Wednesday, 31 December 2014


I once said to Bill Moyers that one reason I enjoyed his presentations was that he was a very good teacher and I learned so much by just listening to him.  He is a great storyteller.   He responded by saying that he considered himself the student and was always eager to learn from others. As I continued to watch him, I understood what he meant as he is adept at asking penetrating and probing questions that give the conversation resonance and depth.  Thus, I continue to learn from others, from their life experiences, from their fortunes and misfortunes and mostly from their stories.

There are books and articles that speak to me for one reason or another and two recent good reads are Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Atul Gawande’s significant work Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.  King’s book is autobiographical and he ends up sharing what he has learned about good writing. Anyone tuned in to current events knows that health care in this country is broken without much hope for a quick fix. Atul Gawande, a surgeon in Boston, gives me some hope, this being his fourth book that I have devoured. I enjoy writing, thus I read widely and write narrowly. I have written two small books in the past two years, mostly for the exercise of sharing some thoughts and experiences more widely with others.  Will I write another one next year?  Time will tell.  Suggestions are welcome.

Many people start a conversation by asking what I do.  I am often tempted to answer by asking another question such as why is that important to you? Or even something more glib such as I do a lot of different things, what do you do? Of course, I know what they mean, so I try to say something that sounds half way intelligent such as I am a teacher or an educator or a project manager or a writer and at least keep the conversation alive and moving along. My goal has been to continue to try and improve the quality of life where I find it. I learned that from Larry Mellon who adopted Albert Schweitzer’s maxims of reverence for life and life being a big canvas on which you throw some paint.

I have learned what works and what the critical variables are in the equation for change and growth. It has taken me back to the beginning. I call it the circle of success: common vision, common values, common purpose. If we are to succeed in our work, in this country and elsewhere, we must learn how to build collaborative energy, listen carefully to what is being said, and just as important, what is not being said, ask questions that are penetrating and honest, discern the real from the superficial and help people move forward with passion and purpose beyond themselves.

My wish and hope for each of you is that you will have a wonder-filled 2015, full of grace and glad surprises. Remember to nourish your spirit often at the wellspring of faith, not any kind of narrowly defined religious faith, but rather faith in yourself and others that extends hope and deepens our humanity.  Let's continue to work toward a more peaceful, just and sane world and enjoy the journey along the way, listening, learning and moving on.

Monday, 22 December 2014


1.    Keep learning alive – Commit to becoming a life-long learner and whether or not you are an early adopter, consider how the world has changed and you along with it. 

2.    Step out of your comfort zone – Whether in learning something new, understanding and appreciating the opposing point of view, or becoming more facile with technology, just do it.

3.    Know yourself to the extent that it is about who you are not simply being identified by what you do.   Your passion is your work, your job allows you to do your best work.

4.    Practice this until it is ingrained in the fabric of every day.  “Tell the
truth, be kind and remember to say thank you.”  

5.    Celebrate special seasons, special days and special people.  It is easy to find them, hold them up for recognition and appreciation.

6.    Set realistic goals and empower others to help achieve them.

7.    Attend to matters of your spirit, your soul, your psyche and make frequent deposits in your savings account.
     8.  Consider each new day as new, a gift to make of it what you will.
     9.  Since change is inevitable, design the change you want and find ways to adapt to change that might be unwelcome.
    10.  Take care of yourself often so you are better able to care for others.

Sunday, 21 December 2014


On Sunday, December 21, 2014, at 6:03 PM Eastern Time (for me) the sun reaches its southernmost point before starting back on its northward trek toward Spring.  You can calculate your own time accordingly.  Actually it has more to do with the tilt of the earth on its axis and its elliptical orbit but we will leave that to the astronomers.  I am just one of those who watches the sun regularly rise and set, notice where it is on the horizon, and give thanks, for I am blessed to be able to see the horizon most of the time.  At that moment, the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere.  That's why the sun appears as far south on the horizon as it ever goes on its journey.
The winter solstice really only lasts a moment in time, and some of the other terms for the day on which this occurs, are "midwinter", "the longest night" or "the shortest day".  It really is not the shortest day or longest night.  It just refers to the amount of light within a 24-hour period.  And, it should not be confused with "the first day of winter" especially here in northern climates where there is  snow and cold since before Thanksgiving.  Ironically, at this moment today I am as far south in the United States as one can go, Key West, Florida.

What winter solstice signals for me is the return of the light as now the days start getting longer or rather there is a bit more daylight each day, just as it has been decreasing slowly each day since last summer’s solstice. This celebration of light is recognized and honored by many religious groups.  From the Roman Saturnalia to the Indian Pancha Ganapati to Hanukkah and Christmas, to the Persian Yalda and the birth of Mithra, and the recent creation of Kwanzaa in 1966, all kinds of cultures have found ways to pay special attention to our source of life and follow the sun.  

Many of us celebrate this season with our families and friends, give gifts and light fires; we might take a walk in the woods or ski down a mountain or through a forest; we might read or pray or sing; many of us will eat and drink around a community table. Whatever we do, it is an opportunity to take some time to do something special that is worth remembering. Stop whatever you’re doing for just a moment in time, for that is what solstice is, a moment in time.  Mark it in your journal or on your calendar with your own special thought and experience and share it with your family and friends.  At the  least, be open to receive the blessings and gifts of the season and celebrate joyfully and gratefully.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

WINTER SOLSTICE (in 55 words)

Hours of sunlight increase and decrease, a predictable schedule.
A calendar of days, weeks, months, one more year.
Come December 21, in the northern hemisphere, the sun appears at its southernmost point along the horizon.
The northward trek starts again, lengthening daylight hours.
We burn candles and fires to celebrate solstice. 
It’s about the light.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


A colleague asked me to write something about curiosity and in so doing I wondered about what it is that makes us curious.  When we see or hear something about which we want to know more, what is it that propels us to explore in more depth and detail toward a greater level of understanding?   There are those who spend their entire lives researching one particular subject or topic, perhaps most frequently in the field of science, perhaps because science is a systematic way of knowing.

When one of my sons was very young he would spend hours watching ants outdoors, had the classic indoor ant farm, watched all kinds of insects and while he did not become an entomologist, he did major in biology and environmental science, became a teacher and one of his current avocations is collecting a particular species of moths.  Why?  What drove his curiosity all these years to want to know more, to explore and discover what it all means in the larger ecosystem?  Perhaps it’s seeing the connections, how one thing is related to another and that to yet another and so on.  And then one day, we realize that we are all species of life who are connected on this same fragile planet.  And what are we to make of that?  It’s a curious thing, this inter-connectedness.

Those who know me well, know that I watch the sun rise most mornings and while it sparks some curiosity about the solar system, and other galaxies, I usually just end up in a state of awesome appreciation for the creation of yet another day.  I watch with fascination the sun’s apparent seasonal movement along the horizon from solstice to equinox and back again, as predictable and reliable as anything I know.  It’s comforting and quieting to be able to participate in something so constant and feel like I am even a part of this most amazing creation.  I am sufficiently curious to see how I can celebrate each season with joyful activities in order to absorb more of nature’s offerings.

I’ve always been curious about whether animals have thoughts and while I am convinced they do, I have not been sufficiently curious to explore the subject in depth.  I just watch them expressing themselves in various ways and I am not sure about how really smart they are; however, it seems they can figure out a lot of things on their own without much or any human intervention. I am an inveterate watcher of both wild and domestic animals.  So, I concluded they must go through some process of trial and error or sizing up a situation and figuring out how to overcome some obstacle if it’s in their way of getting what they want.  Paul Corey wrote a book some years ago, still in print, called Do Cats Think?  The book was mostly about the many cats he had and some of the stories are funny but if cats do think, then why not other animals too?  My donkeys think mostly about eating it seems.  And there are the behavior codes of survival passed from one generation to another in many species.

As for encouraging curiosity in children, it’s easy to put them in many different places and situations and give them numerous opportunities to explore the world around them whether in nature, through travel, in reading, and most of all, by asking them questions and encouraging them to ask questions of their own.  Here are some examples of questions from children.  Why is the sky blue?  Why do people have to die?  Where do they go when they die?  Why are people mean?  Why do parents have to get divorced?  Who invented time and how do we know it’s right?  Why do I have to go to school?  Why is math boring?  Why is ocean water salty? Why is water wet?  Why is our flag red, white and blue?  How does the moon follow us at night when we travel?  Why are there dimples on a golf ball?  What is a light year and how long is it?  What is infinity? What is the smallest animal in the world?  Where does blood come from?  A parent or teacher can respond by saying let’s find out together and see what we can learn and thus the conversation begins.  Explore and discover and encourage curiosity.

Have you ever been curious about human behavior and what motivates us?  What are you curious about?  What would you like to know more about, not only in terms of the human condition but in the world around you?  Here’s an invitation.  Write down six things that you are curious about, things that make you wonder why they are this way or that way.  Then, take the top two or three and put them in a comment so others can see and share.  I am curious as to what you might be curious about!  Thanks!

Saturday, 13 December 2014


We grow up in this country believing that freedom is perhaps the most important value that one can hold and cherish.   The following sentence has often been called one of, if not the most famous in the world, and has been used repeatedly to bear witness to that belief.  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Over the course of our history, hundreds of thousands of people have paid the ultimate price to protect that freedom and our way of life.  It is one where we say that we are a people who are imbued with self-determination and we pledge our allegiance to a society where there is “liberty and justice for all.”   Not just for the privileged, but for all. 

We choose what kind of work we will do, we choose the people with whom we live (after a certain age) and we even choose what kind of transportation we will use.  We choose what foods we eat, what kinds of clothes we wear, what kinds of music we listen to, what movies and television we watch, most of it uncensored and without limits.  We choose what we read, where we go, where we live, what services we use and what products we purchase.   We choose how we spend whatever money we have.  We choose who will govern us and how we will be governed although there is some debate about those issues.  We are free to choose our religious practices or choose none at all.  We choose what we read, what we write and the list goes on and on.

Educating young people is often considered a primary way of transmitting our culture from one generation to the next. Thus public and private education include understanding and appreciating our history and that of the rest of the world, especially as global issues become increasingly important for our mutual survival.  As schools struggle to change to meet the needs of a changing world, it seems ever more important that families have the freedom to choose where they send their children to school.

Preparing children to make intelligent, informed, and wise choices may be one of the most important gifts a parent can give to their children.  They do that, in part, by choosing which school their children will attend and where they will spend an enormous amount of time being influenced by their teachers and the values that the school espouses.   The big question is whether or not the majority of parents make this choice consciously, intentionally and with the freedom to choose which school that will be.

Parents are no longer limited by geography or residence.  Budgets aside, many schools that charge tuition offer financial aid when tuition is a factor.  Perhaps the more important variables are how the school's mission and vision align with the parents, what kinds of teaching and learning are going on in a particular school, what resources the school offers, what the school environment and atmosphere communicate and what the core values are of the school under consideration.   There are now more choices than ever before and it is the well-informed parents who will exercise their freedom in making that choice.

To help parents make an informed choice, I have put together a little book entitled, Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the  Right School for Your Child. (2014)  It's a good investment in making a good match between your children and a school that will engage them in meaningful and productive ways.
A 70 page handbook, it has a questionnaire in the back that provides feedback to parents in helping them make this important choice.  Available on Amazon or from your local bookseller or multiple copy discounts for non-profit organizations directly from the author.

Sunday, 7 December 2014


Atul Gawande’s recent book, Being Mortal:Medicine and What Matters in the End, takes a good look at how we, and the medical community, deal with people in the later years of their lives. For those of us with aging parents or who ourselves are already past the midpoint, whatever that may be, there are some very honest observations and recommendations in Gawande’s latest offering.
I had conversations with my own parents prior to their deaths that were quite different due to the circumstances attending each one.  When my grandfather died, I thought it was a good opportunity to talk with my father about his father’s death and how it had affected him. At that time I was in my 30’s, my Dad in his late 50’s and my grandfather was 82 when he died.  But, to my surprise, my father used the occasion to talk about his own mortality.  What he told me was that when that day would inevitably come, all the arrangements were in place and that my brother and I did not need to be concerned about any of the details.

What I recall, besides being surprised about his openness and willingness to talk about it, was that this was typical of my father who was careful about details, who paid attention to seemingly small things that had a large impact, and who had a personal faith that transcended the mundane.  He served as a good role model for me and my brother in so many ways and for that we will always be most grateful.  When he died suddenly in 1979 at age 67 of a massive heart attack, we were shocked but in some ways already prepared.  What he had put in place for our mother provided for her for the rest of her life, which continued for another 30 years.
My mother, who remarried at age 70, four years after my father’s death, was a vital presence until the last year of her own life when the decline started to take its toll.  When she was hospitalized with pneumonia in October, 2007, at age 95, I recall an honest conversation between us about life and death and how gratitude had played such a large part in how she had lived.  Her mind was alert, her sense of humor still in place and she said she was ready to die.  What I said was that it was okay with me and I was sure that when that time came she would know it and that we would be fine. She left the hospital, moved into a local care facility and four months later, checked out one night and just did not wake up in the morning.  She had told her doctor that evening that she wanted no further medication or treatment except perhaps something to make her more comfortable. He complied.  That was two months prior to her 96th birthday.
My wife’s mother, who will be 101 on January 26, continues to live independently with daytime help in the cooking and cleaning departments.  She is still sound of mind, although it is becoming more difficult for her body to function at the same high level.  She is an avid reader, a published author, watches sports on TV and just had a party for some 17 friends although she says most of her close friends are already dead so she has to make some new ones.   She took a cruise a few months ago up the coast of Maine and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal.   A companion traveled with her for assistance.   She refuses to consider going into any kind of commercial assisted living arrangements and prefers to make her own arrangements just as she has for her own death.
These examples serve me extraordinarily well as I consider how to make the most of whatever time remains in my own life.  My intentions are to continue to connect with our families, to celebrate each day with that attitude of gratitude and on occasion, continue working to help others with their own personal, professional and organizational transitions.  Each sunrise brings the gift of a new day with unlimited and creative opportunities for enjoyment, relationships, conversations and connections.  My active full time career of 50 years has morphed into part-time, much to be preferred.

We are blessed with the ability to travel widely and often.  Home base is in beautiful, northern New Mexico and our mobility is increased immensely with the advantage of a large motor home currently parked in the southernmost point of the United States in Key West.  I would not have thought about becoming a “snow-bird” some years ago but migration south and north at this point in time seems to be one more gift.  I suppose you could even say it's part of a larger plan.

Thursday, 4 December 2014


You may have seen the story coming from the University of Texas and the mystery of 100 missing brains.  It seems they were destroyed in 2002.  They were getting rid of “biological waste” either due to lack of use or no longer needed for neuroscience research. Regardless of the reasons, it started my brain to think about other “missing brains” in people who are still living.   I won’t name anyone in particular as you can make your own list of whom you think may not be using their brain any longer.  It might be an interesting exercise to make a list of the top 100 “missing brains” personalities.
The evidence of “missing brains” can be found in numerous places in our culture.  Politics, health care, education, entertainment, food production, transportation, and sports are just a few areas where there are signs of “missing brains.”   Early brain research indicated that we use about 10% of our brain and the question remains whether or not the majority of people use even that much.  More recent research has indicated specific areas and locations of brain functions from speech to memory to psycho-motor skills to higher level thinking, executive functioning, problem solving activity and measurable emotional responses.
The main point is that our brain is the control center for our bodies and minds where the neural network communicates both internally and externally.  There are now all kinds of brain training exercises designed to postpone senility and keep this three-pound mass of grey matter in better shape than previously thought possible.  It starts to become obvious that there is a keen relationship between mind and body and I would add spirit to that triangle to make it compete.  Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA has a different triangulation with Mind, Body and Relationships being the three points.
Perhaps we should be thinking about missing opportunities to learn something, whether from history or from current events and activities. When we fulfill the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results we are clearly brainless, or mindless.  Here is Dan Siegel on the topic: “Mindful awareness can be considered as a way of being, more than something that involves our “doing” something. Engage a certain “state of mind” that has the range of qualities we have heard repeatedly even though there is no fixed and final definition…How we pay attention (different from awareness), on purpose (but it doesn’t have to be done with active effort, it can in fact be an intention that happens “automatically” as a habit of being, not a consciously thought out plan of carrying out a way of focusing attention) to the unfolding of present moment experience …with a sense alertness, attention to detail, and with kindness and compassion.”   

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Earlier this month, we held our annual Santa Fe Seminar with about 30 people from all over the country in attendance.  There was a contingent from California but also people from the Midwest and East as well.  Leadership and Design ( holds a number of workshops, seminars and gatherings and the one in Santa Fe is designed as time out and time away in order to have an opportunity to reflect, renew and regenerate.  People seemed extraordinarily grateful for the experience and I believe there are several reasons for those expressions of deep and genuine gratitude for the gift of time away from the daily grind.

In the first place, most busy, committed people who spend their lives taking care of others do not often take time out for themselves either because they haven't yet figured out the value of doing that or because they aren't "selfish" enough and feel "guilty" being self-indulgent.   All I can say to that is get over it and get on with it!  You're worth it and you will be a whole lot better at taking care of others if you take care of yourself.

Secondly, there are so many other commitments in the name of professional development and meetings away from work (regional and national) that to add one more to the calendar seems hard to justify.  To that I say you need to make yourself a higher priority and skip one of the other meetings.  You will be glad (and grateful) that you did.  Why do you think you have to attend all those other meetings anyway?  Really?  When you make and take time for yourself you are also serving as model for others who could derive a similar benefit for body, mind and spirit.

Lastly,  making deeper and more meaningful connections with who you are and what you are about enables you to connect with others in more genuine and honest ways.  As one of my friends says as one of her mantras, "Tell the truth, be kind and remember to say thank you!"    To all who were in Santa Fe, I say thank you for sharing yourselves, for asking some penetrating and provocative questions and for demonstrating that you are among those who lead and serve with distinction.  On behalf of the hundreds of people in your communities who count on you to inspire them to do their best work, I say thank you for your commitment, your courage and your continuing good work.
You are indeed a blessing to those who are privileged to know you and work with you on a daily basis. 

And to the rest you who may read this blog, celebrate this Thanksgiving season with that attitude of gratitude that is contagious.  Maybe we can create a different kind of epidemic and help more people catch the spirit.  One final note of a previous exercise.  Years ago I made a practice of writing, on average, five thank you notes each week based on what I had seen, heard or experienced that I believed was noteworthy.   It was easy and the notes were handwritten, not emails. They were brief and signaled that I appreciated someone's effort to help make the community or organization a better place for all.  These were sent to teachers, students, parents and colleagues as well as others in the larger community.  Try it and see what happens.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

ORGANIZATION WELLNESS CHECK (another reprise or for some a surprise)

How well is it working?  Here are four indicators that you might review to get a better idea of where things stand according to these criteria.  They may suggest where you might want to consider a shift to something different in order to perform at a more efficient or productive level.  

Structure -  How is the institution, company, team, division, department or individual organized?   What are the essential features of how the parts connect with one another and work for both efficiency and effectiveness?  When you look at it from the outside what do you see?  Is there a chart, one of those diagrams that show people and how they are all connected? And if there is, when was it last updated?   If form follows function then this would not be the first thing listed but perhaps the last, as it would be formed and informed by the work that needs to be done.  Think about it.  When putting an organization together, where do you start?  Or if you are re-forming and re-shaping an organization, team or whatever, it might be better not to start rearranging the tables and chairs (and people) until you have a really good idea of how its working.

Function -  Is it working?  So many responses are that if it's working, don't mess with it.  Don't fix it if it's not broken and I say that if you think it's not "broken" perhaps you're not looking hard enough or far enough or deep enough.  It does not have to be broken to make it better or to rearrange some pieces in order to make it work or function better, more efficiently for example.  You may want to increase the flow or the capacity or maybe you even want to slow it down.   Maybe you want to do something entirely new and different or add a piece to what already exists.  Are you willing to consider what you might want to discard in order to replace it with a newer, better model?  Of course, the marketers are all about built in obsolescence in order to keep selling the new stuff.

Process -  Here is where the proverbial rubber hits the road and two of the words that have gained popularity recently in the parlance of organizations are "traction" and "recalibrating."   I am all for gaining traction as that is what moves us forward.  How do you measure progress?  Assessment and evaluation have become enormous markers for determining success, so much so that they are an integral part of the process.  As for recalibration, maybe that just means that in the face of so much change so fast, we need to make certain adjustments in the way we adapt to change or even design change as part of the process itself.  If you believe you have a good process, then it's important to let it work on behalf of the organization and/or the individuals who comprise it.  If you need to design a new plan, then go for it.

Outcome -  Here is where your goals and objectives rest and wait for you.  You may think you have determined what they ought to be and depending on your values, whether bottom line profit for the stakeholders and shareholders or individual and corporate success by some other measure, the results
"prove" or demonstrate that what you are about is worth all the investment of time, effort, energy and resources.  When you and those with whom you work are excited and energized by your mission, your vision and values, these are what will drive the decisions that will eventually produce the outcome.  Mission driven decisions, according to the research, are the most effective ones.

In summary, have a look and if you need some outside, more objective expertise to do that, then get it. You will be glad you did!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


(Moving toward Thanksgiving, November 27, 2014)

This phrase, “less is more” appeared in a love poem (line78) in 1855 by Robert Browning , “Andrea del Sarto” called The Faultless Painter. The phrase was adopted by Mies van der Rohe, an architect whom I studied briefly in an undergraduate course called “The House.”  He, along with a number of others, including Frank Lloyd Wright, were leaders in the minimalist movement that tried to scale things down rather than up, clean lines, good design. 

Since then that phrase “less is more” has been popularized by all kinds of movements and people from philosophers to musicians.  Most notable among these are St. Francis,  Ghandi, Albert Schweizer, Henry David Thoreau, and more recently, E. F. Schumacher in his 1973 work, Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered.   Two musicians known for their work in this genre are Steve Reich and John Cage.   There are numerous others from many fields, some in the environmental movement.

Living a more simple life has been espoused by various religious and secular groups, including the Quakers. Related notions such as self-sufficiency, conspicuous consumption, sustainability, downsizing, intentional community, and the slow movement are all expressions from those who do not necessarily agree with the economics of a culture where GNP is the measure of success.  There are many people who believe that there are other values that could contribute to a meaningful and productive life so that that we do not base our worth on the market value of goods and services produced in one year.

What if we looked at a quality of life based not on how much we have but how much we can give?   What if the measure of a man or woman at the end of their lives was not how much they had accumulated but how much they had been able to give away?  Then we might have a bumper sticker that says the one who ends up with the least wins instead of the one who ends up with the most toys wins.  It seems to be true that simplicity and clarity which lead to good design applies to much more than objects. How about designing our lives around simple and clear rather than complicated and
The small house movement has gained in popularity the past few years as more and more people discover how efficient and economical it is to live in fewer square feet.  There is even a small house society whose tag line is “better living through simplicity.”  (  Thas is quite different from DuPont's better living through chemistry!

You can find many people who live full time on boats of various sizes all over the world and we have met many fellow travelers on the road whose only residence is their RV or recreational vehicle.  These range in size and kind from small to large and ones that you pull behind a truck or that are self propelled by their own gas or diesel engines.  Most are self contained and are able to provide adequate and comfortable space along with the necessary functions of heat, light, cooking, bathing and even connectivity with the rest of the world.

We have taken several steps in that direction ourselves.  We sold our house and six acres lived for 9 months in a house on wheels, read motor home.  Gypsies, someone said. No house or apartment, just wandering here and there, working and living on the road.  Our theme song could be Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”  Since then, we purchased a small manufactured house (mobile home), one third the size of our previous house.

That is but one illustration that affords us a level of freedom, independence and a significant reduction in possessions, equipment and property that must be cared for, maintained and supported.  More importantly perhaps is asking this question. What would improve the quality of your life that is within your reach?  The answer may or may not have to do with “living space” but chances are at some point you will arrive at a time of transition and then you can design the change and make the choice.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

6429 - Follow up on the medical assembly line

More observations, experience and impressions – We walk into the day surgery unit at the local, regional, medical center at 5:30 AM Monday morning and are given a card with our number on it, #6429.  There are codes below the number that can give an update on the patient’s status, provided somewhere on a screen so that any family member can know where the patient is and what is happening. 
We are there for a rather straightforward procedure, a minor repair that is supposed to take an hour beginning at 7:30 AM with an hour or so recovery time and then home.  Why it takes two hours to sign in and get ready remains a mystery as it seems at least an hour was mere wait time, no registration, no preparation, just wait.  We will call it insurance time, in case it’s needed. 
A man comes out from behind some doors and calls our number “6429” and in we go, off with the clothes, on with the gown, vital signs, etc. you probably know the drill.  There will be seven people attending this procedure, the pre-op nurse, an OR nurse, the nurse anesthetist, the main surgeon, his PA, a surgical resident doc and a surgical technician.  There is a 8th wandering around,  an orderly for help with transport from gurney to OR table.  The last thing I remember was someone putting a pillow under my head and looking up at all the lights and wires.  After an hour of invasive surgery, I am transported, unconscious, to recovery, 6429 changing status for another hour, and then awake and preparing to leave.  My wife’s face is most welcome waking up and she helps me get dressed and chauffeurs me home, still woozy from the anesthesia and in a rather weakened condition.
By 11:30 AM I am in my own bed, resting quietly.   About 2 PM we notice blood oozing out from the wound above my belly button and I felt miserable.  A call to the doc and we are told to come back to his office and he would see what was going on.  There by 3PM on the table, sprawled uncomfortably with my feet on a stool because the table was too short.  Or am I too tall?  He said he would call the hospital, see if they could get a bed and I could be readmitted.  An hour and a half later, we shuffle across the road via wheel chairs and car to the emergency entrance for a “direct admit” foregoing all the emergency room registration, admission procedures.
I am ushered into the CDU, “Critical Decision Unit” just off the ER where there at least 10 cubicles, one for each patient being observed and evaluated. I spend the next 18 hours there and here is an abbreviated account of that piece.
CDU, at least not ICU.   It is about 5 PM and the usual intake procedures are initiated, more vital signs for the record, the weight, recorded by the bed itself, temperature, pulse, blood pressure, oxygen, all within normal ranges.  An IV is started for some hydration and nourishment since I have not eaten anything in over 24 hours, perhaps contributing to a sense of weakness, no fuel.  I ask if it’s still possible to order dinner and yes, it is.  Good news as I am very hungry.  Looking at several choices, I opt for pot roast, mashed potatoes, sliced peaches and some chicken noodle soup for starters.
Some medications are prescribed and the nurse comes to flash the laser on my bracelet to see what they are so they can be ordered from the pharmacy.  When she goes to put the information into the computer, the screen gives her a message that will not allow any further progress.  She mumbles something about the system not working and I agree wholeheartedly.  She blames the pharmacy.   I suggest that perhaps since I was discharged from the day surgery outpatient unit, I have not been re-entered into the hospital admission system.  She says, no, your name and information are right here, pointing to the bracelet and the computer.
Three hours later, they discover that since my bracelet wasn’t changed on readmission, their system would not recognize the new me.  Meanwhile, pain and discomfort have increased although I am still hungry. The nurse and patient traffic outside my CDU # 10 continues all night long with a variety of blood tests on me and changing of IV by my own bedside.  Sleep is next to impossible.  By morning, I want simply to get out of there ASAP.  I order a large breakfast of scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and toast, consume it probably too fast and it all erupts twenty minutes later.  Several doctors stop by, make some observations and comments, and the surgeon says if I feel like it, I can go home by noon.
It is now Tuesday afternoon, I am home and recovery is much slower than expected.  By Friday morning, I am on the mend, feeling better but still a ways to go to get back to being fully operational, no pun intended.  My conclusion is that the insurance companies are holding the medical system hostage to lousy patient care and I will be hard to convince otherwise.  The “critical decision” should be whether or not the patient is better, not whether time and the UCR has expired.  In case you did not know, UCR is “usual, customary and reasonable” and has to do with fees.  What the insurance company apparently does not take into account is that there are situations that are unusual, unreasonable and not customary.  It seems there might be a case made for getting it right the first time rather than taking the additional time, extra trouble and serious inconvenience to do it over again.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Stories about Storytelling

The first story is about an outstanding teacher, one whom I hired in 1994 to teach language arts to 6th and 7th graders.  Gwynn Spencer was a unique personality for many reasons, not the least of which was her passion for storytelling.  She had a great friend in Joe Hayes, an award winning author and teacher of storytelling.  Joe taught storytelling at the University of New Mexico and his influence extended through Gwynn to her students and beyond.  Have a look at Joe’s video “The Gum Chewing Rattler” or his book called A Spoon for Every Bite and you’ll get an idea of Gwynn’s mentor and model for storytelling.  She inspired more than a few of her students in the art of writing and telling stories.
One day, Gwynn hung a sign on her door that opened to the hallway and it read, “The Universe is Made Up of Stories.”  Down the hall at the other end, another teacher opened his door and tacked up a sign that read, “The Universe is Made Up of Atoms.”  The dialogue between arts and science had begun and the students took great joy in participating.  Gwynn’s final posting on her door was “Yes, Stories About Atoms.”  Gwynn was also a lover of books and for awhile owned and ran a bookstore in Albuquerque. In her latter years she published a monthly newsletter from Mancos, Coloardo called “The Cosmic Raccoon.”  It was filled with wonderful stories, most of them real.
Everyone has a life story or many stories that tell the tale of who we are, how we came to be where we are and what makes us both the same and different.  I have just finished reading The Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown. In addition to Dan’s being a great story teller, the story itself has its own power because of the range of human emotions expressed by the characters in the story.  Many of them emanate from Joe Rantz, one of the nine young men from the University of Washington’s crew who made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  The book begins with Dan’s interviewing Joe as he is dying and the story begins with Joe’s early life, his countless struggles and all that happens in Joe’s lifetime.  It’s an amazing story, told with engaging details and components one might not expect from a book that sounds like it could be about rowing.  Rowing, like running, fishing, sailing, or any competitive sport, becomes a metaphor for finding out what’s required for the highest and deepest levels of excellence.
The last story about telling a story, at least for now, has to do with my own story of some 77 years and still going.  I chronicled some of it last year with the publication of Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir.  (River House Press 2013)   That is a short collection of watershed learning experiences or stories that helped to shape and influence who I am and how I got to be where I am.  From my point of view, there was nothing magical or extraordinary in my story and few of us have the capacity to look at ourselves with any degree of objectivity.  Our stories are about the choices we have made that took us in one direction as opposed to another.  It is perhaps best summed up with this famous Robert Frost poem.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Call it what you will, scaling down can be more challenging than scaling up.  What do you keep and what do you sell, disperse among family members, give away or recycle or throw away?  It's an issue faced by those of us in the older generation who are making plans for the future that can be managed easily by either or both of us.

We moved from a large property that included a 3000 square foot house, an 1800 square foot barn, various, small outbuildings such as a chicken house, garden shed, run in shed for donkeys and 6 acres of landscaped, fenced in and gated land plus all the equipment that went along with it.  That was 9 months ago and we unloaded a number of things then, put everything else in storage and lived in our motor home.  We were on the road for several of those months, north in the summer, south in the winter and kept our base in Santa Fe.  Among the RV crowd we were considered full-timers and faced the decision whether to stay in that mode or find a small place that was adequate, affordable and convenient from which we could travel whenever the spirit moved us, a place to come home to that we have enjoyed for the past 20 years. 

We designed and purchased a "manufactured house" and put it in a small "senior community" where there are like-minded people from various walks of life - artists, engineers, educators, writers, business executives, trades people and world travelers.  The house is simple, about 1000 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and  we must now deal with finishing and furnishing the house, emptying the storage units, organizing the new spaces and preparing for winter.  There is not a lot of joy in dealing with stuff.  For further insight into how we clutter our lives with stuff, have a look at Annie Leonard's book, The Story of Stuff.   We concluded some time ago that we did not want to spend much more time in taking care of things thus we are condensing, shrinking and becoming more compact and efficient.

At one level it is quite simply where we are at this stage in our lives.  It is who we are given our values, choices, and life style.  As time unfolds and gives us opportunities to explore and enjoy the world around us, we will continue to travel, to be connected to our children and grandchildren and we will continue to question our government with so much waste and agendas of self-serving politicians. There is also the miasma of health care in our country and elsewhere and the issue of how we can avoid GMO's and embrace a more healthy diet such as that proposed back in 1971 by Frances Moore Lappe in her work Diet for a Small Planet

If you want to make a leap from individuals to institutions and organizations, ask the question about where you are in your own stage of growth and evolution and whether you might consider becoming more efficient and effective by scaling down or scaling up.  Either is possible with creative leadership, sufficient resources and the collective will and commitment to get it done.

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Our bodies, along with our minds, change over time and it is up to us to keep them functioning at an optimum level as long as we can consciously choose to do that.  Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and that seems to still hold true.
However, with all the good intentions and practices that many of us have exercised over the years, various conditions arise that require some kind of medical attention and intervention.  These can range from mild to serious, including diseases and disorders that require medication or surgery and sometimes a combination of therapies intended to heal or cure.  Hospitals and doctors offices are not the most inviting and comfortable places to spend any time and the costs borne in part by individuals and even more so by insurance companies are often outrageously high. 
I am not a conspiracy theorist but it does not take a rocket scientist to see the interrelationships among the four entities of physicians, hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  Our bodies are broken into various parts and those different parts can only be treated by specialists and sub-specialists who depend on a variety of tests and procedures to help determine what to do next. 
When I take my car into the shop for service, most places can fix whatever is wrong in one place even if it takes several different mechanics.  Medical practice moved away from that concept with the passing of general practitioners, many of whom, in addition to diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions, were also qualified to read x-rays, perform surgery and write prescriptions.  The new assembly line, factory model of medicine has to deliver so many end products to be economically viable that actual office visits may not average more than 10- 15 minutes on the conveyor belt. And then, there must be another follow-up appointment to keep the line moving and the money flowing.
At the moment, I am seeing four different doctors, undergoing a variety of tests and monitoring five different medications.  I find it both amusing and annoying given my previous health history that was excellent until a year or so ago.  Then I got caught up in the medical machinery that continues to grind away without any clear resolution in sight.  There is a part of me that wants to say the hell with it and just drop out and see what happens.  Yes, doctor, I am aware of the risks.   The other part wants to take care of everything and get on with my life without so many complications and lack of timely communication.  I know they are busy but so am I, so don’t tell me you don’t have anything open until more than three months from now.  That is simply ridiculous.  I am not ordering a Ferrari although I feel like I might be paying for one.
What I have concluded at this point is that I cannot sit and wait for the factory whistle to blow.  I have to take charge and become actively involved in making things happen.  I cannot wait until they get around to putting me back on their assembly or disassembly line.  I am lining them up and I will choose where I get the best results.  I have a schedule to keep too and they can find a way to work around mine just as they expect me to work around theirs.  They certainly aren’t changing their vacation plans so why should I change mine to accommodate them?
One other thing.  While I find the whole picture rather amusing, they don’t seem to see anything funny at all.  In fact, they are way too serious.  Lighten up folks.  You’re not getting out of it alive either.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


Look at the synonyms for the word transition.  It is a rather amazing               list that attempts to describe a process or an experience.

I chose three words which, for me, capture the essence of a transition, from one state of being to another.  It usually happens over time rather than all at once, much like what the Skin Horse explains to Rabbit in Margery Williams classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit:
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
The first word is CHANGE and that can happen over time or all at once, suddenly.  Many of us believe that the best kind of change is planned change, designed thoughtfully, implemented carefully and celebrated widely.  Sudden changes like heart attacks, accidents and disasters that cause untold suffering are unwelcome events that change the lives of others as well as the victims who experience the change first hand.   How we deal with change whether planned or unplanned speaks volumes about our capacity to adjust, adapt and continue forward.
The second word is SHIFT.  Shift happens or so it has been said and the original video on You Tube back in 2008 is both inspiring and informative. The question is have you made a shift in the way you see the world and your place in it?  If so, what shifted?  What happened in your mind and spirit that became different once the shift occurred?  It is fairly certain that the world has shifted in many respects and how we respond to these shifts once again says much about who we are as individuals and as a collective group of people whether defined as Americans or any sub group worldwide. 
The third word is PASSAGE.  Passages from one state or stage to another are often subtle, characterized by a slower transition rather than a speedy or sudden one. The eight stages of human growth and development as described by Erik Erikson, from infancy to early childhood to pre-school to school age to adolescence to young adulthood, to middle adulthood to old age are easily observed passages that everyone does not complete on the exact same schedule.  Each of these is accompanied by the passing of time, usually in a number of years.  There are passages through mountain ranges, passes named after explorers who were often the first ones to record the passage.  It was often a slow trek over dangerous terrain. 
As you make your own transitions, in work and life, consider how you can effect those changes, stages and passages and how they affect you.  Think for a moment about your future.  Envision it. What do you see ahead?

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Making an executive decision requires more than using that part of your brain called “executive functioning” which can be defined as “a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors. Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations…”   (from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders!)  A mental disorder can affect anyone at anytime and while there may be signs that are ignored or minimized, it’s time we pay attention to behaviors that seem unusual or even puzzling.  Those could be clues of future trouble down the road.

If you are going to be adept at solving problems and anticipating outcomes, one of the main functions of an effective leader, then it’s imperative that you have the ability to anticipate problems before they become even larger. You might call that foresight, something beyond insight. There is even a Foresight Institute that promotes transformative technologies that promise to address how to capture the opportunities and avoid the risks of nanotechnology in the future.   Perhaps every organization should have a foresight institute of some sort, capturing opportunities and avoiding risks.

Two other main functions of an effective leader, from Nan Keohane, are making things happen and taking a stand.  An effective leader is a catalyst for actions that will have positive impact on people and the community that he or she leads.  Making things happen doesn’t just mean deciding what will happen or who will do what, but also understanding why you are doing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it that way. It is then easier to communicate your actions to others.

Taking a stand is being able to articulate with clarity and consistency your core values and how they inform, direct and support programs and policies that are the infrastructure of your organization. Getting everyone on board as much as possible so that you can move forward with common vision and common purpose is also easier when your constituents are subscribers to your mission and understand it sufficiently to repeat it often. 

Executive decisions need to be sound, wise and well-informed and in the best interests of those whom you lead and serve.  The most effective leaders accept the burden and blessing of responsibility that go with the position.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to exercise your authority with courage and conviction and perhaps most importantly with grace and generosity of spirit.