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Sunday, June 29, 2014


“The degradation to which you subject others comes back, sooner or later, to haunt you…”  This quote from Ken Follett’s powerful novel, Fall of Giants (2010), captures a unique truth about the malicious mistreatment of others.

We witness degradation, in its many manifestations, in school hallways, in workplaces, within families, in the political arena, and even in the dealings of nations.

The video titled “Always #LikeAGirl” (shared with me by one of my sons-in-law) underscores how culture powerfully shapes our thinking in degrading ways.

I heard Rosalind Wiseman give a keynote recently in which she discussed the need for adults to purposefully interdict deeply engrained and socially accepted norms of degrading behavior. She described our role as that of “piercing the normalcy of degradation.”  What an enthralling phrase! 

In the song “Belfast to Boston” James Taylor highlights the fact that reversing the forces of degradation requires extraordinary acts.  From his lyrics:  
“Who will bend this ancient hatred? 
Will the killing to an end? 
Who will swallow long injustice, take the devil for a countryman?
Who will say, this far, no further?”

As we struggle to teach young people right ways of thinking and right ways of behaving, countering the influence of contemporary culture and deep-seated historical threads of degradation are daunting challenges.

I believe it can be done, should be done, must be done.  For the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and their grandchildren.

Friday, June 27, 2014


If what we’re “selling” as vision doesn’t resonate, then it’s not vision.  

There are many reasons a vision fails to get traction.  It might be... 
politically correct, 
or any other reason that doesn't move us, compel us to action, stimulate our energy, attract our effort.

Visioning for the future is best done through inquiry, dialogue, debate, and collective wisdom.  Through discussing aspirations, dreams, wishes, and intentions a vision begins to form organically.  When/If that process occurs, the resulting vision is one that captures the aspirations of all and embraces the commitment of all.

True vision focuses the attention and investment of virtually all members of a group/organization.  They adopt it and pursue it because they find it meaningful and worthy, not because it appears on the company letterhead and web site.  Each team member is able see how they can contribute in the pursuit of that vision, in specific and concrete ways.

If the vision for our organization does not do that, then it's probably time to re-assess and recalibrate.  

The starting point is having those consequential conversations about the future we imagine for our "brand."

Thursday, June 26, 2014


The Latin root for the word “assessment” is assidere, which means "to sit beside". 

Teachers/parents/mentors know this and understand it in a profound (even if only intuitive) way.  They understand that to be able to truly assess the progress of a child/student/mentee implies a deep understanding of the other, and the contexts that have a bearing on the other's learning.  Inherent in this relationship is trust and mutual respect.

The wisest teachers/parents/mentors know that authentic assessment is not and cannot ever be accomplished via a standardized test -- it's more of an ongoing conversation between the guide and the learner.  

Superficial attempts at assessment produce superficial assessment results, which are at best bogus and hollow.

Assessment of learning is, and always will be, a messy and ambiguous process.  And, it is and always will be best administered by caring, wise, fully-invested teachers/parents/mentors.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I recently read Strategic Inquiry (Panero & Talbert, 2013).

The book was an explanation, a defense, and a promotion for a systemic process of school improvement they call the Scaffolded Apprenticeship Model (SAM).  

The SAM process is built on a three-phase approach that focuses, in order, on:
  1. Move students - by targeting small groups of underperforming students, building a small teacher team around those students, analyzing deeply the antecedents of their academic (not social) shortcomings, and purposefully deploying mindful interventions specifically at those deficit-causing root causes.  Learning, not teaching, is the focus of the intervention efforts.
  2. Move a system - through implementing structural changes within the organization such as schedules, staffing patterns, time for professional collaboration, intentional data analysis, dialogue/debate around next steps.  In essence, moving away from the "busyness" of school and focusing time/people/resources on the "business" of school - learning.
  3. Move colleagues - leveraging items 1 and 2 above, foster the conditions in which the culture of the school and it's supporting community/stakeholders come to understand that school is not where we work and not what we do, it is the single-minded and passionate commitment to optimizing the learning of every child.

Strategic Inquiry was an excellent read.  I find the principles promoted to be applicable and transferable to any organization that is committed to continuous improvement.  

Essentially, the message is this:  define clearly why you exist and what your mission is, then reframe every act, conversation, thought, and intention to focus on that mission with relentless energy.

A very nice recipe for organizational (and personal) efficacy.  Thanks for the rec, Dr. G.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Leaders come in a bazillion varieties: bosses, generals, moms, presidents, Sunday School teachers, CEOs, coaches, managers, officers, dads, preachers, siblings, etc., etc., etc.

You know them, you interact with them, you watch them, and in most cases you ARE them, in one form or another.

Of the best leader types I know, here are some of the common manifestations/behaviors I see (and admire) in them:

  • Slow to anger.
  • Listen before they speak.
  • Keep their eye on the BIG picture.
  • Treat EVERYONE with respect (including waitresses, cab drivers, and custodians).
  • Have spines made of steel (they honor their commitments/responsibilities relentlessly).
  • Have strong wills but soft hearts.
  • Constantly seek to serve others, somehow, some way.
  • Fundamentally modest and self-deprecating.  
  • Seek solutions that benefit all (rather than win-lose solutions).
  • Voracious learners.
  • Givers, not takers.
  • Exhibit vulnerability and practice total transparency.
What a list!  

Seems I've got some work to do on my leader type skills.  (How about you?)

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Some of my most powerful learning has occurred when I came to the conclusion that I was WRONG.  

Being wrong is not a pleasant place to be but it’s an okay place as long as we are able to admit it and be open to redirecting our actions/thinking in a "righter" direction.

Wrong gets a whole lot worse if we're not willing to own it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Sustenance can come in many forms, with many degrees of efficacy.  Moe (my lovely bride of 37 years) recently made this point with me, providing some compelling evidence.

In the picture below you see some plants (lettuce, chard, spinach, kale) that she planted in commercial, sterilized potting soil.

In the following picture you see plants from the same seed batch, planted on the same day, and submitted to the same conditions, with one exception - the soil was taken from our compost pile of natural, organic materials. 

While the plants receiving both kinds of nutrients are growing, clearly one set is prospering to a much greater degree.

I offer the following analogy of our own personal and organizational growth.  

Our bodies respond, grow, and heal much more healthily when our intake is of organic, naturally grown produce, meat, and dairy products.  While eating sterile and processed "food-like substances" will appear to affect healthy growth, when compared to an organic diet the difference is obvious.

Now leap to the organizational level with me.  Purchased, contrived, artificial programs/initiatives deployed to affect real organizational health (in one form or another) produce only superficial appearances of wellbeing.  On the other hand, organically designed efforts, authentically developed and deployed by the folks within the organization, offer the "real" nutrition that is likely to result in meaningful, rich, and healthy organizational response.

In summary:  

  • Fake nutrition and conditions produce peon results.
  • Real, organic nutrition and conditions produce substantive and meaningful results.
Sustenance!  (Hoping my preference is obvious to you.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


More info for your health and wellbeing today.

One of my favorite bloggers on the topic of health and wellness is Dr. Joseph Mercola.

He recently wrote about 15 foods that should be in your kitchen (and eaten) if fostering and maintaining optimal health is your goal.

Mercola's article is here.

The 15 foods he recommends...

  1. Sunflower and other sprouted seeds (don't have these in my house - yet)
  2. Organic pastured eggs (raise and eat 'em every day)
  3. Butter (been eating it like a horse - and losing weight)
  4. Fermented vegetables (we've been eating some kind of fermented food every day)
  5. Avocado (yum! yum!)
  6. Macadamia nuts and pecans (these and other raw nuts are my snack of choice)
  7. Organic coconut oil (cook with it daily and put a blob in my coffee each morning)
  8. Fresh herbs (growing some of these right this minute)
  9. Fresh garlic (we grow it, we eat it)
  10. Homemade broth (we eat both the chicken and the beef variety)
  11. Himalayan salt (yep, without the glass and sand that's added to typical table salt)
  12. Canned Alaskan salmon (haven't tried this yet)
  13. Raw milk, from organic grass-fed cows (we now own two of these critters)
  14. Whey protein (straight from the cow's milk)
  15. Yogurt and kefir, made from organic, grass-fed milk (ditto)
As you can see, we're not batting 1000 yet, but darned close.  

Do what you can, and enjoy better health for it.

Monday, June 16, 2014


We try and try to make organizations run according to “script.”  In fact, they don’t, never have, and never will. 

Life, passions, tragedies, markets get in the way and often run averse to the script.

Our view of organizations would be better served if we thought of them in terms of improvisation (like improvisational comedy).

The difference?

Scripts are well defined, and rigid (completely ignoring the context and feedback loops). Improvisation, on the other hand, is driven by strong underlying principles of contextual awareness, adaptation, cooperation, and flexibility.

It’s the principle-centered organization, not the script-driven organization, that will sustain and prosper over time.

So, which model does your organization most resemble?