Do you have hope?

Do you have hope? Seriously. I don’t mean silly optimism, or giddy cheerfulness. I mean deep down, in the belly, gut feeling, visceral and primitive hope. The kind of hope that comes from knowing you have to work hard to make it a reality. That kind of hope. All last week, whenever I spoke with friends and colleagues from just about anywhere in the world, I felt that kind of hope. They shared it; they voiced it; they pledged it.

Why? Because the new President of the United States – Barack Obama – gave fuel to their hope.

Let me be clear – this is not a political screed. And I am not being partisan or USA-centric to a global audience. To the contrary – I never brought up the issue in those calls – my friends always made the point, always asked the questions or voiced their feelings.

To that end, I’d like to look at President Obama’s speech:

and see what we can learn from it and maybe apply to what we do and who we are.

Even his biggest critics will agree that Obama is a great speaker – in fact, some would argue that he is all rhetoric. And when you look and listen to his inaugural address, it was not his greatest oratory, or his longest and most detailed road map for the next four years. Yet it struck a chord and inspired just about everyone I know – everywhere. Why?

I have given it much thought and I must thank two good friends: one EN – a psychologist and unrepentant rocker – and the second RJR – a religious leader and English Literature Professor, who unwittingly and at different times during the week gave me the answer.

Listen to this:

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides.” – Artur Schnabel

Read and listen to Obama again. Look for the quotes and references that you might have expected to hear. Look for the way he might have filled the pages with references to one set of experiences; look for the way he could have saturated each page with specific road signs based on a singular journey; more importantly, look at what he did say and balance it against what he didn’t say. Listen for the “pauses between the notes.”

Now listen to this – the amplifying quote:

“Music is the silence between the notes.” – Claude Debussy

And in his silence, many around the world made their own music. He articulated a vision – a big vision – he made clear his intent – but he let his audience apply it to themselves and their own situations, needs, desires, wants.

Easy to be cynical – and there were many cynics – easy to ask where are the tactics, where is the substance. I’d argue it’s all there if you let yourself listen to the “real” music.

There is an old saying amongst musicians – play the instrument not the notes – ergo – changing the world – or even your own small corner of it is up to you and me.

Apply this notion to everything we do. How often do we feel the need to fill every page we show with wall to wall words; to fill every moment of possible discussion with “important” presentation, or as a blog I found put it:

* A software company that adds features so quickly that users never have a chance to organically evolve their use of the app in a way that nobody imagined. Obviously this depends heavily on the type of product, but figuring out the ideal “space for user evolution” is one of the tricky parts.

Note: this is not necessarily the same as featuritis – where the company adds too damn MANY features and hurts usability. This is about introducing things based on current use of the product without allowing time for new uses to emerge.

* A church that fills every space of a service…conducts every prayer…never allowing the member/attendee a chance to reflect.

* Toys that specify explicit, carefully constrained use. (When the best toy, as Stephen just mentioned in the comments of my previous post, could be the open-ended, use-your-imagination box that the over-featured toy came in.)

* A speaker that never pauses. Not all pauses are awkward. Pauses aren’t necessarily – to use the radio term – dead air – they may be the most alive part of the conversation or presentation. The pause is usually where all the interesting things happen in the other person’s head! [Note to self: it won’t kill you to shut up.]

* The graphic design that allows no white space, or does not respect the “weight” of that space.

* The movie that explicitly describes every detail, allowing no room for personal interpretation. Where every character says exactly what they’re feeling and thinking.

* The article or blog post that just keeps hammering…relentlessly…without any space for the reader to use their own imagination. Without space for the reader’s neurons to do anything but let the words flow by and right back out. Like, say, this one.

[insert space]

[allow pause for reflection]

So there you have it – my hope is built on and in the spaces; the silence…..

[insert space]

[pause for reflection]


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