Talent + Skill + Grace = Greatness

I have always prided myself on having an eye for Greatness (which, I happen to think, is a word that deserves capitalization).

I’ve come to understand success as the result of some combination of talent, and skill. Talent is something with which we are born. Even if our natural gifts aren’t discovered until later in life – they are latent. Just waiting to be expressed.

Skill, then, is simply the practice and development of the expression of talent. Skill happens as talent is more and more fully embraced; it’s every contour explored – passionately, and with deep and limitless curiosity. Many athletes become successful through knowing their particular talents, and then practicing the hell outta them, with magnificent focus and dedication.

Sometimes, however (maybe you know it when you see it too?), when talent and skill become so intertwined, and the expression of the two become one, the result is Grace, or, in motion: Gracefulness. Not only is the aspirant ‘succeeding’ at their talent, but they are doing so with such a quality that it blows your hair back, sends shivers down your spine, moves you to tears, and inspires you, yourself, to do something great. Talent + Skill + Grace = Greatness. Enjoy..

(Click the Play button in the middle)

My bike is sitting with flat tires on my balcony. It doesn’t matter that I have no interest or inclination to do anything I’ve seen in this video. If you pay close attention- to the fluidity of movement; the bodily expressions on entering and (especially) exiting each trick; the pure creativity, – and of course the execution! – that is put on display for us here, you can’t help but be inspired by someone who is just dripping with pure Greatness.

Church of Oprah vs Fundamental Religion

Just came across this YouTube clip and just had to comment on it. Oprah takes on a panel of fundamentalist Christians who are railing against her new age philosophy.

While there are certainly problems with fundamentalist thinking, I’m more pissed off at Oprah’s unskillful approach to bridging this divide.

Let’s start with the Eckhart Tolle bit. When asked about death and what happens when the body dies, he replies, “I don’t give it any thought”. Like many one-dimensional, escapist teachers before him, I believe he’ll have a difficult death. To put zero thought into the moment of your death is just stupid.

Crazy-wise Da Free John (Adi Da) used to say

“In life, you make mind, in death, mind makes you”.

And from the Vedanta:

“Death is an inescapable and inevitable reality. To ignore it is utter foolishness. To avoid it is impossible. To hope for physical immortality is absurd.”

To spend a life avoiding the mind – it’s relationship and interplay to emotions and the body – is akin to an upcoming test that you know you’ll inevitably have to write, but you don’t study for it because you believe that ultimately the learning doesn’t matter.

The major red flag for me with Eckhart Tolle’s is that, while he does appear in fact, to be human, I don’t see any expression of emotion. Zero. Ever. Maybe ‘pleasant-ness’ if that is an emotion. I don’t’ think it is. He should rent Fight Club.

Emotions are part of being human. And it is the practice of cultivating relationship to extreme circumstances that allows us to meet our greatest challenges in life with gracefullness . (Can you picture Eckhart Tolle giving birth, for example? I know it’s absurd, but imagine it? I picture him screaming for an epidural.)

In other words, all of the things that cultivate the mind – that practice the ability to stay fully conscious and present amidst the mind’s activity (not in absence of, nor escape from it) – are what will be tested in that final, and most absolutely extreme moment. It’s easy to avoid and negate the mind when life isn’t being threatened, but is the negation of the survival instinct virtuous anyway? Isn’t that what allow cult followers to drink the kool-aid?

So, unless you have previously put a significant amount of consideration into your own mortality, then amidst the mind’s extreme reaction to the recognition of it’s own demise, you will be presented with an extremely unsettling, disorienting, and possibly terrifying ordeal.

The dude’s in for the shock of a lifetime if you ask me, pun intended.

With regard to the perspective of the narrator. Sure, it’s easy to call him a religious nut-job, but what’s not so easy (and hint: is actually the key to meeting the needs of BOTH value-systems thereby ending the religious wars, good luck with that), um, is the ability to recognize the truths behind the interpretations, and focus less on the logical merit of the interpretations (stories) themselves. And of course you’ve heard all this before, and it’s too simplistic, because there is no spiritual Truth behind the Spanish inquisition, or all the priests’ pedophilial tendencies and so on. But, that doesn’t negate the need to begin to cultivate that muscle – the muscle of observing, with curiosity and humility, an apparently outrageous point-of-view, rather than reacting/defending against it because it seems like it comes from a ‘lower’ set of values or beliefs.

I’m not saying this as some sort of teaching or correct way, but offering it up as at least something to do, other than continually trying to argue a fundamentally un-winnable argument.

And it’s un-winnable because it’s outside of logic. Notice when the woman in the audience pipes up and says,

“But what about Jesus?”

And Oprah replies, “What about Jesus?”.

And right there is the disconnect. This dialogue is broken.

The woman is asking it as though ‘Jesus’ is an absolute fact that Oprah is simply forgetting, or not accounting for. She is saying “What about the fact of Jesus? How do you account for that in what you’re saying?”. Because to her; in her mind; for better or for worse – Jesus is a fact. NOT a belief!

And Oprah rather unskillfully replies as if to say, “Yeah? So what? I hear you, and so what about Jesus?” Essentially she’s saying, “Screw your factual absolutist fundamentalist position. It has no merit.”

This is not a way to peace. Additionally, Oprah is guilty of enacting what is referred to as a ‘performative contradiction’. Which is to say there is a contradiction inherent in her assertion that “All paths to God are acceptable”, because what she is actually arguing is, “All paths, that is, except yours.” Well that’s not all paths then, is it.

Oprah is apparently on a mission to get fundamentalists to accept that there are multiple gods, or multiple ways to God, or whatever. I guess she figures that’s necessary, and by many accounts, monotheism does appear to be a major source of conflict in the world. But she’s wasting her time, because what she continually labels discredits as ‘mere beliefs’, are much more than beliefs for many fundamentalists. She may not have resonated with the Baptist beliefs that were forced upon her in her youth, and that’s fine. Good for her for breaking out, following her path, and becoming a truly great force for good in the world. But these people do strongly resonate with their so-called beliefs. Those beliefs are in fact, the deepest foundations of their very existence. Asking these people to simply give up their ‘belief’ that there is only one god, is literally like asking them to die. To kill their worldview. Their Weltanschauung.

I started this piece with an idea that I might write to appeal to the fundamental Christians who made the video. That I might – through sympathizing and relating with them – gain the necessary trust, and be able to suggest a path that does indeed move toward honoring religions outside their own (ie plularism) but avoids the snags and mis-steps and errors that the Oprah church makes (The Secret being the most glaring example).

I had the idea for a second that I might somehow be an influence that would see them safely through the process of letting go and accepting – recognizing the evil and dreaded ‘god-is-within’ narrative as simply a different perspective of their very same God, rather than a contrary and blasphemous one.

Maybe their self-proclaimed love for Jesus could actually open to even more depth and meaning and assuredness, yet, be released from the need for exclusivity, (by showing that the latter is actually a hindrance to the former, rather than a requisite). This is the only interesting way forward to me. Not this endless position-taking and logical arguments. That’s boring.  If that’s the best Oprah can do, than maybe we need an entirely new perspective on 21st century religion and spirituality altogether.

Superbowl Marketing: Winners and Failures

The Superbowl always seems to showcase the extremes in marketing prowess: extreme winners and extreme failures.

The winners, in my opinion, are the ones that feel ‘fresh’. As though they were just produced in order to fit in to this exact moment in our unfolding history, with content that reflects the leading edge of contemporary culture. And in addition to serving fundamental marketing metrics, they make a play on emotion and imagination, befriending us viscerally to the brand. These are the ads that define ‘current’, because they generate discussion.

The failures in Superbowl advertising, in my view, fail to represent that leading edge, appearing cliché and predictable. While they may generate a laugh or two, they generate zero discussion and are quickly forgotten. And at 3 million for 30 seconds,  it’s obviously no time to showcase your mediocrity.

Here’s a look at some winners and failures:

(NOTE: In order to read this post properly and not have multiple videos playing simultaneously, when each video starts, roll over it and click the autoplay to ‘OFF‘. Like this:

(Sorry about that – out of my control.)

Volkswagon/The Force – verdict: WINNER!

What really makes this commercial is the level of focus and determination that this kids pulls off in his performance. It’s like he’s been studying like a good little Jedi, and now he’s ready… I believe that he believes, and his disappointment is palpable! I have also have a soft spot for commercials where parents do stuff to float their kids’ imaginations.

Pepsi Max/Love Hurts – verdict: FAIL!

Really? The jealous, overbearing wife with her husbands proverbial balls in her purse? Didn’t I see this ad while watching an episode of Married..With Children, like, 20 years ago? The only thing that might make this ad slightly more memorable than the 30 seconds it takes to air,  is our perpetual addiction to violence vis-a-vis seeing the girl get hit in the face with a full can of Pepsi. Since I personally don’t have that addiction, that visual just added to the hurt I felt from watching such a pathetic and thematically dated advertisement. As Kevin O’Leary would say, shame on you Pepsi.

Volkswagon/Beetle – verdict: WINNER!

This ad takes all the visual brilliance (is that the Jurassic Park set? Cool!) and quirky character subtleties (LOVE those preying mantis!) of our favourite CGI/animated movies and packs them into 30 seconds of action: near-misses, matrix-style time bending .. and c’mon everybody loves cute things! Can’t you just hear it? “Mo-om, Da-ad, can we get a Beetle?”. Volkswagon is nailing it. – verdict: FAIL!

Here is what this ad says to me: “Fuck the whales! Save the money!” The reason, however, that this is ad will NOT be effective, isn’t because of it’s (unapologetic and blatently) callous attitude toward endangered whale species. No, I accept that ‘saving the whales’ falls outside of the limits of the majority of Superbowl viewers’ personal concern. Fine. The reason this ad sucks is that it’s completely off-message for an emerging dot-com.

Groupon’s customer base is tech-savvy. And the tech-savvy tend to be the ones with a more global mindset. In other words, the ones who are way ahead in understanding the interconnectedness between healthy markets and healthy environment. In short, Groupon’s customers care about whales.

And while they may generate a few new subscribers from the ranks of those who don’t (I know a few meat-heads who might actually buy a bumper sticker with the above slogan), they risk missing – and worse, pissing off – their main demographic for a subscriber base.

The ad wasn’t worth mentioning here (predictable, mildly funny), but had they managed to air directly after this dud, they would have been there to welcome the droves of offended or formerly-loyal Groupon customers.

Update: All of that (the backlash and the pissing off) happened.

Audi/Release the Hounds – verdict: OUTSTANDING!

Trust me, it gets funnier every time you watch it.

This ad starts at 10, ends at 10, and stays 10 all the way through on the stimulation meter. It takes a fairly big risk because, well, it’s completely ridiculous right from the start! But great characters (making great choices), and a razor-sharp script, suspend me long enough from asking the question “What the hell is going on here?” to get through to the end, when they hand it to us with a simple tagline: “Escape the confines of luxury”. The confines of luxury! Of course!

This is fresh because it resonates with the time! Aren’t we all sick of cliché opulence and over-the-top, so-called luxury? Don’t get me wrong, rich people – I love luxury. And in my philosophy, healthy reward is an absolutely integral part of success.

But what this ad does – so brilliantly – is take a shot at the old notion of ‘expensive for the sake of expensive‘ (think:  solid gold cutlery) – in favour of expensive for the sake of genuine style, life-affirming enjoyment and reward. I think I’ll go reward myself with a new Audi.

“Scandal! Scandal!” Still chuckling.

Most Influential Person?

I just have had noo time lately to read any of Mark McGuinness’s fantastic blog posts (by writers, for writers). But it’s 3:29am, brain still buzzing, and so I opened this latest one up. Glad I did.

I don’t think I’ve seen a more well-rounded and thoughtful – yet concise – outline of the many approaches to improving ‘self-awareness’. No abstract spiritual platitudes here; just sensible ideas and a patchwork of various angles at which to get at a deeper knowledge of the most important (and influential) person in all of our lives – ourselves.

I especially like his advice to “develop your talents, rather than fixing your weaknesses“. Soo much of contemporary ‘personal growth’ revolves around shadow and shortcomings. Important, yes, but also never-ending, and so it can easily become an obsession (ahem..I know a bit about this). Better to get a good handle on the blind-spots (using caution and compassion), while simultaneously pouring as much energy as possible into honing natural talents, and developing the skills required to express them in the world.

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dear Doctors Without Borders/MSF administration:

“I have requested to be removed from your paper mailing list, soliciting donations – based on our one-time donation of $50, nine years ago. Despite my recent request (and inactive status), we continue to receive these massive solicitation packages in the mail.


This conjures up questions about the ratios of wasteful printing/distribution costs vs. incoming donations. Like a worm eating it’s own tail.”

This is why I generally don’t give money to large charities. Our funds and resources are far too precious to continue to be wasted on broken systems. I’ll donate suggestions – even lend my creative problem solving super powers if asked – but not money.

Walmart’s Cool New Coolers

Check out what Walmart’s doing toward 60% more energy efficient structural standards. The inventor-slash-process designer in me is fascinated at the level of detail:

There’s more of this miserly minutiae at every turn. The waste heat from the five massive compressors that power the refrigeration plant is piped through the floor of the building to reduce the chill that radiates in during the icy prairie winter. The pallets of produce are shuttled around by a fleet of handling vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. (To reduce greenhouse–gas emissions, the hydrogen is being generated by renewable–power plants in Quebec and trucked in, which turned out to be significantly less polluting than making it using coal–fired electricity in Alberta.) Two 30–kilowatt wind turbines stand sentry over the parking lot, a bank of solar thermal panels covers the south wall of the warehouse to heat its hot water, and the broad roof has been painted white to reduce heat gain. The bulletin boards are made from recycled tires, and there are signs out front reading “Garbage Free Parking Lot.”

So. Will predictable eco-activists respond from their predictably default position, and label Wal-mart’s efforts as yet more ‘greenwashing’? Or, are corporate and environmental interests  truly beginning to work toward a common objective?

I know which of those two ideas I find more interesting..

As you can SEE

My fancy shmancy site with all my  customizations is gone. Destroyed in some sort of a “PHP roll-back” accident, so I’m told.

So, I’m going to go very light on the customization for now, in hopes that it eventually gets restored.  I was kinda sick of that design anyway, but I was NOT sick of all the code I had carefully tinkered with behind the scenes.

So for now we’ll go with a ‘clean’ look.. Yeah, the clean look. Sigh.