This quote from Peter Drucker is so true. The first key to innovation is the willingness to abandon the old so that you free yourself for the new. Thus, the idea of “investments in managerial ego.” The three sectors of government, social, and business all have difficulty abandoning obsolete products, services, policies, and procedures. The inability to abandon existing programs reduces resources available to both fund and carry out new initiatives necessary to stay competitive and meet the mission and vision of our organizations (Maciariello, 2014). You are probably already thinking of programs, both in the government and social sector, that no longer serve their originally intended purposes.
Robert Anthony, a former Harvard Business School professor and under Secretary of Defense for Robert McNamara during the Kennedy administration, believed all agencies need to “examine its [program] reason for being, its methods of operations, and its costs.” (Maciariello, 2014, p. 171) I would also add the question of whether the team has the capacity to carry out the program. I really experienced this early in my career as an agriculture science teacher and FFA advisor. Both the state FFA and national FFA organizations would add new contests and programs each year, but there was never anything taken away. Well, as you can imagine this put strains on budgets and the ability to get things done well. The positive of this was, however, it taught many of us how to really ask the question of, “What are the things we are going to do well?” I always believed, and I believe they are doing a better job of this today, the FFA organizations should have been asking, “If we add this [program or contest], what are we going to get rid of or take off the teachers’ plates.” I really do try to practice this now as a school leader, but as any of you know who are on the front lines as the “Deer in the Headlights,” this is easier said that done.
Peter Drucker (2014) said we must ask the questions, “If we did not do this already, would we go into it now?” If the answer is no , ‘What do we do now?'” The question has to be asked – and asked seriously. In other words, “If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we know, go into it now?” If the answer is no, the reaction must be “What do we do now?” I get it though; it is so difficult for any business or organization to abandon a program because the program may represent an investment by the people who introduced it and who nursed it along. Beware of commitment to ego as an excuse for maintaining status quo (Maciariello, 2014). Developing a process of systematic abandonment (Maciariello, 2014), and making it a regular part of the culture of an organization, is one of the most effective ways to eliminate the old and make room for the new.
We must remember that when given the challenge of choosing between two or more competent programs, we must keep the one that makes the more significant contribution to the mission and vision of our organization and to society.
Maciariello, J. A. (2014). A year with Peter Drucker: 52 weeks of coaching for leadership effectiveness. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
This year’s Memorial Day is different for me. It has more meaning and has a more real context than any time in my life. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve on The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonel’s Honor Flight on May 16th as a Guardian. That experience changed my life forever. In my family growing up we always celebrated Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day” as my dad called it. That was actually the holiday’s first name. It began in the years immediately following the Civil War, at which time it was observed primarily as a day for “decorating” military graves with flowers and commemorating the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. By the twentieth century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died in all wars while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
I’m often astonished at the lack of honor some display toward our Veterans. For us who sacrifice little—if anything—and yet have no qualms about enjoying the luxury and freedom provided by this country we belie our lack of gratitude with our cavalier attitudes toward those who have served our country. We should hold to the true meaning of this day. Alas, for too many Americans, Memorial Day has come to mean nothing more than another three-day weekend, albeit the one on which the beaches open, signifying the beginning of summer. Unfortunately, the tendency to see the holiday as merely an opportunity to attend a weekend cook-out obscures even the vestiges of what the day was meant to observe: a solemn time, serving both as catharsis for those who fought and survived, and to ensure that those who follow will not forget the sacrifice of those who died that the American Republic and the principles that sustain it, might live. Some examples might help us to understand what this really means.
These examples were plentiful for those of us taking part in the Honor Flight. Hearing of the sacrifices and seeing the emotions of the veterans on this trip were life changing for me. It was also a life changing experience for the Veterans as well. Allow me to share an excerpt from an email the Veteran I served as a Guardian for sent me yesterday:
“This morning particularly have been reflecting on our trip to DC . For me sharing that experience together produced a bond that seems to transcend the time we’ve known each other. At any rate reflecting today & tomorrow on the sacrifices of our fallen comrades . It seems the meaning of the day has become lost . Much like Christmas we forget it’s the celebration of our Savior’ birth. Finally 2 things: 1. YOU made our honor flight very special; 2. My life is richer having met & got to know you. God sure dealt us a good hand when he put us together. I don’t know what I would have felt if you hadn’t been with me.” ~ Dr, Jerry McCandless, Korean War Veteran
I am humbled at the thought of those who have put themselves in harms way on my/our behalf…people they don’t know. The beauty of the Honor flight is it gives us the chance to really get to know one another. The Honor Flight gave me the opportunity to better understand our nation’s history and appreciate the price paid for our freedom. I encourage all to find some way to serve our Veterans, whether through serving on an Honor Flight, or some other volunteer service. We need to all commit our time, talents, or treasures to our Veterans. Thank you to everyone who has served and those who are serving us through our military and our great country. I am in awe of all our heroes on this Memorial Day!
“Nothing works forever. Our purposes never change – but our methods and tactics must constantly change. It is amazing how quickly a successful organization can deteriorate into mediocrity.” ~ Rick Warren, Pastor and Founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
This week’s lesson in Maciariello’s (2014) A Year With Peter Drucker was based on an interview with one of my hero’s – Rick Warren. Dr. Warren founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., in 1980 with one family. Today, it is an evangelical congregation averaging 30,000 weekly attendees. Peter Drucker and Dr. Warren were friends and this week’s lesson was based on a 2003 interview. They discussed that organization must innovate and change. Organizations also tend to become bureaucratic and need to have conscience activities for maintaining and transmitting its core values (Maciariello, 2014). These principles should be implemented in a way that will perpetuate the mission and values of an organization and provide continuity, while also facilitating change.
The key here is facilitating needed innovative change, but at the same time having continuity. Tough order, huh? Drucker posited that we all need people committed to our vision our our teams, but we also sometimes need radical change (Maciariello, 2014). Drucker also argued that change and continuity are not opposites, but a continuum (Maciariello, 2014). If an organization does not change, it will die of being status-quot. In order to achieve continuity, therefore, an organization must be designed to change. Change and continuity are thus poles rather than opposites. Interestingly, I just spoke on this last week at the American Federation for Children National Education Policy Summit. In our panel I stated that in education and “school choice” that we were in danger of the new beginning to look like the old. In other words as a believer in “school choice,” we must make sure that the choices are not just some of the same old thing in a new wrapper. We must create schools that have the core value of all students can learn, but are differentiators in the way we do that. We need schools that educate better than anyone else and that have an “edge” or “niche” in doing so. In other words, a constant stream of incremental improvements will lead to substantial change and great schools over time. Schools, and all organizations, should therefore seek and reward continuous improvement activities. Continuous improvement must be one of our “BIG” initiatives to be working on in education, and all organizations for that matter.
According to Maciariello (2014) change can occur in two forms: 1.) creating new wealth through innovation; 2.) creating wealth by moving resources from low to high productivity. Competition speeds this process up. This is why I am such a believer in school choice. We cannot predict the future, so it is our job, as leaders, to have the core values in place to allow for changes in products, processes, and services that will continue to meet the needs of our customers in the future.
As an “Energetic Change Agent,” I know that change is risky and creating the future is a lofty goal, but it is much more risky to leave the future to chance. Are your organization’s core values strong enough and believed by all to make it possible plan for change? Are your own core values and change agent abilities such that you will be able to maintain organizational cohesiveness during necessary changes? Isn’t it excited to be creating the new future?
Maciariello, J. A. (2014). A year with Peter Drucker: 52 weeks of coaching for leadership effectiveness. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
I had the tremendous honor of presenting at the International STEM Forum & Expo yesterday put on by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). What an incredible event. It was well-planned, and the sessions were, well, incredible. It was a great reminder to me, now that I am not in the classroom as a teacher, just how important STEM education is to our children. It was also a reminder of how tough a job it is to keep our children motivated in STEM courses and then, ultimately, through higher education if that is what the student chooses. The attendees of the National STEM Forum were reminded of this when Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, spoke. He told us that high SAT scores correlated with students who had taken AP & Honors courses, but then ended up being the same students who dropped out or changed majors from STEM related degrees in college. Why? Because of a “fixed mindset” instead of a “growth mindset.” Dr. Hrabowski sited the work of Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (everyone needs to read this and all of her books). These students are so driven for success and making the top scores that when they get to college they are often disappointed by not being “#1.” Many are still top students, but can’t handle not being the top. Then, as Dr. Hrabowski pointed out, they switch to the humanities. Why? Because the humanities gets the iterative nature of the “growth mindset.” The idea that nothing needs to be perfect on the first try. In STEM courses, we tend to want to give a grade on the first, and only try. As a big believer in mastery grading, I wanted to go up and hug Dr. Hrabowski. He was talking my language!
It is curious to me that we have this “fixed mindset” in STEM education, because careers in STEM are not that way at all. Think about all the trial and error, experimentation, and “ah ha!” moments there are. Thus, why what Dr. Hrabowski was saying really reinforced what I had just spoke about prior to his keynote. My presentation title was: “Improving Science Education: Connecting School Work to Real Life.” The presentation was all about teaching in a real world context. I stressed that we must connect the three worlds that a student lives in: school world, real world, virtual world. The presentation was based on research I did based on student academic performance and achievement in Biology based on being taught in the real world relevancy of Agriculture. If students do not make the connection between the school work they are doing and real life, they will fall into the “fixed mindset” trap.”
I discussed with attendees how we had partnered with AgReliant Genetics when I was teaching at Lebanon High School to provide opportunities for our students to do real world/real time research. The students were able to do this working with real researchers. This working with adults component is so very important in my opinion. To create the ideal learning environment we must have Students working in teams to experience and explore relevant, real-world problems, questions, issues, and challenges; then creating presentations and products to share what they have learned. Here is a link to my presentation:
So, as we continue to facilitate learning for our STEM students, and all students, let’s not forget to practice a “growth mindset” and make the connection between school work and real life.
On Tuesday of this week, at the breakfast session of the American Federation for Children National Education Policy Summit, my new friend Jean-Claude Brizard made a comment during our discussion that really hit me like a ton of bricks. We were talking about building leadership capacity in our teachers and building our leadership benches/pipelines. Jean-Claude said, “Earned empowerment is very dangerous.” I have to say I more than a little taken aback by this statement. As a believer in distributive and shared leadership, I was a believer in the the idea of “earned empowerment.” In fact I have even blogged about it. Click here to read “Walk the Talk” and click here to read “Be Consistent, Not Clever!” Jean-Claude went on to explain what he meant. He believes that if you subscribe to “earned empowerment” that you will only be empowering the top 10% of your team. In other words, those top-performers who “earn” it.
Jean-Claude contends that we need to empower everyone in some way or another. In his words, “we need to empower them whether they want to be or not.” His belief is this empowerment will then develop them as leaders. I must say, after reflecting, this really makes a lot of sense. As a leader who has created a “make it so” environment, why would I not want everyone to be empowered. I guess I really have been practicing empowering everyone, because I want everyone to come to me with well thought through plans and tell me what they intend to do. My goal is to always say, “Make It So!”
This idea of empowering everyone really is interesting. Think about it; if we are able to empower all of our people with projects, responsibilities, and aren’t we really expanding the capacity of our organization. So really, mass empowerment equals capacity building. This in turn means leadership development of our teams. Wow!
There is one catch to this, however, in Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders by L. David Marquet, he talks about empowerment really being a delegation of authority. Marquet described, however, that delegation alone is not the answer. We must also be committed to increasing the technical knowledge of those on the team. As Marquet said, “When authority is delegated, technical knowledge takes on greater importance at all levels” (Marquet, 2013). He went on to say, “Control without competency is chaos” (Marquet, 2013). I love this quote because it drives home the point that leaders must consistently provide an environment of professional growth that builds the competency of all in our organizations. Therefore, if we are going to empower all of the members of our organization we need to make sure we have trained them and provided them the necessary professional growth opportunities to prepare them for their responsibilities. Pretty exciting stuff!
Another important thing to keep in mind is that there will be differences in abilities of those on our teams. Also, there will be those who do not want to be empowered. There always seem to be a few who just want to be told what to do. This means that we, as leaders, will need to differentiate and individualize how we empower our team members.
This whole idea of the danger of earned empowerment has really got me thinking about those on the team I lead that I have not empowered or need to empower more. Do you have members of your team you need to empower?
Marquet, L. D. (2013). Turn the ship around!: A true story of turning followers into leaders. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
“Not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child. For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history.” ~ Cicero
People living in democratic republics should know not only of its origins but also of the imperfect democratic struggle it spawned. Such appreciation might alleviate the taking of one’s way of life for granted. Americans understand the embodiment of heroic virtue in everyday life, for legends runs deep in American history.
Yesterday I had the privilege of serving our Veterans as a Guardian for our Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels Honor Flight to Washington DC. This was a very emotional experience and I still, 24 hours later, hardly have the words to describe or reflect on the day. As a Kentucky Colonel, this was something I really wanted to do, but did not know what to expect. Well, let me tell you, it exceeded my expectations. This opportunity to serve provided the best lessons in selflessness and servant leadership one could receive anywhere. The Veterans taking part in the Honor Flight, all of whom were Kentucky Colonels, were transformers in life; they thought not of themselves but of a higher cause – America and global freedom.
“Kentucky Colonels are unwavering in devotion to faith, family, fellowman and country. Passionate about being compassionate. Proud, yet humble. Leaders who are not ashamed to follow. Gentle but strong in will and commitment. The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, as a Brotherhood, reaches out to care for our children, support those in need and preserve our rich heritage.” ~ The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels Credo
Everywhere we went the Veterans were met with mobs of crowds cheering and thanking them for their service. There was even a “Water Cannon” salute at Reagan International Airport for our plane as we landed in Washington D.C. As I watched in amazement, these heroes practiced our Kentucky Colonels Credo of being, “Proud, yet humble.” These Veterans were truly touched by the outpouring of support and cries of, “Thank you for your service!” For me it was the first time of truly being in a role of 100% servant leader. Because I am not a Veteran, I did not matter to anyone yesterday, and should not have. This was incredibly satisfying and humbling. The entire day was about serving the Veterans as a group and the Veteran I was responsible for as a Guardian, Jerry McCandless (more about him later). I have always prided myself in walking the talk as a servant leader, but this provided the opportunity to be 100% servant. I have to tell you, I am a changed man.
Amazingly, after returning to the bus someone asked me if I had my picture taken with former U.S. Senator Bob Dole. He comes out and personally greets Veterans from the Honor Flights at the World War II Memorial. Honestly, I had not even thought of getting a picture of me with him. In fact, I don’t even care to have a picture of me with him. I am, however, very proud of the picture I took of Jerry with Bob Dole. Remember, as a servant, I was to have no wants or needs on this trip – and I’m still amazed I had none, except for our Veterans to have the greatest day of their lives. As I said before, this experience really changes you and gives you the chance to fully understand what it means to be a servant leader.
These Honor Flight participants are heroes and legends. Legends serve two purposes: they provide a shared cultural experience for a people, and they symbolize the aims and ideals of that people’s common history, religion, culture, or institutional authority. As a legend, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus is a great example. Having stirred the passions of Republican Rome, later citizens of the Roman Empire and eighteenth century America, and men and women of contemporary times, he has been revered throughout history. His life is one of legendary accomplishment and character. Not merely legendary, Cincinnatus is also heroic. While fellow ancient warrior Alexander the Great or fellow Roman leader Julius Caesar are legendary, they do not impart the timeless moral lessons of a hero.
The hero sacrifices himself for something—that’s the morality of it. He gives his life to something larger than himself. In further contrast, the hero symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savage within us, whereas the leader may exploit the savage to gain his ends. One of the many distinctions between the celebrity and the hero…is that one lives only for self while the other acts to redeem society.” ~ Joseph Campbell
George Washington, one of our American heroes, like Cincinnatus, was a man of great accomplishment, but character, not achievement or genius, is also his most honored legacy. Character sets them apart from others. Children in schools all over Italy still recite the Cincinnatus story in the same way children of the United States learn of George Washington and the “cherry tree.” Another great American hero, Patrick Henry asked repeatedly of the role of the citizen in a Republic. He sought much more than a far removed vote in regularly scheduled elections.
Having met the living legend, a British soldier penned the following observations of Washington’s quest to live as Cincinnatus:
“Altogether he made a most noble, respectable appearance, and I really think him the first man in the world. After having had the management and care of the whole Continental army, he has now retired without receiving any pay for his trouble. he knows how to prefer solid happiness in his retirement. I admire him as superior to even the Roman heroes themselves. I am told during the war he was never seen to smile. he had only the good of his country at heart. his greatest pride now is, to be thought the first farmer in America. He is quite a Cincinnatus, and often works with his men himself—— strips off his coat and labors like a common man .”
This was exactly the kind of person I found in the Veterans we served for our Honor Flight. I promised I would tell you about Jerry McCandless. Jerry and I both, as Christians, believe God hand picked us to be together on this flight – God does do that you know! Jerry is a Korean War Veteran and lives on a farm. That agrarian connection got us started on the right foot. I learned so much from Jerry during our whirlwind tour of Washington D.C. I particularly loved watching him interact with young people. He brought history and a sense of patriotism alive and real for all those around him. Jerry truly is a hero who embodies the selflessness and character of George Washington and Cincinnatus. I also still get chills thinking of him telling the story of how, while on active duty in the Marine Corps, he donated $2.00 to the Marine Corps War (Iwo Jima) Memorial. He is very proud to have played a part in our country having that memorial and I believe he should be. There really are heroes who live up to the legends of countries founding heroes and we had the opportunity and honor to serve them yesterday. I would encourage you to seek out opportunities to serve our nation’s heroes!
Hilliard, M.J. (2001). Cincinnatus and the citizen-servant ideal. Xlibris Corporation.
“I sure wish you could be my social studies teacher! You make what’s in our books real and exciting. I now care about the wars I have to learn about.” ~ Unnamed student to Korean War Veteran, Jerry McCandless at the Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) War Memorial
Yesterday I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. On Armed Services Day (May 16) I had the opportunity to serve our Veterans as a Guardian for our Honor Flight sponsored by The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Once I get sorted through all of my emotions from that experience I will write a post, but for today I am going to use the Veterans as the heroes of a post on education reform. The quote above was actually said by one of the students in the picture. The Veteran, my new friend and hero, Jerry (in the picture), did an incredible job of bringing history alive for these students from Michigan. I have to say he brought it alive for me, too! As a believer and researcher of real world context in education this really drove home the fact that students need to be able to make the connection of what they are learning to their real world context. In fact, it has really got my wheels turning as to how we might, more intentionally, on our Honor Flights connect students with our Veterans. What an untapped wealth of wisdom and knowledge for the students we serve.
It was so ironic that this week’s lesson in Marciariello’s (2014) A Year With Peter Drucker was on education. Also, it is ironic that as I type this this post I am sitting in the airport waiting to board a plane for New Orleans for the American Federation for Children’s National Education Policy Summit where I am speaking on a panel on school choice and education reform. Drucker called for a systematic innovation in our schools (Maciariello, 2014). Drucker believed the heart of remediation was a “focus on strength.” He also believed we must stop “treating by patching.”
“Perhaps the time has come for an entrepreneur to start schools based on what we know about learning, rather than the old wives tales about it that have been handed down through the the ages.” ~ Peter Drucker
In September 2012 the Intelligence Unit of “The Economist“ had the United States ranked 17th out 39 countries plus Hong Kong, who was ranked third in Education Attainment, in Cognitive Skills (reading , math, and science) and Education Attainment (literacy and graduation). Bottom line: we have some work to do. “Literacy” traditionally means subject knowledge. In a knowledge society, however, people have to learn how to learn (Maciariello, 2014). The knowledge society also requires lifelong learning. For this we need a discipline of learning. We must also remember that reading is the basic skill needed for lifelong learning.
Make sure we are aware that learning, to be most effective, should be individualized – otherwise it can be torture!
We must start with the question, “How does each of our students learn most effectively?” Then, and only then, can an individualized plan for lifelong learning be developed. The goal of teaching should be to find the student’s strengths and then focus them on achievement. Students have different patterns of learning – teachers must unlock these patterns. We need to lead our students to great achievement. We need to create a real world connection, excitement, and motivation just as our Veterans did for students yesterday in Washington D.C. This relevancy of context will go a long way in creating intrinsic motivation for the rigorous, disciplined, persistent work, and practice that learning requires. Education is a mentoring process.
Most schools and colleges are organized on the assumption that there is only one right way to learn. If we are going to be successful in truly reforming education we must differentiate the choices students have for schools. I believe in school choice, but we must actually have choices for our families, and then help them make those choices. If all schools are using exactly the same cookie cutter approach, is it really school choice? Another question to ponder in closing, “How do we create more opportunities for our students to glean from the incredible wisdom of our Veterans like Jerry McCandless and Richard Schmidt?
Maciariello, J. A. (2014). A year with Peter Drucker: 52 weeks of coaching for leadership effectiveness. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
As an “Energetic Change Agent,” I was really into the week 19 lesson in Maciariello’s (2014) A Year with Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership and Effectiveness. If you have not begun the journey of reading this book, let me recommend it again. This week’s lesson dealt with identifying emerging trends and how that is different from trying to forecast the future. Identifying trends concentrates on directions and patterns. We must, as leaders, discern patterns from emerging trends, and separate fads from real changes (Maciariello, 2014). I have blogged about change before in other posts, but really dug into this topic in a post entitled: Change Creation is Proactive. You can read that post by clicking here.
Leaders who are effective at facilitating change capitalize on emerging trends and use them to create a new future for their organizations, thus providing a competitive advantage in times of rapid change, This is proactive, not reactive! Again, as was stated in the Drucker quote, this is an exercise in “seeing the future that has already happened.” To create the future any other way is reacting rather than acting, which is what one does if one grows quickly. We need to make sure to study the trends and look for the ‘certainties’ of the future. One place to look for this is in the demographics. One important part of change that I believe was left out of this lesson, and may be discussed in future weeks, is how some organizations ability to create the new future will be impaired by legislation and other government misunderstanding or slowness to adjust. An example is my own: education. As I look back to this year’s legislative session here in Indiana there was a lot of work around education. It is interesting to me that our House of Representatives is very pro “school choice” and innovative practices such as online education, but our Senate is not. Some of our legislation passed is helpful toward the ‘new future,’ but part of it still does not necessarily hinder practices for facilitating futuristic change, but certainly does not serve as a catalyst either.
Therefore, it will be important for us, as leaders of these affected organizations, to help all involved in decision/policy-making to understand the methodology that Drucker outlines to identify “the future that has already happened.” As I describe what Drucker calls the “seven windows of opportunity,” (Maciariello, 2014) think about online education as an example. Online education is already here and I believe everyone would agree it is not going away – nor should it go away. Amazingly, however, there are those that continue to try to block any legislation or policies that help to improve or make online education more effective. So we (and leaders of other such change) will need to help all of those involved understand the seven sources that Drucker outlines as: (1) unexpected success or failure, (2) incongruities, (3) process need, (4) a change in industry or market structure, (5) demographics, (6) changes in perception, (7) new knowledge (Maciariello, 2014). I believe you can extrapolate the implications of the seven windows to your organization. I believe in my own case we have done a pretty good job beginning to work on windows 5, 6, and 7, but we need to continue to put the whole package together to continue to move our cause for the students we serve forward.
“Theory organizes the new realities, it rarely creates them.” ~ Peter Drucker
As a rule, theory does not precede practice (Maciariello, 2014). Decision and policy-makers in government and organizations need to remember this. They need to understand, and few do, that events that have already occurred do not fit their present-day assumptions, and thereby create new realities. We must make sure our policies and structures support “the future that has already happened.”
What steps are you taking to turn future trends and needs into your advantage?
Look for “the future that has already happened” and turn it into an opportunity for innovation. If you do this, you can become an effective change leader. If you are a policy or decision-maker, please make sure you are thinking about how you can support “the future that has already happened.”
I am always amazed at how much I learn on my son and I’s annual turkey hunt. First let me answer the big question on everyone’s mind. Did you get one? I am happy to report that my son did! I did not. For the second year in a row Heath got a turkey and I didn’t. This was his fifth turkey in the seven years we have been hunting together. Not bad for a fourteen year old. In my defense, I did not even take a shot. I saw a bunch of turkeys and witnessed some great wildlife shows, but never a gobbler close enough to harvest.
When turkey hunting there is a great deal of time in solitude for thinking. My favorite time is the first thing in the morning. We get to the woods at 5:00 a.m. and then watch and listen as the woods comes alive. First there are the birds, then the occasional deer, and then the gobble of a roosted turkey. Our two days of turkey hunting each year remind us of all the wonderful creations that God has made. Though my seat attached to my turkey vest is not as comfortable as a yoga mat, I am not any less mindful when in this state of thought and meditation. There are so many things that run through your mind when sitting in total silence and not being able to move. It is exhilerating and I am already looking forward to next year.
On our first morning of the hunt, Saturday, we went to the river bottom along the levee. My son, Heath, set up along the field’s edge that separated the levee from a woods (the turkeys typically come off the levee and graze the field while heading to the woods for the day). I set up about a mile south of him. We both had a great show of turkeys that first morning. I even had a hen come right past me close enough that I could of reached out and touched her. Those that know me are probably amazed that I am able to sit that still in my full camo glory! Anyway, neither of us got a long beard (tom turkey) close enough for harvesting.
Later that afternoon, my wife took Heath to a baseball game (he pitched a save, by the way), and I went back near where we had hunted in the morning. There was a tremendous showing of birds. There was a group of 11 that appeared – four long beards, three jakes (young male), and four hens. They worked the field in front of us for two hours, but we could never call them in close enough for a shot. Then there was a single Tom who strutted around the field like he owned it, but again, not close enough. It was a tremendous show that Walt Disney would have been proud to have filmed for his nature films. But, still, they stayed along the levee side.
The next morning, you guessed it, I went back to the levee. Heath, on the other hand, went to another location. You guessed it, at 8:30 he harvested a bird. I was texted a picture (seen at the top of this post) and was thrilled – the goal is always for Heath to get a bird – I am secondary. Once again, however, I had the greatest show ever. Turkeys were coming off the levee right and left – lots of them. You guessed it, though, they were not interested in coming to me. The Toms were with hens and not interested in what I had to offer. Anyway, it was another great morning of solitude and thought. At least I kept telling myself that!
Toward the end of the morning, as the turkeys were moving out of site I got to thinking about “sunk cost bias.” Was I falling into the trap that leaders fall into. As I thought about this I realized that turkey hunting might be one of the greatest case studies to teach this because I kept getting drawn back to this same area. I knew there were lots of turkeys here. In fact three of Heath’s turkeys he harvested in past years had been taken very near where I was sitting. Also, I had already spent a lot of time there this year. This year, however, the turkeys were just not moving across the fields in the same way – this is what really makes turkey hunting so exciting and facinating. The turkeys never act the same from year to year. Does this sound like any of the organizations you lead? Yet, for some reason I was drawn to this place. Part of it was the fact that it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Hemlocks were blooming, Blue Jays were playing in the trees above me, a squirrel was hopping from tree to tree, and a Bald Eagle was soaring above. It is just a glorious place to be.
Still, there were all these turkeys. When we regrouped for the afternoon and Heath’s turkey had been processed it was decided to go to another location for the afternoon. “Sunk Cost Bias” had been resisted; at least for now. At 4:30 p.m., after not seeing or hearing any turkeys, it was decided, you guessed it, to go back to the levee. I know what you are thinking: this guy is an idiot because he knows the turkeys won’t come close enough. You are right, I was giving into sunk cost bias. I knew we would see birds, but I would never get a shot. Yet, I was drawn by the fact I had invested so much time there and knew there were turkeys. I had become the poster child of what sunk cost bias is: The sunk cost bias is manifested when we have a greater tendency to continue an endeavour once an investment in money, effort or time has been made.
I was first introduced to this thinking at Harvard University by Dr. Monica Higgins when studying a case study of the 1996 Mount Everest tragedies. Reasoning that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in the further investment. During the Mount Everest tragedy the sunk cost bias was carried out on two fronts: 1. At the time of starting for the summit, some thought the conditions were not right, but they had come all this way and were not going to wait; and, 2. Many that died did not summit by the 2:00 p.m. cutoff time (the time set to turn around if a summit had not been made yet) but went ahead and summited as much as two hours late. Again, the thought of “I’ve invested all this time, money, effort, et cetera and by golly I am going to summit Mount Everest” was at play there.
Obviously, my life was not on the line, but by going back to the levee for one last ditch effort at the end of our last day of hunting was giving into sunk cost bias. You guessed it, too, we saw a lot of turkeys but none came close enough. What I was failing to realize is that moving back to the levee would most likely result in the loss of much more time and not getting a turkey. I was thinking short-term, not long-term, and simply trying to avoid not getting a turkey, which was fallacious thinking. It was really thinking from a defensive posture and not an offensive one. This experience has really caused me to think about the strategic and academic plans we are carrying out in the schools I lead. Do we have areas of sunk cost bias? It begs taking an introspective look.
When we make a hopeless inventment of time, treasures, or talents we sometimes reason: We can’t stop now, otherwise what we have invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether we should continue on with the plan. If the plan will not work that everything invested will be lost regardless. Therefore, it really is irrational to continue, but yet we (at least me) continue on anyway. The rational thing for me to do on our turkey hunt would have been to try a new spot. Why didn’t I make the rationale choice: Our decisions are tainted by the emotional investments we accumulate, and the more we invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it. As an emotional human, my aversion to loss often leads me right into the sunk cost bias. We need to instead look at the loss from a growth mindset and consider it learning and knowledge gained.
Luckily, we all have the ability to reflect, study, and regret past actions. So, in my case, I need to remember what I did on this turkey hunt and apply it to my professional life as a leader. Do you have areas in your personal or professional life where sunk cost bias is hurting your ability to move forward? If you’re not sure, might I suggest an early morning meditation time in a woods as it comes to life at the start of the day?
This week’s lesson from Peter Drucker started with a story from when Ronald Reagan gave a campaign appearance at Claremont College. He was telling about how different it was at the time in 1980, than when he went to college. When discussing all the entertainment and laborsaving devices and space exploration, he said: “My generation didn’t have these; we invented them. (Maciariello, 2014, p. 139).” Even today there will be fundamentally new concepts, new ways of seeing the world, new ways of relating as individuals, as organizations, and as countries that will need to be developed. This is why Peter Drucker believed that, even in 1992, we were in a “very dangerous, a very upsetting, and a very exciting period (Maciariello, 2014, p. 141).”
These upsetting, dangerous, and exciting times that Drucker refers to, and I still believe we are in, also leads to a great deal of uncertainty. Drucker talked about realizing that the things being measured for success are not meaningful anymore (Maciariello, 2014). This is where all industry and education are alike; we must have meaningful measurement of metrics that matter. This is exacerbated by the fact that we live in a “mixed mindset” society as opposed to a “growth mindset” society. We have such a fear of failure because have become so fixated on winners and losers as opposed to getting smarter. We need to use all our knowledge and insight from all sources, including the humanities, life sciences, physical sciences, economics, history, and social sciences to bring about effectiveness and results. According to Drucker (Maciariello, 2014), the knowledge society has contributed to income inequality and uncertainty (this whole idea of winners and losers).
Education certainly is a prerequisite to competing and succeeding in our global economy today. This, in turn, creates exciting times for education. This is why I believe we must shift to a much more student-centered accountability that is framed on a growth mindset. In other words, we should weight student growth more heavily than proficiency. We should be measuring credits earned (as many students transfer from school to school already credit deficient), courses failed, attendance, and classroom engagement. We should also develop alternative accountability definitions that include mobility, date of enrollment, prior achievment, persistence and course failure. We should also include a growth measurement for high school students, which may require a pre-test in courses that have end-of-course assessements; although this is an additional assessment, a pre-test will provide actionable data that will lead to individualized instruction. I think you get the idea from this that I believe we must find out where the students are and then develop an action plan to get them there. This is very much a growth mindset approach to facilitating highly effective instruction and learning for the students we serve.
In closing, I would challenge you to take an introspective look at your organization, business, school, or governmental entity you lead and ask yourself, and your colleagues “Are we measuring the right things, do we have a growth versus fixed mindset, and how should we be measuring success?” Let me know your thoughts.