Remembering Ben Bradlee

The great man just passed on at the ripe old age of 93. And having lived a long life, I would not be surprised if many ask “So who was he? What was the big deal?” The questions are normal, as Ben Bradlee came from a different era.

What was so different? Bradlee was born wealthy but believed in work. Not owning businesses, but working in the news business. He started at age 15. He loved being an editor, and he was perhaps the greatest news editor of his day (famous for his handling of Woodward and Bernstein breaking the Watergate story). How many rich kids dream of this kind of life today? Who chooses truth over celebrity?

Times also were different because in Bradlee’s day, newspapers had more relevance than they do today.  More depended on their “fighting the good fight”. The best way to  get a feel for that may be to watch a movie. Not about Ben Bradlee (though he makes an appearance in “All the President’s Men” played ably by Jason Robards). But a 1940 film called “His Girl Friday“, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It is a hoot to watch. The film also gives you the flavor of why independent news reporting was so important.

Ben Bradlee believed in the importance of news and he lived it. You might say that he was a major player in a great and ongoing historic game — speaking truth to power. I love this comment from an interview that he did that he made about how he learned his craft.

I was taught by some wonderful people. I had an editor, Ralph Blagden, at a little newspaper I worked on in New Hampshire who went so far out of his way to help me that his name is enshrined in my mind. I also had Ken Crawford, a bureau chief at Newsweek. He just did everything, going over stories and turning them back and saying “Why?” And then when I got to the Post, I had Russ Wiggins, who would just bust his you-know-what for me.

Ben was up front about his debts to prior craftsmen and that he had to pay his dues before he took a leadership role. And he nurtured great talent as well. Sadly, I feel we may have lost that continuity. Here is Ben at work back in the glory days



Paris: My Fantasy Studio

I promised to offer from time to time images of great residences and today I found one. Who would not fantasize from time to time to having a studio in Paris. Not a small apartment, but a place where you could unleash your great artistic inspiration. Something like this, perhaps? Here is the photo montage. Enjoy!

1920s Robert Mallet-Stevens-designed art deco artist's studio in Paris, France

New York: The Search for Ultimate Dumplings

Yes, I know, searching for great dumplings is silly. But that is what makes the idea so appealing. And there is a trail to follow! We can use this trail to start our quest for the perfect dumpling! Here it is! Be beware! Once you start this game, you may not be able to stop!

The Guardian, with its unique command of the bland generalization, offers this, “dumplings are loved worldwide …” Right. Yawn! But reading between the lines — and unleashing our inner Sherlock Holmes — we might deduce that our quest is larger than New York. Alimentary, my dear Watson!  Going further still,  perhaps we may end up dissatisfied with what the great “dumplologists” of the world can offer. Perhaps we will only be satisfied if we master this black art ourselves! Recipes please! Let us repair to the kitchen! We have work to do!

This image catches what we are talking about! Give in earthling! You know you can’t resist!

London: Magic Places, The Claridge Hotel

Every now and then, it is fun to get away from it all. Some folks go out in the country. Some check into a local hotel. That requires a certain amount of free lucre, but according to Andre O’Hagan, it can do magical things — especially if that hotel is Claridges. He writes

The black-and-white tiles of Claridge’s are like a pathway to otherness, a heavenly runway to freedom when you’re feeling imprisoned by yourself.

He has a point there. This is what it looks like

Magic Leap’s Big Tease

For those who are wondering what will be the “next big thing”, how about  a

a hardware, software, firmware, and development platform” that … replicates the visual perception system of the human brain as a go-anywhere, mobile computing platform.

Fast Company offers some more information, but no more details on what this platform will look like and actually do — just that we soon may transcend the old fashioned computer screen.

Interesting. Let’s see what comes of it.

The Creative “No”

The story so far: we know by now that great partnering is critical to produce great creativity. We might call it the Lennon/McCarntney effect.  This idea is obvious because we knew before that creativity has a profound social dimension. As Steve Johnson put it, great ideas come out of great conversations or exchanges. But not all partnering produces great work. What distinguishes great partnering from other not so great partnering? If we can isolate that special ingredient, we have the key to making “social” more creative. It is the “secret sauce” that could change the world.

Today I got a step closer to seeing what is special by identifying at least one thing that is the opposite. A thing that takes the energy out of relationships. A real killer! Fred Wilson writes about it today – uncritical  adulation. Fred writes

When you are VC, you live in this protected environment. You sit in your office in a glass conference room with lovely views and entrepreneurs walk in and pitch you and you get to decide who you are going to back and who you are not. People tell you what they think you want to hear. That you are so smart. That you are so successful. They suck up to you. And it goes to your head. You believe it. I am so smart. I am so successful.

You have to get out of that mindset because it is toxic.

Shaw wrote about this in “Man and Superman” — the great boredom of heaven where all is perfect and nothing really happens. Don Juan prefers hell, where (if I recall correctly) the devil is a waiter.

The flip side of the coin is that creative partnering has a critical or negative side to it. It is not a love fest. Your creative partner has an independent vision that competes with your own. He or she says “no” to you either in words or deeds.

That sounds weird because we tend to think of saying “no” as a relationship killer. Hearing “no” hurts. And it can, especially when the “no” is delivered in a destructive manner. Consider the negativity in this segment from a law school contracts class in the 1973 movie “The Paper Chase”

We see destructive negativity and then we see destructive negativity transcended. The movie develops that theme, bringing out a peculiar creative partnership between teacher and student. BTW, it is also an idealized view of what law is about in general — transcending the negativity in conflict.

I find this idea of “creative negativity” to be pretty interesting. And I will confess that it is not entirely my own idea. I developed it from a book that I value highly – “The Power of Positive No” by Bill Ury.  Bill wrote the book to help people say “no” when they need to. I want to go farther and develop models for saying “no” because you want to. I will post a bit more on this over the next week as I prepare for our “Managing Conflict” course that we run every autumn here in Tartu.