"Stay Inspired" With Charlie Hess
Posted by Bill Miller on Aug 3, 2012
Interviewer Birju Pandya introduced Charlie as someone adept at seeing future trends - from events in the Middle East to fashion trends. Birju also noted that Saint Francis of Assisi was a great inspiration to Charlie’s effort, and that formed the basis of the first question.
Charlie responded that, in addition to St. Francis, he was significantly inspired by the seer, poet, healer, artist David LaChapelle (not to be confused with the Andy Warhol associate of the same name) -- who offered a sentiment that significantly guides Charlie’s thinking: “Set the conditions for grace to appear”. “That’s about being in a state of openness, with faith and love - often the opposite of what we’re taught to do.” … “Grace is all around us. We have it within us to let it flow - or not.”
Charlie gave an example. On a business trip to Charlotte, he and Wendy were in a taxicab, poring through a batch of e-mail in search of suitable causes. One, about father-daughter sexual abuse, stood out in such a way that Charlie decided to share it with the cab driver. The driver was so moved that he vowed to share the information with his fellow cab driver associates. Charlie felt that such a “ripple effect” is one example of “setting the conditions for grace”.
Charlie feels that some of the pay-it-forward strategies - like Smile Cards - can be a little intimidating. So as a complement to these, he invented what he refers to as “the smile machine”. It was gift from Wendy, a harmonica, played with a charming, authentic lack of skill (the writer’s judgement - sorry Charlie. But that’s what makes it all work! :-) Walking around in a suit and tie, in everyday professional contexts, people cannot help but smile when he pulls out the Smile Machine and plays a few notes. (He observes that it even works when not played - as he noticed with the security guard manning the X-ray scanner at the Federal Reserve.)
Though raised Jewish, Charlie had a life-changing experience during several trips to Assisi and his exposure to the life of St. Francis. In a story reminiscent of Siddhartha Gautama, St. Francis was somewhat of a “playboy” from a wealth family, yet at age 24 was inspired to renounce all and dedicate his life to serving the needy - which he did for 20 years until his death. In particular, Charlie was inspired by St. Francis’ practice of giving away all possessions - anything that he’d acquired during the day. This inspired the founding of the San Damiano project -- to be attentive to areas of need, then to give. Wendy handles e-mail and blogging. They review many requests and give something each day. When this is made a regular, intentional practice, one’s “antenna” is sharpened for greater notice of areas of need.
Birju asks how he is able to maintain this stance in the conventional workplace context?
Charlie does discuss this venture in a low-key way with colleagues and finds that some resonate with the notion. These are the people with an interest in serving others - as there are no tax deductions or other quid pro quo for participating. One colleage even suggested that “something profound is going on here”. At present, the giving is largely monetary donations, though they are trying to think of other ways to offer support.
Do they measure or monitor the results in any way? No, there are no metrics or evaluations. They simply offer and encourage the recipient to use it wisely. That is often challenging, as it is so contrary to conventional business investment practice. He acknowledges that it’s a risk.
Birju asks about “Mind Mapping” -- a tool Charlie uses (created?), mostly in a business context, for clarifying understanding about motivations and values. Over the years, Charlie has worked with a great range of people and seen some significant transformations. The process usually helps the participant to overcome some blockages.
Out of all the above, a formal organization “Stay Inspired” was formed. Charlie often found himself working with people who began a project with great inspiration, but at some point needed support to overcome hurdles and to “stay inspired”. The Stay Inspired mission is to help people keep doing what they do.
At some point, Charlie had a profound insight regarding “intention” versus “planning”. While at a business lunch, he was relating his son’s sojourn in Hawaii with David LaChapelle, when the colleague asked “Yes, but does he have a plan?”. Charlie realize that modern culture drives us to always have a “plan” for life (e.g. Stephen Covey) - plan it out, then drive, drive, drive. Then if it doesn’t work out, we are left with no alternatives. We can only try to repair the plan.
However, given the way life operates, Charlie finds it much more congruent to focus not on a plan but on the intention behind it. Charlie has a 15-minute questioning exercise that helps one determine the intent behind any plan. It is essentially a series of “why” questions - and you sort of sense when you’ve reached something fundamental. In starting from a plan, you often end up elsewhere - “at something more true and fundamental”. This usually opens up more options and reduces anxiety about executing the original plan. (He cited the example of a school teacher, struggling to get students to write essays, ultimately finding the she wanted to boost kid’s self-esteem and confidence.)
"Oh divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive." -- Saint Francis