Thursday, 29 January 2015


I receive at least a dozen or more emails, telephone calls or messages each week that are filled with comments about how busy someone is and I am sometimes guilty of the same kind of remark, although now that I am conscious of saying it, I can avoid the trap.   For those who must travel for work, that adds a layer of time consumption, creating more pressure and stress on the schedule, calendar and one’s self.  Add up the demands and expectations of a family, a specific job or task, running a household, managing a business, dealing with the oxymoronic customer service, absorbing the news, being entertained, using the social media networks, watching and listening to others, and perhaps most importantly and more often neglected than not, taking care of ones own mind, body and spirit.

I remember when my wife and I set out to winterize our mist away system for the elimination of mosquitoes.  Without going into the details of installation one summer, let me say simply that it is an engineering and chemical mystery and marvel that sprays pyrethrin (an organic compound) around a house and garden according to a programmed computer system and a 55 gallon drum of the mixture inside a shed adjacent to the house.  It had to be “winterized” and now I laugh at the scene although at the time it was anything but funny.  We had to call the “source” three times to accomplish what should have been a simple task.  It took over an hour and a half.

I now watch or listen with some degree of amusement as a friend or colleague refers to an electronic calendar to find a slot where a meeting is possible or impossible and I do the same thing although my calendar and schedule have more leeway for the first time in 50 years.  When I served as an interim head of a school, I remarked that I was fortunate to be able to work half time.  That was 6 to 6!  And there were those evenings and weekends that added hours of work, most of it meaningful and productive.

Another thing I am fond of saying although it does not resonate all that well with some others goes like this:   A friend or colleague says, “It was a very long day” and I know what they mean but I have the audacity to respond with, “I have news for you. They are all the same length, 24 hours.”  The point is that we all have the same amount of time and it’s simply how we use it, how we spend it, how we choose to invest ourselves in the moment or the hour or in the day that has been given to us.

Maybe there is a way of looking at the day or the week not as something to be filled up but rather as this miraculous and precious gift of time which, in fact, could be our last day.  If that were to be, how would we spend it?  The point is not to create a personal drama but to be sure that we are including some of those things that we value the most and not postpone them until we find the time or have the time. Years ago I started putting slots on my calendar that were for me so that when someone asked if I could meet on a certain day or at a specific time, I could say, sorry, I already have a commitment.
I recommended that practice to others and those who took me up on it reported that indeed, it made a welcome difference in their busy schedules.

Monday, 26 January 2015


When I saw the title for this position, it set me to wondering.  Perhaps the Mid-Pacific Institute felt the need or the desire to have such a person on their senior staff and I am confident they gave it much thought before establishing the job.  Kudos to them!
However, in this era of specialization and sub-specialization, is it really necessary or is it one more layer of bureaucracy that might separate those charged with implementation from those who design the plan?  That is one question.  I have several others. 
Innovation seems to be the latest buzz word in circles that pride themselves on the latest and greatest move designed to solve a problem or fill a gap.  In fact, a recent article suggests that one reason schools cannot move forward and are stuck where they are is because there is a flaw in leadership that cannot provide what is needed.
The job of the innovation officer in one case is “to provide visionary leadership and support school leaders as they help students learn how to collaborate, communicate, think critically and solve problems.”  And all this time I thought that was the job of every classroom teacher and why schools exist in the first place. 
One organization called Mind Matters offers a white paper entitled “Five Ways to Make your Organization More Innovative by the End of the Day.”  That’s intriguing but not enough for me to order the paper.  The state of Maryland has hired a chief innovation officer to challenge the entrenched status quo (I like that challenge) and to make government more efficient and effective.  Good luck with that!
If you are considering a chief innovation officer, here are 10 questions which should help you decide if you need one beyond setting yourself apart from other organizations just like you.  I guess that a school with a chief innovation officer can point to their progress as a compelling reason why students should attend there.  Or should the CEO also be a CIO?
Here are the ten questions, along with a few answers that you might consider: 


I received word on Wednesday, January 21, that a 44 year old, outstanding, visionary surgeon in Boston was shot and killed by a deranged man who was upset by his mother’s death.  As you might guess, he then turned the gun on himself.  I thought immediately of the surgeon’s wife, pregnant with their fourth child and thier three young children, his parents and hers, and how that family’s life was changed dramatically by a despicable act of emotional anger and turmoil.  The shooter’s family was affected as well.   I was reminded of all the senseless shootings of the past few years that have altered the lives of so many affected by those tragedies.  Life is fragile, precious, unpredictable and vulnerable. Life can change 180 degrees instantly or as with many of us, gradually, over time

Most of us probably do not consciously think about our life being in danger except perhaps when we are or have been in a situation that is at a higher level of risk than whatever we consider normal and ordinary.  One has to wonder at times if the new normal in a world of wackos is, in fact, more dangerous than it used to be or is it merely my imagination exploded by constant news?  There are also other life-threatening events that intrude into ordinary, daily life.  You have either had such an event in your own life or you know someone who has had such an experience.

Murders accounted for 14,000 deaths in the United States in 2013; over 40,000 suicides in the U.S. in 2011.  Automobile related deaths accounted for over 33,000 deaths in 2012.  The number of service men and women who have been killed in Iraq and Afganistan is over 7,000. Add to those totals the hundreds of thousands due to heart disease, cancer, COPD and stroke and you get an idea of how many people are affected by sudden death each year.

Death becomes one more fact of life and it comes whether or not we are prepared for it.  Blessed are those of us who have the opportunity to make the most of our lives and celebrate our days and years over whatever time we have whether a few days or months or several years.  Those who can take an active role in how they wish to die, and even in some cases, when, may be among the more fortunate.  (See Atul Gawande’s latest book: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.)
The conversation over coffee this morning included a question about history  and IF, when there was no news there were just as many sudden deaths, or even more, due to wars, disease and a shorter-life expectancy.  Someone, somewhere has probably researched that question and I will leave it for now. Since the world's population is significantly greater, the statistics would count sudden deaths per 100,000 or some comparative, relevant number.

The following story “Appointment in Samarra” as re-told by W. Somerset Maugham in 1933, is an interesting commentary on how some might think they can escape death, even if for awhile.  Death is the speaker.
   “There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Thursday, 22 January 2015


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, 18 January 2015

LEADERSHIP (in 55 words)

Being out front, on top, in the center,

Whatever your model, wherever your place,

Know that others look for you

To share your vision, your values and your purpose.

You lead when you speak, when you act, when you express

Who you are in the midst of their needs and desires.

Leadership is serving others.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


Some 50 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 clearly, I had the revelation that these subtle manipulations of the mind would result in a sequence of at least five behaviors.

Here are the five imperatives and we may be able to understand them 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 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 (4.5 million dollars for 30 seconds in Super Bowl 2015) 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 came from a mindset of scarcity?  It may true that save, use, keep, have and do not 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 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.

The issue may be 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. That could be the Tsunami that spawned world wide support, or something else big that captures our attention – the environment, health issues, education or hunger, or our own favored, local, national or global charity. So what is the point in all of this?

Maybe 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 50 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.”

These words of Aristotle sum it up well: "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.”

Sunday, 11 January 2015

KINDNESS (in 55 words)

Kindness does not have a price tag.  It cannot be bought or traded.

One human being reaching out to another with love and compassion.

Whether words of gratitude, appreciation or recognition

Or a selfless act of giving with no strings attached

Being kind in one moment makes the world a brighter, better place.

Your turn.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015


Change is inevitable and universal.  It is not a matter of whether or not we wish to change.  It is rather how we wish to design and implement change and how we respond to change that we do not control. Whether your concerns are about an individual, an organization, a community or a country, or the world itself, nothing stands still unless it’s dead and even then, decay and decomposition set in. 
Nothing can grow or evolve or improve or adapt or adjust without changing.  Even if the change is simply altering the internal response to what is going on outside, the net result is still some type of change.  And that internal change may not be so small in the end.  I believe that the more you can change your internal structures and behaviors the more you have opportunities to influence the world around you.
You may be growing  your self, your organization, and reshaping and redesigning to meet the needs of the future.  You may be engaged in strategic visioning and making projections with some kind of refined business model or using different and creative approaches to solving problems.  Regardless of your goals or your strategies, it is all about change and how you are going to lead and manage that.

A book that has stuck in my head since graduate school days back in the 60’s was The Dynamics of Planned Change by Lippit, Watson and Westley.  (Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1958).  The very first sentence in that book is “The modern world is, above everything else, a world of rapid change.”  How could they have known what lay in store for the world in the next six decades and moreover, how can we know what lies ahead?  

I have relied often on Margaret Mead’s words of wisdom, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed  it is the only thing that ever has.”  Much depends on your needs, your goals and your commitments.  

Do you work with a small group of thoughtful, committed people?   If yes, what are the results?   Would you like to make changes for 2015?  Can you list them?  What are the top three?   What is your plan to make sure those happen?  Ready?  Set?  GO!   By the way,  it is not a race to see who is fastest, strongest or who works more or harder.   It is about the meaning and quality of your life, at work, at home and in that part of the world where you live and move and have your being.  Happy New Year!