"If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall."
-- Nadine Stair
Outside my house and I hope outside of yours, spring is happening, that season of rebirth, surprise and fat new buds that remind us that we aren't in charge. In early April we have to remind ourselves that we have nothing to do with the flecks of life around us, quickening in the strengthening springtime sun.
Spring is independent of our compulsion to manage and direct. It's beyond our reach.
After the recent natural disaster, the thousands of lost and dead in the historic devastation in Japan, coupled with the new war in Libya, and daily reminders of loss, change and fallout, we need some perspective.
To me, spring fills the banquet table of perspective before us. I'm already sweeping off my patio, sorting for my planting tools and planning a trip to the garden store. Planting, even a single flower, can be restorative.
Beyond the drumbeat of really terrible news that can, if we allow it, put us in a real funk, I feel assaulted by a spate of new books that again remind me of my challenge to step into my life with some measure of understanding about what I can really change and influence, remaining clear about and what's beyond my reach.
One of my favorite critics and public intellectuals, David Brooks, has spent the last three years absorbing and synthesizing a tremendous amount of scholarship on childhood development, sociology, neuroscience, classic literature, and economics. The result is his new book, "The Social Animal," which offers us a deeper look at our primal need for connection, affection, friendship and love, all through the story of an imaginary couple and their path from cradle to grave. I will write more about the book at another time, for I think it is especially wise in its provocative sense of "the hidden sources" as he suggests in his subtitle, of "love, character and achievement." It's the stuff of so much of our deeper work.
Brooks reminded me of philosopher Karl Popper's distinction between clouds and clocks. Clocks are neat, orderly and sensible instruments. You can take a clock apart, something men like to do because clocks contain pieces for you to stack, order, link and snap together. Men like the clocks of life. But, clouds are, in Brook's terms, "irregular, dynamic and idiosyncratic." You can't hold or own a cloud.
I think of those differences in our daily work with leaders. I often remind our CEOs that they lead and live with both prose and poetry. Prose includes all of the skills, competencies and lessons we learned in the "hard school," but poetry celebrates the ability to listen, to be really present with someone, to be empathetic and trustworthy, invites us to savor the ineffable. Daniel Goleman calls it "emotional intelligence." I think of it as poetry.
It takes experience and comfort with both elements and experiences to be fully human, and certainly to become a leader worth following. It parallels Popper's sense of clocks (prose) and clouds (poetry), the dance of the predictable and the uncertain that make life so immensely curious and spring certain yet still rich with surprise.
To my mind, these metaphors and models offer more than a simple framework for exceptional leadership. I think they give us handholds on the uneven path to maturity, to becoming a wise leader, parent, spouse, friend.
James Gleick's new book, "The Information," that leaped into the literary consciousness as quickly as Brooks', reminds us that "facts" just like quantum physics, have their own music. Information is far more than what you can find on Google's army of servers. He writes that "information is the blood and the fuel, the vital principle" of the world. Everything from what we think to how we order life of earth is, in his terms, "information." Nothing more, and yet, nothing less.
I embrace the boldness of his thesis, for I think we live and love our way through the world with both clocks and clouds, prose and poetry, dreams and deadlines and passions and purpose. When we surrender our need to control, we can begin to really experience what's around us. Only then can we be free to look up from our clocks to finally see the clouds, the horizon, and the morning mists.
Spring, as a season, affirms the wisdom of letting go, and the reminder that life persists. Life in a fresh new bud or a blade of grass reminds us that the seasonal cycle is older than recorded history and, yet full of rich and varied invitations to touch, smell, watch and savor.
Brooks and Gleick both provide provocative evidence of the richness and complexity of our experience on this earth and in this lifetime. By truly paying attention to this new season, especially when you can smell smoke behind the next hill we are once again reminded that, like spring, we can be renewed and refreshed.
Clocks or well-learned prose only give us the vocabulary for change. Slipping into the poetry, the clouds, is an essential path to understanding that we, too, can grow anew. Rebirth of spirit, hope, plans, dreams, potential and possibility reside in the wisdom in the grass.
It takes heart and hope to lead. It takes paying attention to what's around us in this new season to remind us of the power of renewal.
We need it all now.