The Tao or Richard Saul Wurman: Understanding leads to Meaningful Action
What is Tao?
Tao (pronounced "dao") means literally "the path" or "the way." It is a universal principle that underlies everything from the creation of galaxies to the interaction of human beings. The workings of Tao are vast and often beyond human logic. In order to understand Tao, reasoning alone will not suffice. One must also apply intuition. (Taoism.net) Tao or Dao is a Chinese word signifying 'way', 'path', 'route', 'key' or sometimes more loosely 'doctrine' or 'principle'. (Wikipedia)
“I don’t really know what to say I do. People often ask me how I get things done, so I tell them I have a secret. Inevitably, they beg me to reveal it, so I say the reason I do anything is because I want to do it so badly that it’s not a matter of why I do it: I’m incapable of not doing it! Once I have the passion to do something, it’s harder not to do it. Until I can do it because of the passion, not for power, money or fame, I’m not able to move off dead center.”
Richard Saul Wurman leaned forward and asked me to turn off my video camera. He questioned me with his bubbling blue eyes. I nodded, mystified. He held his probing gaze in silence as my mind frantically connected concepts: “passion as purpose... being one with your purpose... Tao... the way... passion as the way... Wurman’s Tao...” I nodded again, smiling. At ease, he sat back and took a deep breath. “Some people are disappointed by my answer,” he said, looking out the window at his palatial gardens.
The first time I saw Richard’s face was in a June 1997 interview in Fortune Magazine which crowned him “The King of Access.” He was photographed in his Newport mansion’s white living room, reading with his feet up beside a wall-to-wall collection of erotic Mexican ceramics. He looked shamelessly self-indulgent in his throne, fittingly designed by Mies van der Rohe. I remember thinking: How do you get to live like that?
His “intellectual hedonism” was in sheer contrast with the life I had left behind in Argentina, where for over two decades military dictatorships relentlessly punished intellectual curiosity with torture, prison, exile, or a trip to the bottom of the ocean. Wurman’s iconoclastic attitude left an indelible impression and I became determined to meet him. Thanks to the mysteries of the Universe, I got my wish and more.
The chance presented itself in 2004, when a Swiss private bank asked me to create the most original meeting I could imagine to persuade twenty almost-billionaires to invest in creative ways with their organization. Within seconds, I had designed a two-day experience in Dr. Edward de Bono’s private island in Venice, Italy, featuring its owner (the prolific author and creator of the concept of lateral thinking) alongside Wurman and Dudley Lynch, author of The Strategy of the Dolphin and Leap.
It was a resounding success for the sponsor. Before we left Venice, I spent some time with Wurman and realized that I too wanted to live as an “intellectual hedonist,” bent on satisfying my curiosity and finding out how seemingly unrelated things can work together to produce exponential results. It was then that I started formulating what today is TheSircle Executive Club - a round table for executives to exchange ideas, connect and collaborate.
For the past 7 years, I’ve taken the time to piece together concepts that presumably explain his worldview. I've synthesized his thinking into three core concepts that I call "The Tao of Wurman" - which I then unpack into 10 principles for action. Read on, discover, use them and share them...
No one knows what to call Richard Wurman.
He is, or has been, an architect of buildings, an entrepreneur, an author, a publisher, a mapmaker, a conference producer, a philosopher of communication, and a redesigner of everything (from desks to phone books). Also a pedant, a missionary, a party host, and a willful naif. Always, an innovator. And not least, an "information architect," the label that will make him famous, although most people don't understand - until they encounter it in practice, at which mind-swelling moment they wonder where it has been all their lives. (Inc. Magazine, 1997)
"The Tao of Richard Saul Wurman" is my compilation of videos, quotes and provocative thoughts that might help you remember trigger connections between topics that are meaningful to you. Take some time to consider the questions and share your answers with others.
If You Remember Three Things, Remember These...
First concept of Tao: Design your life to express your most essential desire.
Picture this: a young American Jew with a scraggly beard travels around Europe inexplicably convinced that he will meet the Pope. While in Rome, he fortuitously charms a Monsignor who invites him to the Pope’s audience in Castelgandolfo.
Trekking under the scorching sun in a wrinkled drip-dry suit, he arrives drenched with sweat. To his amazement, he’s ushered to the stage where he sticks out like a Yeti among Cardinals solemnly dressed in red and Pope John XXIII, for many the most beloved in history, glowing in immaculate white.
Awestruck, the young traveler watches the Pope hold the audience in the palm of his hand like no one he’s ever seen. In a visceral way, he finds his calling: to be in the presence of extraordinary people for as long as he lives.
As a consultant to peak performers in sports, art and business, I know that epiphanies like Wurman’s suddenly reveal to us that the unthinkable is possible, never mind how at first, for they reconnect us with the core of our being. Since that fateful day, Richard has admittedly focused on reliving that magical moment.
Wurman's peak experience uncovered his essential desire: to satisfy his curiosity. He didn’t seek power, money, or fame. He didn’t aspire to save the world either but rather to make his life interesting. Wurman purposely created the best-attended mind-fests in the world so he could be on stage with the trailblazers who intrigue him, luminaries such as Francis Crick, Jonas Salk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Billy Graham, Nicholas Negroponte, Edward de Bono, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Yo Yo Ma and many others. He’s wildly successful because he knows his audience: it’s him.
Think: What was the most extraordinary experience you’ve ever had? What made it extraordinary? What breakthrough or major decision did it provoke? In which ways are you recreating that moment? How are you inspiring others because of it?
What to take away:
- Decide how much money, power, or fame you want. An irrational longing for any or all of them will likely interfere with your desire to create good work (it’s very difficult to have all three for very long).Design your life to ensure that everyday is interesting. Your life and work should be an extended hobby. Make connections between your interests and hobbies: what patterns emerge? Do those patterns lead to new ways of doing things?
- The toughest design project is designing your life. Your needs must be addressed to survive; they demand short-term solutions. Your desire is where creation starts; it’s focused on “what can be” and on the possibility of a better future. What do you desire?
Second concept of Tao: Provocative conversations promote the convergence of great ideas.
In 2004, a Swiss private bank wanted to form an investment club for almost-billionaires and asked me to organize a unique event to wow twenty of them. I chose to host them at Dr. Edward de Bono’s private island in Venice, Italy. I needed someone who could incite them to share their wisdom, so guess who I called… During the event, Richard questioned, provoked and challenged the participants from odd angles to break down their solemnity until ideas flowed freely and cross-pollinated, ultimately leading to profitable collaborations (it took only one deal to make the whole effort worthwhile for the bank). Wurman gives people to be themselves, to discover what's interesting to them and disclose their aspirations to others, which can create a network of conversations and new ideas that leads to productive collaborations.
What to take away:
- The best ideas usually emerge out of random conversations between two people. Instead of the usual “What do you do?” ask “What are you interested in?” or “What are you developing?” If anyone asks you, what will be your answers? How are you interesting?
- If your conversations converge and form certain clear patterns, why not test the convergence with a larger group? Gathering enough bright, passionate, forward-thinking and proactive people under a specific theme provides self-ignition. The juxtaposition and discrepancy of topics is a catalyst for creative thinking to spread like wildfire. Partially, that’s the genius of TED. What would make your TED-like meeting wildly successful?
- “What’s next” lurks at the margins of “what’s normal” - you’ll notice it if you imagine “what can be.” Consider far-out ideas by looking at their advantages, disadvantages, and interesting aspects. Get comfortable with what’s marginal and find its critical mass potential: one day it will become a market, so capture it before anyone else does. What will that be?
- Do you want to play Provocateur? While exploring your topic, add, transfer, animate, substitute, fragment, distort, contradict, parody, analogize, symbolize, repeat or combine one or more aspects of it. Look for emerging thought patterns and hints of new value.
Third concept of Tao: Change starts from the individual rather than the collective.
At 45, Wurman was destitute. He had failed as an architect, college dean, businessman, and husband. To sort out his utter disorientation, he figured out how to make things make sense and wrote books about what he was seeking to understand. He created the Access Guides and the TED Conferences to indulge himself, becoming a multi-millionaire in the process. He did not set out to change the world. Yet his innovative approaches have become an antidote for apathy and closed-mindedness. By splattering his myriad personal interests on a stage, he changed the format and tone of intellectual discourse on a global scale.
What to take away:
- Indulge your curiosity: learning is remembering what interests you.
- Sell your ignorance rather than your expertise: research, design, publish or teach something you don’t understand. Empty your preconceptions and wallow in your ignorance so you’re free to ask questions and learn. What do you want to understand?
- Information must be understandable or it’s just data. Information architecture is about how to choose the right way to present information and how to help people navigate through it. To explain something clearly, remember what it is like not to know.
- Leadership is having an idea and being able to explain it clearly. Clarity leads to real change: people embrace what they understand and act on it. It’s the overwhelming desire of a determined individual that mobilizes others to gets things done. People follow a leader who can clearly articulate the future vision from the mountaintop and walks them through the steps necessary for their arrival. What’s your power idea?
Wurman's Tao Provocations for Leading with Ideas:
- Promote Diversity. Influence cultural networks to be inclusive, participatory, forward-thinking, internationally engaged, and unified by technology. Make open-mindedness your city's Gold Standard of citizenship.
- Promote Learning. Explore ways to convert the city into a “learning playground” by connecting buildings, population segments and activities. Ideas: teach lateral thinking in schools, use boardrooms as classrooms, use museums as idea-hunting spaces, use sports events as artistic themes and houses of worship as ecumenical storytelling hubs. What else can we connect?
- Promote Understanding. Create a Data Observatory that gathers vital information about the city in real time and compares it to data from key cities around the world through infographics. Share the public information with everyone.
- Promote Entrepreneurship. Multiply regional microlending funds and sponsored prizes to develop innovations and export them. The goal? To find the next Steve Jobs, of course.
- Promote Connections. Form a coalition of cultural networks around “convergence events” focused on creativity and entrepreneurship to allow cross-pollination of ideas and action. Tribes are cozy but open source thinking is healthier.
- Promote Curiosity. Organize regular meet-ups and un-conferences promoted through social media in every region of the city to stimulate idea generation and development.
Last "Tao bit": May you be your purpose, however it manifests.
The Many Ways of Understanding...
Being in the same room with Richard Saul Wurman is like watching Jackson Pollock painting “Lavender Mist.”
Like a Pollock masterpiece, Richard is an acquired taste. You can fully appreciate him once you understand his intention and the nuances of his personal style. Yet, as someone who can befriend global achievers such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, YoYo Ma, Nobel Laureates, Billy Graham, Frank Ghery, Quincy Jones and many others who have spoken at his legendary conferences for free, he is instantly intriguing.
Richard believes that understanding leads to meaningful action. It's easier to learn and act with purpose once we achieve deep understanding. His talks are essentially an experience, not a seminar, a course or workshop. He's not imparting "knowledge" but rather focusing on the key to learning, which he defines as "remembering what interests you."
No one has any control over what Richard Saul Wurman is going to say, not even him. His topics, however, are well known worldwide. Within the randomness of his storytelling style there's a meandering thread that connects core concepts to meaningful illustrations, pretty much like a MindMap or an Infographic.
He's become famous for asking participants not to take notes, as he suggests they deepen their listening skills to allow their minds to make relevant connections between topics and their own experiences. He might digress, yet within the complexity of his stories there's always a fundamental point. Richard Saul Wurman freely shares his truth about his life and views. Nothing more and nothing less. Ultimately, he hopes for people to speak the truth about themselves.
The Tao of Richard Saul Wurman: Do Great Work
The 10 Principles for Action
Ten ways for you to explore the practical application of the 3 core concepts:
- Information must be Understandable, or it’s just Data
- Understanding is Power
- Success comes from Understanding Failure
- Clarity leads to Real Change
- Learning is Remembering What Interests You
- Make Connections between Your Interests
- To Understand Something, Empty Your Preconceptions
- Sell Your Ignorance: Sell Your Curiosity
- Design Your Life to ensure that Everyday is Interesting
- Leadership is Having an Idea and Explaining it Clearly
1. Information must be Understandable, or it’s just Data
"My work has to do with overcoming the thoughts with which I have discomfort. My own understanding or lack of it is enough to begin with. Committee meetings and market research are not part of this process. I don't believe in using such methods to determine what subjects or cities to tackle. Confidence in your own understanding, acceptance of your ignorance, and determination to pursue your interests are the weapons against anxiety."
- When was the last time you felt ignorant? What did you do about it?
- What do you ask others more often: “What do you do?” or “What are you interested in?”
- What interests are you doggedly determined to pursue?
"Each of the books I've authored, designed, and published was inspired by something I didn't understand, whether it was diagnostic tests on my own body or finding my way around Tokyo or around the Olympics on TV. In all of them I have tried to embrace my ignorance by finding a phrase that captures a solution to pursue, such as, 'I want to know where I am and what's around me.'"
- What information do you think is critical to design your future?
- How can you contribute to making your vision more “understandable”?
2. Understanding is Power
"Most people don't understand anything--just like me. The difference is, I admit it. Hell, I wallow in it. Every bit of work I do starts from not knowing. Is that how you see most people act? Most people 'uh-huh' each other to death. They 'uh-huh' everybody because they were taught when they were young that it's not good to look stupid, that it's not good to say, 'I don't know,' it's not good to ask questions.
Instead, the rewards come from acknowledging or answering everything with 'I know.' You're supposed to look smart in our society. You're supposed to gain expertise and sell it as the means of moving ahead in your career. You're supposed to focus on what you know how to do and then do it better and better. That's where the rewards are supposed to come from."
- What is your strongest motivator: Need, Desire or Legacy?
- Is Curiosity one of your top three personal values? If not, what could make it so?
- What I would do that is not based on money, power or fame is...
- What I understand clearly that can help others understand better is...
3. Success comes from Understanding Failure
"For most of my career, I was not successful. I couldn't glue two nickels together. At best, I kind of failed sideways my whole life." Though to call some of what happened "sideways" would be, he says, to give it a pretty face.”
"The schools in this country are one of the biggest reasons we're all so screwed up. Our educational experience consists of three great lies. Lie number one is, It's better to say, 'I know' than to say, 'I don't know.' Lie number two: It's better to answer a question than ask a question. Lie three: It's better to worship at the foot of success than understand the nature of failure. Those three lies have screwed our society, and it's by overcoming one at a time--or two at a time or all three --that you can make some breakthroughs in your creative activities."
- What lessons did you learn from your three biggest failures?
- Has understanding your failures opened doors to unexpected opportunities?
- How do you relate with Wurman’s “Three Lies” of our education? Which ones do you have to overcome?
- In which ways can you ask better questions?
The biggest motivation to get anything done is to want it very badly.
It didn't matter to me at TED whether the audience liked the speaker or not. It didn't matter to me what they thought of me. What mattered to me is doing good work. Doing the best I knew how. That's all.
4. Clarity leads to Real Change
"Information architecture has as one of its fundamentals that there are only five ways to organize information. They can be remembered by the acronym LATCH: L for organizing things by location; A, by alphabet; T, by time; C, by category; and H, by hierarchy."
“Information architecture isn't just graphics; it's about how to choose the right way to present information and how to help people navigate through it. It's a way of thinking. It's how you go about something. It's a whole way of life in which the aim is not to make something look good but to make it be good, and that is a very important fork in the road for most attempts at communication.”
“Nations are shrinking in importance compared to huge "supercities" like Los Angeles, New York, Moscow and Tokyo, where more and more of the earth's population lives. I'm working on an international project called "19.20.21" that uses 19 major cities as case studies on how this urban population boom will affect the planet. Fifty-two percent of all the people on earth live in cities. The world, basically, as far as marketing, education, culture, finance, invention, healthcare, is made up of 40 cities in America, 60 in Europe and 48 in Asia. Government leaders need to give the public truthful, easy-to-understand information so they can see the challenges ahead. That's difficult because cities around the globe don't have a uniform way of defining themselves or sharing information. I'm working, through my "19.20.21" project, to change that. Right now we're taking action without understanding. I'm not trying to make better cities. I'm trying to understand them.”
- In which ways do you “do good work” rather than making things look good?
- Is being a citizen a circumstance or an intentional activity?
- What gives Identity to a city? What about your city? How to you contribute to your city’s identity when you call it “my city”?
- How can you tie your business or activity to the supercities’ trend? Would you benefit from it? Would doing the opposite benefit you more?
I don't think there's an overload of information.
I think there's an overload of non-information. I think one can't get overloaded with things we understand. What we are overloaded with, is that we think we should be understanding this stuff, and it's not understandable, and then we have anxiety about it.
5. Learning is Remembering What Interests You
“Conversations help students build narratives…that will allow them to learn and remember in a way that has meaning for them. Without these narratives, you can learn a new fact, but not know what to do with it, how to make sense of it.”
- Sherry Turkle, "Reclaiming Conversation"
"My struggle has been to discover the connection that leads from information to memory. The junctures of road-to-road and path-to-path celebrate that connection. That connection is learning, and learning is remembering what you're interested in."
"I absolutely trust indulging myself. I trust the fact that I'm a dumb-ass and that if I like something and understand something, probably other people will, too. Maybe they won't, but I still do it for me. Most people don't let themselves do that, because in our society, it's not appropriate to say you're indulgent. That's one of the personality characteristics that are politically incorrect. So you're not allowed to say, 'I indulge myself.' You're not allowed to say, 'I'm terrified because I don't understand.' And at the other extreme, you're not allowed to say, 'I'm confident'--because then people say you're arrogant. So the operative terms that actually allow for the production of creative work--terror, confidence, and indulgence--are no-no's, and they're no-no's from grade one in school."
- In which ways do you honor your interests?
- In which ways do you aim to make what you do “interesting”?
- How would you react if someone would call you “indulgent”?
- What if you declared yourself to be “an Intellectual Hedonist?”
- In which ways do you fuel your creativity?
I love thinking up a new pattern.
I love seeing a pattern that doesn't exist; that doesn't mean anything. I love thinking up something that's dumber than I thought before.
Nobody, nobody is encouraged to attach interest to interest. I look at everything. That's my joy. I look at it and take it apart and turn it upside down.
6. Sell Your Ignorance: Sell Your Curiosity
"When you sell your expertise--whether to a boss, a client, or even a friend--you have a limited repertoire. On the other hand, when you sell your ignorance, when you sell your desire to learn about something, to create and explore and navigate paths to knowledge--when you sell your curiosity --you sell from a bucket that's infinitely deep, that represents an unlimited repertoire. My expertise has always been my ignorance--my admission and my acceptance of not knowing. My work comes from questions, not from answers."
"In the business world in particular, most people think they'd be penalized for being in a meeting and saying, 'I don't know.' For saying, 'I don't understand what you said.' So we all sit there and go, 'Uh-huh.' When the fact is that the breakthrough comes when you say, 'I don't understand that. Would you please explain it?'"
- Which one you say more often: “Of course” or “I don’t know”?
- In which ways can you sell your ignorance?
- In which ways does your work rely on providing answers rather than asking questions?
- What small commitment could provoke a major shift in thinking for you?
- What aspect of your Vision requires better answers or better questions?
7. Make Connections between Your Interests
"Our educational system is based on the memorization of things we're not interested in, bulimically spewed out on a paper called a test and then forgotten. We learn to use our short-term memory rather than our long-term memory. Many of our interests are shunted aside. The typical teenager's interests, in music and cars and sports, are looked on as second-rate themes for their lives instead of embraced as connections to all knowledge and wisdom. I mean, the car connects to the history of transportation, to our road systems, to our cities and our highways. It connects to the balance of payments and economics around the world. To steel and iron, and steel construction, and plastics and design. It connects to physics and mathematics and chemistry. It connects to foreign languages and culture. To medicine and governmental policy. And all the things the car connects to connect to everything else. So do sports. And so does entertainment, which connects to technologies of all sorts, to design and hardware and software and information."
- In which ways can your interests connect? How about your business: is there a confluence of interests that can yield unique results? For example: exploring the interaction between what you do with Sports and Arts.
- What connections can you help create between buildings, people and activities in your city?
- In which ways can you become a decoder for others who helps them understand how your city is connected by people's interests?
- What media and social interactions can make our city a “playground” for learning about its power and potential?
8. To Understand Something, Empty Your Preconceptions
I ran TED for about 20 years
It was always an attempt to always tell the truth, not to have people who didn't tell the truth. And I found that was deceptively powerful.
"Communication gets screwed because most people try to look good and sound good, above all else. I've tried to abandon all that. I embrace my normality. I think I go directly to the essence of things because there's nothing else in the way.
I've worked at clearing out the crap--the preconceptions, the desire to impress other people. Trying to look smarter than you are."
9. Design Your Life to ensure that Everyday is Interesting
"The big design problem we all have is designing our own lives. If we do it right, wouldn't the best result--the best measure of success, ultimately--be that every day is interesting?"
"Most people don't have enough interesting things in their lives, so in place of interest they try to accumulate funds and power. But I think you're going to be a better businessperson if you look at your life as a collection of hobbies, a collection of interests, not a matter of things you do during the day and things you do in the evening--or what you do during the day and what you do during the weekend. Think of everything you do as driven by and connected to your real interests, and it's going to affect how you look at the products you're making."
- If you achieve your Highest Goal, how will the world be better tomorrow?
- Looking back at your life from 100 years ahead: were you just laying bricks or building a Cathedral?
- What passion thread connects your hobbies with your business activities?
10. Leadership is Having an Idea and Explaining it Clearly
"To me, what I'm talking about is really fundamental stuff for a businessperson, not just the luxury of an oddball designer. I think we're all creative because we all have problems we want to solve, and you can talk through the solution to any of them. You don't have to be 'creative' in the strict sense of the word to do that. You just have to want to do it very badly.”
"In 2004, Wurman advised his friend Saul Kaplan as Kaplan’s nonprofit, The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI, was designing its first annual Collaborative Innovation Summit. As Wurman mentored Kaplan, they worked by subtracting from the usual style of business conferences. They eliminated the podium and numerous projection screens in favor of a simple, well-lit stage. There was no dress code; “I don’t own a suit,” Wurman says. They requested from their speakers personal stories of transformation, not speeches or pitches. Wurman looks forward to returning to the BIF Summit in September. The summit, he claims, “unequivocally attracts smart individuals who tell a fresh story about their passions, ideas and failures.” He adds, “Looking in the gray area between these stories is where good, inspiring concepts will arise.” Wurman shares his secret to hosting a good conference: “Have a dinner party,” he says. “Invite people you’re interested in and have conversation with them.” (TIME Magazine)
- Which desire defines your Leadership: Efficiency? Control? Understanding? Being Understood?
- As a leader, what do you crave most: Certainty or Possibilities?
- In which ways do you have Power? How do you exercise it? Who’s better for it?
- In which ways being able to explain an idea clearly has made you a de facto leader?
- How can you expand the relevance and resonance of your idea by making it more clear and understandable?
TheSircle: Exploring the confluence of ideas, salon-style
My best memories of intimate gatherings in South America and Europe have one thing in common: intellectually stimulating conversation. I love stories and have a passion for understanding diverse topics. Nothing replaces listening to the person who came up with the new idea, who struggled, who achieved and who now realizes that the quest was only the start of a new quest.
I was born to a family that understood that their only inheritance would be their education and embraced every opportunity to learn, travel and live as citizens of the world. I did not have a TV before I was 14, so early on I listened to my family engage in enthralling storytelling about scientific discoveries, iconoclasts, artists, politicians and courageous travelers. The ambiance of a salon where good food and visions of “what’s next” flowed from room to room for hours was absorbing.I wanted to be part of that adult, edgy world - to have exciting experiences and tell stories of my own.
Memory and denial of a desire
“Face-to-face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen.”
- Sherry Turkle, "Reclaiming Conversation"
In my teenage years, my close friends read a large variety of topics, spoke several languages, wrote poetry and short stories, played tennis, traveled internationally, loved a broad selection of music and had dreams of contributing to society in significant ways. Such a high “geek quotient” did not make dating easy, but when our dates matched or exceeded our cultural voltage we felt a lot less lonely. Still, parties in our professional middle-class neighborhood were both sexy and exciting because you could count on meeting diverse and “exotic” people that would reveal aspects of the world you didn’t know before.
However, growing up under military dictatorships teaches you that free-flowing conversation can sometimes get you killed, so the gatherings were tainted by caution and self-censorship, since you never knew who could be a reactionary informant. Bourgeois behavior kept us alive but did nothing to squelch our smoldering desire for unbridled discourse, independent thinking and acceptance of “the other.”
When I left high school, I was the only one among ninety students who wanted to be a writer and passed the national university’s entrance exams with great marks. It was a worthless effort, as I soon discovered how dangerous it was to pose as an intellectual while death squads were “cleansing” Argentine society from “rotten minds.”
After a futile attempt to study law, I enrolled in medical school and miraculously survived for six years. During the fourth year of my medical studies I traveled to Europe for two months with money I had saved from teaching tennis to friends. I enjoyed every second of every day and met a large variety of fellow travelers in youth hostels. Either it was the biggest mistake in my life or my salvation, but I returned a changed person and swore that I would latch onto that thirst for adventure, discovery and understanding forever.
Following the scent of fascination
When I emigrated to the U.S. as a tennis coach, I found consolation for the loss of my past aspirations by having deep conversations with fascinating individuals whom I met on the tennis court. Because their social defenses were down and they were intrigued by my questions, I got to spend time with political power brokers, fashion designers, plutocrats, top athletes, scientists, captains of industry and artists sharing fascinating stories. Once we would dive into conversation, our differences in origin and status seemed to fade away for a while and I marveled at how these achievers gave themselves permission to disclose personal stories and viewpoints. I treasured that privilege and dreamed of putting all those people into the same room to orchestrate a symphony of minds and souls, to explore the confluence of all their stories and what they had in common.
I got to build a version of my dream when I organized sport psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr’s international speaking tours for four years, mental toughness training for tennis coaches and sometimes executives in Europe and Japan. I had become a producer/director of experiences delivering rich, unique, cutting-edge content and the success of the tours and the multiple tennis championships won by our clients ultimately allowed me to become a U.S. citizen.
Conversation is “where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.”
- Sherry Turkle, "Reclaiming Conversation"
When I moved to Charlotte it was the first time that I felt I was “home” after 15 years of travels. Gradually, I felt the urgency to create a network by facilitating meaningful conversations. I wanted to park my desire and have a stage in what for the first time was “my city.” The first two conversation series took place in 2009 and 2010, focused on leadership that revealed people’s deep need to exchange views during the financial crisis. A panel of facilitators chose key topics and invited Charlotte leaders who could address them in an interview format.
In April 2010, I decided to take a big step as a conference producer and invited Richard Saul Wurman to give two talks in Charlotte (one at The Ritz Carlton and another one at The Great Aunt Stella Center). Among the dispersion of ideas, relevant connections could be made but you had to be willing to grab the handle bar and let the rollercoaster shake you about until it stopped. At The Ritz Carlton, we had a private dinner sponsored by Dr. Thomas Roberts with 16 participants that lasted until 2 a.m. where the Wurmanesque riffing of ideas reached stratospheric levels.
The best reason for a big event...is being big. Nah, HUGE. Ordinary big isn't good enough any more.
Big events, grand openings, national events that just can't be missed. These work (if they're big enough).
Big events, if they're truly big, change the rhythm and demand a different sort of attention and preparation. We can push through the dip, expend emotional labor and do things we never thought we'd be able to do if there's a charette and a deadline and an audience.
Human beings respond to emergencies and to hoopla. We like doing what others are doing, and we'll suspend social disbelief if we're being carried along by the pack (or the mob).
The challenge comes when we institutionalize the event and make it normal.
If you're going to have an event, better make it big. Or even bigger than that. It needs to be awe-inspiring, frightening, on deadline and worth losing sleep over.
- Seth Godin
TheSircle is born
TheSircle Executive Club was conceived as “a place for equality, for similar yet distinct visions, where all are heard yet none are favored.” The purpose of TheSircle is to gather the most engaged and engaging leaders in Charlotte to explore themes related to Leadership and its core aspects: identity, values, achievement, fulfillment, significance and legacy. I want true leaders to find co-creators and sources of inspiration in the meetings.
TheSIrcle is inspired by the European tradition of the Salon, in which thinking and perspectives lead to confluence, collaboration and positive change in society. Every session of TheSircle features a Guest Presenter, whom I interview on a specific topic and then I open up questions to the participants to be explored over dinner at The Ritz Carlton Charlotte.
The International Sircle had its debut in Ancona, Italy, in 2012 at the Istituto Adriano Olivetti. It was followed by the Zurich International Sircle in Switzerland in 2013.