Byron's Babbles

Plum Crazy Leadership

What would happen in our busy corporate world if we had more opportunities to allow wisdom to emerge instead of either believing we have to already know everything and convince others we do, or controlling the atmosphere of our corporate cultures so we can be more productive? We can do this! In a recount of his journey through corporate life at Hallmark, Gordon McKenzie introduced a timeless analogy about plum trees and pyramids. The book is Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace.

He reminded us that most organizational charts look like a pyramid. He also reminded us that the pyramids are tombs. That’s a pretty huge reminder. Important people at the top and the not so important at the bottom. A reminder of this is when organizations say they want leadership from everyone and then create “leadership teams.” I thought everyone was a leader and the whole organization was a team. These types also always want to call themselves a family when really… People don’t stay in these organizations very long because they don’t want to get crushed and entombed by the pyramid.

MacKenzie argued that great organizations were like plum trees. Great metaphor because for one thing, a plum tree is a living thing. The plums are the products or services and the branches are all the teams. The leaves (I added this part) are the people who make it all happen and keep the organization thriving and alive – just like leaves do photosynthesis. Then, the trunk supports the whole tree. Novel idea, right? Actual it’s a plum great idea! See what I did there?

MacKenzie also taught us to practice what he called “compassionate emptiness”. Compassionate emptiness is a state of nonjudgmental listening and receiving of others’ ideas, thoughts, opinions, burdens, and worries. I’ve only met a few who were truly masters at this. Fortunately, I got to work for one of the few very early in my teaching career and I believe it helped to shape me into who I am today. To practice compassionate emptiness takes courage. There are boundaries to cross, impasse to acknowledge, and the admission of idiocy.

Unlike the pyramid, the plum tree is a living organism. It is flexible and can adjust with the times. In the plum tree, the service providers, talent, and product producers make up the top of the tree. They have sunshine, they have air, and they can see from their vantage point. They produce the fruit (cash crop). The plum tree can create opportunity through support of those that are closer to the solutions. Note this is intent based leadership – those closest to where the data is created should be making the decisions. So, it’s not plum crazy to wonder why more organizations don’t operate more like a plum tree.


Tending To Your Experience

On Kentucky Lake

Yesterday my son and I spent the day on Kentucky Lake fishing. It was incredible to be on the lake together enjoying this beautiful part of the world. We were very successful catching 16 Crappie, a Blue Gill, and a Yellow Bass. I was then multi-species angler of the team. Besides the multitude of subjects we discussed on this brisk and sunny day, it was when we were cleaning the fish that we got into a deep philosophical discussion. We were watching a little girl throw bread crumbs to the seagulls. The birds were so busy competing and paying attention to what each other was getting, that they were missing bread. Sound familiar?

Heath and I discussed how we can get so caught up in paying attention to what others have, the contracts others are getting, or what others are doing that we miss out on great opportunities (bread crumbs) right in front of us. Hopefully you caught the metaphor thing I did right there. William James argued, “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” He wrote this in 1890 in The Principles of Psychology, Vol.1. Think about it: what we pay attention to determines the experiences we have, and those experiences determine the success and significance in the life we live.

Now I am not suggesting that we bury our head in the sand. I am a huge believer in having a competitive advantage, but we must stay focused on our own experience. What are the bread crumbs available others are missing? Where are the bread crumbs we want? We need to beware of going after the bread crumbs others already have. Don’t worry about what brand of vehicle someone else drives, or what label is sewn on their purse (you ever thought about how stupid that is?), or the billion other things we use to compete. Those are all vanity.

So, remember it’s about substance over form. In our society today it is very easy to become focused on appearances both physical and attitudinal, because we are constantly subjected to the temptation of developing a public persona stoked by vanity. Remember, to have a competitive advantage we need to be aware of the competition, but not obsessed. I compare all the people on social media like a flock of seagulls all so focused on the bread crumb that the other seagull has they miss the one right in front of them. Find your bread crumb and go after it; don’t let anyone else distract you from getting it. It is your experience, no one else’s.

Being Thankful AND Proud

Showing our children we are proud of them is very important. Additionally, teaching them to be humble and modest about accomplishment is critical to their development as well. This is a really difficult dichotomy in philosophy. Character trait development gets tricky. I’m not here saying I know the perfect balance and right approach to appropriate praise and appropriate expressions of pride in a child’s efforts and accomplishments, but I’m here saying that we have an obligation to do it and learn to do it right.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to do some practicing. We started a new chapter in how to spend Thanksgiving. My son couldn’t make it home from college due to responsibilities there and so we made the trip down to Murray, Kentucky (he goes to Murray State University) on Wednesday. Then yesterday morning the other hour and a half to Jackson, Tennessee and spent the day with his girlfriend’s (we still call them girlfriends, right?) family. It was an incredible day and I could make that a tradition each year, but let’s not get in a rut yet. It may just be the excitement that in an hour my son and I will be on Kentucky Lake fishing. You all can have your shopping today – we’ll be fishing.

Anyway, one of the things Heath’s girlfriend’s family does before Thanksgiving lunch/dinner (2:00pm CT) was go around and tell one thing you are proud of your kids for. Genius! Mine: I love that Heath has been able to become a part of another family so easily and fit in. He brings his own cultural pieces to the puzzle but has been able to learn and understand his girlfriend’s family cultural puzzle and made his own pieces fit by understanding and respecting theirs. That’s how we raised him to be – global. We might just have got that accomplished. And, with Heath in the world it’s going to be a little bit better place. We’re proud of him!

So, don’t just be thankful, be proud. And, do the balancing act to show it!

Thankful For The Multitude Of Ways To Connect & Learn

I usually write a reflective post each year on Thanksgiving Day and this year will be no different. As I reviewed some past years’ works to post on Twitter and LinkedIn I became really reflective as I read through “I Count You Twice!”. I wrote that post in 2016, but I am amazed at how much of those thoughts apply even more today. I talked about making sure we were making lots of opportunities for learning available in and out of the classrooms for our young scholars. The last couple of years have proven just how important this is.

As I ponder all I’m thankful for, I think about all the ways we can access learning. For example I just started a writing class (The Source Code of Storytelling) with Rob Hart. His latest book, The Warehouse, sold in more than 20 countries and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. How cool is it that I can learn from this very talented and accomplished writer to better tell stories or maybe tell better stories. Is there a difference? In fact, overnight, I received my first feedback from Rob on my reactions and questions related to his first lecture.

Additionally, I love that the lectures are written. Of course, I highlighted and inserted notes all over the PDF of the lecture I made. In my reflection I even said, “First of all, as an education guy I loved that I was reading a written lecture about, well, writing. How cool is that?” The point here is that I’m learning from, interacting with, and receiving actionable feedback from a great writer! And, as Rob pointed out in his lecture, “Every genre—every book—can offer you something you didn’t know.” As a believer in intersectional learning, I believe these next four weeks are going to be a wild ride of learning. There are already things I have picked up that will enable me to improve my practices that have nothing to do with writing or storytelling.

So, today on Thanksgiving, I give thanks that we have the multitude of ways to connect with and learn from people with the experience/expertise of a Rob Hart. Would I love to personally be sitting down with him and having coffee, yes. But, we know that isn’t always going to be possible (Maybe someday, Rob – and I’ll buy- see I was paying attention!). This way, anyone, from anywhere on planet earth can have access to his treasures.

I am also thankful we continue to make sure these kind of opportunities are available to ALL our young scholars in our schools. I know Rob does great work in the arts, literacy, and education. I want to continue to dream about a world where every child could/would learn from Rob Hart or the likes of a Rob Hart. The more diverse the experiences and people we can have students interacting with the better.

Let’s be thankful, but also let’s continue to push forward making the world an even better place so that in 2022 on this day we are thankful for even more!

Don’t Always Saticfice

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Subtraction by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 23, 2021

Nobel Prize winning economist Herbert Simon coined a term that for me is somewhat paradoxical. The term is “saticficing.” He described it as a blend of satisfying and sufficient.He used the word to describe our tendency to leave things at “good enough.” Now, on first blush this can be a good thing – and is. For example those tasks on your to do list this morning that if you spend the time to go beyond “good enough” there will be no value added. Or, another example would be to drive around looking for the best brand of gas for my car. At some point I need to settle on “good enough,” otherwise I am wasting time.

Our brains actually do this optimizing for us so we don’t overload. This is because we have cognitive limits. In our earlier example of tackling our to do list this morning, I like putting a majority of our energy toward a project believed to be more important or needing the making good better.

Saticficing might keep us from wasting time, but let’s also not forget that not taking a little extra time might keep us from considering “subtraction.” In his great book Subtract: The Untapped Science Of Less, Leidy Klotz taught us that sometimes we need to resist the tendency to satisfice and do more by subtracting. This book is a must read, by the way. An example he gave would include the Strider bike invented by Ryan McFarland, which goes beyond good enough. This is an awesome example of taking the extra effort to subtract. While pedals and training wheels work well for kids, it seems that subtracting the pedals and training wheels works even better for kids to balance. Who’d a thought it?

The other example Klotz gave in the book was Edward Tufte. He works in information design and coined the term “chartjunk.” I so love people who invent words! Kind of like me inventing the word “Leadery” that is in my company name, Leadery Global. Anyway, chartjunk is all that extra crap that ends up on graphics representing data. This really resonated with me because I have worked with the people who will use every software option available when doing a graphic or spreadsheet. Really, all we need is the data, not a show that you know how to use all that crap. Sorry, touchy issue with me. But, I love Tufte because he shows us how removing chartjunk (or what I call crap) can add clarity.

So, the moral of this post is that sometimes saticficing keeps us efficient, but other times we need to take the extra time/effort to edit and subtract. Think about that the next time you’re ready to hit send on the world’s longest email or busiest graphic in history.

Choosing To Go

Posted in Global Leadership, John F Kennedy, Kennedy Space Center, Leadership, Leadership Development, NASA by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 22, 2021

I spent this past Saturday at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. Having been born in 1963 with John F. Kennedy as my President and him having made the iconic “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade…” speech, it was overwhelming to reflect on all that has happened in my now almost six decades. The Space Race and the fact that the Soviets were winning that race were what really prompted this audacious goal of President Kennedy’s. We rose to the challenge. In fact, we took that goal that so much farther than just placing “a banner of freedom and peace” on the moon.

But what does it mean to have had all of these experiences? Each decade brings new opportunity to become the best at something. If we want to live a life full of significance, we must recognise the strengths and opportunities each decade brings us. In fact, while doing a lit review of this, I found that in our 50s and 60s our emotional intelligence becomes a superpower. It seems our cognitive abilities rise and fall asynchronously during our lifespan. This is why it is so important for me and all the rest of us to stay significant. As someone now with decades of life experience, I realize I can understand the world better than most.

As I took a walk back in time on Saturday with my NASA friends, I realized I can relate to the needs and passions of many. I also, most of the time, can make sound decisions, listen, resolve conflicts, and communicate clearly. This developed skillset makes me the perfect mentor/coach when it comes to ideas, products and services, organizational strategy, and new policies. The fifth and sixth decades are the age of being visionary. And, there is even more to look forward to in my seventh decade. According to Igor Grossmann, et al., our ability to reason gets stronger in our sixties and seventies. This research showed that as we age we use higher-order reasoning schemes that emphasize the need for multiple perspectives, allow for compromise, and recognize the limits of knowledge. This humility and desire for deeper learning really jumped out at me. It is important for me to practice intellectual humility. We should all hone our ability to admit what we don’t know.

I realize that the space program was in existence before I was born, but just two years before I was born President Kennedy solidified that each decade would bring new adventures, discoveries, challenges, and uniquely wonderful moments. So, no matter what decade of your life you are in, embrace the expansive growth and wisdom that each year brings. And, make sure you are seeking that next mountain to climb. Where will you choose to go?

Always In A State Of Becoming

My vantage point for EPCOT’s new nightly fireworks display: Harmonious

This week I had the opportunity to go to Disney’s EPCOT. I’ve always been inspired by the creative and imaginative of Walt Disney. I was here for ExcelinEd’s 2021 National Summit On Education. As you can imagine, because of the inspiration of the location, there were lots of quotes and references from Walt Disney. One from EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was that Walt Disney wanted to build a community of tomorrow that “would never be completed.” His vision was to have a place for demonstrating and introduce new ideas and systems. What was really jumping out at me was this idea of “always in a state of becoming.” Just like Disney’s vision of EPCOT never being completed, we personally are always in a state of becoming as well as everything around us. This includes education. As the world, society, and what we know from science about how children develop and we learn, our work is never completed. Thus with every day comes the opportunity for becoming – becoming even more incredible than yesterday!

I love this idea of “becoming.” It is so much more liberating than “improving” or “changing.” Those two things signal there being a deficiency. “Becoming” signals growth, adaptation, and evolution. Think about it: every moment we are becoming something– something else. Our intellect is constantly evolving and changing because of the different impressions, and different visual/audio/spatial stimuli that we have each and every day.

While philosopher Parmenides spoke of “being” and Heraclitus’ philosophy was about “becoming,” we are not sure if Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus, or Heraclitus to Parmenides. This rivalry had a profound influence on Plato. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” There is always a state of flux.

We’re never the same person. Every moment our molecules, atoms, and cells change in our body. Who we were yesterday isn’t the same person are today. Therefore we need to embrace that we and everything around us is always “becoming.”

Taking Subjective To Objective

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 17, 2021

I talk about language mattering a bunch. Also, I talk about using buzz words, and words that don’t really mean anything. Then, this morning I read a great piece by Alex Dripchak that was a good reminder of words not to use. His article, “Starting A Career In Sales? Avoid These Words!” was in the context of sales, but the principles really apply to everything. Even as a person who is critical of word choice, I wanted to go back and read everything I’d written in the last week and make sure I wasn’t using the “bad, worse, and worst” words suggested. Alex calls these “trigger” words.

Furthermore, they are words that are overused and assumptive, according to Alex. I love this way of describing what I always call buzz words. Most recently I blogged about this in the context of core values in Core Values Are The Heart & Soul. In that post I added hoopla and corporate gibberish to the words we shouldn’t use. In taking another look at my post, I wonder if “authentic” is another word that has been used to the point of having no meaning (I’ll ponder that later).

Alex told us to make the subjective, objective. He noted that “best,” “unique,” “innovative,” and “cutting edge” were rendered hollow a long time ago. Using the teaching of Lee Salz, Alex said, “…if you can’t prove it, don’t use it.” I know I said I would ponder it later, but “authentic” has been rendered hollow too. If I understand Alex correctly what would be better, would be to say, “I am different because…” Thus taking subjective to objective.

Eliminating Disdain & Maintaining Respect

In the leadership development work I do we always all agree that relationships are the key to everything. And, they really are. Healthy and respectful working relationships are a must if you want an effective and enjoyable workplace, organization, community, or even world. One cornerstone to healthy relationship building is intellectual humility. When practicing intellectual humility, we open our minds to learning. With intellectual humility we become wiser. It is really about realizing that we can learn from opposing views and have more constructive discussions, even when we disagree. Practicing intellectual humility allows us to be less judgmental of others.

This has actually been a topic of my blog posts many times before. I began thinking about virtue signaling, which I first blogged about in Leading Without “Virtue Signaling.” Then, this morning, when reading in Amor Towles’ incredible book The Lincoln Highway, I came across this statement about Emmett Watson, an 18-year-old Nebraskan farm kid just released from a Kansas juvenile detention center after serving 15 months for involuntary manslaughter: “Emmett was raised to hold no man in disdain. To hold another man in disdain, his father said, would presume you knew so much about his lot, so much about his intentions, about his actions, both public and private, that you could rank his character against your own without fear of misjudgment.” That’s a pretty powerful statement, don’t you think? By not judging, virtue signaling, or holding others in disdain we enable a community that values learning and where learning happens when what is not known or understood is acknowledged.

We must model this humility by admitting when we do not know or understand something. Modeling also involves recognizing the value in opinions that are different from our own. In the face of conflicting evidence, we need to be open to changing our opinions. The disdain and contempt described by Emmett’s father destroys teams, communities, and relationships. It prevents trust and respect and makes it hard for any real human warmth. It is tangibly damaging, causes stress and can harm people emotionally, mentally and ultimately physically.

Finally, I am reminded of what Carlo Strenger said: The difference between civilized disdain and political correctness is that the former allows one to feel disdain for a person’s or group’s views or beliefs while maintaining respect for the human beings that hold them.” There will be gaps in knowledge, ideological divides, differences of opinion, and cultural differences, but we must strive for fruitful cooperation and shared learning to be effective world citizens.

One Of A Kind Of Days

Posted in Amor Towles, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 15, 2021

I seem to be on a role blogging about Amor Towles’ great new book The Lincoln Highway. Towles is an incredible storyteller, as I pointed out in The Long & Short Of Great Stories. There are so many points in his books that cause me to think and reflect. I really like the character, Woolly, in the book. Woolly told us that we need to turn “every-day-days” into “one-of-a-kind of days.” I love this! Think about it: too many times we get into a rut liking the every-day-days, but it’s so great to have days with no equal and that are completely unique.

What if we could do something we had never done before every day. Now those would be one-of-a-kind of days. Our goal could be to use everything that happens as an opportunity for a one-of-a-kind experience. As I write this my plane has been delayed for two hours. I am going to go explore. Who knows what I will find? Maybe inspiration for some great activity; maybe some new technology; maybe a new acquaintance I would have never known; who knows! Here’s what I do know: while others are griping, moaning, and stressing, I’ll be exploring.

The power to make each day something special is ours. But, we must be responsible for our own experience. Grandiose things don’t have to happen for a day to be special. We need to appreciate the little things. Pay attention and notice things that would pass you by in an “every-day-day.” The little inconveniences of the day can turn into incredible experiences. We need to pay attention to the sounds, smells, and sights that probably get ignored on the “every-day-days.” If we don’t look for extraordinary in the ordinary, we won’t find it. Believe it’s there, believe we will find it, and we will.

I guess it all comes down to making the most out of each day. I don’t want to be content with “every-day-days.” I want to make a difference for others and help others each and every day. To do this I will need to make every day a “one-of-a-kind of days.”