Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sense of Place

I got to travel to my home state of Virginia this past weekend and while there I visited founding father Thomas Jefferson’s private retreat called Poplar Forest, outside of Lynchburg. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s initial visit to Poplar Forest, one of only two homes he designed and created for his own use—the other being Monticello in Charlottesville—and free admission made it even more fun.

The home speaks volumes about the man and his mind, as it is reportedly the first octagonal home built in America and featured many state of the art amenities, including indoor toiletry to supplement his octagon-shaped outhouses. Of Poplar Forest, Jefferson wrote to a friend: “When finished, it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen.”

Poplar Forest’s website at www.poplarforest.org hints at the special place it held in its owner’s heart: “Poplar Forest was an important part of Jefferson’s life: a private retreat, situated far from the public scrutiny, where he could indulge in his favorite pastimes of reading, studying and thinking. Poplar Forest [was] a place where he came to find rest and leisure, rekindle his creativity, and to enjoy private family time.”

In a letter written to another friend, Jefferson wrote of Poplar Forest: “I write to you from a place 90 miles from Monticello…which I visit three or four times a year, and stay from a fortnight to a month at a time. I have fixed myself comfortably, keep some books here, bring others occasionally, am in the solitude of a hermit, and quite at leisure to attend to my absent friends.”

What was so special about visiting Jefferson’s hideaway is that it gave me a sense of place and how his home informed and inspired one of the truly revolutionary thinkers in history. It was moving to spend time in the same space that the author of our nation’s Declaration of Independence used to read and study and think grand thoughts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thinking of Abundance

I share my thinking on this blog for the creative fun of it and the simple satisfaction that comes from communicating with readers about what’s on my mind. With that said, like any other blogger, or creative artist of any stripe, it always feels good to be validated in one’s thinking and that is the prompt for this posting.

As a longtime subscriber to Fast Company, I am regularly treated to a cornucopia of innovative and interesting ideas so suffice it to say that I was particularly pleased to read a recent article about the business success of Panera Bread [which I had written about in my 06/15/09 posting titled “Mobile Avenue”].

As I mentioned in my post, Panera’s “unlimited Internet access is the drawing card for countless professional nomads like myself who are looking for a cool, cozy place to conduct business.” My point was, and continues to be, that businesses with an abundance mindset will trump those with a scarcity mentality.

As the aforementioned article states, “Mention Panera Bread and fans are as likely to praise the free Wi-Fi as they are to gush about the Asiago cheese bagels. And that, execs at the restaurant chain say, is the point. While its competitors scale back on upscale ingredients, trim portion sizes, and create value menus, Panera is selling fresh food and warm bread at full price, and encouraging customers to linger. That recipe is succeeding.”

The article also points out that while others aim to limit laptop-lugging patrons, Panera has realized that fostering community contributes to cash flow: “And the company has combined that menu with an unpretentious atmosphere—there’s no table service, but also no time limit. As a result, it has become as much community gathering space as a bustling lunch spot. ‘In many ways, we’re renting space to people and the food is the price of admission,’ says CEO Ron Shaich.”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Speaking of Stuff

I came across a thought-provoking article in this weekend’s New York Times magazine titled “The Self-Storage Self” by Jon Mooallem and you can read it at www.nytimes.com. Whether or not you use self-storage (I do not), there is no denying the behemoth of a business it has become.

One of the more compelling points of the article captures the sheer size of the self-storage movement: “After a monumental building boom, the United States now has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space. (The Self Storage Association notes that, with more than seven square feet for every man, woman and child, it’s now ‘physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.’)”

As the article further suggests: “Maybe the recession really is making American consumers serious about scaling back, about decluttering and deleveraging. But there are upward of 51,000 storage facilities across this country. Storage is part of our national infrastructure now. And all it is, is empty space.”

I can’t speak for others, but it sounds to me like people need to discipline themselves when it comes to acquiring stuff. Despite average home sizes doubling to more than 2,300 square feet, many people apparently have trouble fitting it all into their super-sized McMansions (that many also have no business buying).

I recently heard that for the typical buyer of a NEW Rolls Royce, it is the 17TH car in their collection! When the vast majority of the world subsists on about a dollar a day, I can’t help but think that too many of us have our priorities out of whack. I personally subscribe to the philosophy that “less is more” and am reminded of the admonition to “live simply that others may simply live.”