I was talking to someone the other day about the willingness of many millenials to leave jobs where the culture is bad or the expectations are unrealistic or confusing. We both agreed that, in general, we find it refreshing – and that we believe it will force many companies to think more deeply about how they operate and the cultures they create.
At one point, though, my colleague said, “But it can go too far. Sometimes you have to suffer – there can be a purpose to pain.”
I watched my immediate mental response: That’s not true – thinking that we have to suffer condemns us to suffering. But instead of saying that out loud, I kept listening and asking questions. After a few minutes, I thought I understood what she was really saying, and so took a stab at summarizing. “You’re talking about pain on the way to improvement, vs. just submitting yourself to ongoing suffering.”
“Exactly,” she responded.
Then she told me a great story about two senior executives she knew, both of whom had reputations as tough, sometimes difficult and demanding bosses. However, she went on to note that many people she knew felt their time working for boss A was very valuable, and said they’d work for him in the future, if they had a chance – while most people had really disliked working for boss B, and would never want to work for him again.
The difference? Boss A, while tough, demanding and undiplomatic (to put it mildly) really focused on developing his folks. His toughness was in the service of their getting better, thinking more deeply, being able and willing to embrace new possibilities. Under boss A, people grew. In contrast, boss B was tough because he could be; he was just mis-using his boss power. There was no gain from the pain.
And I think this is a lesson millenials need to learn (and one I see my millenial children and colleagues learning as they get older and work longer). Sometimes, you have to do things that aren’t very comfortable, in order to get what you really want. And if you bail at the first sign of discomfort – whether you’re by yourself, trying to learn something; or in an organization, having to put up with some company BS; or dealing with a boss who may not be the most skilled or emotionally intelligent, but is genuinely trying to help you improve – you’re never going to get very far.
It’s analogous to trying to get in better physical shape, where the price is the bodily discomfort of sore muscles and the mental discomfort of feeling like a klutz. If you really want to get in better professional shape – to find out what you can love and be great at doing, and then to become excellent at doing it – the price is always some degree of mental, emotional, and even physical discomfort.
In other words: if you’re entirely comfortable, you’re probably not learning anything. And if you want to become world-class at doing anything, you’ll have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Read Be Bad First – Get Good at Things FAST to Stay Ready for the Future for more insights about being usefully uncomfortable.
I know I’m dating myself by using that title. It became known as the signature line of Sgt. Joe Friday, the hero in a cop show called Dragnet that was popular when I was a kid. Whenever Joe was questioning witnesses, and they would start wandering off into how they felt, and what they feared, and sharing their biases and prejudices, Joe would stop them and say, “All we want are the facts, ma’am (or sir). ”
As we’re all living through this endless and somewhat depressing election season, I find myself in complete sympathy with Sergeant Friday. My craving for facts is completely justified, given that, according to Politifact, only 30% of what Donald Trump says publicly is even partly true, with 19% of his untruths being of the “pants on fire” variety (“not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim,” according to Politifact) and even Hillary, the most truthful of all the current politicians, only tells the truth 72% of the time. Fortunately, only 2% of her statement are “pants on fire” lies – but still, that’s too much. (I’ll out myself now; I’m a Clinton fan, and think she’ll make a very good president.)
What’s even more frustrating to me is that Americans believe Trump and Hillary are equally dishonest and untrustworthy – even though, on a factual basis, Trump lies about 2.5 times as much as she does. And it doesn’t stop with the candidates themselves, unfortunately. Shortly after the Republican convention, I listened to a Trump supporter, a former soap actor named Anthony Sabato, Jr., say that he believes President Obama is “…on the other side. Oh, the Middle East. He’s with the bad guys. He’s not with us. He’s not with this country.” And when asked to back up his assertion with facts, he responded, “I believe it.”
The most disturbing thing about this whole mess, for me, is the contention that believing something is true, or feeling that it’s true, is just as valid as having the facts about whether or not it’s true. It’s why too many people think that someone “believing”or “feeling” that Obama is in league with terrorists is just as valid as 7+ years of daily evidence to the contrary.
It’s why national figures can say “global warming is a hoax,” or “Obama founded ISIS,” or “immigrants destroy our economy” — and those things are repeated as truth, even though there is no evidence to support their validity, and – in fact – mountains of factual evidence to disprove them.
I believe the best we can do, in these crazy times, is try to be guardians of the truth in our own thinking. Whenever someone asserts that something is true – especially something important to our well-being or our future – I suggest that, rather than either immediately believing or disbelieving it, you do your best to find out the facts. I’d suggest you apply the scientific method: take what you hear as a hypothesis (“Is global warming a hoax?”) then gather the available data about the hypothesis without assuming that it’s true or false. (As opposed to cherry-picking the data to support your existing bias, which is what we too often do.) Finally, decide the validity of the hypothesis based on the data you’ve collected.
If we all did that, we would come to better, more reasoned decisions, and be less susceptible to the lies and half-truths of those in positions of power.
And here’s what Joe Friday thinks about all this (from episode 60: “Internal Affairs DR-20”):
“Show me how to wipe out prejudice. I’ll settle for the prejudices you have inside yourselves. Show me how to get rid of the unlimited capacity for human beings to make themselves believe they’re somehow right–and justified–in stealing from somebody, or hurting somebody…and you’ll just about put this place here out of business!”
I’m with Joe.
Many years ago, my mom declared that she would knit each of us, her four children, a sweater. She had lots of other stuff she was interested in doing, though, so she never quite completed the project. I’m pretty sure she finished my younger brother’s sweater, and she may have finished my older sister’s. In any case, when we went to clean out her house after she died in 2004, I discovered most of the sweater she had been making for me in a knitting bag with (fortunately) the pattern book she was using. I was touched; I decided to take it home with me and finish it someday.
So here I am, twelve years later, finishing the sweater my mom started for me sometime in the 1990s. I thought it would be a nice way to connect with her, and it is. It’s easy to imagine her working on it: getting irritated when an instruction didn’t make sense; swearing softly at having to undo and redo a mistake; her crooked smile of satisfaction at a beautifully complex bit of finished work. And most of all, thinking of her thinking of me.
I’ve also enjoyed the mystery-solving aspect of it. It’s a cardigan, and she had completed the back, both fronts, and most of one of the sleeves. So I had to determine where she was in the sleeve (there’s a cable design running down the middle, so I had to figure out exactly the correct row), and which of the six available sizes she had chosen to knit. And since I had only one skein of the yarn she was using, a yarn that hasn’t been made for many years, I had to find more of it (thank god for ebay). Finally, I had to figure out what size needles she was using in order to finish the ribbed trim on the front, neck and pockets. I tried the size called for in the pattern, but that made stitches that were bigger than hers; I tried a couple of different size needles, knitting a few rows, pulling out the work and redoing it till I got it right. (You can see how it’s going in the picture above.)
Most of all, though, doing this is making me realize that I generally don’t give my mom enough credit for the foundation she provided to me throughout my life. So much of who I am as a professional, a parent, and a human being is grounded in her good example. She taught me how to think critically; inspired my love of language and of writing; taught me that a parent’s job is to provide the tools kids need to create their own life and the moral compass to assure that life is one of contribution and value to others and to the world. She taught me that humor can ease tension, and that it’s mentally lazy to accept “what everyone knows” as truth. She insisted that I take responsibility for my mistakes, and she was quietly proud of my accomplishments. She (and my father) taught me that judging, dismissing, or hating others for some part of who they are – skin color, sexual orientation, country of birth – is just plain wrong. She raised all four of us, two boys and two girls, with equal expectations that each of us would find work we liked and were good at, and build loving, strong relationships and families.
And as I’m reflecting on this, on my own failure to acknowledge her gifts to me, I’m wondering if we aren’t all guilty of this to some extent. It’s too easy to believe that everything now is “new,” that we’re starting from zero every day and having to invent everything as we go. But even though almost every aspect of our world is changing faster now that at any previous time in history, we are able to navigate through this time of seismic change by virtue of the foundation laid down by those who have gone before.
Just as I can finish this sweater because of the start my mom made on it and the knitting skills passed down to me by her and many others, all that we do builds on the discoveries and advances of previous generations. The fact that I, a woman, can be accepted and respected as an author, speaker, consultant and business owner is built on the efforts and sacrifice of my feminist mother, my suffragette grandmothers, and millions of other women of past generations all over the world. The fact that I can share my thoughts with you here, one-to-one, perhaps without ever having met you, is a tribute to thousands of generations of humans who created language, invented ways to write it down and disseminate it (including the printing press), then created ever-more sophisticated computers, and finally harnessed the power of the internet.
It is both humbling and inspiring to acknowledge that we are links in this human chain. It makes me feel very grateful, and it makes me want to leave a legacy that will help move the world and everyone in it toward more joy, more collaboration, and lives of prosperity, independence and discovery.
My husband and I play a word game that consists of figuring out the negative names and the positive names for things. Here’s what I mean:
- For large properties owned by a single person or entity: “estate”=good; “compound”= bad
- For someone who behaves in unpredictable ways: “eccentric”=good; “crazy” = bad
- For people whose job is to execute someone else’s directives: “staff”=good; “minions”=bad
- For a newly formed religious group: “sect” = good; “cult” = bad
We’ve found that there can be a world of difference in the implications of using one word vs. another to describe something. The two of us play this game because we find it fascinating, but it also makes me think about how often we can reveal our unconscious prejudices and assumptions about people and situations through our word choices.
And when you’re a leader, the power of that is magnified. Let’s say you’re a manager, and you’re talking to someone about a guy that works for you who has lots of ideas and enjoys talking about them. If you describe his behaviors as “enthusiastic” or “passionate,” your colleague will have a very different sense of him than if you describe him as “loud” or “pushy.” Sometimes, sadly, people do this kind of subtle character assassination on purpose – when they want someone to be seen badly. But too often, we do it without conscious malice, simply based on unrecognized negative assumptions we have about someone…and don’t realize the negative impact it can have on them.
I was coaching someone once who had three direct reports. When she spoke about two of them, Emma and Joe, she nearly always used “good” words. In her description, they were forward-looking, inspiring, big thinkers, and risk-takers. These were qualities that she saw and liked in herself and in them. The third report, Damon, was very different from the three of them, and she would describe him as old-school, slow, formal, and sensitive. When I pointed out to her how these words might come across to others, she responded that they weren’t negative words, and that she thought they were accurate. So then I asked her what impression her boss had of the three, based on her descriptors. She thought for a moment, and then responded (I gave her high marks for honesty), “He probably sees Emma and Joe as big assets to the organization, and Damon as OK but not great.”
“Is that how you see him?” I asked.
“Not at all,” she acknowledged. “He’s really valuable. He reins us in and keeps us from making impulsive decisions. We need him.”
Once she had seen that, it was easy for her to see how the words she used to describe him arose out of her feeling less comfortable with him and of unconsciously wanting him to be more like Emma and Joe. And how those descriptors might lead others to see him in a less-than-positive way. I asked her to think of alternative, yet still accurate ways of describing him that would let others see the value she saw. Instead of old-school, slow, formal, and sensitive, she began to talk about him as being professional, thoughtful, measured, and considerate.
And not only did her altered description begin to change her boss’ perception of him, I noticed that she, Emma and Joe all started to treat him differently: to make better use of his complimentary strengths, and to more often acknowledge his contributions.
I encourage you to think about how you’re describing situations or people in a way that might subtly (or not so subtly) devalue them in your mind or to others. How could you describe them differently to create more openness and appreciation?
I spent the weekend participating in TAP NY – billed as both the largest craft beer festival in New York State and the largest single-state craft beer festival in the US. It was enormously fun: I had the pleasure of helping my husband Patrick dispense his Great Life beer to hundreds of jovial people over the course of the two days. And – thrilling to us – his 1875 Milk Stout won the Bronze Medal in the Hudson Valley Stouts category.
I love being involved (peripherally) in Patrick’s brewery partly because he’s so passionate about it, partly because brewing beer is intrinsically interesting (and I love finding out things), and partly because it’s so fascinating watching this business niche -craft brewing – explode.
On the TAP NY website, their own history page describes the geometric curve that is craft brewing. They started in 1998 at the Culinary institute of America in Hyde Park, NY with a handful of breweries, styling themselves the Hudson Valley Craft Beer and Food Festival. After just a few years they outgrew that site, moved to the Hunter Mountain Ski area, renamed the event TAP NY, and expanded to include all of NY state. Over the next few years, the festival continued to grow slowly, with about 25 breweries involved by 2007. Then, in true geometric curve fashion, it really began to ramp up: 40 breweries in 2010, over 60 in 2013, almost 90 in 2015, and 116 breweries attending this past weekend.
When I wasn’t busy drawing 4-oz tasting glasses for the continual stream of folks who stopped by our booth, I wandered around and observed. In some ways, the craft beer culture is like any newly vital business sector, with lots of early entrants wanting to get in on the action. It’s analogous to the early 20th century in autos, when there were literally hundreds of car makers in the US. Then the larger manufacturers began to take over through superior distribution and economies of scale, and the smaller auto companies began to go out of business or get bought up. But beer has already been through that evolution: in the late 19th century, it’s estimated there were over 4,000 mostly small independent breweries operating in the US. Then brewing began to go through the same kind of consolidation, helped along by prohibition. In 1935 there were only about 750 breweries in the US, and by 1980, there were only about 50 brewing companies in the whole country. And, as one beer writer in the 1980s commented, “They are pale lager beers vaguely of the pilsener style…They do not all taste exactly the same but the differences between them are often of minor consequence.” Beer had become standardized and commercialized: what could be made most efficiently and while appealing to the largest number of people.
Then, in the late 1980s, the tide started to turn. As people began to explore using locally grown and naturally sourced foods, they also started get interested in the possibility of drinking beer that was locally produced, with stronger and more interesting flavors. Once the trend started, it gained momentum every year, as evidenced by the growth of TAP NY and dozens of similar festivals across the country. In 1990 there were about 400 microbreweries and brewpubs in the US: in 2015, there were over 4000. We’ve now matched (and are on a path to exceeding) the high-water mark for American breweries set in 1873.
The big commercial breweries are still selling most of the beer drunk in the US – but the craft beer share of sales is significant and growing yearly: one recent statistic estimates that around 13% of the beer consumed in the US today is produced in craft breweries (doubled from just a few years ago).
I’m fascinated to see how this business of craft beer will continue to evolve. In one way, it’s a return to the way humans consumed beer hundreds of years ago, where every village had its own brewer, often the owner of the local tavern and his wife. And in another, it’s completely modern: a manifestation of the free-lance, entrepreneurial, artisanal explosion of the last decade, where more people want to work for themselves and join together with small groups of like-minded others to create products and offer services about which they feel passionate. One element of the craft beer explosion I find really interesting: although still largely male, craft brewing seems not to be age-specific. As I wandered the booths this weekend, I noted some brewers in their 20s and some in their 60s – and everything in between. I also noted that nearly everyone, brewers and samplers alike, seemed to be having a great time.
And I don’t think it was just the mellowing effect of the beer itself: it’s fun to create things you love, it’s fun to connect with the people who make the things you consume, and it’s fun to consume things that are made with care and attention.
¡Viva la evolucion!
First, my apologies for not posting last month. It’s been a bit wild in Proteus-land lately, all for very good reasons. There’s a lot happening because we have a number of new clients and new consultants – which is fun and exciting, and requires attention and effort.
The main wildness-inducer for me, though, has been the launch of my new book, Be Bad First. The official publication date was March 8 – but the pub date is less and less meaningful these days: the hard copy, e-book and audio versions were all available on Amazon before that date, and lots of interviews, reviews, and articles had already come out related to the book. Two things I’m especially excited about: an article about the book’s model in the March issue of HBR, Learning to Learn, and the book being selected as an Editor’s Choice by 800CEOREAD.
There’s a tremendous amount of effort involved in putting out a book, not only for me, but for our publishers and publicists — and the Proteus staff (especially my wingman Dan) have done a lot to support the book’s success, as well. But it all seems worth it: having these ideas about learning and mastery out in the world is good for lots of people. It supports the growth of our business, it gives our consultants more tools to help our clients, and it helps those clients navigate this complex world.
The part of writing a book that’s especially meaningful and almost magical to me is knowing that thousands of people I will never meet or know are reading it and, I hope, benefitting from it. I love thinking about them finding out about it, deciding there’s something in it that might be interesting to them, and then starting to read or listen. A long-time client and friend of mine was commuting into NYC on the Long Island Railroad a few weeks ago, and the woman across from him (he didn’t know her), pulled Be Bad First out of her bag and showed it to her seat mate, remarking that she was reading and liking it. He took it from her and started reading the back cover – that’s when my friend Brad shot this picture.
I loved having this little window into two people I don’t know (and may never know) being touched by the book and (I hope) exploring the ANEW model. I love even more getting to see the viral aspect of this: she liked it, and then told someone about it. It’s lovely to imagine that happening all over the world (we’ve just heard that they’ve sold the rights in China, and are working on a rights sale in South America)…people being helped to become better learners, and turning to friends, family, colleagues, and telling them about it, so they can become better learners and more able to future-proof themselves, in order to thrive through change.
It’s one of the great things about living in a world where knowledge can spread so quickly and efficiently – one person, one idea, one action, can have a huge positive impact. So: do good things.
If you’ve read Be Bad First and enjoyed it, please spread the word by writing a review on Amazon. Thanks in anticipation!
It’s been a little over nine years since my first book, Growing Great Employees, was published in December of 2006. At the time, about 75% of book sales still happened in brick and mortar stores. I remember that most of my publisher’s efforts went into getting distribution into Barnes & Noble and Borders, with a bit of effort to make sure it was available on Amazon.
Fast forward to today, when Borders is no more, B&N has shrunk and re-trenched, and online book sales have surpassed in-store sales. Which brings us to Amazon, now the 800-pound gorilla of the publishing world. As online book sales have exploded over the past decade, and because Amazon now has almost two-thirds of that new market share, all of us authors and publishers are dancing to their tune.
One of the many things I love about my new publisher, Bibliomotion, is that they are fully accepting this new reality – and are learning quickly and continuously how to best operate in this new world. I love finding out from them about how to make things work with Amazon.
For instance, because Amazon’s goal is to get people things they want, as quickly, simply and inexpensively as possible (they believe that this total focus on the customer is key to their own success and growth) they’re continually trying to figure out the “things they want” part. That is, how can they let their customers know about things that they might like and want to buy.
Recently, they’ve discovered if a book has a lot of pre-orders and a number of early reviews, it’s more likely to be something a lot of people will want – so Amazon sits up and starts to do things for that book: highlighting and promoting it in various ways.
So we want to take advantage of this, with your help. We’ve created a special pre-order offer for you – one that will benefit you and us. Here’s how it works:
- Go to Amazon and pre-order Be Bad First
- Then come back here, to erikaandersen.com, and type in your email address and pre-order number under the “Be Bad First Pre-Order” heading on the home page.
That’s it. And as a thank you for doing that, we’ll send you two gifts: A one-month all-access membership to proteusleader.com, our online resource that’s chock full of dozens of great, snack-sized nuggets of real leadership and management learning; and an exclusive PDF of the first article I ever wrote about the Be Bad First model (you can see how it’s evolved).
Thank you very much – both for reading my blog, and for helping Be Bad First find its audience in this brave new world of publishing .
I know I say this every year, so those of you who have been with me for awhile might be rolling your eyes about now. Nonetheless: I love the holidays.
All the stuff I grew up with is charming to me: twinkling lights, presents under the tree, crackling fires, stockings hung on the chimney, old-fashioned Christmas carols, delicious food, seeing people I love and don’t get to see often enough. I even mostly like the things that other people don’t like: corny Christmas movies, looking for just the right gift for someone.
Most of all though, I love what’s at the heart of all this, at least in my mind. The sense that life and love are astonishing gifts to be treasured every day.
Today is my last day of work for the year, and I’m already expanding into what I think of as holiday gratitude mode. I’m a pretty thankful person under ordinary circumstances, but during the holiday I really make the effort to consciously recognize all the gifts and joys in my life on a daily basis.
At Proteus, we have year-end review and look forward conversations with everyone on the team. I’m just about to have my final one for the year (I’ll be having a couple more in January), and feeling tremendously appreciative of all the smart, good-hearted, committed people I get to work with at my company. After that, I’m going to go and meet my husband at his first “beer event”; a tasting and brewer appearance for his new brewery. And I’m feeling so proud of him, and so deeply grateful to be sharing my life with such a remarkably kind, high-integrity, curious, brilliant, funny, loving, brave, handsome man.
And as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my living room enjoying our sparkling Christmas tree, each ornament connected to a fond memory. Grateful to have such a wonderful place to live, and the good health and mental capability to enjoy it.
I could go on and on. Feeling grateful elevates you, making your interaction with everything and everyone around you more conscious, hopeful and loving. When you are grateful, it feels wonderful and at the same time makes you a positive force in the world.
So, my wish for you: May you appreciate your holidays to the very fullest extent possible….
courtesy of Brainyquotes
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to be a part of a really profound learning experience. I was one of eight attendees at an Elite Group Experience – a two-day advanced speaking skills course with Victoria Labalme.
Even though I’ve done a great deal of speaking in front of groups over the past thirty years, and believe I’m good at it (and have gotten feedback that supports that belief), I decided this year to take my skills to the next level. I intend to do everything in my power to become a world-class speaker.
Victoria is a wonderful teacher, and my classmates – entrepreneurs, authors, and business owners – were without exception smart, focused and supportive. The coolest thing for me, though, was seeing how well the ANEW skills I propose as being key to new learning served me in this situation, even though I’m not a novice. Here’s how it worked:
Aspiration – Before I attended the course, I worked on increasing my aspiration – making myself want to improve my speaking skills. It’s challenging to raise your level of aspiration when you’re already good at something: it’s all too easy to think that you’re good enough, thank you very much. So I thought about the benefits to me of becoming a better speaker. First, we at Proteus have more important things to share than ever – and I love being able to share it. Also, I’m particularly convinced that the ideas and skills in my new book, Be Bad First, will be helpful to people if I have a bigger platform for sharing them. I can easily imagine a future where being a better speaker would make that possible.
Neutral Self-awareness – I spent some time before the class reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses as a speaker. Some of the pre-work Victoria had us do supported me in that effort. I wanted to be as accurate as possible going into the session, so that I could take full advantage of the learning being offered, and I found my “current state” insights very helpful. (If you’re curious, I decided that my strengths were clarity, authenticity, and connection with the audience, and that I needed to work on having more control over my pacing and volume, making better use of the stage, and exploring new options to three-dimensionalize my speaking – visuals, sound, online support, etc..)
Endless Curiosity – This one was the easiest; I didn’t really have to do much to ramp up my curiosity. Very fortunately for me, being curious is my natural state, and I found myself, during the session, continuously interested in understanding and mastering what Victoria was sharing with us. Over the two days of the class, I watched myself ask lots of Why?, How?, and I wonder? questions. And saw, yet again, how curiosity is jet fuel for learning. Every time I asked one of those questions of Victoria or one of my classmates, I found out something new or something more that would help me improve my skills.
Willingness To Be Bad First – This one was definitely the hardest…but the most rewarding. It’s difficult enough to convince yourself it’s OK to “be bad” when you’re actually new to something. But when you’re quite good at doing something already, there’s a strong momentum toward considering yourself an expert. I found the most valuable and realistic “acceptance of not-good” self-talk in this situation was, I still have a lot to learn, if I want to be a world class speaker. I need to be open to everything I hear. As a result, I was able to hear important feedback from Victoria and from my classmates that I might have otherwise dismissed. For example, in one practice, my partner pointed out to me that I was skimming over the uncomfortable part of the story I was telling – and he noted that “without the lows, the highs don’t feel like highs.” Because I was really listening and taking it in, I realized he was exactly right…and that it was something I do habitually. I was able to integrate the feedback, and it had a real impact.
My husband once asked me “Are people ever done being bad?” And now I can definitely say: No, fortunately for us, we’re not.
My husband and I recently took a little mini-vacation to Grand Canyon National Park. I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to get there – it’s not as though I’ve never had an opportunity before now. All that aside, though: it was astonishing. If you’ve never visited, all I can say is that pictures absolutely do not do it justice; it’s much more vast and beautiful and other-worldly than you can imagine. It made us feel small, but in a completely positive way; a tiny part of an awe-inspiring whole.
Hopi House; Courtesy of Wikipedia
While we were there, I kept noticing buildings that I really loved. There was Hermit’s Rest, the Hopi House, and the Desert View Watchtower. As it turns out, they were all designed by a woman named Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the first half of the 20th century as an architect and designer. In the words of Wikipedia:
She was one of the very few female American architects in her day. She was the designer of many landmark buildings and spaces for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, notably in Grand Canyon National Park. Her work had enormous influence as she helped to create a style, blending Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival architecture with Native American motifs and Rustic elements, that became popular throughout the Southwest.
MJC ca 1893 by California Artist Arthur Mathews
from the Program for Art on Film Web site
I was so charmed by her buildings and intrigued by her story that I bought and read her biography. In 1902, Ms. Coulter began working for the Fred Harvey Company, which partnered with the Santa Fe Railroad to open the American Southwest to travel and tourism in the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. Coulter was one of the only female employees of the Harvey Company at that time who was not a waitress – and the only woman with management responsibilities.
As I read about her, and looked at the buildings and interiors she designed – and the construction of which she oversaw and managed – I tried to imagine the combination of vision, strength of character and diplomacy required to be successful as a woman leader working with an all male group of colleagues and staff to establish a new kind of architectural style in a barely-civilized part of the US, at a time when any sort of woman professional was a rare creature indeed.
Talk about a high bar.
I’m inspired and humbled to find that she was able to do all of that, to leave us a legacy of wonderfully evocative buildings, structures that live at ease in the landscape of the desert southwest. Her designs are unpretentious and yet in harmony with the grandeur around them, while marrying indigenous Native American and Mexican styles with modern applications.
I suspect I’ll think of Mary Jane Coulter’s life and work from now on when I’m in what I believe is a difficult situation. I kind of feel as though my toughest challenges would seem like an easy day to her. It’s good to remind ourselves of those brave souls who have gone before us; it helps us find that pioneer inside. It supports us to be bold in asking “Why Not…?” and in finding ways to do things that haven’t been done before.
Thank you, Mary…