Organically-Sourced Polyester

I enjoy finding phrases that don’t make sense. Hence the flapper words from a previous post. Organically sourced polyester would be one of those phrases.

Another one of my favorites is when a local gives you directions, sure they know the roads better than you, but they don’t understand the way you see the landmarks.

Go down Maple Street and two miles before you get to the old Jones’ house turn left. 100 feet later you’ll be right there!

Sure that sentence shows a mastery of the road network in the area. But it does so using some rather un translatable reference points. If you don’t know where the old Jones’ place is, you’re probably not going to get to where you want to go.

We can take a lesson from this when we mentor and coach our team mates. Take the time to consider their perspective and what they know. Use references they can relate to and help them get to where they’re going.

Who would have thought that a post titled Organically-Sourced Polyester would have been useful after all?

Photo by Pixabay on

Lindsey Stirling and the Violinist

I once asked a violinist what she thought about Lindsey Stirling.  It was after a holiday meal.  I thought it was a polite question. I had no idea that the road our conversation was going down would take such a sharp turn up the steep hill to passionate in less than a second.

By the time I realized where we were I had conversational whiplash.   I listened to an otherwise mild mannered violinist leak unkind thoughts towards someone else who made their living with the same instrument.

What I thought they would have in common they did not.  Sure both instruments look the same.  The other half the the conversation quickly advocated that to the trained ear they do not sound the same.  I noticed this too.  Lindsey Stirling’s playing doesn’t sound like the violin solo in Scheherazade.

I took my boys to see Lindsey Stirling in concert in Munich a few years ago.  That concert showed how Lindsey offers something different than just a precisely excellent performance.  During her concert she repeatedly offered messages of hope and courage for those dealing with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.  She made the evening enjoyable.

Her music was a part of the message, but her message was much more than her music.

How often do we see a part of something and miss viewing it as part of a whole?  Lindsey’s marketability is her message and her music is a part of her way of expressing that, but if you only pay attention to the music and what it’s lacking it might be very easy to miss the greater picture.

I had the ability to politely share this with the violinist over dinner.  I felt like I learned to help her see more than what she had seen before.

I hope I can be receptive when people try to help me see the larger context in my life.  Seeing only a part of something is a human condition and I’m just as prone to it as anyone else.  I only hope I can be a better learner than I am today.  If you choose to help me, please be kind.


Your Access

Each generation has made comments about the media available for youth of their day and complained about its appropriateness.  My mom tells stories of the Beatles were chided in their day.  Comic books came under attack as well and the late Stan Lee lead the charge against censorship of that medium.

In concert with things that are appreciated by youth there also seems to be a derision by those who don’t take the time to understand the other person’s perspective.  Thus we end up with The Brady Bunch building several episodes around the generation gap, and younger generations getting labeled as the worst ever.

It seems a bit odd that I have to spend a blog post on this because it should be obvious.  Those comments about kids these days and _______ media aren’t the norm.  In fact their quite opposite.  We have more access today to good content than at any other point in human history and our kids are pretty good at selecting it.

They’re not perfect and nor are we.  We all make mistakes as we learn to appreciate the finer things in life like the documentary about the font Helvetica or the etymology blog from the Oxford University Press.

Your access to good content has never been greater in all of human history.

What are you doing with it?

The Young & The Ignorant

On a recent trip to Walt Disney World my family and a few friends were able to enjoy the ride Soarin’.  The ride is a flying simulation with a very large screen that takes guests across different landscapes around the world.  Among the landscapes and scenes the ride takes you to include India’s Taj Mahal, Monument Valley in the United States, and Egypt’s Pyramids. The ride’s duration is only a few minutes, but it’s a delightful presentation of the beautiful things created by both God and man.  As we were walking out of the ride I turned to my wife to ask a question.  She gave me the ‘don’t talk to me’ look.  Later on I found out why. She was listening to the couple talking behind her.  Of course they were talking loud enough it was hard not to.  The guy was explaining that he understood why all the things were part of the ride except for “that random-a– castle in Czechoslovakia.” Let’s discuss this for a moment.  First, this is the random castle from the experience:
This is Neuschwanstein Castle.  It’s not in Czech.  It’s in Bavaria To further the experiment I have a mental exercise that I do where I try to understand how the other person came to their conclusion.  I try to find logical potential reasons for them to consider their beliefs to be valid.  This is based upon the idea that we believe we’re right and we believe that we’re logical creatures–though we’re also terribly fallible.  This particular set of statements about the castle being random and in Czech has me a bit puzzled.  So this post is dedicated to asking how could someone come to that conclusion? Here’s what I can imagine:
  • The castle is in Bavaria and built by a king with little influence outside of his kingdom.  Had it been built by Charlemagne or Napoleon or someone else with greater significance maybe it would be better known.  Ludwig just doesn’t make it into American History Books.
  • A lack of knowledge of where the castle is can be further caused by the problem of it not being associated with a major historical figure combined with the reality that many of the maps this couple have seen in their lifetime are digital.  As kids I grew up with the printed cartoonish maps of the world that included major landmarks.  As things have gone digital fewer of these may be available for people to consume.
  • There’s no movies set in the castle.  That sounds minor, but we’re visual creatures used to consuming visual media.  There’ very little popular visual media (outside of tourist videos) that include the castle.  Things might be different if the castle were used more as a location in movies.  As much as the Mission Impossible series have used world locations this hasn’t been one of them.
  • Bavaria is a backwater state in Germany.  My friends from Northern Germany would often comment about how backwards Bavaria is about some things.  Imagine there was a king of West Virginia, and that right before losing the kingdom he built a castle.  That’s the way my friends in Erfurt made it sound like Neuschanstein castle was.  It’s often used as a symbol for Germany, but it’s really part of the backwater state in the country.
  • There’s not much exciting about the castle.  When you go, it looks good, but the experience isn’t Disney.  It’s about the king and how hard he made people work (for very little pay) to create the castle to satisfy his desire to impose his rule as near to God-like as possible.  There’s some discussion about whether or not he was actually murdered.  Why?  Because a king who acts that way might have made more than just a few enemies.
  • There’s lots of good reasons to believe that Czechoslovakia is still a country, but most of them fall apart as soon as one cares to look and I doubt our young characters in this post had ever had the need to look.
While I didn’t follow up with the young couple to actually discover what there reasons were, reviewing these potential reasons helps to humanize how such a situation could happen.  How can you use an exercise like this to help you relate to others.

Everyone’s Right

Youve been there before. You’re in a meeting and someone is very passionate about how they see a situation. They escalate their volume. Soon there’s a misunderstanding and someone else matches passion for passion, but they don’t share the same perspective.

Two people may walk on a path but their destinations aren’t always the same.

It’s entirely possible to pause a conversation that is going badly. During the pause I remarked how both people were right and encouraged them to see it from the others perspective.

It worked.

I only hope someone is around to pause the next meeting where I become passionate.

Perspective Taking

    Every challenge is an opportunity.  This maxim is true among all types of groups including virtual, culturally diverse, and generationally diverse groups.  Each of these groups presents its own set of special considerations for applying perspective taking; defined as the “cognitive ability to understand the world from another’s viewpoint.”

    With regards to the disconnected nature of virtual teams the ability to understand someone else on the team can become a significant challenge.  According to the NY Times, 43% of Americans worked remotely at some point during 2016.  Yet Frey’s work clearly illustrated how virtual environments contain their own nuances for team groupness.  As one of the first studies on the subject it was observed how technology impacted the group’s ability to understand each other’s viewpoint even though both groups were from the same company, had physically met in person, and were speaking the same language.  The core of the issue identified in that study dealt in part with the natural delay of the technology at hand (Frey, 2003).

    Culturally diverse teams exhibit similar challenges.  In his book, A Thomas Jefferson Education, Oliver Demille presents the idea that having a national book helps to define a nation.  His premise is based on the idea that having a common reference points serves as a starting point to relate to others and create a shared identity.  Truly similar backgrounds help to create common ground among group members, but with those from different backgrounds this challenge can be more difficult to overcome.  Based on my experience of establishing cross cultural groups in many countries, group members from different cultural background view their current experience as a good way to establish that common narrative then it can increase their successful interactions.  It’s hard to consider someone else’s viewpoint when you don’t know what that is, but it’s a subject that most feel comfortable discussing, and that discussion can be the foundation to success.

    Generationally diverse groups not only have the problems of an uncommon heritage, they also have the challenge of dealing with individuals of varying technical abilities.  Language is very much a communication technology and older generations have impressed me by their ability to employ language with expert tone and inflection.  In environments where tone and inflection are lost (such as email) their skills can fall below the required task for communication.  This will often lead inexperienced individuals to judge those as older as less capable instead of valuing the skills they do have.  Perspective taking is certainly apt in this situation as it forces those with potentially cynical perspectives to look for the good and contributions of others.

    Regardless of the origins of the challenge in virtual teams, cross cultural teams, or gender diverse teams, perspective taking is an important skill to be applied to any group environment.  




Frey, L. R. (2003). Group communication in context: Studies in bona fide groups. Mahwah, NJ: Routledge.