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That Attention Thing

Guest
Blog Post
Campari poster, circa 1960

Attention changes the way we see the world around us.

A few weeks ago, an odd series of experiences reminded me of the power of attention to change the way we see the world around us.

I was meeting with a client to prepare materials for a special event—a vendor exposition. We were designing a poster to display the names of the vendors, and working from two different source lists, we discovered a discrepancy: a moving company called Max Movers was on one list but not the other. We placed the name on the poster, but asked the event coordinator to follow up about whether Max Movers belonged on the list.

Three days later, as I left another client’s office, I drove past a truck bearing the now-familiar Max Movers logo. I had no memory of ever seeing a Max Movers truck before in my life. I thought about this strange phenomenon, the by-product of focused attention. I suspected that I’d encountered their trucks dozens of times, but that I’d never seen one.

Over lunch that afternoon, I told my cousin about that experience and “the attention thing.” In the course of the same meal, we moved on to the topic of some projects that my company had worked on several years ago—programs for National American Miss pageants. The work was chaotic, disorganized, and difficult. With a bit of gallows humor, my staff referred to the summer of National American Miss programs as “our time in NAM.”

After lunch, my cousin and I went to an art museum. We’d only been wandering the galleries for a short while when we walked into a room where a huge canvas depicted two life-size people carrying a banner bearing the word NAM. My cousin pointed at the painting. “NAM! If we hadn’t talked about ‘NAM’ at lunch, I wouldn’t have even noticed this. It’s that attention thing again.”

The next day, my cousin and I stopped at a liquor store to pick up a few things for a party. I picked up a bottle of Campari, a bitter Italian apéritif. “I’ve always wanted to try this,” I said. “Have you ever had it?” She hadn’t. We bought the bottle.

On our way home, we stopped at an icehouse to meet some friends for drinks. After a while, my cousin paid a visit to the ladies’ room. When she came back, she had a grin on her face. I asked her what was funny.

She said, “There was a poster on the wall of the restroom…advertising Campari!”

That attention thing again.

Gika says: You get what you focus on. Ed’s guest post covers the idea nicely. The only thing I’d add is to notice what you notice. Where is your attention, and what is it getting you? What might happen if you shifted your focus?


Edward F. Gumnick is a writer, graphic design, and communications consultant based in Houston, Texas. You can find links to his work at EFGumnick.com.

Getting It Right the First Time

Pattern drafting materials

Getting it right the first time is definitely overrated. I’m pretty sure I’m right about this. I made good grades in school, I’ve done a lot of things right, I’ve often benefited from being right, and I still think it’s overrated.

Not that I don’t love to be right. I do. It makes me feel good and smart and virtuous, maybe even a little superior. But needing to be right, especially needing to be right the first time, can be a huge obstacle. If you need to be right, you can’t afford to be wrong. If you can’t afford to be wrong, you can’t afford to try. If you can’t afford to try, you can’t learn anything new. And what fun is that?!

I’m taking a pattern drafting class to learn how to create sewing patterns from scratch. You take specific measurements of a person’s body, and use those measurements to create a sewing pattern and then a garment that fits that person perfectly—when you get it right. There are lots of opportunities for getting it wrong. I’m surely right about that. This week I went to class full of enthusiasm for what I’d accomplished. I was enthused until I learned how much I’d done wrong: a dart that was too large and in the wrong place, a finished skirt that was too big, an unfinished skirt that was going to cling worse than cling wrap, and seam binding meant to be a touch of couture that was sloppy, bulky and just plain wrong. Well, darn.

How discouraging. I’ve been sewing for a lot of years. I’ve even been taking this class for a few years. I should know better. I should have it right. In fact, I haven’t made that many mistakes in this class. And there’s the rub. I haven’t made many mistakes, because I haven’t done much. As I started correcting my mistakes, I began to appreciate how much I was learning from them. Now I know what happens when the dart is too wide or comes from a certain angle. Now I know what happens when the fabric stretches. Now I know what to put under a skirt that clings. Now I know what happens when you stretch the fabric under the seam binding. Hmm, might be useful if I want a ruffled look.

And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I wasted a lot of time not learning this stuff sooner. If I hadn’t been so concerned about getting it right the first time, I might have already made a lot more mistakes and gained a lot more understanding.

That’s all for now. I need to go baste together the latest revision of the muslin and see if it’s closer to right.

Oops, there’s more: notice what you notice about getting it right, being willing to be wrong, and the opportunities that follow. And have all the fun you can.

Prepare for Success

Flowers
Flowers
by Vicky Lampros

Virginia and Don lived in a small cottage on Long Island. The cottage was cluttered with evidence of their many interests—music, gardening, mathematics, history, birding. A friend decided to surprise them with an anniversary party in their own home. She needed a way to get the clutter out of the way, so she sent them flowers. She knew that Virginia would always clear and clean to make way for beautiful flowers.

What would you do differently if you were expecting something beautiful to arrive soon?

Dr. Louis C. Smith is a scientist and a photographer. He told me about a student who once conducted an off-the-wall experiment with surprising success. When he asked the student how he planned to follow up, the student replied, “I don’t know, I wasn’t expecting it to work.” Dr. Smith reprimanded the student, not because he did the unexpected, but because he had not prepared for success. According to Dr. Smith, you should always prepare for success.

How would you prepare for success? What would need clearing and cleaning? How might you look at your life and your work differently if you were expecting success? How would your focus shift? What would you let go of? Would you recognize success if it arrived on your doorstep? Could expecting success change the likelihood of success?

Suggestion: pick one thing that you’d do differently if you were expecting success and start with that. And, of course, notice what you notice. Have all the fun you can. Success should be fun, don’t you think?

Tools for Transformation is a series of blog posts about improving your life. The series is about using what you already have—yourself, your community, and your resources—to make a difference, to add meaning and grace, to explore new territory, and perhaps have more fun than you ever thought possible.

Cleaning Up Along the Way

It should be obvious. Cleaning up along the way makes sense, a lot of sense.

It’s so nice to complete a project and have it really complete. When you sit down to dinner, what a delight to have the kitchen already neat and tidy. When you spend time in the garden and allocate the last 10 or 20 minutes to put away your tools, you earn a moment to step back and admire your work.

Mardi Gras debris
After the parade
by Gika Rector

Whether your office is a place at the kitchen counter or an entire room, what a difference it can make when you clean up along the way. It’s the difference between a clear, clean workspace and a disastrous mountain of paper. Even when you go paperless, it helps to clean up along the way. A sea of computer files can be just as overwhelming as a mountain of papers.

And what about our personal interactions? Thomas Leonard, the father of modern coaching, said, “When someone is doing something…you must communicate immediately or forever carry the extra burden of your unspoken reaction.” How many people or groups of people do you avoid because of something you didn’t clean up along the way? …more