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Letters to a Young Manager

Becoming Italian, #349
LTYM > Mission and Vision

Dear Sophie,
You are rightfully curious about the creative process and to question the relationship between the arts and business.

One of the things I learned as a poet was paying attention to things that grabbed my attention—things that moved me and made me want to rewind and be in that moment again—something that writing poetry allows me to do. Yet the insight I gained was not as much that poetry could capture and re-present a moment, if-you-will, but rather knowing when it will happen—whether a concert, a good homily, or a poetry reading—I go with the expectation that something new will transpire to trigger my creative side. It’s as if I go to these places with pen in hand, ready to write.

Similarly, I’ve found that my thinking about problems and new ideas gets better when I’m in dialog with other creative and bright people. There is something about the give and take of conversation, heightened in debate, which ratchets up my thinking, makes me more reflective and engaged with the subject matter in which I’m immersed. This is most true for me in the question and answer time after a presentation. The expected and unexpected questions are often a time to reformulate something, to say it in a new way, to bring in some of the banter to make it better. The bonus is that I can seek out those places where this happens and go like the poet with recorder in hand and an expectation.

This kind of talk-myself-to-conclusion (or to better questions) is a milieu for thinking that I learned early and have been reminded of at important junctures in my life. The notion that I can expect to co-create with new and old colleagues is a form of collaboration that for me forms a basis for much of my work.

In 2008 I spent a semester at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as a Fellow and CIO-in-Residence. I taught some classes, audited a few, and wrote some papers. It was a productive and fulfilling time—one of the best in my life.

A conversation I had with an advisor earlier that year raised the question, “when do you come alive; when do you become animated?” I was aware of two recent discoveries; the first was while walking in the woods, my mind would clear and creative thoughts would flow. In fact, a short walk behind the Coop Market in Hanover and I was on the Appalachian Trail, where I spent many a weekend hiking. I began bringing bits of folded paper and a pen with me on the long hikes, often stopping and jotting down an idea or poem from something that caught my eye along the way.

The second was being part of a debate, an animated discussion of back-and-forth, often in the lunchroom at Tuck, sometimes in the classroom, or an office down the hall. I also noticed that at the end of a presentation I gave, I became energized by the question-and-answers with the students.

Tuck students are among the brightest of the bright, incredibly fast and productive learners. One of the professors remarked that he worked hard to stay a step ahead of the students; they were demanding in their thinking and their questions.

What I noticed in the conversations was not just that I came alive in the discussions, but that my thinking became sharper, the tangents more plentiful, and the phrasing of new ideas stronger. And the Italian side of my heritage came to the fore in my arms and hands punctuating my sentences.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by theologian Howard Thurman, “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” [1]
Best regards,

[1] For a discussion of the origin of this quote, see Quote Research, July 9, 2021,


Pay attention to when you come alive; and put yourself there

Discussion Questions:

1) When are the times you most come alive? What happens to your thinking during and after?
2) Are you aware of specific places and situations when you most come alive?
3) What relationship do you see between creative moments and business?
4) Can you have innovation without creativity?

For Further Reading:
  1. See "How do you pick your area", Letter #555
  2. See the exercise of what gives you energy and what saps your energy: Sara Shay, “Five Sensible Tips for Achieving Work-Life Balance.” CIO, May 30, 2007,

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