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

Sunday, November 28, 2021

 I recently read The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Mattersby Priya Parker (2018). 

In this book PP takes a dual look at the gatherings we host; both “balcony” view and the “back-in-the-kitchen” view.  She leads us in a conversation about how we can assemble folks more effectively, with clearly articulated purposes for our gatherings. Leadership requires us to convene “gatherings” of all sorts, so this book is directly relevant to the work of moving and influencing others. 


My top takeaways:

·     PRIME time for a gathering is the first few minutes; we are wise not to squander it on logistics and administrivia.

·     Another PRIME window of time for a gathering is the ending; we are wise to think carefully about how we want to punctuate it and to what end. Again, mundane logistics need not go here.

·     Be very selective about who is invited to the gathering. Get comfortable not inviting those who can’t or won’t bring value to the event. 

·     Avoid the trap of self-aggrandizing introductions. Make intros relevant to the purpose of the meeting, NOT about the resumes of the participants.

·     Level the playing field for all participants; avoid hierarchies and power ranking. Everyone at the gathering should feel as an equal to all the others. 

·     PURPOSE is supreme in a gathering, and should be communicated by the host ahead of time, as well as throughout the event. 

·     The chosen venue has absolute influence over the way the gathering unfolds. 

·     Numbers of 8-12 participants provide the richest environments for productive thought. Even fewer is better if we are seeking to nail down an important decision.

·     Using “pop-up” rules unique to a meeting, rather than relying on traditional etiquette, can bring an engergizing component to the gathering. 

·     Pose discussion prompts that call for example “stories” of attendees, not abstract positional statements.


My favorite quotes:

“Most gatherings benefit from guests leaving their titles and degrees at the door.” (p. 87)


“A colleague in the conflict-resolution field taught me a principle I have never forgotten: 90 percent of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand.” (p. 149)


“Studies show that audiences disproportionately remember the first 5 percent, the last 5 percent, and a climactic moment of a talk.” (p. 173)


“The importance of a group “seeing” one another may sound trivial, but it can be deadly serious… A 2001 Johns Hopkins study found that when [surgical team] members introduced themselves and shared concerns ahead of time, the likelihood of complications and deaths fell by 35 percent. Surgeons, like many of us, assumed that they shouldn’t waste time going through the silly formalities of seeing and being seen for something as important as saving lives. Yet it was these silly formalities that directly affected the outcomes of surgeries. Even with such complex and intricate work, it was when the nurses and doctors and anesthesiologists practiced good gathering principles that they felt more comfortable speaking up during surgery and offering solutions.” (p. 187)


PP does an excellent job of helping us think through both the intellectual nuts-n-bolts and the big picture outcomes we wish to result from our gatherings. Her ideas were both affirming to some of the strategies I have intuitively adopted over the years, and challenging to my thinking. 


In short, PP made me THINK, and RETHINK. Exactly what I like in a book. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


PET was our first milk cow. She was 50% Jersey, 50% Holstein, and 100% knucklehead.

We purchased PET when she was a young heifer, and watched her grow, grow older, then old. Very much like she watched us do the same.

PET taught us a lot about milk cows. About their nutritional needs (and ours), about their dispositions (and ours), about their values (and ours). 

PET also became what is known in ranching-farming vernacular as our "lead goat." She intuitively understood where we were trying to move the cattle and was always the first one through the gate. She'll be hard to replace in that regard.

One of the most powerful things PET taught us is a deeper understanding of the interconnectivity and the interdependence of the land to the plants to the animals to the people. As we strove (and strive) to increase the health of the land (and the microbiology that lies therein), it increased (and increases) the health of the plants thereon, which increases the health of the animals that feed on them (and each other), which increases our health in return. The Intelligent Design of that system is beyond amazing. We have much more to learn about that system.

I found PET deceased in the pasture a couple days ago. She is now returning the favor to the microbiome. As will we someday. 

RIP, PET. Thanks for the education.  

Sunday, November 21, 2021


Booger & Dian (my parents), celebrated their 65th anniversary on Saturday.

They were surrounded by a good chunk of their offspring, and the offspring of their offspring, and the matrimonial affiliates of their offspring. When ALL of that group manages to gather in one place at the same time it numbers north of 70. Quite a gaggle.

Among the Saturday celebrants were Booger & Dian's four boys, me being the oldest of that group. I've been with them for 64 of the 65 year journey (born to them when Dad was 19 and Mom 16)

All families have their pluses and deltas in the relationship ledger. One of the things that I am eternally grateful for in relation to the family of Booger & Dian is that they have fostered an environment in which "the hang is easy." When the Coulter Clan gathers, in small groups or large, the tension barometer is always low, the peace meter always reads strong, the love gauge always registers high.

Happy 65th Mom and Dad.

Blessed beyond measure...

Sunday, November 14, 2021


The wisest leaders I know are fixated on continuous improvement.

A continuous improvement mindset is inherently one that is futures focused. And, a continuous improvement mindset implies that something needs to change from its current state toward a better one. There's that change thing again.

I know a few very worthy wearers of the Continuous Improver tattoo. Here are some of commonalities I have observed in their thinking/behavior:

  • Windshield Mania - they spend 10% or less time looking/thinking/talking/planning backward (the rearview mirror) and 90% or more time looking/thinking/talking/planning forward (the windshield).
  • Perseveration Nation - they relentlessly focus on clearly articulated vision and desired outcomes for themselves and their organizations.
  • Collective Intelligencia - they constantly invite the best thinking of the whole team (internal and external customers) into the let's-get-better dialogue.
  • Energizer Gorillas (not bunnies) - they bring personal and focused energy to the endeavor and they foster it in others (through noticing, acknowledgement, praise, encouragement, and incentivizing). 
From my past days as an athletic coach: 
"If we're not getting better, we're getting left behind -- because our competition most certainly IS getting better."

Thursday, November 11, 2021


Friend and co-conspirator Dr. Glen Shinn often exhorts us to "be BOLD."

Easier said than done. Just the very word "bold" implies risks and uncertainty. And it suggests an element of courage may be required.

What are some useful lessons we can glean from successful practitioners of BOLDness?

  1. Be crystal clear on the agreed upon Noble & Worthy goals (no more than 3-5 of them).
  2. Map, execute, and constantly monitor incremental steps toward those goals (don't try to eat the whole elephant in one bite).
  3. Accentuate and accelerate those actions that produce the desired results; abandon and terminate those that don't (the stuff of disciplined continuous improvement process).
  4. Build collective engagement toward desired outcomes (individualism often results in the martyrdom of the charlatan). 
To quote former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, engaging in bold endeavor is "no time to go wobbly."

BOLD and wobbly don't mix well.

Sunday, November 7, 2021


The wisest leaders I know remain hyperfocused on their intended outcomes. They refuse to be distracted by unimportant and tangential stuff that screams for time on their calendar and for their precious attention.

Most of these excellent leaders have learned that too many "goals," the constant pull to accomplish everything, typically results in achieving very little (if anything). If we are focused on everything, then we ultimately focus on nothing.

How do these extraordinary leaders remain hyperfocused in the interest of high performance? 

  1. They clarify (both personally and collectively) no more than five (5) areas of intense focus for intended organizational outcomes.
  2. They calendar their time around the primary people, activities, and appearances that are most likely to make those intended outcomes a reality.
  3. They discipline themselves to think and talk through those limited lenses constantly.
The late General/Secretary Colin Powell wisely warned us to avoid what he called "mission creep." He also aptly modeled leadership so fashioned.

Want high performance? Hyperfocus.

The first step is knowing where you wanna go...

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


Leaders of organizations do a LOT of stuff. When meaninglittle and inconsequential stuff eats up most of our time, then the impact of our leadership diminishes. 

And, in most cases, the performance of the organization diminishes right along with it.

What are some of those inconsequential actions of leaders?

  • Attending to "tasks" not directly related to our stated vision and goals.
  • Engaging in mindless and meaningless compliance-related work.
  • Hiding from the troops, or the customers.
  • Posturing and pontificating.
  • Spending endless hours in non-productive meetings.
  • Letting politics and personal differences unduly influence decisions.
  • Making excuses for poor data trends.

So what REALLY matters as powerful time allocations for impactful leaders?

  • Noticing and acknowledging work that moves us toward our vision and goals.
  • Engaging, meaningfully, with the troops AND the customers.
  • Asking good questions to all stakeholder groups, and listening discerningly to their responses.
  • Creating the conditions that attract and hold talented people in our organization.
  • Monitoring the data closely, adapting and adjusting quickly to affect improvements.
  • FOCUSing relentlessly on continuous improvement.
There! That oughta be easy. 

(But it's not. Time to roll up the sleeves and get out of the office.)

Monday, November 1, 2021


I recently read King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild (1998). 

I first picked this book up thinking it was fiction. It was not. It was a superbly written and meticulously researched account of the exploitation of the African continent in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Specifically, AH weaves a compelling story of how King Leopold of Belgium managed to appropriate and rape the land and people of the Congo during this time frame. He managed to do it through lies, propaganda, chicanery, deceit, theft, terror, and slight of hand. 

Finally, brave humanitarians in the form of both missionaries and journalists were able to raise enough awareness to bring broad international rebuke for Leopold's pillaging.   

By the way, similar exploitation continues today, in various forms, at the hands of advanced governments and international corporations.

A sobering reminder of what humans will do to other humans in the interest of power and greed. Location on the planet, race, religion, political beliefs seem not to matter. Those with power will do almost anything, to anybody, in order to maintain that status.

Thanks for the rec, TM.