Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Incomplete Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

From Bruce Mau Design via Mike Sansone:
1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

2. Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you'll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we've already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

5. Go deep. The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.

6. Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

7. Study. A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.

8. Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

9. Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

10. Everyone is a leader. Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.

11. Harvest ideas. Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

12. Keep moving. The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.

13. Slow down. Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.

14. Don’t be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.

15. Ask stupid questions. Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.

16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

17. ____________________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.

18. Stay up late. Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you're separated from the rest of the world.

19. Work the metaphor. Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.

20. Be careful to take risks. Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.

21. Repeat yourself. If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.

22. Make your own tools. Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

There's more. Go check it out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Persistence II

I was rushing to post about something else when I read the quote from last Friday about persistence. It made me quickly reflect on the last year and changed my mind about what to write.

Thank you, Nick, for persisting with this crazy plan to form a youth orchestra that would be different. Thanks for working many, many hours and many months without a cent of recompense.

Thanks to all of the orchestra members and their parents who have made the youth orchestra a priority and have attended rehearsal consistently. You are a special group that have encouraged us at every step of the way by your very presence.

We've accomplished a lot in less than a year of existence and we will be persistent in improving every aspect of the program for next year and into the future. Feel free to give us your input on how we can do this to serve the youth musicians of Birmingham better.

And thanks to those of you so whole-heartedly supporting Scrollworks. It seems that we have begun something truly unique, which is both exciting and frightening. But we will persist!

Friday, April 25, 2008


From Jaime Austria:
Here's something that I learned through Andy Kilpatrick:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge
FROM: "Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett," by Andrew Kilpatrick, 2006 Literary Edition, page 1655.

When I showed that to the personnel manager of the NYC Opera Orchestra, he immediately printed it and posted it in front of his desk.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm Stupid

I guess Nick and I are just stupid.

We got the lovely email from Jaime Austria and I have explored the El Sistema-NYC website. The names, the connections, the information... and Jaime has sent me tons of research and correspondence. We don't even begin to compare.

Unlike the other programs planning to duplicate El Sistema's success in the US, we came up with the idea, incorporated aspects of El Sistema and started teaching within just six months. Now we have 130 students.

Our logic was that planning was pointless. We couldn't know what to plan for until we had tried it--locations, teachers, instruments, supplies. How do you budget for the unimagined?

We were so right. Each of our locations, Cave9, Hill Elementary, and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is totally different. At Hill Elementary we have learned so much that we'll be forever in debt to the students and Mr. Greene. And the value of the connections made at Cave9 has cemented plans to always offer free walk-in music lessons somewhere, somehow. Every day, new experiences help us adapt the program to suit the conditions we find.

I cashed in my IRAs and donated $37,500 to get us started. I can say that now because I know my mom figured it out--she's barely emailed or called for the last several weeks. She definitely thinks I'm stupid. Dominique and others tried to persuade me not to, as well. And I truly appreciate their concern.

What they don't understand is that the vision I see is so much bigger than me that I don't matter. It's like standing under a starry sky and feeling like a speck of dust before the unfolding universe. If we can get this to work, it will be so powerful that it will change our community, maybe society. How does my well-being matter in the face of such possibility?

It sounds so grandiose and impossible, even to me. Until I'm standing there at Cave9 with music lessons happening in every corner, connections growing between races, ages, zip codes. Until I see Matthew, who we met at the Jazz Hall of Fame sit next to Tyler, surrounded by an astounding array of instruments they both play, discussing the duet Tyler composed for them to play in Tuscumbia. Until I see that smile when one of the Hill piano students gets to take home the little keyboard for the weekend.

And there are the staff. More than one has walked out of Hill Elementary after their first day announcing that it's too much and they can't come back. Every single one has called within 24 hours saying they'll be back. I watched Travis visibly get sucked into the Scrollworks vortex as he taught at guitar at Cave9. He's been back repeatedly.

We decided to act instead of spending months or years researching and planning. That leaves us in a tight financial spot as we finish the school year and await 501(c)3 determination. But we can now plan and budget accurately. We know what facilities we need for different student populations. We know how many teachers we need and how they need to be prepared. We know what instruments are in high demand. We know some teaching approaches for different situations. Even so, we still don't know very much. And yet we know we've already made a difference.

There were a few moments before we started teaching that I thought I may have made a mistake with my money. In the last two months I have determined that there will be no regrets. I have never spent a penny more wisely in my entire life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Be Good: Paul Graham is such a great guy!

This essay by Paul Graham describes Scrollworks, even though he's talking about start-up businesses:
Here's where benevolence comes in. If you feel you're really helping people, you'll keep working even when it seems like your startup is doomed. Most of us have some amount of natural benevolence. The mere fact that someone needs you makes you want to help them. So if you start the kind of startup where users come back each day, you've basically built yourself a giant tamagotchi. You've made something you need to take care of.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Laptop Rockers ezine! Whoo!

The remix contest is now listed on the Laptop Rockers ezine!

Thanks for the support and help!

Spinmeister has posted about our remix contest on his eMXR blog:
Very cool, Jean - and may the contest be a big success!

He emailed us months ago about this and we appreciate his continued support!

Endangered Instruments: Expanding the Viola Project

This article on unpopular instruments from the Casper Star Tribune is very interesting to me because I began learning the violin in the Casper schools:
The Casper Youth Orchestra felt the symphonic strain three years ago when it decided to expand its Philharmonia group into a full orchestra. But with bleak auditions for wind and percussion players it became painfully clear expanding may not be possible.

"It was so sad because we had none of the wind instruments we needed, like the bassoon, oboe or French horn," said executive director Kimi Winckler. Violas and string basses were down and harps seemed out of the question.

So board members started talking. They felt it was critical to begin "growing" Casper musicians to play the missing instruments, hopefully in both the youth program and later in life.

The program is now in its second year and has about 25 participants. It actively recruits students and offers private instruction. It also helps students get the various instruments, which are difficult to find and expensive to buy or rent. The program pays lesson fees for each student the first few years and often brings in teachers from around the state. Rentals and lessons cost about $1,200 a year for each student.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Measuring Impact

This blog post from White Courtesy Telephone on measuring the impact of non-profits opened my mind:
And this gets to my primary beef with this whole metrics revolution, the disaster I mentioned earlier: I find the image of a funder with a stopwatch in one hand and a clipboard in the other, hunched over a perspiring grantee, rather ghastly, frankly. It’s uncivilized, so clearly opposed to what I believe should be the ethos of the charitable sector, an ethos rooted in love for our fellow men and women, expressed through our work, and incorporating the values of cooperation and mutual support, among others.

It made me realize that my frustration with measuring impact has more to do with not being able to take on any more responsibilities. The idea that the funders might take on some of the evaluation is enlightening in several senses:
In this way, the burden of evaluation is shared three ways, and neither the funder nor the grantee needs to prove for the eleven-billionth time that young people respond well to nurturing environments that stimulate their hearts and minds.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Percussion Thing?

Harry is one of the most interesting people I know. Yesterday he was one of few (only?) music people to present something at the UAB undergraduate research fair thingie--explaining music he made using sounds from his kitchen: cutting celery, etc. Then he came to Cave9 and taught drums--and trumpet. The photographer from the paper was amazed to encounter him in both locations.

Percussion overload

I love this photo of Kevin. Looks like he has his hands full!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Adventures in Molly-land: Now an Earthquake

Molly is getting to experience more natural disasters in Louisville this year than I am comfortable with. First a tornado hits the music building while she's practicing. Now she calls me at 5 am to ask me to look on the Internet to see if what shook her bed was an earthquake. Yep. 5.4 or 5.2. Not comforted by the fact that she lives on the third floor of a Victorian house. She's fine, thank goodness.

The Spheres Above

From Science Musings:
Music and mathematics have much in common, but seldom has music so explicitly captured the spirit of scientific achievement as in Purcell's composition for St. Cecilia's Day, 1692. The music rapturously celebrates what Halley, in his prefatory poem to the Principia, called "the Laws which God, framing the universe, set not aside but made the fixed foundations of his work."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How to be rich: give all your money away!

I'm working seven days a week and it's wonderful. Every single day brings adventures and learning and special people. Yesterday at Cave9 was no exception.

The moment that blows me away is when Rashawn was leaning on my shoulder playing with an electric flyswatter as I read 'Bach, Beethoven and the Boys' outside the door. Ashari was riding a bike on the sidewalk. Lauren was also outside reading the 'Music Teacher's Survival Handbook'. From inside came the sounds of Jimmy, Travis, and Darnell jamming. Across the street at Nomad Supply they were also outside, playing digeridoo and African drums. How rich I am with barely a penny to my name. Having given it all to Scrollworks, I've gotten back these daily moments brighter than diamonds.

And my heart has been stolen by Romeo and our littlest drummers.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


From Michael Huebner:
the Alabama Symphony drew a sold-out crowd Thursday that could only be described as, well, young.

Jeans and t-shirts outnumbered coats and ties. Regular symphony-goers mingled with 20-something newcomers. The ASO's stated goal of attracting new audiences couldn't have been realized any better.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Black Holes in the Neighborhood

This research reported in Science Daily is reassuring--it's not my imagination:
At any given moment, a proportion of computer traffic ends up being routed into information black holes. These are situations where a path between two computers does exist, but messages -- a request to visit a Web site, an outgoing e-mail -- get lost along the way.

What we need is a way to position these where needed!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The bad news

"Nobody touches the pink guitar." -- Philip Goforth

Categorizing donors, Ashoka/CBI and Changemakers

A Small Change-Fundraising Blog has an interesting post on treating all donors as major donors. The comments are especially interesting. From Cal:
Giving to one organization or another has become terribly shallow. With auctions, luncheons, breakfasts, all these types of fundraisers have become a contest to see who can tug on people’s heartstrings the most. It’s no longer about the reality of what any given agency does as much as what can they show me at this moment to tug on my heart? I don’t buy your assessment. Your comments about “fully engaging at the most meaningful level”, well that to me is a load of hooey, yet I use that type of talk all the time in my job as Development Director. To be honest, I want so much to believe in this stuff, but I see the real world for what it is. I agree with your premise, but would ask what is REAL generosity? What changed it for me is seeing three small boys on the streets of Bucharest Romania. One boy ran up with a meager piece of bread, and the boys were obviously starving, thin and gaunt. They were elated with the older boy’s find. The oldest carefully broke up the piece into 3 equal pieces, gave one to each. The smallest, who was about 4 years old took one bite, then dropped his piece that landed in a large puddle of mud. He began to cry. The oldest boy then took his piece and broke it in half and gave it to his brother. That my friends is real generosity. . .

. . . So, as a professional, I write articles like this one above, but knowing inside that fundraising means “entertainment” (think auctions, events etc) and “recognition” (think annual report list of givers, names on a wall etc) and “tax deduction” — not exactly what giving was supposed to be back in deToqueville days.

I think about neighborhoods in poor parts of China, or Africa, where in the little villages, people who have nothing themselves share what little food they might have for their neighbors that have less. Then I remember, that I can do more, I can do better. I just wish others felt that way too.

Through the comments I discovered fasciniting sites on Ashoka's Citizen Base Intitiative:

At its core, a citizen base is a diverse group of people who support a CSO by contributing time, resources, or skills. They are the community behind a Changemaker.

What are some common examples of a citizen base?

  • Fans of a sporting team: They provide fees and sponsorships, cheer in the stands, and gain a lasting form of entertainment
  • Members of any club or union: They pay dues, serve in leadership positions, and receive the club’s support and/or protection.
  • Congregation members of a religious institution: They attend services, offer donations and/or volunteer time, and belong to an institution that responds to its congregants’ needs.

In each of these examples, the citizen base both gives to the organization and derives enormous benefit from it. As a result, citizen sector organizations that shape and embrace their own citizen base can build a healthy two-way relationship that improves the organization's operational efficiency and its community's well-being.

And Changemakers, where I found a lot of articles of interest, including this one on using drums to help children:
In Brazil, a country synonymous with samba, children are using music – one of their country's greatest strengths – to fight their country's greatest shortcomings: poverty, racism and police violence.

We have a lot of work to do to measure up to these organizations.

Monday, April 7, 2008

That look in the eyes

Jane Goodall speaks to professional fundraisers:
. . . as the chimp fell into the water at a zoo, the man dove in after the chimp to fish him out, only to see him slide back into the water off a steep slope. His family screaming frantically on the side, a group of chimpanzees racing toward him to investigate, the man risked his life again for the chimp.

Asked later why he risked his life to save the chimp, the man replied that it was like looking into the eyes of another man, and the look was, “Won’t anyone help me?” Jane Goodall has seen that look in the eyes of chimpanzees used in medical research or hunted for meat and in the eyes of chained elephants, but also in the eyes of homeless people and in the eyes of street children. . .

. . . “I haven’t been anywhere in the world where compassionate people do not try to help,” Goodall said, describing people who are tackling seemingly insurmountable problems. . .

. . . It was fundraising and philanthropy that first allowed Goodall to travel to Tanzania in the summer of 1960 to study chimpanzees. A businessman from Des Moines, Iowa, provided the initial funding for what was a six-month study. “That’s where I got the money -- philanthropy -- that’s supported me in the past,” she said.

Depth: infinite

What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it. -Ezra Pound, poet (1885-1972)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Epic Change Blogs Our Life

Stacey Monk at Epic Change has articulated my life these days with this top-ten list:
  1. I get to connect – and reconnect. I can’t tell you how many old friends like the trumpet player I’ve found from as far back as fourth grade with whom I’d lost contact and how many new people I’ve met through my involvement with Epic Change. My 3rd-level network on LinkedIn surpassed 1,000,000 this week.
  2. My project deliverable is a school in Africa. Um … I used to work on projects where the next big deliverable was an offsite, a test plan, a swimlane diagram or a process diagnosis. There’s something refreshing about working on something that really matters.
  3. I’ve learned to live off of nothing (and appreciate everything). The truth is, we don’t need much; most of the world makes due with far less than I have. A little food, a $600 apartment, a student loan payment, some kibble for your dog, just enough to make the next journey, and, well, you’re done.
  4. I have limitless learning opportunities. Sanjay has never, ever coded before. But he does now. I am not a video editor. Oh, yes I am. And an accountant, a greeting card designer, photographer, graphic artist, blogger, guerilla marketer, postcard manufacturer, fundraiser, UI designer, social networker, even a charity ZUMBA instructor. If it will help, we’ll figure it out.
  5. I could talk to a wall. When I used to work in the traditional 9-5 world (or for me, 24/7), I had nothing to say at a cocktail party except “I’m so glad I’m not at work.” Now I’ve got interesting stories, the stuff lives are supposed to be made of.
  6. I get to hang out with kids. For some reason, kids weren’t often invited to meetings at my previous jobs, which is a shame. Children don’t believe in impossibility and possess an incredible sense of empathy. For this reason, they are some of our most ardent supporters and fortunately, I now often get to spend time with them, like today when I visited a classroom that had collected $85.76 from their change, allowances and tooth fairy money.
  7. I am never (EVER) bored. When I was in the 5th grade, I used to chew on my hair during reading class because I was bored. I don’t really cope well with boredom. That’s no longer a problem.
  8. I have become living proof that sleep is irrelevant. The human body is amazing. An endorphin-adrenaline cocktail with a twist of inspiration offers a glimpse of immortality.
  9. I am reminded every day that I am powerful beyond measure. 6 months. 350 people mobilized. Nearly $40,000 raised. $1000 grant awarded. 4 classrooms constructed & open. 170 smiling faces. Enough said.
  10. Best of all, I get to remind others that we are all powerful beyond measure. There’s something incredibly inspiring about awakening that little voice inside someone that reminds them that they’re capable of miracles. You are.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Another good idea: Microgiving

A charitable community for everyone, where individuals in need post a request on the site, and donors can browse the community, choose from thousands of different causes and give any amount within their means, directly to those who need it the most.

Through MicroGiving 100% of your donation goes directly and immediately to the recipient of your choice. Just a few minutes of your time now can potentially bring a lifetime of hope and gratitude!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Core Pinciples

The Microphilanthropy Blog discusses a successful meals distribution program in Canada. The principles that a recent study determined make this program work are exactly ours:

Santropol Roulant's Nine Core Principles of Engagement

People as gifts - Each person who comes in contact with Santropol Roulant is seen as a whole person with many dimensions that, when given space to flourish, feed the organization's vibrancy, capacity to innovate, and overall effectiveness.

Relationship-building - Creating the space and skills for healthy interpersonal and group communication are essential and highly productive aspects of our organizational life.

Comfort with change - We embrace change and uncertainty as opportunities to learn and evolve. For a youth-run organization such as Santropol Roulant, staff and volunteer turnover are necessary and positive elements of our organizational rhythm.

Cultivating individual learning and organizational creativity - We value personal growth, curiosity and play as essential to Santropol Roulant's dynamism and productivity.

Collaborative leadership - We strive to be deeply participatory, sharing decision-making and leadership in a way that contributes to everyone's learning and growth while we deliver on our mission.

The importance of space - We pay attention to the state and arrangement of the physical space as it affects the way people relate to the organization and each other.

Gravitational structuring - We invite people to involve themselves in the tasks, projects, conversations, and decisions that they are drawn to based on their own interests and curiosities.

Coherence - We aim to live our deepest values in all our relationships: with clients, staff, board members, volunteers, funders, partners, neighbours, etc.

Community building - We strive to become a living expression of the change we want to see in the world, rather than simply an instrument for that change.

I hope that we can become as successful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Part of the solution

A Birmingham News report on a community forum discussing the City's schools:
The event, organized by state Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, was in response to the Birmingham Board of Education's February decision to close at least 15 schools over the next three years. The plan also calls for several new schools and additions to existing schools. . .
. . . Leona Payne, president of the Jones Valley Neighborhood, said more people need to become involved in the schools.

We hope our music classes at Hill Elementary will give impetus for people to become involved--our teachers, parents, the music community. Walk in the door of the music room at Hill during our classes and you can't help but become passionate about the students. They are amazing and deserve the best education. Mr. Greene and his teachers are delivering.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Magic City Connections

Scrollworks at Cave9 has been discovered. I just had a call from a woman who wants to learn guitar before she turns 70. She had purchased an acoustic and then an electric guitar with the dream of making music, but never taken the first step. She is a cashier at Walmart and one of her customers gave her our flier. She'll be at Cave9 on Saturday to take a lesson from Jimmy.

Do you see the network beginning to form across the city? People are coming out, making new connections that weren't happening before--all through the simple offering of free music lessons. When I think of the people involved with Scrollworks--teachers, supporters, students--it's like someone drawing an ice cream scoop across a map of the city, curling up a bit of all the flavors into a ball, and then tossing it in a blender.

Doesn't the potential of this just give you chills?