Gesamtkunstwerk

I. In the mid-nineteenth century, German composer Richard Wagner, inspired by the ancient Greeks, began advocating for a synthesis of all art forms—drama, music, dance, poetry, spectacle—into what he called a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. His vision came closest to realization in his 17-hour Ring Cycle and in his Bayreuth opera house, which he had custom-built to stage his epic works. The design of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is innovative and meticulous. Famously, the giant orchestra is nested underneath the stage, which allows the singing actors to project over Wagner’s dense scores without barking or straining their voices. Orfeo…

Trauma center

I think of my professional craft, and my professional interest, as “unlocking human energy.” Over the last decade or so, as the logical continuation of that interest, I’ve become increasingly focused on trauma. Trauma arrests human energy. It prevents individuals, groups, and societies from flourishing. The traumas I am thinking of include a range, from developmental traumas of neglect and abandonment, to extreme violence, to daily mundane dissatisfactions and thwarted expectations, to giant historical injustices. Trauma wants our acceptance and understanding. As an intrinsic part of the human experience, it is both the obstacle and the path. Trauma triggers the…

One Hundred Years

One of my favorite books about history is Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: From 1500 to the Present: Five Hundred Years of Western Culture Life. It’s an impressive career summation, published in 2001 when Barzun was in his nineties. I love how he looks telescopically at broad historical trends, while also zooming into the messy details of specific times and places along the way. In the past two years, the long decline that Barzun observed has accelerated into a great unraveling of Western institutions—a breakdown marked by destructive monetary policy, increasing class conflict and geopolitical tension, rapid technological change,…

What is positioning?

Positioning is important for every organization. Yet there is no consensus on what the term means. Among positioning experts, Michael Porter talks about strategic advantage, Seth Godin talks about purple cows, and Clotaire Rapaille talks about tapping into enduring cultural archetypes. Are we really all discussing the same thing? Here is a simple description that I use to align teams and viewpoints: Positioning defines how external audiences see a company or product relative to its competitors. In practice, positioning answers three questions: Where are we in the competitive landscape?What is the nature of our offering?How are we situated in stakeholders’…

Unstorytelling

Our default way of experiencing the world is through stories. Whether they come from the latest Good Wife episode, the companies we purchase from, or the theater of our minds, stories are safe-to-consume simulations about how things were, are, will be, or could be. I love stories, and they can do many good things: They entertain us.They help us contemplate what we would do in unfamiliar situations.They help us act.They make abstract concepts relatable and human.The create order out of apparent disorder.They bind communities together.They make us smarter by either challenging or reinforcing our existing ideas.They sharpen our pattern recognition skills.They help us restore self-control.…

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