Byron's Babbles

Adaptive Leadership – Great Blue Heron Style

It’s a great morning when I can enjoy wildlife on the way to the barn. There was a Great Blue Heron out in one of our freshly mowed hay fields this morning. The background for this tall, majestic, and shaggy feathered bird this morning was a corn field (see the photo I took, featured in this post). At first I thought, “Wow that corn is really tall for the 3rd of July.” The old saying “knee high by the Fourth of July” is very outdated. As you can see from the picture, we are way past that. Think about it; if Blue Herons are 53-55 inches tall, the corn in the background is well past that. Ok, back to the point; it’s just hard for the farm kid not to talk corn.

Anyway, I have always been fascinated with these great creatures. They are amazing to watch, particularly when they are hunting rodents in a hay field. These great birds with long yellow legs can stand like statues for what seems like forever while stalking prey by site. And, when prey comes by, they don’t miss. I have blogged about these beautiful birds that have wing spans of over seven feet. Click here to read “Blue Heron Leadership.”

Now, as we begin day 115 of the the COVID-19 Pandemic, I think about how we have had to really practice adaptive leadership. Great Blue Herons can occupy a variety of habitats in freshwater and marine coastal ecosystems: lakes, ponds, rivers, flooded farmlands and meadows, irrigation ditches, and wetlands. Think about all these different habitats and the adapting that must be done. These birds are able to forage successfully on a variety of aquatic and dry land environments. They also have a very diverse and extensive menu of prey. Actually, an adaptation of the sixth cervical vertebrae allows the bird to draw it’s neck into the characteristic “S” shape and then strike with lightning speed and killing force.

Each day presents new or recurring leadership challenges. Therefore, we must learn from and draw on the wisdom of prior experiences while learning, in real time, lessons from today. In order to adaptive with the agility necessary, we must be situationally aware and asking the right questions, not just devising answers. During times like these the process of sound adaptive leadership can get lost. A preoccupation with events may lead to a short-term focus and a reactive posture. To truly adapt, we must take the long-view and adopt a broader perspective incorporating data, information, and knowledge. This will allow for the cultivation of wisdom.

Wisdom can only be gained though experience. Wisdom is about understanding and being able to adapt. Understanding is fluid. Wisdom is knowledge that is not seen as being applied rigidly to one thing. By adapting, we understand knowledge’s essence and can see how it relates to everything else, with nuances and contradictions included. Wisdom inspires adaptable versatility and provides textured lenses for dealing with reality.

Day 💯 – Getting To Know People In A Different Way

Well, here we are; day 💯 of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic. During this time of discovering a new normal, I feel more connected than ever before. I have met the children, spouses, pets, and even a grandmother of people I never would have thought possible. I’ve even introduced some of our Jersey dairy cows to others while connecting virtually. Additionally, I’ve witnessed parents attending school events virtually, while at work, that never would have been able to attend before. My point? There are things that we need to consider becoming normal. I’m not saying replace necessarily, but supplement.

Having said that, I now begin to think about what else do we need to be thinking about? How do we leverage technology? How do we stay human? How do we get the right tools in the hands of everyone? How do we decide what the right tools are?

It’s interesting to me that before the WHO (I thought that was a rock band) named this a Global Pandemic we were talking about sustainability and the environment, health care, education, and many other things. While in the education realm we have been focused on connectivity and providing meaningful virtual education, and in healthcare our actions have been around caring for Coronavirus patients and stopping the spread of the disease, we will get back to talking about the major issues in the way we were before the pandemic took over. For example, we will, no doubt, be rethinking health care and how it is delivered. In education, I continue to argue that our conversation needs to shift to the idea that school is no longer a place.

Even though I served as moderator for an awesome global event last month that was virtual with 47 countries represented, I also wonder if our assumptions about globalization have been challenged. We had been talking about distance no longer being a factor, but in some ways I’ve seen us become more isolationist and seeing us care more about the locality we operate in and what we can touch and feel. But, we’ve also seen that we can hire the best talent from anywhere and bring them onto teams. The only remaining question related to that is how to do remote working well.

I don’t think I am alone with all of this thinking and pondering. We are now entering a time of needing to decide which practices still make sense and which need to change. We need to come together as families, businesses, schools, communities, cities, states, and nations to answer the question, “What can we create together?”

Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 1.50.24 PMI first drew the illustration featured in this post for a webinar that I presented as a part of for the SMART Factory League back in April. Then I used it again this week for two webinars I did for teachers entitled “Embracing the Changes: Let’s Not Go Back to Status Quo.” The drawing represented how we are being nudged, pushed, or even shoved to make changes, given our current uncertain and unprecedented times. I hoped the drawing represented going from the massive, unorganized scribble that was the uncertainty and confusion we first experienced when dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic to a very focused, straight line. On this, now day 80 of the pandemic, I would argue we are not at the focused, straight line yet, but are moving closer.

So, how do we get started? To borrow from our friend Goldilocks – we must get our focus just right. Focusing to narrowly on just one of our challenges will not work, but it also will not work to try to change everything at once, either. We need to change in a controlled fashion. But, what does that mean during this time of both the normal disruption of things and the ongoing pandemic? We are all trying to cope with unprecedented levels of uncertainty.

In fact, studies show that we are loss-averse and gain-seeking. We want the sure thing. We will accept less to lower the risk of failure. Sometimes we even give up success to not experience failure. We contemplate this a lot in athletics. Do we play to win, or play not to lose? Most teams who play not to lose, do just that – lose.

One thing I know for sure, we have done a lot of developing our “dealing with uncertainty capability.” One of the most important ways I believe that I have been able deal with the uncertainty has been to fully embrace the fact that every day was going to be a learning experience. I have literally asked myself, “What can I learn today?” These past 80 days have put the mantras of “lifelong learner” and “growth mindset” to the ultimate tests. You see, when something’s too easy or we’re not facing uncertainty, we’re not learning. Numerous scientific studies show that when we confront setbacks and we can adjust our view of these setbacks to see them as lessons, our brains literally begin to change.

None of us were trained on how to respond in a global pandemic and our immediate response to the challenges might have been “I can’t do this” or “We’ll figure it out.” As Nora Bateson (2016) so aptly put it in Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing Through Other Patterns, “No one is qualified to talk about uncertainty. You cannot get a degree in it yet, to the best of my knowledge.” Furthermore, she went on to say, “How, after all, can I pretend to offer you any kind of lesson on what I do not know?”

But, learn in adversity is what we did in education. While in the beginning it looked like the left had side of my scribble, we have been making our way across the page to the straight line. Wednesday and today we began to chronicle our learning by embracing the changes and discussing how to not go back to status quo. Here are two graphic recordings done by Amy Reynolds, Principal of Governors Charter Academy, during our session: “Embracing the Changes: Let’s Not Go Back To Status Quo.” Check them out:

The information in the graphics came from over 200 teachers working in breakout groups answering the following “What if?” questions:

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I learned to use “what if?” questions from the late Dr. Clayton Christen. These type of questions allow us to challenge assumptions, allow for innovation, and allow us to prepare. How about you? What have you been learning during these uncertain times?

“Easy To Say, Harder To Live By”

“What have I become during the pandemic?”

I had another Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) Blue Bloods quote that made me do some reflecting. He said, “Easy to say, harder to live by.” We all have heard people say, or said things ourselves that are very easy to say, but much tougher to actually do. I wrote about another quote from Frank Reagan in “Life Isn’t Fair, But You Can Be.” It’s easy to set set ambitious goals or say you will do the right thing, but it is a much harder thing to do the work to achieve them.

We talked about this last night during 3D Leadership. The participants made Flat Stanley’s and Flat Sarah’s representing what they have become during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Almost everyone talked about new and exciting things they are doing or have started to do again. Many talked about how at first was easy to get down, but then once they started learning and doing it became exciting to be doing great new things.

Remember, it’s easy to say. Much harder to do. But, it’s the hard stuff that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary.

66 Days To A New Habit

First of all it is important to note that as I write this post we are in Day 66 of the COVID-19 global pandemic. I blogged about the day, March 11th, that I am considering our first day of these uncharted times in The Day We Started Down The Path With No Footprints. The other night in one of our 3D Leadership gatherings I had the participants make their own Flat Stanley or Flat Sarah that represented who they had become since March 11th when the WHO (I thought that was a rock band) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. O.k., the WHO is the World Health Organization.

Participants could either make the their Flat Stanley or Sarah using materials in their homes or using an online resource we gave them. The group did a great job with these and they were very creative. I found it interesting that many of the participants discussed how they had picked up, developed new, or restarted old habits. One participant said, “It takes a month to build a new habit.” She was referring to now doing a better job of exercising. Of course, I had to check and see if there was any research that backed this claim of taking a month to develop a new habit up.

Here’s what I found: Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, did a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit. So, what was concluded from the study? On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. But, as was stated, 66 days was the average. Thus, why I chose today to write this post. We are exactly 66 days into this pandemic.

So, why is the length of time it takes to form a habit important? During these challenging times, everyone in the world has been forced to change their routines, be creative, try new ideas, learn new ways of doing things, slow down focus on some of the most important things (in education-the most important content), and connect with people and in the case of education, students, in effective ways we never thought possible. The abrupt shift to remote instruction changed many aspects of our lives. In my case I continue to say I have grown in great and unimaginable ways during this time. In education, I continue to say that we have grown in the aspect of school no longer being a place.

Let me be clear; I realize there are those, and maybe even me still, that the crisis will be catastrophic. This post is not intended to minimize the seriousness of the consequences many people face, or may be facing. I believe that many of us have grown in our ability to be o.k. with feeling bad or being comfortable with uncertainty. Personally, I continue to see this crisis as a challenge to overcome and a conduit for personal growth. The 3D Leadership participant who talked about it having been a good time to use the month to develop new and better habits, I believe, had in mind that we can see the loss of our, pre-pandemic and regular life as a chance to focus on other aspects of your life that have been neglected because we’ve been too busy to address them. We have also identified areas we want to work on or improve in our lives and focus on developing those areas. We need to all use this break from “normal life” to seek balance in our life and pursue aspects of our lives that we did not have time for before the crisis.

We need to use our responses to the crisis as an opportunity to learn and grown and become more positive, adaptable, and resilient which will, no doubt, serve us well when the current crisis passes. We can all create new structures and routines in our lives around school, work, daily activities, and social life. Finally, and most importantly, we can take action. Keep in mind, we’ve already had the 66 average days it takes to make a new habit become automatic. Are you happy with your new habits?

Life Is A School As Well

img_8394Today, during our “best of week” of educator professional development, I repeated my webinar, “Angry Teacher 1: What Can We Learn from Angry Birds About Engaging Students?” During the webinar a teacher made the comment in one of the discussions that “Life Is A School As Well.” This comment really struck me as we were discussing student engagement and making sure we were teaching students to adapt and use concepts to solve real world challenges and issues. We really have this opportunity right now because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We have a socio-scientific classroom at our fingertips right now that can be easily accessed virtually with our students. Our students are living this right along with us. Therefore we must consider the intersection of our students real life and education. Right now the lines are pretty blurred.

Living through this time has taught us the that “life is a school” and that “school is no longer a place.” We need to make sure and honor living as part of the educational process. Henry Adams taught us this when he said, “Your life’s journey is your education.” I blogged about this in Your Life’s Journey is Your Education. We need to remember we are preparing citizens. Part of the answer for improving education is improving the sense of calling and commitment of students to take ownership of their learning and development. Burdens can many times create blessings and we need to keep in mind that our students have lives outside of the traditional education “walls” that we see the kids. We are learning to deal with this now more than ever. We cannot take this learning lightly and must use what we have learned to guide our path forward while we are on this path with no footprints.

If we really use “life” as part of education then we need to begin to reverse engineer how we educate using fulfilled adult lives and careers in the here and now to help inform the education content and process. We are not really doing this if we are honest. Most curricula are not designed by people who have experienced world-wide success in the areas being taught. This is why I am such a believer in the need of involving business/industry as partners in education. We must break through the barriers of:

  • Teaching to deliver on, rather than change, expectations.
  • Teaching to redeploy old ideas rather than originate and ideate new ones.
  • Teaching about the dangers of originality.

These are the reasons why we get compliance instead of student engagement. Much of our education system teaches kids to be very good at being outwardly and entirely obedient. We need to provide an education where school work looks like real work and we have more than just very narrow parochial outcomes in mind. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we control. Life truly is a school as well.

The Day We Started Down The Path With No Footprints

IMG_8652As I write this post it is day 129 of the 366 days of 2020. With 237 days left in this leap year, I felt the need to go back and reflect on the 70th and 71st days of 2020. These two days marked the start of my life being very different. In fact I was reminded that my life is not really my own, apart from everyone else. My life is a part of an entire community and ecosystem. Our world, up to and including March 10th, was really built on the premise that our world and education works off of and teaches that we are individuals and act as individuals. But, overnight from March 10th to 11th we were taught that we are all part of a ecosystem and even our own health depends on others.

IMG_8614The 70th day of 2020 was March 10th. That day wasn’t much different that any other day, other than I had been invited to attend the Indiana Pacers vs. Boston Celtics game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana that evening with my Krannert School of Management friends from Purdue University. Other than the Pacers losing in a great and close game 114-111, it was a perfect evening of visiting with and networking. I do remember we had begun “elbow bumping” instead of shaking hands and there were extra bottles of hand sanitizer on the tables. Little did I know at the time I had seen the last NBA game of the season.

2020-03-10 19.21.22I do, however, vividly remember one comment I made toward the end of the evening: “I wonder what happens if one player on one of these teams has Coronavirus?” Well, the next day, Wednesday, March 11, the 71st day of 2020, I got my answer. Rudy Gobert of Utah Jazz was the first NBA player to be diagnosed with what, that day, we began calling “COVID-19.” That same day the NBA canceled the rest of the season and the NCAA said the college basketball tournament would be played without fans (a few days later the tournament was canceled completely). On Wall Street that day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,465 points. Also, on that day I learned that my son would be coming home from Murray State University to take his classes online till at least April 6th (later, the rest of the Murray State University semester went to online). That day we started down a path with no footprints.

Additionally, on March 11th, we officially started calling it a Global Pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organization on that day. It was that day that I came to the realization that this was for real, and this was much bigger than all of us. I also realized that if I was going to survive the weeks ahead, I would need to think in terms of self reflection instead of self evaluation. Also, it was abundantly clear on March 11th that pre-COVID-19 life and what happened next was still a path with no footprints. My existence as an individual was forever altered to make me realize how dependent we are on each other. For example that very March 11th day, the hoarding began. It became a time when we couldn’t find a bottle of hand sanitizer because someone else had hoarded a truckload of it – literally. I realized we, as a people, think and act very individualistically. Even though we were being told that there was plenty of everything, people still hoarded. I saw with my own eyes the empty shelves. We weren’t thinking about ourselves as a part of a larger community that needed to think about the next person coming down the aisle looking for toilet paper – which for some reason became the most hoarded item early on.

“My health is not my own. My health is the whole community’s, it belongs to the elderly, the youth, and even to the biome of organisms that live in my body and in the soil. This, is the opposite of everything that the last centuries of manufacturing, education and politics have forged into societal infrastructure and even the making of identity. ~ Nora Bateson

When people begin to talk about going back to normal, I cringe. I’m not sure I want to go back. I get it. You all now think I am crazy, and you’re arguing that not getting back to normal will cause the economy to crash. But, just going back to normal without having learned and grown from the experience is a huge tragedy. If it really takes a month to build a habit then we are in great shape because we have had nearly two months of developing new habits of realizing that what we do affects others and so on. We have also had a chance to slow down and ponder things like “how do we take what we have learned and make our education system better?” We’ve realized that school is no longer a place, and so how do we as Nora Bateson asked us, “What is the measurable value of changing the education system so the next generations may be more proficient at complexity and systemic understanding than their parents?” improve our education system. We do need an education system focused on developing our children to be able to deal with the complexities of our world that most of their parents don’t even realize exist.

I can truly say I have grown in ways I never thought possible in the last two months. And, a big part of that learning is the realization that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves. As I finish writing this on May 8th, we are beginning to reopen, but hopefully we take advantage of of the clean slate of the path with no footprints to make the world a better place.