Amazing Artwork Available

FeaturedAmazing Artwork Available

If you haven’t noticed it yet, my child Ryan is an amazing artist.  They have been painting for number of years and each new piece they creates just amazes me.

Ry is starting to realize other people like their art and would be willing to pay for it. So we have been working with an art reproduction company to have giclee prints made of some of her art for sale.

For details on the pieces available, please visit the page I built – Art by Ry

Or go ahead and flip through the gallery below.

By the way… Ry is also a talented singer and will be performing in the American Choral Director’s Association National Honor Choir in Minneapolis in March, 2017. Proceeds from the sale of their art will be going to cover the cost of her appearing in this performance.

To order any pieces or ask any questions, feel free to email me – ray@vanhilst.net.

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Less is More: Refocusing on Clarity

Thank you Georgia O’Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper. You reminded me of an important tenet I need to embrace more often.

I regularly tell clients that if you remove clutter, you make it easier for web users to make a decision and know where to go on their sites. It’s a principle that is even in the DNA at Google with their three design principles of focus, elasticity and effortlessness.

Yet every day we feel compelled to add more. This presentation needs one more slide.  If I throw one more fact into this email my boss will approve my idea. Can we make room in the layout and add just one more product? If I only had more money/clothes/shoes/things my life would be happy.

Fortunately, a quick post-work visit to the Chicago Art Institute brought me back to reality.  3 artists. 3 different styles.  Yet, each removed clutter to focus on the most important parts of the scene. Their art was just as much knowing what not to paint.

I’ll keep this in mind as I move forward. With an emphasis on focus, clarity – and less clutter.


If you want some inspiration and to know the specific paintings that inspired this post here you go:

Roy Lichtenstein – Whaam

While this seems like a detailed painting. Think again. It is part of the artist’s comic book style and each halftone dot (or “pixel” in modern terms) was painted by hand. But notice that he only used 4 colors and “details” such as clouds are not in the painting.

Georgia O’Keeffe – Spring 1924

Right next to this painting in the museum is a photo of the same building taken during the winter. In comparing the two you notice that she removed details such as the chimney and siding so the image could focus on the flowers in the background (which is what makes it spring).

Edward Hopper – Nighthawks

Have you ever been in a diner this clean? And yet we wonder why these three people are sitting at a counter in the middle of the night. What is their story? We don’t know. But we can imagine. By eliminating the clutter and knick-knacks that would inevitably be in the diner, we focus on the unwritten saga unfolding in the middle of the night.

(Note: This is also my wife’s favorite painting so I had to make sure I made a side trip to visit it.)

“Good” is No Longer Good Enough

We live in a very fast moving world now.  Employee and team loyalty is won and lost in hours or minutes.  And customer loyalty (or disgruntlement) is created even faster.  This new environment requires a different leader type who can respond in a genuine way to get people to follow them.

A few weeks ago during Buzz 2010 I came to the realization that many of the principles Charline Li was talking about with Open Leadership (her latest book) were similar to the principles of “Level 5 Leadership” that Jim Collins outlined in his book Good to Great.

Good to Great has had a profound effect on me.  At the time I read it I realized that the reason my company was doing so well was because it was following so many of the principles of the book – and it was led at the top by “Level 5 Leaders”.  In many ways it formed the basis of my management style as I realized the emotional benefits of becoming such a leader.

  • Level 5 leaders build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
  • Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

Now as I work my way through Li’s Open Leadership I see more and more elements of what she describes that are fueled by this leadership approach:

  • Explaining: Creating Buy In – This isn’t a top down approach that many managers try to push.  It’s working with staff at all levels to get buy in and move forward as a team.
  • Conversing: Improving Operations – Li describes putting the community to work and funneling those efforts back into improving the operations.  As a leader, it’s realizing you might not always be the one with the best ideas and looking for help and support from wherever you find it.
  • Crowdsourcing: Solving a specific problem together – This is the ultimate setting aside of your ego as you open up to take help from large numbers of people.  But it’s all for the same goal – to make the company/product better.

See the parallels?  “Humility” and getting buy in at all levels. Focusing on the larger goal of building a great company and being willing to take in work/ideas from outside the company.

Ok, so maybe you’ve followed me as I’ve connected the dots between the two books and are ready to rush out and buy them (a good idea).  But now you’re thinking to yourself “Hey, what’s the point of this post?”

Good is no longer good enough.  Leaders now need to be Great!

The best and fastest moving organizations are embracing openness as they respond to the saturation of social technologies that are changing our business practices.  They are opening up and looking for leaders at all levels.

When Collins wrote “Good to Great” in 2001 the social web didn’t exist.  A company could be good in their self-contained universe and still make good money. It was the great companies that rose above that and generated amazing results.

Fast-forward to 2010 and you have companies starting up all over the place as technology has become more affordable and time to market has gotten increasingly shorter.  A new market emerges and without looking twice, a competitor pops up.  Customers give feedback in real time and reputations are made or lost with the post of a tweet or click of a mouse.  We now have “fans” of our companies and organizations who engage on an ongoing basis rather than buying the product/service every now and then.

As Li points out, this type of dynamic marketplace and environment requires a new type of leader.  And as you draw the parallels from Collins – these companies need great leaders.  “Good” is no longer good enough.

As you work with others throughout your organizations, mange your teams and interact with customers, I challenge you to rise above “good” and become “great”.  Your organization, staff and customers will thank you.  And as a result, you’ll see greatness for your company – and yourself.

Rediscovering The Value of a Session Beer – Brawler Ale

I picked up some Brawler Ale from Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia over the weekend and opened my first bottle the other night.  I was quite impressed by the malt flavor and overall color and experience of the beer.  It presented well, very balanced and was real enjoyable…. and yet I kept feeling like something just wasn’t quite right.

As I prepared dinner this evening my wife was enjoying a Brawler and commented how much she liked it.  So I reached in and grabbed another.  As I opened it I actually bothered to read the label this time (yes, like most men I don’t always RTFM) and then I realized why it had struck me as odd.

“crafted in the style of English session ales”

Ahh…. that explains it.  I’ve been on a Dogfish Head trip lately enjoying Midas Touch, 60 Minute IPA and others all that have higher alcohol levels. So as asession beer crosses my lips are like “hey! were’s the rest of the beer???”

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this beer.  Good flavor and enjoyable to drink as I sit here writing this post and watching a hockey game.  I think just in knowing that it is a session beer made a difference and makes it a complete beer experience.

Lesson learned?  Read the full label and know what I’m buying and drinking.  Also, not every enjoyable beer has to be super hopped or high alcohol.

(Oh and if you’re wondering what a session beer is, here’s a great article from Beer Advocate.)

Beer Named After a Town like Durango Better Be Good

Durango is a small town with a huge personality.  Surrounded by beautiful mountains with a vibrant river flowing through it, Durango conveys a bold attitude and fresh perspective that this mid-Atlantic suburbanite finds intoxicating (everytime we visit, I long to quit my job and just move).

So you can imagine the expectations that go with a beer bearing this town’s name.  Sure enough, the fine brews from the Durango Brewing Company live up to the spirit of Durango.

I had the pleasure sampling two wonderful Durango Brewing Company brews during my trip — the Durango Amber Ale and the Durango Wheat Beer. 

According to the company’s Web site, the Amber Ale as a “deep amber color, medium body, and mild hop bitterness making it a well balanced refreshing beer.”  Personally, I found the Amber Ale to be better tasting than  most ambers, but compared to the the other fine ambers I’ve sampled lately it didn’t really stand out above the rest. Definately worth tasting again but nothing to warrant another trip across the country.

As for the Wheat Beer, I DID find it unique enough that it stood out.  To many people when you say “Wheat Beer” they think “Hefeweizen” in the German tradition.  But as I learned at a recent evening at DC’s Churchkey, the “Wheat Beer” label goes way beyond that pale expectation.

And Durango’s Wheat Beer follows this tradition with it’s “American-Style Wheat with domestic barley and wheat malts.”  In just looking at the beer it has the same appearance as a standard smooth flowing lager.  But upon putting it to your lips you realize that it not only combines a good drinkability with additional flavor and personality.  The combination just makes it memorable.

Apparently this beer is a 2007 Colorado State Fair winner — and I can see why.  If I could have brought some home, I would have snuck it into my luggage.

My one regret with this brewery is that I couldn’t spend any time at their facility.  We stopped in the restuarant/bar for dinner and it looked like a fun place with a focus on good beer.  Tables are set up for socializing and drinking with not much emphasis on food (although they do serve food).  The environment just begged for a session beer and spending time with friends and enjoyable brews.

Alas, as I was with my family and mother-in-law this was not quite the environment suitable for a family dinner.  However, as a beer drinker I longed to escape from our hotel and venture back to sip a few brews.

On our next trip, this place is definitely on my to-do list.

Long travels with a rich reward

It’s been a long long travel day. Our flight from BWI was delayed by 2+ hours even after we got to the airport mongo early to account for 5 people checking and security.

So there went my plan for a leisurely repaste in the haven of Dallas-Ft Worth airport.

Upon landing in Albuquerque a family sitting near me on the plane
offered up an excellent recommendation for local food and brew. So with everyone checked into the hotel and the rental vehicle loaded up we ventured out to Il Vicino — known for their wonderful flatbreads pizzas and microbrews.

Oooo. Yeahhhhh!! Great choice. The menu had a great selection of pizzas which took us a good 8 to 10 minutes to order. The beer list was shorter and was an easier decision.

Although the server recommended the IPA I opted for the Slowdown Brown
(I think Dogfish Head has spoiled me for IPA’s so the bar is pretty
high now).

The Slowdown Brown was a great way to start the meal. It had that
wonderful malty flavor you expect from a good brown ale. And I really
appreciated he smooth finish.

 My wife had ordered the Rob’s Amber and didn’t enjoy it.  Being the chivalrous dude that I am…. I switched with her.

And what a good call that was!  At first sip I could see why she didn’t like it.  The glass was filled with what looked like a standard amber ale, but the taste buds revealed a hoppy flavor that really took this beer someplace special.  It really provided for a complex experience that was like finding a hidden surprise (much like when you find an extra 5 bucks in your jeans, but tastier).  My only regret is that I could have only one.

Oh well, this gives me another reason to come back some time.