This morning on my call with Katie and Annie I spoke mostly about my recent trip with Daniel Cardwell and our work together on “A Question of Color”. I told them about my first trip to the grocery store with Dan to stock up our cabin in preparation for our five days together and how unusual it was to go shopping with someone for the first time. The experience opened my eyes to how stories are often told between the lines. Imagine how much I learned about Dan when he reached for a dozen tins of sardines, four boxes of Nutrigrain bars, two cans of beans and three onions.
As we worked, which we did for an average of 18 hours each day, Dan would cook so I could keep my fingers working on the computer keys and it was through his cooking that I learned more about his life, about his journey. He was a farmer and a survivor who had lived on his own on a farm from the age of 14. He knew how to throw whatever we had in the fridge together in such a way that it was tasty, nourished us, and kept our minds focused as we toured his life.
I also learned about myself this trip. About my creative process. Working 18 hours a day was difficult for me. At home I flip flop between projects every few minutes, but here I had to remain intensely focused for long stretches, both in listening to Dan’s stories and in then capturing them on the page. Listening for long stretches taxed me emotionally; I knew that only 10% of what I was hearing was going to end up in the book, and yet I had to sift through the other 90% to find those gems. My mind clouded over numerous times and yet as soon as we came across a nugget, I would find myself invigorated, inspired and attentive again.
Because Dan’s book focuses on his search for his mother that spanned more than 25 years, in many ways we were putting together a detective story. That was his role as he travelled around the world, searching for his origins, accumulating about 24 inches worth of documents that we had to pull the greatest pieces from. Dan’s story and his struggle for survival in a world that wanted to throw him away was heartbreaking.
At the end of our trip, as we said our goodbyes at the airport, we had a “dude” moment as Annie called it on the phone this morning. We had shared this intimate journey of Dan’s life and his love for his mother and when we shook hands, we knew we had been through a special experience together. The moment turned a bit awkward as we tried to navigate letting go of the week we had spent together. Part of me wanted to hug Dan and cry with him – to release all the pain of his story, but we settled on a fist-bump and a nod. When I walked into the airport I became overwhelmed with emotion as it all finally hit me. His story is both beautiful and tragic, and he walks away the hero having overcome adversity beyond measure. He had the strength to not only search for 25 years but to then share that story (the good the bad and the ugly) for the sake of others. That’s a hero.
In the days since we have parted, I have dreamed of Dan and his book every night. In those dreams I always wake up started, feeling like I was searching and so close to something. That tells me we’re on the right track here and I’m excited to bring this story to the world.
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