Byron's Babbles

The Possibilities Are Endless

Posted in Community, Global Leadership, Ideas, Leadership, Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 3, 2020

I just had to do a followup post on my sandcastle post from this morning, Build Great Things Anyway. I have continued to think about how sandcastles have endless possibilities. Kids don’t go out with a set plan, architectural drawing, or blueprint; they just create. Scale isn’t even worried about in most cases. This thought reminded me of Peter Block teaching me that, as a leader or community member, when creating and ideating you don’t want to move to quickly to scaling. This can kill great ideas. The sandcastle teacher I encountered never tells kids that something can’t go somewhere she wants to put it, he can’t make it look that way. That’s why sandcastles are so beautiful.

Many times the process is more important than the product. This is very true when making sandcastles. We make the awesome structures in and out of sand with the understanding that when the tide comes in, or if it rains overnight, or even if left, the castle will wash away, or erode away in the wind, and the sand will again become part of the beach. Kids, even at a young age, get that it is about the process and activity of building the sandcastle.

I wonder if we should take a cue from the kids on the beach. In a world that requires us to work as a community to solve complex issues, develop new ideas, and be creative we need to be cognizant of the process. If we want everyone to be engaged we need to remember the process of building sandcastles on the beach.

The Ocean Awaits Us

🏖 Miramar Beach, Gulf of Mexico 🏝

“Even the upper end of the river believes in the ocean.” ~ William Stafford from his poem, Climbing Along The River.

Reading this line in this poem by William Stafford made me think back to standing at Point State Park in Pittsburgh which is situated in Pennsylvania where the Allegheny River and Monongahela River come together resulting in the formation of the Ohio River. The Ohio River is a tributary to the Mississippi River and drains into the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois. is I remember thinking how cool it was that the water I was looking at would be traveling 981 miles to the Mississippi River at Cairo and then another 954 miles until spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. No different than when I travel south from Indiana to the Gulf I expect it to be there.

Stafford was conveying the meaning that you should believe in something, even if you have no proof that it exists. As a human who has that “crazy gene” for coming up with wild and crazy ideas I’m good with this. Isn’t it, by the way, what the scientific process is all about: proving a hypothesis? Also, isn’t it great that we have a whole history of people who believed with no proof. Edison believed there could be an electric light bulb until he proved it could exist after more than 10,000 tries.

So, don’t be afraid to believe in your own ideas, or even crazy ideas, even if there is no proof they’ll work. There may just be an ocean of success on the other end. And, it might just be an idea to alter the world for the better forever.

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.

Do Ideas Cause Change Or Does Change Cause Ideas?

Posted in change, Global Leadership, Ideas, Innovation, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 15, 2020

In the great book, The Upswing: How America Came Together A Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, Robert D. Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett posed the question of, “Do ideas cause change or does change cause ideas?” I am loving reading the research and work of Putnam and Garrett. I am only about 80% through the book and I love how he always points out when there cannot be any correlation, causality, or answers gained from leading or lagging indicators. I see this a lot in education; people want to jump immediately to causation. Putnam is a brilliant political scientist and Shaylyn has had a brilliant career as a change-maker and social entrepreneur. The two of them together have put together this award winning literary analysis of economic, education, civil rights, political, and other social trends for over a century. The book posits we have gone from an “I” to “We” and back to “I” society and gives us hope and ways to get back to we.

Change is defined as to simply make something or someone different, unlike the way it was before. Change can also be defined as moving from one thing to another. Synonyms for the word change consist of transform, alter, and modify. A lot of people have ideas about changing the world and making it a better place for people to live. This desire to change the world sounds very noble and heroic.

Now, back to the question prompting this post: do ideas cause change or does change cause ideas? I believe it is both. For example the idea of us carrying a source for listening to music in our pocket caused an entire chain of events (changes) leading ultimately to the SMART phone. Conversely, Coronavirus has hit the world in 2020. This has drastically changed our world from open and social to closed and locked down. This change has affected people’s lives, finances, relationships, and even their children. New ideas because of this change are being thought of every day.

Therefore, we need to keep being creative and having ideas about how to change the world. Additionally, we need to be paying attention to changes happening around us and let them prompt ideas for positive change.

Where Is The “Twin”?

Today I had the opportunity to moderate a great global webinar entitled “Creation of a Digital Twin.” The webinar was put on by GIA SMART Factory League. I am always honored to have the opportunity to work with this organization and it was incredible to be in the [virtual] room with industry representatives from over 36 different countries. And…now that we have learned we can hold these events effectively virtually and learn together apart, we can get together more often and not have the huge travel expense. Talk about holding the whole world in your hands!

I value the opportunity to spend time learning from those in business/industry and manufacturing. It saddens me that many leaders in education talk a big game about wanting to hear from business stakeholders, but most of what happens is lip service. We need more walking the talk. Those in education must stop thinking we know more than those that hire the students we educate. It must be a partnership. There must be a true dialogue of listening to understand.

That’s why I love events like the one today where we can learn together and learn each other’s industry specific languages. Today we were learning about the “digital twin.” The creation of a digital twin enables us to simulate and assess decisions:

  • Before actual assets are built and deployed
  • Before maintenance
  • Before a design change
  • Before complex tasks

A number of industries are creating digital twins, digital replicas of products, and many other things including body parts. Today we saw a digital twin of the heart done by Philips Innovation Services. The heart digital twin performs patient specific adaptation. It was amazing. Imagine the testing of procedures and products for heart repair. Also, think of the possibilities for training and education. Endless!

The digital twin mirrors what it is twinning in bits keeping the bit replica synchronized with the real one. I learned today that just certain parts of an asset can be selected to twin. Thus making it easier to focus in on specific functions or parts. It was pointed out that this could be of incredible use in education and training. In this sense digital twins are a new tool for education: rather than studying on the real thing you can study on its digital representation. Even though in a polling question I asked during my introductory statement today, there were only 7% of participants using digital twin technology for training/development and education, and 27% just starting too, technologies like virtual reality provide new tools for education.

Imagine if we had a digital twin of ourselves. We would still have all the flaws, but some some smart technician might find ways to help us improve. Far fetched? I think not!

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.

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!