Byron's Babbles

Imaginal Leader Cells

Graphic Recording By Kelvy Bird


Yesterday I had the distinct honor of spending the day learning with The Value Web. One of the discussions involved the work of Imaginal Labs and the work of Carolyn Buck Luce and Rob Evans. When first seeing the word “imaginal” my thoughts were drawn to “imagining” or having an “imagination.” I quickly learned, however, “imaginal” is a biology term. The imaginal cells and the Blue Morpho Didius Butterfly 🦋 were the inspiration for Imaginal Labs. 

I am way over-symplifying here but basically imaginal discs (cells) are what allow the caterpillar to metamorphosis into something completely different – the butterfly. Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. The imaginal disc might begin with only 50 cells and increase to more than 50,000 cells by the end of metamorphosis.

So, when thinking in terms of “imaginal” it is about creating new ideas and concepts of things that do not yet exist. As leaders we must do this at times. We must also be able to use our “imaginal leader cells” to iterate or metamorphosis the innovations and creations of our organizations. I like the way the Imaginal Labs puts it: 

“We believe that courageous leaders are the Imaginal cells within their organizations to help them transform to meet the challenges of our times.” ~ Imaginal Labs

Are you an Imaginal Leader?

Kaleidoscopic Adventure

Yesterday, we had our annual Focused Leader Academy (FLA) Summit where Cohort #2 graduated. Our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) at Hoosier Academies Network of Schools provides leadership skills the ability that are flexible and relevant no matter the situation and time. We want to inspire with valuable and effective methods for assisting our teacher leaders in discovering what they need to become focused and disciplined leaders. Over one hundred were in attendance because Cohort #1 and our newly selected Cohort #3 were there too. Additionally, we have each FLA member’s significant other in attendance as well. I dubbed the theme of the day to be: “Kaleidoscopic Adventure
.” We have used toys as through-lines all year and I thought it only too appropriate to use a kaleidoscope for the finale. Of course I gave everyone their very own kaleidoscope. We started with an activity of looking through the kaleidoscope and the thinking about what words they would use to compare the view through the kaleidoscope to their personal leadership journey. Ann Semon set up a text poll for us. Here are the results: 

Our adventure has been like that of a Kaleidoscope – colorful glass pieces or prisms in the end of a Kaleidoscope, the core characters don’t change, but can be moved around to fit the needs and personal development of team members in order to deliver great experience.
Additionally, we can use the same Kaleidoscopic through-line to describe the complexity of a school – enchantment, mercy, grace, trust, generosity, ease, truth, alliance, learning, and passion.
Our schools are like giant kaleidoscopes:

  • Schools are always moving, ever changing, and made up of simple parts that have highly complex results. 
  • They are beautiful because of the “dynamic complexity” that takes place every minute.
  • Even with the same common elements – hallways, desks, students, schedules – no two are exactly alike and they are beautiful because of their uniqueness.
  • When you look at them from the outside, they are relatively simple. When you view them on the inside, they are amazingly complicated.
  • Kaleidoscopes are fun and meant to be shared! 

Then sometimes I think we need an inside-out kaleidoscope—a de-fragmenter— this might be useful for looking at a fractured order through a lens of unity. 

For me personally, yesterday represented a spin of the Kaleidoscope. A new Cohort of beautiful pieces come into FLA, and the view gets even more complex and beautiful. Yesterday I tweeted that I was blessed to be able to form great relationships with our teachers. I mean that, and it is very important to me.

School leaders need personalized care. Remember, I believe everyone is a leader. Therefore, everyone in the school needs personalized care. When I personalize the care, I come away knowing my leaders better, sensing their concerns about the school, education, and about their own lives. I believe in the fundamental strategy of personally training individual leaders, particularly teacher leaders, to be the key for a strong, healthy school with effective leading of learning and family engagement. Many times we rationalize that the teacher leaders are too busy with their jobs and families to spend time with us. But the truth is, we are allowing ourselves to be swamped with the immediate and losing our priorities.

Cultural Paths

file-1 4Another thought process around adaptive cultures that I pondered during this past week’s Learning Innovation Lab 2017 Summit was cultural paths of employees and team members. This was such a deep thought process for me, as a person who believes in intent-based leadership and making sure employees are fully developed. The philosophy is that there are three cultural paths:

  1. Identity Oriented
  2. Contribution Oriented
  3. Practice Oriented

As I began studying the Sita Magnuson graphic recording of the session, I realized that two of the identities that I had always thought led to great cultures in teams can really be detrimental over time, particularly if not complimented by a Practice Oriented culture. After reflecting, it really makes sense that in the long haul a practice oriented culture will keep team members and employees growing and flourishing. file2-1

With Identity and Contribution Oriented cultures employees can become burnt-out, broken, and defeated. The problem is that with Identity Oriented cultures, individuals who are uniquely gifted end up working alone and having threatened identities and working alone. With a Contribution Oriented culture each individual has valuable skills and the focus becomes all about focusing on opportunities to innovate and lead change. While these things all sound good and most of us have probably been part of these types of cultures, when you begin to analyze and way these orientations against that of Practice Oriented, we realize there is a better way.

file1-1 2What I found when pondering a Practice Oriented culture was the theories that I really believe in in organizational leadership. A Practice Orientation really revolves around developing employees in real-time while actually doing work that matters for the organization. Developing this way enables learning and mastering work with others. It enables team members to be doing important work that really matters for the organization. In this way, employees grow and flourish while actually doing the work.

While at first the differences might only seem like semantics, at closer inspection I found that the differences have major implications to the organization. Identity and contribution are important for sure (in fact we should find way to help people on all paths), but without actually considering the real-work of the organization and intentional development of the employees while actually engaged in that work, they lack the important opportunities for learning and growth. These are the key ingredients to keeping employees engaged and from becoming disenchanted.

Adaptive Cultures

file-1 2I began a new journey of learning today and let me just say it was awesome. Today I became part of the Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have been watching and admiring the work of this group that is a consortium of leading researchers and practitioners in the field of organizational learning and change. To be asked to be part of such a distinguished group in very exciting. I certainly admire the mission of this project of: Bringing together the leaders of organizational learning to develop a greater understanding of the field’s current challenges. Today I attended my first session which was the 2017 LILA Summit. This event, which was held at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was the culmination of the work done this year around the topic of Adaptive Cultures. Next year’s topic that we will be studying was announced today and is: Emergence In Organizations: Shaping The Future As It Unfolds.

file-2 3

Gert Jan Hofstede

I want to reflect here on a discussion we had as a small group at the end of the day today that was on the question: How do we get from cultural practices to cultural values? This question was posed by Gert Jan Hofstede. Gert is a Dutch population biologist and social scientist in information management and social simulation, interested in the interplay of the contrasting forces of cultural evolution, societal change, and cultural stability. Bottom-line, he is a genius and I was excited to be learning from him today.

 

I must admit, however, when I first heard his question I thought he had it backward. Don’t we need to get our cultural values straight first, then get the practices in place? But, as the discussion ensued I realized I was wrong. In most organizations and social structures there are already cultural practices in place. So, there must be a matching, shift, or discover of values in order to get practices in line with values. We used a small group sharing best practice of each telling a story from our own experience. I told the story of my own school network and how a new culture needed to be developed where basically a free for all of everyone doing their own thing with no real direction had existed.

Furthermore, I told how we used teacher leaders in concert with stakeholders to develop a guiding set of core values. I even mentioned how I believe the statement “students first” in many ways hurts education. I cannot count the times I have heard someone answer “students first” to the question of how to do something or how to develop a process. Let’s be clear here, “students first” is a core value, not a task or tactic. Just saying “students first” without a process does nothing. In fact, it probably does more harm. Now, please understand I do believe in the core value of “students first,” but we must have the cultural practices in place to do just that. That’s why I now have grown to like Gert’s original question of how to get from cultural practice to cultural values.

In this example, we really started over by developing the cultural values and then building the processes to be in line with the cultural values. A point made by Gert that really resonated with me was that we have to watch make our cultural values banners that we fly to answer everything, like my “students first” example with know real cultural practices to support the cultural values.

Another key point that came out of this discussion was that in an organization cultural practices are more important than values. As a believer in having core values and making decisions based on these values I had to get my mind wrapped around this. In the end, however, the group was right because without practices the values are just words spoken or written on a page. We need to look at cultural values as the drivers. These should drive our actions. Our values will also show our perceptions.

We then discussed others in the group’s stories. Some were more societal than organizational. Then the question of: Why do we bother? came up. It is tough because as Gert pointed out, “You can only surf on the waves of where society is going.” We discussed reframing the cultural values by looking at what the backdrop is. We also discussed this as a tactic when dealing with adaptive cultures. We discussed that there is a big difference between the cultural value of “saving the planet” and “preserving the natural landscape.” Sometimes we can, and do, have the same values, but are looking at them through different lenses.

We must recognize the fractal nature of culture – there are cultures within cultures within cultures within cultures. Additionally, creating a culture where we can interact a lot with a lot of different people is important. If we interact a lot, we influence each other. We have leverage with those we frequently interact with and they have leverage over us. The person(s) with the most diver set of connections will always make better decisions. Who talks to whom and who interacts with whom matters. For adaptive cultures we, as leaders, have to be around the edges nudging. We must also be humble and realize we do not know everything.

To summarize our small group discussion we did a cool activity and developed a tweet representative of our learning. Here is our tweet: “Values derived should drive cultural practices and then inform leadership.” #LILAculture17 What is driving your organization’s culture and informing you as a leader?