Emerging Organizations – Let’s Start with YOU !


So, the emergent organizations movement is not about the company, the entity, or the person who writes your paycheck.  But there is a key element here that involves creating a TEAM (sorry, no I). IAI spent the weekend investigating partnerships in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Frankly, there are entrepreneurs eagerly seeking to partner with American entrepreneurs. And, all you hear in these conversations is “Sir”, “thanks”, “next call”, “let’s move forward”. The naysayers, second-guessers, the can’t do people are not on the line. Some actually celebrate the U.S., still, and know that we are a nation of loving parents, creators, innovators and often hold the line by ourselves. but proudly and stoutly.

During this holiday season, when you see a person struggling, give. When you see a fellow entrepreneur asking for your advice, offer it freely. When you see an opportunity to partner, find out what your potential partner needs.


Picture Credit: Pinterest – Solar Storm

When you think you have an idea, share it. If you think it is stupid, get over it. If you respect someone among your friends or co-workers, then offer the idea. Find the right time, don’t be shy but know your audience and pick your right time. On occasion, your friend may be facing a deadline or even a crisis – not a good time to pitch your idea. That’s a time to offer to help him or her get through it. Believe me, I just went through it.A brilliant inventor I know had his laptop stolen and he can’t afford a new one. So I am sending him mine, fully loaded with app software but not the engineering tools he uses, I will learn where to find them but he simply needs a toolket. The rest is magic from his incredible brain and his passionate, creative soul. That spirit I will support in every regard.

Mentors change your life as they impart experience. There is a fascinating Chain Reaction Innovations program at Argonne National Labs located here:

A key component of the Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) program is business mentorship. In addition to the world-class scientific and technical support CRI will provide innovators, participants will also get assistance developing business strategies, conducting market research, and finding long-term financing and potential commercial partners.

If you interact with a sales or service rep and they are helpful or nice, then ask to speak with their supervisor or boss and give that person credit. If you walk down the street and pick up trash, then do it without seeking recognition. Change EVERYTHING you do in a shift away from selfishness. And the rewards you reap will be meaningful. Just for you, and your family. and your circle of friends. AND a few others…


Emergent Organizations- An Impressive Model for Adaptive Business Culture


Picture Credit: Doug Priebe, Shutterstock

This is the first article in an ongoing series on the Emergent Era. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. (Comment: IAI believe that this is one of the most important insights I’ve read about business innovation in years. What’s compelling to IAI is that this presents a workable model for the Adaptive Business Culture).

In the wake of Brexit and the election of US president Donald Trump, it’s clear that big global changes are afoot. But before we can begin to explain how these unexpected, tumultuous events will impact our lives, we have more fundamental questions to answer. How has our widely accepted picture of reality fallen so far behind the true scope and pace of change? How can the systems we use to synthesize our collective opinions and motivations keep pace? What other major, near-term events might be in our blind spot?

The answer is so large that it has become difficult to see, yet it has urgent implications for everything we do. It’s this: as our planet-wide, instantaneous digital nervous system grows, it is causing a mass reorganization of people, money, information, and things. Our digital information flow has become the main driver of change—and we need new frameworks to understand and anticipate what’s coming next.

One of those frameworks is known as emergence. Up until recently, it’s been used primarily to explain natural systems. Basically, the term describes how, when individual agents interact en masse according to a set of simple rules, highly complex structures and behaviors emerge. The billions of neurons that join together in a brain, the multitude of birds in a flock, and the individual ants in a colony are all examples of emergent systems in nature

We’re seeing this same dynamic everywhere today—but in human systems. Emergent properties are what allow the ranks of individual circuits, weak on their own, to join together into a powerful computer. And because of computers, and especially their continuing extension into the physical world via the Internet of Things, emergence has become one of the key forces reshaping our institutions and essential systems.

One characteristic of emergent change is that it seems impossible until it happens, at which point it feels overwhelming, sudden, and inevitable. The moment when water droplets and wind combine into a hurricane is one example. Another example is the moment when, at about 11:00pm Eastern Time in the United States, election predictions made a wild and irrevocable swing in favor of Trump.

In business, emergence explains the huge leaps in value and expansions in functionality that have punctuated the lives of successful start-ups. When a network of people, linked by a new information stream in the form of an app or connected device passes a certain threshold in size, emergence kicks in, and the network doesn’t just get bigger, it transforms.
As of 2016, for example, Facebook has grown so populous that it is no longer just a social network. Through changes in the atomic content contributions of its two-billion plus users, it has become a de facto political organizer, advertiser, news company, video company, and a marketplace for goods and even jobs. By the time you are reading this, it is likely to have acquired or evolved even more functions. Similar things are happening across the world as other networks, like Tencent’s WeChat in China, continue to expand rapidly. Together, these platforms link together 2.55 billion people, just a little over a third of the world’s population.
For business, the environment created by this massive shift toward connectivity means that the most valuable companies for some time to come will continue to be those presiding over the reorganization of assets and experiences around the digital information flow.


Picture Credit: IAI – Modified picture of the October 2016 Supermoon

Two of Silicon Valley’s most celebrated and studied start-ups, Uber (worth $62 billion as of this writing) and AirBnB (worth $25 billion), are precisely these types of companies. Neither invented or makes the key asset they trade in (transportation in the case of Uber and lodging in the case of AirBnB). But both provided a new stream of information that equipped individual agents (people with smartphones) to respond in new but consistent ways to the real time location of those assets. The interaction of Uber and AirBnB users as a network lead to the emergence of new behaviors and new markets built on them.

It’s as if ants were given a new set of rules by which to respond to their immediate environment, or brain cells a new set of commands to relay signals. In any system with the potential for emergence, a small change in what economist Thomas Schelling calls micromotives can lead to radically different macrostructures. And in The Emergent Era, with its profusion of new, ambient information streams, human micromotives are changing all the time.

To get a sense of the sheer scale of our new information streams, consider that in the next 18-24 months, a full one-third of the global population will be going online for the first time. By 2020, there will be over 50 billion machines connected to the internet. This presents a unique challenge to those who have to shepherd organizations through this period of change. All the rules and subsequent benefits that have come with command-and-control style bureaucracies no longer apply. The word bureaucracy itself is an artifact of old information technology. A bureau is a writing desk, a physical enclosure for information, fixed in one place, around which power and people tend to accumulate like fat around a cell. Bureaucracies were necessary when information was scarce. But in The Emergent Era, bureaucratic structures act as bottlenecks for information and inevitably throttle change. Organizations should instead use these six concepts to adapt to life in The Emergent Era.
 1. Organize around information flows; ditch hierarchy and bureaucracy.

An adaptive business culture begins with a radically open communication system. It’s only when people have access to real-time data and believe they have permission to both pass it on and act on it, that you get the speed and resiliency that characterize emergent structures.

Emergent systems in nature are a good reminder of what the stakes are. If you erase the pheromone trails left by ants, the colony loses direction. Disrupt the human nervous system, and the result is confusion or paralysis. Unlike natural systems, there is no automatic mechanism in human institutions to keep the lines of communication open. That job falls to everyone who is responsible for shaping a company’s culture and core beliefs, at every level, and often at every moment of the day.
Picture Credit: Pinterest
 2. Empower individuals

Really empower them. No matter what our official title in an organization may be, everybody needs to get over the illusion that by controlling others, we can control outcomes. Because of accelerated change, we are all, by necessity, becoming collaborators rather than merely managers and employees. In the Emergent Era, it’s best for organizations to mimic emergent systems in nature by distributing the decision making process as widely across the network as possible. In effect, to empower individual “cells” to relay signals and respond to their local conditions as they see fit, when they see fit.

 3. Replace long lists of rules with a good M.O.

By M.O. I don’t just mean modus operandi, a characteristic way of doing things. I also mean “mission objective” and “mindset orientation.” A good M.O. is an intuitive habit of mind that connects the larger vision of an organization with the immediate, tactical objectives of a person or team. It is part habit and part intuition, somewhere between mission and mindset. Leaders provide a vision while allowing their teams to find their own route to achieving it, with room to experiment along the way.

An M.O. can be a powerful tool for unleashing creativity within an organization, because it combines skilled perception with speed and fluidity of execution. An employee with a well-developed M.O. will have a knack for recombining the skills and assets of their organization in new ways in the same way that a jazz improviser recombines notes. Both make decisions partly according to a kind of muscle memory of the established rules and partly according to the unique possibilities and requirements of the moment.
 4. Establish feedback loops. They are critical.

Don’t be afraid of feedback—seek it, give it, use it—but make sure it’s the right feedback. Healthy, adaptive systems tend to be highly feedback tolerant. That doesn’t mean they merely amplify the signals that flow through them; they sometimes dampen those signals by incorporating “negative” feedback. Despite the negative connotation of the phrase, the results of negative feedback are actually positive. It’s the mechanism our bodies use to maintain the right temperature and blood sugar levels, and it’s the way people and processes in organizations stay in accord with larger strategies and goals.

In a company where the information flow is obstructed by bureaucracy, or by managers who create a culture which disproportionately rewards people who confirm existing beliefs, healthy feedback is impossible. For a system to be adaptive, it needs to create regular conditions tolerant of both positive and negative feedback.

5. Learn to Live in the “In-Between”

Learning to live in the In Between is a mindset change—perhaps the defining mindset change—of The Emergent Era. It means abandoning the idea that we can operate with total knowledge, or even with the certainty that the tools we have are sufficient to address the possibilities and problems that face us.

As these new digitally-shaped structure formed, what’s emerging is also disrupting. It isn’t fully clear, and it hasn’t scaled. But emerge it will. There will be many new things that emerge, even if they aren’t fully formed, or we dismiss them as too insignificant, or worse, too crazy. More data faster is creating more options, but not absolute certainty. We must be creative how we deal with constant change, track early signals int he noise, create multiple options and most importantly, keep moving forward.
 6. Tap into the power of minds and machines together.

The work of the future won’t be dominated by people or technology. It will emerge from the collaboration between people and technology.

 As tools, the progress of AI and machine learning in all industries is starting to follow a pattern. Repetitive work is being obviated, freeing up humans to provide the finesse, creativity, or strategic thinking needed to finish the job.

For companies and individual employees, the combination of a good M.O. and a powerful A.I. will seem at first impossible, then inevitable, and finally invincible. In the Emergent Era, companies that combine a transparent, reliable information flow, a sound feedback system, and meaningful intelligence will see solutions to their problems consistently and spontaneously emerge—before they become a catastrophe or emergency to confront. Emergence-ready organizations need to adopt an agile, adaptive decision-making formula optimized for our accelerating world—with its unprecedented levels of speed and unpredictability.

But even in this new era, some things will remain the same. Emergent organizations will still need leaders to hire the right people, define goals, values, and beliefs, and provide and point to sources of inspiration and renewal. Ant colonies and brain cells don’t need visionaries—but human institutions always will.


Looking for Leaders? Look First to your coach, then your Captains !


Picture Credit: Yale University

As an Eli, IAI admires the 22 year tenure of a true gentleman, Thomas A. Beckett, Athletic Director at Yale University. Tom has been consistent in his Boola Boola career: “Athletics at Yale builds on a great competitive tradition as well as the outstanding talents of our coaches and student athletes.” What IAI really likes about Tom is that he updated the Yale Athletic Department mission statement a couple of years ago: “WIN, AND OFTEN” right? Not quite, the focus is on leadership:

The mission of Yale varsity athletics is to attract outstanding student athletes, who aspire to undertake the challenge of a high-level education while proudly representing Yale University in the pursuit of championships. Through exceptional facilities and coaches, Yale Athletics ensures that our students learn the important values of leadership, integrity, discipline and teamwork.  The aspiration is that in the course of preparation and competition, students enter a co-curricular laboratory for learning that will fit them to lead in all of their future endeavors.

Make winning a TEAM Habit: When he was reappointed to a second five year term in 1997, President Levin lauded him, “Tom has worked tirelessly and effectively to revitalize Yale’s athletic facilities and to develop community outreach programs that link us with the young people of New Haven.” He set as his goal then, the New York Times reported, “to be champion of champions.” One of the greatest football coaches of all time, Vince Lombardi declared, “Winning is an all-time thing; winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”


Picture Credit: Quotesgram

Seek out mentors, and define your vision: From his own foundation site, Vince is acknowledged for “his ability to teach, motivate and inspire players helped turn the Green Bay Packers into the most dominating NFL team in the 1960s. A tireless worker, Vince ” started his coaching career at West Point in 1949, while learning under the direction of the great Red Blaik. (Under his mentor Blaik), Lombardi identified and developed what became the hallmark of his great teams……simplicity and execution.”

Inspire your family of scholar-athletes and always be ready to play: Hanover High School Girls Ice Hockey Coach John Dodds was inducted into the New Hampshire Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016. John’s teams have won seven straight New Hampshire state titles (NHIAA Division 1) and explained in the Valley News, “It’s like any game: We emphasized being focused and ready to go right off the bat.” The Hanover High School Girls’ Ice Hockey program is likely the oldest girls’ public high school ice hockey programs in the country, playing competitively against secondary and preparatory schools in New England since 1987. The team’s web site makes the mission clear: “Excellence on the ice and in the classroom are team expectations and traditions, as are community service, and a team vibe and morale based on a family-like culture.”


Picture Credit: HNIB-news.com -John in the middle

Put your best foot forward: Recently, Yale opted to outfit all sports teams with new equipment from UnderArmour under a full departmental partnership which now encompasses 20 schools (Maryland, Notre Dame, Auburn, the Naval Academy and others) – a phenomenon that Ideas About Innovation showcased on September 29th, 2016 here.

There is no “I” in team: Part of the culture of TEAM is the uniform, the cheers, the competitive spirit and, yes, the mascot. Yale Athletics conducted a national search for the next mascot after the passing of Sherman (Handsome Dan XVII) until it located an Olde English Bulldogge who was born on Sept. 23, 2016, and is a true New Englander, coming from a breeder in Maine and delivered for “mascot training” two weeks ago. Yale was the first American university to embrace a mascot way back in 1890.

The Future of Finance: Seeking Initiatives on a Fintech Policy Framework


Picture Credit: Business Insight Intelligence

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a fast-growing industry destined to transform homes, cities, farms, factories, and practically everything else by making them smart and more efficient. According to Gartner, by 2020, there will be more than 20 billion connected things across the globe, powering a market that will be worth north of $3 trillion. Fintech is one of the most compelling areas for IoT as it is driven by blockchain into the Internet of Value.

In a compelling book called The Business Blockchain, technologist  and Virtual Capital Ventures general partner William Mougayar champions blockchain as the tech world’s next killer app. In this study of blockchain’s potential (you can read or listen to on getAbstract here), “he outlines a future in which blockchain will seamlessly underlie banking relationships, store medical records and issue passports, all through a secure process. Mougayar acknowledges that blockchain has garnered ample hype, and details the obstacles stalling a blockchain world.  Mougayar argues convincingly here that blockchain holds a position similar to the Internet’s in 1997 – poised to unleash a massive, world-changing breakthrough.” Toronto resident Bill has a lot of credibility: previously a Mentor at The Next36, Evangelist at Influitive focused on Advocate Marketing, Founder & CEO of Engagio, Founder & CEO, web publisher Eqentia and an entrepreneur with 31+ years of Technology industry experience who offers a lot of free resources for entrepreneurs here at Startup Management.

Amazon explains why this book is important:

Blockchains are new technology layers that rewire the Internet and threaten to side-step older legacy constructs and centrally served businesses. At its core, a blockchain injects trust into the network, cutting off some intermediaries from serving that function and creatively disrupting how they operate. Metaphorically, blockchains are the ultimate non-stop computers. Once launched, they never go down, and offer an incredible amount of resiliency, making them dependable and attractive for running a new generation of decentralized services and software applications.

The Deutsche Bourse offered a definitive Fintech study this summer with its venture arm DB1 Ventures and Celent, a unit of global consultancy Oliver Wyman. DB1 is already investing in Fintech and DB awaits regulatory approval for the German bourse’s merger with the London Stock Exchange.  The Business Insight (BI Intelligence) graphic above illustrates that there is an enormous amount of investment flowing to this business process improvement space. Wealth and Capital Markets estimates for flows total $19B spread over 1200 deals in 2015 and over $40B YTD, according to Venture Scanner. Also, CB Insights offers a great series of slide decks free from their recent conference on blockchain.


All this activity begs the question, how is the financial and regulatory policy framework responding to the broad adoption of blockchain? First, a number of open standards initiatives are emerging: the R3 Consortium, ISITC Europe, the Etherium Foundation, and on and on, as the creation of blockchain standards is a key step towards improving process and margins for companies that use distributed ledger technology..  Goldman Sachs and Santander Bank just left the R3 Consortium, as reported in CoinDesk, but most members are likely to stay. R3 was seeking to raise capital from its members but already charges them annual membership fees. According to The Wall Street Journal, the bank  notably intends to continue developing blockchain projects on its own as it remains an investor in blockchain technology startups Circle and Digital Asset Holdings.

Blockchain has polymorphic characteristics so its application will result in a multiplicity of effects. For policymakers, there will also be problems that cross organizational, regulatory and legal boundaries. The ITISC efforts at creating Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) standards features three “wholistic” benchmarks (governance, legal and regulation) and seven that are technological. Internet pioneer Tim Berner-Lee’s global Internet standards organization, the W3C is seeking member support to broaden the openness and interoperability mission to distributed ledgers. Blockchain industry leaders at a recent conference hosted by W3C discussed how to accommodate a range of specialty blockchains created for everything from credit default swaps to managing global supply chains.


Ultimately, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), founded on 23 February 1947, will be involved to promote worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial standards in blockchain. Now is the time for professional financial credentials organizations like the CFA Institute to become involved in these debates as en element of their Future of Finance educational and policy framework. Right now, the Fintech adoption curve is not expected to be rapid but we disagree.  IAI has been a CFA since 1989 and their initiative here is critical to ensuring that trust is earned and retained in service to the public:

Together with our global CFA membership body of investment professionals, we are uniquely positioned to shape a trustworthy financial industry. Our goal is to provide tools to motivate and empower the world of finance to become an environment where investor interests come first, markets function at their best, and economies grow.

Dynamics Shaping the Future in the “Age of the Consumer” -Forrester


Picture Credit: NASA/ GSFC (artist rendering of solar winds on Mars)

Forrester highlights the dynamics shaping the future (in 2017) of the consumer experience and the changes are coming quickly and overwhelmingly like a the solar wind shown above. Navigating the change is going to require a blend of business reassessment, idea leadership, a focus on the customer experience and intelligent application of technology to transform business. The customer-led, digital-centric market is being driven by widespread adoption of “Millennial-like” behaviors (hooray!). CRM expert Kate Leggett cites Forrester Research that 21% of US consumers are “Progressive Pioneers” that lead the demand for innovation. Cliff Condon declares that Forrester’s  Empowered Customer Segmentation shows that “more than a third all US online adults want new and engaging digital experiences. They will switch companies to find these experiences.” So this signals a tsunami…


Picture Credit: French Senate (senat.fr)

Forrester cites these examples:

  • Banks try to innovate before digital banks become formidable competitors;
  • Big-branded retailers confront the digital threat with store closings and amped-up omnichannel and mobile efforts;
  • Manufacturers get serious about their digital business;
  • Relationship-driven investment firms try to adapt to the encroachment of tech titans; and
  • Utility companies launch customer experience (CX) initiatives to influence consumption habits and change their operations

IAI believes that the reinvigorated focus of businesses on the consumer is bring driven forcefully by technology firms looking to dramatically re-engineer customer engagement processes. Branding is being deeply embedded in technology data acquisition tools to customize routines but these approaches should all require customer “consent” and “opt-outs” and not collection of privacy-intrusion data. Facilitators offering end user “dashboards” should engage clients like fiduciaries and can embrace anonymized meta data collection approaches to earn client trust, creating a shared trusted advisory network (STAN). IAI believe that the concept of “propagation velocity” can be applied to STAN deployments.


Picture Credit: CORDIS European Union (cordis.europa.eu)

Forrester points out some striking trends underway:

Widespread Restructuring: One third of businesses are restructuring by devolving operational controls to brands and divisions to move closer to the customer experience, at considerable risk;

Customer-driven Matrix Structure: Replacing traditional silo-based functional relationships, these new matrices will “leverage shared functions to protect margin”;

CEO Turnover in Half of Firms: Forrester research shows a clear correlation between the quality of customer experiences and revenue growth and affirms that emotion is a core driver of customer loyalty and spending.

“Whole Brained” CMOS Needed: They must embrace both a right brain understanding of the customer experience and left brain embrace of technology and analytics. Marketing Measurement assessments by Forrester show low adoption of analytics by CMOs (Forrester Wave evaluation) ;

CIOs “Grab the Brass Ring”: B2C and B2B firms will need CIOs to lay out technology adoption strategy paths in an environment where tech budgets are forecast to grow at just 1.4%- a tall order: and

Trust is the core element: CX professionals must build client trust into every process when designing experiences that delight customers and contribute to P&L performance.

To learn more, download Forrester’s predictions guide. This guide is the front-end to 16 unique predictions that executives can use to budget, prioritize, and plan customer-obsessed strategies.



Anti-innovation: Lessons from the Lone Ranger


Picture Credit: Collider.com

Hat Tip to Forbes as IAI started writing this blog and realized that the coin can be flipped. But, really, anti-innovation is retrograde !

As companies experience success, their emphasis tends to shift to protecting and maintaining the status quo versus considering new opportunities and products. Unfortunately, clinging to what has worked in the past puts the brakes on innovation. It also puts you out of touch with your customers’ changing needs — a dangerous circumstance in today’s highly volatile markets. If you’re trying to innovate but not having success, see if any of these apply to your organization.

1. Stuck thinking. This occurs when individuals and teams get so locked into old ideas, attitudes, and assumptions that they don’t take the time to update them. If you haven’t asked yourself within the last three to six months, “What has changed about our customers, our markets, and our industry?” you’ve just taken your first step toward anti-innovation.

2. We’ve always done it that way. When the organizational focus shifts to protecting the status quo, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. When problems arise, people tend to default to the solution that looks most like what has worked in the past rather than exploring new ideas or different ways of doing things.

3. Playing not to lose. As leaders spend more time protecting current assets rather than defining and executing edge-centric strategy, the organizational mindset changes from “play to win” to “play not to lose.” This subtle shift in attitude has a profound impact on how decisions get made and how people behave at all levels of the organization.

4. Customer disconnect. Who has time to talk to customers anymore? We’re running as fast as we can just to get the product out the door! Besides, we know what our customers need and we know the best way to give it to them, right? You won’t hear this attitude spoken out loud. But if you look closely, you can see it driving behavior on a daily basis. If you’re not talking with customers, it also means you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, it’s just a matter of time before you’re no longer relevant to their world.

5. The lone ranger approach. In many companies, one team or small department gets tasked with innovation. That’s like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to take us to Mars. Innovation requires a combination of skills and talents from all areas of the organization. It does not flourish in isolated silos or hidden corners of the organization.

6. Failure not an option. Most organizations don’t tolerate failure very well to begin with. And once the mindset shifts to protecting the golden goose, failure becomes anathema to the organization. But failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not trying or pushing hard enough.

7. Follow the leader mentality. Too often, attempts to innovate occur as a response to a new entry into the market or an existing competitor’s innovation. However, true innovation leads the way rather than attempting to catch up. Don’t ignore what your competitors do in the marketplace. But don’t let it drive your innovation efforts either. Figure out where your customers will need you to be in six months to a year and get there first.

8. Weak hires. Companies looking to protect their success often make a subtle shift in hiring. Rather than new ideas and new energy, people get hired for their ability to “come in and hit the ground running.” Which is another way of saying they won’t rock the boat. As the overall talent level begins to decline, so do new ideas, new thinking, and successful innovation.

9. Lack of know-how. Employees need to have the appropriate skills and abilities to discover, evaluate, and execute on the best ideas. If you don’t invest the time and money to constantly develop those skills, don’t expect people to innovate on a consistent basis.

10. Unrealistic expectations. As success begins to slip away, management often begins looking for that one “killer” product or idea that will save the company or at least prolong the life of the cash cow. This tendency to put all the resources into one make-or-break innovation effort usually ends in disaster and disappointment.

Remember, innovation should always link directly to your strategy. And it works when it becomes a way of life rather than a one-time event. Stop clinging to past successes, update your thinking constantly, and you will find it much easier to innovate and thrive in today’s hyper-paced world.


Spiritual Living in a Secular World – Open your Hearts and Minds!


Picture Credit: Auguste Renoir from the WallPaperCave.com

On this post-Election Saturday, IAI is reflecting on Henri J.M. Nouwen’s inspired 1992 treatise called “Life of the Beloved.” This spiritual classic was inspired by a simple request from one friend to another for a book explaining the spiritual life in terms that he and his Jewish friends could understand, avoiding theology and technical language. Nouwen’s answer was, “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved’ (a video of Nouwen’s first sermon is here). The treatise is one bi-product of Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey in 1995 after leaving his pastoral community for the mentally and physically handicapped and, “wherever he goes, he is aware of goodness.” Beloved traverses the hard paths of TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN and GIVEN.

In BLESSED, Nouwen advises, “my suggestion for claiming your blessedness is the cultivation of presence” (p. 79). That exhortation brought me back to the first time I saw paintings of the great Impressionists like Auguste Renoir’s gem above at five years old in the Phillips Gallery in Washington D.C.  which commanded my presence then and later more Impressionist masterworks at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which offers a lovely catalog and tribute. The painting above, the Met notes, was executed in summer 1881, where Renoir often returned (bio detailed here) after first painting for two months in 1869 alongside countryman Claude Monet at La Grenouillère, a boating and bathing establishment outside Paris (29.100.112).

The Met explains beautifully how Renoir evolved as an artist: Renoir began to explore other artistic directions. His doubts about the spontaneity and impermanence of the Impressionist aesthetic led him to refuse to participate in the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1878. Instead, Renoir decided to look back to the old masters for an art of structure, craft, and permanence. His first painting in this vein, Luncheon of the Boating Party (Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1637), exhibits a new solidity and clarity in the depiction of the figures and their placement within space, especially when compared to the Moulin de la Galette. Renoir left for Italy  in 1881 to continue his self-education in the “grandeur and simplicity of the ancient painters.” He returned enamored of Raphael and Pompeii and his figures consequently became more crisply drawn and sculptural in character (29.100.125).


Picture Credit: Pinterest in their Mindfulness bloc

When you embrace mindfulness, you realize that Presence is a wonderful compliment to Gratitude. Merriam-Webster reminds us that the former is:

  • the fact of being in a particular place : the state of being present
  • the area that is close to someone
  • someone or something that is seen or noticed in a particular place, area, etc.

The color, vivacity and animation of the Impressionist works demands your presence, even if you have never been to La Grenouillère (go visit there) (or even the famous eponymous wonderful restaurant operating with culinary art in New York since 1962). The painting above, Luncheon of the Boating Party, shows the fete in full force, but the Phillips’ Museum curators point out:

The painting also reflects the changing character of French society in the mid- to late 19th century. The restaurant welcomed customers of many classes, including businessmen, society women, artists, actresses, writers, critics, seamstresses, and shop girls. This diverse group embodied a new, modern Parisian society.

Renoir “composed this complicated scene without advance studies or underdrawing”, returning to perfect it but always retaining the freshness of the his vision.” So, returning to Nouwen, try to remember that there is a spiritual meaning underlying everything you encounter in the secular world and your willingness to be present in the moment will allow you to grasp the significance of the moment. Retain the Freshness Your Vision !