Byron's Babbles

Imagining The Unimaginable

Last night I had the pleasure of recording a professional growth video focused on student engagement with five National FFA Teacher Ambassadors from Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The goal of our recording was to provide teachers from around the country with ideas on how to keep students engaged right now whether it be in the classroom or in FFA activities. The recording turned out awesome and I really got to thinking about how the teachers were excited about the fixes their FFA chapters had developed for keeping students/members engaged during the global pandemic. We are on day 254, by the way. And, I loved the fact that several times it was the students who came up with the solution or idea for engagement. Make no mistake, though, they are still looking for ideas for upping their engagement game.

We also discussed things that we want to continue post-pandemic, like having members who can’t attend an event in person, for whatever reason, be able to join virtually. We weren’t thinking in that mindset 254 days ago. Things like pandemics, wars, and other social crises often create new attitudes, needs, and behaviors, which need nurturing. I believe in the power of imagination and creativity. Right now there are very few things that are absolute and for sure. We live in a very complex and ever changing environment right now – the future never releases hard data.

What we were really saying in the video was that we must keep imagining every possible scenario. In other words, letting our imaginations go wild. We must be imagining the unimaginable. Think about it; what is happening right now during the pandemic to our society has no precedent, or data behind it. No matter what industry we are in right now we need to continue to be creative and use our imaginations to open the path forward.

There is a silver lining, however. As I pointed out, these five teachers gave us numerous ideas and opportunities the pandemic have made imaginable. All kinds of new ways of staying engaged and connected have been implemented that will continue after this pandemic has passed. Because we will probably never return to our familiar pre-pandemic realities, we need to keep imagining an even better future.

Eccentric and Unorthodox and Quirky! Oh My!

Posted in Creativity, Curiosity, Eccentric, Educational Leadership, Joyful, Leadership, Quirky, Unorthodox by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 17, 2020

Let’s face it, eccentrics are the people who see problems from new and unexpected angles; whose very oddity allows them to conjure innovative solutions. They are the visionaries who make giant imaginative leaps. I’ve actually blogged about this before in Leading With A Touch Of Quirkiness. Ingrid Fetell Lee told us to quit being bound by convention; our quirkiness brings joy to the world. We need to celebrate creativity.

I was reminded of this when flipping through the channels (do we still call them that, or am I aging myself?) after the NLCS game last night and coming across Night Court. Night Court, ran on NBC from 1984 to 1992. Harry Anderson starred as the young, unorthodox, and magic-trick performing Judge Harry Stone presiding over the anything-goes atmosphere of New York Municipal Court’s night shift. I had forgotten about this great show so stayed on the channel and watched some of it. Harry was up on insubordination charges and was described as being eccentric. It was said by the presiding judge that being eccentric is how we become effective and get things done to help others. Long story short, the case was dismissed.

As a person who resembles being eccentric, unorthodox, and quirky at times, this really got me to reflecting on why so many see this as a bad thing and so few dare to be eccentric; when really it isn’t such a bad thing after all David Weeks, psychologist, did some research into the eccentricities of 1,000 subjects. Weeks found eccentrics to be highly creative and that they tend to be optimistic people with a highly developed, mischievous sense of humour, childlike curiosity and a drive to make the world a better place. It would seem to me that we need more of this. Just saying!

Weeks found the study subjects to live slightly longer, suffer less from mental illness, have very few alcohol or drug abusers, and visit the doctor less. Therefore, if we eliminate the struggle to conform we probably suffer less stress. Again, as we learned from Ingrid Fetell Lee, a little quirkiness will help bring joy into our lives. And…into the world.

So, go ahead and don’t be ashamed to be curious, creative, and a little quirky!

Approaching The World With A Sense Of Childlike Wonder

Posted in Creativity, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 4, 2020

The Creative Mindset: Mastering the Six Skills That Empower Innovation by Jeff Degraff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes I believe we need to eliminate the word “innovation” from our vocabulary because we inhibit deep innovation by skipping the more important “being creative.” This book reminds us and guides us through practical and everyday creativity. We are also reminded that achieving a creative mindset is possible for everyone and what we need to do is simple – approach the world with a sense of childlike wonder.

I’m not going to talk about all six skills covered in the book, because I want you to read it, but as a person who leads and works by metaphors and analogies I found the guide of the skill “Associate – Connecting Ideas With Analogies” extremely helpful. By using the associating techniques of direct analogies, personal analogies, symbolic analogies, and fantasy analogies we can reverse analogies, use idea bridges, and use adaptive reasoning to tap into our creative mindset.

This then leads to the other skill that provided a great deal of personal growth for me: “Translate: Creating Stories From Ideas.” We are reminded in this part of the book that for us to translate creativity to innovations we must have all key stakeholders as a part of the process. A case study is used to describe how just leaving one stakeholder outbid the project caused a wildly creative and successful innovation to fail.

If you want to become a leader with a fully honed creative mindset who enables that same creative mindset in those you serve, you must read this book. Your first step to accelerating down the runway of your creativity taking off is to make this book a part of your personal growth plan.



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Seeking Opportunities To Observe & Update Our 🌎Worldview🌍

We create our own beliefs, they don’t happen to us. We choose what and how we believe. As we grow up, we see the world and ourselves in a particular way. This “way” is based on environmental influences, our parents/families, and our peers. Whether we like it or not, we are responsible for developing our own belief system.

“To argue with someone else’s experience is futile. To add their experience to your own is possibly useful.”

One of my favorite quotes by an unknown author is, “To argue with someone else’s experience is futile. To add their experience to your own is possibly useful.” To me this is what empathy is about – understanding how another person’s experiences have shaped them. If we take time to truly study the experiences of others, those experiences can help give us information free of confirmation bias.

One Machiavelli principle I prescribe to is that we should always “declare” what we believe. This does not, however, mean that those beliefs can’t evolve and change. Thus, why declaring is important. In fact, sometimes we must grapple with contradictory evidence. As our society becomes more and more global, we have more and more of our own experiences and the experiences of others to process. This contemplation of dealing with opposing views and possibly believing parts of both has always intrigued me. F. Scott Fitzgerald taught us, “The rest of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I see this as an ability of great empathy, openness, humility, and leadership.

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” ~ Mark Twain

This trait of openness was reinforced in an awesome book I’m reading right now, Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. In the book we are taught that building on the ideas of others requires humility. We must first acknowledge to ourselves the we don’t have all the answers. The upside to this is that it takes the pressure off of us to know we don’t have to generate all the ideas on our own.

Mark Twain taught us that, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” We need to be diligent to not be fooled by what we “know for sure” about ourselves, our customers, our students, those we serve, our communities, or the world. We must seek out opportunities to observe and update our worldview.

What Are Your Muses?

Posted in Anthropologie, Anthropology, Creativity, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Muse by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 29, 2020

I am reading the great book on creativity by Tom and David Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Confidence Within Us All. It is an awesome book and anthropology is referenced a lot in the book. In fact, in the book the authors wrote, “Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken says, ‘Anthropology is too important to be left to the anthropologists.’ Everyone can improve their empathy skills with a little practice. You may find you’ll get some of your best ideas by doing so” (Kelley, 2013)

Wikipedia tells us that, “Anthropology is the scientific study of humans, human behavior and societies in the past and present. Social anthropology studies patterns of behaviour and cultural anthropology studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. Linguistic anthropology studies how language influences social life” (Anthropology). So what does this have to do with creativity? Using an Anthropologists mindset can help us to gain empathy, which empowers our creativity: An anthropological mindset can help us shift our thinking to a variety of perspectives and enables us to navigate a variety of cross-cultural and intersectional situations for us to develop new, or specially tailored ideas, products, and solutions.

Immediately my mind went to a store that I have always been fascinated with: Anthropologie. I first experienced this store on Harvard Square while at the Harvard Graduate School Of Education. I have always been fascinated by the store and always go in and look around and observe; and usually buy a little something for my wife while I am there. The clothes and other items are always different than you find anywhere else. The people working there are awesome and are always willing to show me the newest creative lines.

“Our customer is a creative-minded woman, who wants to look like herself, not the masses.” ~ Anthropologie

So how does the study of anthropology relate to the store Anthropologie? Founder, Dick Hayne, opened the first store in 1992 and named it after his college major of Anthropology. The “ie” ending in the stores name, as I understand it, is a French twist to the spelling. Click here to read the whole Anthropologie story.

Anthropologie uses five muses to put together their product offerings:

  1. Soft and delicate
  2. Boho chic
  3. Easy cool
  4. Elegant classic
  5. Modern sporty

These muses, which are sources of inspiration for a creative artist, help Anthropologie use Anthropology to understand and have the empathy to create new and exciting clothing and products for their customers. If we are going to be creative and have the ideas for those next big innovations society needs, we must all become Anthropologists and find our muses.

Messy Creativity

On Monday I was doing a professional development gathering for Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary, North Carolina entitled “Flat Stanley Goes Virtual: Let’s Be Engaging, Not Flat.” Of course, I used a through line: Flat Stanley’s and Flat Sarah’s. We were discussing achieving high student engagement. Participants made their very own Flat Stanley or Flat Sarah that represented their journey during the, then 156 day, journey they had spent during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.

The participants were super creative and it is always interesting to hear the share out stories. One really caught my attention (see picture in this post) when the participant pointed out she had put a paint splatter on Flat Stanley’s right knee to represent the messiness of our lives right now during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic – the mixing of colors without a set plan or vision of a final piece of art. While it is true, there seems to be a lot of messiness and paint slinging, it got me to thinking that we should try to treat our current situation more like an artist.

In education we have always relied on our function being to provide clear standards and the facilitation and tools needed for student success. This function has been, and continues for the most part, done in a very rigid and standardized way. While reform attempts have been made there is still much work to be done to disrupt the status quo.

All of our lives have become messy during the now 158 days of the pandemic. Additionally, the pandemic has exacerbated the messiness of leading learning in education right now. To address an issue standing between a problematic status quo and student success, we must travel into an uncomfortable unknown territory with no signposts pointing toward the destination. Right now, in these times, we are on a quest not knowing our destination before arriving. We must recognize and accept the scariness and messiness of the unknown.

We need to find ways to let loose and let the paint splatter, like on the knee of our participants Flat Stanley, into beautiful art. This makes me think of the paint splatter rooms that are popping up in many cities. Basically, you go, suit up in protective clothing, and sling paint (🎨 6+ colors) at each other and a canvas. What fun! Upon completion of your 30-45 minute “splattering” you have a beautiful piece of art. I really want to go do this! Leadership is so messy, and this splatter room concept makes such a great metaphor.

These splatter rooms have been used for therapy and team building because of the feeling of freedom achieved by just slinging the paint and the random mixing of colors. A messy process where the splatter artist doesn’t exactly know how the canvas will look in the end, but has created a beautiful product. There is so much we can’t predict, much less understand and control, especially right now. We need to keep leaping into an exploration of the possibilities with unscripted questions and activities – the splattering of paint.

We need to embrace the messiness and discover previously unimagined possibilities. Leadership is not about finding one’s courage. Rather, leadership is accepting the messiness and fear that goes with the new and unknown, and then finding the courage to surface its possibilities and beauty.

“Getting It Right” Before “Being Right”

Screen Shot 2020-07-28 at 8.33.08 PM“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 KJV). A good daily growth exercise to read a chapter of Proverbs every day each month. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained from King Solomon. The difference between “getting it right” and “being right” with this statement, is not to suggest that we are more often than not wrong in our thinking. Despite the religious origin, people use this nowadays without religious overtones. People can say this simply as a warning not to be too arrogant.

To me “getting it right” before “being right” means having humility and an ability to consider all sides of an issue or question. Being humble does not mean that you diminish your value or take a subordinate position in terms of presenting your ideas or perceptions. It does, however, as a leader, mean than we should listen to others’ ideas before always presenting our own. And acknowledging when those ideas are better than our own. True humility is a sign of wisdom, knowledge, confidence, and strength.

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

“Getting it right” is a core value I practice to remind myself that making a contribution as part of a bigger team means that you have the humility to accept that others also have something worthwhile to contribute. I truly believe there is no such thing as an “expert.” But, I do talk about the “collective expertise” in the room all the time. We should all strive to be an important part of a “collective vision.” When we give up the need to always be right, we communicate and listen on a deeper level, with more understanding and acceptance, and with less judgment and resistance.

“I Get To Go Be Creative”

Today I was in Nashville, Tennessee doing what I love to do: work with teachers. We were putting on Impact Nashville; an action packed day of professional development. While I was working to inspire teachers and help them improve their craft and the craft I love, I was inspired by the photographer who was chronicling the day. As I was welcoming the participants and handing out name badges this morning I dubbed her “girl with the camera (GWC).” She really does have a name: Lisa.

I love watching great photographers as they move about working for the best shot. Probably because I’m not very talented at taking pictures. I usually need to have someone take a selfie of me. I could tell she loved her craft from watching her. During one of my sessions I was driving home the point that we must teach in a way that has our students believing they “get to” to experience great educational activities, not “have to.”

So, of course, I included GWC Lisa in the discussion. I asked her what she said to herself as she was leaving home this morning to come to our event. She said, “I get to go be creative.” I couldn’t have scripted better – which I had not. How awesome was that response? We should all strive to create environments where we, and those we serve, “get to” and not “have to.”

I was using the game Angry Birds as a through line for my professional development. The point was using eight principles used by Rovio in the development of Angry Birds that has caused the game to become a phenomenon that people love to spend time playing and seek to improve their skills. In fact, I always say, “Everything you need to know about teaching you can learn from Angry Birds.” Here are the eight principles:

  1. Make it easy to start the task.
  2. Show, don’t tell.
  3. Give useful and immediate feedback.
  4. Make it easy to recover from feedback.
  5. Complicate the task gradually.
  6. Accessibility/Mobility: how could we leverage the cell phone for our students?
  7. No single answer: players explore and try different techniques. We can experiment.
  8. Incentives to do better: leader boards, achievement badges, certifications, et cetera.

What are you doing to encourage a “get to” mindset in your organization. What would the world be like if we all could say “I get to go be creative” every morning?

Bringing The Smithsonian to You!

During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the many webinars we have been doing to support teachers as they facilitate learning virtually, I keep commenting that the Smithsonian Institution is a tremendous resource. Or, should I say, plethoras of resources and services. Then I got to thinking that if I was going to keep saying that educators needed to check out the Smithsonian, we needed to do a little “show and experience” for them. As a former Smithsonian Teacher Ambassador, I really value all the resources available for educators. So, I decided to reach out to Ashley Naranjo, Manager of Educator Engagement at the Smithsonian Learning Lab, and ask if she would be interested in doing a webinar together. She was quick and enthusiastic to respond in the affirmative. Needless to say, I was excited.

Ashley and I had a great planning session where she had great ideas for engaging webinar participants in actually navigating and using resources. In fact, she and I will be modeling an activity at the beginning – I can’t wait! As I mentioned earlier in the post, I was a Smithsonian Teacher Ambassador back in 2010 and 2011. During that ambassadorship I was talking to groups of educators and organizations about the over 1,600 Smithsonian resources available. I told Ashley this asked how many there were now; she laughed and said, “Over 5,000,000.” Boy did I feel outdated.

Bottom-line: educators won’t want to miss this free webinar. This interactive and engaging webinar will include an overview of the Smithsonian Learning Lab and how teachers can curate their own digital collections of resources across subject areas and grade levels. The great part is that educators will learn, by doing, how to use Smithsonian Education museum resources in their own teaching and learning contexts. Please join us for this journey of bringing the Smithsonian to you!

Influencer, Inspiring, & Impactful

At yesterday’s Indiana 3D Leadership gathering I was inspired to do some deeper studying, which is usually the case, because of discussion that took place. I usually say the discussion inspired me, but for this post I’m contemplating what to call it. More on why I say that, later in the post. Last night we did an activity that I call Rushmorean Leadership which was then followed up by an activity called extending the influence. The activity calls for teacher leaders to bring pictures to identify four great leaders to put on their own personal Mount Rushmore. Then they bring six additional pictures to extend the influence.

As with everything this Indiana group does, I was blown away. What struck me last night, however, was that one participant talked about the persons on their board as influencers. Then the next referred to the leaders as inspiring and yet another referred to the her chosen leaders as impactful. For some reason I just had to ask the question of the group: What’s the difference, if any, in these descriptors? A great discussion ensued, which then led to me studying deeper this morning.

We all know that leadership is not about a title or a designation. We also know, and I’m glad we discussed this in depth last night that ambition is not a favorable characteristic of great leaders. For ambition will take over purpose. Influencers, we decided, spread passion for work, causes, innovation, or change. Those that inspire evoke a sense of energy. Finally, impact involves getting results. Impact is ultimately the measuring stick of the influence or inspiration.

Influencers cause us to think about things differently. They help us to shape our purpose, passion, and core values. Interestingly several participants had parents on their boards and referred to how they had influenced their lives.

In contrast, those that inspire help us gain motivation. This inspiration may be in the form of receptivity, positivity, or motivation. There is research that links inspiration to motivation. This inspiration causes us to actively engage in environments that lead toward self growth and fulfillment of needs.

The more I studied and reflected on all this I formed the opinion that most, if not all, of the leaders chosen by the group were influencers who were creating an impact. These individuals were all helping to create constructive cultures, whether in organizations, nations, or globally. In their five star book, Creating Constructive Cultures: Leading People and Organizations to Effectively Solve Problems and Achieve Goals, Janet Szumal and Robert Cooke of Human Synergistics International ask the question: “As a leader, how can you both directly and indirectly influence your organization to ensure that members can independently and interactively solve problems and achieve the organization’s goals more readily and effectively?” I love the question because it has both directly and indirectly. Of the ten leaders each participant brought pictures of, some influenced directly, eg. parents. Others influenced indirectly, eg. Michelle Obama.

One thing is for sure; in all cases the individuals chosen embodied the necessary styles to create constructive cultures. All strove to create the cultural norms necessary for creating constructive cultural styles. See the constructive styles below:

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that influencing, being inspiring, and being impactful are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand when being a model of personal growth for us and creating constructive cultures.