Archive for the ‘art’ Category


Poetry instead of PowerPoint in the boardroom

In art,business,China,culture,faith,familiy,Friends,leadership,poetry,Proverbs,quote,Spiritual,Technology,Theology on December 22, 2011 by mstevensrev

A friend and inspiration of mine and many other Nigel Goodwin has an encouraging idea he shares with those creatives in the boardroom.  While spending a few days with Nigel and a group of others at a Kindlings Hearth Event, we had been discussing slippers and lingerie…which is probably an entirely different blog post unless you know Nigel because I’m certain you have discussed similarly unique things with him.  At some point he stops and says, Michael when I do consulting with companies I want to see the humanity brought back into their existence so “When I go into the boardroom I start with poetry rather than PowerPoint.”

While Nigel’s words were inspirational, there was a good part of my heart that sank.  Of course Nigel with his experience and maturity is able to bring those worlds together, he is a uniquely gifted GIFT from God to the rest of us.  As a young, inexperienced, highly ambitious and motivated sales monkey I could not picture that reality, but in that there was hope.  In the short term I embraced bringing the humanity back into those rooms, and noticed results.  With clients such as Google who treat vendors as nameless faceless units and make rational decisions upon the data that has been thoroughly scrubbed for accuracy, it is not easy unless you are intentional.  Though I noticed the more human meetings became, the more laughter there was, the more people longed to have lunch together afterward and there was a small patch of green growing in this area.

That would have been a miracle in mind and the truth be told only God could be responsible for bringing life and humanity to a Google boardroom:)  And yet I had an even bigger surprise yesterday and am grateful that I had the eyes to see what I had stumbled into.  This year has been filled with job transition and the turmoil related to that change.  Thankfully I am celebrating two months with a new company that I am really enjoying and excited about.  Yesterday I found myself in Cupertino at our office with the head of a Business Unit discussing recent shifts within the company and how we are to move forward.  We were setting out a goal for the next three months and clearly came up with the foci and metrics to measure success, yet we had not named our goal.  So I ask the Business Unit head what is mantra for the group.

A grin came across his face and he said that he has a slide on that which he presented.  While finding it on his computer his demeanor shifted from the confident young leader to shy.  He said that often these are the hardest ideas and seem really good in private but are silly in public.  I felt like I was on holy ground.  Then he presented this image to us. Thankfully he did not have the English translation because he was able to share with us more context which made the word so much more than the translation expresses!  It is a quote from Confucius which most people from China know very well, roughly translated it means, “To put the world in order we must first set our hearts to right thing, to then focus on craftsmanship, to then care for family and team, and then the world.”  I have begin to read commentaries and other translations of this proverb and needless to say it is very profound.

After listening to the explanation I was asked what I thought.  I said it was amazing, the full extent of why I think it speaks to me will take an evening and a meal together but in short is universal and human, capturing and relating what it means for us to be ourselves.  How beautiful to have the opportunity to start with ‘getting our hearts right’ with my co-workers, I desperately need people around me who are concerned with that because it has a direct effect on everything in my life, including my ‘numbers’.  I said, “It is deeply human.”  Then on a level even more deep my coworker asked me with an amazing amount of vulnerability in his eyes and voice, “Is it too Chinese?”  The weight of that question would be hard for me to describe in this blog post, but in short it felt like through this poem/proverb I was being asked if we were all people in a shared struggle with what it means to live in this world.  Again I said it, “It is human, and with roots from China it is perfect for our company.”  There was some more discussion but one of the action items we took away was to send out an audio file of the poem so that the American’s on the team can learn how to say it…as it is mean to be said.

We took a break and before we started again, I told the team about Nigel.  This wonderful friend who brings poetry into boardrooms instead of PowerPoint, and I said he would be very proud of the discussion we had around a poem.  In this I cannot express my gratitude….

P.S. For those of you who haven’t seen the TED Talk related to dance and powerpoint please check it out, this is very dear to my heart.

Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal: John Bohannon on



White guilt and african american culture defining America

In art,business,church,culture,design,faith,Theology,work on November 10, 2011 by mstevensrev

It seemed unusual but I gave a presentation in Orlando, FL in 2003 to a classroom of pastors in training titled, “Why you should care about Eminem.”  In it my partner and I traced the thread of influence from the Negro Spiritual to Jazz to Blues to R&B and to Hip Hop as significant influencers of spiritual music, or as Jon Michael Spencer formerly Duke University refers to it Black Sacred Music.  While appropriate for that audience the scope was far too limited, since the practice of American slavery as a oppressed people group African Americans have had greater influence then most realize, the clearest moment I point to is what is known as the Harlem Renaissance .

So this week I watched two interviews that sparked my passions on this topic one again first from the Harvard Business Review titled, The Tanning of America, interview with Steve Stoute.  Perhaps it is my sensitivity but throughout the interview I feel the weight and appreciate Senior Editor Scott Berinato interviewing and awkwardness in using the term Tanning, it both highlights but also takes some of the power out of the white guilt associated with many similar conversations.  That is an aside to the meat of the interview is when Steve Stoute discusses the Madison Square Garden performance of RunDMC.  How they were not only changing music, fashion, but global culture.  The significance that an executive from Adidas had vision in that moment is beautifully redeeming.

For those who have not heard the story, one of our cultures most successful and popular actors Will Smith was deeply influencing by RunDMC. When asked why he got into rap as The Fresh Prince, Smith answered that he saw the video of Run DMC doing a stadium concert in Japan when during the concert they told everyone to hold up their Adidas.  Smith said seeing the influence these guys had over 20,000+ Japanese fans in that moment made him want to get into it.  For those who don’t know the picture in this post is of my current version of the shoes which I grew up with in Baltimore and there is a collectors addition commemorating  the 25th  anniversary of the song My Adidas, available.

The other interview that got me thinking this week was from Inc. with Russell Simmons.  Russell is one of the great culture leaders in our country and the world, this interview also gives him the opportunity to talk about his deep spiritual side to his life and ventures.  He does have one great story he tells about LL Cool J and a commercial for The Gap. Sometimes the most powerful culture changers are clearly in your face but so transcendent that you cannot even see them, and for America there is a great responsibility for it’s citizens to respond to such a beautiful and tragic influence that has so deeply shaped us.


Reflections on the death of Steve Jobs

In Apple,art,Bible,computers,Evangelist on November 9, 2011 by mstevensrev

Steve Jobs is dead.  He had a huge influence in my life over the past four years as I managed localization for Apple.  There were multiple clients in the organization but most excited was Apple Retail which could be the most successful retail operating in the history of business and I got to be on the front line of their global launches.  Thought it was meeting with a client from the Apple Online Store when I stood five feet from Steve Jobs in the cafeteria.  This was roughly a year ago, and he was not well.  Even then he was mystifying, he was very dialed into the conversation he was in  and all I wanted to do was sit close enough to hear him.  There was no distracting him from whatever the matter at hand was that day.

So Steve’s death has caught my attention.  It started with this quote, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address  The day after his death I saw this quote.  I had just been fired from my job, basically the second job change in the same calendar year which I had left a very influential church in my life, taken on two car payments and a mortgage.  The biggest question I had was, “Who am I.”  Steve nailed it for me, take responsibility as I am my own person.

Then my friend Dick Staub of The Kindlings had a thoughtful and beautiful article picked up by the Washington Post titled What did Steve Jobs see at the end?  If you have not read it yet, you should.  Let go of judgment and walk through the article.
After these ideas have been in my head for a few days now, here is what I am taking away

1. Death should effect how I live

Most of my life is protected from having to think about death, and then it invades like a virus which I though we have cured.  The reality sets in that we do not make it out alive.  Every moment is a gift and what should I do with it.  There is no place for negativity, since I am able to make self pity a lifestyle choice.  Tomorrow will take care of itself, the things I am scared of are smaller than they appear in my head, and out of my mouth comes what lies in my heart and frankly it is often a big pile of shit unless I am intentional about filling what little time I have with love.  So I bought a Costco sized bag of bird feed, and put on Crocks to walk out and fill my two bird feeders in my year.  I stop like Brother Lawrence and give thanks for every dirty diaper I change or mess on the kitchen table I clean up, because this is life and if it were not messy it would not be real, and there will be a day when I die.
2. Adoption means you were chosen, not that you were abandoned
In self pity and fear I look out and ask “Where were you?”  I ask this of my friends, pastors, family, but most often God.  Looking back on my life those moments where I have seemed to be most left on my own, are exactly the moments where my deepest need is reached and I am loved the most.  Losing a job, being abuse, being kicked out of the Garden are awful and wonderful gifts when we have been hired again, loved unconditionally and moving into a mansion.  Roman 8:12-16, explains this well and intimately especially when it says, 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” My slavery has been fear and abandonment, and my joy and child likeness is my adoption.
3. Passion does not trump gratefulness
One seminary professor named Steve Brown warned us to not make the person who died Jesus himself, he didn’t tell us that while most people do get nostalgic regarding the one who has passed most of us have been big enough assholes at some point in life that people remember that too.  Steve Jobs treated people horribly at times.  I am not talking about his shrewd business actions, but rather the folklore around the Apple campus.  On you first trip to campus they warn you, “If Steve gets in an elevator with you get out before the door closes, he has fired people on a on floor ride.”  Also, “If Steve asks you what you do for Apple you say, ‘Sorry I’m not able to tell you I’m under disclosure and not sure if you’ve been disclosed.'”  A spouse of a co-worker of mine was the assistant to the Engineer who maintained Steve’s gear, laptop, phone, etc.  When the guy retried he moved positions rather than work directly for Steve in such a intensely demanding position.  People matter, they matter a great deal so much that my scripture tells me not a hair falls from anyones head without God knowing it.  I long to be passionate but not at the expense others.
4. Timing matters but so does presentation
Steve was a master at both, a true showman.  I know that Guy Kawasaki gets most of the credit with the term Evangelist, as he should, but there is no one better then Steve.  He might has well been the guy outside the bearded lady at the Circus, when he presented it was on my calendar and I made time to follow what was going on.  I look forward to learning this one,  yes if I got it this post would have been out more than a week ago.  At the same time thoughts matter, the creative process is important, and hopefully in this moment a little love and passion was shared.


Getting my kids into the tangable

In art,Books,business,computers,culture,family,k ids on August 11, 2011 by mstevensrev

My work allows me to be around amazing technology and the people who make it.  I have worked intimately with leading companies and gotten to see first hand the artistic nature of writing code and then it coming to life.  For most consumers though this elaborate process simple becomes a means of consuming content, the creative is behind the curtain and often ignored.

I started thinking about this because of a conversation with a new friend where in talking about raising children she mentioned the importance of having books around in addition to the ‘screens’ that are apart of our daily existence.  She said, “I want my kids to have something tangible.”  Which stuck with me.

Tangible things create limits very quickly for us.  That is the magic of technology, Ray Ozzie said that the entire reason he started programming is because he knew if he could imagine it, he could create it.  There is a huge difference though in my mind between creating and consuming.  When I pick up a trumpet I immediately run into the limitations of my lips, training, lungs, and everything else.  When I play a trumpet on Garageband I am free of many limitations.

As a parent of three kids I am often looking for the easy way to get through situations, and I am keenly aware that is not the best.  Hand a kid a screen, and they will be entertained for an hour, teach the kid what about life the screen makes magical and they will be caught up in the wonder of life.



Seth Godin & his talk on revolution

In art,blogging,Books,Evangelist on June 25, 2011 by mstevensrev

Stevens & Seth Godin, he complained about the lighting the entire event...I see why

Yesterday I spent half the day listening and talking with Seth Godin at his interactive session in Seattle.  Okay perhaps I was just listening but there was plenty of questions being asked and thoughtful wrestling going on.  Much of what Seth shared was wisdom from his many books, especially Lynchpin, The Dip, and Poking the Box.  The only one I had not read was Poking the Box and I’m excited to get to it.

The event open with the gospel music of Fivacious!  They were beautiful, of course ended up sitting behind us and Karin and I totally chatted them up.

The highlight from Seth’s comments was about being in a project world, not a factory world.  The factory places people at companies that have the right skills, the project knows the goal of what is being accomplished.  This fits into my understand of sales, consulting and ultimately what I want to do regarding business.  My ability to quickly assimilate information, high emotional intelligence, and natural curiosity makes this very good work for me.  Seth’s encouragement is that we are to draw the map, rather than merely follow it.  This reminds me of a post from my friend Dick Staub, check out the post here.

Another great encouragement from Seth was to challenge our kids with problems to solve, and let them enter into the big problems we are thinking about whether it regarding politics, healthcare, faith, or whatever.  He mentioned bringing the toy drinking bird and getting kids to talk about how it works.  When talking about this it was a personal challenge for me to continue to feed my curiosity and that of my kids.

Overall what made the event so great was who I was there with.  Of course having my wife gain some insight into the world I feed myself on by listening to Seth was wonderful, we had a date night that night so we were able to really bat around some good ideas and thoughts.  I invited another friend who immediately seemed to catch a fire.  Then a husband of a old client ended up attending with us.  They are not only involved in very cool vocational work, but are deeply thoughtful about artists and children and trying to change the world through their work both in their jobs and outside.  My goal for the event was to take people with me that would be the most inspiring folks in my network and who I would most want to spend a morning with.  I am grateful it ended up being that!



In art,Technology on October 9, 2007 by mstevensrev

>This is a great blog if you haven’t read it yet, and this interview is pretty cool. Art meets business pretty cool. The last line almost knocked me off my seat and will ring in my ears all day. “We all carry a secret that would break your heart if you just knew what it was. And if we could remember that there might be more understanding and peace in the world.”