Holes vs. Wholes

This article from the Financial Times, which may or may not be behind a paywall depending on your browser, cites some recent research from Bob Sutton and his oft-partner Huggy Rao. Here are the gems — quotations from Sutton or Rao — that are worth keeping and turning over a few times:

  • Leaders are “trustees of . . . employees’ time.”
  • “Gunk people” add friction to organizations, making it difficult for people to produce or extract value from those organizations.
  • “Grease people” do the opposite.

Last, according to Rao, leaders:

  • “Make the bad things difficult to do and the good things easy,” ultimately ensuring that employees go “back home whole.”

I have also understood and processed these ideas using an “actor / agent” lens, but no matter what we call them, they are worth our most effortful aspirations and our most aspirational efforts . . . especially the bit about sending employees “back home whole.”

Strategic Pauses

I enjoy reading the semi-regular newsletter from Triangle Associates. (Though, after a quick scan of their website, I can’t figure out how to help you subscribe.) Here’s what they recently wrote about strategy:

[S]trategy-making is about planting trees today that will bear fruit years in the future . . . The guiding question behind strategy is, “What should we be doing to ensure the long-term viability of ________?” (Leading Trends newsletter, November 2019)

The blank [“________”] above is mine, and it’s symbolic of the way I am currently thinking about strategic action and planning on a personal level. Where are the blanks in my schedule? Did they arrive there intentionally or haphazardly? More specifically, the questions I’m carrying around are: When am I using strategic pauses? And, am I being strategic about when, where, how, and why I pause?

In some ways, all pauses are strategic in that they allow a person or organization to rest and reset before further action. (Resets are trees that bear fruit.)

In other ways, though, pauses can and should be intentional — and pursued with discipline — because some pauses are more valuable than others. Also, some pauses are decisions that can be made once and then forgotten, because they will continue to happen until someone makes a different decision.

For example, I just learned that I can set a delay on every email I send. This action allows me to send an email and then update it, change it, or call it back before it arrives in someone else’s inbox. It’s a pause that is strategic because I programmed it — once — in order to make a positive difference in — all of — my future email communication.

Another strategic pause I’ve planned — albeit a weird one — is to schedule time to read through the owner’s manuals of the last few large purchases I have made. I’m assuming there are maintenance schedules to which I should be paying attention or gray flags (rather than red flags, which are obvious) that I might be missing. Baking in some time to read such manuals could save me time — and money — in the long run.

Blogging, for me, is a strategic pause — a time in the day when I write down things that I have learned and want to remember or ideas that are jumbled up in my mind and, if given the space, will become synthesized and usable bits of knowledge.

Skipping every other page in your notebook (if you take notes by hand) plants the seed for a strategic pause because it reminds you that you should go back and recopy your notes, from the full page to the blank page. This pause — and redo — promotes learning.

Having coffee every morning with a loved one (and no agenda) is a strategic pause.

John Cage’s 4’33” stands as a testament to the strategic pause in musical composition.

Adding buffers around meetings is a strategic pause in that, if the meeting ends early, you’re not butting right up against your next task. You have time to breath or process or just allow the conversation to move off the agenda.

(Planning a sabbatical is a major strategic pause, though one that few can afford.)

Sleep, quite literally, is a strategic pause.

I’m realizing as I’m writing this, that one way to test the value of a planned strategic pause is to imagine what would happen if you stuck with it, on a regular basis, for a decade. If you paused and paused and paused again at a regular cadence. Would your life be better? Would your business be better? Would your family be better?

I invite you now to plan your own pauses, to write them down, to test them, and to really commit to them as they appear in your planners and your calendars and your Apple Watches and your inboxes. A lot of reminder systems offer mere distractions; you can use these systems for good, though, reminding yourself, from time to time, to be purely and blissfully distracted.

The One with the Best Feedback Loop Usually Wins

A few posts ago, I poked some fun at GMail’s Predictive Text feature. Writing an email today, I accidentally clicked part of the screen that I don’t often click, and I launched a window that invited me to provide feedback about the available predictive text.

Now I’m rethinking my joke . . . or realizing that maybe the joke’s on me, a human writer with a fairly non existent feedback loop.

California Notebook: Wabi-sabi Edition

Wabi-sabi, to oversimplify, is a view of things — art included — that allows for impermanence and imperfection.

In that spirit, and certainly without fully earning it, I’m declaring the California Notebook Blog Series to be complete . . . or, rather, incomplete, imperfect, and therefore just fine.

If you’re interested in some weekend reading, here are all the entries in one place:

Entry 1: Intro + Stanford Design School Notes

Entry 2: Synapse School Notes

Entry 3: 18 California Scented Questions

Entry 4: Scott Barry Kaufman on the Mic

California Notebook: Masterclass

Above is a picture of Scott Barry Kaufman, author of one of my favorite — very chewy — books on education: Ungifted. I saw him speak in California, and his presentation was startlingly good. I enjoyed the content and cannot wait to read his next book. But his presentation itself was, in style, completely compelling. It cut through the noise, typical at conferences, and my jet lag.

He set the scene at the very start when he asked us not to take pictures. (The above picture is the last one I took.) He was presenting some material for the very first time. But, he said, “that’s not the only reason to put down your phones. You should put down your phones because we’re here . . . together . . . in this room . . . together . . . and that should mean something.”

He was right, of course. I had travelled all the way from New Jersey. I had endured a long plane ride, put stress on my family and colleagues, altered my diet, etc. It was great to attend a session with a speaker who acknowledged that, however implicitly. His opening was a prompt to presence, an invitation to a totally unique experience, an immediate return on my investment.

And after his opening, he told jokes, shared stories, expressed vulnerability, showed his academic chops, taught, sought, wondered aloud, and then stopped. I believe, by that point, we were all as breathless as he was.

California Notebook: 18 Questions

No pictures today. (If you want pictures, check out the first or second entries in the California Notebook series.) Instead, I’m going to write down some of the questions I brought back with me. These questions dawned on me while visiting schools, listening to speakers, talking with colleagues, and generally breaking all of my usual habits and routines while wandering around in the California sunshine.

  1. Is it possible that school, and its received wisdom and conventions, is getting in the way of the goals of school?
  2. What would happen if we had to “do school” with the same set of people but in a completely different building? Or no building?
  3. What would happen if we stopped thinking of our classes as events driven by a teacher’s agenda and a teacher’s counting and instead started thinking of them as experiences where everyone has to contribute something for the class to count?
  4. Would this meeting be better with burritos?
  5. What would happen if every person in our school had 10% more creative confidence than they do right now?
  6. What parts of school — building, time, the school’s network — are being underutilized / not spurring as much learning as they could?
  7. Is your parent education program being cued by current events and fears or does it emanate from the school’s mission? (Is it reactive or proactive?)
  8. What would happen if students did not have to attend every class but only those classes that would help them to advance a learning outcome? (What would happen if, instead of attending all classes, students could pursue the topics and outcome in more self directed ways?)
  9. When was your school’s last symposium to showcase student learning? What is the cadence of such symposia?
  10. What would happen if you ran a class through completely different materials? (So, for example, if students couldn’t use a laptop or notebook?)
  11. When you’re looking at a student’s work (say, to grade it), what would happen if you assumed that the student’s decisions and work product make complete sense to the student?
  12. What did students make in your class today?
  13. Does everyone in the school know where the playgrounds are? (This question is even more important if you do not have a physical playground.)
  14. In your lesson, what are you trying to provoke in students? (Pro version: during the most difficult part of your lesson, what are you trying to provoke in students?)
  15. If I pulled aside 15 students in your school and asked them, “what learning experiments are you running right now?” what would I hear?
  16. How would you rate the quality of struggle in your school? (Do students struggle because of the grade game (bad), because they are not getting enough sleep or are overbooked (bad), because teachers are unclear or unorganized (bad), or because they are being led, time and time again, to ponder the central mysteries inherent in disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking or the human condition (good)?
  17. When are we invited to go slow?
  18. How would your actions toward students change if you realized that they are often wondering what you think of them and that the answer often matters a great deal to them?

California Notebook: Continued

The first post in this series is here.

Today, I’m sharing some photo-notes from Synapse School in Menlo Park. This post serves the dual purpose of shining a light on things I found interesting while wandering around a school and helping to solidify my learning / memories.

When you walk into Synapse School, the first thing you see is this wall.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is their “change maker” of the year, so she flows through many aspects of their program and curriculum. I saw half finished paintings of her in the art studio, and my tour guide told me that students study her in several academic classes. I think there is something quite powerful about having a focus that connects all the diverse initiatives that happen in a school from day-to-day.

I also noticed — and liked — this banner.

It celebrates their “entrepreneur in residence.” I like the fact that these students will grow up thinking that entrepreneurs are normal people who walk around in schools and intermingle with kids and adults.

At Synapse I also noticed plenty of places for students to step out of the classroom and into spaces where they can build or make things. Here’s a block space, where students collaborate intensely and sometimes work on their own:

And here’s a giant maker space. I toured it right at the end of the school day, and it was thrilling to see students walking into the space, without a teacher, and heading off in their own direction to build something. I didn’t take any pictures of students, but the looks on their faces said it all: they were confident, self directed, happy, and open to the ideas of others — especially when they entered this giant space filled with tools:

Last, but certainly not least, Synapse invests both time and space in the education of their parent community. They see parents as important allies in their work, and therefore, they take seriously the growth of parents. They also work hard to set clear expectations for the room in which their parental education takes place: