W used to claim that she learned all that she needed to know about how sales and market share were going in an area by poring over syndicated data and sales reports. She prided herself on quick, cursory analysis delivered with cackling certainty of her own brilliance. When the numbers did not turn her way, when others inquired deeply about her conclusions, she would retreat into her office, shut the door firmly, and call her husband and business school friends for help. There were weeks when we did not see her, just heard the low constrant murmur of her voice behind the door.
My way of understanding what was going on was to go out and see for myself. I toured the towns, looked at shelf sets and competitor offerings, talked with customers, store personnel, anyone who would share an opinion, an idea, a question, a request with a stranger. I mulled over what I saw and heard and then developed theories and ways to do better. It was painstaking, challenging work, especially when a favorite big idea shattered against unyielding, uncaring marketplace reality.
Because W was my boss, I walked two ways: her way of analyzing what already happened and my own of figuring out what was going on right now and anticipating what might work next. Ultimately, we parted ways — a happy outcome for us both.
A long ago summer in New York City, Julia Cameron taught a terrific Artists Way workshop. Cameron had just released a book called Walking in ThisWorld: The Practical Art of Creativity, a wonderful sequel to her ground-breaking The Artist’s Way course. Our course was the condensed version of her rich, insightful work and we absorbed her wisdom and encouragement while working at a furious pace.
One night, a student known for self-aggrandizing soliloquies interrupted Cameron. Again and again, he refused to let her continue discussing a practice of going on a mindful walk once a week, taking in the world and your own experience and thoughts as you walked. The class shifted, sighed, all but groaned out loud.
He berated her to tell us what kind of shoes you should wear to do your artist walk. Blessed, patient, lovely Cameron paused and considered his question. Whatever’s on your feet muttered the woman who traveled two hours by train to get to class. Cameron looked down at her own feet, then stared up at the ceiling. Then she said something that satisfied him and class moved on.
I have no idea what her answer was. I expect that it included simplicity, about comfort, about doing whatever you must to take a walk in this world, possibly something along the lines of all you have is all you need.
So, to W and her kind who believe in numbers and analysis and endless rumination, I suggest that they put on whatever shoes they have and head out the door — into this world.