Tag Archives: november2011

Elegant thinkers and effective collaborators

Today, organizations absolutely need employees or members that contribute in ways  different from how they have done in the past.  Being honset and ‘showing up’ with a good attitude will not be enough for low-skilled or high skilled workers today.

Thomas Friedan and Michael Mandelbaum in their book That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind In The World It Invented And How We Can Come Back, (2011) write that today’s employers are “looking for workers who can think critically, who can tackle non-routine, complex tasks, and who can work collaboratively with teams located in their office or globally”.  They also expect the workers they hire to “think for themselves”.  They want people “that not only can do their assigned complex tasks but can enhance them, refine them, and even reinvent them by bringing something extra”. p 81

There are dramatic changes that have and are taking place in the world of work for Americans.  The global economy is a ‘game changer’ for many Americans.  Because our country has tended to have many good paying jobs for those willing to work – many of our citizens have come to believe that it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have more than a good attitude and be willing to show up to find and keep steady employment.

As an educator, it is clear to me that our we need our schools to intentionally teach and develop thinking and collaboration within our students at levels much higher than are the current norms.  The Habits of the Mind developed by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick are:


                  Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision  

                  Managing impulsivity

                  Gathering data through all senses

                  Listening with understanding and empathy

                  Creating, imagining, innovating

                  Thinking flexibly

                  Responding with wonderment and awe

                  Thinking about thinking (metacognition)

                  Taking responsible risks

                  Striving for accuracy

                  Finding humor

                  Questioning and posing problems

                  Thinking interdependently

                  Applying past knowledge to new situations

                  Remaining open to continuous learning

 The following is an excerpt from an article by Costa and Kallick.&nbsp

A “Habit of Mind” means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties–our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior. When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results that are produced through are more powerful, of higher quality and greater significance than if we fail to employ those patterns of intellectual behaviors.

Employing “Habits of Mind” requires a composite of many skills, attitudes cues, past experiences and proclivities. It means that we value one pattern of thinking over another and therefore it implies choice making about which pattern should be employed at this time. It includes sensitivity to the contextual cues in a situation which signal this as an appropriate time and circumstance in which the employment of this pattern would be useful. It requires a level of skillfulness to employ and carry through the behaviors effectively over time. It suggests that as a result of each experience in which these behaviors were employed, the effects of their use are reflected upon, evaluated, modified and carried forth to future applications


                  Value: Choosing to employ a pattern of intellectual behaviors rather than other, less productive patterns.

                  Inclination: Feeling the tendency toward employing a pattern of intellectual behaviors.

                  Sensitivity: Perceiving opportunities for, and appropriateness of employing the pattern of behavior.

                  Capability: Possessing the basic skills and capacities to carry through with the behaviors.

                  Commitment: Constantly striving to reflect on and improve performance of the pattern of intellectual behavior.

When students are confident and competent with strong habits of the mind they will meet and exceed the job expectations of employers today.  And for that to happen, schools will have to become much more committed to students becoming able and elegant thinkers and effective collaborators.


Self-knowledge is an asset for those who want to make a difference or contribute

Think. Believe. Dream. Dare. — Walt Disney

It is wisdom to know others; It is enlightenment to know one’s self. – Lao-Tzu

The world we live in is complex. Knowing how to make a difference in today’s world can be complicated.

There is no one correct way to make a difference and contribute. One step in the process of making a difference or contributing is ‘knowing your self (yourselves)’ as a person or as a group of people.

The following are questions that may be of some value for thinking through some of the issues and concepts that might be worth considering as you are moving toward making a difference or contributing with others to impact the common good.

What am I (are we) offering to others or to society?

How do I (we) want to make a difference?

What do I (we) represent?

Do I (we) have a clear mission/dream/desired state?

What is the scale of my (our) mission/dream/desired state and can I (we) meet it?   Is it wide enough? Is it too wide?

Can I (we) talk about my (our) mission/dream/desired state with clarity and feeling?

Do I (we) have a passion for my (our) mission/dream/desired state?

In what ways can I (we) help to bring about change(s)?

In what ways am I (we) good at working, thinking and creating with others?

How can I (we) build upon my (our) current abilities to serve the common good?

How might teaming up with others make it so more of my (our) mission could be realized?

Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing. – Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan


Let go of the status quo in education and be willing to think together to explore exciting possibilities for learning

As we think about the education offered to our young people of today and we envision them being effective and productive adults who benefit from a work environment that will be both fulfilling and rewarding it only makes sense that we stop and ask the question: Is our educational system laying the groundwork for these dreams to be fulfilled?  Today’s young people will likely be engaged in a highly globalized economy and will be facing issues many challenging issues.

If our basic assumption is that the education that has been pretty standard over the last several decades will serve today’s students well– I suggest that we might want to rethink that assumption.

On the other hand, if our assumption is that we as adults can figure out everything our young people “need to know about” and “how to do” and then create a curriculum that is very connected to this vision that we hold of the future, we may make major strides toward even more effective schooling.  Yet, we may be creating a path that is not necessarily leading to as a productive and rewarding future as is reasonably possible.  The reason “over planning” on our part may be actually a detriment is based on the fact that the future is unknown and our adult view of the future may not serve today’s youth as well as is possible.

Maybe the reality that we face, here early in the 21st century, is that: Today’s young people will need a stimulating, practical, challenging, flexible, diverse and rewarding school experiences if they are to benefit the most from their youth as they evolve into becoming active and productive citizens as adults.

As an experienced and admittedly aged educator, my conclusion that we adults need to do our best to create that stimulating, practical, challenging and flexible school curriculum while also ensuring that we work hand-in-hand with the young people we serve and be open to benefit from them honestly sharing their hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future.  As we work to create learning environments and curricula that will stimulate our young people, we will be doing them a service.  The young people of today will be the beneficiaries of adults who went out of their way to adjust the current system to make it more vital, responsive and productive for each and every student.

All young people will be competing globally and many complex skills will be required of those that succeed in the economies of the future.

We as parents, educators, citizens of our community and individuals wanting our children and their children to have a good a life can and should be willing to let go of the status quo (our current system has many drop outs and underachieving students) in education and be willing to think together to explore exciting possibilities for learning.

Causes, inputs, efforts, results, outputs and/or rewards

Richard Koch’s book The 80/20Principle: The Secret To Success By Achieving More With Less (1998) challenges many beliefs we genially hold.  It seems logical that our day to day effectiveness is a direct result of our effort.  Yet, Koch sees it differently.


“The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or efforts usually lead to a majority’s of results, outputs, or rewards.  Taken literally, this means that for example, 80 percent of what you achieve in your job comes from 20 percent of the time spent.  Thus for all practical purposes, four-fifths of the effort – a dominant part of it – is largely irrelevant”.   page 4


“We tend to assume that 50% of causes or inputs will account for 50% of results or outputs. There seems to be a natural, almost democratic, expectation that causes and results are generally equally balance. And, of course, sometimes they are. But this 50/50 fallacy is one of the most inaccurate and harmful, as well as the most deeply rooted, governmental maps. The 80/20 Principle asserts that when 2 sets of data, relating to causes and results, can be examined and analyzed, the most likely result is that there will be a pattern of imbalance. The imbalance may be 65/35, 70/30, 75/25, 80/20, 95/5, or 99.9/0.1, or any set of numbers in between”. page 10

“The overriding message of this book is that our daily lives can be greatly improved by using the 80/20 Principal. Each individual can be more effective and happier. Each profit-seeking corporation can become very much more profitable. Each nonprofit organization can also deliver much more useful outputs. Every government can insure that its citizens benefits much more from its existence. For everyone and every institution, it is possible to obtain much more that is of value and avoid what has negative value, with much less input of effort, expense, or investment”. page 13


Thinking, dreaming and working together is worth the effort!!!

As adults we often envision an improved future and when we do that we also often speak about how ‘we all’ need to work together.

Working together implies thinking together.  If working together means everybody doing and supporting what one person or one group of people want – that would require people to both be ‘of one mind’ and be willing to work ‘toward one goal’.  Life generally isn’t that simple.

As people look and progress toward a better future different points of view exist.  Diversity of thinking is more likely to occur than not.  A group of people are and represent many things.

Some might be rich, comfortable, poor, rural, urban, sub urban, religious, secular, young, old, gay, straight, working, unemployed, retired, healthy, ill, educated, illiterate, homeless, veterans, disabled, and the list goes on – all of us make up the complexity that is our reality.  Plus, this specific list tends to frame the ‘diversity of America’ so when we consider the global diversity that exists the complexity continues to expand.

Thus, working well together really requires thinking well together.  To think interdependently will likely require developing an authentic relationship with others.  The following are some of the many skills and abilities to consider developing as you increase your intentionality to think interdependently.

Appreciate the power of diversity.  Different points of view and different thinking is a reality when groups of people come together.  Embrace this reality as a potential strength to be cultivated.

 Listening to others to understand and appreciate their point of view.  Avoid ‘labeling’ what others think, say or do.  This can feel like ‘name-calling.”  Instead be willing to probe and listen to gain an appreciation for the thoughts, word choice and actions of others.

Remember that all of us have a need or urge to be understood by others.  We all find peace and enjoyment in being with someone who sincerely is listening and showing that they comprehend our thoughts.  Such conversations help us to open up and think freely out loud.   So, strive to be the person who is sincerely listening.

Go into the process of working toward thinking together with an awareness of the fact that this will take time.  It takes time to build relationships.  And relationships are what allow for the honest sharing of thinking that can lead to actually thinking together.

As the process of appreciating, listening, and understanding unfolds for all in the relationship explore together the dreams you have in common and talk about those shared dreams, hopes and desires. Shared dreams can ‘bind’ people together.  Relationships need to begin to from and develop before people are willing to share their dreams with each other.

When you discover ‘shared dreams’ explore how you might work and think together to achieve your shared dreams.  Then begin to act in accordance with those shared dreams.

Thinking, dreaming  and working together is worth the effort!!!


Aspiration or Desperation?

Peter Senge wrote the Afterword to Robert Greenleaf’s 25th anniversary edition of Servant Leadership (2002) he explores the concept of how we frame the changes that were trying to accomplish. He recalls a saying: There are only two fundamental sources of change in human affairs: aspiration and desperation.

When we look around today we tend to see leaders who choose to frame things through the lens of desperation. They tend to see that the ‘sky is falling’ with education, values, the environment, the economy, the political party in power or ‘you name the issue’.  They make the point that the current situation is ‘all bad’ and leading to nowhere.  They find fault with the work that is being done by those currently engaged with the issue.  I think of this approach as being one of “problem spotting”. When leaders find fault with the situation they’re looking at and use that as the primary motivation to change they are making very specific choices.  These choices get people wrapped up in thoughts of desperation.

Other choices can be made. Obviously, we can choose to aspire to improve and reach high goals. Our dreams can motivate us.  Martin Luther King Jr. clearly framed the direction of his thinking by explaining his dream for mankind. 

I think most of us would clearly agree that we benefit from aspiration.  A positive frame helps to motivate.  It helps us to be ‘moving toward’ a desired state – rather than ‘away from’ a state of desperation. 

In my studies and in my work I’ve learned about and use Appreciative InquiryAppreciative Inquiry is a way of thinking about and engaging in change that helps us to focus on the value of what is and to dream about what might be and then to go about the real work of putting together the actions that will lead us to our dreams.

I see approaching things from an appreciative point of view is very compatible with the whole focus on aspirations.  People want to move toward something.  People want to have the pride of accomplishment.   Senge asks us to “just imagine: What if nine out of ten change initiatives, in our organizations or in our societies, were driven by excitement.  I think moving toward a desired outcome is exciting.  Not necessarily easy – but certainly worth doing.

Senge states that isn’t just desperation that is a negative motivator  – but also the whole idea of compliance.  He explains that we all know the difference in ourselves between doing what we are here to do versus doing what someone said we ought to do. That’s the difference between aspiration and compliance. When we fail to tap the power of aspiration change is virtually impossible.

In our personal lives and as we work with others it’s always wise for us to strive to find a frame that is focused appreciating what is and dreaming about what might be and putting together the real work that will lead us toward the desired state that we aspire to.


Ends and Means

Robert K. Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership (2002) writes about Gandhi.

Gandhi taught that there are seven things that will destroy human beings. If you look at them closely you will realize that each represents an end being accomplished through an unprincipled or unworthy means.

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle

Ends and means can not be separated.  As I think about the points he is making here – I agree.  How things are accomplished is important and not to be taken lightly.