Monthly Archives: March 2018

Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough

The Google Epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or search engine optimization.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded (Google) on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities. (see end: Wa-Po source)

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998.  Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle were the result.

“The seven top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” (Project Oxygen report)

“Project Aristotle, a study released by Google (spring 2017), further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams.” Findings: “…the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Google people are masters at collecting and analyzing data and translating it into meaningful information. We’re so used to command and control, being shoved in a box, fear of failure…all disengaging and counter-productive…that it’s no surprise the top impact on team effectiveness was  psychological safety: “…a group culture that Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (NYT source)

Project Aristotle has significant intersects with mainstream engagement theory. So all this is nothing new, no big secret. But how do you “do” psychological safety? Another way of saying it: what helps people feel comfortable with fully engaging? These Universal Engagers are a few proven “hows”.

We’ve known it for some time, but are so painfully slow to embrace the obvious. Unless you’re totally on your own or are work-at-home you’d best be good with people and be well adjusted socially and emotionally.  Google stumbled across the keys to organizations, effective teams and people leadership. The keys are standard practice non-secrets. What IS incredible is that a tech giant had this voluntary epiphany that soft stuff is at least as critical as tech skills!

Google is a tech giant, so Project Aristotle’s findings are likely to be relevant to the tech industry overall. Still, Education continues its obsession with filling the STEM hard skills pipeline. There’s still little attention given to social-emotional development, interpersonal skills, stuff for whole-life survival. Education needs to catch up in a hurry, and it wouldn’t hurt to partner with its customers in fully defining needs and meeting them. Our productivity and global competitiveness is at stake, as is quality of life and, even more importantly, our physical and emotional well-being, our love of being happy with our lives.

It’s A Man’s World (NOT!) Silicon Valley has been under fire for a grossly uneven gender playing field and recently, both covert and more subtle gender-based harassment and discrimination (search for “silicon valley good old boy culture” and look around). Remedy: a booster shot of decency in the form of social-emotional development…equal inclusion, understanding, respect, acceptance, dignity for all.

The Google Epiphany alone shouldn’t trigger a mad rush into a significant direction shift in education. But Project Aristotle isn’t the first or the only study to indicate the significance of soft stuff. From the Wa-Po article: Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers …which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization…

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

We cannot dump STEM entirely because we need 21st century technical skills to compete. But we can do better at balancing hard and soft. When should young people as potential employees be trained on specific, necessary hard skills? Each company / situation / position has unique needs and skills, and Education cannot possibly hit so many targets. Why not focus on prepping students to succeed in life in general, to cope with what they will face emotionally and on the job, to be able to adapt and quickly pick up on the specific skills they will need to be a high contributor…but only after the skill gaps are more clearly understood. Hire for the intangibles: potential, the right attitude, soft stuff mastery.

What’s at Stake, Really? From Social Science Fiction

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity.

Envision a company using its considerable influence to help provide a stabilizing force in the local community. Consider the impact on social issues if employees feel a sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, an island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence of their lives.

That community happens to be the company’s current and future talent pool. A forward-thinking company that champions the social-emotional well being of its host community would realize huge bottom line improvements. Not a hunch, it’s been validated over and over. Now, what if shared values were embraced throughout the community? All-community stakeholder alignment would exponentially boost isolated company impact. Conclusion: a broad collaboration to impact the greater good would boost our well-being, the social condition, and our economic prosperity.

Epiphany: capitalism’s Job One isn’t economic prosperity, competitive advantage or global market superiority—all outcomes—but to impact the human condition. People-first is a high-return endeavor that assures sustainable social-economic success and personal well-being.


What S-E material should be used, and who will lead the charge? Good questions! There’s already an overabundance of material, but spotty half-hearted efforts. I’m concerned with what I’ve seen of social-emotional learning in education, and I’m also concerned with how a revitalized initiative would be handled. This is not a condemnation of education, just observations of the current state:

  •  Academia is not capable of real-time responsiveness to market needs for S-E or any other subject matter;
  •  No polite way to say it: educators can be a closed and protective group. As a result academia tends to suffer from inbred thinking, country clubbing, not-invented-here;
  •  Lack of funding is a huge constraint: no staff, no resources to give the necessary level of attention to soft stuff. Academic demands are stifling—educators’ hands are tied;
  •  S-E is more than a dinner garnish, it must be recognized as a main course;
  • Real-world practitioners are best suited to design and co-deliver real-world subjects. Even though the help should be warmly welcomed, Education would likely not embrace outsider meddling and would likely push back.

Education isn’t market or needs-driven, is slow to respond demanding validation, research, papered educator / expert design, academic rigor. How to sneak the Trojan Horse past the guards at the gate?

Resolution? We’ve missed the real-world skills target. Kids need much more in the social-emotional development a.k.a soft skills department. Employers have a vested interest, and we’d be improving the chances of kids having a much more fulfilling life. Proposed: don’t call it social-emotional development. Work around the associated baggage and NVA connotations by providing real-world prep skills. As such, it only makes sense for the future employers to step up to the plate and pull their weight.

Too Much of a Good Thing. Our STEM obsession is counter-productive and is potentially detrimental to young people who are herded into STEM education and careers regardless of their talents, passions and interests. We can do so much better for them, for ourselves, for the world.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.” (from the Wa-Po article)


The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students   Washington Post December 2017, by Valerie Strauss

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team  by Charles Duhigg Feb. 25, 2016

In Search of Lost Mojo: The Series   (lots of embedded links)



(this article is a high-level summary of an in-process pdf that is (will be!) linked here: Loops . Please take a look when it’s available and comment. Download the pdf if you’d like but if you share it please leave the  contact information intact so people can connect to discuss)

I’ve always been process-focused, a product of an environment in various private sector roles. Focus morphed over the past several years into education and whole-person human development. It was a natural progression to dive into systems thinking, especially causal chains, process interrelationships, reinforcing loops.

Senge took us on a loops deep dive in The Fifth Discipline, exploring all kinds of different archetypes. I was given a copy shortly after its release, and loved it. Systems purists and academics really glammed on to the whole “systems thinking” thing and the resulting gobble dee gook is, in my opinion, a huge roadblock to furthering systems awareness and everyday application.

Loops are closed causal chains: a sequence of events where one thing leads to another, “closed” because the chain eventually links back into itself. Per chaos theory, if you look out far enough any loop is closed. Closed loops are self-perpetuating, or reinforcing: they tighten and gain strength on their own. There are good loops, sometimes called virtuous circles, and there are bad loops-vicious cycles. Bad loops can be straightened out with awareness and action. Good loops can be leveraged and are usually a whole lot more fun!

My big take-away was, simplified here for mortals like me, loops. Add a few key points to go along with those loops. There’s a lot that needs to be learned and accomplished.

  1. People Needs—social-emotional development, well-being etc—rule the roost, validated by decades of study and data on engagement and impacts on academic and workplace performance data. Can’t optimize “doing things” results without first meeting people needs;
  2. Human development, personal satisfaction and maximizing performance are interrelated in one big, lifelong reinforcing loop;
  3. We’ve thrown a monkey wrench into things starting with the way we raise and educate our children, through our adult working lives. Self-imposed authoritarian systems and potential- limiting practices have drastically suboptimized our ability (our right!) to be all we can be.

Big deal, right? Yes it is. We’re causing our own mental and emotional challenges up to and including increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, suicides even among middle school children. Declining social health and spikes in significant social problems: opioid addiction, violent crime including mass murders, and intense rudeness and insensitivity…terminal redneck behavior. It’s fair to say our social fabric is tattered and torn, locally and globally. Emotional well-being, physical health and economic effects of these problems are profound.

Fall 2017 Impacts Profundity Update

We’ve been on a roll. Nationalism, race supremacy…random and planned lone wolf attacks. Most aren’t terrorists on jihad. ISIS is not the only group radicalizing, recruiting, hating. Newtown still wipes me out. And the Vegas slaughter was a whopper. Where do these people come from? Are there no warning signs? Neighbors and relatives said the shooter and his girlfriend were quiet, normal, stuck to themselves. So…why? My opinion: it comes down to chronic disconnection, self-imposed solitude. We’re social creatures and we must reunite with our tribe, badly. But that’s just part of it…..

Late addition, fall 2017: the huge spike in allegations of sexual harassment (see “Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass”)

Is the species simply dumbing down? From Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

It’s not just poor education or inadequate preparation for the workplace or not becoming an acceptable member of society. Go back to #2 and #3. We’ve become skilled saboteurs of the loop of development > satisfaction > performance that would potentially ensure we realize our potential.

One major monkey wrench: compulsory education and command and control work environment–authoritarian practices, precision amputation of children’s and adults’ ability to think creatively, to freely explore the world around them, to develop and fully utilize their human capabilities. (see School and Work–One Big Prison System.) We’re posing a substantial threat to our selves and doing irreparable harm, making these issues high priority to address. It’s tough to see the subtle relationships behind these issues without a systems thinking view.

A Loopy Vision: make a positive impact on the greater good, improving social well-being through values-based and environmental interventions in all sectors of the general population: home, school, work, community. (1) Build a broad base of grassroots awareness, support and involvement to ensure  across-the-board, all stakeholder engagement. (2) Study, understand and leverage shared motivators, perceptions, attitudes and values that originate with basic human nature. And, (3) realize and leverage the existence of loops to formulate a systemic action plan.

This is nothing but incoherent babbling without first envisioning a systems and loops perspective.

The Greater Good Loop: closed loops connect me and others and connect employers, communities and society. If we are aware of the loops, we can consciously leverage them.

Do you buy into the notion that the Private Self and the Work Self are distinctly separate people? Sorry, it doesn’t even make sense. We’re not two people, we can’t somehow magically switch between them. We’re at work for the lion’s share of our adult lives, so it stands to reason that personal norms and belief systems are impacted by the work environment. And workplace influence does not exist just at work; it carries over to personal, home, social environments. To isolate them is to push any conflict under the surface, but only temporarily. What would really help things is if employers understood the systems relationships and took an interest in making sure there was no opportunity for conflict within its people.

Our work life helps shape our personal lives. A community’s social well-being certainly impacts the workplace, the sustainability of organizations that exist within a community. And a company’s success and results are driven by its internal culture, which is the collective influence of the individuals who work there. These are all two-way streets. Work, society and me: one big reinforcing loop. It may be a virtuous circle, may be a vicious cycle. One leads to prosperity, the other to failure.

Organizational Loops: People Generate Profit (gasp!)

It’s human nature to search for a connection, to belong to something bigger than “me”. An employer is very probably the most influential force in peoples’ lives, just because of the amount of time we spend at work. Organizations and their leaders are capable of exerting significant influence not just on employees, but on the surrounding community through their employees.

Consider the potential of an organization with a strong values base and principles-centered, ethical leadership that helps people feel a sense of purpose, belonging and stability, people with something to care about. Think about the impact on social issues when employees have a strong sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, a values-anchored island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence around them.

Oh, the bottom line…a company with a winning sustainability strategy has values and principles-based organizational expectations for leaders and followers alike, and sets its sights on being a normalizing force in the community. Doing so beefs up the local talent pool, and the existing workforce is highly engaged. There is an encyclopedia full of studies that validate the direct relationship between level of engagement and performance.

Teaser: it should go without saying: community activism builds a strong democratic society. Later.

What About “Me” Loops?

My work environment and society both continuously shape me, that’s easy to buy. But the thought that it’s a two-way street is a bit tougher to embrace. You’re telling me my company and even society is impacted by me? Only when I mess up really bad! Truth: balanced, personally aligned individuals impact both the workplace and society. A culture and its norms are depend on people with strong values who, by intent or accidentally, impact others. So collectively, we enable culture to survive and thrive. DANGER: this could instead be a toxic culture. Both are self-sustaining, reinforcing loops.

Individual community members are the foundation of society, therefore culture. As the workplace influences people, employers have a direct and significant influence on community social well-being. Employer impact potential is much broader than an individual’s, impacting an entire region’s or even country’s ethical foundation, economic stability, way of life, quality of life. The collective influence of people undeniably shapes company culture. So no matter how insignificant an individual’s impact may seem, the reality is more than a bit humbling:

My values and integrity have direct influence on society’s norms!

There are three levels of proven payback from social-emotional well-being:

  1. Individuals: less stress and longer, healthier lives with greater personal satisfaction;
  2. Social problems: well-being in general is an amazing antidote and it’s preventive vs reactive;
  3. Companies and the economy overall: a highly engaged workforce is more productive. Oh, and that physical health thing…have you seen the cost impacts of health issues lately?

At least one of these are wildly important things for most of us. They should all be, because of the  Me > Community > Employer loop, but it goes deeper. A closer look…

Social Impact: the Greater Good

The main traditional socializing institutions where norms are established and reinforced—church, education, family—have all lost impact on influencing people. Social development and norming are not good to leave to natural evolution, but there is a huge void in the socializing process.

People need a sense of community, of belonging to something larger than they are. The workplace has a chance to reach people on a regular basis and people will gladly embrace what the workplace offers. But it’s the reciprocating nature of influence within our personal and our employer’s virtuous circle that is the scary proposition:  how can we as individuals and even a large, powerful company, expect to influence society? The real question:

How much are individuals and companies willing to commit to impacting society?

The potential is limitless but there are both risks and rewards. No company can survive long-term without a vibrant community. No community can exist without solid norms. Communities with staying power eventually become the building blocks of culture. Communities, even entire cultures, without a solid base are destined to crumble and fall. I take that back…what risks? A sure bet?

The workplace influences me, I influence my workplace and environment. The workplace and individual both impact social well-being. We need to better understand the interdependencies, whether we have earned calling them virtuous circles or reinforcing loops. Key components: engagement and well-being; satisfaction and contribution, (maybe explored later in greater depth in TWO: Loops and the Greater Good.)

Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity. Harsh? Reality usually is.

Bullying is #1 on my Hit List. There’s no excuse for it, ever. And there’s no excuse for looking the other way, ever. When we get older we call bullying “harassment” because it’s more grown-up sounding. Big kids (“adults”) can be notoriously bad bullies with much the same kind of inexcusable behavior as their young counterparts. The bully is usually someone in a position of power throwing their weight around against a victim of lesser stature or position in the pecking order. Most school districts have zero tolerance policies for bullying, as do organizations. There is not much anti-bullying legislation for education, but employers and employees abide by federal and state laws on harassment and discrimination. Or, at least they’re supposed to.

Because it’s a factor in too many kids’ suicides and due to my involvement in education, young people and bullying is a personal passion. In the current social environment, we’ve just begun to look hard at big kid bullying too. It’s a systemic social issue, we cannot separate harassment from youth bullying.

Workplace bullying impacts well-being, level of engagement, health, productivity, retention / attrition rates and absenteeism, presenteeism (showing up but not really showing up). Some of those effects are harder to measure and assign hard value to, but they all directly affect the bottom line. Harder to measure but more significant is the social-emotional effects and related “soft” costs. And damage to adults is as devastating, lasting and the outcome can be as final as what is inflicted on young people. The worst case outcomes of either form of bullying: violence against others and self-harm including suicide.

If you’re paying attention you know it’s become an epidemic. We’re on our way to total numbness due to the sheer frequency. Reports of unacceptable big kid behavior have become every-day.  While some effects of workplace harassment are immediate and traumatic, others are subtle and take longer to surface. If generally “bad” behavior takes root, it will paralyze and finally choke a society to death. We’re gasping for air.

Update January 25, 2018: the Lid Blows Off

An Olympics team athletic doctor for hundreds of young girls (and now boys?)…many came forward, victims of this predator in power who abused under the guise of medical treatment. This is the most sobering manifestation of the same moral mess. How could this happen right under so many peoples’ noses?

If kids said something to parents or coaches it was to no avail. Decades of abuse, and no one had the balls to come forward against the predator or the institutions. This is a whole lot more damning than bullying and sexual harassment of adults. These are kids for cryin’ out loud, kids doing what they love, kids who put their trust in someone who should have / could have been a very important person in their lives.

Our youngest daughter was a multi-sport athlete and I was a coach for lots of girls’ teams. That was years ago, but ethics were pretty much the same. An unspoken norm: no one would even think about betraying the highest level of trust young people and their parents gave them. Not that I was aware of anyway….

When will the new revelations ever end? How could this happen? Did it happen way back when I was active?

Fall 2017

High visibility accusations of harassment exploded in the US and abroad, especially against politicians, top execs, entertainers and other celebs. An entire state legislature (US) signed up for harassment training due to a “pervasive culture of sexual misconduct”. An early November report from the UK is just allegations so far, but there appears to be numerous apparently credible accusations throughout UK government. 

Organizations are standing in line for harassment training and vendors are salivating with $$$ signs in their eyes. Their target audience is the rich and the powerful.  Ka-ching—a very lucrative market indeed.

Right Here in River City? (November 9, 2017)

Majority Republicans in the Iowa legislature have posted a job opening for a Human Resources Director, six weeks after a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement with a former senate staffer…The job posting seeks a director to “train managers to supervise employees in compliance with state and federal laws and applicable policies and procedures, including anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and procedures.”

Republican legislators own a clear majority in Iowa. The HR hiring move was openly billed as a partisan effort to counter a non-partisan problem. Stop throwing your damned weight around! Try a little democratic process for a change, starting with inclusion. This is political bullying, the alpha dogs peeing on the bush, and it sends a subtle message by design: this is a Republican-only initiative, our Dem peers are so morally bankrupt they’d only be in the way. One, exclusion doesn’t belong in democracy. It only strengthens polarization. Two, exclusion kills buy-in and commitment among those excluded, to the necessary systemic action.

The writing on the wall: “resolution” will surely involve mandatory training sessions. They will do next to nothing to change behaviors. They rarely do. Little will be accomplished except to generate some good political press. With all this heightened awareness it should still be a talking point come the midterm elections, maybe further: see what WE did, without THEIR help.

All that will be accomplished is attendance forms signed, boxes checked, asses covered.

I’ve taught social-emotional development / anti-bullying in schools, and harassment and diversity training in the workplace. Mostly a waste of time and pretty much everyone knew it. No teeth, required check-box CYA compliance stuff so the organization can say “we tried, now it’s all the bully’s fault. See the attendance form, they were here but they’re still jerks”.  No values systems impacted, no behavioral change beyond a wee little temporary smokescreen. Certainly no instant respect for others, no magical transformation of cretins into caring, compassionate people. You can’t legislate ethics, can’t demand decency and respect, can’t write and implement a zero tolerance policy. Can’t just write cool principles, must live by them. Stop the madness.

My cynicism is earned. I wrote “invitations” for HR-mandatory compliance training and I’ve seen the smirks on faces, the resentment and the non-results. Partly at fault: HR is perceived as an enforcement function, the compliance cops, the policy police. With our litigation-happy landscape, they’re forced into the protector role for the business and they’re buried in documentation and record-keeping requirements and the activities that produce those records. Most people don’t see HR as an advocate for employees. HR’s Job One: protect the company. There’s no champion to ensure people treat each other right, no real recourse if they don’t.

River City Update (January 12 2018)

it’s been two months since the original announcement of intent to be “proactive” by Iowa’s Repub legislators. Iowa Senate Republicans on Friday released recommendations made to them to ensure a safe workplace at the Iowa Capitol. The report was commissioned after taxpayers covered a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement against Senate Republicans in October 2017.

In her report, former Republican state senator Mary Kramer writes, “there is nothing that has changed to prevent additional inappropriate behavior and ensuing problems.” In her opinion, what’s needed is training for all, and a formal reporting and investigation process.

When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. In a past life, Ms. Kramer was in HR and she is now a retired legislator. Her intent is honest, based on her experience.  But I have a few issues with the observations and recommendations in her report. My comments in parenths.

(1) “…there is no one person accountable for the actions and behaviors…” (each person is responsible, with  reinforcement by peers who hold each other accountable to clear, specific behavioral expectations).

(2) “The first challenge is to make (the stated goal) a shared goal”. (Amen! But the report then recommends public articulation and mandatory training with written acknowledgement of training received. And there’s that partisan Repubs-only thing)

When all you have is a hammer, everything gets pounded into compliance. Policies and mandatory training are not the way to get to “shared vision”. Mandatory training and a process for reporting and investigation may ensure a little more compliance and possibly fewer incidents in the short run. But no sustainable impact, no real teeth. Just a placebo and good PR that may satisfy the masses until the next Big One comes up.

This should sound like a broken record by now…the solution to the legislature’s harassment issue is not to fix things with zero tolerance policies and a formal complaint > investigation > resolution process. Mandatory check-the-box training has very little to do with real preventive root cause action. What’s needed is broad commitment to building a community of compassion from the ground up—a society that values caring, respect, dignity, treating people like people, agreeing that unacceptable treatment of others just isn’t tolerated, truly shared values that become social norms.

A tiny silver lining to the cloud: all this high-profile attention on harassment has triggered broad awareness and possibly support for broad-based action that’s more than lip service. We must become more aware of the deep social, emotional, physical and economic impacts of bullying, harassment, polarization, general incivility. And we must recruit a high-level coalition of celebs, executives, legislators to own a piece of and publicly champion the movement toward greater human respect and dignity for all.

“Sexual” harassment must be addressed as part of the bigger problem: intolerance and sub-human treatment of anyone who is “different than I am” whether it’s ethnicity, religion, nation of origin, people with physical, social-emotional, mental-intellectual challenges. Power is the culprit with formal, positioned power and informal power both subject to abuse. Positional power is a privilege that comes with great responsibilities. It does not include the right to wield that power indiscriminately or unethically. Yes, this is a leadership issue!

It’s nuts, humans suck. And most of us have gotten good and sick of it. It hasn’t magically increased overnight. High-profile harassment is the tip of the iceberg. What about everyday stuff and ordinary people? Bullying and harassment have been around forever, and others besides positioned and powerful men also display unacceptable behavior, expecting to get away with things just because of what they are, hiding behind faux armor, a self-perceived invincibility of power.

Harassers and bullies think they can get away with their crap. They always have. So why the current surge of high-profile allegations and no-longer afraid whistleblowers? As a whole we’re more aware, less tolerant, and victims feel safer coming forward regardless of who the perp may be. Whatever is behind it, it’s high time. 

The root cause issue may be abuse of power to exert control. Rape isn’t sexual, it’s about power and control. Harassment is a power trip too, different only in severity. It’s a sure bet that men harassing women is more widespread than what we hear about.

And here’s where I’ll probably get into trouble…don’t you suppose women in power positions harass men too? Being a man, it’s a little weird that men are subject to sexual harassment because…well, it just is. But I wonder when those accusations will start flying, and how seriously they’ll be taken?

Harassment is harassment, it’s equal opportunity. It knows no gender, ethnic, or any other bias. A bullying and harassment-free life should be equal opportunity too. Everyone has the right to go to work without fear for how they will be treated, everyone deserves a workplace where they feel respected and are shown the dignity and decency that every human being is entitled to. And young people deserve, and desperately need, a safe and fear-free learning environment where they are treated with dignity, they feel wanted, needed, and are able to excel.

“Zero tolerance for harassment at XYZ! You’ve been trained, you’ve been warned. Now, back to work and behave, or else”

 Closing Thoughts

I bet there are plenty of sleepless cads out there right now, transgressors waiting for their accusers to come forward. It’s been a long time coming.

I like to think I mind my manners toward all people. I wouldn’t dream of doing anything inappropriate or harassing, sexual or otherwise. And there are plenty of men like me. Not all of us are drooling, leering cretins with only one thing on our mind that isn’t football or fishing. If good (even good old) boys see bad boys misbehaving, or hear the locker room talk and do nothing, we’re guilty too.

Why does it have to be sexual harassment before harassment is wrong?

Why is the perp always a male? (is this true?)

Are all these allegations of unacceptable sexual behavior a signal of a bigger awakening?

I feel we need to more broadly define “bullying” and harassment. Maybe something like unwanted and inappropriate actions of one person toward another.  Period. Bullying and harassment is a gender-free power trip, pure and simple. Unethical or unscrupulous leverage of power is irresponsible, when used in harming or controlling others it is especially despicable and destructive.

Gender doesn’t matter. Neither does ethnicity or nationality or religion. Until we wholeheartedly adopt clear behavioral expectations for all people to respect all others at all times, there will always be harassment. It doesn’t matter how many harassers vehemently deny the accusations, how many are busted, fired or otherwise ostracized. It doesn’t matter how severe the punishment may be for violating laws, rules, regulations, policy. You cannot legislate social norms, values or principles, or ethical behavior. And reacting to a problem or unacceptable behavior does nothing to eliminate the problem, does nothing toward making sure unacceptable behaviors do not happen any more.

Manufacturing taught me a long time ago you can’t sort defects out; you must build quality in. It can be done, and to me the right path is focusing on the community level. More later on Caring Communities. Must bust out a little Aretha….

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T…tell you what it means to me”

What does “respect” mean to you?

See Searching For Our Mojo for preliminary thoughts on problems and reflections on why I am so committed to making an impact on the human condition. We need a more clear picture of what community-level action may look like. Here is an overview and thumbs of related posts: Mojo Roadmap.  Be warned–the bug is contagious and my mission is simply to infect others.

Searching for Our Mojo

This is part one of a series that’s not yet ready for prime time. With seventeen more in Florida gone, a pandemic of high-level harassment allegations already faded into old news, the steady drum beat of too-young people committing suicide (yes, any age is tragic) and a general increase in social-emotional problems …if not now, when?

We have plenty of thing-related problems in this world, and plenty of opportunities to get involved. We can’t ignore homelessness, hunger and poverty, environment and conservation, class warfare, income inequality, runaway capitalism without conscience, immigration and the refugee crisis, the need for political reform and on and on. “Thing” issues must certainly be addressed and while I’m deeply concerned about them, social reform and social-emotional problems have the much-needed spotlight here. We can each impact people problems more than we can world hunger. And well-adjusted, more aware people are more likely to get involved and not allow those things to continue. The only logical priority order with a shot at sustainability, for a capitalist system: people > planet > profit. (ref. Michael Porter’s shared value / triple bottom line)

Hypothesis: we must focus on the 3-P front end:  human dynamics. Searching frames the more significant human issues. Later we’ll look at what we may do to at least partially address the issues. Searching includes personal reflections and experiences that drive my commitment to impact the human condition. Maybe sharing my feelings may trigger similar powerful emotions in others, and commitment to take action. It is truly a survival issue to at least slow down this inside-out decay.

The Human Condition

It’s depressing but necessary to call attention to our human shortcomings. They are collectively overwhelming–we’re a mess. But we must more fully understand them. The issues have common roots; they’re one giant Gordian knot. So if we wield the right sword with the right concentrated effort we can slice the knot into pieces. Focus and effort…that’s “all” we need. OK, maybe that’s a little understated….

Here are my thoughts on the Short List of actionable pressing human issues. Add / comment, please!

  • General disregard for others, diminished appreciation of life, disrespect for the sanctity of others;
  • Bullying, which grows into harassment. Reference the outbreak of high-profile sexual allegations;
  • Skyrocketing stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide even among the tragically young;
  • Open and deep hatred and bigotry, ___(insert-your-favorite-“o”)___ phobia, rabid nationalism;
  • Inability to have civil, well-informed discussion of emotionally charged topics. Due in part to…
  • Political, social, values-driven polarization leading to indecision, inaction, violence.

Our social, moral, ethical fabric is being torn to shreds, society is imploding. We’ve disconnected from our selves, each other, our environment, our basic human values. We’ve lost our humanity. We’re emotionally confused, socially isolated, ethically directionless. There’s apathy and disengagement at one extreme, and over-engagement, stress and burnout at the other. Both lead to physical health issues and emotional and social baggage. We desperately need realignment and emotional healing.

We’re teetering on the edge of self-destruction, in a full-tilt figure-8 demolition derby between (1) “thing” issues–nukes, climate change, famine, epidemics, environmental rape and pillage and (2) a terminal case of Lost Mojo—human dynamics issues. Some starter mojo must-do’s:

  1. Fully understand and embrace the importance of social-emotional well-being on achievement (getting stuff done) and personal satisfaction, and impacts on physical health and longevity;
  2. Reconnect with what it means to be human, on the “me” level and especially with others;
  3. Rediscover the lost art of mindful, meaningful interaction, of civilly working things out;
  4. Commit to a compelling shared vision and a mission with collective meaning;
  5. Leverage whole-person development to begin repairs on the deep damage to our mojo.

Here’s a radical social sci-fi epiphany: what if the right values, goals and actions were shared community-wide among education, employers and organizations, community members and even (gasp!) politicians? If an entire community focused its efforts with all stakeholders on the same page, synergy, reciprocation, constant reinforcement would kick in. The broader the ownership and collaboration, the greater the sustainable impact. With a big enough lever, we can move the world.

Movement Starts With Me

Humans are naturally purpose-driven, always in search of a deeper meaning. Any movement, any group, needs an identity, or it’s just a bunch of people doing stuff with no direction, no meaning, no goals. We need a Mojo Movement, and we need more than a few Facebook groups. But what is our narrative—brand, identity? What is our sales pitch, our elevator speech? Movements have four essentials:

  1. A compelling vision of the desired future, and shared values to guide actions;
  2. An achievable mission with relevant and clear objectives;
  3. An Action Plan with specific ownership and accountability;
  4. Critical mass: an army of committed do-ers marching in unison under one banner.

Vision and Values are the glue that holds a movement together, only if they are SHARED and strong enough will they become the movement’s purpose and universally accepted behavioral norms. Mission and objectives help provide definition and direction. Action Plans provide much-needed accountability, milestones, to-do’s and the right metrics to assess real-time progress. The whole thing has to be compelling enough that people want to own a piece of it.

My personal WIIFM is strong, and I am driven to be part of making those four things a reality. We’re all in this together but It Starts With Me.

My WIIFM Evolution

I came of age in the Woodstock Generation–a magical time when we had lots of bona fide causes to embrace. I graduated from the University of Iowa, not a Columbia or a Berkeley but still a hotbed of awareness and activism. My degree was heavy on upper level humanities by design; it was the only way to avoid what I felt would be the ultimate indignity of stuffing a suit the rest of my life. The degree didn’t matter anyway, after graduating I was predestined to follow a road musician’s life.

But at the height of my music career, I lost a good friend and bandmate to narcotics addiction. I felt it wasn’t my place to meddle, but thirty years later I still carry the heavy weight of being an enabler. Things were pretty much on a downhill slide after that-my heart wasn’t in it any more. Finally, in 1987 I slammed headlong with finality into the rock & roll burn-out wall. Too Old! I got out gracefully, got married, instant family, instant responsibilities. Since there’s no better experience for dealing with people issues, I hit the private sector as a human behavior guru: engagement, motivation theory, interpersonal and group dynamics, etc. The highly creative, theoretical work suited me well. But while close relationships that came with my informal counselor role were high reward, they were high risk too. I lost a co-worker friend to depression-triggered suicide and survivor syndrome kicked my butt. Again. I had been an enabler. Again. It still hurts because I could have done more. Again. No more.

When I lost my job to a business reorg, as an ex-performer and facilitator of adult development and continuous improvement workshops, it was natural to go into teaching. I was immediately hooked on education improvement and alternative education, especially radical unschooling. The last few years my horizons have expanded into environmental, social and political battles and I connected with the new generation of activists. Kid in a candy store. It was clear something powerful was taking shape. The prodigal radical Big Thinker had wandered home. My first Big Thought was that we need to Think Big….

Vision, Purpose, Values, Community…Who Needs That Stuff?

What’s all the fuss about? Who needs it? We do! We need a visionary and ethical compass, we need compassion, we need to be part of a community that cares. But we don’t know where we’re going, and no one seems to have the ability to collectively get us back on track. Identity, community, principles and values, purpose and meaning are among the most powerful universal human drivers, right up there with love, compassion, the need to contribute to something meaningful. We’ve lost touch with those things, which has a lot to do with why society is self-destructing.

Ex white supremacist Christian Picciolini, author of ‘Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead’ notes that people are much more likely to join gangs or fringe groups when they have no other source of identity, community, meaning or purpose. Christian’s thoughts are echoes by an Iraqi friend, an anti-terrorism expert, who noted that when identity, purpose and values are lacking, ISIS can fill the empty spot, explaining why ISIS can be so appealing to disenfranchised youth.

Was it the same for people buying into Hitler’s delusion? Is the same thing in play for our current phobias and nationalism? I swore I wouldn’t get political. But if the shoe fits…

And yes, I’ve been told I run with a scary crowd. Ex skinheads, terrorism experts…and odd man out, me.

Too Close to Home

It’s been a long evolution. Along the way *poof* somehow I turned into a grandfather. And all my  concerns finally came to a head. Our kids are in trouble, they’re killing themselves and each other. A beautiful child in my home town took her own life, a short time later my grand daughter’s 7th grade classmate committed suicide. She was crushed, I had him in classes. Real-time thoughts on losing Sean:

I’ve written too many times already about youth suicide and bullying. It’s something I care deeply about, and I keep hoping to find a way to make an impact. But they’re always far away kids I didn’t really know. Far-off observers are sufficiently sad for an appropriate time, then we move on. I’ll admit that’s been me at times. You get numb.  Newtown has even gotten blurry and I swore I wouldn’t let that happen.

Young people’s emotional stability in our small community appeared to be in good shape. But I’ll be in a class room tomorrow where there will be one crushingly empty desk. Knowing why it’s empty is really gonna hurt. Suicide at any age is a terrible tragedy, but this young, this close to home is unbearable.

The same transient blip of caring, the same outpouring of thoughts and prayers magically appear every time we have yet another mass murder at a school. But they go away. Until next time.

My awareness hit a painful growth spurt. Out of control depression, anxiety, stress impacting kids, teens and adults alike. Death by Lifestyle. Killing ourselves and each other, both slowly and traumatically.

On your next trip to the store do a little people-watching. You’ll see good people soured on life, hopelessness and pain in their eyes or worse, nothing. Spirit drained, their demeanor screaming “I’m tired of this life!” Forgotten dreams, no purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment? Still, we keep isolating our Selves further from others and from being human, starting with how we raise and “teach” children into adulthood, and  the nature of work, the meaning of “success”. We’re in a constant struggle with our core human values, we’re denying our humanness. We self-inflict pain and do irreversible harm to others too. We floor it, stretching to hit 130mph in a broken down Yugo. And we wonder why we’re stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves physically and emotionally.

Along with this increased awareness of the human condition, my native heritage is coming to life again too. As inhuman as it is, we’ve disconnected from our Earth Mother. We rape and poison her without a thought, her tolerance has been stretched way beyond capacity by her children. We’re poisoning our only home and ourselves too.  Somehow, Mother hasn’t given up on her children….yet.

We’re doing things all wrong. But we can change. Or is this a koolaid buzz? I think not (hic).

I’m just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human. John Trudell, Native American author, poet, actor, musician (RIP)

For Brielle (real-time reflection March 15, 2016, excerpted from “Kids’ Epiphany”)

A sweet 14 year old girl took her own life last week in my home town. This tribute was published, with Brielle’s picture: “… due to bullying and depression. Although I do not personally know her, this affects me greatly as it should any parent. She could be my child, she could be your child. She had a loving family and extended family. But, her grief from being bullied was just too strong. Words hurt. Actions hurt. Let’s all stand up for our children when enough is enough. Brielle was an organ donor and her heart went to a 10 year old little girl. What a precious gift she gave to others.”

Brielle was beautiful. She had the warmest, most genuine smile. Even in her picture, you can see the glow and spark in her eyes. You knew this young lady was a good person, and that she was so full of life. Snuffed out at fourteen. Why? I didn’t know Brielle, but her death hit me. Hard. Then Sean.

Too many kids carry around unreal baggage, some of adult origin, some peer-created. In either case, it takes a lot of time and effort and pain to break an innocent child’s spirit. Why aren’t we on high alert, why can’t we see and accept our immense responsibility? Nothing is more important. Why we don’t take our stewardship of their fragile spirits seriously is a tragedy, an unforgivable sin.

Our kids’ safety and a lifetime’s worth of emotional well-being, even their lives, are at risk. I’m in small-town Iowa. We’re laid back, pretty well-grounded. Too many young people are committing suicide. One is too many, and we’re way beyond one. It’s overwhelming, can’t allow it to become numbing.

From The Activist’s Survival Manual: Pebbles Project

I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.

So I’ll leave it up to you. (Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, 1970)

I’m 64 and I’m still searching for the right way to make a meaningful contribution toward saving the world. My long-time prime directive: you must tend to people issues and needs, or you won’t stand a chance of effectively resolving “thing” problems. But oh, those people issues—lots to do. We’re a mess.

The One Pond, One Pebble principle is a survival tactic that first emerged out of the frustration of not making enough progress on saving the world. Lesson learned: if you can’t budge a boulder much less heave it in the ocean, you gain nothing but pain and frustration. It’s all about fully utilizing capabilities by right-sizing, right focus and pebbles. I looked at my spheres of influence where I had a little realistic credibility. I right-sized my efforts by assessing feasibility and impact, then started dropping the right little pebbles into the right ponds one at a time, making them count.

Even little pebbles can make an impressive disturbance on a pond’s mirror surface. As the ripples spread outward, you lose track of their journey. It’s not supposed to be an ego thing anyway. You “know” your ripples may be traveling great distances, probably washing over other people who may or may not be influenced to drop their own pebbles into their own ponds where they may have an impact.

It Starts With Me—one pond, one pebble within my circle of influence and credibility. Tiny ripples from my pebbles will eventually join up and overlap with ripples from others until the smooth surface of the pond is in constant motion, unrecognizable compared to the mirrored surface it once was. Who knows how far the ripples will go, how many other pebbles will be dropped in other ponds by other people?

That’s the real rush of this influence thing. You just don’t know. We each have an arsenal of pebbles at our disposal once we become more aware of our capability and capacity, and we assess the feasibility and impact of alternative actions. Then it’s one pebble at a time dropped into one pond, and we can only trust that we are truly making a meaningful difference.


Norms, values, high engagement, and social-emotional well-being are all contagious for better or for worse, spread by close association. You catch the virus from others just as you can be a carrier yourself who can infect others. Groups, organizations, even society are as susceptible to the virus as individuals.

If I’m highly engaged at work, I’m likely to also be engaged at home and in my community. My ripples wash over others, even unknown people. The virus starts with my one pebble rippling one pond. The outbreak of pebble-dropping by those I infect and their resulting ripples gain momentum and speed.

No immunity, no known antidote. My kind of pandemic!

Closing Thoughts

We’re unknowingly coerced into recklessly pursuing more and more “things” at any cost, while we juggle the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human, paying a high price. When values and norms die problems crop up—unethical / illegal behavior, a myriad list of significant social issues, rudeness and other variations of treating each other like crap.

Example: bullying, a.k.a. harassment, is a systemic social issue that needs systemic action. There isn’t that much difference between kids’ and adults’ bully behavior. So, why not learn from and with each other? Why not all community stakeholders learning the same principles together, setting the same behavioral expectations, then holding each others’ feet to the fire?

Random Musings….

Humans are by nature caring, compassionate, social / tribal. Bad behaviors are learned, and our toxic lifestyle and sick society are artificial creations; they are unnatural and incredibly destructive;

Kids (big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. People need purpose, vision, values and a community built on caring and compassion. We suck at that;

Purpose, meaning, values, ethics cannot be legislated or otherwise mandated. All we can do is provide opportunities for self-discovery;

So, where to start restoring our humanity? With young people? There’s plenty of rework to do with big kids too. Focus on kids in school, or adults in the workplace? The family unit? One community at a time? Society? Short answer….”Yes, all”. We’re in this together, we need the same attention at the same time;

Issues and deep ideological differences have polarized us. Misleading and dis-information have us paralyzed. Combine the two=rabid advocacy of issues / ideologies with positions supported by poor information. Who and what do you believe, who and what do you trust? No wonder we’re at each others’ throats;

Education is adopting team-based learning, the workplace has wrestled with it for years. Kids of all ages need to be able to work together and to have meaningful dialogue. People prefer the familiar, shun the weird. Human behavior education would be more safely titled “teaming skills and group decision making training.” Much more acceptable to the mainstream, accomplishes the same thing.

If there was a magical intervention, it shouldn’t call out bullying, harassment or suicide prevention.  Those are all negative outcomes, all in the past. Dwelling on the negative may be counter-productive: when presented with both options, humans obsess over problems before opportunities. So, no deviant or extremes. Focus instead on discovering the good in humans, the stuff that we crave. The goals and outcomes that should drive us are well-being, happiness, satisfaction with the right modern lifestyle, surviving and even thriving in the jungle.

There are plenty of social-emotional learning approaches out there. What is the best way to get the right stuff introduced where it needs to be? We need to reach more than just young people. How?

There’s a huge need for humanity to get back in touch with itself, for us to reconnect with each other as human beings, up-close and personal…and to get back in touch with our individual spiritual selves. Technology numbs us. We’re desensitized, incapable of caring or compassion. We’re calculating, callous, cold. Humans are tribal, social creatures. We need community, we need each other. And the further we scratch and claw ourselves up the techno ladder the further we backslide down the social evolutionary ladder. Most of the animal world shows more compassion than we do, even toward other species.

We all need people with common purpose, to live our lives with others who share the same core human values.

Stupid me, this is my chosen mission and I could sure use some advice on right-sizing this effort and setting smart goals. Also, a few visionaries to put their behinds into that big old lever we need to move this world back into a sane and sustainable orbit.

For Brielle Christina April 25, 2001 – March 9, 2016.

And for Sean and the other Lost Kids, and for the Lost Adults too.