My first two years of college were spent at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. Established by Swedish Lutheran immigrants in 1881, Swedish history and traditions still influence life and culture at Bethany. My mother graduated from Bethany. Both of us studied music there.
Bethany boasts a gallery containing an extensive collection of the work of former professor Birger Sandzén. I mention Bethany and Sandzén, because both influenced my discovery of, and appreciation for, art in forms other than music. As an 18-year-old freshman writing student who was also a musician, I would spend time at the Sandzén Gallery, wondering how I had missed the beauty of painting and sculpture up to that point. It was one of many times in my life where several pieces of information in my mind came together with the passion in my heart to crystalize into something that somehow was right within me. The meeting of heart and mind, the shiver of coalescence. And it felt amazing.
During that time, I fell in love with the work of Claude Monet. If you stand very close to a Monet painting, with your nose inches from the canvas, two things happen. First, the guards at the museum get nervous and start moving closer to you. Second, you get lost in a chaos of brushstrokes and color. Nothing makes rational sense—you cannot pick out familiar forms. You revel in the depth and delicacy of paint and color. Take a few steps back (the guards breathe audible sighs of relief) and your mind begins to establish rational boundaries out of beautiful chaos. A few more steps back and you form the painting to your previous experience—making more sense to you and gaining familiar form. You lose some of the emotion found in pure chaotic color, but your mind finds clarity. This is the moment of coalescence. I find this experience so rewarding (dare I say addicting?), that throughout my life, I’ve come to seek, to need, those moments. Like the moment between the savory aroma of grilled steak entering your nose and the slice of perfectly prepared steak resting on your tongue, I slaver mentally in anticipation of those coalescent moments. I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to the shivers—the “eurekas”, the “wows” and “oh my Gods.”
As I prepare for my Eisenhower Fellowship studies in Japan and Taiwan, I find myself filled with the excitement that comes from anticipation of coalescence. I’ve been reading, preparing myself. While I am going primarily to study product differentiation and branding in beef, I also will work to better understand the role food plays in both cultures, including how food experiences shape relationships and social structures. Forgive me for that, I am a sociologist by nature and by training. The forces that shape our interactions and our rules of engagement fascinate me.
In mid-March, I had the good fortune to be invited to a brain-trust meeting, with several other folks who lead companies and organizations in the beef industry. As I read more about Japan and Taiwan, and think about what U.S. consumers demand from beef and beef products, I can feel that familiar shiver of coalescence around the edges of my brain.
For example, many people in Tokyo purchase fresh food every day. Cold storage in the home (indeed, space in the home) is limited. But it seems to me that the Japanese people enjoy, and respect, small perfections. They would rather buy a little of something that leaves them satisfied, than a lot of something that does not. I’d like to explore this further while there, because I believe this, among other things, has implications for the U.S. consumer market. Small portion sizes, “special” food attributes, health and nutrition, beef as an ingredient—these things meld with the U.S. consumer’s burgeoning need for added value in food. To me, Japan has a lot to offer U.S. marketers with respect to food experiences to satisfy our consumers here at home. While I go to both Japan and Taiwan to better understand how we may offer them US beef, the shiver of coalescence tells me that I will come home with lessons in how to satisfy our own consumer as well. As a Japanese proverb says, “You can know 10 things by learning one.”
As in so many times in my life, today, as I prepare for one big adventure, I remind myself that personal growth comes from an open heart and a prepared mind. Through these, I hope to have many, many coalescing experiences in the coming weeks. And in this space, share my journey with you. Stay tuned.