Courage and Diving Board Moments

Posted 10.08.2010

Rockwell-spirit One day last week,  I took the rest of the afternoon off and drove into the District of Columbia to see the exhibition of Norman Rockwell paintings on loan to the Smithsonian American Art Museum from the collections of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Like a lot of Americans over 40, I have a soft spot in my heart for Rockwell’s paintings. For me, it’s probably because of my personal and family history with the Boy Scouts and the hours I spent as a kid looking at reproductions of Rockwell’s heroic paintings of Scouts. To see a few of those originals up close was a special treat.

The exhibit is called Telling Stories because it highlights what Spielberg and Lucas recognize as Rockwell’s genius for sharing a story in a single frame. There are 57 paintings on display that span the length of the artist’s long career. (For an informative and thoughtful review of the show, read Deborah Solomon’s in the New York Times.)  If you find yourself in DC between now and January 2, 2011 when the show closes, it’s worth a few hours of your time to go.

Rockwell-dive Along with the opportunity to see the mastery of Rockwell’s technique (I was really struck by how much more powerful the paintings are in person than in print.), one of the highlights for me was a short video interview with Spielberg and Lucas in which they talked about their appreciation for Rockwell, why they collect his work and the personal meaning that different paintings have for them. The story that stuck with me the most was the one Spielberg told about Boy on a High Dive which usually hangs in his office but is the last painting you see in this exhibition.

From the standpoint of leading others and leading myself, I really connected with what Spielberg had to say about why the painting of the boy crouched down and peering over the end of the 20 ft. high dive speaks to him (hat tip to Steve Duin of The Oregonian for sharing with his readers the essence of what Spielberg said in the video):

"We're all on diving boards, hundreds of times during our lives," he explains.  "Taking the plunge or pulling back from the abyss … is something that we must face.  For me, that painting represents every motion picture just before I commit to directing it — just that one moment, before I say, 'Yes, I'm going to direct that movie.'" 

When it came to "Schlinder's List," Spielberg adds, he clung to the diving board for 11 years before taking the plunge.  "That painting spoke to me the second I saw it."

When was the last time you peered over the edge of the high dive? What are your memorable high dive moments? What have you learned about yourself and about leadership from those times? What’s given you the courage to take the next step?