Building a Town from Scratch

In his book On Trails, Robert Moor reports on a conversation he had with J.L. Deneubourg, a leading thinker on ant behavior, and according to Moor, a “veteran collective intelligence researcher.”

When Moor asked him how he would use his vast knowledge to organize and construct a better city from scratch, Deneubourg replied: “I would like to see the emergence of the town . . . If I was mayor — and the probability of that happening is quite low — my attitude would be very liberal.  My objective would be to offer different types of material to help citizens find the solution that they prefer.”

When Moor asked him to clarify — would he indeed “withhold his expertise and allow the town’s resident’s to plan their own town?” — Deneubourg said, “Yes . . . To believe that you have the solution for another person is a form of stupidity” (86).

This quotation arrives in my life at an interesting time — when I’m about to begin planning my 9th Grade English class.


Reshan and I recently published an article called “Respect Thy Time: How to Stop Calling Meetings that People Hate.”  Yesterday, I read an article with the opposite title but the same intent: “How to Craft Meetings People Love (Really).”  These articles pair really nicely, covering a similar topic from different angles.

In the former article, Reshan and I encourage leaders to define the purpose of their team and then work relentlessly to uncover the best ways to help that team collaborate effectively.  Sometimes that will mean calling a face-to-face meeting, and sometimes that will mean connecting the team through a technology tool (like Trello) to help them work asynchronously.

In the latter article, Eric J. McNulty, Director of Research at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, offers concrete steps and mindsets to help us craft meetings wherein attendees give and receive value, and he offers a great test: “One way to find out if people feel a meeting is worthwhile is to make it optional — and see who shows up.” (The hashtag in the title of this blog comes from his article, too.) 

Though we won’t soon solve the problem of meetings, it’s important that those called to our meetings know that we are grappling constantly with format and function.  We might not always succeed in ensuring that everybody loves our meetings, but we can work to send them a clear message — again and again — that we value their time and talents.

Patti Smith x Sam Shepard

After reading Patti Smith’s amazing letter about her friend, Sam Shepard, who died a few days ago, I picked up her book Just Kids.  I’ve been reading it non-stop since then, whenever I have a free moment. When I wasn’t looking, she has become one of the most natural, clear, big hearted writers in America. It’s no surprise, then, that her letter about Sam Shepard is at least partially about how, when they were together, they would work hard at the craft of writing. They would practice together. These things don’t happen by accident.

Constructivist Toolkit

I’m so pleased to see that my friend, Reshan Richards, is blogging (daily ) again.  He blogs for the same reason Seth Godin blogs — to make sure he is exercising his noticing muscle. And the product is usually some combination of informative, fun, playful, serendipitous, curious, bright, joyful, and/or smart.  The blog reminds me of the first time I really got to know Reshan. We were at a conference and had just presented together for the first time.  He turned to me and said, “we should go out and find some fresh baked cookies.”  And that’s exactly what we did.

For the online version of fresh baked cookies, served fresh daily, tune in to

The Growing Point

Soon I’ll be starting my annual reading vacation (not a vacation from reading . . . a vacation where I read non-stop), so I looked through my book collection to create a worthy pile. Almost immediately, I noticed and pulled down my well worn copy of An Open Life, which is a series of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Michael Toms. I haven’t looked at this book in a very long time.

Here’s a passage I marked over two decades ago, before I became a teacher, wherein Campbell reminisces about seeing a Picasso exhibition.

This winter in New York the big thing for me was the Picasso exhibition, four miles of pictures by this man. At age sixteen, he produced two paintings which were of academic perfection. He had gotten into the academy by passing the exam when he was thirteen. So what do you do with your life if you’re producing academically perfect works at the age of sixteen? Every step afterwards is an innovation. You see it visually as you go from one display room to the next. He was like the growing point, actually the growing point, of the whole twentieth-century pressure of Art into new regions. It’s terrific! (17)

There’s so much to learn from Picasso’s reaction to being “perfect” at an early age (in school I call this “reaching for the A beyond the A”) and to Campbell’s articulate, admiration-tinged assessment.

New Language = New Meeting Culture

Here’s section 4 from an article Reshan Richards and I wrote for the NAIS blog.  We’ve been using it with leaders — inside and outside education — to help them shift meeting culture in their organization by paying attention to the way they describe, define, and plan meetings.  

4. Blended leaders challenge meeting structures and change meeting structures.

A combination of minds and perspectives, i.e., a meeting, can be a wonderful thing, aiding in problem-solving and helping leaders to see around corners. There is more than one way to skin a meeting, though. Consider the following:   

Synchronous, face-to-face, in-person

  • Affordances: The most human, most personal way to meet. In a shared environmental context, you can hear tone, pace, and inflection and see facial cues, gestures, and body language.
  • Limitations: Interactions are difficult to record or capture (even with note-taking). Such meetings have to be scheduled, requiring pre-meeting effort.

Synchronous, face-to-face, across distance (e.g., via Zoom)

  • Affordances: Offers the affordances of in-person meetings minus the shared environmental context.
  • Limitations: Technological interruptions can break up the flow of dialogue. Also, setting up this meeting requires onboarding people in the digital “room.” Finally, participants in multiperson meetings won’t always know when/how to chime in.   

Synchronous, phone call/conference call

  • Affordances: Tone, pace, and inflection can all be heard, and meeting participants benefit from a shared temporal context.
  • Limitations: Meeting participants cannot “read” the room, especially when multiple people are involved. This meeting type also requires effort to schedule and calling instructions.

Synchronous, text based/shared document

  • Affordances: People respond and interact in the moment, producing a clear record of the exchange.
  • Limitations: Gaining social/emotional information from the exchange is difficult.

Asynchronous, email/shared document

  • Affordances: Your team members can continue to work in a different time and place at a time that suits them. This meeting type creates an accessible record of the work.
  • Limitations: Without shared temporal context, connection to other participants can be elusive.

The full article can be found here: