31 is the magic number

Serenity is golden… But sometimes a few ripples are needed as proof of life.- Arti

“Serenity is golden” © Kavya Bhat. Some rights reserved.

Yesterday was the 30th day of my 1st Challenge – 30 Days of Climbing Stairs. Today, day 31, I stuck with it. And that was the point – creating a habit. I made a conscious choice to take the stairs today, so maybe it’s not completely habitual, but I’ll continue with it. Today also seems like a good time to reflect on some of the challenges I’ve been writing about here over the last couple of months.

Here are some of the things that have been rolling through my mind lately:

Ripple effects

Each time I’ve undertaken a challenge I’ve noticed other effects that I hadn’t specifically considered before beginning the challenge. They may seem obvious, but they weren’t things that I had thought about initially. For instance, when taking the stairs each morning, it was always easier if I’d had a decent breakfast, but because I have two small children it can be hard to make sure that I eat well before leaving for work. Since that realization though, I’ve done a pretty good job of eating breakfast before leaving the house.

With the “7 days of paying it forward to strangers” challenge, I found myself thinking about kindness and how I was conducting myself in general, not just in relation to the specific daily acts of “paying it forward”. It seems incongruous to do something charitable for one person and then act like a jerk to another.

Planning and spontaneity are a great combination

During the “paying it forward” challenge I had a few conversations about random vs. planned acts of kindness. They both have their place. In fact, planned acts of kindness are contrived, but that doesn’t take away from their sincerity, and a planned act can lay the foundation for ongoing ways of connecting with people and our environment.

Outside forces can be great motivators

Receiving challenge submissions has been great! They have been fun to do, I benefit from other people’s imaginations, and it gives me something to aim for. I think there is huge opportunity for this to evolve even more.

Offline vs. online

Even though my challenge dispatches happen here on the blog, most of my time has been spent talking to people about ideas and acting on them. I’ve recruited friends to join me on my challenge missions and it has been entertaining for me and my accomplices.

Part 2 – The Knowledge Cycle: Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know”


“Simplicity” © Jan Tik. Some rights reserved.

The following is the continuation from yesterday’s post Part 1 – The Knowledge Cycle: Benefiting from the experiences of our predecessors.

“Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” as long as you can follow with, “but I can find out and I will get back with you.” It has always surprised me the people who will try to hack through a half answer to a question rather than simply admit they don’t know, but are willing to find out and follow up. In the beginning I thought I would earn the nickname “Third base” because I seemed to be saying I don’t know more often than not, but people came to trust that I would always follow up with the right answer, and promptly, so it never became an issue.

Build your network. These days with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc., everyone is into networking. Sixteen years ago the tools were more limited to connect with colleagues, but the need was just as important. I recently read a study that said people are often more receptive to giving help than receiving it. It has certainly been my experience that a key to building a lasting support network is to be certain that your relationships have both take and give in relatively equal measure.

The following article about the benefits of helping other is a worthwhile read.

Build and document your trusted system. The third golden piece of advice from my predecessor was, “90% of everything you do here will come back in some form in five years or less.” This simple statement led me to invest the time to obsessively archive and document every production and I rely on that history daily as a starting point for new performances of similar work. On average we do 60 unique projects a year, so my current archive contains close to a thousand active or past project records. This has, over time, transitioned from binders full of paper to a scanned digital archive cross-referenced to our searchable performance history. I am a big fan of the Getting Things Done (GTD) movement and believe that we are all responsible for keeping our basic skills sharp and organizing our own workflow. My big takeaway from inbox zero and the rest of the GTD methods I have looked at is: take the time and effort to build a trusted system that works for you then work the system every day.

Final Thought. If you truly care about your colleagues, the work you do, the value it creates, and the customers you serve, then you must operate on the principal that, if you were hit by a bus on the way home tonight, someone else could pick up where you left off and keep things running. I was lucky to have been given a fairly comprehensive “Orchestras 101” tutorial by my predecessor. A combination of briefing notes, standard operating procedures, and best practices for the unique performance practice of a symphony orchestra. In my tenure I have not only maintained and updated those documents, but actively mentored colleagues who can replace me if the need arises. There are always several people on staff here who know where my project notes are kept, and what I do on a daily basis so that in the event that I am not able, for whatever reason, to perform my duties, the show will go on.

So, in conclusion, my challenge to Alex is, “Create your own backup and temporary (or permanent) succession plan. Make where you are a better place by creating resources that others, who will inevitably replace you, can use to get a head start.”

Chris Walroth


Part 1 – The Knowledge Cycle: Benefiting from the experiences of our predecessors

Big Ship Sailing On The Ocean

“Big Ship Sailing On The Ocean” © Justin Ornellas. Some rights reserved.

When I first thought about what content I might want to explore on a blog about learning by challenging ourselves, I immediately thought about my friend and colleague, Chris. He’s a renaissance man, who has a very demanding job, the scope of which is broad due its unique requirements, and his many talents. In the off season Chris sails, which sounds idyllic, but it also demands tremendous skill and knowledge. It’s no week at an all-inclusive.

I asked Chris if he’d be willing to talk to me about how he has experienced challenge as a learning opportunity and what follows is Part 1 of his response:

My challenge. After twenty years working in a variety of genres within the performing arts I made what at the time seemed like a major career shift and became, almost overnight, the Production Manager of a major orchestra. Classical music has always been a part of my life as an unenlightened listener, but I have no formal musical training, unlike most of my colleagues on staff. The simple fact that I am still here sixteen years later leads me to conclude that I had some success meeting the challenges of this career shift. What I think was, and still is, important in making this transition a success follows.

My first break was when my predecessor gave me two solid pieces of advice: “Learn Score Order” and “The conductor is always right”.

Learn the lingo. Every industry has its own jargon. In the theatre we have upstage (towards the back) and downstage (the front). A holdover from the early raked stages where the back was higher in order to improve sightlines. We have stage left and stage right (always from the actors perspective) when facing the audience. To this orchestras add inside and outside to denote which player in a pair or “desk” of strings is closer to the audience. Since the conductor is “boss”, orchestral forces are always discussed in “Score Order” — the order from top down in which the instruments appear in the conductor’s score. If I were to ask what the forces were for Bernstein: Candide Overture my colleagues would say 3233  4231 T + 4 Hp Str = 14 & Down. Translated that is 3 Flute, 2 Oboe, 3 Clarinet, 3 Bassoon, 4 French Horn, 2 Trumpet, 3 Trombone, 1 Tuba, Timpani 4 Percussion, Harp, (no keyboards) and Orchestral Strings (14 Violins 1, 12 Violins 2, 10 Viola, 8 Cello, 6 Bass).  Job one for me was rote memorization of Score Order so that I knew how many players were required.

Know who the boss is. “The conductor is always right.” Put another way, what we do as an orchestra is to achieve the conductor’s artistic interpretation of the composer’s original intent. The conductor has the role that in theatre would be given to the director: absolute artistic and creative control. Every aspect of the product offering is under their supervision. Their direct or tacit approval is required.

More important to long term success is identifying who your customer is.  My theory is that everyone has customers. In my job the primary customers are the musicians of the orchestra. My mandate is to provide the best possible resources and environment for them to do what they do best. Secondary for me are the conductor and guest artists who deserve equal best efforts, but have other staff assigned to manage aspects of their requirements.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of Chris’s story.