This post by Aaron Wherry in Maclean’s is a must-read for anyone interested in the best that political speech-making skills offered in this fine town. I agree wholeheartedly with his praise for Robert Fowler’s impassioned speech, but also draw your attention to Wherry’s observation:
We have may long ago lost our patience for hours-long addresses, but there remains a certain craving for the sight and sound of a politician speaking resoundingly, passionately and at length.
Going beyond the confines of the Queensway however, my money on the finest political speech of the year was this one by Gordon Brown. He gets bonus points for quoting the classics in his conclusion…
When Cicero spoke to crowds in ancient Rome people turned to each other after hearing the speech and said “great speech.” But when Demosthenes spoke to the crowds in ancient Greece and people turned to each other they said, “let’s march!”
But let’s not limit this best-of list to political speechmaking.
Two of the finest presentations in 2010 were TED Talks—neither relied heavily on powerpoint slides, but rather on thoughtful rhetoric and a speaker who believes passionately in a cause.
The first presentation was by Sir Ken Robinson, arguing for a revolution in education…
We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture.
The second noteworthy presentation was by game designer Jane McGonigal, making a persuasive case for how gaming can change the world, starting with this arresting point…
Right now we spend three billion hours a week playing online games. Some of you might be thinking, “That’s a lot of time to spend playing games.” Maybe too much time, considering how many urgent problems we have to solve in the real world. But actually, according to my research, at The Institute For The Future, it’s actually the opposite is true. Three billion hours a week is not nearly enough game play to solve the world’s most urgent problems.
And….there’s one more thing. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a tip of my hat to Jesse Desjardins‘ award-winning “You Suck At PowerPoint,” doing his part for making the world a better place, free of snoozeworthy slideware presentations. (Added hyperlink for those of you accessing this on iOS devices)
View more presentations from @JESSEDEE.
Last summer while I was in Boston on a trip with my family, we decided to take a boat tour of Boston Harbour. I didn’t get much from the experience. Granted, the operators did their very best to provide everyone on-board with a safe, informative tour, but the boat was awfully crowded and it didn’t take long before there was a palpable sense on the faces of most around me of “how soon will this thing be over?”
In contrast, a few days earlier we joined a small group and did a guided walking-tour of a coastal New England town that had a rich history and a great story to tell. Not only was the tour a lot of fun, we had the opportunity to get to know some of the others in that small group, such that by the end of the tour most were acquainted on a first-name basis.
Following large crowds are fine for certain things. They’re an inevitable part of professional sports and music, for instance. But the dynamic there is one on which you’ve all gathered to see a spectacle, getting to know the people around you is secondary. Networking, on the other hand, is more like a series of smaller groups. Each cluster has its own conversation, and each one works best when everyone is as engaged as a listener as they are as a speaker.
Too often, social media tends to be treated like a mass spectacle. For many, it’s tempting to assume that the end-game is about seeing how many follows they can get. They’ll engage auto-follow on twitter and sit back and watch as the numbers grow.
This is a mistake. Aggregation keeps you from finding out what’s important. And it impedes you from being able to demonstrate meaning and value to others.
I don’t auto-follow on Twitter. I never have. I’m choosy about whom I add, and the same is true of my activities on LinkedIn. There’s no value for me in amassing a large crowd if I can’t engage them in a meaningful way. Auto-following says “I don’t really care who you are” your main purpose is to just to add to my audience size.”
Here’s the real problem with being indiscriminate about amassing social media follows on a large scale. Unless you are a skilled performer and have an incredible amount of free time on your hands, you are not going to be able to reach out and get to know the people you are supposedly friends with. What’s more likely to happen—even after you weed out the thousands of tweetbots and other detritus—is that you’re still going to wind up with thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people who you don’t know at all and who contribute a great big zero to your conversations online. It’s also rather likely they are going to feel the same way about you.
As Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing, advises how important it is to pick the right crowd. That means it’s important to find a shared interest.
I don’t want the crowded, impersonal boat tour. I want that walking tour. Clearly I’m not alone. Shama Kabani, author of one of the top-rated books on social media recently explained why she unfollowed everyone on Twitter and started anew, explaining: “Anything that gets in the way of adding value is keeping me from doing my job.” Even among my small group of follows on Twitter, there’s been talk lately about how to do some much-needed pruning to get back to that sense of having valuable conversations with a well-defined audience of people who matter.
Audience attention is a finite resource. So it’s worth your while to spend it wisely. I’m online to connect with people one-on-one and to provide something useful that they can take and implement in their own work. The best way to do that is to keep things personal and friendly.
(Photo: Commons NZ Library).
It also has a great story about how it came to be.
Fresh from a trip to India, Harrison was keen to incorporate Eastern philosophy into his work. This included committing to the idea that things can happen for a reason” if you let them. Harrison decided to test this by promising himself that he’d write a song based on the first words he read when opening a book chosen at random.
From a book in his mother’s library he read “gently weeps” and interesting things happened. The outcome was a timeless song. This example teaches that inspiration can be anywhere…and that it’s often found when and where you’d least expect it.
But you need to open yourself up to new experiences to make this happen.
Here are 21 things you can do—and think of each one as a place you can go—to add fuel to your own creative fire and find new inspiration, no matter what kind of work you do”
Read about something you don’t know much (or anything) about. There’s no fiercer potential to untap than that of a beginner’s mind.
Listen more. Talk less.
Do something other than sit at your desk.
Spend time with people outside of your usual social circle.
Do something that scares you.
Play guitar. Or the kazoo. Or the bongos. Anything musical.
Learn how to bake bread.
Visit an art gallery.
Teach what you know: it will teach you what you *don’t* know.
Look for examples rather than explanations to illustrate an idea.
Listen to your music in random shuffle mode.
Read more poetry. Write some, too.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Meet more people more often.
Have a nap.
Draw. Even if you don’t think you’re much of an artist.
Turn off the radio, close your book, switch your phone to vibrate, shut off your computer, and spend a little time in the company of your own thoughts. It doesn’t have to be meditation, it just has to be quiet time for your mind.
Take a position on an issue that is entirely opposite to your personal beliefs and defend it.
Stop relying obsessively on to-do lists and just do something impulsive.
It just knows which one is selling more right now. And that’s what it follows.
It usually does this rather well.
On the other hand, the market pays little attention to how much skill goes into to curing, seasoning and choosing the right way to carve a hot brisket. It doesn’t line up on Montreal’s Main in any season to wait for a seat at Schwartz’s. It doesn’t have a sense of taste.
It can’t understand the experience of melt-in-your-mouth delicious, versus bland sustenance.
It has no memories.
It just knows the price of lunch and who’s buying.
People, on the other hand, are a lot more complicated. We make choices. We’re motivated to take action by more than facts.
We’re hard-wired to make distinctions between things, even when the differences aren’t as obvious as, say, between a tasty smoked meat sandwich and its cheap alternative.
That’s why communicating with emotion matters so much. People are better engaged and more open to what you are offering them when you appeal to all their senses—selling on benefits and experiences versus just features and facts.
Markets act and follow.
But people feel their way to their choices.
I can already hear the groans from some readers. “Rush? Ahhhh! I can’t bear to listen to them!” And then there’s the other camp: the loyal fans who can recite word-for-word, riff-for-riff every song. There’s no middle ground with this Canadian trio.
Listeners either get it or they don’t.
This article isn’t to convince you to buy their records; it’s to make a point about creativity and about why it’s important to stay true to your vision—no matter what kind of work you do.
The story behind 2112 offers lessons that we all can learn from.
The future is uncertain
With more than three decades behind them and 24 gold records, including 14 that hit platinum in sales, it’s easy today with the benefit hindsight to say that Rush’s uncompromising approach paid off rather handsomely.
But their path to success wasn’t always so doubt-free.
No matter what kind of work you are in, if you care deeply about what do you, you’ll eventually face tough choices on how to make the product you want that is true to your vision. The future is rarely certain. When faced with a fork in the creative road, that is when you need to trust your gut.
Be ready to put it all on the line
Consider the situation Rush faced as they were getting ready to make that fourth record in their career. Things were looking” well” kind of dire. Today, the band acknowledges that they were at a turning point back then and that there was a very real risk that this was the end of the line for them as a band with a record deal. The previous album had not been well received in the market, their record company was pressuring them to produce a commercial product and even went as far as saying they should try sounding more like Bad Company (hard to imagine that, isn’t it?)
“We decided” let’s go out in flames,” recalls Rush frontman Geddy Lee. “They want a three minute hit? Let’s give them a 20-minute song.” So with their backs to the wall, on April Fool’s Day, 1976, they released 2112.
Know what matters and why
“Ignore everybody.” That’s what Hugh MacLeod advises as the first step to being creative. He’s right, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Being true to your creative instincts isn’t just about being stubborn or obstinate. You also need to have a crystal-clear understanding of your craft and a sense of direction to your work. It’s not enough to just want to do things your way on principle. As Malcolm Gladwell reminds us: “Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”
I’ve held up 2112 as an example because even the band members acknowledge that was the first record where they felt they had carved a sound for themselves. They thought long and hard about what they wanted to say, and then then worked hard to achieve that vision.
Trust in the power of word-of-mouth
Even three decades since its debut, 2112 is still considered a record that many musicians use to measure their own mastery of their craft. By many others, it’s also admired simply as a great hard-rock record.
It didn’t get that way because of generous radio airplay. Remember, this was the 1970s. There was no online social media to help give a great idea some much needed traction. Instead, 2112 was a record that found its audience in that trusted, time-honoured way: people talked about it to others.
I’m not saying that creativity can only thrive by blazing a trail the way that Rush did with 2112. But there are valuable lessons to draw from. Your best ideas are rarely going to be embraced immediately by large groups of people. Some will try and dissuade you, telling you they know better.
Some will even try and get you to sound like Bad Company. And not in a good way either.
Be true to your craft and to the passion that drives you. The more what you have to say is authentic, honest and original, the more potential you have for doing something really outstanding.