My Next Book…Year 10, Chapter 5…The Man Who Left the Whiteboard White
June 18, 2014
NEW YORK CITY, HOW NONPROFITS KEEP SCORE,AND THE MAN WHO LEFT THE WHITEBOARD WHITE
Linda and I get to New York City at least once a year, sometimes two or three times because it’s the world’s best adult theme park: restaurants, museums, the arts-and the highest quality of everything. Most of the contemporary art in our home came from NYC, and that’s where this story begins.
Around 1996 we’d gone to Tribeca for a show by Robert Longo, one of my favorite artists, to view a single large work of 365 renderings, each individually framed, each in charcoal, graphite, ink and chalk. The final effect was a year in America, a collage of iconic impressions of whatever struck Longo that day: the undershot of a jet plane . . . Barry Bonds completing a swing . . . Marlon Brando as the Godfather . . . a face of a tiger . . . the Iraq invasion. Each rendering was black, white, and gray-each was matted in a frame about 2′ x 3′ and available to buyers only in groups of 10.
Linda and I left the gallery and took a taxi to the Union Square Café on East 16th, another haunt, where I began to try to sell her on a Robert Longo wall in our home, though some of the pieces were, admittedly, graphically aggressive. Linda said, “Robert Longo is not going to take over my house,” and since it was true that 10 of these frames would dominate any room, the answer was no.
Then it occurred to me that I could do what Robert Longo did but from my own life. I’m no painter, but my significance desire is to render changed lives. If my work affected someone else and that person was gracious enough to write me about it (and that was happening), those artifacts could form my collage.
Now several ideas started to merge around art, bottom lines and non-profit work.
THE ART OF KEEPING SCORE
In a non-profit, how do you keep score? What’s the mechanism? From 40 years in business I’m attuned to metrics; I know how corporations rank and gauge their output. But the significance industry defies those spreadsheet columns, and besides that, they’re not the main thing.
Peter Drucker said a non-profit’s bottom line is changed lives. And since I’d left cable TV for the lives-changing business, I knew my metrics came in the form of personal letters: some handwritten, some typed or by email . . . always word pictures about a life changed and, to my mind, always worthy of framing. In a typical letter, the writer would describe what he was doing before and what he’s doing now. And the point was-the point is-the doing.
I wish I had the rights to the title “Beyond Belief” because so many people in church seem to think faith amounts to getting your ticket punched to go to heaven. Loving God is much more than church attendance on Sunday morning. What we believe comes out in what we do. In the purest form, the golden rule is to love my neighbor as myself, and I don’t do that just by sitting down for a good sermon. And I can’t delegate that responsibility to anyone else.
On a Robert Longo-inspired mission now, I bought a spiral-bound book of blank pages and began to create my life collage of personal letters. As each artifact came in, it joined what I had begun to call my Book of Days.
THE MAN WHO LEFT THE WHITEBOARD WHITE
What started me on this museletter in the first place was two of those artifacts, letters from a Halftimer who first wrote me three years ago to say the Halftime Institute hadn’t worked for him. I still think of him as the man who left his white board white. While his fellow Halftimers used dry-erase markers to sketch out second-half plans and strategies, his easel stayed bare. Not a word, not a line.
So here was this strategic planner, a professional, unable to lay out a strategy for his own next chapter. And I get that. The quest to know our personal purpose is not easy. But then, just a few weeks ago, this man wrote again to say the light had turned on.
Here’s an abridged version:
“In 2011 after years of spiritual drought and growing unease I attended the Halftime Institute-and when it came time to present our business plan I had nothing. Dean told me they’d never had anyone who didn’t write a plan. The interesting thing about this is that I have worked with lots of business owners and companies to write strategic plans. I didn’t want to just put something together to satisfy the expectation, and everyone was gracious and we worked around it.
“Through the following year I was coached by Jeff Spadafora. Terrific experience! We spent the first half of the year figuring out me, and the last half looking for an organization where I could find a home.
“To shorten this . . . I am now a Chair for Convene, which means I facilitate/coach a team of Christian business owners/CEOs. I am so well suited for this I can hardly stand it. Thank you for investing in Halftime, which has dramatically impacted my life. I am totally re-energized, and committed to whatever God has in mind for me.”
The point of this museletter is, well, two points. One, a life-change worker can never know his or her full effect or when that effect kicks in. The second point is a Halftime maxim: it’s not our timetable, it’s not even the Halftimer’s timetable, it’s God’s. Our part is to do our part.
Two classic scripture verses come to mind (in the New King James, which I like). James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourself.” And James 2:14: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”
As to tallying those works, there’s a way to do it humbly. Too often we hear something good from someone and then let it slip out of mind, never thinking to build reminders the way the Jews stacked stones to form an altar. But those altars are holy reminders. Every six to nine months I pick up my Book of Days and read through, amazed and encouraged. And recharged.
Robert Longo may never know all he inspired.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
A lot of us keep a file of attaboy letters, thank you’s, that sort of thing. How might that file of yours graduate from random notes to deliberate accountability? Would keeping your own “Book of Days” make you more conscious of how, and how often, you can take steps to change a life?