Spring, sakura inspire hope for new beginnings

Castle-park The beautiful and inspiring cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) are now in full bloom in our part of Japan. Japanese culture has a very strong connection to nature and many elements in nature have deep symbolism attached to them here in Japan. For example, the pine tree is venerable and deeply rooted. The bamboo is strong yet flexible. The blossom of the plum tree is elegant yet hardy. The mountain stream makes its own path while gently overcoming any obstacles. As Morihei Ueshiba (O-sensei) would say, nature is speaking to us all the time— it is up to us to see and to hear the lessons.
 
The ephemeral nature of things
Cherry blossoms have a particular significance to the Japanese that dates back centuries, and the sakura have been an important subject for artists in both times long ago and today. Sakura appear for only a very short time in early spring and thus symbolize the transient and ephemeral nature of life. Like the sakura, life itself can be beautiful and remarkable and yet it's delicate, impermanent, and short. This is simply the nature of things. The sakura is associated with the idea of mono no aware (物の哀れ) which is related to deep feelings or a particular sensitivity (perhaps even a kind of sadness) regarding the transience of things. It's a deeply personal emotion or an aesthetic that is difficult to describe but can be felt when remarkable beauty raises our awareness of the ephemerality of all things. The sakura reminds us, then, how beautiful life can be, and it also reminds us to appreciate what we have, including each moment that we experience. For some people sakura are just a beautiful and short-lived gift from nature, for others they are a reminder each spring that life is precious and short and must not be wasted. The beautiful display is a reminder to focus on what is important and to worry not about the superfluous and the non-essential.

IMG_6069
iPhone pic taken during a run near our house in Nara (click for larger size).

New beginnings
Sakura is also a symbol of new beginnings and a fresh start. The blossoms are a wonder to see, and even though they will quickly disappear while still in their peak, as they gently flutter down in the breeze to the ground below the branches which gave them birth, their passing signifies the beginning of spring, warmer days ahead, and a new start. The school year begins in April and many other activities begin in the spring such as the starting day for new employees. Most new college graduates begin their new careers at this time of year. Therefore, for many people the sakura are also a symbol of starting a new chapter in life or of starting over with a renewed sense of hope and optimism.

Spring, birth, and the circle of of life
During the cherry blossom season of 2010 our first child was born in Japan, making last spring the best ever. And yet, last spring was also the time my mother passed away back in the States while I was by her bedside. And although many tears were shed at that moment, the close proximity in time of my daughter's birth and my mother's death, was a direct expression of the circle of life itself, both the miracle of birth and the ephemerality of life as we know it here on earth. The joy of birth is indescribable, yet the sorrow of losing the one who was closest to me for my entire life until that moment of departure was somehow softly tempered by the awareness that this too was apart of we we call life. I was reminded then too of the old adage "Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened."

Bbye_slide.garr_reynolds
Click for larger version of slide.

Starting over
Castle_sakura This year is a very tough one indeed for many of our friends in the Tohoku area of Japan which was hit by the terrible earthquake and tsunami. The sakura are not yet blooming in Tohoku but will be very soon. We can only hope that the small contribution of natural beauty expressed in this year's sakura can be of at least a tiny bit of inspiration for those who are struggling to rebuild their lives. Perhaps the humble but remarkable beauty of the noble sakura will help those in dark times find a glimmer of hope and the will to remain positive and resilient as they move forward, picking up the pieces to rebuild. The sakura remind us that the circle of life continues no matter what. The blossoms this year remind us as well to keep the people directly affected by this year's natural disaster in our thoughts and in our prayers daily, long after the sakura of 2011 have gone.

• How to help those affected in Japan.


Fall down seven times, get up eight: The power of Japanese resilience

Evacuationcenter They say that in times of crisis people show their true character. Anyone can be cooperative, patient, and understanding when things are going well and life is good. But it is the noble man or woman who can behave with grace and compassion and even kindness when times are very, very bad. For many people in Northern Japan right now, the times could not be worse. And yet, at least to the outside observer, the manner in which the Japanese people conducted themselves in the aftermath of this calamity has been remarkable. (NHK image: people receive bread at one the thousands of evacuation centers)

Foreign reporters are amazed
Cooper_japan Because of the crisis in Japan we have been inundated with news crews from around the world. Without exception the foreign news reporters have been impressed with the amazing resilience of the Japanese people. CNN's Anderson Cooper last Monday went on and on about how impressed he's been at the cooperative nature of the Japanese in the disaster zones. He described how he saw people who had waited hours in long lines for water suddenly be told that the distribution center had just run out of supplies. He expected to hear complaining or worse (imagine how this may play out in your own country), but was shocked to see that no one complained, no one became angry or made an incident. Seemingly every media outlet abroad commented on this remarkable aspect of Japanese society. This article from the Daily Telegraph in Australia (Resilience in the face of catastrophe) touches on many of the themes:

"...the country shows only co-operation between people, generosity, order, industriousness and civilised behavior. No looting, no whining. Very little panic, if any, and no demands for some mythical 'them' to fix it."


Construction-destruction-construction
Evacuationcenter2 Over twenty years ago when I first started working in Japan, I noticed that transferring many people to different parts of he company was a common practice. It seemed disruptive and a bit of an upheaval to me then, but my boss explained that this kind of change was important for people to learn all aspects of the business. And besides, he said, this kind of tearing down and building up again is all apart of life in Japan. I remember he called it "construction and destruction...and then construction again." He reminded me that Japan is an island nation with a history of calamities including volcanoes, typhoons, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, and in recent history, the horrible consequences of war, including two atomic bombings. No matter the crisis, however, Japan always bounces back. This ability recover and grow stronger has much to do with a culture that values personal responsibility and hard work but also humility and a sense of belonging to and contributing to a community. Wa (和) or harmony, then, is a key value in Japanese society. One can indeed live a life in the pursuit of individual happiness and self-actualization while at the same time living a life that values being a part of a community and contributing to the society in which one lives. (NHK image: people line up patiently outside for bread.)

Fall_down_7times Fall down seven times,
get up eight 七転び八起き

Japanese culture and ways of thinking can not be adequately addressed in a short space, but this Japanese proverb reflects an important and shared ideal: "Nana korobi ya oki" (literally: seven falls, eight getting up) means fall down seven times and get up eight. This speaks to the Japanese concept of resilience. No matter how many times you get knocked down, you get up again. Even if you should fall one thousand times, you just keep getting up and trying again. You can see this ethic reinforced in all facets of Japanese culture including education, business, sports, the martial arts the Zen arts, etc. It is especially important to remember the sentiment expressed in this proverb when times are dark. There are no quick fixes in life and anything of real worth will necessarily take much struggle and perseverance. Success does not have to be fast—what’s more important is that one simply does their absolute best and remains persistent.

Never give up!
Gambarou.082 A concept related to the saying "Nana korobi ya oki" is the spirit of gambaru (頑張る). The concept of gambaru is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture and approach to life. The literal meaning of gambaru expresses the idea of sticking with a task with tenacity until it is completed—of making a persistent effort until success is achieved. The imperative form, “gambette,” is used very often in daily language to encourage others to “do your best” in work, to “fight on!” and “never give up!” during a sporting event or studying for an exam. You do not always have to win, but you must never give up. While others may encourage you to "gambatte kudasai!" — the real spirit of gambaru comes from within. The best kind of motivation is intrinsic motivation. For the benefit of oneself — and for the benefit of others as well — one must bear down and do their best. Even in good times, behaving uncooperatively or in a rude manner is deeply frowned upon. In a crisis, the idea of complaining or acting selfishly to the detriment of those around you is the absolute worst thing a person can do. There is no sense in complaining about how things are or crying over what might have been. These feelings may be natural to some degree, but they are not productive for yourself or for others.

Lessons for us all?
Recently I was talking to a friend here in Japan who is originally from China. He remarked too how impressed he is with the Japanese people in times of crisis. "This is really a civilized place" he said to me. "There are some things the rest of the world can learn from Japan." I agree with my friend. Indeed, all my expat friends have made similar observations over the years. Japan is above all a civilized society. No place is perfect and Japan is no exception; we certainly have our own problems here as well. But when it comes to peaceful cooexistence and getting along with others, Japan is a very civiilized place to live. And while there is much suffering up north and a climate of some uncertainty now in the country, the spirit of persistence and resilience will see Japan through this crisis.


頑張ろう東北! 頑張ろう日本!

Baby Please forgive me if the next update or two are a bit off the usual topics related to presentations, design, creativity, etc. As you all know, at 2:46 pm last Friday Japan received it's biggest earthquake in its recorded history. A devastating tsunami hit many towns and cities in Northern Japan a few minutes later. We're now in day-4 of the rescue and recovery phase; each day reveals that the devastation and loss of life is even worse than feared. Thousands have died, tens of thousands are still missing and feared dead. Parents have survived the quake and tsunami only to learn their children are gone. Children escaped only to learn that their parents did not. Virtually everyone lucky enough to survive in the devastated areas has lost a friend or a loved one, in addition to losing their home and their belongings. In some cases entire towns were washed away. What are the residents to do? The pain must be unbearable. The pain is shared by every single person here in Japan. Our hearts are with the people of Tohoku and our prayers go out to them.

When I first moved to Japan 22 years ago I lived in the Shimokita Hanto in Northern Japan and stayed in many small towns and fishing villages that are quite similar to the ones that were destroyed in the Tsunami near Sendai. I also visited Tohoku University many years ago and visited Sendai several times in those early years. Sendai is a lovely small city surrounded by beautiful nature. Japan is my favorite place in the world; I love this land and this culture so much. It's a special place like no other. That's why this country will be my home for as long as I am alive. And to see its people suffering up north now is too sad for words.

You can help
Japan does need your help. One of the easiest ways to help is to make a donation through the Red Cross. You can also apparently (in the USA) text “Red Cross” to 90999 and $10 will be automatically charged to your phone bill as a donation. If you have an iTunes account you can very easily make a donation that way. I made another donation through the Japan iTunes store today to see how it worked and it could not be simpler. Apparently in the case of Red Cross 91% of the money goes directly to assisting people in need.


Donation

Thank you

I want to say thank you to all the people who sent a note or a tweet, etc. to make sure we were OK in Japan. I am touched. Yes, we are fine. We live in Nara which is in Western Japan near Osaka. We are about 600km from the epicenter. We did indeed feel a very large quake, but there was no damage here. Once again thank you to everyone around the world for your kind words and concern. Please do what you can to help Japan and her people recover from this disaster. よろしくお願いします! (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.)

Note: The AP photo above is of a 4-month old girl who was rescued by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and reunited with her father. There is so much bad news and so many terrible images, I just wanted to put here a reminder that some people are being saved and there are some good bits of news from time to time. See the whole story here. The title of this post (頑張ろう東北!  頑張ろう日本!) roughly means "don't give up Japan/Tohoku" or "hang in there Japan/Tohoku" etc.


The need for participation, compassion, & community in the classroom (and lecture hall)

Sculptors.002 Good teachers are like sculptors. They subtract to reveal what is already there. Bruce Lee once said: "It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential." This is one of the secrets to mastery, yet much of our work lives or school lives are spent on the unessential. Good teachers and good presenters — indeed, good leaders in general — work hard themselves to "hack away at the unessential" to create environments which foster natural engagement, encourage participation and exploration, and in the end lead to simplicity, clarity, and meaning.

Participation In the book Dumbing Us Down, author and award-winning teacher John Taylor Gatto speaks on the importance of community. Real communities, says Gatto, "promote the highest-quality of life possible — lives of engagement and participation." This engagement and participation happens in many unexpected ways, says Gatto, "but it never happens when you've spent more than a decade [just] listening to other people talk and trying to do what they tell you to do, trying to please them after the fashion of schools." Engagement and participation are indeed elements of the highest quality of life in general and learning and teaching in particular, but this does not happen in an environment of fear, compliance, passivity and "just listening." Real meaning requires openness, empathy, and a clear structure which allows for freedom and discovery, including self-discovery.

Inspiration in a Japanese elementary school
Engagement The award-winning Children full of Life is a remarkable documentary that should be seen by everyone who is concerned with education. I recommend you take 45-minutes and watch this program today (in five parts on YouTube). It will touch your heart and make you think. It does not matter where you are in the world, this glimpse into a single Japanese elementary school is evocative and illuminating. It may just make you question what education is for in the first place. Kanamori-sensei, the homeroom teacher, is a modern day Master Yoda. As described in part one below, Kanamori-sensei is "kind, tough, and funny."

Part 1.
In this clip you will see 10-year olds make class presentations by standing in front of their classmates and sharing their journal entries. The lessons in honest communication, empathy, and compassion are inspiring. Having lost my own father when I was young, it is nearly impossible to watch this clip (and subsequent clips) without tearing up. A valuable lesson in authenticity and speaking from your heart.



Part 2

"Good teachers," says Kanamori-sensei, "connect theory with life." In this clip the teacher makes a stand against bullying (some students are being picked on) not by giving a lecture but by some straight talk and getting the students to bring out the truth themselves. At first the students take the easy way out (by blaming others, etc.). The sensei says this is not good enough. "Just pretty words," he says. "You're blaming everyone but yourself!" In the end, by searching inside themselves, the students learn a valuable lesson in personal responsibility, empathy, and compassion. One little girl in particular learned a valuable lesson in compassion by revealing some of her own painful memories (just try to keep a dry eye through this).



Part 3
In this clip the wise ol' Kanamori-sensei is in the end moved and deeply impressed by the maturity of his 10-year olds. This is a remarkable lesson in team work, responsibility, and speaking up for what is right in order to find a solution that matches the problem.



Part 4
In this clip one of the students loses his father; it's touching and deeply moving how the class reacts to this news. I lost my own father suddenly in my first year of junior high. I must say, my own experience at school after my father's death was very different than what occurs in this clip. Again, here the devastating news is also a lesson in empathy and compassion for one's fellow human being (and group member). It's also a teachable moment: death is a part of life.



Part 5
The students again decide on a group project which communicates their empathy from the heart. At the end of the clip the sensei reviews what was important these past two years together: "It is important to make an effort to make yourself understood and to understand others...."



The contents of this short documentary have many lessons (and reminders) for all of us. Additionally, the documentary itself is a good example of pairing down a large topic to a simple story that is able to express the core essence of the larger topic (education) by focusing on the particular.

Instructors In the whole scheme of things, two years with a great teacher is a short time. Yet, usually we had even less time than that with those who helped us the most to discover what we had all along inside. Are not the best teachers, then, the ones who recognize the ephemerality of the time they have in each student's life, and instead of trying to fill their heads with as much information as possible, work to create a sense of community through engagement and participation that will help the student go on to learn far more on his/her own than they ever could do in a school? The great master Ueshiba Morihei (O-sensei) touches on a similar theme in his writings: "Instructors can impart only a fraction of the teaching. It is through your own devoted practice that the mysteries of the Art of Peace are brought to life."


Dealing with public speaking nerves

Speaking_fear.001 As you become accustomed to public speaking and presenting you will grow more comfortable and able to be more natural and let "the real you" come out. But if you are still quite nervous about the idea of presenting in front of others, don't worry, this is natural. In fact, virtually every confident and engaging presenter you see today was at some point earlier in their careers much less sure of themselves in front of a live audience.

Ipad2_stevejobs I have written a lot about Steve Jobs over the years. He's as a business leader who does a great job of presenting in a natural, comfortable, conversational style. His presentations feature large-screen visuals that  are insync with his narration in a harmonious way that engages his audience. Earlier this week Steve Jobs, who is on medical leave from Apple, gave another good presentation introducing the iPad2 (watch it). Yet, Jobs was not always as comfortable speaking before an audience. This clip below was reported by numerous news organizations last month. The clip features Steve Jobs getting ready for a live TV appearance when he was in his early 20s.



In the clip above Jobs appears to be at least a little nervous, though I think he's more excited and anxious to get started than anything else. Still, this clip is a kind of confirmation that everyone can get better and become more relaxed and comfortable with time. But it is also a reminder that it is perfectly OK and absolutely natural for you to feel nervous in front of an audience.

Can you ever be 100% comfortable?
In a great little documentary called Comedian (a must for any public speaker) Jerry Seinfeld had this to say about getting more comfortable on stage: "You’re never really comfortable. Even though you may think you are... you really aren’t.” But in time, Seinfeld says, "you learn how to open, how to sustain, how to pace...” and you will get more comfortable.

 Jerry  Seinfeld_2
The slides above are from a series of slides available on Slideshare.net.


In the Naked book I do touch on the issue of nerves. In this chapter a nice two-page callout section was written by my buddy in Australia Les Posen. Les is a Clinical Psychologist practising in Melbourne who uses his knowledge of the cognitive sciences to help presenters deliver their best possible presentations. Below is an excerpt from his contribution to the Naked book which appears on pages 92-93.

Les_posen Five tips for dealing with presentation nerves
by Les Posen

"Starting about 60,000 years ago, our brains developed a marvelous system of providing us with remarkable defenses against environmental threats. Sometimes, those defenses are set-and-forget types, such as automatically blinking when a bug hits your windscreen, even though you “know” you’re protected. Other times, an evolutionary newer part of our brain where we make decisions and plans—the part that makes us most human—warns us of an upcoming threat. In the case of presenting, it might be fears of not connecting, or of our ideas not being accepted, or of going blank in front of 500 pairs of eyes. In historical terms, we still possess the fear of what it means to be stared at by so many people: Either we are the monarch, or more likely, we are the next sacrifice! Through evidence-based research and practice, clinical and performance psychologists have developed ways to help suppress these learned and ingrained fears, especially when we know we can perform well if only we give ourselves the chance. There are five interventions I teach and want to share with you:

1. Chunking and exposure.
Identify and break down your presenting challenges into small manageable chunks, and deliberately expose yourself to each of them step by step.
2. Rehearsal.
Beyond just practicing your slide timings, actually visualize and hear yourself say the words with your slides. You see yourself in front of the crowd and rehearse your presentation to a variety of audience reactions, both positive and negative.
3. Self-talk.
Anxiety grabs onto self-critical talk such as “I’ll do a terrible job. What happens if the slide show fails. What happens if they don’t laugh at my jokes.” Your task is not to feed your anxiety with this type of talk, but to change it into “I can do this. I will follow my rehearsed plans. This is manageable.”
4. Arousal control via diaphragmatic breathing.
Calm your brain’s fear center with slow, deliberate breaths with slightly longer exhales. Slower rhythm (rather than deep breathing) is helpful for fear management.
5. Deliberate practice.
Practice your beginning, identify challenging concepts, and practice, practice, practice—out loud. These techniques work, and I use them myself as well as with clients. They are powerful and will prove useful in scenarios other than presenting."

The tips from Les Posen above are not the last word on dealing with presentation anxiety, but these bits of advice can certainly help. One of the biggest tips to remember as well is to be well prepared. A big source of difficulty comes when speakers simply have not prepared. The only thing scarier than presenting in front of a crowd is doing so while being ill-prepared and unsure of yourself and your content.

Link
Watch Steve Job's latest presentation on iPad 2
Les Posen's blog


Nurturing curiosity & inspiring the pursuit of discovery

Discovery_slide The courage to make mistakes is related in some measure to curiosity, exploration, and the ability to speak honestly about a topic and about ourselves. For it is fear of mistakes, of being wrong, and the possibility of ridicule that stops us from showing our natural curiosity. The openness to show your natural curiosity in front of others requires one to be vulnerable. In her book The Gift of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown says "Ordinary courage is about putting vulnerability on the line. In today's world that's pretty extraordinary." Passionate curiosity demonstrates many things to others, including that we don't know all the answers or even that we are uncertain about various things. In today's world of cable news sound bites, entrenched positions, and unyielding opinions, revealing our uncertainty or changing our point of view as we discover more and delve more deeply in the material is often seen as weakness. Certainty is seen as strength. Yet admitting you don't know our that you're not yet sure, or that you need more information or more time and so on takes more courage than faking certainty or going along with conventional wisdom because it is safe.

We are born curious—so what happened?
Einstein_slideEarlier I wrote a piece entitled "The need for connection & engagement in education" -- but I should have used the word school in place of education. Education is not the problem. For where there is education — and the best education is usually self-education — there is necessarily participation and engagement with the material, and our curiosity thrives. The problem for a lot of us — teacher and student — is school, especially large institutional schools. Our methods of instruction — or perhaps it is just the system itself — do a poor job of nurturing students' natural curiosity. This is nothing new. Einstein said many years ago that "it is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry....” In this short video clip below Dr. Michio Kaku says that we are born scientists. Children go through much of their childhood driven by a natural and insatiable curiosity about life, but somewhere along the line we all but extinguish that flame of curiosity. Dr. Kaku says that school often results in "crushing curiosity right out of the next generation." Watch the clip below (or on YouTube).


Dr. Michio Kaku: "We [all] are born scientists."

Rewarding curiosity vs. rewarding certainty
We are obsessed with giving prizes to students who memorize the most facts and bits of information (and in the shortest amount of time). Why don't we give prizes for the students who demonstrate their unabashed curiosity and demonstrable pursuit of discovery? A driving child-like curiosity and sense of wonder is an undeniable sign of intelligence. The curious can eventually overcome their ignorance, but the chronically incurious—and yet self-assured—are stuck with their ignorance for a lifetime.

Coercion_slide I don't know all the components of a good teacher (or a good presenter), but certainly a necessary element of good teaching is curiosity. That is, demonstrating our own curiosity and inspiring and cultivating the natural curiosity in others. The ineffective teachers are the ones who have lost their curiosity and sense of wonder for their subject or even for their job. You can't fake curiosity and wonder. The best teachers are the ones who show their own desire to learn more about their subject and who are not afraid to show mistakes or admit that they don't know it all. The best teachers guide, coach, inspire, and feed that natural flame of curiosity that lives within every child. The courage to teach, then, is the courage to expose yourself as you demonstrate your curiosity and wonder for your subject. This kind of passion is infectious (and memorable).

Curiosity has its own rewards
If I were hiring employees I would look for the insanely curious and hungry applicants not necessarily the ones who ticked off all the correct boxes and jumped through all the right hoops in school. I would look for the highly educated and talented but not necessarily the highly schooled. School for a student is ephemeral and short, but learning, self-education, and inquiry last a life time so long as a student's unabashed curiosity remains alive. The best teachers (or trainers, coaches, etc.) are those who light the sparks and inspire students to pursue a lifetime of exploration and discovery. "School" says the rewards are cash, status, and security. But wouldn't it be great if our lessons instilled the notion in students something which they already knew when younger but may have forgotten: "Curiosity has its own reason for existing," as Einstein said. Curiosity has its own rewards.

Einstein_quote_slide.010

Link

Michio Kaku refers to Richard Feynman at the end of the video clip above. This video here features Richard Feynman talking about his father's influence.

Note: Click on slides for a larger size.


Before success comes the courage to fail

Bambooi2 The natural world around us provides many lessons. Late last year I discussed how the humble bamboo plant has a lot to teach us about succeeding in this world. I love bamboo for many reasons, and as I said here before (and included in the Naked book in a callout section), bamboo itself offers us lessons in flexibility, strength, perseverance, simplicity, and openness. Today, while jogging up past some small farms in the mountains near our home in Nara, I passed through a familiar bamboo forest. But today something was different. I noticed one of the bamboo trees had given way and snapped during a strong wind we had recently. This caused me to take notice and slow down. We notice what is different, and if we slow down long enough a lesson may be revealed; this is a kind of "listening with the eyes." It seems that in a strong and unyielding wind, even the bend-but-don't-break adaptability of the humble bamboo will be tested to the point of failure. A subtle reminder from nature that even the strong and the courageous and the flexible fail sometimes. An old Japanese proverb says "Even monkeys fall from trees." (Saru mo ki kara ochiru — 猿も木から落ちる.) Somehow knowing this allows us to push past fear and to participate more fully as we embrace or own imperfections, even as we work to improve.

Ricefield
For years I lived in the center of a massive city in Japan, and there were lessons there. Now I live here, and the lessons are still to be found. Today I ran up the mountain and past many farm houses with rice fields in their winter state. Our house is in the distant hills across the valley below.

Bamboo
Higher up the mountain I came across an area of bamboo. I often pass by here on longer runs, but what caught my eye was the bamboo which had succumbed to the wind. Even the bending bamboo breaks just as monkeys sometimes fall from trees.

Monkey_slide2.005-001
Slide featuring the monkey quote.

The biggest mistake is not taking action
We fear mistakes and failure more than just about anything. We fear mistakes to the point where we don't even begin to make the changes we know we need to make, or give up when we meet resistance long before the goal has been achieved. And yet, if you'll allow me to stretch a quote from Buddha just a bit, there are only two mistakes we should fear: not starting and not finishing. Failure and mistakes are not the problem, of course, it is the fear of them which may keep us from starting a difficult journey or force us to give up even after we mustered up enough courage to at least start. Quitting in itself is not a bad thing—often it is the wisest choice which also takes courage in its own right. But giving up out of an overpowering fear of failure is the kind of quitting that leads to regret, the kind of regret that eats away at you for a very long time. To paraphrase an old adage, hurt feelings, disappointments, and even embarrassments about past mistakes heal with time, but the regrets about the things we did not do are inconsolable (see Sydney Smith quotes).

Mistakes_slide.001-001  Mistakes_slide.002-001
Mistakes_black.008-001  Mistakes_black.009-001
Four different treatments of the same quotation in slides. Here running is used as a familiar metaphor for a journey or exploration, etc. Whether we're talking about the search for truth or knowledge, or finding a job, or making a change in our lives, it's often hard to start and difficult to stick with it. And the fear of failing is a barrier we must overcome.

Failure is always an option
One of my favorite TV shows is MythBusters (available here in Japan on Discovery as well). The MythBusters website says they mix "scientific method with gleeful curiosity and plain old-fashioned ingenuity to create their own signature style of explosive experimentation." (I wish my classes in school when I was a kid had had a similar formula.) Early on in the shows development, co-host Adam Savage came up with the phrase "Failure is always an option" as a way of encapsulating their approach to exploration, testing, and the process discovery and uncovering answers and solutions. In the video below Adam Savage is in the middle of telling a personal story of failure which took place long before he was the famous MythBuster on TV. To hear much more see the entire presentation here.



This MythBusters clip below highlights the necessity—or at least the common occurrence—of failure on the journey to success.


InFocus: Great people, great projectors

Infocuslogo "Do you need an in-focus for your meeting?" This was the question I was asked by one of the marketing managers in my first week of working at Apple in Cupertino about ten years ago. "What's an 'in-focus'?" I asked. "You know, a projector to show PowerPoint slides," she replied, with a look on her face that said she clearly thought I was from another planet. Close—I was from Japan. I had just joined Apple that week after living in Japan the previous nine years and I had never heard of InFocus. Epson, SONY, Mitsubishi et al dominate the projector scene in Japan, but I soon learned that — at least in our department at Apple many years ago — InFocus was like the Coca-a-Cola or Kleenex of projectors.

SInce I moved back to Japan I've been using several of the outstanding Japanese projectors. But last summer I received a note from the DIrector of Marketing at InFocus asking if I would come in to see their technology and meet their staff in Portland, Oregon. Since I was going to be in Seattle and the North Oregon Coast in August, I was happy to drive to Portland, the company headquarters, to meet with the InFocus marketing team. I had a great time and was very impressed with their stuff and with the warm reception they gave me; really great people. In the video below Scott Niesen explains how the day went down. (You can see two more videos from my InFocus visit here.)


The guys at Spitball Media joined our meeting at InFocus and made this short video.

Infocus
With some of the InFocus team at their head offices in Portland, Oregon.

Thoughts on their mobile projectors
I liked what I saw at InFocus so much they ended up giving me three projectors to try out back in Japan. I have been satisfied with the projectors and I am happy to recommend them here. So far I have tried the two mobile projectors designed for the business market, though the InFocus IN1503 (short throw) would be excellent for teachers as well. I hooked up the Short-throw 1503 and the IN1102 Ultra Mobile at home today to see how they looked. Especially at the relatively inexpensive price point (for projectors) of under $1,000 (USD), I think the quality is great.

• InFocus IN1503 Mobile Short-Throw Widescreen
IN1500_list jpg This projector is not super small, but it is light and it is quite easy to carry. What is great about this projector is that it has a "short throw" which means you can set the projector very close to the screen and still get a big image. Text looks crisp and the high-rez photographs looked excellent, and the projector is plenty bright. Even with lights on the screen looked good. In this photo below (in our media room at home, snapped with just an iPhone), you can see that the projector is only about two meters away from the wall but the image fills that entire screen (horizontally more than 2.5 meters). You can get loads of details on this projector on the InFocus website and here on Amazon.com as well.

Short_throw
Even at only six feet away from the wall I had to zoom the picture in a bit on the short throw model to fit the image on a very large screen area.

• InFocus IN1102 Ultra Mobile Widescreen DLP Projector
IN1100_list jpg This mobile projector is not as thin as some of the Japanese models but it is still very small and light. It may just be me, but I thought the image on screen was even better that the short-throw projector (which was also great). The text and the colors of the photographic images were excellent right out of the box, but you can also adjust colors, contrast, etc. as the projector allows you to make fine adjustments easily. I have been using a very nice Sony mobile projector on the road, but I have decided to give that projector to my father in-law (a retired physics teacher who gives lots of astronomy presentations in Japan). I am keeping the N1102 and will test it more thoroughly on the road. It comes with a nice case which will easily fit into my small travel suitcase. In the picture below you can see that I had to push the projector back another meter or so to get an image that still did not fill the entire massive wall. This is normal, of course, but shows just how useful the short throw projector is above when space is super tight. For both projectors the room was bright and yet the images look excellent; there was no need to dim the lights except slightly directly over the screen area. Lots of details about this projector on the InFocus website and on Amazon.com.

N1102-
The small and bright IN1102 projects a really nice image.

Small enough
These mobile projectors may not be the smallest in the world, but they are certainly mobile, very light-weight, and both project beautiful images. To give you a feel for the size of the projectors my cat conveniently took a break next to the projectors in their bags which hold all the cables, etc. The combined weight of both projectors is still less than the weight of "Luke" a very large and laid back cat.

Cat_bag
"Luke" the cat weighs more that the combined weight of both projectors.

Standingcat
Luke is taller than the projectors even when they are in their bags. Of course, Luke is one big house cat.


Science & the importance of having a sense of wonder

Ken-mogi_head Kenichiro Mogi (茂木 健一郎) is a famous brain scientist in Japan (he's often on Japanese TV programs) and a researcher at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Tokyo. He is a best-selling author of numerous books and he is also a very popular college instructor at Keio and Waseda universities. His Ph.D. is from Tokyo University and he spent two years doing research at Cambridge University in the UK as well. He's a very smart guy. Mogi-san is also a passionate teacher and speaker, as you will see in his 10-min presentation below from TEDxTokyo.

Yes you can (be a great presenter)!

Mogi-san_darwinI often mention the presentation skills of Mogi-san and many other famous (and not so famous) Japanese professionals to my trainees in my Japanese seminars because there still exists a belief among many Japanese that making presentations in this informal, engaging "naked" style is something that Japanese people just can not — or should not — do. People in Japan love the presentation approaches of Steve Jobs and Kenichiro Mogi and others who present in a conversational, visual, and engaging style, but often they can't imagine themselves presenting in such a way—my job is to help them imagine (and then do it). While many presentations by Japanese business people and academics are dull, didactic, one-way snoozefests, more and more we are discovering wonderfully engaging presenters here Japan. It is a myth that Japanese can not be effective, engaging  presenters. In fact, there is now great interest in "presenting different" here in Japan. Mogi-san is just one example of someone here in Japan who has his own unique way of connecting and sharing. His presentation — both in form and content — has lessons for all of us. Watch his presentation in English below or here on YouTube. (You can also watch the same presentation with 日本語 interpretation.)



Ken Mogi on science, spiritual significance, and the curiosity imperative
Mogi-san says that the curiosity of a child is something we must keep always with us. We must keep our sense of wonder. Mogi-san says that his own pursuit to understand the universe began when he was a child, and the key to that pursuit was a desire to explore. Science is about exploration. "You are not satisfied with passively getting information — you like to start your own exploration," he says. Mogi-san also stresses that through science and exploration we will indeed discover answers, but those answers will lead to even more questions as we uncover even more mysteries. Exploration and the pursuit of knowledge and understanding is never ending. Far from being a discouraging thing, this is a source of inspiration and wonder. "Science can explain many things that we hold to be mysteries," he says, but he also adds that science is an open-ended pursuit — no matter how much you learn about nature, he says, there are of course more mysteries. My favorite line from his talk was this:

"By forgetting how to be curious we are losing something really valuable. Because curiosity is the single most important trait that brought us here today."  —  Ken Mogi

Ken_mogi_garr   Ken-mogi-butterfly
Above left: Sharing a laugh with Mogi-san at
the TEDx rehearsal in Tokyo. Right: Mogi-san uses simple visuals and shows good form by never turning his back on the audience.

Ken-mogi_science  Mogi-san_sentence
Above left: Mogi-san sometimes displays only a single word in large type on screen. Right: At other times a key sentence may appear. Either way is quite different from the usual way of displaying lists of bulleted sentences (and then printing those up as a "handout").

Mogi-san_quote
Above: Using the effective technique of closing with a relevant quote, Mogi-san closes by saying that it is great that we are learning many things about nature and solving mysteries of the universe, but we also must remain humble to the fact that we still know very little compared to the "great ocean of truth before us." (This photo appears on page 169 of the the Naked book.)

In his roles as a scientist, as a researcher, as a teacher, and as a presenter—Ken Mogi is an inspiration. 科学者として、研究者として、教授として、そしてプレゼンターとして、茂木健一郎氏は素晴らしいインスピレーションだ。もっと多くの日本人が茂木さんのように効果的で聞き手を引き込む「裸のプレゼンテーション」をし始めることを期待している。
  
Related
An Interview with Ken Mogi (Law of Success blog)


We don't seek your perfection, only your authenticity

Brown What makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful, says Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston who touches on some key issues related to her work on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame in a recent presentation at TEDxHouston. I'm always looking for good examples of regular people who do a good job of presenting naked. This talk is remarkable because it's a good example of both an authentic, natural presentation, and the content of the presentation itself speaks to the need for a naked approach to communicating and to living in general. I love this talk by Brene Brown and I highly recommend it. You will be able to apply lessons and observations from her talk not only to communicating and presenting but to many other aspects of your personal and professional life. I have not read her latest book yet — The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are — but based on her talk I certainly will be reading it soon. I love the themes and ideas put forth by Professor Brown in her TEDx talk as they very much overlap with the key themes of connection, engagement, authenticity, and passion that I touched on in the Naked book. Watch the talk below or here on TED. Below the video I touch on some of Brown's themes as they relate to presentation.



Where there is no connection, there is no meaning
We are hardwired for connection, says Brown. Yet all too often, connection — in relationships, in classrooms, etc. — is missing. Why? Fear is a big reason why we fail at making connections. We fear many things, but mostly we fear that if we put our true self "out there" for all to see we will expose our self-doubt and our private worries about whether or not we are really "good enough" or worthy of the connection. What we may fear most of all is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, but without vulnerability there can be no true human-to-human connection. Vulnerability is risky by definition, and most of us have been educated to minimize risk wherever possible. Yet, you can not have true connection without allowing yourself to be vulnerable. This is true for virtually any kind of relationship: teacher-student, master-apprentice, coach-player, boss-subordinate, presenter-audience, and on and on. It applies obviously to more intimate relationships among friends, and other loved ones as well. Where you hesitate and hold back, no connection can be created, and in a deeper sense, this hesitation to allow ourselves to be vulnerable is a source of much dissatisfaction and disharmony in our lives.

The courage to be imperfect
Brown_slide In the presentation above, Brown touches on what she calls "wholehearted people," people who feel worthy of love and belonging. Those who avoid vulnerability at all cost may do so because, at least at some level, they feel unworthy. Some of the things that "wholehearted" people have in common, Brown says, is (1) the courage to be imperfect, (2) the compassion to be kind to themselves, and (3) the ability to let go of the idea of who they are "suppose to be." We are by our very nature imperfect, but that imperfection is what makes us human. The ability to allow ourselves to be imperfect and vulnerable in our personal and professional relationships is the very thing that can open our world up to the possibility of deeper connections and more meaningful engagement with others. ("Worthiness" slide is from Dr. Brown's presentation.)

Passionate, naked, and vulnerable
While researching "naked communication" several months ago I stumbled on this wonderful quote by American poet and author Nikki Giovanni (which also appears in the slide below) : "A lot of people refuse to do things because they don't want to go naked, don't want to go without [a] guarantee. But that's what's got to happen. You go naked until you die."

Naked_quote2

I love the spirit of this. We should indeed go naked until we die. There are no guarantees in life except change. But will we jump on and embrace change and see where our passion will take us, or will we cling cautiously to the past and to that which is known and safe? Passion dies in an environment of fear and a yearning for guarantees and certainty. This quote below by Steve Jobs touches on a similar theme.

Jobs_naked.104-001

"Follow your heart" sounds trite and cliche perhaps — but following your heart is exactly what you've got to do — this is where connection and meaning live. Ask yourself what you would do if you removed the fear — what direction would you go? What if you could magically remove the doubt — which road would you choose? Identify your passion and follow that. How do you want to change the world? What's your contribution? Do that.


Fear is natural, but fear itself is not the problem. It is the attachment to the fear that burdens us. It's OK to be afraid, but move forward and know that you are worthy of meaningful connections. The attachment to the fear and doubt keeps us from making our best contribution, or even from truly loving another or being loved. Sometimes giving and accepting love is the hardest of all because there are never, ever guarantees. But we must go naked, we must take a risk, on and off the stage. The rewards are worth it — for us and for those with whom we connect.

H/T
@ReggyMortier