Archive

Archive for the ‘Wake Up’ Category

Learning to Innovate

April 21, 2015 1 comment

dancing trees nycTony Wagner is a compelling champion for change. In his books and TED talks, the former teacher and “Expert in Residence” at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab makes the case that “reform” doesn’t sufficiently capture what it will take to align our education system with the emerging economy. Wagner says that what’s needed now is nothing short of system reinvention; that we’re overdue for shifting the metric for success from what students know to what students can do with what they know.

He has identified seven skills that we must foster in students who will be equipped to thrive in a world where innovation is king and knowledge has become a commodity:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

Further, Wagner has observed that student success is most likely when this adaptive, collaborative skillset is complemented by a strong sense of intrinsic motivation. In a series of interviews he conducted, outstanding young innovators consistently expressed the value of giving back and making a difference—a value that had been nurtured by parents and teachers who allowed them to discover their passion and purpose through play.

Now, I know there are thousands of teachers and administrators who share Wagner’s perspective and are working to reinvent our education system from the inside out (see for example, Educators 4 Excellence). I also know that these innovation-friendly skills and values are already firmly established in the recruiting and people-development playbooks of entrepreneurial leaders and start-up talent managers.

But I think Wagner’s message has relevance for leaders in every sector of the economy—maybe especially those currently being subjected to disruptive innovation. Innovation, after all, is learning. Regardless of the nature of your work, the extent to which learning is integrated into your culture directly impacts your ability to achieve and sustain the results you want.

What ideas can you borrow from a conversation about reinventing education to awaken the playful, adaptive, purpose-driven learning capacity of your own organization?

The Power of a Systems Perspective

Graphic facilitation by Elise Crespin In Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question, he recalls an anecdote from education pioneer Deborah Meier that stopped me in my tracks when I read it:

“We had one of those world maps with the U.S. right in the middle—remember those? And one of the students looked at it and said, ‘How come the East Indies are in the west?’ And that question got me thinking about the impact of what you put in the center and what it does to everything else.”

I love this story because it so nicely illustrates the value of what my partners and I call “coaching from a systems perspective.” Like a good coach with a provocative question, this little girl created an opening for Meier to talk with her students about their place in a larger system and the perspective they were holding about that. Meier changed the curriculum as a result of this inquiry because “it had so many implications for how you see yourself.”

This is exactly the kind of opening we try to create with leaders who are grappling with the challenges of effecting sustainable change for themselves and their organizations. We find that it is often new insight about the vantage point from which they’re viewing a complex systems environment—and their ability to try on other vantage points—that allows them to break through to new ways of thinking and acting.

One tool we use to get a fix on what our coaching client has put in the center of her awareness, and what that “does to everything else,” is the Butterfly Framework of Complex Human Systems.  Like Meier’s world map, this framework allows us to step back and ask, “Where in this landscape of internal and external systemic forces is our client’s awareness focused? What would be possible if she shifted her awareness to another part of the system?”

Having just returned from the SoL Global Forum in Paris, where I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop on the Butterfly Framework, I can report that there is a vibrant international community of coaches and consultants who understand the evolutionary importance of greater systems awareness. Colleagues from no fewer than fifteen countries shared stories with me about how they are catalyzing transformation by helping their clients ask more beautiful questions and better see the systems they are and the systems they’re in.

What question, if you asked it right now, would move you to a new perspective?

Slowing Down

November 5, 2013 6 comments

shaker-adult-cradleMy husband and I turned the clocks back twice this past weekend. We turned them back on Sunday of course, because we like to keep in step with the world around us; we also turned them back—in a more metaphorical way—on Saturday when we took my mom to visit the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts.

The Fruitlands property was at its autumnal best, surrounded by big sky and sweeping ranks of leafy rolling hills. There was little intrusion of modern reality as we browsed the loosely connected mementos of other lives preserved in the museum’s collections—from Native American settlements, to the 18th century beginnings of the local Shaker community, to the 19th century Utopian commune of Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane.

We saw many reminders of how our relationship to time has changed over the past two centuries. Long hand-written letters and carefully crafted furniture and textiles suggested the deep breath and steady heartbeat of people absorbed in painstaking tasks. But nothing stopped me in my tracks like this adult-sized cradle that the Shakers used when caring for the sick and dying. This humble object, and the tender images it conjured, made me wonder if—for all our positive advances—we have been losing our capacity for patience and presence in our rush toward the future.

What slows you down?

Beeline or Meander

January 25, 2013 2 comments

tree rings

During yesterday’s confirmation hearing to consider whether John Kerry should be the next US Secretary of State, Senator Bob Corker commented to the nominee, “I think you have led a life that has brought you to this moment.”

Well, of course he has. Haven’t we each led a life that has brought us to this moment? No doubt, Corker’s observation was intended to highlight the internal logic of Kerry’s journey. As the son of a diplomat, a war hero and protester, a senator with long service on the foreign relations committee, Kerry’s life, in hindsight, seems to point specifically to this position.

But it probably didn’t always seem that way to him. In the bitterness of a lost presidential bid, for example, don’t you think he might have had moments when he bemoaned his life’s failure to add up? For most of us, life is more of a meander than a beeline. But with and without our help, our experience continues to accrue, endlessly shaping us and the moment we are in.

Even when the logic of our life’s trajectory isn’t so apparent, you can be sure it’s there. It is energizing and clarifying to make a conscious effort to discern that unbroken thread of purpose.

When you look back on the life you have led that has brought you to this moment, what would you say it’s pointing you to?

Powerful Questions in Action

apple picking“I always have a question that I can’t answer just by thinking about it.”

That’s how Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison recently responded to an interviewer’s question about how she decides what to write about.

As befits her status as an international treasure, Morrison captured in this simple comment not just an insight into her own creative process, but something broader about the very nature of learning. She models for us the essence of action learning.

Many theorists have explored the inextricable connection between action and reflection in human learning processes. Kurt Lewin, David Kolb, and W. Edwards Deming are noted for their contributions to our understanding of this dynamic. And I often point to their cyclical models in encouraging my coaching clients to make room for reflection in their busy lives. “Reflect so that your next actions incorporate the wisdom you’ve gained.”

But what Toni Morrison hints at is an organic learning process in which action and reflection happen simultaneously; something closer to Bill Torbert’s theory of action inquiry. When we enter into action with awareness and the intention to absorb the learning it has to offer, it enhances the quality of the action we take. We not only find the answers we set out to find, but we expand our capacity for learning and leadership. We discover the creative power of inquiry itself.

What’s a question that you’re living with right now that you can’t answer just by thinking about it?

New Leaves, Same Roots

Core Values Venn DiagramWhat do you promise not to change this year?

No, I’m not trying to talk you out of your courageous commitment to new behaviors. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to help you. I want to see you eat better, exercise more, improve your listening skills, find time for reflection, stop driving like you’re the only important person on the road, etc. I totally support your intention to change!

And that’s why I’m asking you what you want to conserve.

Behavioral change can only stick if it’s intrinsically motivated—when we say, “I want to,” or “this matters to me,” rather than, “I should.”

Naming what matters to you will help you illuminate what you want to conserve—those core values that sustain your resolve to change. My intention to savor my food honors my values of gratitude and beauty. My determination to read more and watch less TV is grounded in values of language and intimacy.

When I work with clients to clarify their core values, we uncover gold mines of intrinsic motivators. Not all values inventories are as visually delightful as the one you see here, which so cheerfully embodies the client’s values of creativity and design (he told me I could share it with you). But however you format it, this is the kind of list that provides a solid foundation for choosing the life you want.

Victor Hugo advised: “Change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” What would happen if you started your year with a galvanizing look at your values? Please get in touch if you want some help with that.

Happy New Year!

YMZPFHYW3BSF

Self-Absorbed or Self-Aware?

December 14, 2011 Leave a comment

distorted reflectionWhat label would you use to describe your most common stance toward “self?”

Self-conscious? (cringe)  Self-absorbed? (preen)  Self-preserving?  (shields engaged!)

How often is your self-regard constructed from distorted assumptions about how others perceive you? We all do it. Not being privy to the thoughts of others, we make assumptions about what they must be thinking based on our own deepest fears. They are judging us. They are competing with us. They are out to get us in one way or another.

Here’s a radical trick to help you reduce the distortion in your self-awareness. Instead of making everyone else a judge, or a competitor, or a predator, imagine that we are your children. How are you taking care of us?

Daniel Goleman wrote, “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.”

To be self-aware is to humbly and joyfully accept our gifts and imperfections as the instruments we’ve been given with which to serve others. In self-awareness lies clarity about capacity and purpose.

The amusing paradox in your journey toward self-awareness is that it’s not about you. It’s about us.