Byron's Babbles

Less “Why” and More “How To”

IMG_6531Recently, I was sitting in on some teacher professional development sessions and I looked over at a teacher’s notes and saw that he had written, “I need less ‘why’, and more ‘how to”. This really struck me because I had just interrupted an earlier session to see how many really thought they would be able to jump right in and do the task being trained on – some thought they could, but many wanted to try it and then have someone ready to help them. Having spent most of my career in the classroom I knew it was thing to have been shown how to do something, and then actually doing it when there were 30+ young scholars staring you in the face.

After seeing this note, I began to think about whether we had become so enamored with always explaining the “why” that we were missing the mark on the “how”. Clearly in these trainings we were for at least one participant. This struck home with me because I believe in my own world I get a lot of “why”, and then there are very few who really understand the “how”. As you will find later in this post, we need both.

I told the teacher after the session that I had seen his note and was interested. He told me it was not being critical, but he needed more time on how to do some of the tasks than so much time on why. I told him this made total sense. Really, the why should be about the vision in a quick statement of the importance and not a dissertation, or what turns into a chance for the presenter to pontificate and gain self gratification. Many times, I have found, this is because the person presenting does not understand how to do the task very well themselves.

The more I thought about this, I realized we have become very “into” talking about the “why” of everything. I get it! I really do, but because of all the writing about the “why” I believe we are forgetting to develop the “how” to the same extent. Even though the title of Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why focuses on the “why,” he still told us that there must be those doing the “how.” For example, without Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s vision would never have been carried out. Thinking about all this brought to mind one of my favorite parts of L. David Marquet’s great book Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. Marquet explained to us in the book that when practicing intent-based leadership, where everyone is a leader, we must provide the needed technical training or it will be chaos. Genius, right! I might know “why” I need to put a fire out on a submarine, but if I don’t know “how” it becomes a bigger problem. So I might add to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, “Finish With How”.

Think about it from a school perspective; if I spend an hour telling you how important taking accurate attendance is each period for high school students and why each period will be analyzed and rolled into the daily attendance, but then don’t spend the majority of the time making sure you understand the management program (technology) and how to use it, I have failed you. Also, we would need to make sure you understand the best practices of taking proper attendance at the beginning of the period and then updating for individual circumstances that happen during the period. I believe you get the idea, but it has become to easy and “cool” to just spend time on the “why” because that is the latest buzz phrase – “gotta tell them the why.” I’m cool with that, but make sure I understand “how to” too!

How about you? Do you need less “why”, and more “how to”?

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Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, & Unknown Unknowns

Today during the last day of our Teacher Academy I realized that our first year teachers and those teachers who were with us for the first time still had a few gaps of things they needed and wanted to know for the first day of school. It is very tough to give beginning teachers everything they need to know, and many times in doing so it is like making them drink from the proverbial water hose. So, I pulled an audible and planned a “lunch and learn” and framed it as giving them a chance to learn about what they knew they didn’t know. It was awesome and a huge success. We had pizza and salad and had four of our great teacher leaders and school leaders sit and have a conversation just answering their questions (they did a great job, by the way). This group of new teachers had great questions and were much more at ease going into the weekend before the start of school. They were so appreciative of having the opportunity to have a discussion in a non-threatening environment and be able to ask anything. I was quickly reminded of how many times we awesome people know things that in reality they would have no way of knowing.

Many times we don’t know what we don’t know; we know more than we quite know we know; or know what we don’t know. Sometimes we need to pose the question: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” What I learned today was that we need to take time to listen to those we serve and find out what they know they don’t know. This seems like such a novel idea, but I’m not sure we do a very good job of this at times.

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” ~ Donald Rumsfeld – February 12, 2002, Department Of Defense news briefing

Maybe another great question we should ask as leaders is, “What do you feel unknowledgeable about?” You can’t know what you don’t know. You can’t know about things you have yet to discover. You can’t know what the future holds, though you might conjecture on it. But, many times we do know what we don’t know. This is simple ignorance: just not knowing and knowing you don’t know.

Contrast simple ignorance with compound ignorance: thinking you know but knowing so little you can’t recognize your own ignorance. Today really made me think about the fact that we need to embrace simple ignorance and allow those we serve to express what they know they don’t know. Simple ignorance is the most honest and least harmful. It can be beneficial in avoiding stupid mistakes as well as prompting one to learn more.

Are you encouraging others to explore the things they know they don’t know? Are you helping them learn the things they know they don’t know?

Teacher Leader Shape-Shifter

This morning I did a session for our Teacher Academy where I had the teachers pick a toy from a bag of lots of different cool toys. I gave them two minutes to play with the toy and then they had to report out how the toy related to their classroom, serving students, and them personally. This is a great reflective activity that really makes participants think. Then, of course, these reflections really get me thinking and I end up writing blog posts like this one.

One of the teachers chose a Slinky® and while reporting out she described herself as a shape-shifter. She stated that she needed to adjust and adapt according to student needs. This was genius. I have always tried to inspire team members to be continually comfortable shape-shifters. I am such a big fan of fluid change; whether that is organizationally, personally, or in the classroom. We need to be comfortable with the one thing that is constant – change.

Here’s the deal: as leaders, teacher leaders, and organizations, we must be comfortable with an ever-changing skin; no matter what we call it. Whether we call it change, changeover, conversion, metamorphosis, mutation, shift, transfiguration, transformation, translation, transmutation, transubstantiation we must have the resilience that shape-shifting brings to be successful. I would suggest that leaders and teachers must become adept at negotiating multiple, sometimes divergent, identities. We must be adaptive because everything we do during the day as teachers is situational – it shifts from context to context.

In other words we all need to use our portfolio of attributes, skills, and experiences to arrange, re-arrange, and adapt to meet the needs of our current situation. The concept of shape-shifting implies a sense of individuality and free agency in making choices, removed from constraints. By creating her own meanings for curriculum and leading of learning, the teacher who inspired this post, will be able to apply it within the context she is teaching. We then need to be able to demonstrate the resourcefulness and ability to change as contexts change.

Shape-shifters can be seen as innovators, rebels, or even a compromiser, but I see this as an important adaptive leadership trait. I do believe that shape-shifting also allows us to push away from the status-quo way of doing things and adapt to changing needs.

Joyful

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary HappinessJoyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this book you will learn how to find joy and bring joyfulness into the lives of others. We learn to not feel bound by convention; break the mold & bring joy to the world through quirkiness. Even a touch of quirkiness can help everyone relax, be less anxious, and feel joyful. We also learn in this great book that playful design increases joy. The second benefit to playful design: it makes designers more innovative. This book will certainly help you to be more joyful.

~ Dr. Byron Ernest

View all my reviews

Leading With A Touch Of Quirkiness

IMG_6293I finished the awesome book Joyful: The Surprising Power Of Ordinary Things To Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee yesterday evening. It is such a great book that really opened my eyes as to the ways I am already creating joy and need to continue, and the external environments I need to be creating to give rise to inner joy for both myself and others. Two parts of the book had a big impact on me: the idea of playful design bringing joy and not being bound by convention brings joy. Those that know me very well at all know that these are two things that I put into practice almost every day.

IMG_6480Ingrid Fetell Lee taught us to not feel bound by convention; break the mold and bring joy to the world. I believe it is about being a divergent thinker; the ability to generate novel ideas and conjure up multiple solutions to a problem. This is about being creative and thinking outside the box. This celebrates creativity. I have watched this way of operating bring joy to groups doing the divergent thinking and have felt the joy myself when conjuring up new and exciting ways of doing things. I believe we are very guilty in education right now of promoting the idea of one correct answer. This is really promoting when using high stakes summative tests. I get that at some point there has to be convergence of ideas but I believe we take the joy out of learning by not allowing for enough divergence – both in our educational systems and in the workplace. We tend to reward the students who work hard, like learning, are rule followers, but are not going to break any molds or create anything wowful.

Interestingly, childhood creativity has been shown to have a higher correlation to adulthood success than IQ. So, maybe we should create systems in our organizations and schools that value creative, interesting, and innovative answers, rather than the “right” ones. I also believe this mold-breaking thinking allows us to better question ourselves. This gives us the opportunity to be more comfortable with the idea that what we thought we knew could be wrong. This kind of thinking can position us well in our learning, work, and personal lives.

IMG_6481We were also taught in Joyful that being a little quirky and even bring joy. I proved this yesterday when I emceed our Impact Georgia back to school event. I wore my white linen suite that is a little out of character for me. I must say I was looking pretty fly. The look was just enough different from my usual that I believe it brought joy to others which made me feel joyful as well. I also added to the quirkiness by asking a teacher to come up on stage, and I quote myself here, “Take a selfie of us. Make it look like I am holding the camera.” This was of the things I really learned from the book is that joyfulness can be found in some of the most obscure and little things.

IMG_6484I even think about a couple of weeks ago when we were in Alberta, Canada and went to see the worlds largest dinosaur in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. It was super quirky, but the quirkiness made it so much fun and it brought so much joy that it keeps bringing joyfulness when we look at the two pictures included in this post.

Go ahead and embrace your quirkiness and celebrate creativity!

 

Experiencing, Not Attending For Learning

As I travel home this evening from what was an incredible journey to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I am reflecting on all that my family and I saw and experienced, all that I learned at the 2019 International Research Conference, and can’t help but reflect on yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. A week ago yesterday we began this excursion and a week ago today attended the Calgary Stampede. What we found is that one does not attend the Stampede, one experiences the Stampede. Through this experience I learned about invented traditions. These Invented traditions are activities that are actually recent but are accepted by the public as having a particularly long and resonant history and as representing something essential about a nation’s character, values, and identity–arose from a widespread effort to justify the nation state, royal dynasties, and national boundaries by linking them, often tenuously and sometimes even falsely, with the past. These invented traditions spring from the need to reconcile constant change in the modern world with the desire for stability and traditional understandings about society.

We found that the Calgary Stampede has evolved over the decades in response to economic and political dynamics and the perceived need to maintain a vibrant balance between nostalgia for the past and celebration of the economic and ideological promise of the future. Successful cities have managed to brand themselves through identification with their annual festivals. We found that the brand lived up to the hype. One of the things I learned from experiencing and studying the Calgary Stampede is Americans cherish individualism and individuality above community. Canadians have exactly the reverse set of political priorities. This is not to say one is right and one is wrong; it is just to say that I learned some cultural differences along the way. We made some great friends while at the Stampede.

I can’t help but also reflect on all the great scenery, nature, and natural beauty we had the opportunity to see and experience as well. The Canadian Rockies are awesome, and we had the opportunity to experience them from as far south as Waterton Lakes National Park and as far north as Lake Louise in Banff National Park. This all reminded us, as a family, of how important sustainable development is to making sure future generations will be able to enjoy and learn from these natural beauties like we did. We must work hard to meet the needs of our present generation without compromising future generations ability to meet their own needs.

This was also discussed during the 2019 International Research Conference. Dr. Gerald Farthing, Former Deputy Minister Of Education Manitoba Department Of Education reminded us to act locally, while knowing what’s going on globally. I was honored to speak at the conference on discovering, developing, and distributing great leadership. It was awesome to visit from individuals from around the world to discuss current education issues and the innovative solutions to opportunities. We must find ways to end our preoccupation with the industrial and factory models of just “doing school”. The gap between what we call education in schools and learning that happens from being a part of society is widening. We must redesign our learning environments if we want to engage our students in the learning process. Learning needs to be 24/7, and not confined to a physical space we call school.

Yesterday, as I reflected throughout the day on the 50th Anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, and those first steps, I was struck by all the ways we could relive the history. For example, Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit was at the Smithsonian Castle yesterday and I was in Canada, but I took an in-depth 3D tour of the suit using Smithsonian’s new 3D Digitization site for doing interactive tours. You can also take an up close and in-depth 3D look at the 1903 Wright Flyer. It is such a great thing that the Smithsonian is doing. Every person can learn from and take part in Smithsonian exhibits without physically being on site. Think of the possibilities of this. I can remember saying, “Wow, everyone should experience the great learning that goes on at the Smithsonian’s many museums.” They can! Opportunities like this begin to take away the effects of zip code or socioeconomic status. Every child really can experience the Smithsonian. By leveraging the technology the Smithsonian is able to let their researchers tell their stories to the world and allow students to take a quest of discovery.

For me, I am going home with a renewed commitment that we must quit just having students attend and “doing school”. We must enable them to experience learning and go on a quest of discovery.

Teachers As Designers

IMG_6433Yesterday, I started my day by spending time at Fort Calgary. Fort Calgary is the exact location where the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada started. The fort, originally name Fort Briseboise, was built as the post for the North-West Mounted Police in 1875. Then when the railroad came west, Calgary began to grow and the rest is history.

The location was chosen because of of the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. In fact Calgary got its name because of being a location of a great water source. Calgary is named after Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. It was originally thought to mean “clear running water” but has since been defined as “bay farm,”

After this learning time, I was back over at the 2019 International Research Conference discussing teachers as designers and leaders at Mount Royal University. We were discussing the Double Diamond Design Approach pictured here:IMG_6393With this model we must first find the right problem or topic. Then we use convergence to bring the topics, partners, and education entities together to decide subject matter and activities and then divergence to get the day-to-day pedagogy developed. As we discussed the model, I got to thinking about Fort Calgary and what a great tool this historic site could be for education. The site certainly has needs for support and volunteerism. Therefore, the schools could:

  1. Determine needs of Fort Calgary
  2. Determine what needs could be supported by the education entity
  3. Use convergence to bring all parties in the partnership to determine the scope of the project and learning
  4. Finally, use divergence to break the learning and work down into the day-to-day bites

IMG_6432We don’t want people who just do school. We must figure out how we teach and facilitate learning with our students by radically collaborating in our communities. Additionally, we must make sure our very traditional school leaders recognize the great facilitation of learning this radical collaboration creates. We must shift from the compliance factory model of school to education as facilitation of learning. We do this by connecting and collaborating, which enables us to be adaptive, intertwined, interactive, and diverse. How about you? Are you leading learning, or just doing school?

 

Calgary Stampede: Invented Tradition & Cultural Phenomenon

IMG_6251One of the events I have wanted to attend for a long time is the Calgary Stampede. Yesterday that dream came true for my family and I. I had to come to Calgary, Alberta, Canada and speak at a research conference this week; so we decided we would make this our family vacation and get here in time to experience the Calgary Stampede. What an experience it was!

 

I also had the unexpected surprise of having a Smithbilt hat box at the hotel waiting on me when I got the hotel. I had been presented with the iconic Smithbilt Hats, Inc. White Hat representing friendship. This tradition was started in 1950 by Calgary Mayor Don MacKay. I wore it proudly all day at the Calgary Stampede, and will wear my White Hat of friendship proudly all week. Actually, I wear a cowboy hat every day back home on the farm.

To start off with we were able to walk out of our hotel, step across the street and get right on the Calgary Transit System’s, CTrain. Fifteen minutes, and Ten stops later we were exiting the CTrain and walking across the street to Stampede Park. This was just about as easy as it gets. I am a huge believer it public transit transportation and this experience to and from Stampede Park validated this. The CTrain cars were super clean and comfortable. We are looking forward to making use of this system throughout the week. Calgary had one of the earliest transit systems in North American and it is evident they have done it right.

IMG_6272Now, back to the Stampede! We were immediately greeted and made to feel welcome by the Calgary Stampede International Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee. We discussed the agriculture industries in our countries and we were given access to the hospitality area that we visited during the day and met many new friends from around the world. The Stampede is an ideal vehicle through which respect for a locally-grounded tradition can be integrated with the active promotion of the values it embodies. Specifically, these include western hospitality, commitment to community, pride of place, and integrity. This committee of the Calgary Stampede is getting it right for agriculture.

IMG_6270Then it was off to Elbow River River Camp to take part in the morning flag raising ritual. This was an incredible experience of learning cultures of the Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut′ina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations. It was great to connect with Indigenous culture and experience First Nations culture through stories, art, tipi life and culture, and other events. This was an incredible learning experience for my family and I. While some outsiders have claimed that native culture as being commercialized, the Calgary Stampede has actually proved to be an important factor in preserving it. IMG_6244IMG_6277It was then off to see the sites; go to the Junior Steer Classic, check out all the exhibits, walk the Midway, and check out all the food options for some lunch. It was all pretty overwhelming. The Stampede is truly an invented tradition – an activity that is accepted by the public as having a particularly long and resonant history and as representing something essential about a nation’s character, values, and identity. The Stampede symbolizes the ideals of rural collective purpose, sociability, and community. These invented traditions develop from the need to reconcile the constantly changing nature of our world with our desire for stability. The Stampede presents new values or shows us how old values apply to new situations.

 

One of my favorites was the Blacksmith Showcase. This was a great way to experience and learn what blacksmithing is all about. This was found in the Country Trail of the Agriculture Zone. We learned so much and even got to watch as a blacksmith made the hat pictured here for us.

 

Then came the signature event: The Calgary Stampede Rodeo. Little did I know we were going to be part of the richest rodeo and see the championship culmination of the week. One million dollars in prizes with $100,000 to the winners in each of the six events: calf roping, bare back bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. Additionally, it was awesome to hear the Calgary Stampede Show Band perform at the rodeo. This is an incredible youth program that gives these young adults great experiences throughout the year to perform and gain leadership experience.

 

The day ended with the awesome GMC Rangeland Derby Chuckwagon Races, more looking around, visiting with our new international friends, and an awesome fireworks show. Needless to say, we did not want to leave. My family and I rated the Calgary Stampede as one of the best events we have ever been to. It might be the first multi-day event (10 days) event I have ever been to where you would not have known it was the last day, unless you were told. I have always said that a person going to the last day of an event should get the same great experience as the person who attended on the first day. I would argue that the Stampede has evolved into a cultural phenomenon. As my family and I found out, the stampede is not simply attended; it is experienced. It is clear when going through the city of Calgary that the Stampede is by and of the citizens of Calgary. It is also for the world. Starting with the parade, then the fireworks display, midway, stage shows, rodeo, agricultural exhibits that “edutain”, and Elbow River Camp, the Calgary Stampede is the best visual cornucopia I have ever experienced. Well done, my new friends!

It’s Not How You Talk, It’s HOW You Talk

I stepped in at the end of an interview this week and caught the last part of the conversation and had the chance to briefly meet the candidate. When the candidate left I said, “I know I was only in here for 10 minutes of that, but I’d hire that person.” The persons doing the interview said, “She’s awesome, we intend to.” They proceeded to call her back in and give her an offer and she accepted. After the now new hire left, the comment was made that “it is not how you talk, it’s HOW you talk. Her words meant something.” Bingo! That was a perfect description of what was just witnessed.

This candidate didn’t have things she was saying that we had never heard before, although she did have innovative ideas. So, her “what” wasn’t much different. Additionally, she had not chosen to be a career changer and go into teaching for reasons much different from others. So, her “why” wasn’t much different either. This person, however, had learned how to convey a more strategic voice.

If we want to establish credibility and influence people, it’s important to be concise and let individuals know clearly what role you want to play in the conversation. It is also important to demystify the content of the message and we deliver by eliminating jargon and being a person of few, but effective, words.

This is really about developing your voice, which is less about performance and more about your strategic instincts, understanding the context we are in, and an awareness of the signals we are sending. We all have different ways of communicating, but saying it in the correct context, or how we say it, is crucial. This “how” includes being visionary and developing the ability to convey our aspirations for the future. This then sets the stage for transformation to occur.

So, if you want to show up with a strong strategic voice and effectively connect the dots for those you are speaking to remember that the context matters, be clear, concise and jargon free, and paint the picture that bridges any distance between you and those you are speaking to. Sometimes finding the right words can be the biggest challenge of our day. Remember to make your words mean something because “it’s not how you talk, but HOW you talk.”

Leading Without Kitschy Trinkets

Many times, as you know, my blog posts come from words or phrases that I hear that inspire me to dig deeper and study. This post is no exception. Yesterday, I heard someone say, and I am paraphrasing,not quoting, here, “I don’t need the kitschy trinkets when morale gets low, just treat us with respect all the time.” This was a pretty powerful statement when you think about employee retention, satisfaction, and the climate and culture of an organization.

Also, I was captured by the word “kitschy”. Of course we had to immediately look it up. What we found was that, first, the person used the word correctly; second, we found that the definition was: something to that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality. Sound familiar? Now, you will also find the term “kitsch” used in the art world. Since I believe there is no such thing as bad art, art is beyond taste. Therefore, you can leave your prejudices behind and just be uplifted by art. I’ll bet, however, you have been given things that fit the category of being kitschy.

This really got me to thinking, though, about how we really feel about our employees. Does giving trinkets get us to the level of community we desire. I think not. We must remember it is all about trust. Trust is earned; it is not a transaction. If we want those in our organizations to trust us and we want to inspire commitment, we must make the first move. We want employees to be committed to what we are doing and the mission and vision, but employees many times get the message we aren’t really that committed to them. Kitschy gifts probably exacerbate this belief.

According to Gallup, only 32 percent of employees in the United States are engaged. Now engaged to Gallup means involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Expand this data analysis worldwide and the number drops to 13 percent. Think about that. 87 percent of employees are unengaged. Pretty sure a kitschy gift won’t change that.

So, what will help us change these numbers? I don’t believe there is a silver bullet here, but I do believe there are some thing central to how leaders can truly become committed to their teams. First, we need to make continuous feedback and coaching central to performance and continuous improvement. This is true whether we are talking a school or manufacturing. I just finished reading a great book on feedback from M. Tamra Chandler entitled Feedback (and other dirty words). It was such an honor to get an advance copy to read. One of my favorite feedback tips in the book is, “Kick Some Ask”. I’ll let you read the book and find out what that is.

Additionally, we need to create and commit to providing development opportunities for both skill and role development. This plays to succession management and employees see you are serious about, and committed to, preparing team members for advancement from within. This also means we need to empower employee connection and collaboration.

I believe if we get these things right and couple this with compensation strategies that are aligned with today’s hyper competitive market, we can begin to chip away at the low employee engagement numbers. So, how about we drop the kitschy trinkets and just treat employees with the respect they deserve and provide the development, space for collaboration, opportunities for advancement, and compensation they deserve?