Archive for November, 2009


Meandering Indiana 18 – Lawrence County

November 30, 2009

It was about this time of year, many years ago, when I took my first trip to southern Indiana. The occasion was a visit to my new husband’s hometown of Bedford, Indiana, where he had graduated from the old Bedford High School (before Bedford North Lawrence). A Hoosier boyhood among the quarries was his experience, as in the movie “Breaking Away.” Known as the Land of Limestone, this area of Indiana was the source of building material for the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, and most of Indiana University. Generations of stone cutters and carvers, some from the craft traditions of Italy, worked in that industry.

As the Indiana Humanities Council gears up for its theme program, Food for Thought, let me pause here to note that the Lawrence County Tourism Commission has provided a Dining Guide to the county, as well as other useful information.

Persimmon Pulp

Persimmon Pulp

Speaking of food, Mitchell, another notable town in Lawrence County, has a few claims to fame of its own. First, it’s the home of the Mitchell Persimmon Festival, held annually in September since 1947. My mother-in-law first introduced me to persimmon pudding, a Hoosier treat described as “a baked dessert with a taste similar to pumpkin pie filling but with the texture of gingerbread.” Sure enough, we had some for Thanksgiving this year.

I didn’t get to see much of Lawrence County on my first visit, which we spent hanging out with my husband’s old pals, but since then I’ve enjoyed a number of area attractions. Spring Mill State Park, a popular facility with a delightful inn, a pioneer village, and a memorial to Astronaut Gus Grissom, is a destination near Mitchell. And I have yet to visit Oolitic, but it’s one of my favorite Indiana town names.


What-Are-You-Reading-Wednesday: Change is Your Competitive Advantage

November 18, 2009

By Larry Rowland, immediate past chair of the Indiana Humanities Council’s board of directors.

As we are confronted with change in our personal and professional lives, we must understand that there are four guarantees relating to change:

  • Change is here to stay.
  • The pace of change will increase.
  • This change won’t be trouble-free.
  • You are accountable for dealing with the change.

These guarantees, as posited by Karl Schoemer, author, speaker, and facilitator from Brownsburg, Indiana, prove to be unsettling to most when heard or read for the first time.  Initial resistance to change is natural, as old habits, policies, and procedures, no longer are relevant.

Karl tells us that there are four stages of change. When change is initially presented to us, we feel a sense of betrayal.  No longer can we count on the old ways to accomplish our duties, which forces us to deal with new unknowns.  We feel that management, our boss, or our family member or friend, has once again not paid attention and has foisted this new “change” upon us. 

Next, we feel a sense of denial, and hope that by ignoring the fact that a change has been made, it will eventually go away.  We next experience an identity crisis as we grapple with the meaning of this change, and causes us to begin asking questions relating to our future relevance and place within the firm.  Finally, we find that we must search for solutions if we are to successfully manage change.  Each of us is accountable for developing the new skills that are needed to retain our productive and effective role within our firm .

The difference between today’s winners and losers is often determined by how quickly and successfully we move through the four stages of change. Those who quickly can move to the “search for solutions” stage become more valuable to their firm, while those who struggle with working through the four stages find themselves falling farther behind. 

How do you react to change?  What tools did you find helpful as you worked toward your search for solutions?  Share your thoughts here, and you quite possibly will be able to help someone else dealing with change in their life.


The humanities: It’s not about what they are; it’s what we do

November 16, 2009

Due to an overwelmingly positive response, we wanted to share the following article with you, which was published in a variety of newspapers throughout Indiana, including the Indianapolis Star on Nov. 4, under the headline “Get in touch with the humanities.”

By Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council. 

Once, after a dance performance, Isadora Duncan was asked what the dance meant. Her response has become famous as a terse description of art’s purpose: “If I could tell you what it meant,” she said, “there would be no point in dancing it.”

In my role as president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council, I often find myself being asked, “What are the humanities?” And sometimes, like Isadora Duncan, I think it’d be easier to dance than answer the question.

Why? Because sometimes describing the humanities is like describing the wind – it’s easier to say what it does than what it is. It swirls leaves on an autumn sidewalk. It teases a little girl’s hair. It pulses through a wheat field like waves on a landlocked sea.

So, I thought I’d explain what the humanities are by explaining what you can do – and perhaps already do – in, through and with them every day.

I don’t pretend that this list is conclusive; I know it only scratches the surface. But I hope that it will, in its breadth and diversity, allow you to create – and, more important, put into action – your own definition of the humanities. So, let’s get started:

Read a novel. Read a poem. Read the directions on a shampoo bottle. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read a blog. Read an essay. Read a review of a book you’ll never read. Read a sacred text. Read your diary. Read to a kid. Read the liner notes to an old jazz album. Read the lyrics to a song you love. Read a libretto.

See a play with a friend. Go early. Wander through the theater. View the stage from different angles. Peruse the program. Learn about the actors. Watch the play. Study the set. Notice the lighting. Listen to reactions. Find a place to have coffee. Discuss the play. Go to another play. Repeat the process.

Visit a courtroom. Visit a classroom. Visit an old teacher. Visit a park. Visit a museum. Visit a library. Visit City Hall. Visit a college campus. Visit a craftsman’s workbench. Visit an artist’s studio.

Look at a piece of art. Study it. Step back. Look at the piece beside it. Ask yourself: Why are these pieces next to each other? Why is this art? Step back again. Ask yourself: Does the size of the room affect the way I look at the art? Step back again. How does seeing more change the way you see the art?

Listen to a band. Listen to a debate. Listen to a well-tuned machine. Listen to a podcast. Listen to a diner ordering dinner. Listen to a photographer describing a photo. Listen to an architect explaining a building’s design. 

Stop outside a building you pass every day; look at its design. Do you know the name for the architectural style? Do you like it? What appeals to you? What would you do differently? Get a book about architecture and learn about the style. Find other examples of that style and compare them. Find examples of other styles and compare them. Take a walk with a colleague and debate the architecture you see.

Attend a historic-home tour. Attend a lecture. Attend the symphony. Attend a gallery reception. Attend a festival. Attend a legislative session. Attend opening night (of anything). Attend a public forum.

Speak at a public forum. Sing in a choir. Yell “Bravo” at a concert. Ask a question. Tell someone your family’s history. Recite a poem. Describe a work of art. Say what you think.

Now, think about what you’ve done. You’ve examined, studied and reviewed something made by humans or something that makes us human. You’ve thought about it, pondered it and processed it. And you’ve talked about it, debated it and discussed it.

That’s what the humanities are.


What-Are-You-Reading-Wednesday: A Year of Cats and Dogs

November 11, 2009

By Nila Nealy, principal and brand strategist of TwentyTwo, a brand consultancy specializing in brand strategy, identity and communications. This review was also posted on Nila’s blog, The Human Condition

I can’t say exactly what took me so long to read this book. It had been sent as an advance galley copy by the publisher on my request through LibraryThing. The offer description appealed to me with it’s promise of animal companions and the I Ching. Perhaps it was simply the timing. I received the book in July shortly after I’d left my job. And things rather suddenly became tumultuous in the life of someone very close to me. I was soul searching, supporting the same for someone else – and I didn’t quite want the distraction of escaping into someone’s fictional story.

About a week or so ago when the turmoil in my loved one’s life came to a conclusion of sorts, I was ready to read something besides blogs, articles and books on brand, business and health. So, I pulled my copy of A Year of Cats and Dogs by Margaret Hawkins from the shelf.

I very quickly connected with Maryanne, the main character who tells her story first person, memoir style. She brought a knowing smile to my face as she related how she just passed through a major transition in her life and then chose to go through another. What she discovers about herself and her immediate world reminded me to accept and believe. The book isn’t all lesson, however. In large part, it is simply enjoyable with language that paints word pictures I’m still holding in my mind, having laid the book to rest around 1:00 this morning.

The author uses a few devices to advance the book and add layers of understanding, the two most notable being those I mentioned earlier – animals and the I Ching. While the I Ching does show up in the text, it is mostly found as the chapter titles, corresponding to each of the 64 hexagrams in the Chinese divination system. The I Ching is also known as the Book of Changes, an apt parallel to the year Maryanne shares with readers. Her relationship with her cat Clement and several dogs, especially Bob, Gregoire and Harvey are key to the self-discovery Maryanne experiences as well as much of the action in the book.

I read A Year of Cats and Dogs over about five or six sessions, mostly as my evening relaxation reading. I’m not a particularly fast reader, with fiction especially, so you may find it faster for you. I find that I like to re-read a section or pause to take in the images or feelings of what I’ve read. As with all fiction (that I like), I had to force myself to call a break for sleep after an hour or so. I could have easily stayed up in to the wee hours reading it from cover to cover.

I’m neither a voracious fiction reader nor particularly critical of literary conventions. What I do want are books that offer glimpses into the human condition through character studies, relationships and symbolism. A Year of Cats and Dogs met my reading requirements nicely.


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Talent is overrated.

November 4, 2009

By Krista Skidmore, Indiana Humanities Council board member, and president of FlashPoint Human Resources Consulting

We all know the rhetoric that great organizations are made up of great people — and with this in mind, most companies spend a significant amount of time, energy, and focus trying to find and develop talent. One of the toughest challenges leaders face, though, is trying to understand how to develop peak performance in their employees or volunteers. Is it born or bred? Is it nature or nurture?

Geoff Colvin attempts to tackle this question in his book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. He concludes that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to everyone. He asks his readers to confront the myth that abilities are innate and encourages us to consider that deliberate practice is the common factor that explains great performance.

After all, Colvin points out, Mozart became Mozart not because he was born with talent but because he furiously worked to develop his skills through finger-bloodying practice. Colvin discusses a study he conducted of high performers in various fields; it showed that the most excellent performers develop their skill not only through participation in organized activities but through hours of individual practice as well. For example, he found that the best violinists practice during scheduled hours with the orchestra but also devote many hours to solo performance; meanwhile, Jerry Rice became arguably the greatest wide receiver to play the game of football because he spent most of his time honing his skills through rigorous workout routines.  Deliberate practice requires intense concentration and commitment; it far exceeds what most of us do when we think we are “practicing.”

Colvin admits that deliberate practice alone does not fully explain excellent performance. He acknowledges that the performer must also have a supporting environment in which to work. This is an especially important concept for those leaders who are seeking peak performance in employees. But those who wish to apply it to the workplace should beware—most of our organizations simply are not designed to support deliberate practice. Goals aren’t always clear; activities that would make us better are usually not highly repeatable; there are few incentives to exceed our limits; feedback is not consistent; and most activities are within our comfort zone, not our learning zone. Those organizations who want to get the most out of top performers must address these issues.

Fortunately, Colvin gives several helpful tips on how to apply his concepts. Leaders who are interested in the idea of deliberate practice and who want to eliminate environmental challenges in order to build an organization that truly supports peak performance will find Talent Is Overrated insightful.