The Power of the Wave

Wave_HeaderSequim, the community in which I live, is a friendly place. For a town with a population of just around 7,000 people, we are surprisingly diverse culturally, ethnically, politically, and economically. Nevertheless, the friendliness of its inhabitants transcends this multiplicity. Strangers will start a conversation at the drop of a hat. Neighbors not only know each other, they share tools, recipes, vegetables, and more. If you step into any bank to make a deposit, all of the tellers know you by name. It is simply that sort of place.

By far the most striking manifestation of this friendliness is the Sequim hand wave. Everyone waves. Neighbors wave. Strangers wave. This is not merely a passive nod of the head and a grunt. This is a full, active wave of the hand with arm raised into the air and moving. And like as not, it is accompanied by both words and eye contact. Even where those are not possible, the wave persists. The crossing guards wave to the passing motorists. Motorists wave to folks out walking their dogs, and the dog owners wave back. Out on the tractor in the south meadow, I exchange a wave with every passing vehicle. No place else that I have lived has exhibited this phenomenon.

The Sequim hand wave is a powerful gesture that resonates unconsciously among the citizenry on many levels. It is worth considering a few of them.

  • Affirmation: A wave of the hand requires active energy to perform and is therefore a strong affirmation to the recipient that he/she deserves that effort.
  • Inclusion: A wave of the hand, particularly between strangers, is welcoming and says, “You are one of us, even if you don’t reside here.”
  • Trust: The hand wave is at least as strong as a handshake in establishing a bond of trust between people.

The hand wave as practiced in Sequim breaks down the social and cultural barriers that might otherwise separate people. It is uncanny, and I have no idea why it happens here. It is not to be found very much in neighboring communities. But beyond a purely academic curiosity, there is probably not much value in trying to discover why. Rather, consider it a fortuitous phenomenon that is one of the elements that makes this little corner of the globe so special.

What I find particularly fascinating about this cultural idiosyncrasy is that it demonstrates one of the key elements in the facilitation of meetings and planning retreats. This has to do with the power of non-verbal communication and physical involvement. Consider the following scenario.

A consultant is leading a meeting of Finance and Accounting Directors at a Fortune 500 company. The objective of the meeting is to articulate how a particular product line will aggregate in a new financial system. The consultant is at the whiteboard trying to diagram what the business people are saying. It is not going well and frustration is mounting. One Senior Manager is particularly excited, unconsciously gesturing as he speaks as if to draw a picture with his hands. It is at this point that the consultant does what he should have done in the beginning. He throws the marker to the Senior Manager. “Show us!” This transforms the meeting. The Senior Manager is able capture the essence of what he was trying to say using his own imagery from his own point of view. More important, the physical act of standing at the whiteboard and creating the diagram himself has changed his role as well as his level of participation in the meeting. Allowing others to leave their seats and add to or modify the diagram keeps both the energy in the room and the quality of the information high.

The importance of participating physically in a meeting or other interaction cannot be understated. It is why I use copious amounts of white butcher paper when I facilitate planning meetings. I want the participants on their feet, interacting directly with their information. And for longer processes such as full day retreats, I typically begin with a physical exercise to break the ice and to engage the body as well as the mind. My favorite is called “Business Cards.” It requires the participants to perform a series of physical and verbal actions with each of the other attendees in the room. The game necessitates not only coordination, but also an awareness of both the individuals and the collective body of participants. The results are energizing.

The Sequim hand wave is a powerful analog to this mutual stimulation between body and spirit. It is vitalizing – to the point of making one’s day – to be driving along and have an utter stranger wave. It is equally gratifying to return the wave. It is a simple gesture that shines a momentary light in an often-dark world. It sends the message that we may not be so far apart after all. In fact, our ideas, our backgrounds, and our beliefs may be much more easily reconcilable than we think. We simply need to say, “Hello.”

How do you engage your meeting participants? How would you harness the power of the wave?



Inspiration _HeaderPeople ask me about the name of my firm – Parnassus Analytics – with relative frequency. Some folks cannot pronounce it. Most want to know what it means and why I chose it. These are fair questions and I propose to answer them. I’m not certain how this story will succeed as a written document; it is much more fun to tell in front of an audience. I will let you be the judge.

My wife and I have been coming to the North Olympic Peninsula for over thirty-three years. In fact, we became engaged right here on a beach at Dungeness. And while we knew that we would eventually return, we also knew that we had many years of work ahead of us before we could. Life took us to Southern California where we established our respective careers and raised our family. Several times we looked at moving back but the circumstances were not propitious. At last, all of the stars aligned and we circled a date on the calendar.

We had never made a secret of the fact that our days in the Southland were numbered and we formally announced our intention to relocate a full three years ahead of time. Nevertheless, many people were in denial including several of my work colleagues. It only began to seem real when the escrow closed on the house in Sequim. Then, denial turned to panic and disbelief. I even remember someone asking me in all seriousness, “Steve, do they even have internet there?”

My original plan was to stay with the firm that had employed me for eleven years. For a variety of reasons, this strategy became more difficult to engineer than expected. In the end, my boss and I negotiated a deal whereby I would start my own firm and then subcontract back on projects already in process.

I made the decision rather quickly and was stuck for a name for the enterprise. I wanted something that reflected this locale, nestled as it is between the Olympic Mountains to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north.   A quick look at the local phone directory was far from inspiring. Almost everything was “Olympic” this, “Peninsula” that, or “Strait” something else as a play on the word “straight” (e.g., Strait Advice). I may hide it well, but I have something of an unconventional streak. I wanted a name that was unique, something with zest and panache.

And then it came to me. Parnassus! Of course! Mt. Parnassus is the mountain in Greece that in mythology was sacred to Apollo and home to his daughters, the nine muses. It suggests not only the mountains, but enlightenment and inspiration as well. It resonated for me the way the marvelous light here shimmers, reflecting off both the mountains and the ocean. Parnassus Analytics: Inspired Intelligence. Besides, I have a particular affinity for Euterpe, the muse of music.

As it turns out, there was something oddly prophetic and directional in that choice of name. It is not an idea that I thought about, calculated, or anticipated. Instead, it seems to be a path on which the firm is traveling. Part of it has been learning to recognize relevant concepts and ideas from amidst the ocean of seeming irrelevancies. Another element has been creating a network with those recognitions, bringing concepts into focus in unexpected contexts. Consider for a moment the nine muses themselves:

  • Calliope, the muse of epic poetry
  • Euterpe, the muse of song and elegiac poetry (by extension, music)
  • Erato, the muse of lyric poetry
  • Polyhymnia, the muse of hymns
  • Terpsichore, the muse of dance
  • Melpomene, the muse of tragedy
  • Thalia, the muse of comedy
  • Clio, the muse of history
  • Urania, the muse of astronomy

Notice the union of the arts and sciences as they were thought about well over two millennia ago. The nine subject areas appear together on equal footing. Contrast that with education today and how we create impenetrable silos for these realms of knowledge. In today’s schools, most of the nine muses are deemed irrelevant anyway. Can you imagine standing up in a typical MBA marketing class and using musical counterpoint to illustrate a business concept?

And yet that is precisely where Parnassus is taking me. At first it just seemed to be random commonalities that were finding the light of day, conceptual parallels that made for interesting self-improvement reading on this blog rather than sharp concepts for systematic application. Over time, though, a web of reusable or “pan-applicable” ideas has emerged that demonstrates relevance across the silos we have created in both education and business. On several occasions, concepts drawn from musical counterpoint have been useful to me in a business context both structurally (because counterpoint is structure) as well as metaphorically. It is stimulating to think where this path might lead eventually.

So that is the creation legend for Parnassus Analytics, describing as it does how I named the firm as well as the significance the name is taking on. It is as appropriate to what we are doing as it is to where we are living. By the way, if you would like to know more about the latter, visit my newest web page Sequim and click on the elk to view a terrific little video. In the meantime, you have but to look around you for insight and revelation. The nine daughters of Apollo are still very busy gals and inspiration is instantly at hand if you are attentive. And should you happen to bump into one of them, introduce yourself and tell her that Steve sent you.


Do you have a creation story of your own to share? What was your last big “Aha!” moment?