conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘soviet’ Category

My New Mug is a Proper Communist

leave a comment »

Fresh from St. Petersburg



Oh—it has made a free-market friend.

Or is this some new annexation?

Or is this some new annexation?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

February 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

Back in the USSR: The Way Things Oughta Be–Vladimir Style

with 2 comments

One last, late summer visit to the Baltics


Click to play

Careful with that beach ball.


Via @BillLindeke

Written by kirkistan

September 4, 2014 at 5:00 am

Ukraine Explained in Just Under 7 Minutes

leave a comment »

John Green Gives Context. Quickly.


Via 22 Words

Written by kirkistan

March 12, 2014 at 8:26 am

Posted in curiosities, soviet

Tagged with , ,

No Problem: Russia Visit You.

leave a comment »



Image Credit: PeterFromTexas

Written by kirkistan

March 2, 2014 at 9:17 am

Posted in soviet

Tagged with ,

Power Distance Vs. Skunkworks (Shop Talk #8)

with 3 comments

Don’t Fax Me In

I’m anticipating a Social Media Breakfast Friday morning that promises dialogue about dialogue: how companies can get better at engaging employees for collaboration. Collaboration intrigues me because it forces this question:

How is it our organizations gather all these smart people and yet routinely fail to get them working together on big ideas? Why is true collaboration still a distant dream rather than today’s pressing reality?

Anyone can see we’re well beyond the “You talk. I Listen.” model of management relations. In my class we’ve been tracing the opportunity of social technologies backwards to where conversation bumps against command and control personalities and cultures. I’ve been coming to the conclusion that conversation is inevitable: with customers, with your own workforce. Especially with your own workforce. This is good news for anyone who works. To expect anything less than people talking back (where you can hear it or where you cannot hear it) is to settle comfortably into the pace and ethos of 1980 or 1990. Back when we might just fax in our order.

One celebrated model for collaboration is that of Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks: smart people hiding from bosses (or some bosses) to work together on a particular passion. It was a skunkworks setup that allowed Steve Jobs to make his radical break that resulted in the Macintosh. The absence of bureaucracy and the concentrated abundance of resources contributed to innovation.

And this: slightly naughty has its own peculiar draw. If skunkworks promises to disrupt the social order, I’m in. So are a lot of other seemingly ordinary citizens.

Cubicle-dwelling life is often more about receiving messages rather than dialoguing. In my own life it was the rare boss (I count three) who was able to deeply engage teams and bring out the very best—the brand new stuff that would happen only when everyone talked.

My fear is that internal communication is mostly just another flavor-of-the-month HR stunt, only using new tools. Just another command and control technique that only climbers are interested in.

My hope is that leaders take their top positions and use them to demonstrate dialogue and make themselves vulnerable.

My observation is that a generation of Anti-Vladimir Putins and Anti-Kim Jong-uns is already emerging.



Prayer is just magical thinking. Right?

with 4 comments

Asking for your own private cascade of miracles11252013-2-la-table-de-pique-nique-architecture-by-benedetto-buffalino-designboom-03

Magical thinking is the hope that something out of nowhere will happen and change everything. When I was a kid writing stories and got stuck, it was magical thinking that rescued: suddenly the space ship landed and my main character got on and was whisked away. These were not cohesive stories. As a kid I engaged in magical thinking when I had a speech to give the next day: “Maybe the Russians will bomb us tonight and I won’t have to give that speech.”

That seemed like a fair trade-off at the time.

Some of my friends will say religionists routinely engage in magical thinking. It is this notion that someone (God) will rescue me from the pit I’ve landed in or the cul-de-sac I’ve driven into. I cannot disagree: I often have more than passing interest in rescue to come from above. Whether a work issue or a personal issue, health or wealth or life or death. Any and all of this succumbs to magical thinking. And that is what prayer is, right? A request for rescue, the more magical the better.

Magic defies logic by definition. Buying lottery tickets is magical thinking. Wearing lucky underwear on game day is magical thinking. Avoiding the professor’s eye contact is magical thinking.

But is prayer magical thinking? Sometimes, certainly: I hope I did not pray for Russian bombs to avoid my fourth grade speech on the cold war. If I did I was engaging in magical thinking.

Is prayer always magical thinking? No.

Can you bear a bit of nuance?

Say there is a God (this is not a given for some readers) and this God hears pleas for mercy. It could be that God engineers circumstance in mighty, global ways that I can neither see nor understand. As a person of faith I believe this is possible and even likely. But magical thinking asks that it happen for me and mine. Magical thinking is always about my zip code, my location, my self-interest. This is precisely where magical thinking and prayer part ways. If there is a God (and I believe there is), then prayer for magical interventions in my life will fall short. That’s because God is not just for me. God is for others too. Many others. If God is bent on reunion with people, then prayer is not answered according to magical thinking, but instead according to some other logic. The person maturing in faith starts to parse out the differences between magical thinking and honest prayer by allowing for silence. The person maturing in faith looks for this other logic.



Image credit: benedetto bufalino via designboom/thisisn’thappiness

Written by kirkistan

November 25, 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Ancient Text, Prayer, soviet

Tagged with

Pleasant Propaganda: The Museum of Russian Art

leave a comment »

Vlad, let’s hang out at the people’s dam today.

Plan on seeing the exhibit of Soviet Paintings (From Thaw to Meltdown: Soviet Paintings of the 1950s-1980s) at The Museum of Russian Art in South Minneapolis before it closes shop later this month.

The paintings on the top two floors start with unbridled propaganda, depicting solid workers grinning about their jobs in the steel mills, factories and collectivist farms. The strong women and robust men in their industrial settings are both beautiful and horrifying at the same time, when you realize some of the workers were more likely emaciated prisoners from the nearby prison (“Beautifying Saransk” by Alexander A. Mukhin). But the exhibit takes you beyond the grand hyperbole to show how the artists worked within the political boundaries even as they let bits of reality in. By the time you get to the back of the top floor, you are seeing more realistic depictions, including the unsettling working conditions in steel mills.

Comrade…you want soy milk in your latte?

It’s worth walking downstairs to see photos of actual workers, families and daily life in the Soviet Union: gritty and sober images in black and white. If you grew up during the Cold War, these are the images you remember.

And then it’s worth considering how images shape our lives. The propaganda paintings are easily recognized and dismissed—though many seem stunning today. The photos in the lower gallery seem more real—but they are just as much showing one viewpoint—another kind of persuasive effort that contrasts well with the upper galleries. A guy can’t help but wonder what sorts of images our political candidates can paint when $1 million fundraisers are the standard fare. A lotta loot buys a lotta propaganda.

Go soon—the exhibit closes shop in August.


Image credit: Vladimir Petrovich Tomilovski via The Museum of Russian Art

Related: Hard-hitting Russian safety posters that need no translation

Written by kirkistan

August 6, 2012 at 9:31 am

Remarkable Moments in Conversation–Putin’s Russia: “We Exist”

leave a comment »

Leader’s sometimes resist conversation as long as they can. The dictator’s monologues that preceded the Arab Spring seemed to end abruptly—at least to those of us watching casually from suburban homes. The Occupy movement keeps facing us with truths about the financial classes who have tilted the playing field to reward themselves at the expense of many.

Now it’s Putin’s turn. You gotta love a people that show up with the slogan “We exist!” It’s not even a demand except in the deep, heart-felt recognition that the party of thieves and liars has been talking past them for too many decades. That is a basic, human response.

“We exist.” Great starting place for moving from monologue to dialogue.


Image: Dmitry Lovetsky via Startribune

Written by kirkistan

December 12, 2011 at 5:00 am

Fear as a Communication Tool: Hearty and Cruel Visuals

with 4 comments

The Truth in Consequences


Today in class we talk about visuals and how to use them. Graphs, charts, line drawings, photographs—all the stuff we see every day in our media excursions. As a copywriter I am very fond of visuals: I love the way they succinctly tell the story I labor to explain with words.

But there is a genre of images we shy away from—images entirely out of sync with the pleasant, positive, climate-controlled and safe communication we aim for. These images follow the shock and awe tactics of the Brothers Grimm: show what happens when you don’t follow our rules. Things just may not turn out so well, Mister.


You don’t need to know Russian to see that you really should be careful around turning axles, backing train cars and the odd drill press. And it was not so long ago in our country that we showed our youngsters exactly what might happen with their lively hijinks.


But maybe we’ve gone too far with our de-linking of action and consequence. When writing copy I rarely name the negative side of things. Instead, I always build on the positive. Maybe we could all use a bit of that Russian backbone.

Not again!


Image Credit: Soviet Posters via Copyranter. Vintage safety manual via Retronaut.

Written by kirkistan

November 15, 2011 at 8:31 am

%d bloggers like this: