Consulting by Nike Irvin

Visit this space for book recommendations,  commentaries, suggested resources, and other musings.   

April 2011

7 Continents

This year marks the completion of a cherished personal goal:  travel to all seven continents.   My Mom and I went on an 18 day voyage to South America-Patagonia-Antarctica.   There are no adequate words to capture the sights and experiences: icebergs bigger than Central Park,  penguin colonies under jets practicing maneuvers over the Falkland Islands,  kayaking the Straits of Magellan,  navigating Cape Horn at sunset,  tango lessons aboard our ship (Crystal Symphony), and that is just a small sampling of the memories of this journey.   I feel soooo humbled by the majesty of this part of the world.   I was able to see Elephant Island where the legendary Sir Ernest Shackleton was reunited with his crew after his heroic rescue trip to South Georgia Island after two years stuck in Antarctica back in 1912.   Read the book "Endurance" by Caroline Alexander if you'd like a true story about bravery, leadership, and... endurance.   I read it over ten years ago, and have been determined to visit Antarctica since.  

I feel eager to revisit all 7 continents again!    There are still so many places I've yet to visit... not to mention 6 of the 50 United States.    For the first time,  I had to apply for extra pages in my passport.   After a trip like Antarctica-Patagonia, I've been regularly reflecting on that magical journey.  It was a blessing to travel with my Mom-- who really deserves the credit for this trip.  She and her bridge-playing colleagues make these jaunts, and I tagged along because of the itinerary.   What a lucky daughter!   When I think that my Mom has been to Antarctica, I just beam.    Go Mama!! 

September 2010

Energy is on my mind.   How can I create more energy, focused energy, each day?   This past summer, I started most days with a "green smoothie".   Yup.   Sound strange?    My new BlendTec blender from Costco is the perfect tool.   In less than a minute, I have a kale-pear smoothie or a spinach-banana smoothie. (and no messy clean up !)  Today, having run out of greens, I had a watermelon-white peach-ginger smoothie.   On the exercise front, I've been pretty dligent about walking.   I walk the Silverlake Reservoir or hike around the Griffith Observatory, sometimes with neighbors, or otherwise with my iPod tuned to a current audiobook.   I'm currently  listening to Abraham Verghese's "Cutting for Stone".   Next up is Tony Blair's autobiography.    Another fixture on my walks is my Direct Life "Activity Monitor"-- a little I-touch sized thingee I wear around my neck.  It's like a pedometer but better, because it's personalized to me and measures my progress against my daily caloric "burn" goal.   My current goal is 712 calories / day to burn.   It takes work!   I can do 60 minutes of cardio at the gym plus 10-15 minutes of weights, and nail my goal.   Or I can walk 2 brisk laps around the reservoir (~ 5miles), and achieve my goal.   If you're curious, check    I use my Activity Monitor as my "conscious" to remind me to make small and large daily choices, e.g. take the stairs vs elevator or to walk to a breakfast meeting vs. drive.   When I arrived at a conference in Raleigh, NC last week,  I squeezed a 1/2 mile walk in to the State Capitol building before dinner.   

I always come away refreshed from a day that includes a smoothie and a walk.... as my best work is so tied to my energy-- physical, mental, and even the energy of others!  I read  that each person is the average of the five people he/she spends the most time with.   Wow!    As I took inventory of my "fab five",  I realized AGAIN how precious our time is, and how we should invest our waking hours in the company of people who are positive, action-oriented, walk-the-talk kind of folks.    How many times have you interacted with someone of palpable positive energy and come away feeling energized ?     So think about your energy.   What and who brings energy into your life ?    

June 2010

I recently participated in a phenomenal seminar called "Pursuing the Good Life", as a member of the Aspen Global Leaders Network.   This seminar was an interactive, introspective exploration of life's journey and we covered topics including nature, art and creativity, legacy, family and friends, work and wealth creation.  It was not a "how-to" seminar.  Moderated by Keith Berwick and Heather Sonn, two of the Aspen Institute's most gifted spirits, eighteen of us from Ghana, China, India, South Africa, and the U.S. dug into our past, present, and future lives in ways that allowed us to consider our triumphs, crashes, adventures, dreams in a space made safe and sacred by history (we were in the Dead Sea, Jordan) and by the communal trust we built from day 1 together.   It was a joy and privilege to be in that circle.  On our third day together, we took a trip down to the Dead Sea-- the lowest point on Earth.    We floated (you cannot sink nor touch the bottom for all of the salt in the water) and then took the healing mud treatment.   We returned to the seminar room that afternoon renewed by this holy dip.  Only 7 miles from Israel's West Bank,  I pondered why this region could be so fraught with conflict over the years.   Is it in the air?  No, I conclude.  It is in the consciousness.   All of our wars start in our minds, and manifest outward.  The question I ask is must this consciousness persist?  Is there a healthy interruption that can be introduced?  Days after I returned home (after a fantastic stop in Egypt), there was a flare-up between Israeli forces and a Turkish ship working to break the Gaza blockade.  

Recently, I heard Antwone Fisher speak at his booksigning for "A Boy Should Know How to Tie a Tie-- and Other Lessons for Succeeding in Life".   This man's life, as partially chronicled in a great movie directed by Denzel Washington, started in prison.  Literally,  he was born in prison to a mother who was a 17 y.o. inmate.  His life proceeded from there through the foster care system, streets of Cleveland, eventually into the Navy, and then to a movie studio lot where he got the first inspiration to write his story.  He fought a lot through the years.  Beating others, getting beaten, he explained.    He eventually came under the care of a Navy psychologist who helped him deal with "emotional injuries" that Antwone and suffered over the years-- at the hands of his foster family and others in his life.   Mr. Fisher keyed on something I've long believed-- the power and need for timely mental and emotional "unpacking".  We all need and deserve time to introspect, to heal, to ask and answer tough questions.   Antwone Fisher was lucky enough to get this time-- thanks to the U.S. Navy-- or else he would  have ever had this "man-in-the-mirror" period.   What if Israel and Palestine got this time to heal?   What if ? What if ???   I can only imagine.  

January 2010

The arrival a new year is always an energizing moment.   On 12/31/09, I tweeted the following question: "How will you spend the LAST day of the FIRST decade of this NEW century?"   For me, the day was spent preparing to receive my family for a New Year's Eve dinner and game night.    Turkey chili, black-eyed peas, salad, crepes, and champagne comprised our menu in a delicious family potluck.   Before dinner, we went upstairs to my deck where we watched the golden pink streaks of an inspiring sunset; we took photos to memorialize the event.  After all, it was the end of a decade that began in fear (Y2K) and ended with amidst the Great Recession, two wars, a decimated California state budget.   Despite the long menu of bad news that still swallows this state and country, I remain optimistic.  A year ago, we were on the brink of financial disaster.   A US Airways flight lost engines and managed to land in the Hudson.  We were about to witness the swearing in of Barack H. Obama.   Even amidst the weeds and warts, there were AND are blooms.    Our challenge will be to resist digesting all the nasty stuff, and maintain a diet of clean, life-enhancing information, food, and ideas.   One day at a time, folks.... yes we can ....we can do it. 

So.... how will you spend the first months of the second decade of this new century ? 

August 2009

Summer's not over yet, but I must take a moment to acknowledge some very sunny moments I've enjoyed.  In June, I visited Sydney, Australia  and Fiji on a 10 day whirlwind adventure.  Spending three days/nights in Sydney at the beginning of the trip and one day/night at the end was a wonderful way to book-end my four days in Fiji.  A few highlights:

  • Crossing the international date-line and completely missing June 11, 2009.  I experienced a literal time-warp, a wrinkle in the universe!  I left Los Angeles on the night of June 10th, and landed Sydney a little after dawn the morning of June 12th.  Wild!!!
  • Seeing Sydney's Opera House up close, going inside, and later during a Luminosity light show where it was draped in bright psychodelic colors.   Visit my Facebook page to see my Fiji - Oz photo album.   
  • Staying with my friends Mehrdad, his wife Roya, and their gifted son Naysan was a huge treat.  They showed off their beautiful Sydney with walks to Balmoral beach, dinner on the Circular Quay (where we watched the Opera House change colors!), breakfast at Bondi Beach, and an afternoon with the High Resolves Initiative---a groundbreaking values-based leadership program for Sydney high-schoolers designed by Mehrdad and Roya.  
  • Once in Fiji,  I got to meet U.S. Ambassador Steve McGann-- a colleague of my brother Bob's from their days in Nairobi.  Steve showed us (my friend Cindy Lang and I) the Fiji Museum, his home "Somerset House" where we had a lovely lunch, and the current and soon to be new Embassies.   Fiji is a nation blessed by over 300 islands populated by a rich Polynesian-Melanesian mix of people with an Indian merchant class thrown in too.
  • The sluggish economy was in plain sight in Fiji with a 30% occupancy at the Westin Denarau.   This meant I got to play golf all by myself... 36 holes over two days.   The heavenly spa treatment I had was during a lush rainstorm... that was the only noise w/ no other patrons around.   I hope the economy bounces back with relish, if only to relieve the warm Fijians from these doldrums! 
  • Finally, big thanks to Mehrdad-Roya-Nays-Steve McG... and especially to Andrea and Chris Mack who insisted I take their unusable trip to Fiji that they won in a Silent Auction for their sons school.  Thanks to all of you!! 

May 2009

Recently, I read "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell.  What stuck with me from this book is Gladwell's ability to solidly explain the sources of success for people and organizations like Bill Gates and KIPP Academy.   Greatness isn't necessarily innate, according to Outliers.  Greatness is a child of access, cultural legacy, and diligent practice and attention to mission.  There is power in being in the right place, right time--- getting the "breaks" that seem to accompany hard work and preparation.  My favorite chapter is the final chapter where Gladwell describes the fortuitous timing that his mother had to be born in 1931.   That is the same year my mother was born.   Gladwell's Mom and my Mom went to boarding schools--quite unusual for "colored" women in the 1940s.   This "break" was furnished by the determination of Gladwell's grandmother to not allow his mother grow up in the provincial confines of Jamaica.  Similarly,  my grandmother wasn't keen on allowing my mother grow up in small-town Terrell, TX.  Certainly,  I am the beneficiary of my grandmother's daring.  Malcolm Gladwell has done a huge public service in describing the power of access or "open doors", and how success is a function of seizing this access as opposed to just being born on the sunny side of the street.    Read the book.