“Quotation Marks.” Period.

While editing this month’s Klingbrief, I looked up a rule about quotation marks. I frequently encounter very insightful, bright writers who approach end punctuation very differently when they are using quotations.  Today, I finally decided to do some research.

It turns out, both camps are right, and one’s geographical orientation matters in resolving such disputes.

The Grammar Girl website adds a wonderful note to settle the debate; I offer it to you today as an example of (1) how an initial decision can lead to a profound domino effect and (2) the ways in which thoughtful interventions can (sometimes) halt or redirect habits.

Compositors―people who layout printed material with type―made the original rule that placed periods and commas inside quotation marks to protect the small metal pieces of type from breaking off the end of the sentence. The quotation marks protected the commas and periods. In the early 1900s, it appears that the Fowler brothers (who wrote a famous British style guide called The King’s English) began lobbying to make the rules more about logic and less about the mechanics of typesetting. They won the British battle, but Americans didn’t adopt the change. That’s why we have different styles.

According to this interpretation, American-style punctuation at the ends of quoted sentences reflects a choice made during the days of metal type, while British-style punctuation at the ends of quoted sentences reflects an intervention based on logic.

So I guess the next time a student challenges me by saying that some grammar rules seem to be arbitrary and even illogical, I will have to be honest and reply, “that’s true, but only in America!”

Dailyo Discipline

Add Ray Dalio to the list of people who write (or blog) everyday.  In his new book, Principles, he talks about his process and the rationale behind it.

In the late 1970s, I began sending my observations about the markets to clients via telex.  The genesis of these Daily Observations was pretty simple.  While our primary business was in managing risk exposures, our clients also called to pick my brain about the markets.  Taking those calls became time-consuming, so I decided it would be more efficient to write down my thoughts every day so others could understand my logic and help improve it.  It was a good discipline since it forced me to research and reflect every day.  It also became a key channel of communication for our business.  Today, almost forty years and ten thousand publications later, our Daily Observations are read, reflected on, and argued about by clients and policymakers around the world.

What’s Your School’s Thesis?

Today on his blog, Fred Wilson defined a venture capital firm as follows:

A venture capital firm, at least our venture capital firm, is at its core, a group of like-minded investors who come together around a shared investment thesis to work collaboratively to help entrepreneurs build companies.

When I was reading the definition, I found myself replacing certain words to see if the definition would apply equally well to schools.

A school is, at its core, a group of like-minded educators who come together around a shared educational thesis to work collaboratively to help students build skills and knowledge.

I think this definition does apply to schools — but only those schools that have really done a lot of work to articulate their educational thesis.  So maybe it doesn’t apply to that many schools after all.

OESIS, Pt. 1

I’m about to jump on a plane home from the OESIS Boston conference.  I liked this conference a lot (and will explain more about that impression later this week).  For now, I want to share one artifact from a talk I gave about my creative and collaborative process:


A Cubs Fan

Seeing actor Bill Murray in the stands at a Cubs game (on television, not in person, unfortunately), I was reminded of an article I read about him a while ago.  In particular, I was reminded of this quotation:

The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.

Interestingly, I also have a note that he said something similar in a lecture he gave at the minor league baseball Hall of Fame:

If you can stay light, and stay loose, and stay relaxed, you can play at the very highest level—as a baseball player or a human being.

One of these days, I’m going to relax enough to figure out why these quotes are always bouncing around in the back of my mind.

Guest Post, Sort Of

When I was just about to open Word Press and file today’s blog post, one of my advisees sent me a short email thanking me for a meeting we had today and including two paragraphs from a Jeff Bezos shareholder letter.  The Bezos quote is worth sharing (see below).  And it’s also worth marveling a little at the senior in high school who would first dig up the quote and then attach it to a thank you note.  I have the best job in the world.

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.”

~Jeff Bezos, 2016 Letter to Shareholders


Carrying a Spark

Today was one giant meeting stack.  I had an hour at the start of the day for “Feedback and Planning” (yes, I’m still sticking to this goal) and then I met with a leadership team followed by our Assistant Headmaster for Curriculum and Professional Development, our Professional Development Coordinator, and a group that is working as a kind of skunk works for curricular innovation.  In between, I also met with a few students.

I sat down tonight with the intention of seeing if I could pull a common thread from all these different meetings, and I’m happy to report that I found one.  In each of these meetings, at one time or another, at least one person in the room was working skillfully and effortfully to keep a spark, emanating from a student, alive.

In short, at least one person in the room had seen something in a student, a light of sorts, and wanted to make sure that it continued, that the light didn’t go out due to the exigencies of school, life, and world.

When I think of a great educator now, a new picture is forming.  I see a person walking through a windy stretch of land with his/her palms cupped together, and inside, a tiny spark.  He/she is carrying the spark from one point to another, not quite sure where the journey will end but quietly intent on making sure the spark is burning a little bit brighter when the handoff happens.