Risk, Uncertainty

Strategic Intelligence on a Rainy Night

It was a dark and stormy night, but you wouldn’t have known it inside the brightly lit and charming home of the organizer of last week’s salon gathering featuring a timely and informative talk by the author, Michael Maccoby, of a new book, Strategic Intelligence: Conceptual Tools for Leading Change (Oxford University Press, 2015). True to form, this salon–held in the heart of Washington,D.C.– convened a diverse array of professionals, including a photographer, a portrait painter, members of the military and national media, teachers, an energy research expert, consultants, psychologists, retired think tank professionals, and recent university graduates.

Lead Speaker Image 1

Illustration: Pencil and ink sketch by Black Elephant Blog author

Salons seem to be pretty rare in this age of instant news and busy schedules.  This form of idea exchange has been around for several hundred years, perhaps reaching its height of popularity in the 18th century…  On this evening, what brought us together, in these uncertain times less than a week after the devastating attacks in Paris and Beirut, was the subject of leadership.

After the dinner plates were cleared, the evening’s speaker, Dr. Michael Maccoby, took his place in front of the hearth where he faced the approximately 30-40 guests who were seated in the living room and into the hallway.

Attendees 1

Illustration: Pencil and ink sketch by Black Elephant Blog author

Dr. Maccoby has worked in many corporations and taught at several universities, and spent several decades studying what effective leadership entails.  His academic background is in psychology and anthropology and he also has focused for many years on issues related to technology, work , and character.  He also studied philosophy as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the New College Oxford.

Speaker 1

Illustration: Pencil and ink sketch by Black Elephant blog author

He noted that there are countless studies available on leadership, many of them so deeply flawed that one leadership expert has even published a book called, “Leadership B.S.”  He offered his insights based on many decades of research and dealing directly on these issues with people in positions of leadership in both commercial and government fields.  He noted that there are many definitions of leadership but all fall short. Leadership is not, however, management.  He suggested that the interesting question is not the definition but instead:  “Why are people following this leader?”

“Some very effective leaders are not easy to characterize,” said Maccoby, mentioning names of some people he’s met whom many in the world associate with the concept of “leaders” but who do not actually fit the bill. In addition, leadership training often is very bad because it is decoupled from context, separated from the work, underestimates people’s capabilities, and the people “who go into leadership training programs often don’t want to be dealing with people.”

But leaders all need to work in teams; “even narcissistic leaders only succeed if they create a team.”  Maccoby added:

  • “A great leader creates a common purpose that others will buy… “
  • “The best leaders have developed a philosophy.”

Great leaders have three qualities, according to Maccoby:

  1. Purpose
  2. Passion about purpose
  3. Courage

Maccoby quoted Samuel Johnson as saying that “courage is probably the most important” quality because nothing can be accomplished without it.  “Courage comes from the heart… it is different from bravery,” said Maccoby.

Effective leaders also have “profound knowledge” and “insight from the heart rather than the intellect,” added Maccoby.  “One of the major challenges today is to move from tribalism to interactive humanism,” he said, so these attributes are ever more necessary to coping successfully with the complex challenges of our world.

The U.S. constitution is based on such a philosophy, he added.

In this context, “strategic intelligence” is a quality of an effective leader.  Its essential attributes are:

  1. First and foremost, “foresight.”  An effective leader is always aware of changing threats and opportunities. (Maccoby added that studies have shown that the weakest quality of the U.S. government [historically] is “strategy,” suggesting that this is an area that needs attention.)
  2. Vision” is the second attribute of an effective leader. It involves “taking what you see and creating something.”
  3. An effective leader is also adept at “systems thinking.”  He or she can envision a system that will bring you where you want to be.
  4. An effective leader also is engaged in “partnering” not only internally but externally to the leader’s organization.
  5. He or she also engages and continually motivates people, enabled in doing so through their “profound knowledge.”  This knowledge [as explained in Maccoby’s book] involves understanding of systems, variation, and knowledge creation, as well as motivation.
  6. An effective leader also understands psychology.
Book Cover 1

Illustration: Photo of Book

The phrase “strategic intelligence” is composed of “strategy”, which means “the art or skill of careful planning toward an advantage or desired end” and “intelligence,” which means “the faculty of understanding; intellect.”  In Dr. Maccoby’s book, he explains the skills needed for strategic intelligence and examines four different primary leadership types.  He notes the work of a psychologist, Robert Sternberg, who distinguished between different types of understanding and different sets of intellectual skills.  For instance:

“Analytical intelligence,” writes Maccoby, “is the type tested in IQ exams.”  It includes analysis, memory, logic, and problem solving.  Analytic intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient for strategic intelligence.  Someone with only this kind of understanding and ability will do well on tests but not in relationships.”

Doing well in relationships requires “practical intelligence,” notes Maccoby, which is a “kind of understanding necessary for partnering and motivating, but it is not enough for foresight and visioning.”

Foresight and visioning requires “creative intelligence,” including “pattern recognition essential to making sense of changes in the business environment that either threaten or indicate opportunities for the organization,” writes Maccoby in his new book.  “Visioning requires systems thinking, the ability to see the interaction of elements that combine to achieve a purpose, and imagination.”

A Q&A period followed Dr. Maccoby’s presentation.  Differences among audience members occasionally sparked debate, sometimes over things which happened over 20 years ago, reminding us that understanding our past is also key to strategic intelligence.  As the daily headlines suggest, mounting complexity, ambiguity, and contradictions are demanding  alot not just of leaders but of individuals around the world.  Effectively leading change in such a context is a challenge which deserves careful study.   Dr. Maccoby’s latest work makes an important contribution which hopefully will get the attention it deserves from those who need his insights the most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Carousel Study

The fall’s been spectacular here, with nearly every day too nice to spend inside. Between meetings, a fantastic opportunity to see original John Singer Sargent watercolors up close, and driving from point A to point B, however, it’s been tough to get a sketch in.

But here’s an attempt this week to capture the twilight and the fading but still beautiful fall colors as a carousel made its last rounds of the year opposite the American Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Carousel 4

Illustration: Watercolor and pen and ink study by Black Elephant Blog author

Next up on this blog, coverage of an excellent in-town and in-home salon event this week–an event that gathered attendees from diverse fields including the military, art, the media, consulting, energy research, and psychology–featuring the author of a new book on Strategic Intelligence: Conceptual Tools for Leading Change, Michael Maccoby, (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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Innovation, Risk, Surprise, ucertainty

Makerspace Sketches

A visit to a makerspace this weekend provided powerful reminders of what human ingenuity, collaboration, appropriate workspaces, and tools–as well as simply just playing around–can produce in the way of innovation and goodness for the world. In this space, people were playing games, making leather boots (!), working on a global challenge competition to design a drone that can deliver relief supplies to remote areas cut off by natural disasters, and painting (and sketching) :-).

Makerspaces are places where people’s ideas can come alive, and where the tools and other equipment are readily available–and similarly inventive people (and sometimes organizations) provide ready support.

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

They are part of the natural movement of the “democratization” of know-how which–of course, as the sad events in the global space this weekend tragically reminded us–can be harnessed for good or ill.  Hopefully makerspaces such as this can produce more inventors of better futures than the one that threatened the world in Paris, and devastated so many lives, this past weekend.

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

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Uncategorized

Faces at the Rodin Museum

Illustration:  Watercolor, waterproof Platinum Carbon pen and ink, and Pen-touch Gold ink by Black Elephant blog author

Illustration: Watercolor, waterproof Platinum Carbon pen and ink, and Pen-touch Gold ink by Black Elephant blog author

In Philadelphia on this Veterans’ Day, I had the chance to stop into the Rodin Museum following a lovely lunch with a long-time colleague and friend over at the Barnes Foundation Museum. Rodin 2 A few steps away from the Barnes, an astounding place which overwhelms the senses (and simply must be seen to be believed), was this quiet monument to Rodin.

Framed by glistening fall leaves still damp from the recent rain, the museum was an oasis away from crowds.  Only a few people were visiting it, and in its small galleries I was often the only visitor–amidst a great many distinguished faces, however, including of persons I’d only read about but never before seen.  In the side rooms, tables were arrayed with books about Rodin, and it was permissible to sketch the sculptures and busts, a daunting but inviting prospect.  As the staff began to arrange the rooms for a private event, including a dinner, I was encouraged even to stay and sketch, which I did first in pencil, and later in this  ink wash as an experiment.  It was fun to imagine what a private dinner party would be like in the extraordinary center hall of this peaceful place, but I left long before the guests arrived.

Illustration: Ink wash sketch in Higgins Sepia Calligraphy non-waterproof ink on Stillman & Birn Alpha series paper

Illustration: Ink wash sketch in Higgins Sepia Calligraphy non-waterproof ink on Stillman & Birn Alpha series paper

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Uncategorized

Still Lifes from Audubon to Warhol in Philadelphia

Passing through Philadelphia this week, today was a fine day–full of heavy clouds and steady drizzle–to visit the new exhibition of American still lifes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Arrayed in a generous space, it was easy to follow the curators’ concept for the display.  This was not a day to be out in the rain more than you had to be, but some workmen in front of the museum were busy putting up the Christmas tree. It was quite an undertaking, with cranes, trucks, and cables.  One could see that, were this tree to topple, it would be quite a to-do.  But there were no mishaps, and gradually holiday lights are appearing all over the place!

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink sketch by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink sketch by Black Elephant Blog author

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Surprise

Brews, Views, and News

Illustrations: Artists at work in the back of a brewery

Illustrations: Artists at work in the back of a brewery

There are people who sketch every day, and others who would like to sketch every day but don’t for whatever reason. Sometimes these artists meet to sketch or paint together, and today one such group met in the back of a popular brewery with the prior permission of the manager.

Illustration: Sketch of Costumed Model at the artists' meeting in the brewery, November, 2015

Illustration: Sketch of Costumed Model at the artists’ meeting in the brewery by Black Elephant Blog author, November, 2015 (Staedtler Mechanical Pencil O.5 mm and Prang sketch pencil on Strathmore drawing paper)

We sketched from a costumed model who posed holding a cup and reading a paper. Nearby, other customers gathered around a screen watching a football game.

Illustration: Photo of a Sunday afternoon in the suburbs

Illustration: Photo of a Sunday afternoon in the suburbs

It was a pleasant setting, and great occasion for meeting other artists in the area!

And an opportunity to discover some new beers!

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Risk, Surprise

Taking Note: Art, Torpedos, and John Singer Sargent

Hundreds of art-lovers crowded last night into the Torpedo Factory on the waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia to hear a long-awaited talk by Richard Ormond, a Victorian painting specialist, art curator, former deputy director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, and expert and author of several books on John Singer Sargent, an acclaimed American 19th century artist.

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and Platinum Carbon pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

For two hours, the attendees sat on metal folding chairs arrayed on the concrete flooring and beneath the dim light, exposed pipes, and fire sprinklers of the Torpedo Factory’s art gallery atrium.  Due to the narrowness of the hall, more than half the audience relied on a second  projection screen set up mid-way in the atrium.  Others were perched on seats on a narrow overhead bridge connecting the two sides of the gallery.  Some were dressed up as if attending an event at the Kennedy Center, apparently happily oblivious to the warehouse-like surroundings.  There was a buzz of excitement inside but outside still more hopeful attendees unfortunately were being turned away at the door.  (This free event was solidly booked and “sold out” by late summer, if I remember correctly.)  This was the event to be at at the bottom of King Street last night!

Amid the torpedo relics still on display in this popular art gallery and school (once an actual torpedo factory, as its name suggests), Ormond presented a lecture that reviewed Sargent’s life and works chronologically.

Illustration: Photo of new book on John Singer Sargent with introduction by Richard Ormand

Illustration: Photo of new book on John Singer Sargent with introduction by Richard Ormond

A grand-nephew himself of John Singer Sargent–whose sister, Violet, was Ormond’s grandmother–Ormond weaved personal details and black-and-white photos from his childhood into his talk.  Images of Ormond and his brothers as young children flashed up on the screen briefly, for instance, sitting on a wall in Switzerland on what he described their first outing away from London so recently under siege in World War II.  Sitting in an old torpedo factory which was the site of feverish activity at that exact time and listening to this gentle art expert was a study in contrasts in itself.

For anyone reasonably well-read on Sargent’s story, it is unlikely there was anything really new or riveting in this talk.  Indeed, in the short Q&A session which followed, the apparently previously submitted questions were those meant for an expert curator such as Ormond and even concerned future exhibition plans of the letters and works of another artist.  These were the questions of specialists for a specialist.  But, a day later, there were a few points Ormond made that linger in the mind:

  • He noted that Sargent maintained an “active dialogue” (through perceptive observation, not speaking) with his sitters, so that his portraits conveyed the liveliness, the powerful personalities, and even the “tigress”, in one case, that was in his models.  Sargent’s analysis was not one of passive disengagement and objectivity. He was capturing, and captive of, the essence of his models–a very subjective approach to interpreting reality.
  • Ormond also noted that Sargent considered “public art,” such as the murals he trained himself to paint, the highest form of art (as opposed to art held in private collections).  This is one reason he resisted selling his watercolors.
  • Ormond also displayed a photo of the artist’s oil painting of “Gassed” from 1919 showing British soldiers blinded from the use by the enemy of mustard gas in World War I.

    Illustration: Image from Wikipedia

    Illustration: Image from Wikipedia

Perhaps the biggest take-away of the event was the appearance and bearing of the speaker himself, someone who has devoted a half a century to the study and promotion primarily of John Singer Sargent, and whose familiarity with exhibits and the world of museums and archives is therefore likely second to none.  A second takeaway was the makeup of the audience, generally older afficionados of this art community, many of them past and current students in the Art League School.  It was, in this sense, a powerful community event combining both appreciation of a great artist’s powers of observation and appreciation of beauty at a time when our sensibilities and priorities globally sometimes seem dulled to both.

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