good.

Lifelong friendships are beginning to stress and crack.   It is as if there were only one view and any other,  an anomaly, the unfathomable result of millions of New York’s  rats and cockroaches  who found their way into voting machines (outside of NY) and, when no one was looking, voted.    There’s the rub. The 50 million whose candidate did not win the election would have one believe there is no other side. There is but one correct world view, theirs,  as improbable and illogical as that sounds.   Those who adhere to a values and priorities different from their own are, simply and utterly, in one Facebook pal’s words, “despicable.”  In the past, thanks to the poetry of the ultimately tarnished Spiro Agnew,  yesterday’s “deplorables” had an equally caustic descriptive for the liberals:  “an effete corps of impudent snobs.”

And, there we have it. The dance  between the “arrogant intellectuals” and the “deplorables”  has begun.   For the fourth time in my short life, a Republican has been elected President. For the second time, those whose candidate did not succeed have hit the streets. Both times, liberal democrats. Both times, I stayed home.

This weekend, the lawyers came out–headed to the airports not to protest, but to attempt in their very special way,  to temper the impact of an extraordinary Presidential fiat with rule of law.  Thank god for the lawyers. Rule of law demands this: 1) that we have lawfully transitioned to a new president  whose ideologies may differ in extreme ways from yours and 2) we have a system designed to tolerate that and check and balance it. Our judges and courts are there for a reason. Let us put our faith and stock in the system–the system that gave 50 million people a voice and elected Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America and the same system that will provide endless opportunities for the other 50 million to challenge it and him when they deem it necessary. I accept this. I accept the current holder of the office of President of the United States and I accept peoples’ right to work with the system to change those actions which they consider constitutionally offensive. I envision there may even be times when I join in those actions.

I will not unfriend you, as perhaps you will me when you read this. And, if that’s the case, then I am really very sorry about the sad state of affairs in our world. I can only then ask this: Let us not wait until we are on our deathbeds, like Jefferson and Adams, to mend the fence upon which our friendship has been built all these last several years.

One Day I had an idea…

How many times have you said to yourself, I wish I had thought of that, or even worse, you did think of i14317367_10154423018650406_541273375062655995_nt, but someone else made it happen?

Given the abundance of naysayers, critics, skeptics and knowitalls that abound in our world today, it’s no wonder that people find themselves filled with regret that they hadn’t launched that start up in the garage, or taken that chance and put all their resources into a basket they were told couldn’t hold a feather.

Take heart, it takes energy and drive beyond anything normal, bordering on the obsessive and compulsive, to push past the many authorities who are sure that you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t have the credentials and what it takes to make it succeed. It takes an unfathomable amount of that je ne sais quoi, to push through the “who does she think she is?” and “how can he possibly think he has what it takes to do that?”

In those early days when the idea was a glint in my eye,  the naysayers were abundant. Uninvited, they crashed my party–coming out of the woodwork everywhere: “A country lawyer creating an international entity…impossible!”  “A woman heading into war zones…ridiculous!” And, the worst of all, ” Creating an organization that depends on the generosity of lawyers…will never succeed.” Nay, in “Et tu, Brute” fashion, even my own family was not bashful expressing their extraordinary skepticism.

To be honest, the job didn’t seem as daunting in the prospect as it became  in the actuality. Many I’m sure share the experience of passion and clarity of vision trumping (pun intended)  perceived obstacles and challenges.  But, like the tortoise who plugged along through the race, every day before me soon enough morphed into a day viewed through the rear view mirror. And, naturally enough, with each stride I moved closer to converting the vision into a reality. Which brings us to today.

I once had an idea. It was that lawyers young and old would travel to regions of the world where the practice and implementation of laws was challenging for any of a variety of reasons. And–  lawyers from around the world with the time, energy, resources and inclination to give back, if given the opportunity, would.

It is said revenge is sweet. The same is often also said about success. I’m pleased to report that both adages are true. For those who provided the rock upon which I chiseled what has become “my story”– thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I leave you with this:

 In this life, your narrative is just that, yours. Now go. Write it.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

4th-wall“Oh, you’ve gotten tickets for the inauguration…what a thrill. I’m so happy for you.”

These words were not said to me, nor do I think that they ever will be directed towards me, for you see, I voted for Mr. Trump, now President-elect. Even as I pen this blog, I have some trepidation. Those colleagues and friends, for whom I have only the greatest respect, will  judge me harshly. I have some confidence that their high regard for me will lessen, in some instances, substantially. Forget that I have the benefit of my own personal interaction with the man, as my guide, they will not want to hear that, nor will it affect their opinion of me, or of him or those other 60+ million people who voted for him.

The words in the opening sentence of this blog, reflected my actual delight that a good, intelligent, well respected colleague of mine obtained tickets to President Obama’s second inauguration. She was deliriously happy, and I was happy for her. I had my own feelings toward the man, but that did not get in the way of my realization that millions of intelligent people placed their faith and hope in him and his capacity to deliver hope and change. My candidate did not win. I was disappointed. As an advocate for rule of law around the world, it did not elude me that like charity, belief in the the rule of law and the orderly of transfer of power, “starts at home.” And so, with my long list of reservations, I demonstrated publicly and privately, respect for the man we have called Mr. President these last eight years.

Now the scene switches. The tables have turned. It is I who am not only decidedly not deplorable, but a thoughtful and intelligent person, also hoping for change. I watch with quiet contentment as my preferred candidate begins to make his way to the White House. As a resident of the east coast, there are few places where one can publicly display the pleasure at that prospect.  Make no mistake, I am disappointed  that I will likely not see a woman be President of the United States in my lifetime. But, I am equally determined never to vote along any line, party, race or gender, simply to break a ceiling or other metaphorical barrier.

Speaking of barriers, comes the perfect segue to the title of this blog:  The fourth wall…a dramatic convention often used in pantomime or children’s theater, rarely broken without artistic purpose. Once a tool  used to “heighten the comedic tone of a show” last week’s fourth wall break in the Broadway show Hamilton instead  reflects something of a tragic milestone for democracy. Recognizing the futility of discourse on the subject, I leave you with this quote from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion-‘
‘I don’t, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.”

Waiting and waiting…. for Godot and the future to unfold.

It’s been six or seven years since I saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen  in Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot in London. I don’t quite remember now what I thought of the play at the time (though I did like it). As I skim and review its lines for this post, it occurs to me that much of the double-entendre may have been missed in the viewing, now caught in the reading. For sure, there is one thing that I did not seize upon when I saw the play–the singular concept of waiting. Recent events have me thinking about how much of the present is lost to waiting for some event yet to occur. And, with that thought, I returned to the play script to see if there was a message there missed by me during my first exposure to it.

In the last 24 hours,  during  conversations with a handful of people fairly close to me, the following were being awaited:   word from a college admissions office, commitment from a venture capitalist, a reply a text after a first date, bar exam results, a grant award, a layoff notice and the arrival of a newborn. But what really struck me was how the present was being forfeited to the wait. In the words of Estragon, recoiling before Pozzo,  “That’s to say . . . you understand . . . the dusk . . . the strain . . . waiting . . .” Every person, without exception,  was straining under the pressure of the wait.

Where there was once capacity in “slower moving times” to enjoy the present, knowing the future would unfold in the eventuality, the present seems to have been lost to anticipation, forfeited to the wait. My grandmother used to say: “Everything comes to those who wait.” We were conditioned to think of waiting as something possibly to be valued. But now,  like Estragon and Vladimir,  people are waiting–day after day,  with blind obedience to some messenger from the future, that commands, it will come and they should agonizingly wait for it.

Please don’t think that this perspective comes from some Polly Anna of a writer who herself has nothing looming in the future. Indeed my future holds a ball that will drop, which while not my own, is nevertheless heavy and sad and will affect me deeply. But living in the present, for me means not waiting agonizingly for Godot to come by the tree near where I reside–but to go out and about, living  life.  Perhaps I will bump into my Godot as I bumble along –and by bumble I mean take it by the tail and whirl it as hard and fast as I can.  As for waiting for this or that, I will deal with whatever it is…no sooner than I have to, no later than I am required to.

And, yes there I go ending another sentence with a preposition.

 

 

The Observation Effect: The Fear of Not Filtering

Its been sometime since I published this blog. Mind you, not for lack of thoughts and ideas I was willing to share, but more due to the discovery that my blog was likely being monitored by litigants with an interest in  generating inferences where none were intended.  I have decided to blog again, this time influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by a recognition that it might be read by a more diverse spectrum of readers than I had originally anticipated.

You might think, don’t all writers, especially those who publicly publish their work expect to be observed? And do not authors expect to have their writings criticized?  All that is true, but at least this former trial lawyer oftentimes tempers speech through a courtroom lens. On a fairly regular basis I query myself: “How would this sound in a trial transcript?” Or, “What kind of cross examination would this comment generate?  And, “How would I rebut the inferences from this or that remark?”

Familiar with how words may come to haunt someone, many people, I think, reachdoubleslit1 a point where commentary is more and more measured– mindful of how one’s words might be construed in an entirely unrelated context, years from when they were originally uttered. At work is a sort of personal  iteration of the “observation effect” alluded to by quantum scientists–considering what one wants to say (the particle), observing the two slits ahead (what you mean and what someone else might construe you to mean) and the “interference”–your inner voice modifying the words and modifying  the thought process that generated them–resulting in the original thought differently (and more safely) expressed.

Politicians engage in this process fairly regularly. And, those politicos who don’t, probably should.  When I read my grandfather’s travel diaries, he often “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the next generation of readers directly with comments like, “Your grandmother looked beautiful tonight.” His descriptives were careful and measured, in a way one might not expect of a “diary.” He was masterful at filtering. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words, so carefully constructed, are what is left for the next generation who barely knew him, if at all.

My own return to blogging was spurred by a reader who recently reached out hoping that the failure to post this last year was not due to any misfortune. So touched was I, that I decided to resume writing,  with some modest filtering.

But, I wonder whether  in this age of fact-checking and instant and meticulous googling, coupled with fear of not-filtering,  will we lose grasp of the genuine? Will the process of change, growth and progress be inhibited by the apprehension that one’s unfiltered words will return to haunt them?

Will we not be able to trace a writer’s or public speaker’s transitions of thought over time, as we do the evolution of the artist or composer? Will the time come when we all filter, out of necessity, abandoning the spontaneous and mud-luscious in this puddle-cummings_quote_spring2
wonderful world?

I am reminded of what a senior judge once counseled when I could not overcome opposing counsel’s recurring objection to my leading examination of a witness: “Say this, ‘And then what…'”?

Happy Vernal Equinox. Glad to be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Human Rights: To say is not to do.

Lately my work has taken me to examining the roots of some basic human rights concepts, among them, freedoms–freedom of assembly, freedom of speech–freedom to be the person you are, to explore your passions, and express yourself in the myriad of ways that humans do, without arbitrary restraint.

What strikes me is how basic the concept of freedom is, and how far back efforts by persons, leaders or political movements have gone to restrict it. My readings have late are focused on  the ancient Persian Empire in the days of Cyrus and Darius. Then, and even  before in the glory days of Babylonia, the concept of freedom, represented in the cuneiform word or phrase “ama-gi” found expression.

It is said that the word and concept of freedom first appears in written form when the new king, upon ama-giinvestiture (or thereafter, as an annual gracious ritual) would grant a form of amnesty to young males in servitude for unpaid taxes to the king, granting them “ama-gi” –permission to “return to mother.” The phrase eventually evolved into the concept of one being set “free,” thus, the very early iteration of freedom as we know it today.

What is striking about working in human rights in this century is the utter failure of modern day leaders to recognize freedom as an entitlement, an essential part of humanity–something individuals have sought and valued for  thousands of years.  As far back as we can tell, people eschewed servitude and honored those who saved them from it.

Assuming that many of today’s leaders are literate and have some basic understanding of history, leads one to wonder if they aren’t truly delusional, somehow believing that eventually they will escape the fate that all human kind faces:  Dust.  Perhaps they have never visited a museum and found themselves in the company of a “great” Pharaoh resting in a temperature controlled glass case being  gawked at by the masses–and those were the good guys.

Climbing the hill to get the world to recognize basic human rights is presumably  a challenge that was met long ago, now embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).   Incredibly, in 2014 with several thousand years of civilized societies under our belt, there is  still an inordinately large number of persons who dictate to others what they can or should do with their lives, following an agenda that eschews every morsel of basic  human rights as we know it.

One would have thought that with all the technological and scientific advances, collective mankind would have figured out a mechanism to identify and remove those who  fail to honor basic human rights. Quite the opposite. In fact, there are wolves among those charged with guarding the hen house. Consider carefully the countries which have been selected as caretakers of human rights by selection to the UN Human Rights Council.

Were Klout  to give  the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights a score,  it would be low, very low.  If the document  is to be anything more than words on paper paying lip service to an aspiration, there have to be real consequences to those who derogate it.  To that end, there is some encouragement in the fact that a petition is currently in circulation that calls for the  removal from the United Nations Human Rights Council to say is not to docertain countries with dismal human rights records.

To those who stand up to tyranny, your voices are being heard. Do not give up. You are asking for nothing less than to live the precious few years we all have on this planet as the human being, with all your frailties and strengths, motivated by the hope of leaving a mark or legacy on the planet that represents the best humanity has to offer. We are with you. Your struggle is our struggle.  And to those working in the human rights arena be guided by this:  To say is not to do.

About Inspirational Quotes

 

sight of the shore blog quote

When one thinks “Inspirational quotes” an image of sunrises or sunsets, waves washing upon a shore come to mind, with particularly succinct pieces of wisdom nestled in the scene as if writ by the hands of the almighty.  In the “old days” these made their way into posters that decorated dorm rooms. Now they find their way into facebook updates encouraging you to “share” when they show up in one’s newsfeed.

Among those oft quoted (usually, but not always, men) are such notables as Twain, Churchill and Einstein. The best inspirational quotes, however, I think are those that have withstood the test of time. In this category, the winner by far are the “Chinese Proverbs.”  These are two of my favorites:

Those who say it cannot be done
should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Talk doesn’t cook rice… four words that really say it all.

In the early days of my having founded an organization that was going to be heavily dependent upon inspiring individuals to reach deep into their pockets and donate,  I embarked on the exercise to find that inspirational phrase that was so visceral as to trigger the reader  to volunteer to head off to Africa or, better yet, write a check.  There were also times when the going was so tough, I turned to the Chinese proverbs for a bit of inspirational lift from periodic disappointments. rocky sea blog

Blog 1 Quote

I know many of you are intellectuals, scholarly and tend not to find too much literary merit in a quote or anything that in ten words or less takes the place of reading the book. To you I suggest that in life there are sometimes complexities that require something very straightforward and utterly simple, to plug a hole in life’s dike. In those moments, I have looked to the wisdom of one of history’s innovators, leaders or authors for inspirational lift.

never give in blogA blog is by its very nature the epitome of sharing, and the author assumes, correctly or incorrectly, that the information shared is interesting, worthwhile, funny, instructional or maybe even  inspirational. The quotes pictured here were most assuringly  not authored by me but they were among those that did in fact inspire me. As an aside, I think you will agree that in wrapping them in pictures from my phone I have managed to create several images that would fit nicely into the genre of cheesy poster art, not to mention, fare well in any competition matched against your every day Facebook fodder. 

Managing Change and Transition …Put one foot In front of the other (and don’t look back).

In life we learn through literature that there is big stuff and small stuff, as in “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  There are things that are key, critical–that go to the coreImage. In the “small stuff” column we find the discretionary, optional and elective.  Among the “core” things in life, and possibly one of the most critical one can master on this planet, are transitions. The ability to transition from point A to B, or to put in its simplest terms, to move on. 

You’ve heard often about the person who “doesn’t handle transitions well.”  At the same time, we’ve all witnessed people who have faced seemingly overwhelming odds, yet have managed to reinvent themselves, transition and emerge no worse for the wear.

As I scoured the web for visuals that represented transitions–it was interesting how many aspects of life involve transitions. That was only matched by the realization that the person who hasn’t mastered transitions, or the ability to finesse one gracefully,  likely faces an uphill climb over and over again. Transitioning affects us all, more or less, depending upon our circumstances.  The spectrum in which it presents is broad: in or out of a relationship, quitting or leaving a job, losing a loved one, going to school, leaving school, changing school, moving out of one house and into another, divorce, retirement or other fundamental passage.

In an earlier post, I wrote about people plagued by inertia–but I may have to stand corrected. It may not be so much the inertia, but a fundamental inability to manage change that is at the root of the paralysis. I didn’t spend much if any time reading or studying Kierkegaard in my years studying philosophy, but this “inspirational” quote seems to get to the heart of the matter.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Moving-On-in-Life-QuotesAt a relatively young age, I was confronted more than once with some of life’s  “fundamental passages.”  In later years, but well before adulthood arrived, I was exposed to adults who represented both extremes on the transition scale. On the one hand a parent who was entrenched in past recriminations and regrets , on the other hand a grandparent, who at the drop of a hat, could transition into a new plan if any part of the present was presenting an obstacle, literally and figuratively, to where she wanted to be or where she wanted to go.

Perhaps the exposure to these two approaches, paired with the several transitions I was exposed to at so early an age as to think them natural,  is what influenced me and my outlook on life. Whatever the source, that outlook has served me well. Confronting passages and transitions without paralyzing fear, regret or apprehension and harnessing the ability to manage expectations grows confidence in one’s own wings. Confidence prevents the kind of procrastination that is responsible for so many of life’s missed opportunities.  Good timing then, often mistaken by onlookers as “good luck,” generates positive outcomes.

But this process, and it is a process, requires conscious thought–no bumbling about, being buffeted by the “slings and arrows” of life.  It requires that one acquire a penchant for flexibility, adaptability, willingness to consider change and acquire a zest for the anticipation that transitions generate. In the end there are two types of people, those who become fluent in the art of transition and change and those who are simply, sadly, stuck in the past or the memory of it.

Like any one of a number of habits one might want to kick, I suggest this as a first step in learning how to transition gracefully:untitled

When you find yourself looking backwards, standing still, frozen in your steps or seized with apprehension–in words that aren’t mine, but have a simplicity I love: 

Put one foot in front of the other…and, I might add,  don’t look back.

If it helps, whistle the tune below, or in the manner of Jimmy Fallon,  grab a bunch of muppets and sing your way through the transition.

Either way you’ll be off to something of a start.