Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

family, 60's

Copyright – Playboy

September marked the passing of a cultural icon. Love him, or despise him, Hugh Hefner almost single handedly changed American society…and the lives of many adolescent boys! His passing sparked the memory of my first encounter with his magazine.

I grew up in a small town. It was the 1960’s. Watch a rerun of “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and you get a pretty good idea of life in the 60’s in small town USA. Innocent. Simple.

I don’t think those pre-teen years could have been more stereotypical. My siblings and I walked to school and back every day. At school, I had a close group of friends. We’d been together since Kindergarten. One of the most vivid memories is of my best friend, Jeff and I bent over a transistor radio during recess as the Tigers won the ‘68 World Series, the Tigers themselves could not have been more excited as we celebrated by raising our arms above our heads, and racing across the playground, screaming with joy at the top of our lungs! Most of the memories have faded over the years, but the names and faces have not.

Every day after school, I delivered papers. All the paperboys (and girls) would gather at the newspaper office. We would spend a half hour or so folding our papers before loading them on our bikes and heading out to various parts of town. My route was several blocks south of our house. A lot of my friends lived along my path. I would buzz down the street on my bright yellow Stingray bike tossing papers toward front doors.

Baseball pretty much was IT. Yeah, there was football and basketball, but those were to merely pass the time until baseball. I played Little League baseball. My dad was usually my coach. However, most of our playing was sandlot ball…or water tower ball as we call it now. There was a small grassy area next to one of the town’s water towers. We spent days cleaning it up, hauling away trash (thanks to one of the dads for driving the pickup), and marking base paths. We spent hours and hours playing ball. Not enough kids to have teams?…home run derby was the game of choice.

Other than baseball, we spent the majority of the rest of the time playing some variation of “good guys/bad guys”. This could be Batman and Robin against the evil villains, Green Hornet and Kato, cops and robbers like Adam-12, or Combat. Our neighborhood was our “battlefield”. Our block was mostly residential. It was cut into four sections by two intersecting alleys. In the northwest quadrant was our house and the church where my dad preached. The northeast and southeast were all houses. The southwest quadrant, had an small apartment building, a Citgo gas station, a small, single story office building, and an insurance company. This quadrant was further dissected by a couple of “shortcuts” between the buildings. GREAT hiding places for bad guys and good guys alike! In fact our “Batcave” sat at the intersection of these shortcuts in a small outbuilding that held, of all things, the trash dumpsters for the office building.

It was during one of these neighborhood adventures that Roddy, one of the younger kids from down the street, and I found ourselves in need of a hideout. Not being incredibly creative, we chose the outbuilding. Inside, were two large cardboard boxes about the size of an oven. After checking to be sure they weren’t filled with trash that was “too disgusting”, we jumped in to hide. Within seconds, Roddy exclaimed, “Jeff, look at this!” In his hands was pristine issue of…PLAYBOY! Me, being older and wiser, after all, I was 10 and Roddy was just 7, I snagged the magazine from his hands. Within moments, we were staring at the Centerfold of Miss July 1968!

“Roddy,” I asked incredulously, “where did you find this?”

“Right here! Look, here is another one!”

Sure enough. We had discovered the motherload! The oven box was filled about a third full of dozens and dozens of the magazine! For a young kid who had just seen his first Playbook only seconds ago, this was a discovery of a lifetime! Holy Airbrush, Batman, this was an incredible find!

About that time my younger brother, Joel and his friend, Dale (also from down the street), showed up. For about the next 20 minutes, we dug through the magazines, each one of us in turn holding up another beauty! “Hey, look at her, she’s tough!” (For some reason “tough” was slang for “hot”) Trust me, we were not reading the articles!

Soon it dawned on us that we could not leave our goldmine where it was…we had to move it…but to where. Leaving Roddy to stand guard, the three of us began to scour the neighborhood for a good hiding place. Down the alley just past our house was a row of garages. A friend of my parents owned them and he used them to store antiques for his business. Mr. Carson rarely ventured into those garages. We tried the first door, locked. We tried the second door, locked. We got to the fifth door and the door opened. We lifted the door about two feet and peered inside. It was dark and musty…a perfect place! Our treasure would be safe here until we found a more permanent location.

We spent the next hour carefully moving armload after armload. We had to use all our skill and cunning to avoid discovery. We are on a mission! All those years of playing Good Guys/Bad Guys was really paying off. We took our last load, but before we closed the door, I snagged one of the magazines to hide in a hollow branch of the tree in the back yard. One can never be too careful.

As dinner time approached and we all needed to head home, we took the most solemn oath of all…the pinky swear…we would not breathe a word about our historic discovery. We planned to meet the next day to find a more suitable hiding place.

The next day we met behind our garage as planned. Before we discussed suitable hiding places, we went to gaze at our glorious find. We raised the door on the fifth garage…no magazines. Zippo…zero…zilch…thinking we miscounted the doors, we tried to open the other garages. All of the were locked except the fifth and seventh. No magazines. We were stunned. We’d been robbed! Who were we going to tell? I remembered the lone magazine stuffed in the tree branch. Quickly we ran to the yard and scaled the tree. I reached into the hollow branch…NOTHING. That one was gone as well!

How could this have happened? It didn’t seem possible that Mr. Carson had discovered them, especially since the one in the tree was missing as well. I smelled a rat! Someone had broken our sacred vow! Roddy had no siblings and his mom was a single mom (and honestly, we all thought she should be a centerfold!). I couldn’t imagine even if Roddy had told her that she would have pilfered our contraband, no, she would have called my parents.

I began to interrogate my brother. Had he told our older siblings? He swore not. Besides, I’d been with him all night after all, we did share a room. That left Dale. Dale, who had two older brothers. Dale, who had remained suspiciously quiet after the robbery had been discovered. Dale, who had three sets of eyes now trained on him. Of course, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. After intense interrogation, he finally caved. He had told one of his brothers, but the brother had promised not to tell, he pleaded.

About that time my older brother came walking out of the house. “What’s the matter? Missing something?” The plot thickened! It seems Dale’s older brother had told my brother and sister. They had all had a good laugh as Dale’s brother told his story of stealing our cache of magazines. Not much we could do about it. We couldn’t tell on him. We certainly couldn’t retake our treasure using force, he could whip us all! We could do nothing but accept the fate!

It would be a long time before I found myself in possession of another one of Mr. Hefner’s magazines. Ten-year old preacher’s kids just don’t have many opportunities like the one that was ripped from our grasp! The sixties were drawing to a close. The innocence of those days is long past. I can’t help but wonder, if Hugh Hefner was launching a business today, what societal norm would he help to change?

Mark X. Hatfield - The day the music died...

July 19, 2017: The day the music died.

July 19th the world lost Mark X. Hatfield, and, yes, on July 19th…the music died.

Mark X. Hatfield - The day the music died...

Mark X. Hatfield (Photo from Mark’s Facebook page)

Mark as an organist. A church organist. He brought his gift to thousands around the world. Words cannot describe the majesty of his music. I urge you to listen to some of his performances on YouTube.

If Mark had played rock ‘n roll, he would have been known as a “keyboardist”. With no disrespect to Elton John, Billy Joel or the late Keith Emerson, that label diminishes the enormous talent God had given Mark. Whenever Mark played the organ, the congregation would come early to hear the prelude. After the service, they would sit in the pews until the last notes of the postlude echoed throughout the sanctuary.

Mark was an organist. A church organist…and so much more. Mark came to our church in the early 70’s to be the organist. When the Minister of Music left, Mark took over those duties as well and truly began his ministry. The music became an integral part of the service. He would work with my dad (the minister) to really understand the message he wanted to convey on Sunday and deeply tie the music to that message.

Mark brought a bright sense of humor with him as well. Member of the choir having a birthday? Aren’t those notes of “Happy Birthday” subtly being played underneath the melody of the offertory? “The Bringing of the Tithes” Sunday in November? I swear I hear the tones of “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof!

As Mark expanded his ministry, he resurrected the youth choir and started a youth handbell choir. The bell choir became known across the state. We were a ROCKING bell choir. I don’t mean we played rock music (other than Tubular Bells, I can’t imagine bells in rock music), I mean we ROCKED it! He was able to take us all as a group further than we ever imagined. The complexities of some of the pieces we played required some of us to play four, five, six and more bells in a given song. We were GOOD…because Mark taught us to accept nothing less than perfection.

The world will forever remember Mark for the music he made through his own fingers and feet and through the voices, hands, and instruments of those he led. Me? I will always remember Mark for what he did for me. As a young pimple-faced teenager of 17 or 18 he took me seriously. He took my dream of music seriously when few others did. All I ever wanted to do when I grew up was be a rock star.

During the 70’s I was deeply moved by the Broadway Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. So moved, I wrote the sequel. After writing the lyrics to 20 or so songs and plinking out the melodies on guitar, I nervously shared it with Mark. To my amazement, he did not laugh. He did not make fun of me. What he did do, was spend hours and hours meeting me before Bell Choir practice and helping me write the music. When Mark took my melodies and played them, it was magical. He made those silly little songs sound REAL!

As I prepared to graduate high school, I turned my attention to college. I enrolled at Indiana State to major in Music Theory & Composition. I submitted my rock opera as part of my portfolio of work. About six weeks before school was to start I learned that even in Music Theory & Composition one must declare an instrument…oh, and rock guitar did not count (uh, nor did classical guitar). I was crushed! But, there was Mark.

Mark found an accelerated piano curriculum for adults and for the next six weeks we met several evenings a week. Mark taught me to play. He taught me to play well enough to actually audition…and to pass. I was given provisional acceptance into the school of Music.

For a variety of reasons (mostly because I had no talent) my career in rock and roll never materialized. What was born in me through Mark was a lifelong love of music, a dedication to lifelong learning and the dare to dream. Last summer, Carmen and I, along with our friends Hal and Beth Bloss, had a chance to reconnect with Mark for lunch. With tears swelling in my eyes, I was able to tell him what he meant to that pimple-faced teenager and what he means to a somewhat older and grayer grandfather today.

Mark, you will be missed deeply.  Your music will live on in the ears of all who heard it, your love will live on in the hearts of all of us who felt it!

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
Or Follow Him on Twitter (@jtonindy)

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On June 13, 2o17 I was honored to be the headliner for Sparks Talk’s Fifth Anniversary. The transcript of this timed-talk follows. 

It’s 1780, August. You are a young Shawnee teen. Early in the afternoon you climb up the ridge east of the village and look down across the valley. The summer sun beats down relentlessly on the  village. The air is still, smoke from smoldering cooking fires creates a cloud throughout the clearing and tickles your nostrils as you breathe. Along the base of the hill, several small cabins form a circle. To the east a stockade sits atop the next hill. Fields of corn stretch for miles in each direction along the lazy river.

Some of the younger children play in the dirt near several of the cabins. Mothers keep a watchful eye while they go about their chores in preparation for the evening meal.

A dog wanders between the cabins, its tongue drooping from its mouth as it pants.  It enters the cool shade of a doorway, only to reemerge a second later with a yelp as one of the men inside swats at it so the council meeting is not disturbed.

Inside the cabin, the men are engaged in a great debate. The sound of their voices drift up along with the smoke.

You see motion in the corn…you see the flash before you…Crack! The sound of gunfire shatters the afternoon stillness.  Soon war cries filled the air from the west of the village. The long knives have arrived! The smell of burnt gunpowder mixed with the smoke of the fires and burns your eyes.

Why I was standing in a park in the middle of Ohio reading an historical marker on July 4, 2000 is a story for another day. What we are going to explore today are the connections. The connections that drew me to the past and propelled me into the future.

The sign I was reading was in a park dedicated to the Battle of Piqua. A battle between the Kentucky militia led by George Rogers Clark against a tribe of the Shawnee nation. What boy from Indiana doesn’t feel a connection to George Rogers Clark?

I read more of the markers. One was dedicated in 1976. I graduated high school in 1976. Connection.

A Shawnee boy survived the battle. His name was Tecumseh. I attended Camp Tecumseh YMCA camp as a kid. Connection.

Tecumseh grew up and along with his brother, The Prophet, led the Indian forces in the The Battle of Tippecanoe near Lafayette against the US forces led by William Henry Harrison. In 1976 I graduated from…William Henry Harrison High School…connection. The name of our school newspaper? The Prophet! Connection!

I hated history class in high school…and now I was hooked. Over the next decade, Carmen and I would spend every minute of vacation retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition. You see, Clark was the younger brother of George Rogers Clark. We discovered dozens and dozens of connections. We discovered a deep love for our country, and we discovered a shared love of history. In a sense, newlyweds when we embarked on these journeys, we discovered each other. Ah, but I’m not here to talk about our love story either, for that, you have to wait until my book “The Lewis and Clark Will Never Die Tour” is published!

All these connections are interesting…and we could talk about them all night…well, for another 6 minutes or so. But, what if I could show you how you could use those connections with the past to live in the present and plan for the future? Now THAT would be really interesting!

For the last five years, did you catch that connection? Five years…same time Sparks was launching. I told you connections with the past are everywhere, anyway, five years ago, I started working with an executive coach. Dr. Dan Miller’s approach to coaching is something he calls Creative Conversations. Through these conversations we study the life, or river as Dan calls them, of an historical figure and discuss points in their lives and how they relate to a problem or a challenge I am wrestling with today.

Over this time span, we have studied Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, William Sherman and Abraham Lincoln, albeit briefly. One of the interesting aspects of immersing yourself in history this way is the number of connections you will discover. Now I know those connections were always there, the study just raised your awareness of them.

When we embarked on our exploration of the Roosevelt River, our theme was Communication, Speaking Truth to Authority and Creating an Environment of Candor. The struggle to speak truth to authority was deeply ingrained. I grew up the son of a baptist minister. Children of the minister were to be seen and not heard, you certainly didn’t speak truth to his authority, especially when his authority was HIS authority!

Roosevelt ALWAYS spoke truth to authority. For him it seemed to come naturally. The lessons over the year were endless. However,, one the stuck out for me was his use of gestures. He was a master at using a gesture to make his point. I realized my dad, was a master of using gestures in his sermons. In some ways I adopted my favorite gesture of his, that of getting out from behind the podium and walking about to engage the audience. However, the key lesson here wasn’t the gesture itself, it was when to NOT use the familiar gesture to make a point. To stop walking around the platform and stop, freeze, and make a point.

As my career progressed and I began to be seen as a leader not just of my team, or even of my company, but in the community, this leadership in a new stage need exploration. Enter Dwight D. Eisenhower and the exploration of adapting to new issues and working with different stakeholders. What better model to use than the military man that rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Allied Forces in WWII and then on to the presidency. Moving from a command and control organization to one of politics and influence.

As Eisenhower established his leadership he saw a connection to two seemingly unrelated advances in warfare. This first was the mechanization of, well, just about everything. The Cavalries of WWI were a thing of the past, but unlike horses, jeeps and trucks need fuel. He leveraged that in his battle plans both for his forces and against the enemy. At the same time aircraft became a strategic part of warfare. Eisenhower was able to see the relationship between the two in a way few others did. For me, as an IT leader, it was about the cloud. But not the cloud alone, it was what it could bring when it was joined with organization agility. Together the two can have a multiplying effect. Look for the relationships in the seemingly unrelated!

Our final example come from the life of William T. Sherman, the civil war general. William Tecumseh Sherman…see how I did that? Connections! The theme we explored is “A Plan is a Contract between the past and the future”. Sherman had a plan. Sherman had a grand plan. His plan didn’t always work. He learned, he adjusted, and ultimately succeeded.

Sherman was involved in two battles near the town of Chickasaw Bluffs. In the first he suffered an embarrassing defeat. Some time later, he and Grant attacked the forces at Chickasaw Bluffs and were successful. Grant had used a strategy Sherman thought would never work. He saw, he learned and he acknowledged. We need to support and observe other leaders and other strategies, and adapt our plans for the future.

These are but a few of the lessons of the last five years. Connections to the past are all around us. Lessons from the past out boundless, and ever changing. Even now as I write this, I see new insights, new lessons, and opportunities to impact the future. As you look back over the last five years, over the last 50 years, 100 years, longer, what connections reveal themselves? What lessons are there to be learned in the present to plan for the future?

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