Le’Veon Bell and the Power of the Pause

Today was a very good day for football, including a game that featured one of the most exciting and unusual running backs in football, Le’Veon Bell (who had 30 carries for 170 yards in today’s Steelersplayoff win over Kansas City).

What makes Bell so interesting to watch, especially for the non-football fan? His patience.

Football is a game measured in seconds. Even though the average game lasts over three hours, players are actually playing for only about 11-minutes. Time is of the essence in this brutal game, and so most running backs (typically the best athletes on the team) make their initial move immediately. You’ll occasionally see a hesitation move, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

Bell pauses practically every single time he carries the ball. It almost looks like he’s sauntering to start. He’s not; he’s a ridiculous athlete. But he lets the play develop before he makes his move, and he’s often thinking two or three steps ahead.

This is strategic action personified in the most extreme, violent conditions. One of the core muscles in my Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets program is the Pausing muscle. Simply doing a collaboration workout in the middle of the work week exercises the Pausing muscle. Additionally, every workout kicks off with a minute of silent breathing.

Moving without pausing to think and see is one of the most common strategic deficiencies I see in other knowledge workers, including many leaders. I’d love to show clips of Bell play with everyone I work with.

Lots of commentators, coaches, and players have commented on his style, although you don’t have to be an experienced football fan to notice this. This Washington Post piece on Bell’s patience is excellent (and also touches on his love of chess). This video features clips and interviews with his peers about his patience:

I particularly loved this next video, where Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, Bell’s Hall of Fame predecessor and one of my favorite players, talks patience and strategy with Bell. Not only is it fun to watch to great players talk about their craft, but in the previous video, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly breaks down why Bell is so hard to stop. In this video, Bell talks specifically about the cat-and-mouse game he often plays with Kuechly.

Photo by Brook Ward. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Emile Zola on Poetry and Craft, Nature vs Nurture

Viola Davis’s introduction of Meryl Streep for the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award last Sunday was a highlight in its entirety, as was Streep’s powerful acceptance speech. But one thing that stood out in particular for me was Davis quoting Émile Zola:

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: I am here to live out loud!

Because I am anal, I double check quotes I like before I save them, and the best source for citations is often Wikiquote. While scanning Zola’s Wikiquote page and affirming that he did indeed say the above, I also ran across this quote that I love in a letter to Paul Cézanne in 1860:

There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.

Status Versus Substance

A little over a year ago, I read an item in Sarah B.’s most excellent Richmond District Blog about a French bakery called Arsicault opening up in my neighborhood. I love great bread and have often wished for a bakery like Tartine nearby. But Arsicault wasn’t that kind of bakery, and while I like a good croissant as much as the next guy, I didn’t see the need to go out of my way to visit.

Still, I love living in the Richmond District, and I take great pride in all local successes. So last month, when Arsicault was named America’s Best Bakery by Bon Appetit magazine, I took notice. But I still didn’t go, and frankly, while I knew that national recognition like this was a big deal for small businesses, I had no idea how big of a deal it would be.

I’ve gotten a pretty good idea, thanks to my weekly pickup basketball game. I drive past Arsicault every Sunday on my way to the park. Prior to the Bon Appetit article, I had never once seen a line there. Now, the line is around the corner all the time.

This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle had a great piece describing Arsicault’s story and pondering this most recent chapter:

So what had drawn the crowd — bragging rights? The sense of accomplishment? The chance to taste the best new croissant in America and assess it on one’s own terms? Was that even possible anymore?

There’s a scene in Don DeLillo’s novel “White Noise” when the narrator and a fellow professor pay a visit to the “most photographed barn in America.” They stand in silence, watching people take pictures of the barn.

“No one sees the barn,” the colleague says finally. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn. … We can’t get outside the aura.”

Here we were, inside our own sugar-scented aura. The charming neighborhood bakery that Bon Appétit’s editors had stumbled on had momentarily ceased to exist, and in its place was a much-hyped croissant factory that caused otherwise reasonable people to wait in a 30-minute line at 6:55 on a chilly morning.

We weren’t waiting for breakfast. We were waiting to see whether this experience was worth it.

I don’t know how good the croissants are at Arsicault, and I am less likely to find out now than I was before, thanks to the ridiculous lines. But it’s been a good reminder to me about how much I value craftsmanship and the unusual relationship between status and substance.

Regardless of whether Arsicault’s croissants live up to the hype, I love founder Armando Lacayo’s story, how it all began with an incessant desire to bake a croissant that lived up to the ones he ate as a child in Paris, and how he kept working and working and working at it, and how he plans to continue to work at it.

Make Something. Don’t Be Nice.

sweat_it_out

I’m a private person. Over the years, I’ve found a nice balance between living and working openly while maintaining personal boundaries. I’m consistently surprised by the benefits of being selectively open and vulnerable in public.

My Photo-A-Day project has pushed these boundaries. On the one hand, I’m not that excited by how much I’ve shared about my life, even when they’ve only been tiny windows. On the other hand, what I have shared has resulted in deeper relationships with many people I care about. All in all, it’s been net positive.

Still, I feel discomfort, especially when I’m not feeling great. 2015 has been a stellar year overall, but I’m human, and I have my ups and downs. I’m going through one of those down periods now. It’s nothing serious — no one is dying, thank goodness. I’m going to get through it just fine, and I most definitely don’t want any sympathy. But forcing myself to continue publishing photos that tell an authentic story while also maintaining personal boundaries has been tough. I’ll be glad when this project is over.

I’ve found over the years that you mostly just have to wait out times like these. Sure, I have my coping mechanisms: basketball, music, food, family, friends, etc. They all work to some extent. But there’s really only one thing that consistently helps: Making things.

Make a picture. Make a tool. Write something down. Doodle. Make change. Make music. Make trouble. Make love. Just make something. Express yourself through making. And whatever you do, don’t be nice. Be you. Feel what you feel, and be okay with it.

365 Photo Project: Two Months Update

Another month down! I knew February would be a challenging month for my photo-a-day project. In January, I had lots of activities scheduled, and I saw lots of people. In February, I knew I’d be in my office and at home a lot, which meant fewer organic picture-taking opportunities.

A few weeks ago, I was updating Alison Lin, a colleague and fellow photography enthusiast, about my difficulties with the project. She nodded and said, “You’re exercising your muscles around letting go of perfection.” I found that articulation super helpful. As much as I had been talking about practice, I had been putting a tremendous amount of unrealistic pressure on myself to achieve a certain standard.

That pressure was counter-productive. As my friend, Sarah, told me recently, these kinds of projects are valuable because of the structure they provide. Some days, you’re not going to take good pictures, but what matters is that you’re doing it every day. Furthermore, every photo is a learning opportunity.

I’ve been consciously trying to shift my attitude ever since.

After I spoke with Alison, I found myself sitting in my coffee shop, having taken zero photos that day, wondering what I should photograph, and thinking about her words. I started going through my feed reader, and ran across a blog post that my friend, Amy Wu, had just published. To my surprise and pleasure, she had used one of my pictures. I didn’t have my camera on me, so I used my phone to capture the moment.

The resulting picture wasn’t very good, but choosing and posting it made me realize some simple things I could have done to have improved it. It also let me tell a story of something nice that had happened that day. Most importantly, it’s lowered the stress of the project ever since.

I’m not as worried about posting great pictures every day. That was never the point. Stay focused on my goal (storytelling), do my best, take a picture and post it everyday, and learn something in the process. No one’s grading me on this project. I’m not practicing to become a professional. No one is going to think any less of me if I post a mediocre picture. This is not that hard… if I maintain the right attitude.

I had to send my camera in for some minor repairs this month, and because of some misunderstandings, I ended up going half the month without it. My friend, Justin, loaned me his Fuji X-T1 (arguably a better camera than my beloved Olympus OM-D E-M5) and two tremendous lenses, including a wider lens (equivalent to 21mm on a full-frame) than any that I own.

I had some discomfort with using a foreign tool, but I tried to maintain a positive attitude by using it as an opportunity to experiment with some capabilities that I didn’t have with my usual camera. Specifically, I tried to leverage the bigger sensor for more night shots and the wider lens. Taking wide shots for storytelling is definitely a weakness, and it’s something I want to continue practicing.

I didn’t see as many people I knew this past month, and the numbers reflected that (11 photos with people I knew versus 22 in January). I’ve had a few friends tell me very clearly that they wanted to make it into the project, which I’ve enjoyed. I’m sure they’ll make it in eventually.

I had one particularly hard day when I worked a ton, I hadn’t taken any pictures, and I was exhausted. I was going to just take a picture of the beer I was drinking as I was mindlessly watching Netflix. But my sister encouraged me to get out of the house, so I decided to head up to the nearby Legion of Honor to play with some long-exposure night shots. It was foggy that night, and I thought I would get some cool effects, but the fog disappeared by the time I arrived. I decided to play with putting myself in the shot.

I had a super fun time that evening. I never would have gotten out of the house if I weren’t working on this project.

Here are a few other shots from February that I liked: