Legacy

Photo of Bob Isaacson.
Photo copyright ©2015 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What is the legacy you hope to leave behind?

I have previously written about heroes and role models. One of mine recently passed away. Bob Isaacson. He was 80 years old.

Like many of my friends, I knew Bob from work. Bob was a ventriloquist. He was a staple at the Vent Haven ConVENTion, an annual gathering of ventriloquists from around the world. He was beloved by everyone who knew him.

One of Bob’s joys every summer was to be the Emcee for the Junior Open Mic event at the convention. Occasionally, he would perform as part of his time on stage. But, primarily, he saw his role as supporter of the latest generation of young people learning the art and craft that he loved. He took his role seriously. One aspect he was known to work especially hard at was to pronounce each person’s name correctly as he introduced them. Bob saw this as an important part of showing respect.

Everyone who has met Bob has their own story of why he is so special to them. To me, Bob embodied the term, “statesman”.

Merriam-Webster defines statesman as: a wise, skillful, and respected political leader. If you remove the word, “political” from that definition, you have a perfect description of Bob: wise, skillful, and deeply respected.

Bob was always eager to sit and talk with anyone at any skill level about the art and craft of ventriloquism. He would tell stories from his experience. Then, what made him unique, he would turn the conversation around to you, offering words of encouragement and gentle guidance. Bob had a knack for treating you as the most important thing in the world to him at that moment.

The other word that comes to mind when I think of Bob is, “gentleman”. While I have no knowledge of whether Bob comes from noble birth, he always conducted himself with the spirit of a true gentleman. Again, from Merriam-Webster, “A man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior.” He was truly a gentle man.

Much of Bob’s influence was through his skills on stage. He brought laughter to many. But, as strong as that was, his impact off stage was even greater than on. Bob showed me what it looks like to be a kind, loving human being.

That is a legacy worth leaving.

 

Time out

Photo of flags on a flagpole
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When is the last time you called a Time Out?

Like much of America, I’ve been watching a lot of football the past few days. It’s college bowl season. The concept of calling a time out struck me as something that has meaning far beyond football.

In football, the purpose of calling a time out is to give the team a chance to pause, reconsider their current strategy, revise it as needed, and sometimes just to give the players an opportunity to breath before the next play.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often one in which I call a time out – from work. It is a time to pause, reflect, and spend time with my family. Sometimes it is simply an opportunity to breath before launching into whatever is coming next.

When do you call a time out? Is your play clock running dangerously close to zero? Could you benefit from taking a moment to reconsider your current direction?

Give yourself a break. Call a time out. Then get yourself back into the game.

 

Shake It Off

Photo of polar bear shaking off water
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved

How long do you hold a grudge?

I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. This past weekend I watched them play against the New England Patriots. Coming into the game, the Steelers had already clinched the division title. They’ll be in the playoffs. This game was about locking in home field advantage. A meaningful game, but not all that critical in the grand scheme of things.

In the final minute of play, it looked like the Steelers had regained the lead with a touchdown pass. However, after a lengthy review by the replay officials, they ruled it an incomplete pass according to a relatively new rule specific to a pass that leads to a touchdown. The game ended with a Patriots victory.

There has been much uproar among my fellow Steelers fans. Many are still talking about it, stuck in what could (should?) have been.

Meanwhile, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the team are heads down, preparing for the next game. They are not wallowing in the defeat. They are not endlessly whining on social media about how the new rule is stupid, or that it was a bad call by the officials. They are moving on.

I have seen this repeatedly while watching my favorite team play. There is a questionable call on the field, or in replay review. It doesn’t go the way I’d like for my team. I get all upset, jump up and down, scream at the TV. I am stuck on that previous play. And there is coach Tomlin, calmly standing on the sidelines, focused on the next play and the next.

How often do we get stuck when one thing does not go as we think it should? That sales proposal we put so much effort into is rejected. Someone cuts us off in traffic. We go for a cup of coffee only to find that somebody else took the last cup and didn’t make a fresh pot. We don’t get the raise or promotion we thought we deserved.

We can’t all have the calm demeanor of Mike Tomlin. We get wound up in the unfavorable ruling on the field, or in the office. We rant. We make a fuss. And while we do, other people around us are moving on, getting ahead.

Not every play is going to succeed. Not every ruling is going to go our way. Not every game is going to end in a victory.

How do you react when things don’t go your way?

How long does it take you to get your head back into the game?

Taylor Swift captured this concept in her hit song, “Shake It Off“. Whether you like her music or not, these lyrics are a great reminder to move on. Let others get stuck complaining. It is better to keep moving forward.

But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my mind
Saying it’s gonna be alright

Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Focus forward. Stay on target. Shake it off.

Island of Misfit Toys

Image from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer
Image from Rankin Bass Productions. http://rankinbass.com

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when, as a kid, I was teased mercilessly about belonging on the Island of Misfit Toys.

I always knew it was coming. It would start the day after the annual TV broadcast of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer“. From that day on, until winter break, someone would ask me if I wanted to be a dentist. At least once a day. Every day.

Why? The other kids decided that I looked exactly like Hermie the Elf on that classic Christmas special.

I don’t know why. I don’t see the resemblance. Do you?

Photo of David as a kid.
David as a kid. Copyright restricted. Unknown photographer.

It bothered the heck out of me. I didn’t want to be a misfit. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be accepted. So I did my best to conform to the expectations of others.

In the show, Hermie also wanted to be accepted. The difference is, Hermie was not willing to compromise. He refused to become someone he was not, to be just like all the other elves. He insisted on being himself.

As a result, he was ostracized by his fellow elves.

Until…

Until he did something that was of direct benefit to them. Then, and only then, he was finally accepted by the rest of the elves for being his wonderful, fully individual, self.

Have you ever felt like you belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys?

It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? We prefer to fit in. We want to feel like we belong. We actively seek out groups that allow us to be one of the gang. If we can’t choose the group, we intentionally mold ourselves to fit in with whatever group we are a part of.

Guess what. People don’t win a prize for being “the most like everyone else”. (Although, we do award prizes for “most conformance to arbitrary expectations”. That is a different matter altogether.)

Take a look at those you most admire. Why do you admire them? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t because they are the best at fitting in. No. We admire those who stand out. What we most admire about them are the qualities that make them different.

Lately, I have come to embrace my inner Hermie. It’s taken me a long time. Now I honor him for knowing who he was and what he wanted to be.

As I look back over my life, I realize I have unknowingly made many choices that put me onto the Island of Misfit Toys. When I got to choose the group, it was often a group of other misfits. Those are my people. From my group of friends at the high school lunch table, to the fraternity I joined in college, to the people I most enjoy hanging out with now, I have always been happiest when surrounded by fellow misfits.

Being different can be painful. It can be lonely.

Embrace it.

Come join me on the Island of Misfit Toys. That’s where the fun is.

 

Sticks and Stones

Photo of sticks and stones
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Say it with me… Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Depending on where you grew up, you might have a slight variation on the ending. Any way you say it, the point is the same. When people call us names or say something negative about us, we are to move on and not let what others say rile us.

Eleanor Roosevelt expressed this in a different way:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I recently heard someone use this adage in a presentation. What immediately came to my mind was an additional ending.

Sticks and stones may break my bones and words may never hurt me, but your silence is killing me.

For me, I can handle criticism. I can deal with people telling me where I need to improve, even when it is done in a less than kind way. But, I can’t handle silence. For me, no response is far worse than the most scathing review.

In the words of Jeff Dunham’s character, Achmed, “Silence! I kill you!” For me, it is silence itself that is the killer.

Have you ever given someone a gift and heard nothing from them? I’m betting you assumed they hated it.

At work, have your poured your heart and sole into a project, then when it was completed the only thing you got was your next assignment?

Have you sent a carefully crafted email to someone and received no response whatsoever? Have you posted something on someone’s Facebook wall and waited in vain for them to click “Like”?

Where does your mind go in the absence of a response?

We all crave feedback. Sure, we prefer that feedback to be positive. We prefer praise over criticism. But, any feedback is better than no feedback.

Why? Because in the absence of feedback, most of us assume the worst. Our inner critic shouts, “They hated it. That sucked. You really screwed up that time. You’re going to be fired.”

Maybe you did screw up. Maybe you did disappoint. But, then again, maybe you didn’t. It is difficult to know in the silence.

My first job was working in a bicycle shop. Every bike we worked on was checked over by one of the two bosses. They even double checked each other’s work. The best response you could get was, “OK.” Not, “Good job.” Not, “You do good work.” Nope. The best you could get was, “OK.” I came to shoot for that response as my goal. But, even that “OK” was better than silence.

Are you with me? Do you have this same reaction to silence?

I wish I had great words of wisdom to share as to how to handle the silence and resist the temptation to assume the worst. I’ve got nothing. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, all we can do is to pay attention to when others are looking to us for feedback. Do your part to share honest feedback with them. Be overt in your thanks and appreciation.

Give others the gift of your input. The silence is killing me.

 

Back to the Beginning

Photo of stage
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Where did you get your start?

I recently had the opportunity to go back to where it all started for me as an entertainer. I did a show on the first stage I performed on as a kid. Several people in the audience had even been there for that first appearance approximately 45 years ago. While this show was a solo performance, that first time I was one of many acts performing as part of a youth talent show.

If you’ve ever experienced a youth talent show, you know that the range of talent being shared on that stage was quite broad. That didn’t seem to matter. I remember that every act was met with enthusiastic applause. Every one of us was made to feel like a star. We were applauded – loudly – for getting up there and giving it a shot.

What I do now would not be possible had it not been for the encouragement I received then.

Being back on that stage in that environment was deeply moving for me. It brought back deep-seated memories. It drove home for me the love and support I have been blessed to receive in so many areas of my life. It reminded me that I would not be where I am now had it not been for the encouragement of a countless number of people along the way.

Who has helped you on your journey? Who has been there with a kind word at the very moment when you needed it most? Who has been there for you to lend a hand, to help you up when you stumbled? Who has been there to cheer you on along your journey?

Where would you be now had they not been there to cheer you on?

Like that early talent show, I’m betting that many times you have been applauded even when your act kind of sucked. But, because of that applause, you kept going. It gave you the encouragement to continue. Perhaps you’ve kept going to the point where it (whatever it is that you do) no longer sucks. You might even be pretty darn good at it.

What if you had not received the applause before your act deserved it?

What a shame it would be if you had stopped. How sad it would be for those who now benefit from what you do well.

Take a moment to remember those who have cheered you on and encouraged you, even at a point in your development when it didn’t seem justified.

Now it’s your turn.

Who needs to hear your applause? Who would benefit from your words of encouragement and support?

Cheer them on. Applaud loudly.

 

Judgement

How strong is your competitive spirit? Do you enjoy the thrill of victory? Do you agonize over defeat?

Competition can be good. It pushes us to go farther than we would on our own. It encourages us to improve.

But, it can also cause us to shut down, to give up, to stop trying. We see the competition, realize there is no way we could ever win, and think, “Why bother?”

I have several issues with competition in the traditional sense. The first problem with competition is that it involves rules. These rules are often arbitrary and typically based on what has already been done. They leave little room for true innovation.

The second problem is that competition is relative – relative to others and relative to that set of rules.

Combining these problems, my main issue with competitions is that they do not necessarily measure what is important.

Have you ever seen the Harlem Globetrotters?  Great fun, isn’t it?

Who won? I’m betting you have no idea. And I’m betting you don’t care. Because the final score was not the point.

You won’t see the Harlem Globetrotters in the NBA playoffs. But, that doesn’t stop them from filling arenas.

Is winning your only measure of success? Being in it to win it is good. It forces us to take it more seriously, to work harder.

However, especially with a competition where the winner is selected by a panel of judges, winning is often subjective. Those judges may not be the ultimate target (consumer) of whatever it is that you are doing.

Who is on your panel of judges? Who are you allowing to determine whether what you are doing is good enough to win the prize?

As a performing artist, the only measure that matters to me is the connection with this audience, right here, right now. Did this audience have fun? Were they entertained? Did they laugh? Are they leaving the event in a better state of mind than when they arrived? Do they have a renewed sense of hope?

That is how I measure the success of what I do.

What is your measure of success? Look to the right judges.

 

Cover band

Photo of Kiss cover band
Photo copyright ©2016 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you write your own music, or are you in a cover band?

When you show up for work, are you doing your job in a way that someone else could easily step in and take your place? Or are you doing it in a way that is clearly your own?

How about your life? Are you forging your own path? Or are you only imitating what you see in others?

So many of us spend our days trying to reproduce what others have done, living our lives note for note like what we see in others. We follow the rules. We read how-to guides. We may be technically excellent at our craft. But, in the end, what we produce looks like it could have been done by 50 or 100 or 1,000 other people.

This starts young. “Why can’t you be more like Tom?”

It continues into adulthood, especially in the working world. “We could use a lot more Toms.”

And we do this to ourselves. We see someone we deem to be successful and think, “Hey, if I can just do that, I, too, will be successful.”

We invest in programs guaranteed to produce the same kind of results others have produced. “Follow these simple steps and you, too, can earn a 7-figure income while working from home in your pajamas! This is a limited time offer! Act now!”

It has long fascinated me how many cover bands are out there. I’ve seen some good ones. The good ones can make a decent income. They might even develop their own fan base. But, it has always struck me as limiting. The best you can do is a perfect imitation of someone else. Where’s the fun in that?

Here’s the reality. We are never going to make it big in the art world with paint-by-number reproductions. We are never going to top the Billboard Charts as a cover band. We will never reach our full potential in our careers by doing only what others have done. We are never going to live a truly fulfilling life by only replicating what we see others doing.

Be an original. Study from the masters, then paint your own masterpiece.

 

Start Here

Photo of sock puppet
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you have a vague concept of something rattling around in your brain? You don’t have all the details figured out, but you feel there might be something there. How do you determine whether it is worth pursuing? Where do you start?

Simple. Start here. Right here. Wherever you are right now. With whatever you have on hand at the moment.

You’re probably familiar with the term, “proof of concept”. Or, maybe you prefer the term “working prototype”. These are generally good things. But, when you are doing something really new (to you), there are many unknowns. You might not even be able to fully define what it is you are contemplating. In those cases, these methods ask for too much up front. Too much time, too much money, or both.

Here are two examples.

I had this idea for a new character in my act. It was to be a man who by day is a typical office worker, probably an accountant or some other data-focused desk-sitting cubicle worker. A guy who most people in the office ignore. He comes to work, does his 9-5, then goes home. Nobody in the office has any idea, or interest, in what he does outside of work. This is where it gets fun. What he does in the evenings and on weekends is take to the stage as a female impersonator. And not just some shmucky horrible impersonator, but a full-on diva singing voice, holy cow that’s amazing female impersonator.

I decide that to fully pursue the idea, I needed to have the physical character in hand. I purchased a relatively expensive “dummy”, played around with the character, had his daytime voice and personality down, figured out the basic logistics of how to have him go through the transition to nightclub singer, picked out some songs I thought would work, took voice lessons… And discovered that I do not (yet) have the vocal chops to pull it off the way I wanted. I invested a lot of time and money into the project. I couldn’t do it. In the end, I decided to sell the puppet and put the idea on a shelf. (I still like the idea and hope to be able to do it someday…)

By contrast, I have another character in my act that started out as a sock puppet – literally. His voice popped out one day, and I thought, hmmm, I wonder what I can do with this? His first appearance was at a campout with my youngest daughter. (See photo at the top of this post.) After that campout, I continued to play around with the voice and develop the character over the span of several months, making sure there was something there. Once I was pretty sure it was going to work, I made the final puppet. (Side note: This the only puppet in my act that I have physically constructed myself.) That character has played out extremely well and is still a mainstay of the act 12 years later.

In hindsight, I wish I had taken the “let’s see how this might work” approach with my female impersonator character concept. I didn’t need a puppet to try singing and to develop the voice. I didn’t need to make that monetary investment. Fortunately, I was able to sell the puppet (also called “figure” in the ventriloquist business) and recoup most of that financial outlay. But, that isn’t always the case when we jump into something whole hog before testing a few basic things first.

I’m sure you’ve been there. You’ve bought expensive tools, components, etc., only to later find out that the original concept was horribly flawed. Money down the drain. Notice I only say money down the drain. Time spent exploring new ideas and concepts is always time well spent. Even if you end up going a completely different direction or abandoning the idea, you’ve still learned something.

My preferred approach to wild and crazy ideas is the “mock up”. A mock up is a drastically pared down version of a proof of concept or working prototype. It doesn’t have to be fully functional. It doesn’t have to look like what the final product might look like. It might be a simple sock puppet. All it needs to do is allow you to go further into the concept. Explore. Test.

It is so easy to become bogged down in the process of creating the prototype that we lose sight of the original idea. Or, we give up because there are pieces we can’t figure out how to model. Don’t worry about it. In the early stages, it’s just an idea. Give the idea room to grow and develop. Let it go where it wants to go.

Start with what you have. Start now.

 

Creative Collaboration

Photo copyright ©2004 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When you think of a creative person, do you immediately think, “artist”?

When you think of an artist, do you imagine them holed up, all alone in their studio?
We often associate “creativity” with “artist”. It is natural, then, to think being creative means being individualistic and working alone.
We rarely associate creativity with collaboration, which is all about working with other people. On the surface, these two concepts seem at odds with each other.
Collaboration implies practicality and goal orientation toward a shared objective.
Creativity implies artistry and individualism toward a personal vision.
Intense artistic creativity taps into our most deeply held beliefs, dreams, visions and even fears.
Sharing that creativity involves baring our soul. It leaves us exposed. It makes us vulnerable. Fearing this vulnerability, many people hide their creativity. They either resist creating altogether, or they never share their creations with anyone else.
Collaboration is all about sharing. It requires us to be open to feedback – both positive and negative.
Collaboration requires that we share our creativity, and thus forces us to make ourselves vulnerable.
So, how can these two words go together?
Let’s start by looking at the words themselves.
Creativity:
“the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” – Google Dictionary
Collaboration:
“the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” – Google Dictionary
See what just happened there? The Google Dictionary definition used the word “create” in its description of collaboration. We might be onto something here.
Creativity cannot happen in a vacuum. Creativity is fueled by our environment and by sensory input. We observe. We watch. We listen. We absorb. Then we mix it all together and create something new.
Collaboration increases that sensory input. It adds to our environment. It provides alternate points of view, additional ideas. It fuels additional creativity.
When Collaboration and Creativity combine, we get what I call Applied Creativity – applying creativity to reach an objective, or to solve a problem. For me, that’s when things really get to be fun.
When we can work collaboratively, encouraging and fueling each others’ creativity, our own creativity increases, we get much better solutions and we have more fun doing it.
Go find a creative soulmate and collaborate. It’s fun!