Monday, June 22, 2009

Secret Teachers

I was thinking about heroes, idols, and mentors.

When I was seventeen, I spent dozens of hours learning a Steve Martin standup routine word-by-word, beat-by-beat for a high school speech class assignment. I didn’t really have my own voice yet and considered the learned mimicry a sort of “homage to a master”.

Almost twenty years later, I give a lot of credit to Mr. Martin for my sense of vocal timing and appreciation for language. And also Bill Cosby, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Ricky Gervais, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, etc. Not that I am in comparing myself to comedy greats, just that they are people who have influenced me, teachers who never knew they were.

But spending thousands of hours with funny movies and comedy TV shows isn’t enough. You can’t just watch shows, you have to observe them. It takes an inquisitive mind to learn how to improve.

Why did he say that line like that? Why did that long pause make everyone laugh? Why can that actor say a line with a straight face and it’s funny, while the other one uses lots of expression and animation and it’s funny? Why does he move like that? What do I appreciate about him, even though I see no similarity in our styles? What is he doing that I can learn and use immediately in front of people?

You don’t need a formal teacher or mentor to learn interesting communication choices - sometimes you can learn more valuable lessons from those who are not official teachers.

I wonder who the world's most prominent secret teachers are? Perhaps it depends on chosen professions and areas of interest, but I am guessing moms and dads are up there.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What You're Sitting On Might Look Great

An education company I used to work for has a game in its youth curriculum that you may have heard of. It’s the one where you start with a trivial object like a paper clip, then go around to people and try to trade up for items of bigger and better value. I have also seen this same game done by Girl Scouts and youth groups. I don't know who invented it, but my guess is that it has existed for at least twenty-five years.

So the company I was with did not invent the activity, but had been doing it with youth in their programs for at least fifteen years. Then this big story broke where a Canadian guy was playing the exact same game as a hobby and had traded for a house.

So basically, the company I was with had a deliciously news-worthy story that, if played out, could have gotten them huge media; there was just no understanding of its potential. To the company, it was just a little paper clip game, a clever little game hidden amongst hundreds of pages of games and curriculum that we were doing. Ever seen that final scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark where the Ark of the Covenant is put into a crate and wheeled into a government warehouse full of a million identical crates?

Is the secret of life sitting in someone’s hard drive or box in the attic?

Every now and then I read a story about someone finding old recordings of Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan in a forgotten attic, and I wonder what else is out there - not just music, but science and technology, communication and literature.

What wondrous ideas are already born but don't have a spotlight? Some ideas lie dormant due to lack of initiative or belief. Some lie wounded due to companies rejecting them.

What are you sitting on right now that needs a lift?