Friday, 29 April 2016


Making a tough decision and making it stick is but one challenge of a leader in charge.  An executive decision requires more than using that part of your brain called “executive functioning” which is officially 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…” 
That all sounds accurate and desirable except that it’s from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders!  It’s when that function is lacking or disabled that signs begin to appear that all is not well, thus some kind of malfunction, not what one wants to see in a CEO.
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 those 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” or task force of some sort, capturing opportunities and avoiding risks. Or maybe that’s one more task for the executive in charge.
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 and ahead of the decision rather than ex post facto may be the better strategy.
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. And being able to do that even in the face of controversy.  Getting everyone on board as much as possible so that you can move forward with common vision and common purpose is 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 understand the burden and blessing of responsibility that go with the position.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to exercise your executive authority with courage and conviction and perhaps most importantly with grace and generosity of spirit.

Saturday, 16 April 2016


Almost everyone I know, including myself, have had some kind of event that has thrown us off track, hopefully temporarily.  It’s not always easy to resume, like pushing the button on speed control.  There are many reasons why it’s so difficult to regroup ones energy, purpose and drive to continue.  We can feel emotionally and physically drained, fuel tank on empty and no immediate relief in view.

These life events range from the death of a loved one, a serious illness of a family member or ones self, and less major occurrences that can include being disabled, laid low for awhile with a health issue and even something like losing a job or being rejected repeatedly while trying to get an application or a manuscript accepted or just changing jobs from one track to another.

A neighbor down the street recently had his leg amputated, at first just above the knee and then all the way to his hip.  His attitude appears to be I’m still alive and I intend to make the most of what I have left while I can.  He has made great progress on a walker, has been fitted with a prosthesis and he drives his truck with his left leg.  He is definitely getting back on track, maybe not with the same speed or ability but he is a great example of doing the best he can with what he has where he is.

A number of people who seem to lose a sense of purpose and the desire to continue have a hard time convincing themselves that the effort and energy required would be worthwhile and that it would be easier to just give up, give in and throw in the towel.  The truth is that it would be easier.  The encouragement and support of friends and family are well-intended, maybe even helpful sometimes, but they either don’t understand or if they do, their answers are what they would do, and those may or may not work for you.

It may be that we need to step back and “recalibrate,” a term I learned from an Intel employee who often used the term when she meant that we needed to have another look and see if our assessments were accurate and on track. Her experience from another industry helped us on numerous occasions to take another, different approach.  It fits the “on track” metaphor because trains run on tracks that are definitely calibrated and recalibrated frequently.  In the U.S. most tracks are exactly 4 ft 8 12 in or ​1,435 mm.  When I worked on the railroad, we spent a lot of time lining tracks and making sure they were the exact, correct width.  Now machines do that job.

So, what can we do to get back on track besides realigning the road ahead?

·      Take time and don’t rush it.  Step back and evaluate your choices.
·      Make sure you’re doing what you can for yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, meeting those needs for good health.
·      Talk to someone who might understand and appreciate your challenges and perceived obstacles.
·      Start with building a simple step-by-step plan and adjust it as needed. Take baby steps.  It’s the way to move forward.
·      Engage and connect.  We are social beings and isolation sometimes delays getting back on track.  However, there is also value in spending some time alone gathering your resources.
·      Rediscover a new purpose or explore something entirely different.  Consider giving some time as a volunteer.
·      Realize that each day is a gift and what you make of it is up to you.
·      Check in on your “attitude of gratitude” and how you might appreciate what you have in a different way.
·      Read, listen, watch and pay attention.  There are clues out there.
·      Be KIND to yourself.

There is no magic formula or recipe that works for everyone.  Each person has his or her own unique personality and figuring out what is going to work best for you is a process, not flip the switch and instantly be on a different track.  And remember, breathe deeply while you consider the road ahead.

Monday, 11 April 2016


Schools are already in the “real” world.  They just aren’t taking advantage of their external environments in creative and contemporary ways.  Instead they are still using old models for new learning.  Put new wine into old wine skins and what happens?  They burst, wasting the wine.  Too much energy, time and resources have been spent on correcting mistakes rather than getting it right the first time.

Educators must be clear about how to make things work and take it a step at a time and keep backing up before going forward into unknown territory.  Before you can play a piece of music, it helps to learn the notes, where the fingers go on certain instruments and then practice, practice, practice. 
It’s the same with sports.  Much more time is spent practicing than in playing the game.  Certain kinds of athletic skills are developed and finally mastered in order to play the game at the highest level.  I wonder if we make the mistake of trying to get to the performance too soon, before the skills are refined and there is a sufficient level of confidence in those skills to be effective?

School might be restructured more like the real world and organized according to areas of interest.  There are signs of that with magnet schools and some other specialized schools in science and the arts.  I would not have been particularly interested in mechanics and robotics but there are plenty of kids who are.

I would have been drawn to a school that focused on reading, writing and producing whether essays, books, plays and movies or in telling stories of people in different cultures.  But, I would not have wanted to miss an introduction to science, engineering, technology, math and the arts.  That sounds a lot like STEAM and PBL.

I think it’s time to reexamine why schools are structured the way they are and perhaps shift not only the paradigm for educating kids but building entirely different models for different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids.  The schools all look too much alike and smell the same.  Kids are different and schools need to be different too, much more so than they are.

In the real world there are there are engineering, scientific, manufacturing and distribution jobs.  There are the worlds of design, retail and entertainment.  There are unlimited opportunities in health care, public service and education itself.   Kids need to see all of those, and more, up close and personal. They know that there are huge problems in the world needing their talents and skills to solve.  That will require a complete overhaul of the system, not just introducing technology and updating methods and environments.   The focus on changing the delivery system is a good start but it’s only a beginning and there’s much more to be done.

Yes, kids need basic skills of effective communication and presentation and they need to understand the value of social interactions without depending wholly on the internet, cell phones, texts and face factories.  What keeps schools from radically altering their identities is not only their marriage to the status quo but also their lack of preparation to make the shift.

IF you were starting over, how would you do it?  What would you do differently and what is preventing you from doing that now?  Look at the obstacles and either dismantle them or leave the old behind and find a new wine skin.  One example among many others evolving currently is Big Picture Schools. Here the design components are based on three foundation principles: first, learning must be based on the interests and goals of each student; second, a student’s curriculum must be relevant to the people and places that exist in the real world; and finally, a student’s abilities must be authentically measured by the quality of her or his work.

Here's another new model that includes action-oriented research:

Saturday, 2 April 2016


I’m a quitter.  In my first year of my first graduate school in 1959, I didn’t like it and I wanted to quit.   It did not seem like a good fit and although I was succeeding academically, I was not happy in pursuing those studies.  So, I decided about mid way through that first year to take a test to see if I could learn to fly with the U.S. Navy.  I made an appointment and traveled about 45 miles from Princeton to Lakehurst NAS, New Jersey.

The test was a long day of examinations, written tests and physical exams.  The results came back a few days later and I had passed.  I was told that I could report to Pensacola, Florida, to begin flight training in January.   As I considered this option several thoughts came to mind.  I had started something and I usually finished what I started so I thought of a compromise. 

What if I finished at least the first year and delayed my start of flight training for six months?  Would the Navy consider that?  Yes, they said they would. Would the graduate school hold a place if I washed out of training?  Yes, they said they would, so at least I had a back up if I needed or wanted it.
Between December and June, three incidents changed my mind about flying.  Two close friends of mine in college, were both killed in separate accidents flying for the Navy. One was killed in training in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the other flying off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.  A third pilot, older brother of a high school friend was killed flying for the Marines. I will spare you the details. Suffice to say, the impact was sufficient for me not to pursue the Navy offer further.  I had seen the devastation of the families up close and believed that the risk/reward ratio, and the statistics, were not in my favor. It wasn’t fear as much as it was seeing the aftermath.

I returned to graduate school, finished another two years, got a master’s degree and gave my best efforts to practicing a profession about which I had continuing questions, doubts and concerns.  Seven years later, I quit that profession and went back to another graduate school to get another master’s degree, a doctorate and continued working for another 43 years, a total of 50 years of full time work, enough to “quit” once again just five years ago.

Although I had been schooled in my early years by the adults in my life that quitting was negative and undesirable, I learned later that quitting could be a good thing.  In fact, I quit and left more than one job for one reason or another and now, as I look back, quitting was the right thing to do in almost every instance.  Would I do anything different if I had to do it over?  Maybe.  I might have quit sooner although the timing in most cases seems to have worked out just fine.  It wasn’t so much about quitting as it was about a change, welcomed and embraced.  When you quit one thing it’s an opportunity to begin something else or even something similar in a different place with a different cast of characters.  This is true whether in work, life, health or relationships.

This journey of living and working has been rich with change, with growth and with evolving into someone who is both the same and different.  It has been and continues to be a marvelous experience for which I am most grateful. I continue to explore the opportunities and adventures that I can explore and look forward to even more.  Close one door, open another.