Monthly Archives: July 2016

We’re All On (or off!) the Same Bus (updated 8-11)

Experience and environment shapes our attitudes, beliefs and knowledge base. So I need to share a wee bit about my background as it has everything to do with the following.

     I’m a private sector / education hybrid, and I’ve been in diverse roles in both worlds. “People and process improvement practitioner” is a fitting byline. While I love playing around with cool theories, I’m proud that I’ve earned that last “p” in the eyes of my peers. And I’ve had a blast on this journey of many winding paths that have somehow merged into one big superhighway.

    I died and went to heaven when Senge came out with the Fifth Discipline, especially Vol. II, the Fieldbook for practitioners. It expanded my world view as well as my personal purpose and goals. It’s been one gigantic “AHA” moment that I’ve tried to break down into digestible chunks here.      

     The AHA’s that follow are universally relevant Indisputable Truths. At least I think so.

     After I finished writing this, another “AHA” came along…I make a big deal out of personal values—each of our non-negotiable beliefs. These AHA’s should be an important part of my personal beliefs system. Going back through them, that’s a correct assessment.

    Learning new stuff is one of my long-time core values. I hope it’s not a personality disorder, but I am into a whole lot of different things. Thankfully, by finally understanding the systems view they are all part of one big story.  I’ve been writing lately about education and social improvement, but the essays still have manufacturing roots. Sometimes I’ll call out those connections, but other times they must be discovered by you. But they’re there. Best practices come from unlikely sources. Benchmark everything and shamelessly steal what you can put to good use (another Universal Truth?)

Are You On the Bus, or Off the Bus?

On the Bus2

This “on the bus” thing is not in the same context as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and their infamous adventures on Further the Magic Bus. Our bus has left the bus stop and those who are on board are having a ball. Others were just a little late, they’re running behind the bus trying desperately to catch the driver’s attention but to no avail. Still others are sitting patiently on the bus stop bench, waiting for another bus that may or may not come. A few folks are clueless there’s even a bus, they’re nose-down searching for Pokemon. Right off the cliff….

A Few of My Indisputable Truths—What Are Yours?

What’s the priority order? Not sure, because they’re part of one big system. Each impacts the others and point of entry is beside the point. Dig into the relationships and feel free to make up your own connections and add your own Indisputable Truths—that’s half the fun.

Profound Knowledge and Systems Thinking.  From the Deming Institute: Dr. Deming ….defined a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. The aim for any system should be that everybody gains, not one part of the system at the expense of any other. In a business context this includes shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, the community and the environment. (Google “Deming Institute profound knowledge” for the Tolstoy version)

I was already a long-time Deming fan, but his System of Profound Knowledge struck a nerve with me.  Then Peter Senge really got me going with his popularization of systems thinking in the Fifth Discipline. What really hooked me was that all that was so contrary to operations managers’ obsession over production-first starting with Taylor’s scientific management, which broke down a process into the most basic repetitive, mind-numbing tasks possible, all in the interest of high volume mass production.

The reinforcing loop diagram below is one example of a system where everything is connected, and all the seemingly isolated components impact one another. We must better understand the interrelationships and the nature of often-hidden impacts if we are to truly resolve our issues.

Process is Process– they all run (or don’t run) by the same basic rules and constraints. My output is someone’s input–my customer. Customer expectations rule. Customers reward suppliers that meet their needs and expectations, and punish those that do not. Basic market-driven economics.

Continuous Improvement is not an option. If you don’t continuously get better customers…and life…pass you by and doesn’t look back. No growth leads to stagnation > atrophy > death. This applies to work processes, meeting expectations, personal growth and lifelong learning.

To Understand It Break It Down, Put It Back Together. Soldiers’ lives depend on knowing their weapon. They learn very early to break it down and put it back together to understand each little component in the context of the entire weapon, and understand the larger, interrelated system. But that’s too much work, right? You have more important stuff to do, right?

If you don’t reach that deep level of understanding, you’ll be continuously putting out the same fires. You may think they’re out, but the embers will smolder and eventually burst back into flames.

Address Root Cause. My favorite “duh” expression: “I know how to fix this. I’ve dealt with it bunches of times before.” Really? You evidently haven’t really accomplished much, have you?

People are People. Young and old, we’re driven by the same basic needs and hold the same human values…at least we all start out at the same place until our unique environments start messing with our humanity. It stands to reason that since we’re all driven by the same things….

“People are People” Applies Globally. No religion, race, ethnicity or nationality is different enough that it’s worth shunning, hurting or killing each other. One race: Humanity. One citizenship: Planet Earth.

Engagement is Engagement. Engagement addresses human needs and appeals to basic human values, with a tweak: what engages me is driven by those values that are most important to me and by my purpose in life, whether I’m aware of them or they’re lurking in the shadows. So engagement works for those who have not been totally led astray from the basic needs and values package. Here’s the payback:  emotional well-being -> reduced stress levels -> physical well-being -> a healthier, longer, more satisfying life. Solid enough WIIFM for you?

Have you taken the time and effort to identify and really understand your personal values? Do you have a clear purpose in life? What you don’t know can kill you before your time is up.

Engagement Theory is Universally Relevant. Why do we suboptimize its potential by limiting engagement to the workplace? Except for a few minor cultural differences, Rules of Engagement cross all geographic and demographic boundaries. See Time to Re-think Engagement especially the Universal Attributes section.

People Before Process. Well-adjusted, satisfied people perform better–young learners, adults, citizens. Ignore personal needs and you’ll never realize the highest possible achievement levels or resolve process issues and achieve those precious desired results. Not long-term. Well-adjusted young people and parents have stronger family relationships.

Well-adjusted students achieve higher academic goals. Well-adjusted workers give their employers maximum effort and deliver maximum results. Well-adjusted citizens freely give their all to community betterment.

Still, we’re obsessed with demanding that people do their stuff as efficiently as possible with little concern for the human issues. We’re really missing the boat on this one….

I Determine Social Norms, Shape Culture. Our individual values and beliefs systems are shaped by our environment and experiences. And social norms emerge from the collective of individual beliefs systems and individual values when they are shared by enough people. Notice the loop?

This means norms can be intentionally shaped, if a large enough group of individuals has common values and beliefs taught to them and continuously reinforced. Manipulative? Yes, if the wrong norms are promoted for the wrong reasons. Safeguard: people will resist a mismatch!

Current State: politely, our social norms, collective values and beliefs are anemic. We’ve had a systemic diluting of the influence held by the institutions that once drove norms: education, religion, family. Without some kind of central direction there is moral chaos and anarchy, with the strongest-willed person or power cartel taking control. We’re there right now.

Bullying is Bullying whether kids or adults, power corporations and governments. Grabbing all the power they can, picking on other allegedly weaker or inferior players…bullying is a finely honed weapon, a slimy art form, a highly destructive force. We will never effectively address bullying at any level until we attack the anemic norms and non-values that make it “OK” to bully.

Stewardship is Serious Business. “As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others, and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously.” If the Dalai Llama buys it, stewardship is good enough for me….

Stewardship used to be all that, the hippest of the hip leadership trends. But it’s faded from view. Stewardship must become a shared human value, and not just a trait owned by leaders. We must all be stewards first and foremost, taking guardianship of our future seriously.

I pledge allegiance to the earth and all the life which it supports. One planet, in our care, irreplaceable With sustenance and respect for all.

Stewardship of others and stewardship of this planet that is (so far) allowing us to exist is a survival issue of the highest order. Humanity is unsustainable without stewardship NOW. If we don’t kill each other off first, Mother Earth will eventually get tired of our crap and evict us. And it won’t be homelessness but extinction. Argue the point, please. It may help me feel better about our chances if we don’t take a radical course of action. But I doubt it.

A Few To-Do’s

Based on my values, beliefs system and these indisputable truths, here are a few things I am focused on. It’s tempting to stretch for that one silver bullet that encompasses all. My one all-consuming project right now is promising in that respect. But the hugeness is daunting, so I need to break it down and put it back together again, to understand all the moving parts. Then, find the engagement levers that will recruit champions to the cause. Working on it!

  1. Educators: understand and meet the needs of customers in the marketplace. Employers, communities, students, parents: what are their expectations? Don’t treat them like they are captive consumers of your product—graduates—just because they are.
  2. Flip priority from process / doing stuff to people. Proven over and over, if you don’t tend to people issues first, you’ll never achieve maximum performance and results. It starts with kids in school, continues to the workplace and community—all ages, all stakeholders.
  3. Leverage the power of engagement systemically. Engagement boosts performance. Piecemeal efforts suboptimize engagement’s potential. Applications: young students and adult employees—and not just in school and the workplace, but social and community engagement as well. And don’t forget seniors. This is a universal, global opportunity!
  4. We need systems thinkers. Understand process–what’s upstream and downstream, not just what you do. Understand how your process interacts with others (the diagram is an example). Systems thinking makes sense even for young learners.
  5. Rediscover Our Humanity. Stewardship, acceptance and inclusion, purpose and values must be ingrained across the board. It’s not so difficult because it’s human nature, the way it’s supposed to be. We must reconnect with our selves, others, our planet.

If you’re not familiar with NCIS Agent Gibbs’ Rules, here’s Rule #1: “there’s always more rules”. And Rule #2: “every rule has exceptions.” Enough for now, except for those you add.

Here’s an example of a reinforcing loop, one of the building blocks of systems thinking.

5-5 Coalition Loop

Remove “Young” from the top box to supercharge the loop



Philanthropists—Butt Out of Education (??)

(also on LI Pulse )

Structure and common core investments are not working. An Edutopia approach is recommended: just help teachers teach. Beyond that, philanthropists need to butt out and let educators and states run education. “The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.”

This is for those who are concerned with education reform, social well-being, economic productivity and competitiveness, and saving the world….share if you care.

In an LA Times article, philanthropist / education champion Bill Gates (If you weren’t aware THAT Bill Gates is very committed to the greater good!) says structure improvements and investments in furthering common core are not working. He recommends an Edutopia-style involvement for philanthropist funding, with the singular goal of helping teachers teach. (Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda

The Gates Foundation has provided significant funding for major education initiatives like reducing class and school size, new methods for evaluating and rewarding (and firing!) teachers, and pushing full implementation of common core before education was geared up to support it.

…the Gates Foundation has spent so much money — more than $3 billion since 1999 — that it took on an unhealthy amount of power in the setting of education policy.”

The foundation is re-thinking its “bust-down-the-walls” approach to education improvement.

The education system needs help, needs to change. Educators already know the issues but their systems are slow to respond to the environment. That’s not intended as a critique, just a statement of the way the education change process works. I’m not sure I agree with philanthropists needing to back off. The Foundation’s message basically says…

Don’t worry about those root causes, philanthropist. You’re not qualified.

Education wants and needs “outsiders” to get involved—they need the help! I’m a private sector guy who has dabbled in teaching for five or six years, enough to see the needs and issues firsthand from both sides. But I’m an academically non-credentialed nobody, easy to ignore.

Mr. Gates, I love what the Foundation is trying to accomplish, and education does need you and your friends, badly. Can I help? If I had any input at all, these things would be on my Wish List, operative word = “wish”.

Education Improvement Wish List

Focus is on the wrong stuff! It’s not structure, not just a matter of class and school size and teaching methods. We focus on process vs people, things vs emotions. Same in the private sector: do things right, fix things when they break, ignore real people issues.

Social-emotional development must become priority one, starting with a better understanding of engagement especially with young people but also teachers, community leaders, parents. And get serious about understanding engagement in the education environment, then DO something about it. Research is clear and consistent in its findings: well-adjusted people young and old perform better, achieve more, have more fulfilling lives. Physical and emotional well-being skyrockets, people are less stressed and live longer, social issues diminish, the community and private sector –general social and economic prosperity—increases.

Social and economic issues are impacted by disengagement too. We need to excite people, involve people. We need solid values and norms to become the anti-bullying / cope-with-the-real-world serum. Too many young people committing suicide, too many people going over the edge and murdering innocents-it’s not just terrorists, it may not always be “somewhere else”.

Establish relevance, purpose, hope for a bright future for young learners by providing an ongoing process that builds self-awareness and becomes a work-in-process portfolio for each learner’s career and future planning. Included: identifying values, vision, strengths and dominant characteristics. Don’t buy “we do that already” from well-intentioned educators. Sure it’s there, but at best it’s a checklist activity that comes and goes then is mostly forgotten. Where’s the lasting impact? Class skills-based project work should also become part of the learner’s portfolio, providing objective evidence of mastery. Result:  a real resume for kids with no job experience, to help them find a career that is both satisfying and rewarding.

Employers complain about the “unprepared talent pool”. But what should the education system prepare learners for? They’re flying blind because expectations have not been clearly defined.

The workplace changes rapidly and the education system cannot match the velocity of change even if current needs were clearly defined. Education cannot provide the right specific knowledge and specific skills, especially with no solid input.

SOLUTIONS: (1) collaborate on a process of identifying and meeting talent pool needs, with a control plan to verify performance and a built-in means to rapidly respond to changing needs.  (2) Develop high-potential candidates with the right foundation skills, the capability to adapt to different work demands and the agility to learn on the job. (3) Education does not have the bandwidth or the knowledge and experience to teach real-world skills. Only employers can provide on-target job skills training, post-hire. (4) Develop all-stakeholder local coalitions directly involved in needs identification, learner development and real-world prep. (5)

Eliminate unrealistic education expectations and re-define “prepared”.  Challenge unnecessary “degree required” restrictions!

The current skills gap is partially self-inflicted by employers who artificially inflate academic requirements for positions and have unrealistic expectations of ready-made expert new hires who will step in and hit the ground running without guidance. College students get “just-in-case” degrees, then try to find a job the degree may fit, unnecessarily increasing college debt. Guidance counselors and parents push college-or-bust and education mass-produces cookie-cutter graduates. Employers jam square pegs into round holes, grads assume half a lifetime of debt, employers get unprepared candidates. Worse, job seekers grasp for any employment they can find, regardless of whether the work is satisfying and they can emotionally survive.

Free or affordable college is not the solution, curriculum relevance is. Scratch where it really itches, not where we think it may possibly start itching some time in the future. It makes no sense to throw more funding at an ineffective system.

Shovel Work is Good for the Soul: put the polish back into “real” work for an honest living, even if it’s entry level or blue collar. Increase the opportunity to enhance skills through tuition reimbursement and targeted in-house skills development only after an employee finds their niche, and after real needs for additional skills training and education are better understood.

Problem and project-based learning in teams is the most effective way both young people and adults learn. Current classroom applications are spotty and ineffective—fuzzy project definition, unclear expectations, not enough ongoing guidance or project control. Project deliverables and the end result are all over the place. And there are team dynamics as well as execution issues, notably alpha team mates taking charge and passives are glad to let them.

Teachers must become better project managers and team leaders, learners must become better team players. Skills training must be provided for teachers and learners on project planning and management, team dynamics and group decision-making. Side note: the same issues prevail in the private sector, an excellent opportunity to learn together!

A systemic, all-stakeholder approach is needed rather than independent classes and programs that are owned and operated by isolated education entities only. Workforce prep is a hot topic in education and economic development right nowthey are intimately related! But social / human development must also be an integral part of the discussion.

Research is abundant and experts agree on the systemic need for all-stakeholder involvement. But most people just don’t get it. “They need to do something” rules the kingdom and the various stakeholders are reluctant to sit down at the same table. Communicate and collaborate!

There’s always more, but this has to do for now….react please, and share if you care.