About Me

My photo
Welcome to nc’s blog. Read, comment, interact, engage. Let’s learn together - recursively.

Thursday, July 30, 2020


I have been blessed with a LOT of friends. They lie along a continuum that looks thus:

< - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - >
Some         Most         Others

Some of my friends very religious (fundamentalists, actually).  Others are atheists.  Most fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Some of my friends are loud, opinionated, and bombastic.  Others are demur to the point of near invisibility.  Most fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Some of my friends are liberals (politically). Others are conservatives.  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends are polite and courteous to a fault.  Others persistently run roughshod over the feelings of others (mine included).  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends are truly genius (intellectually speaking).  Others seem unexplainably incurious.  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends are rocks of emotional stability. Others are an ongoing emotional train wreck.  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends make me laugh – always. Others seem incapable of seeing the humor in anything.  Most fall somewhere in between.

My friends make me better.  All of them.  They push my thinking, they express concern, they argue with me, they cry with me, they challenge me, they joke with me, they force me to consider and re-consider.

I am thankful that my friends are all so different.  

I’m afraid of what I might become if my friends were all alike.

If you’re one of my friends, THANKS.  I forget to say that sometimes.  (And, please be patient with me.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Several years ago I heard the administrative head of public health for Chicago (can't remember his name) discussing the plight of poor children.  He made a comment along these lines:  

"Poor kids are poor in almost every way."

Having served poor kids/families in rural, urban, and suburban settings (for over 40 years), I am convinced of the accuracy of that health official's assertion.  There is clearly a multi-dimensional insidiousness to poverty. 

I fiercely believe that quality public schools are the best chance that poor kids have of breaking the cycle of poverty that so persistently limits their prospects for happy, productive, and self-actualizing futures.

When public schools shifted away from face-to-face service last March, I immediately told my lovely bride of 43 years (Moe) that poor kids would suffer disproportionately.  That the learning gaps we had been so focused on closing would only widen.  I believe the evidence is bearing that out.

I worry mightily for the wellbeing of those poor kids.  The longer public schools remain closed to face-to-face service, the higher price poor kids will pay.

Monday, July 20, 2020


As testimony to God's sense of humor I suppose, I have found myself in recent years an instructor of courses in Graduate Research.

One of the primary things I try to teach to my students in Graduate Research is to be skeptical.  Question everything.  Discern studies critically.  

Ask these probing questions:
-Are the research questions that drive the study consequential (i.e., non-trivial)?
-Has the researcher declared to us publicly her/his bias?
-Has the researcher articulated for us the gaps/limitations of her/his study?
-Was the study conducted in accordance to the most rigorous research methodologies?
-Did the researcher carefully select a fair and representative sample set to study? 
-Did the researcher tell us who funded the study?
-Was the researcher predisposed toward a particular conclusion/outcome, from which she/he would benefit (either financially, reputationally, or politically)?
-Did the researcher provide important follow-up questions for future study?
-Did the researcher "invite" rigorous discourse/debate around her/his study?

Every time the answer to one of those questions is NO our "Danger-Mr. Robinson-Danger" alarm should start pinging.

Approaching new information with a skeptical eye/ear/brain is critical.  It refines our thinking.  It mitigates chicanery.  It generates rigorous discourse.  It promotes transparency.  It advances knowledge.  

When we stop being skeptical, we slip into one of two other mindsets:  Naivety (cluelessly uncaring) or Cynicism (arrogantly incurious).  Both diminishing; both dangerous.

Research is really just the reporting of new information.  Consider how useful it might be for us to apply the same sort of critical Skepticism to reports related to politics, medicine, weather, nutrition, religion, agriculture........

Those who resist rigorous discourse and debate are usually trying to hide something.

Skepticism = good.  Cynicism and Naivety = bad (perhaps even fatal).

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


I recently read Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging by Susan Fowler (2014).  

In this book SF makes a compelling case for organizational leaders to abandon traditional approaches to “motivate” people. Rather, she advises us to focus our attention on creating the kinds of collaborative, reflective cultures that support productive, positive, and self-actualizing work environments. 

My top takeaways include:
> Use of rewards and punishments ONLY accomplish temporary compliance.
> There are six motivational outlooks: Disinterested (sub-optimal), External (sub-optimal), Imposed (sub-optimal), Aligned (optimal), Integrated (optimal), Inherent (optimal). 
> Motivation relies on three psychological needs – autonomy (a sense of self-direction), relatedness (our need to be cared for, to be cared about, and to contribute to a greater good), and competence (our need to feel effective, growing, and flourishing).
> We promote high-quality self-regulation by fostering cultures that accentuate mindfulness, focus on values, and stay grounded in noble purpose.
 Leaders should be focused on motivating themselves, not others.
> Well-being is at the very heart of one’s motivational outlook.
> Quality appraisal processes are centered on reflection, not grading or being graded.
> Five beliefs that erode workplace motivation:  1. It’s not personal; it’s just business.  2. The purpose of business is to make money.  3. Leaders are in a position of power.  4. The only thing that really matters is results. 5. If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t matter. 

Fowler asserts that lack of motivation is not really the problem.  People are always motivated.  Whythey are motivated is the real issue to be explored and understood.

My favorite quotes:

“The real story of motivation is that people are learners who long to grow, enjoy their work, be productive, make positive contributions, and build lasting relationships.” (p. 50)

“A space exists between what is happening to you and the way you react to it. Mindfulness is that space.” (p. 62)

“If you cannot measure it, it is probably really, really important.” (p. 148)

This book reminded me of this Daniel Pink TED Talk regarding The Puzzle of Motivation.  Both are worth your time if you want a better understanding of what motivates us.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


One of the great blessings in my life was having had the opportunity to study for one year under Dr. Mike Moses.  Dr. Moses has had a rather amazing career as an educator in Texas, including stints as the superintendent of schools in the Lubbock and Dallas ISDs, as well as serving as the Commissioner of Education of Texas from 1995-1999.

One of the many impactful things Mike taught me/us is that you can tell what’s important to someone by watching two things: how they spend their time and how they spend their money.

Through careful observation I became increasingly convinced of the correctness of that assertion.  With respectful deference to Dr. Moses I’d like to add a third telling indicator: watching how people invest their effort.

Investments along those dimensions are quite telling, for all of us. 

Before choosing who we’ll follow it is wise guidance indeed to assess carefully…
1)   How those leaders spend their time.
2)   How those leaders spend their money.
3)   How those leaders spend their effort.

Taking a look at ourselves through the same lenses is helpful practice, as well.

Choose wisely for best results.

Friday, July 10, 2020


I recently read Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economicsby Richard
 Thaler (2015). 

Thaler is winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences; he teaches in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In this book RT details his decades-long journey of attempting to influence the field of economics by better understanding human motivation as opposed to the more traditional approach of viewing economic behavior through the lens of rigidly rational decision-making.

My top takeaways include:
·       A core premise of classic economic theory is that people make their decisions about the use of money via rational reasoning.  Thaler believes that to be a flawed assertion.
·       Thaler divides the world into two types of people, Econs (the automatons of economic theory who make their decisions based purely on rational thought processes) and Humans (the rest of us).
·       “Loss” hurts us more than twice as much as “gain” gives us pleasure. This concept is known as loss aversion.
·       Winners at auctions are often the bidder who most overvalues the object being sold.
·       If you want people to do something, make it easy for them to do it.

Thaler proposes three ideas he believes useful toward impacting positive change:  
1) Observe. See the world as it is, not as others wish it to be.  
2) Collect data and learn from it. Humans and organizations have an urgent need to learn how to learn.  
3) Speak up. Someone must be willing to tell the boss that something is going wrong.

My favorite quotes:
“If there is a number, people will use it.” (p. 275).  

“Economists are really good at inventing rational explanations for behavior, no matter how dumb that behavior appears to be.” (p. 295)

Because people are Humans, not Econs (terms we coined for Nudge), they make predictable errors. If we can anticipate those errors, we can devise policies that will reduce the error rate.” (p. 325)

“Good leaders must create environments in which employees feel that making evidence-based decisions will always be rewarded, no matter what outcome occurs.” (p. 357)

This book is a very interesting examination of human behavior, in general.  It’s not just a book about economics.  Well worth the time for anyone in a position of influencing others.