Tag Archives: Community; Society

Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

I Had a Dream Last Night…

….a wickedly delicious dream. My small town had somehow pulled together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared community vision, ethics and goals. We had even taken significant coordinated actions with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. That alone was strange.

What is this thing called “Real World Prep School”? It looked like education, employers, parents, community, civic leaders—all the players—were doing their part, shifting delivery and budget burden away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! I saw a banner at City Hall, kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:

We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community. Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.

A smaller wall chart beside the banner had the header “Shared Community Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “is this Utopia, or what?” At the very least it seemed to be a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow. The objectives:

  • Whole-life engagement! We have a world-class talent pool: highly skilled, fully engaged, fully utilized by local employers;
  • Community retention and recruiting! New families and new businesses standing in line to join us. Our generational roots and stability are rejuvenated as young people have a reason to stay;
  • Employability among learners and the current workforce is assured. Free and meaningful “higher education” and skills updating for adults is provided with targeted, relevant topics leading to a great position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community.
  • Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person can reach their full potential along their desired path, maximizing the probability of a long, fulfilling life on their own terms;
  • Strong relationships community-wide! Mutual respect, appreciation and inclusion are the norm, regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature;
  • Well-informed and highly involved community members! The community’s greater good is held above individual gain, and citizens are fully engaged in civic matters. There is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals, regardless of status or position as long as the willingness is there. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Ubuntu!

Can you imagine? Pinch myself…it’s only a dream. I didn’t want to wake up but I did. I grabbed a pad and pen and scribbled down details before they faded. As I wrote, the fuzzy dream became more clear.  And I got to thinking…“why not?”

Hold my beer, right?

Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the nasty issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been deeply involved in repairing potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education. There are many issues in the interface between the two, or more appropriately the lack thereof. While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few here. But first…Potholes to Repair: Intersection of Education and Workplace (go here and come back…will make more sense)

What’s Really At Stake? (from 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 increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, we have no purpose or meaning in our lives and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity. Harsh? Reality usually is.

“Big” targets are a sub-surface iceberg: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; lack of civility anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, inability to discuss our differences. Apathy, disengagement, low awareness of civics and issues = no community involvement. We can do better.

Real-world Prep School > Community Growth. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the macro focus, and it extends into the working adult population and the community’s families.

The Dream Grows Legs: Details

RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal / social-emotional development and workplace preparation / hard skills.  Modular design ranges from quick-hitter stand-alone lessons to ongoing projects and full-term coursework, all based on employer needs. Learners are coached on how to increase their employability, building portfolios with specific examples of their work. Lessons provide resume-worthy bullets in lieu of job experience.

Initial focus is on high school students who may be unable to go to college, college students nearing graduation or recently graduated; employed, unemployed or underemployed adults needing an upgrade of workplace knowledge, skills and abilities.

The RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector subject matter experts as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, providing course content unavailable in a traditional education curriculum, and tapping the private sector for much-needed subject matter expertise and adjunct resources.

STEM + SED: Target = Develop People and Save the World

Teaming and STEM-based project assignments are all that right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They have not had the soft skills development needed to ensure success.

A huge concern is bullying and the growing numbers of youth suicides. And bullying morphs into big kid bad behavior…harassment. Society is a mess, there is general disregard for how to treat each other, human life is de-valued and there’s a huge void in ethical leadership to get us out of our funk. Current social-emotional development efforts in education aren’t effective. They’re not deep enough, are too infrequent, have no ongoing adult coaching. And we need to reach out to the adult population too.

Workforce Prep–More Than Job Skills

RWPS coursework is balanced between (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. People before process:

  1. People: purpose / vision, values, social consciousness. Help people develop emotionally and socially; guide learners in personal branding, and in establishing a meaningful connection to themselves, others and their environment. Only then can skills development truly take hold;
  2. Process: toolbox mastery / workplace skills preparation. Provide hands-on experience with mainstream workplace tools and techniques, including direct interface with employers.

It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition.

Social-emotional development (SED) is typically provided for elementary age kids, if at all, then it stops. Nothing for teens, even though adolescence is a particularly tough road to navigate, with future blues, social issues, peer pressure, raging hormones. Teen years are high-risk and common sense says there should be more and deeper attention given to their social and emotional development.

Employer WIIFM

Employers are a key stakeholder group, and their commitment and direct participation is essential. But there is plenty to gain for them, a hat trick (three!) of benefits in RWPS involvement: (1) additional internal development resources; (2) community CSR that matters; (3) goodwill and connection into their future talent pool, extending into earn while you learn, a highly effective internship program.

Employers develop a workforce committed to strengthening the company and community. A cohesive, sustainable culture grows, and future employees come on board already aligned with the culture and vision. My community is a good example: three employers are green industry and have high turnover, making productivity levels unsustainable. The Green Movement vision: fight environmental destruction especially atmospheric / climate damage, and health problems from fossil fuel production, transport and usage. Go for the jugular by adding “make the world worth living in for your kids.” This shared Green vision could boost retention and recruitment, but it is under-leveraged. Community-wide awareness is the key.

The long-range community and economic development potential: once RWPS is established, it is a highly marketable economic development magnet for additional employers, younger families with school-age children, and working adults (see “Develop People” model). This is CSR on steroids with substantial employer WIIFM. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.

Parting Shots

Workforce skills have been a long-time career focus. I saw the immediate need fifteen years ago and was closely involved in skills development. We also addressed demographic projections due to baby boomer retirements. RWPS is the original focus of my “career crowning achievement”. And I have a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from extensive involvement in the classroom, but especially because I’m a crazy grandparent who wants to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and world.

These wild notions have evolved for over a decade, this project is my passion. It still needs thoughtful, in-depth analysis to make sure it makes sense. I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. It’s not a natural partnership to marry theoretical, research-based eggheads with pragmatic, results-driven managers. I understand the issues and needs, and speak both languages.

Here’s my greatest frustration. There is so much going on out there, huge initiatives and some of them are really, really good. But they may be just a bit off target here and there, and there’s no real concentrated focus driving things. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and in spite of lots of people with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening!

I want to help bring things into focus and make it happen—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together, a resource that is shared among education, employers, community. Most of all, I want to be a proud grand parent who is reasonably sure we’ve done all we can to make things right for the next generations.

11-2017 New Model


Potholes to Repair— Intersection of Education and Workplace

 (Preface to Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?)

While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few heavy hitters here.

People Issues  Poor prep for post high school life: (1) socially / emotionally; (2) for the workplace; (3) for higher education. Hopelessness, lack of direction, apathy…why bother? Increased stress, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide; youth bullying, workplace harassment, social polarization.

System Issues  Education budget and school resource cuts, talent pool shortage of the right skills, poorly / unrealistically defined skill needs, unnecessary expectations of “degree required” by employers; higher ed identity crisis, rising cost of higher ed, inaccessibility and irrelevance. Real-world expertise is outside the academic wheel house, and education resources are too thin to change.

 “Our talent pool is a mud puddle. We need job candidates who are better prepared!”

“But we’re doing a-b-c already, and x-y-z too. We’re doing what we can the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.” It’s just not enough. And is it truly the right stuff?

Paradigm Buster! It’s not just education’s responsibility. Why not some front-end partnering and ongoing collaboration, including delivery, among education, employers, and community?

Education and Workplace Prep Issues High school graduation rates are unacceptably low. Grads aren’t ready for college rigor or are unable to attend for various reasons. Our obsession with standard test performance and common core is under fire. The battle cry: “we need a new education model” but academia is painfully slow to change. It’s the nature of the education system.

“College is the new high school.” But college is out of reach for many. The relevance and value of higher education is being challenged too, with over-priced and under-valued degrees. Employers set unrealistic demands for “degree required” even for entry-level jobs when there is no real position-based need. Many positions simply do not require a degree as much as they require job skills training. Degree or not, employers consistently hire what they feel is unprepared workers. But education, parents and counselors still push young people into college-or-bust, especially into STEM fields. The issue may well be our current perception of “well-prepared” and unrealistic expectations of how much an education should do to prepare the workforce.

Real-world Prep School (RWPS) is driven directly by employer-identified needs, so content is relevant and timely. The high school RWPS curriculum may therefore be of more value than a post-secondary academic degree.

Wait…There’s More

Economic, demographic and political issues all point to the need to take a different approach to preparing young people for their post-high school lives, especially how we prepare them for life itself and as future workers able to meet the moving target of workplace expectations.

There is no longer much luster in providing a value-adding service or making things people want and need …“that’s blue collar, not good enough for my kid.” No matter if the work is skilled, pays well and has a huge upside. “Get a degree so you can get a professional position” is the only game in town. No matter if you’re miserable jockeying a desk the rest of your life, if you manage to find a desk. No matter if you end up owing a ton of money for the privilege of being miserable. Each of us deserves fulfillment.

Relevance and affordability are an issue. “Free college” is a sexy initiative, but deeper questions need to be answered. For starters, is a degree even necessary for a field, realistic position and required job skills? A trades program may meet immediate workplace needs better than a STEM education and degree. Mike Rowe isn’t an often- quoted academic expert. But he’s a highly regarded champion of workforce skills development. Mike feels that we’ve created much of the skill gap problem ourselves. He points out that we’re millions of workers short for existing jobs in high-paying occupations:

This is the great, underlying fiction that’s allowed the skills gap to widen. It’s the reason vocational arts have vanished from high school, even as those same vocations now go begging. It’s the reason we now hold 1.3 trillion dollars in student loans. And it’s why we continue to lend money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist.

The skills gap is real, but it’s not the problem — it’s a symptom of what we value…. we have to stop elevating one form of education over all the others, and begin treating all jobs for what they truly are — opportunities.

Employers are part of the problem, imposing artificial “degree required” stipulations even for low-paying entry level positions. As RWPS is built around employer input, it provides pre-job skills training which could be of more value than a degree. Alignment is needed: collaborate with employers to determine realistic pre-employment job requirements: what knowledge and attributes would most likely ensure a new hire’s rapid assimilation?. While we’re at it, help people redefine “good career choice” (hint: “me” is key, not others’ expectations, and values-based is the key to “me”). We also need to redefine higher ed’s role: when is it of value and for whom / what career paths, and what should it consist of?

It’s wrong to recruit, coerce or mislead students into choosing a STEM career path, turning them away from a more desired career choice. While a STEM degree may be of value, technical skill sets vary too much from employer to employer. Fine-tuning job training may be more ideally provided after a high-potential candidate is placed. And, tech giants are realizing that social-emotional “soft” skills can be a greater indicator of employee success than STEM-related chops. See Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough. Google’s Epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or SEO…surprise!

Case Study: Right Here In River City

A local legislator pointed me toward a state-wide education and workforce prep initiative, and some relevant in-process legislation. My original thinking has been critical and confrontational but as RWPS needs allies not enemies, focus must be “Improve on a Good Effort”! Future Ready Iowa (FRI) is here to stay, it’s established, but it can be better. It’s not that “nothing is getting done”.  FRI is a stellar example of good stuff developed by good people with good intentions. It just needs better focus. I am bound and determined to do what I can to help focus and bring this to meaningful action!  You can see the original here: Future Ready Iowa Alliance’s Final Recommendations. There are a few bumps in the FRI highway…..

FRI is driven by projected workforce skill shortages in STEM fields and for high-paying, targeted industry positions. The resulting goal is 70% post-secondary education or training by 2025. This is my biggest concern. While lofty and noble, the post-secondary goal ignores the entry-level jobs that are a more realistic starting point for grads. And it’s dangerous to assume that even an advanced degree is a reliable indicator of capability to succeed in a specific position. College-for-all is not necessary or even appropriate and in the meantime too many people take on half a lifetime of college debt but still miss the employability mark.

The FRI model is based on industry sector and / or region needs. Not an effective education / training design driver–it’s too broad, too big! And even with a convoluted mashup of agencies and players there is minimal action or results! A terminal case of complexity, overkill, programitis.  The need is for more local, laser-sharp focus. The RWPS / community model is scaled down from FRI, key players  are directly connected and involved so coursework is designed to more tightly meet specific needs. Do what makes sense, when it is necessary to do so. Too many times the tool controls the craftsman, the process is sacred and the users’ real needs become secondary. While it is an amazing resource, the FRI process / program appears to be too overly complex to fully embrace without significant help;

Employers are asked to contribute to a broad pool for scholarship / grant funding: to provide financial support for unknown recipients, unknown studies. Contributors may or may not see a direct benefit. RWPS ensures early relationships / first contact with high potentials. RWPS increases the odds of a better employer-to-candidate fit than FRI. RWPS builds relationships from middle school on, with young people in the local community talent pool. High potentials learners are known to employers early on, and knowing they are being “scouted” for a future job is a powerful motivator for learners!

Along with direct and early interface with their most likely future talent pool—local students—employers need direct input to the local education / training curriculum and process, more control over their talent pool’s preparation.

Front end employer input kick-starts the RWPS model: define actual position skills requirements and realistic requirements to be met with a degree program. And workplace must align with coursework.

Employers aren’t done when they provide a list of needs and contribute to scholarship / grant funds. In-depth involvement is ongoing, from needs assessment to co-design, co-delivery and determining placement. Smooth handoff must be seamless from academia to employer, from education to internal training and development.

The need: a co-designed model that promotes systemic change. All we stand to gain is community prosperity, social well-being, personal attainment and whole life satisfaction. Social-emotional development is critical to the greater good.  Community-level action is the key, with the catalyst or enabler being a collaborative effort among community stakeholders—education, employers, legislators / local gov’t / civic and community leaders, families. Shared vision and goals. The RWPS model includes adults, not just kids in school.

Families, employers, learners, education, legislators, community…we’re all on this together.

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, some are even driven to suicide by pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from workplace pressures, harassment–a.k.a. big kid bullying, isolation, lack of purpose. Same basic pressures.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve forgotten the importance of treating each other and our selves like human beings, and as a result we’re killing ourselves and each other far too often. 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 or 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. It was more unspoken: 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, but I just wasn’t aware?

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?

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.”  (November 9, 2017)

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. Their Job One: protect the company. There is still no champion to ensure people treat each other right, no real recourse if they don’t.

January 12 2018 River City Update

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.

(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 Reds-only thing)

(3) 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 fewer incidents. But no sustainable impact.

This should sound like a broken record by now…the solution is not to fix things with zero tolerance policies and a formal complaint > investigation > resolution process. Real preventive root cause action has very little to do with mandatory check-the-box training. What’s needed is broad commitment to building a community of compassion, 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 is 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?

But 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 it’s wrong?

Why is the perp always a male?

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. Social Science Fiction (in process) is a thought incubator for preliminary thoughts on what community-level action may look like. Be warned–the bug is contagious. My mission: infect others.

Here is an overview and thumbs of the various posts: Main Mojo Roadmap. 

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 (any age is tragic) and a general increase in social-emotional problems …it’s time, ready-or-not. Thumbnails here describe additional articles. There may be an occasional reference to something not yet available, so follow or check back. I’ll publish ASAP.

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)

The Mojo series focuses on the 3-P front end:  human dynamics. Searching (here) 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 personal 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 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 period, I lost a good friend and bandmate to narcotics addiction. I felt it wasn’t my place to meddle. 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. One day 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

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 63 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 too often 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.

“Radical” Unschooling–Just Doing What’s Natural

I’m a radical unschooling non-expert, non-practitioner and for some time I wasn’t much more than a highly interested bystander. But I’ve become passionate in my advocacy for RU.

By default, I see my role as limited to outreach–an awareness-builder who is connected to the RU community but mostly working with the general public and private sector.

Result: I’m straddling a barb wire fence, interfacing with experts and practitioners while tailoring my message to uninitiates / neophytes like myself. Worrying about appearing to be a presumptuous, meddling outsider among practitioners, and talking over the heads of non-practitioners. As my blogs begin to find their way into the RU practitioner community, this up-front disclaimer became necessary.

The private sector is critical—we need their support and buy-in for RU specifically, and for the social movement generally. So my intent with this post is to ease private sector angst by showing how RU is very engagement-intensive, something most business leaders are quite familiar with and value highly. They should want, and they NEED unschoolers who have grown up as explorers within a creative and highly engaging environment.

As a neophyte student / non-practitioner, my understanding of the issues is limited. If I’ve  unintentionally ground any sacred cows into burgers I apologize. That said, how do you like yours cooked? Oh…I can do tofu too.


This thing called “radical unschooling” confuses me. I guess it’s “radical” because it’s homeshcooling to the extreme. But it’s not RU that is “radical”. What is radical is the way we try to educate young people then manage them in the workplace, the way we expect all ages of people to happily accept an authoritarian, command-and-control governed life with absolute, limiting boundaries. The way our lives are managed for us is what’s radical, unnatural, causes health and emotion-destroying stress, holds us back from being all we can be, goes against the way we are meant to live.

“Radical” unschooling is based on the way children really learn, the way they are designed to grow and mature. That’s not radical, that sounds abnormally normal to me. Maybe the “radical” perception among the general public needs to go, starting with that inappropriate label? But it’s bigger. RU principles applied to the workplace and to society in general would trigger a radical transformation and take us where we need to go to thrive and survive. Now that’s radical!

Most of what I’ve been studying and writing about lately is how people really learn and grow. RU is the only sensible human development game in town. Then there’s the bigger picture of the desperate need for social change. A connection! “Radical” unschooling represents the springboard to radically transform our world. Thing is, except for practitioners and the occasional accidental converts like me, not enough of the right people know it. And the wrong people—the power wielding establishment—would be scared of the fullness of human development RU represents, if it becomes more than a fringe practice. Docile, compliant creatures are so much easier to control and manipulate.

Radical unschooling must become the New Normal…our profoundly destructive education practices and lifestyles need to be normalized and that will take a major shift away from this current path. There’s so much already written and over-discussed that I started doing a compilation with links and annotations for original blogs and sources, organized by topic with condensed thoughts in summary thumbnails. Very labor-intensive, it can come later. For now, big picture stuff.

Key Themes

  1. RU practitioners don’t deserve being banished into the shadows as a fringe group. RU needs to be Main Street, needs to become The New Normal. The core philosophy and principles are scientifically well-founded and they represent nothing less than the means to unleash our full potential as human beings. What’s the holdup?
  2. “New Normal” must become a highest priority social movement. At stake: social-emotional well-being for all ages which translates into less stress and fewer suicides, greater health, more and better years of life. Also on the table: higher levels of contribution and achievement (the related dirty words are “productivity and performance”) thus greater US private sector competitiveness vs the rest of the world. To be really crass….”MO’ MONEY, OK CEO’s??”
  3. RU’s benefits for young people and their families, and for the workplace and society, needs to be told in simple, concise and compelling terms to achieve broad buy-in from everyday people.
  4. There is so much cross-sector WIIFM for all stakeholders in the RU philosophy and principles that we’re damned silly if we do not systemically embrace it in every sector. The culprit is lack of understanding, no widely shared, credible information. Once the right knowledge is provided there can be no excuse.

Not-so-Radical for the Workplace

There is a clear connection between “employee engagement” and RU. The private sector fell in love with employee engagement going on a quarter century ago because the research and tons of data irrefutably showed monster bottom line enhancements across all private sector entities: a direct and significant correlation between levels of engagement and performance. But it ended up being nothing but a fling, a passion-driven affair that led to over-saturation with throngs of engagement experts hawking high-dollar wares that were nothing but window-dressing enhancements of the Gallup Q-12 model from 1994.

The private sector also flirted with Goleman’s emotional intelligence, Mihaly’s flow, Covey’s principles-centered leadership and even the military’s (seriously!) values-based leadership model. Always in search of a better way to make more money…all that is another story for another time though.

For now, here’s a quick run-down of the leadership and workplace attributes that result in gains in engagement levels, therefore impressively increased levels of productivity, profitability and every other bottom line measure the private sector worships. The findings have been verified, validated and then validated some more. “Gallup Q12” is easy to google, if you do want to learn more. If you do it’s highly recommended that you stick to the original and stay away from the imitations. Same wine, different bottle.

Top Drivers of Engagement per Gallup

I’ve taken some liberties in the wording to fold in other thoughts that came along after the original Gallup Q-12 items and to expand the relevance of the items beyond employees in the workplace. These are in no particular impact level or priority order:

  • I need to know that what I do makes a difference in the grand scheme of things;
  • I do my best work and am most productive when I enjoy the work and have a talent for it;
  • Recognition and praise are more powerful drivers than cash and other extrinsic perks;
  • Values-based relationships are important, especially trust and respect;
  • I need to contribute at a high level, toward something that really matters. Better yet if I like it;
  • I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I am challenged to use my talents and creativity.

That should be enough for you to get the idea. What needs to be made crystal clear is that these attributes of employee engagement are part of what makes RU what it is. And, for the most part, these attributes are suboptimized in traditional education. One engages, the other disengages. As someone who used to hire a lot of people, I would drool over a candidate who I knew grew up learning in the right kind of environment. Most employers are smart enough to understand that too.

“Systemic” Initiative: More Than a Buzz Phrase

You see it everywhere in the private sector, and in education improvement initiatives. “Systemic” is became the sexy way of saying “across-the-board”. To maximize results and make an idea, or for that matter for anything really take hold, it takes an all-stakeholders-on-deck effort. Isolated pockets of doing stuff is pointless. It blasts noise into the system–churn, chaos and confusion along with it. And isolated activity is unsustainable. For something to have stickiness, for the new to fully replace the old for the old “radical” to become the New Normal, it can’t be just youth development. All-hands-on-deck, systemic, across-the-board. Not isolated activity but a movement. Oh….and it makes sense too.

When it comes to changing the world, radical unschoolers can only go so far on their own.

Summary (more like the preface to the next chapter…I’m Learning!)

Traditional education is broken. It’s failing our kids and their parents, it’s failing employers and society. Kids “graduate” woefully unprepared for higher ed, for the workplace, for life. Essential workplace and life skills attributes like creativity, judgment, civic and social responsibility (principles) are not well-represented in traditional curricula. The US is behind the 8-ball in global competitiveness because our workforce is so anemic. The employment talent pool is a mud puddle and we’re losing our global status along with our quality of life (different from “standard of living” but it’s tanking too).

Kids are hard-pressed to survive being molded into bricks in the wall. So do adults. Too much suffering, stress, burnout, suicide. Stop this radical madness!

Humanity needs a radical intervention!