8 principles of spiritual literacy as inspired by the Hasidic masters

I diverge briefly from my normal posts about marketing with this post because I caught wind of a new book by Dani Shapiro called Devotion that seems to touch an important topic for many people. The book outlines a woman’s search for spiritual clarity (author’s note – I have not read the book – but it’s going on the list :)). In an interview on The Today Show the author comments that she was brought up in the Orthodox tradition which she “abandoned” when she reached adulthood and replaced with “nothing”. She explained how in her mind, Jewish religious practice was an all or nothing proposition. Most sensitively she described that her search was motivated by a desire to answer her children’s questions about spirituality with answers that demonstrated depth of thought. This book emerged out of her recognition that she wanted to fill the spiritual gap for herself and for her family.

I feel a kinship with her, similarity in name aside, but because I too was brought up Orthodox. Not just Orthodox mind you, but I was raised in a Hasidic Rabbinic family – the ultra right wing of the Jewish spectrum. Yet, unlike Dani, I did not abandon my upbringing even as I pursued a wonderful career in technology marketing. I was fortunate that my family, the Hasidic Rabbis from Europe, were trained to be spiritual masters so that under their tutelage I was trained to understand the fundamental principles of being spiritual.

They taught me their legacy of “spiritual expectations” (note I don’t say beliefs) that transcended any religion or religious practice so that I could construct a functional model for the spiritual seeking soul. These expectations frame the spiritual seeker’s quest to an actionable set of principles which apply no matter what religion (or lack thereof) you were raised in. While these ideas represent my interpretation of these spiritual concepts – it is inspired by the lessons I was fortunate enough to have been taught by them.  I pay homage to their wisdom as I share this list with you.

1) There has to be a conscious choice to be a spiritually sensitive being. It can not be assumed that this is a goal everyone strives for. It is not. Do not assume that because you are seeking spiritual vigor – everyone shares your enthusiasm.

2) Rituals are the physical training ground for the spirit. There’s a wonderful Hebrew phrase: “Mi-toch lo’ lishma ya’voh lishmah” – translated to mean roughly, “From non devotion comes devotion.” In other words, the rituals won’t always evoke an “ohh” spiritual glow, but over time they do. When I first started to light candles on Friday night nearly 30 years ago to mark the beginning of the Shabbath, (you start lighting candles when you get married), it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Now, though when I light my Sabbath candles, the atmosphere of the room is noticeably changed. Once the ritual becomes part of your being; that frees energy to fully exploit the value of the ritual. There’s no more wasted energy worrying about “when” or “how” to spiritually train – that was all taken care of once you accepted the sanctity of the ritual. Without the impetus of religious sanctity – sticking with any ritual practice that is substantive enough to deliver the spiritual goods is really really really hard.

3) Accept that to be a spiritual being requires an investment of time. There’s no shortcut. The rituals of the ultra religious of all traditions are designed for success because they eliminated the hassle of figuring out the nitty gritty details of how to be spiritual, letting the focus be on the spiritual work. By contrast, how successful would anyone be creating their own rituals and then sticking to it? There are more bad jokes about the futility of keeping New Year’s resolution than I need to make my point.

4) There is no such thing as “sin” with the moral sting we all associate with that word. The Hebrew word “Het” means more like, “Oops, missed that time – try again”. In my world, when you committed a “sin”, you were “reproached” for it much in the same way one might speak to a young child who, when they are first learning to catch a ball, misses. “Oops – not quite – try again.” No guilt. No shame. Just an expectation that you could do better.

5) Spirituality is not something you are but something you do. Spirituality can not be thought of as a cloak we don at certain times and then discard when it is inconvenient. It is reflective in how we act – all the time.  For instance, I must light my candles every Friday at precisely the proper time no matter what. If I miss it – I can not light later in the evening because there’s no “do-over”. Being spiritual means that if I feel that my ability to light the candles on time is in jeopardy, I will re-organize my entire day to ensure I can fulfill this ritual on time.

6) Often, people confuse being a “good or moral person” with being spiritual. They are not the same thing. Morality is often culturally based and evolving – slavery being a good example, whereas spirituality transcends cultural influences.  The work of spiritual masters from 3,000 years is as relevant today as they were in their day.

7) I do not “expect” that there is a God (breathe everyone). Here’s what I know for sure. There is the world of the “known”; the world we can measure, touch and analyze. Then there is the world of “kaddosh”; usually translated to mean sacred or holy, but actually meaning “other” or separate – the world of the “unknown”. This “unknown” state is often referred to as God.

8)  Everything in the universe changes including the world of the “Kaddosh”, the “unknown” and the world of the known. In fact, the world of the unknown is quickly flowing towards the world of the known so that soon these two worlds will emerge into one. That is the spiritual singularity – when there is no more “unknown” a.k.a. God. When might this singularity happen? Who knows, but often people think the time of the Messiah is that singularity moment. I’m not so sure but here’s an interesting little tidbit. According to mystical Jewish philosophy, the world will “evolve” into another form of existence by the year 6000. We are currently in the year 5770 of the Jewish calendar, so that gives us about 200 years until the next cycle. That plunks us right into the time of Star Trek. I like the synchronicity of that because that fictional show gives us a glimpse of how different our understanding of life will be in 200 years. Perhaps in 200 years our spirit, mind and body will be better aligned and free to evolve …

These Hasidic masters understood spiritual power and mastery. It is my legacy from them which I share with you so you can create the spiritual house that best suits you.

Judy Shapiro

Chasing the indispensable Linchpin is not possible. Here’s why.

What’s the catch?

I begin this post hesitantly because the recent book by Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are you indispensable? has received wide recognition as a book of  “star status”, “A-list” and a perspective that is rare and important.

My mind was all primed to be inspired because of all the hype the book received and because my affection for The Purple Cow knows no bounds. So why am I hesitant about this post? Because after I finished reading the book, my disappointment ran much deeper than I ever expected especially considering the seemingly universal acclaim. That’s why I am hesitant – I am definitely swimming upstream on this one. But as best as I can, I intend to explain myself as respectfully as I can.

As I start to read the book, my neutral perspective became askew by nigg-ly literary style issues. First, it seemed to me at least, unnecessary to spend the first 115 pages explaining a few, no doubt very true, but few core ideas:

  • Learn to know where your genius lay and be your “true self”
  • Give of your “true self” unconditionally, everyday
  • The gift of you can then transcend to become the gift of true art – one that is the ideal vision of art at it’s most inspirational.

These 115 pages were heavily embellished with embroidered explanations (not once but a number of times) of how our current, well meaning but inadequate school system, systematically pounds the genius out of you. True enough — but that concept was well understood at least as far back as 1998 when academicians like Andrew J. Coulson (currently of the CATO Institute) made these very observations in an article entitled: Are Public Schools Hazardous to Public Education?

I was getting impatient at this point. When would we hit the good stuff? Then, hoping for a turn in the momentum of the book, I started to encounter the bigger problem of inconsistent thinking which made me batty. The most glaring example is where on page 95 he explains that Twitter’s success was: “Not because it followed a model but because it broke one.” which he attributes to the linchpin par excellence, Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter.  OK – I buy that point. The only trouble is that just a few pages later (page 102) he explains quite deliberately; “Artist” [a.k.a. linchpins – the terms seem interchangeable in the book – at least I think so], “don’t think outside the box because … outside the box there are no rules,,, Artists think along the edges of the box…”

I confess, I am lost. Do you have to break the mold but not go beyond the box… or are we suppose to break the box a certain way so there are still edges left? I have no idea how to approach this one.

Despite my escalating irritation I carry on. I want to see what all the “oohhs and aahhs” were about. I must be missing something I keep saying to myself. I read on.    (BTW – Congrats to Mr. Godin on a most brilliant bit of literary prescience by including the notion that if the book makes you angry that is proof of how right Mr. Godin is. Pure “genius”.)

Then the style issues of repetitive information and the inconsistencies give way to deeper philosophical issues I had with the book. It started when I detected a whiff of elitism early in the book because it asserts repeatedly how most people don’t want to think in their jobs but are content to get instructions, do what they are told and go home;  “The key piece of leverage was this promise: follow these instructions and you don’t have to think. You don’t have to bring your genius to work” (page 9). Com’on is it really that simplistic? I hardly think that most people want to be mindless robots as a choice. His description seems detached and insensitive to the real world practicalities that often limit people’s options.

I am still trying to reconcile that philosophical issue when I am hit with another bit of elitism when he repeatedly tells us (over and over again) that “no one wants to be a cog.” Last time I looked, a machine operates as unit; without cogs, linchpins are irrelevant. Linchpins, simply keep the pieces together – they don’t actually do any of the heavy lifting. Without cogs, linchpins are just a useless 69¢ bit of metal. It feels like elitism to value linchpins over cogs.

At this point, you may wonder why I continue reading. I am a persistent woman and I persist in believing that I must be missing something. I make it all the way through the book. As another reviewer said, this book; “stays with you”. I was turning it over in my mind. I reread a few bits and then with the clarity of a lightening bolt – I understood the essence of my frustration with the book. It lies in the quintessential contradiction that is at the very heart of this book. The irreconcilable contradiction is that the goal of this book is to help people become “indispensible” and the path to do that is to create art which you give as a gift without any thought to compensation. Yet by grounding this book on the very self serving desire to be “indispensible” you are corrupting the very essence and value of the gift.  As nice as Linchpin sounds in theory, it is impossible to actually execute! To my way of thinking – this book sets us up all to fail. You can’t give your art as the book contends when the purpose is motivated by our self interest to become indispensible (translated to mean able to have secure income).

Am I dancing on the head of a linguistic pin? I don’t think so. The book’s well crafted title ensured wide distribution; after all, who doesn’t want to be indispensible? Mr. Godin’s mastery at the buzzword soundbyte art is well earned and well utilized here with chapter heads named provocatively: “Indoctrination: How we got here” and sub chapters expertly crafted to keep the story moving like; “From Superhero to Mediocreman (and Back Again)”. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Godin liked the title of this book first and then figured out the content to fill it with later.

Make no mistake about it. There were some really great parts to the book, especially when Mr. Godin’s comes out of his intellectual safe cocoon to join us in the real world. He is at his best when he talks about people like “JP” who, linchpin though she was, end up getting fired anyway. Or when Mr. Godin explores how our brain’s biology evolved to keep us safe first which undermines our ability to stand out when necessary. His description of the challenges of managing our “lizard brain” was insightful and helpful.

But this book I feel is misaimed —  driving us to a wrong set of activities around how to spot a linchpin, how to keep a linchpin, what you need to do to be a linchpin. Yet, it excludes asking the more relevant question about whether elevating the linchpin above other parts of the machine is such a good idea at all. Wouldn’t it far more productive instead, to develop better ways for people to identify where their genius may lie and then deliver jobs that support that discovery – the cogs need geniuses too. If companies supported that type of structure think how wonderful that would be — the linchpin and the cogs and the cylinders all operating in unison. There’s little value in the linchpin by itself – it only has any value within a fully functional machine.

No doubt this book leaves one wondering. So on that score, causing one to think is  never, ever a bad thing. But then again, I have been told, I think too much.

Judy Shapiro

Google-lanche

It would be impossible to read all reviews and POVs on Google Buzz. I have not read any of them. This post is about something entirely different.

This post is about what Google Buzz symbolizes for me. Google Buzz is the ultimate evidence for the deepest fears I expressed about Google last July as I wrote in Ad Age (Why Google Voice reminds me of AT&T and Google, AT&T and the DOJ: How to avoid History’s mistakes)  In these two different articles I argued that AT&T’s downfall started the moment it made the decision to dominate the information highway. Google’s march towards digital dominance seemed to be echoing that history for me and in the AT&T case it ended in divestiture. I wondered out loud whether Google headed toward the same unhappy end.

In the articles I challenged people to look at the big picture and see how similar their positions are. Many people disagreed with me. I understand why. The companies are quite different – literally speaking. But I am looking beyond the technology details to the heart and soul of the matter. The two companies are far more similar than one may expect. Their cultural context was similar and each held their company’s performance as a public trust, as a noble mission.

And this noble mission justified decisions made that were  necessary  to maintain brand position including creating products that served corporate needs first and customer needs second.  Google Buzz is an example of this line of thinking. It so clearly serves Google’s needs first and that of end users second that only a strategy borne of dominance could have stumbled so badly.

This is why the announcement of Google Buzz is so sad for me. It marks the precise moment when Google succumbed to the mistake of creating products designed first to maintain their market dominance over creating stuff people would really need. Some future business book will peg this as the moment when the tide turned and Google lost its grove.

Nor do I think this just another corporate misstep — but this causes me to imagine (and I shudderto think of it) that in 36 months Google will begin the process of being “dismantling” either by their design or by some other mechanism. I shudder because I know the personal pain that will be caused in the “reductive” process.

The launch of Google Buzz – whether it turns out to be a good or bad product is beside the point. IMHO, it represents the end of an era for Google and beginning of a much less certain future.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat them.”

George Santayana; B: December 16, 1863 Madrid:  D: September 26, 1952, Rome; Philosopher

Judy Shapiro

Postscript – I wrote this post last at night and the next morning I wake to see this article from CNET:  Google gets go-ahead to buy, sell energy. ‘Nuf said.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10456435-54.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

Does technology makes our lives easier?

Nope and here’s 10 ways technology actually makes our lives harder.

A while back, I wrote in Ad Age an article entitled; A Digital Myth: Technology Doesn’t Make Life Easier , http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=136533 where I explain that while technology makes tasks easier – it really does not make our lives easier. As an example, I compared the task of washing clothes in a machine versus a rock. Sure – a machine is far easier than a rock in the actual washing of the clothes. But if you add up all the other things that you need to do to make the machine work (the water infrastructure, the cost of repair, buying laundry detergent), we see that doing laundry via the trusty, highly reliable rock was far less complicated.

Since I wrote that article, I notice that the technology wars race are going as fiercely as ever, with techno-titans Google, Microsoft and Apple waging their epic battles for the heart and mind of Judy Consumer.

So, for a quiet moment, I wanted to share the 10 ways that technology most decidedly does not make our lives easier. I present this list, friends, knowing full well that I will be subjected to the inevitable backlashing  from tech fanboys. I have run afoul of them before – so gentlemen (I am being generous) – I’m ready — bring it on.

1) Harder to remember the everyday stuff of life.

This is a pet peeve which continues to drive me nuts because people don’t even try to remember the little mundane things of life anymore. With auto dial, auto login and “history” functions that tell you where you’ve been, our minds have devolved so that we can not easily remember these things.

I recognize we have more passwords, logins etc to remember than just 5 years ago but still – our ability for retaining simple little things seems gone. In the past, I made it point to know the phone number of my kid’s pediatrician and my immediate family. Now I don’t even know the cell phone number of my kids.

“Ok – what’s so bad about that?” you may ask. “Why waste those little grey cells on mundane memory tasks that our devices can do better and more conveniently?”  Good question – UNTIL you lose your phone or you have to change PCs – then you are in communications hell until you sort it all out.  My remedy is to force myself to recall key numbers.  As to the rest – oh well.

(Historical sidebar. Before the innovation of printing, our brains were capable of far greater acts of retaining information, as demonstrated by ancient Greek orators capacity to recite thousands of lines of poetry. Books, over time changed our biology so that our capacity to remember large quantity of information was diminished. So while I bemoan the loss of memory – I know it has happened before.)

2) Harder to keep your communications world “synced”.

I am going through this right now. I am working at a new company that is virtual. I now have 3 email accounts which are so cross forwarded to each other — it is a webmailtangle. I will figure it out but not without more pain that I think I should have to endure. I do not want to have to understand what POP or STMP or incoming or outgoing server configurations are.

And that just covers email! Now add the additional layers of IM, mobile, Google Voice, Blackberries, and all the identities we use to communicate in our social networks and you have communication complexity comparable to what a mid-sized company might have had 20 years ago.

It’s great that we are reachable 24/7 – but no one can seriously contend that all this connectivity makes our lives easier. In fact, it has become so complex, that new technologies are built to manage all these communications touchpoints.

Well that just about left “easy” in the dust.

3) Harder to dive deeply on any subject

A CEO I knew was very diligent about buying any book on marketing he thought would be useful. He himself never read any of them. Rather he had his people “summarize the book into key points”. I am sure if he read any of them, he may have gathered some insight that was lost on his people – but I understand the appeal of getting fed small info bits that are easy to snack on. So we take shortcuts. We scan text, we read extracts, we use twitter because 140 characters does not take long to absorb.

In fact, the attraction to digi-bytes has spawned new strategies in how to write as little as possible and still get the “a” message across. I am all for a Zen approach to content – simple and lean but it seems that content has become anorexic.

Business books tend to be written with very short telegraphic chapters with pithy titles like “The top 7 ways to [fill in the blank]…Try getting anyone to read an article that is more than a few paragraphs (and thanks to any of you who got this far on this decidedly non quick article).

Worse, far worse, I find myself getting impatient with writers who might, heavens, might take a few paragraphs to get to the point (the irony of this is not lost on me). The glorious joy of reading something with depth and substance seems to be on the endangered list.

4) Harder to be efficient

I think no one can deny that technology allows us do more things, usually at the same time. Talk, IM, tweet, web browse – all while driving (OK kidding- sorta).

My point is that new studies reveal that multitasking ain’t all it was cracked up to be.  Here’s an article from Wired that makes the point well; http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/08/multitasking/ (I write this as I have music blaring in my ear and I am IMing with two different colleagues. I notice how my typing deteriorates in direct relation to how many tasks I am trying to do at the same. It is not a pretty picture.)

5) Harder to get face time

Any parent out there knows what I am talking about here. Even Whoopi Goldberg observed (in a TV special) that while our children are smarter than we are, we are raising a generation of “barbarians”; children who are proficient tweeters, and IM’ers but who have too little interaction with real people in the real world. They seem almost out of place in the real world.  I am convinced that in 20 years, the lack of face time will have repercussions as these techno-savvy but socially naive children start having children of their own. Technology will take center stage in the training of their children. That can’t be good.

But it doesn’t stop there. In the business world, lack of face time has real costs today. Leaders spend less and less face time with their people often using cryptically crafted emails tapped out on a Blackberry’s to give complex instructions. That leaves a lot to the imagination – again – not always a good thing.

6) Harder to learn appreciation

I remember a few years ago I bought a traveling DVD/ TV player for the car (my kids were at the irritable age when car trips were tedious). Anyway, this device had wireless earphones, wireless controls with a luxurious 12” screen and detachable speakers. I was loving it. So much technology in such a compact, tidy device.

My kids were rather underwhelmed. For them, it was a convenience not in any way deserving of the reverence that I seemed to bestow on the thing. It takes A LOT to impress my teenage kids. It takes a lot to impress any teenager nowadays. What happens when they hit 30?  I guess to get a gee-whiz out of them might require a trip to the moon. And even then I wonder….

7) Harder to be loyal

Today, loyalty seems to be a quaint, sentimental notion that seems old fashioned. There is scant loyalty to be seen in relationship, jobs, brands, technology, geography.

We are comfortable meeting our “soul mate” online and with the powers of technology there are probably a few candidates who qualify. We are easily seduced to change brands with the scantest of promises. We don’t even remain loyalty to people within our newly created social networks bouncing from one network to another as easily as one changes a password.

Loyalty is out of fashion because maybe it is not really expected anymore; so much is so replaceable so easily. I miss loyalty in others and I make it point to practice it as actively as I can. In fact, people are often surprised at the loyalty I show to previous employers. From their perspective, it is so unexpected and unnecessary. I show loyalty as a way to express my gratitude to employers who enriched my career. It seems very necessary to me.

8 ) Harder to stay current and actually find the information you need

If anyone asks me why Twitter took off, I’d say it is because it gives people who want to stay current a convenient way to do so. That about sums it up for me.

Yet despite all the digi-byte ways we can get information, staying up to date seems to be getting harder. First to explore any subject online, you have to wade through digital stacks of garbage data. You have make decisions about what to information to trust or not. It sometimes feels like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Then, once you have to figured out what information is worth keeping, you have to spend a heck of a lot of time connecting the dots because as we said in point 3, no one writes meaty articles much anymore. It feels more like a scavenger hunt where one gathers little info bits and then from these obtuse clues we hope it adds up to something substantial.

Staying current was something that always required a certain dedication and investment of time. It seems now though the sheer deluge of data (good and bad) makes this so much harder on everyone.

9) Harder to gain perspective

Context makes all the difference when you are trying to understand the truth of a topic or controversy. That is becoming more and more of a challenge because of the difficulty of vetting trustworthy information. It is harder to know which person has the credentials to back up information they disperse.

Yep, gaining perspective through online information can be like making your way through a maze – fraught with dead ends and frustrating misdirection. Someone should come up with a GPS system for data navigation. I would buy that in a heartbeat.

10) Harder to establish trust – the online kind

This should come as no surprise to anyone. In the beginning, before social media became such a dominant marketing tool, customer reviews had power to influence, people you knew were trying to friend you and online connectivity was a joy because it could help you stay connected on a global scale.

But with the commercialization of social media, one consequence has been that trust has plummeted. A recent Ad Age article ; In Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less, explains that; “Only 25% of People Find Peers Credible, Flying in Face of Social-Media Wisdom” according to an Edelman study http://adage.com/article?article_id=141972. Simply, trust diminishes in direct proportion to the growth of social networks because it is hard to authenticate the identity of people online. This trust gap makes many online interactions harder to conduct.

To sum up, lest I leave you with the wrong impression — the upside of all this technology is amazing – in every respect. But it comes at a price that is perhaps more dear than first realized. So I advocate a new techno consciousness that doesn’t fall for the promise that “technology makes our lives easier”.

At least not on my watch.

Judy Shapiro

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