The Ringo Principle: A measuring stick for business and life

John, Paul, George and Ringo hit America

Been listening to a lot of Beatles lately (as happens) and this morning while enjoying “Octopus’ Garden,” yet another brilliant facet of the Fab Four hit me — and how it provides a lesson for business and life. Let’s call it the Ringo Principle.

The drummer born Richard Starkey was a full-on member of The Beatles, but it wouldn’t be controversial to say he was its fourth-best singer and composer. This is no slight on Ringo; the fourth-best hitter in the 1927 New York Yankees’ famed Murderers’ Row is in the Hall of Fame. Ringo is in any and all applicable halls of fame and regarded as a legend in the business, and rightfully so.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney are two of rock’s most iconic voices who penned much of the soundtrack for a generation. George Harrison may have been the Quiet Beatle, but “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” were hit songs judged by many critics to be among the group’s top masterpieces.

But despite the profusion of talent among the three-headed monsters of pop rock fronting the band, Ringo was no slouch. His affable self-effacing humor and the giants in front of him have obscured that he was a very talented and innovative drummer; listen to some of today’s top percussionists or just appreciate his amazing rhythm lines on “Come Together” or “Ticket to Ride” (just for starters) if you need education.

The Beatles could have just stuck to their recipe of writing many of the biggest hits of the 1960s, but they didn’t mind giving Ringo the spotlight, vocally and otherwise. He wrote and sang the beloved “Octopus’ Garden” as well as the dark circus-y romp “Don’t Pass Me By,” but The Beatles willingly let him sing at least a song on many an album to let his distinctive voice provide a rounder soundscape. His vocal contributions include the timeless anthem “A Little Help from My Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine,” the title track to their terrifically trippy animated movie. While composing the latter, McCartney explained, “I was thinking of it as a song for Ringo.” One of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century actively thought about crafting tunes to fit his drummer’s voice.

The real lesson here is one of inclusion and opportunity — ideals that improve business and our lives. At work, do you let members of your team stretch their creative and problem-solving muscles or do you put them in projects that give them just enough room to function? Do you provide opportunities to shine through presentations or as the public face of a project, or do you keep them shunted behind their computer? Do you actively give them praise, whether to their face, in front of others or even when they’re not around?

Or, if you work in higher education, do you recruit students to be stars or merely to be helpers? Do you let them write blogs? Do you give them social media takeovers that infuse their personality into your accounts? Do you allow them to be talent — not just script-readers but creative contributors — in your videos?

Many people learn they are good at one particular thing and get pigeonholed. They become the drummer, the dependable hand buried at the back of the stage. It’s our jobs as leaders and as humans to make sure they all get some spotlight, some shine, some stardom. Teams only excel when we are more than willing to show that success is only possible with a little help from our friends.


Leave a comment

Filed under writing

How new urbanism infuses Oswego’s $10 million downtown funding

When I saw the details of the $10 million in grant funding to the city of Oswego’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, I immediately thought that somewhere Jane Jacobs must be smiling.

In the middle of the 20th century, as America begun sprawling into suburbs and throwing up highway systems, and as planners pondered the disastrous and destructive concept deceptively called “urban renewal,” Jacobs penned a counterpoint that inspired a new look at how to revive cities with the influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Contrary to the desire to (over)stretch city and suburban geography at the time, Jacobs instead pointed to urban density — putting people as well as living, eating and shopping spaces closer together as fomenting vibrancy, citing the likes of Boston’s North End and NYC’s Greenwich Village as examples. She saw “the need in cities for a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.” Lively downtowns are self-supporting, she adds: “A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street,” giving “people — both residents and strangers — concrete reasons for using the sidewalks on where these enterprises face.”

Her theories were a large inspiration for what is known as “new urbanism,” which rejected the idea of paving paradise to put in a parking lot.

According to the New Urbanist website, its movement:

promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.

While one can kvetch over details of the DRI funding (it’s 2017, that will happen, particularly in the comments sections of media websites), the announced details aim toward making downtown Oswego much more livable, workable, walkable and shoppable.

Building blocks

1924204_38182887343_3361_nMy brother lived in the first converted downtown loft spaces in Oswego, in the Browne-Davis building, and they far exceeded expectations because it easily found a crop of professionals who desired urban living with great convenience. But it becomes a chicken-and-egg proposition: People who live downtown will shop and eat there, but how do you build shopping and eating centers if you don’t know what traffic you’ll get? The DRI looks at these as intertwined.

Ben Kail of The Palladium-Times has started the process of unspooling the funding (subscription required but recommended) and also posted the original news release. While at least one local media outlet looked straight at the shiny (new indoor waterpark!), focusing on novelty is not seeing the forest for the trees.

Among the commendable features that dovetail with new urbanism:

  • Mixed-use developments on West First Street at Bridge Street, Harbor View Square (First and Lake streets), and a redeveloped Midtown Plaza (providing more downtown residences mixed with places to eat and shop)
  • A multi-building development to fill a vacant lot and upgrade structures on West First Street with an eye toward 24/7 vibrancy (also encouraging more foot traffic by better connecting anchor attractions)
  • Renovating the Cahill building to include housing and dining (historic preservation as economic development)
  • River Walk improvements (cultivating natural beauty as another downtown draw)
  • Funds to support additional renovation of the Children’s Museum of Oswego (already an anchor for family activities that positively impacts surrounding businesses)
  • Create a “pocket park” on Market Street (a compact recreational space as an attraction uniting parts of a business district)

While many more details are forthcoming, it’s an exciting box of building blocks.

Back around 2000, when I was features editor at The Palladium-Times, I wrote a series of articles on historic preservation and how urbanism tied into a community’s sense of history and togetherness. But even as I covered very vibrant places, the missing piece of the puzzle was a resolve and a philosophy to dedicate to a city core instead of sprawling strip-mall exurbs. Today’s announcement shows, at long last, a dedication — financial and philosophical — to make new urbanism work in Oswego.

Will the last piece — people to live and revive all the corners of downtown — fall into place? That’s the final question here, but a confirmed commitment to downtown, to say nothing of millions of dollars, gives us hope.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were our original content management systems.

Looking across social media, I see a lot of people a bit adrift on what to do on Independence Day, as they see erosions in the country they love, lawmakers not living up to the promises of their offices, government decrees with which they disagree. But remember that we are the people the writers of Declaration of Independence and the Constitution envisioned — even if they probably couldn’t fathom Twitter or society’s vain obsession with selfies — you could even say these documents are our original content management systems.

If you’re never worked in a content management system, let me define it simply: A CMS is a type of software that allows editors to make changes to webpages. A CMS exists so that almost anybody can update a page without needing to be a computing genius. People get hung up about features in a CMS sometimes, but what’s most important is the content, or the words and pictures and videos and stories that benefit visitors to the website.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was the original governance document — they found their current system (government, CMS) wasn’t working, and needed something new (thankfully, they didn’t put it out for bid). The Constitution, in 1787, really established the content management system; it showed how editors (representatives) could write and revise content (pass laws).

It also created a governance structure to go with this CMS — creating the system of representation guiding how the document could be revised in larger (amendments, or software updates) and smaller (regular legislation) ways. It created different permissions levels (branches of government with task lists and authority but also checks and balances). (It did err in one part of not trusting its users, which was the institution of an Electoral College, but that’s a whole different discussion.)

Like a content management system, these initial documents were not as focused upon the content that would need to be created (laws, statutes, amendments) as they were the mechanisms that make these changes happen. Or, as I’ve said many times before, a content management system creates neither content, nor management, nor a system; that’s up to the humans coordinating and maintaining the system.

On this July 4, I can look around and not like a lot of what I see, but this I know: The country’s content management isn’t broke. This is all user error. And it’s on we, the people, to fix it.

So if you don’t like what’s happening, sitting on Twitter and clapping back and people who aren’t listening isn’t the solution. Arguing with people who’ll never agree with you is a waste of time. The representatives (the editors) of this great content management system are not using it for the benefit of all users. If you don’t like the decisions they’re making, let them know. If you don’t think they’re going to carry out the promises of the nation, support people who can.

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution are living, breathing documents, but only if we’re willing to breathe life into it. The pair of documents have been working together for 230 years (or 220+ years longer than the average college CMS) for a reason. That reason is us.

The documents and our founding fathers and our nation might not be perfect. But we are the ones empowered to form a more perfect union. To show that all (hu)mans are created equal. And to uphold the enduring promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, by making it user-friendly for all.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

Several years


I stopped to visit you today
Several years too late
Several years after you killed yourself
Several years I’ve been trying to forget
These several years you’ve been here
In this country cemetery

For several years we were friends
We were together almost every weekend
Talking, laughing, having adventures, drinking
One of those was a problem
But I didn’t realize
It was covering for something else

Several years ago, you made a decision
You thought the world was better without you
That wasn’t true
It’s never true

We had a falling out
Not a bang but a whimper
I guess it was more like a fading out
Your behavior grew strange
But I made myself a stranger
When I should have stayed your friend

We stopped hanging out
Things happened with you
We didn’t talk any more
Not that we didn’t want to
We just didn’t
But I figured we would

The last time you called me you didn’t seem well
But you didn’t seem sick
Or desperate
Or despairing
Or despondent
Or depressed

But you were just trying to do your best
I was listening
But didn’t hear
I don’t remember the conversation
Other than that it was a bit awkward
And that I didn’t tell you I missed you
And that I didn’t thank you for being my friend
And that I didn’t realize
The things I’d realize
Until too late
Several years later

I heard about the trouble
I didn’t realize your struggle
Then I heard that you were gone
And I realized I wasn’t there for you
That a lot of your friends weren’t there for you
Would it change things if you knew
That we still cared?

For several years
I’ve driven past this cemetery
Not realizing this is where you are
Not trying to realize
Trying to forget instead
But the other day I found out
So I drove out and stopped the car
And with little thought
Your stone was in the first section I walked
The dirt in front of it seemed fresh
As fresh as memories
From several years ago

The road where we split up is paved with the things I didn’t say
We had wonderful times, but terrible timing
But it’s not too late to say I’m sorry to a friend
I’m sorry to a friend …
Like a stone in a stream
Life smoothes all our edges
‘Til we barely make a ripple any more
But those times in my life will live with me forever [1]

Today I had a nice talk with you
Several years too late
I thanked you for your friendship
I told you I was sorry
Several years too late
And I don’t know if you can hear me
But know that I understand
As much as we can
That you were a tortured soul
And while we weren’t there
Several years ago
You will be with us

I took the back way home
And a lady in an SUV flashed her lights
Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill
A police car was waiting and watching
And I realize how many times
Strangers help each other
Yet friends who are like brothers
Take each other for granted
And neglect the seeds they’ve planted
For several years

Today is the time to make amends
Don’t carry tomorrow your silence with friends
Lest it not reach their ears
For several years

[1] Lyrics from “Sorry to a Friend,” Edwin McCain, © 1995 Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

RIP Chris Cornell. Say hello to heaven.


Pained yet poised. Cracked yet composed. Forceful yet never forced. For many people of my age, we can remember the first time we heard the voice of Chris Cornell, coming from our radios sounding like nothing else. Ultimately: Stunning.

But even that was not as stunning as the news this morning that the former Soundgarden lead singer, a man who helped change the face and tone of music, is dead at a young 52.

David Bowie and Prince were huge losses to the musical, and mainstream, world. But the death of Chris Cornell feels like losing a friend who helped you through some low times.

Often I would crank up Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside (my personal fave) and let their modern rock that channeled classic blues drown out whatever inadequacies I felt at the time. The lyrics from “Burden in My Hand” — “fear is strong and love’s for everyone who isn’t me” — was a signature lament during about a decade of young adulthood as I struggled with self-loathing and anxiety. In Chris, I had a channel for the thoughts I could not formulate, a partner to help me collect myself to overcome.

David Bowie and Prince were superstars, celebrities on another plane. Chris was somebody who could walk into your corner bar and throw back a few drinks as unobtrusively as his quick background “Singles” cameo.

After Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became a smash hit, Soundgarden could have just recorded a love ballad or two, or a safe pop record, and cruised into retirement with enough money to spend freely … and to also buy the Sonics and bring them back to Seattle. They had hit albums, singles that sold well enough (without selling out their sound) and millions of fans. And inspired dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other bands.

And then they broke up 20 years ago, the creative tensions that helped forge such heavy and edgy music too much to stay together. My brother used to live in Seattle and said it was huge news there at the time, even as so much of the world had moved on to whatever new sound was the flavor of the month.

The man voted Guitar World’s “Greatest Rock Singer” kept on creating, singing and playing — first solo, then bringing together Audioslave for a good run, then eventually reconciling with Soundgarden, even if their 2012 album King Animal seems more like a footnote compared to the sweep of their work two decades earlier.

But his work from the brief 1991 collective Temple of the Dog, honoring former roommate and Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, is what stays with me as a fitting epitaph:

I never wanted
To write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases
Of things we’ll never do
So I blow out the candle, and
I put you to bed
Since you can’t say to me
Now how the dogs broke your bone
There’s just one thing left to be said
Say hello to heaven

Leave a comment

Filed under words

Commencement ceremonies: From the 12th century until …?

Student at commencement

Imagine that through some divine provenance the founder of your college or university was allowed one day to see their creation in 2017. Much of it would look quite strange and incomprehensible. Yet if they strayed into your graduation ceremonies, these rituals would appear quite familiar — even if your college was founded in the 18th or 19th centuries.

In his monumental series “The Day the Universe Changed,” science historian James Burke said that rituals are ways that societies and institutions can make episodes of change feel comfortable and supported. Think about wedding ceremonies: The addition of hashtags notwithstanding, the way most couples tie the knot has not changed much in centuries. Ditto baptisms and funerals. And commencements.

Commencement ceremonies date back to the 12th century, and while they no longer proceed in Latin, the graduation gowns don’t necessarily look dissimilar. But tradition holds its strongest sway in things most formal:  The suit that hundreds of men (me included) will wear at this weekend’s commencement ceremonies date back to military formalwear of a bygone era; their cut and style may change but in 100 years you would likely see something similar at weddings and funerals and graduations.

But will we still have commencements then? When people can telecommute or technologically be present anywhere in the world, will the class of 2117 still be in the same large halls as trumpeters, robes and parades of academic regalia?

I’m betting we will. We’ve already gone through a couple of decades of the fastest technological evolution in history and what has changed about graduations? With the exception of live web video streams, not all that much. Some bold colleges have played with things like hashtags and near-real-time photos appearing on big screens, but that’s window dressing.

Sure, students can tweet, stream, post, gram and snap during the ceremonies, but they still do so while wearing a robe, then accepting a diploma frame and handshake from some prominent official and strolling down a ramp, beaming toward the audience celebrating their amazing accomplishments.

In the 21st century, as we spend more time online, study after study finds people feel lonelier and more disconnected than ever. That’s why our social and community gatherings, especially those ones rooted in tradition, become more important than ever.

The more some things change, the more they stay the same. It will be interesting if future historians will look back upon this year’s graduation ceremonies and see it as something comfortable and familiar.


Filed under words

Break the cycle. Go do your thing.

Person does thing.
Internet reacts to person doing thing.
Internet expresses outrage about reaction to person doing thing.
Internet expresses outrage about outrage over reaction to person doing thing.
Internet expresses outrage about outrage about outrage over reaction to person doing thing.
Internet becomes outraged and miserable.

Break the chain.
Turn off your internet.
Do your own thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized