Wednesday, 29 August 2012


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short piece about shifting paradigms and changing a culture.  This week I had the opportunity to visit an organization that, three years ago, made a commitment to do exactly that.  They engaged with a major university that had a well-researched design component that, if implemented, would significantly change the way they were delivering their services.  They provided opportunities for professional learning experiences which would inform and inspire their colleagues, they made everything transparent about why they believed this was important for their future and what steps they intended to take to move the organization forward.  This gave those who were more interested in maintaining the status quo an opportunity find another place where they might not have to face the prospects of changing their practice.  For those who caught the vision, and who could contribute to the excitement and the energy around the proposed changes, it was a great time to be part of such a group of enlightened people who were willing to take intelligent risks, seek creative solutions to old problems and really make innovation a part of the culture.

I believe that this process of a three to four-year, well-thought out plan not only makes good sense but allows people to see how these changes can be systematically introduced, understood and implemented over time.  Meaningful and lasting change usually does not happen overnight.  Everyone has a part to play and each person can share with every other person what is important to them, what their needs and challenges are as well as how everyone might benefit from the potential rewards and satisfaction that comes from success.    The goals and objectives are clear, the feedback and assessment will be ongoing and looking back over the past three years, everyone can see how far they have come already.

There was palpable excitement about beginning year four.  Did everyone share the same high level of enthusiasm?  Of course not, because the reality is that out of 100 people you can expect that there will be the proverbial ten percent who are at least skeptical.  Sometimes these are the veterans who believe that their way is working fine and there is no pressing need to change.   Sometimes there are those who are simply afraid of the unknown.  And then there are may be a few who just don't get it. They don't understand how this change is such a terrific opportunity not only internally but externally as well in the marketplace where those who might seek their services can see an organization that is truly working together for the common good.  Just as important is the genuine and contagious enthusiasm for such a progressive and highly professional program.

Monday, 20 August 2012


About 40 years ago I was riding on the 5th Avenue bus in NYC, which more appropriately should have been Madison Avenue, when I began to read the signs above the windows on both sides of the bus.  Each one conveyed a message and, either to pass the time or just out of plain curiosity, I read each one in detail.  As I got off the bus and began walking, there was something about the signs that disturbed me but I could not figure out immediately what it was.  After several days of brooding about the experience, it came to me, whether one night suddenly or in a moment of more conscious thought and reflection, I cannot remember.

What it was that disturbed my thoughts was that almost all of the signs were in the imperative.  They were telling me what to do, and in some cases, when and how.
For example,  “Get the best mortgage rate available/”   “Call now to reserve your place at the hotel of your dreams.” “See the new model at your favorite dealer. “   “Stay at New York’s finest….”   “Pay no more than 10% down….”   “Eat at Joe’s Diner”
“Win a trip to wherever…” and you can think of many more such examples such as a slogan connected to a sports shoe that said, “Just do it!”  And a take off on the cover of a business magazine, “Do it.  Get Rich.”  And from the world of fitness, “Beat the bulge.”  And “Lose the flabby look.”  These messages are everywhere and this is no surprise to anyone who has anything to do with advertising or any of us keenly aware of conspicuous consumption.

Each of the messages was specific to its own particular product or service but essentially each message had the same intended goal which was to get the reader to take some kind of action and inevitably it was going to cost money.  After all, these messages were selling, not simply informing.  Maybe these signs had all been created by the same TDI  agency that I remembered seeing on the train!   I think that TDI was the abbreviation for Transportation Displays, Incorporated.  These were among the first sound bytes in my experience because, depending on the length of the ride, there wasn’t much time to get the message across.  They were certainly not infomercials!

In addition to being in the imperative, I wondered how such messages, advertising of this kind, clearly in the imperative, would ideally affect the behavior of the respondents.  In other words, if these signs achieved their goals and persuaded the dear reader to respond “favorably” what would happen?  And slowly but very clearly, I had the revelation that these subtle manipulations of the mind would result in a sequence of at least five behaviors.  Here they are and we can probably see and understand these easily because we have all been active participants at some time and at some level in our typical consumer responses, whether buying a car or the latest techno gizmo.

The five economic imperatives are SPEND, BUY, WASTE, WANT, and BORROW.  Spend money, buy what you want  and even if you don’t want it, buy it anyway for some other purpose such as keeping up with the times or to improve your station in life, waste or throw it away or trade it in or upgrade or get the newer version of whatever it is, thus creating the desire for the “better” or more expensive model, and if you have to, borrow, in order to start all over again on the cycle of spend, buy, waste, want and borrow.

There are those in our society who have sufficient funds available that they can leave out the borrow part and simply concentrate on the first four but I contend that these people are mostly in the 1% and are among the very wealthy who may not have to consider cost/price benefits. Let’s go back to my being disturbed by the messages and why I was experiencing some kind of conflict or inner turmoil over a seemingly benign set of messages.  Perhaps not so benign!

That we now live in the age of information is undeniable but information can take many forms depending upon its purpose and intent.  If the information intends to simply give us the facts, such as a news article of what happened, that is one thing.  However, advertising is designed to sell, one way or another, if not directly, then indirectly.  Classic examples are the television ads during super sports events that cost in the millions of dollars per minute  (2.4 million dollars for 30 seconds in Super Bowl 2005) and why do you suppose that is?  It is because of the great visibility by the consumers. In fact, this kind of advertising has created its own entertainment value.  And the companies who pay the millions upon millions must believe that those kinds of expenses are justifiable.

In a similar vein, those who were persuaded by TDI to spend part of their advertising budgets on the placards above the bus windows were also persuaded that they would benefit from that kind of visual and verbal advertising.

This essay, however, is not so much about advertising as it is about the conflict between
the message sent and my own internal reaction.  Although I was able to identify these economic imperatives, it was some time before I could identify the inner conflict but as mentioned earlier, the reason for the mental and emotional turmoil became rather obvious once I knew the reasons why I felt such a disturbance.  It was about the difference between what I had learned as a child and what I was now experiencing as an adult.  And it was mostly about values.

What I been taught by my depression era parents was a set of values AND behaviors that were in direct opposition to those of the consumer oriented advertising.  While the
SPEND, BUY, WASTE, WANT, BORROW scenario went to work on my senses, those deeply ingrained values of my parents which were in direct opposition producing the conflict were SAVE, USE, KEEP, HAVE and GIVE.  And there you have it.  These latter values and practices seemed to be in direct opposition to the former ones.  And thus the resulting conflict. 

My wife, the curious sort of person who grew up under somewhat different economic circumstances, asked me this question.  Do I think that the depression era values I learned went against a set of beliefs that comes from a place of abundance rather than scarcity? It may or may not be true that save, use, keep, have and give come from a place of abundance, in fact, certainly not in my case. Sure enough, those values come from an experience and an attitude of scarcity rather than abundance because that is how it was for many people.  That those people were influenced, shaped, and affected by all of that, yes of course.  The bigger question might be how does one transcend or change or give up those things, if indeed, abundant thinking as it might be called is more productive? 

IF and this is a big IF, an attitude of abundance goes overboard or goes to something extreme this will certainly help to produce the spend, buy, waste, want, borrow behaviors,
Are those values any better, healthier, or more productive than save, use, keep, have and give?  Cannot these latter behaviors and attitudes also come from a place of abundance, especially the GIVE part? It seems to me that philanthropists and other wealthy people actually practice some combination of both sets and it seems quite possible that these attitudes and behaviors do not have to be an either/or proposition.  

Perhaps the issue is how we choose to allocate our resources, especially financial ones, and these choices reflect our values, regardless of how much we have available to spend or to save or to give.  Regardless how much we have available to buy something, how do we use those purchases whether those are real goods, services or the necessities that sustain life such as housing, clothing and food.  I remember when a rule of thumb for balanced family economics was not to spend more than 25% of one’s annual income on housing.  I heard recently from someone in California that many families there have approached the 40% level on housing alone.  Without going into some kind of mind-numbing statistical analysis, suffice to say here that it is hard to give something if you do not save something or set aside a portion to give!

If we spend all that we have for what we need or want what about the needs of others?
There are families of modest means who find it within their budgets to give something significant because their values include the priority of setting something aside to be shared with those whom they choose to support. Whether the Tsunami that spawned world wide support, or something else in the world that has captured their attention – the environment, health issues, education or hunger, or their own favored, local, national or global charity.

So what is the point in all of this?   Perhaps the new imperative can be simply, in the words of Larry Mellon, inspired by Albert Schweitzer,  “Help life where you find it.”  Larry and Gwen Mellon went to Haiti over 40 years ago, started the hospital in Deschappelles and it became their life work.  That was their choice and they could have chosen most anything and yet they personified the Save, Use, Keep, Have and Give motif, inspiring others along the way to join them in their efforts to bring better health care to the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  One does not have to travel far to find something worthy and deserving of a gift.

The question for us may be this.  What is it that we would like to give to beyond ourselves?   It does not have to be a lot nor does it have to be heroic.  Gifts of self and substance are welcome in many quarters and those of us fortunate enough to live in a place of plenty, maybe abundance, can easily find a way to reach out and let someone else benefit from our generosity, however large or small.  So much to give, so little time.  Places to go, things to do.  People to see, work to be done.  “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Perhaps these words of Aristotle can sum it up best:
"To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power-nor an easy matter. Hence it is, that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble.”  


We have a French Black Copper Maran rooster named Pierre.  He guards his small flock of girls with rapt attention, tries to lead them around by showing he is bigger and louder than they are but that seldom works.  He doesn't understand that power alone isn't sufficient for effective leadership.  Watching chicken behavior provides all kinds of illustrations and here is another.

Every morning, Pierre starts crowing around first light which can be as early as 4:30 AM in the summertime.  And this is before he is outside but since the windows of the chicken house and the door to my office are both open, and I usually start work around 5 AM, I listen to his incessant crowing and wonder why he feels it necessary to repeat the noise continuously for quite awhile. I wonder if he thinks (if he thinks at all) that he is encouraging the dawn and sunrise.  Maybe it's one of those conditioning things, as it seems to follow that the longer he crows, the lighter it gets.

Our previous FBCM rooster, Rex, who met his demise in the jaws of an Australian Shepherd, was truly regal and didn't seem to display the same insecurities that must plague Pierre.  Rex managed his flock quite well and they followed him faithfully whether in search of food or for protection .  Rex did not display the need to crow so much although he did sound off early in the morning and his sound was even a bit more pleasant and soothing than Pierre's.  What am I to learn from all of this?

One of the first things is that no matter what I do or what I say, there are some things that cannot be changed and that will simply happen regardless of my behavior or attempted intervention.  That reminds me of the serenity prayer of St. Francis,  "Lord help me to accept those things I cannot change, to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference."   Since I have been a professional change agent for most of my career, the dynamics of planned change have been of particular interest to me in working with people and organizations.

A second lesson is that I should be thoughtful about when and where, how often and with whom I sound off.  I  should choose my words carefully, make them purposeful as well as soothing and comforting when appropriate.   Being mindful about speaking whether to one or one hundred is just common sense and while spontaneity has its place, so does choosing one's words with some considerable forethought.  Writing, as an exercise, especially several drafts and revisions, gives us that opportunity and is time well spent.

The third lesson is one of patience.  Learning how to wait for the sunrise and in that period of waiting take time for contemplation, meditation, and preparation serves me well for the rest of the day.  That deepens the experience for me, sets a lot of things in order, and gives me an opportunity to express my gratitude for all that has been given to me.  It sets the tone for what I can give back in terms of what I have learned, what has the best chance of working to achieve my objectives for today and beyond, and how I can make the most of this time given to me without any strings attached.

Pierre is now quiet, at least for the moment.  I can hear some crows and other, smaller birds, and the sounds of my own thoughts swirling around as I get ready to launch into another day. It's Monday to be specific, and I lay some plans for today and the rest of the week.  We know the quote from Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse, written in 1786, about the best laid plans going awry.  He turned up a mouse nest while plowing a field and expressed his dismay while acknowledging that the mouse need only be concerned about the present while Burns was a bit fearful of the future.  This is part of what inspired Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, not among the most joyful of stories but one with great characters and impact. 

The sun is up, another day has begun, it's time to break the fast, the first phone call is done and there are hundreds of good choices ahead.  Onward!

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Whatever system gives you pause for concern, a primary step is to understand how it works and why it is the way it is. It may then be more possible to deal with it in a way to optimize the chances for making it work on your behalf rather than being constantly frustrated because it is not working the way you would like.   It is doubtful you will change the whole system but there are ways that you can change how you deal with it, thus the result may be more favorable on your behalf.  You could even effect a change for the way that system responds to you rather than your changing how you respond to it. 

One reason for the existence of a system is supposedly to help you get things done or to get you the things you need in order to get things done.  If it isn’t doing those things, then a group of people need to work together to change the system however they can as long as that change is for the common good and not because of a personal, political agenda.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead.

There are numerous organizations in our society whose main identity may be characterized by the following:  large, bureaucratic, political, self-preserving, dysfunctional and highly frustrating.  You may add more adjectives of your own depending on your experience, such as annoying, painful, and non-productive.  Do those descriptors fit some dealings you have had whether through the euphemism called “customer service” or more directly in the attempt to resolve some issue?

One of my least favorites is a certain monopoly known as the “local” telephone company.  With the advent and popularity of cellular phones, this system, the local phone company, may become obsolete and in fact, you can strike the word local under any circumstance.   Other least favorites include a mobile phone company with a 2-year, no release contract; the whole transportation miasma in this country; the public education bureaucracies; insurance companies; certain large, impersonal banks; big box stores which inevitably have what I need but take too long to find it; and public (?) utilities.

Our local telephone company went from a company called Valor, more of which was required by the customer than the company, to something called Windstream.  You have to love the names!  When we called for service, which routinely went out at least once a month or more often, we were connected with an office somewhere in North Dakota.  Now, with Windstream, at least we are connected to an adjacent state, Texas.

I recall the telephone service from my grandparents house in rural Ohio where I had the pleasure as a child of turning a little crank on the side of a wooden box and received the voice of someone locally that everyone knew on the other end.  She was known professionally as “Central” but personally
as Eileen.  Eileen could connect you with anyone you wanted, local or long distance, didn’t matter. 

The telephone service was a “party line” which meant that several people shared a line but had different rings, two shorts and a long or two longs and a short so you even knew who else was receiving a call and if there happened to be a nosy neighbor, he or she could actually listen in.  It was a supportive community, each farmer helping the other with animals, with the harvest, caring for each other in numerous ways, sharing good news and bad.

When I moved to New Mexico, my bank was Sunwest, formerly known locally as Albuquerque National Bank.  Then it became Nations Bank, or Boatmen’s (where did that name originate?) and finally Bank of America swallowed it up.  I now deal primarily with The Bank of Albuquerque but it is owned by the Bank of Oklahoma and I still like local so I keep an account at Valley National Bank in Espanola!  They still seem to know your name.

My wife, Susan, recently spent almost two full days with customer service people from three computer-related companies restoring various functions on a server that we use for a remote, mobile, wireless internet connection when we travel in an office on wheels, otherwise known as a motor home.  She spoke with four different people at Dell - in India, in Canada, and elsewhere; with Ground Control in California, with Data Storm in Minnesota, and with Linksys from England.  That our computer could actually be controlled from India by someone whom we do not know, have never seen and will possibly never talk to again is in itself common, ordinary and a daily experience for those who work in these fields.  That does not make me feel any more secure but I am usually glad to get a problem resolved with some degree of efficiency whenever possible.

I rented a car recently from Budget, a relatively new car, a Pontiac G-6 with approximately five thousand miles.   As I drove up the highway from the airport, an idiot light came on that said LOW OIL LEVEL so I found a service station, (there’s that word again) checked the oil and discovered that it needed two quarts to bring it to the safe driving range on the dipstick.  When I returned the car to the airport, I mentioned this to the attendant who said that I would have to talk with a manager and needing to catch a plane I did not have time to engage in a customer complaint conversation aimed at resolution and restitution.  Besides, I know a way to get more reimbursement than the two quarts of oil.  However, I did get the local manager’s card and could have written a letter to headquarters or make a phone call and as a loyal customer I would expect to be rewarded beyond the ordinary but just think what I would have to do in order to get even a small compensation.

That there is a whole field of work under the title of customer service shows how far we have come.  What used to happen is that the person providing the service supported the customer and you were not transferred two or three times to get to the right “help desk.”  Size does matter and in many cases, smaller is better in my estimation.  Why?   Because it can be more personal, and direct and the results are in the hands of those providing and receiving the service, not relegated to others removed from the issue at hand.

Most of those whom I know and with whom I work would agree readily that dealing with technical issues related to all the varied and complicated electronics that supposedly serve us and make things easier can, at times, be unduly frustrating and time consuming.  The sharing of information over the internet super highway seems to be like rush hour on the freeway (?) of most major metropolitan areas – clogged, overloaded, very slow and even at times dangerous.  

I wanted to find an example which to me might serve as a parallel for understanding how a bureaucratic system could affect us. Here is a supreme example of a system that regulates us, often without our knowledge or consent. According to the Office of the Federal Register, in 1998, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the official listing of all regulations in effect, contained a total of 134,723 pages in 201 volumes that claimed 19 feet of shelf space. In 1970, the CFR totaled only 54,834 pages.  Our lives and those of our children are being constricted daily without our recognition or approval in every area from food and drugs and agriculture to planes, trains and automobiles right down to the label on furniture that says it is illegal to remove it and each of us has probably taken great pleasure in doing so. 

The General Accounting Office reports that in the four fiscal years from 1996 to 1999, a total of 15,286 new federal regulations went into effect. Of these, 222 were classified as "major" rules, each one having an annual effect on the economy of at least $100 million. [Source: Costs of Federal Regulation, the Heritage Foundation]

While they call the process "rulemaking," the regulatory agencies create and enforce "rules" that are truly laws, many with the potential to profoundly effect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans. What controls and oversight are placed on the regulatory agencies in creating the federal regulations?

The Clean Air Act, The Food and Drug Act, The Civil Rights Act -- examples of landmark legislation requiring months, even years of highly publicized planning, debate, compromise and reconciliation in Congress. Yet the work of creating the vast and ever-growing volumes of "federal regulations," the real and enforceable laws behind the acts, happens largely unnoticed in the offices of the government agencies rather than the halls of Congress.

What are federal regulations? Where do they come from and under what oversight are they written, enacted and, at least once so far, de-enacted? Federal regulations created by the regulatory agencies are subject to review by both the president and Congress under Executive Order 12866 and the Congressional Review Act of 1966.

Executive Order 12866, issued on Sept. 30, 1993, by President Clinton, stipulates steps that must be followed by executive branch agencies before regulations issued by them are allowed to take effect.

For all regulations, a detailed cost-benefit analysis must be performed. Regulations with an estimated cost of $100 million or more are designated "major rules," and require completion of a more detailed Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA). The RIA must justify the cost of the new regulation and must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before the regulation can take effect.

Executive Order 12866 also requires all regulatory agencies to prepare and submit to OMB annual plans to establish regulatory priorities and improve coordination of the Administration's regulatory program.

The OMB publishes this Report of Regulations Pending and Reviews Completed - Last 30 Days. The report is updated every weekday. 
While some requirements of Executive Order 12866 apply only to executive branch agencies, all federal regulatory agencies fall under the controls of the Congressional Review Act.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA), passed in 1996 as part of the   Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, allows Congress 60 in-session days to review and possibly reject new federal regulations issued by the regulatory agencies.

Under the CRA, the regulatory agencies are required to submit all new rules to the leaders of both the House and Senate. In addition, the General Accounting Office (GAO) provides to those congressional committees related to the new regulation, a detailed report on each new major rule.

Should any member of Congress object to a new regulation, he or she can introduce a "Resolution of Disapproval" to have the regulation rejected. Should the resolution pass both House and Senate by simple majority votes, and the president signs it, the regulation basically vanishes.

Since going into effect in 1996, the Congressional Review Act has been successfully invoked exactly once. On March 7, 2001, Congress gave it's final approval to Senate Joint Resolution 6 disapproving the controversial final regulations on ergonomics created by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's (OSHA) and set to take effect in October, 2001

I do not know what motivated the movement of opposition, but someone, somewhere got sufficiently organized to mount a campaign to support the disapproval.  While viewed by many among labor organizations as a worker health and safety issue, the ergonomics regulation is an illustration of the ongoing debate between external control and personal responsibility.   Why do so many people believe that they need someone else watching out for their interests instead of being able to do it themselves?   The creation of a welfare state, mentality and attitude goes way beyond making monthly payments to people who are economically disadvantaged.

Regulatory Agencies: Agencies, like the FDA, EPA, OSHA and at least 50 others, are called "regulatory" agencies, because they are empowered to create and enforce rules - regulations - that carry the full force of a law. Individuals, businesses, and private and public organizations can be fined, sanctioned, forced to close, and even jailed for violating federal regulations.

I recall being introduced in 1994 to ADA – Public Law 101-336, enacted July 26, 1990, which regulates, among many other things, accessibility to buildings for Americans with disabilities and in my particular case the issue surrounded remodeling a building for use as a private school.   Were we going to have to put in an elevator to accommodate any student who could not use the steps?   Was that, according to the law,  a “reasonable accommodation?”    And who is going to determine the answer to all the questions?

Would we also have to provide designated parking places for people with special physical needs?  Would all the required signs need to be posted in all the required places?

This regulation was on top of all the local building code requirements for a certificate of occupancy which had to be issued after inspections by the fire department, the city building inspector, the state environmental agency, and numerous others.   Frustrating, time consuming and expensive?  Yes.   Impossible?   No.  Did we get it done?    Yes.   Was each requirement fulfilled to the letter of the law?   No.  Did we open the school anyway?  Yes.  Were we fined or jailed?   No.  Did we have lawyers to help us?   Yes.  

In addition to all the Federal requirements legislated and imposed upon us, without so much as a vote or voice from the populace, you can add a myriad of regulations that come down from state, county and city offices as well, all the way down to such minute requirements as those for parking.  If you live in New York or London, try figuring out all the various parking regulations and various signs posted indicating those restrictions.   Or try dealing with some of the state licensing requirements for different kinds of businesses.

And then there is the famous Reg Penna Dept Agr which in my mind became symbolic for all the food labeling requirements.  These are not necessarily regarded as undesirable in terms of intentions but taken as a whole, this society seems to be one of the more externally controlled, restricted and protected of any that I know.  Many would say thank goodness that big brother is looking out for their best interests but you should also know that underneath much of this is the fear that many people harbor that allows them to be manipulated by others even without their knowledge or consent.

I am not talking about any conspiracy theory or paranoia, simply trying to observe a level of awareness or the lack thereof.  How much do we really know or care to know?  What makes sense?  Sometimes all we can do is sit back and laugh (or cry) at so much foolishness and really, so much waste. Waste of time, energy and resources that could all be put toward other things that would be a lot more useful and productive.

The fear is the same kind that allows an inept security system at airports to spend gazillions of dollars with little improvement in real security.  The fa├žade of security is intended to help people believe that they are more secure when in fact, they may or may not be.  The point is that once again we have turned over the control to an external source, much the same as we do with the governmental and other institutional regulations.

The power of the individual rests quietly inside one’s own belief that one can make a difference.  There are many ways to make a difference, to
raise a voice in protest, to say that you will not allow foolishness to
over rule reason, to actively not accept less than what has been promised and finally, to engage relentlessly in setting things right.

It is not easy and it takes time.  You have to be willing to overcome a bureaucracy and do whatever it takes to hang in there, cut through the jungle of nonsense and come out refreshed and renewed on the other side of success.   Good luck and godspeed!

Saturday, 11 August 2012


No one ever said it would be easy and trying to change mind sets and then help people change their behavior is a huge challenge.  Someone once said that there are too many people who mistake the edge of the rut for the horizon.  Entrenchment is a familiar condition in many institutions and organizations, partly because of being very comfortable with the familiar and the resistance to any radical change.  It’s much easier to keep doing what one has been doing than to learn something entirely new and different and apply it, especially as an adult.
History tells us that the biggest changes have often come about because of a revolution as well as an evolution over time.  It may be easier, less painful and inexpensive to help facilitate an evolution than to precipitate a revolution although a revolution might be indicated in some situations.  It might make sense to dismiss the old model to make room for an entirely new way of doing things, especially if the new model has been tested and proven effective. Change is coming whether or not it is wanted so the question is how can we help design the change to be the most effective?
 Creating an environment that will help determine the culture, rather than having the existing culture determine the environment might be a good beginning.  Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown’s recent book,  A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating Imagination for a World of Constant Change makes this point eminently clear in the following observation:  “In the new culture of learning, the classroom model is replaced by learning environments in which digital media provide access to a rich source of information and play, and the processes that occur within those environments are integral to the results.”  Thomas and Brown maintain that the teacher-based approach to learning focuses on teaching us about the world while a new culture of learning focuses on engagement with the world.
Imagine a curriculum consisting of real world problems and turning kids loose to create solutions.  That would demand access to unlimited, existing information – available – collaboration with others and a working laboratory or studio to create models for solutions.  Teachers would have to surrender a lot of their power and authority to the learners and learn a new way of being the teacher - a resource, guide, critic, coach and colleague.  Imagine putting together (not necessarily building in the traditional sense) a new school without the traditional classrooms and hallways, perhaps using community resources, facilities and more commercial type spaces – warehouses, empty office buildings and other spaces to create the laboratories and studios where the kids would brainstorm and game storm ( and in that process become a more passionate and purposeful person in the world of today and tomorrow.
Students still need the basic and pre-requisite skills of computation, communication and comprehension and those can be learned or acquired while practicing how to read, write, speak and compute, especially in the early years.  Adding some music, poetry and team work, whether in drama or athletics, might also be a welcome component in a comprehensive, developmental, coordinated and outcome focused program.   If this sounds too radical and too experimental, then maybe it’s simply not for you but it’s already happening in many places and it’s having a positive impact and making a big difference.  If you need a resource to get started to “Think Different”, as Apple said, have a look at some of Michael Michalko’s work: Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; and ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck .
It might take a year or three to begin to make significant changes and shift the paradigm.  It might take five years to change the culture of a particular institution and the people will make the difference between a place that remains comfortable with the status quo and doesn’t see the need to change and a place that embraces the future by designing the change they want to become.  Where would you like to be in three to five years?  Where would you like your organization to be and how will it look and function?  You and your colleagues have the answers to those questions.  Begin now and make the propositions to shift the paradigm and change the culture.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


I posed the question about what people were curious about and the following six people responded with these rather interesting questions and musings.  I commend them to you in the interest of your own curiosity.  What piques your curiosity?
Why do I (and many others as we get older) wake up at 3 am?
Will we ever find other intelligent life in the universe?
What makes some people so darned funny and charismatic? (I have one of THOSE children)
1. why people don't get that they are responsible for their own health
2. why people (including me) make the same mistakes over and over again
3. why certain cultures don't respect other humans
4. why you don't turn the heat up full when you boil water
5. what compelled the soldiers of WWII to be so patriotic and single minded
6. why Apple trashed mobile me.

What would it take for public schools to see that identifying and teaching dyslexic kids reading in grades 2-5 would save millions in prison and other "failure costs".
Would a strong community service program in elementary grades decrease bullying and violence in middle and high school?

I have often wondered how much your individual CULTURAL (or maybe social) background influences your interests or curiosities....growing up in a small town vs growing up in a large city...growing up in a very religious family vs a non-religious family...growing up in a home-schooled family vs attending public schools vs attending a private school...etc.

Are humans capable of living peacefully?  Does God exist, or is it a human construct?  Will humans become cooperative enough to survive on this planet in a sustainable way?  Is there meaning in Literature or do the postmodernists have it right?  

How do we cultivate it in our children and in ourselves? I am curious about the true meaning of citizenship in the 21st century (sans hype or yellow press) and the enormous challenge of developing resilient and responsive human beings. I am curious about stewardship and leadership and the partnership of public and private education. I wonder about connecting travel, study abroad and cross-cultural activity (including second language learning) in a spiral curriculum that seeks to impart global mindedness to young adults.
What would we call it?