Byron's Babbles

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.

A Twist Of The Kaleidoscope

Posted in Creativity, Deep Innovation, Innovation, Kaleidoscope, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 1, 2020

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a group of college interns using kaleidoscopes as the through line. I gave all the participants a small kaleidoscope and had them get into groups, look through their toys, and relate the view to their journeys as interns and becoming leaders. As the graphic I drew during the presentation shows, I titled our time together Kaleidoscopic Adventure. I encourage you to take a moment and check out the points made by the groups reflected on the graphic.

The interns quickly got the point that looking through a kaleidoscope is all about perspective. Perspective is the strongest power of the mind. Give the scope a twist one way and you see a set of images, and turn it the other way and you see another set of images. The different views represent our lives. We just need to find the angle we want to look through.

Our lives are complex, random, and structured; all at the same time. Much like looking through a kaleidoscope, we look from the simple to the complex. Sometimes we need to remember to look back through the kaleidoscope the opposite way, taking the complex back to a simple focus. This reflection brings us back to a simple neutral.

View through the kaleidoscope given to the interns

One thing is for sure, we need to enjoy the beauty of the journey. Just like the kaleidoscope, we all have different views and experiences. We also need to remember that the world we live in is ever changing and quickly changing just like the view as we twist the kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope is such a great metaphor because it symbolizes ever-changing and endless possibilities. The kaleidoscope also reminds us of our endless possibilities powered only by the limits of our own creativity and innovative prowess.

Serendipity Mattered

This week while continuing to read Great Society: A New History by one of my favorite authors, Amity Shlaes, I found the shortest sentence in the book: “Serendipity mattered” (p. 188). Serendipity has always been an intriguing word to me that I have had trouble understanding because I here it being used in different ways. But when used in the context of Shlaes book, in a two word sentence it made perfect sense. The sentence “Serendipity mattered” really drove home the point she was trying to make and really made the lightbulbs come on for me.

In other words, there needs to be serendipity for innovation to occur. So what is serendipity? As I said earlier, I have trouble understanding it fully, but I know that when conditions are right for it, great things happen. Serendipity is said to happen by simple chance. An opportunity that comes about by a chance occurrence. Therefore, we must create the opportunities for these occurrences. This was the point that Shlaes was making in the book. The Fairchild Semiconductor company realized they needed innovation. They also realized that looseness of hierarchy drove innovation. Thus, “Serendipity mattered.” It is also why we need to beware of the current tides toward any of the Great Society’s socialistic tendencies. This will stifle the serendipity that is so needed.

I touched on serendipity in my blog post Alternative Truths back in 2017, but only to say that we need to be intentional to create space for serendipity to occur. Therefore, I needed to study a little more. Research led me to find that our use of the word serendipity comes from The Three Princes of Serendip. The musician and poet, Amir Khusrau wrote this Persian tale in 1302. The tale is about King Jafer and his three sons. He wants them to have the best education in the kingdom. The King believed that great book learning needed to be combined with a real world context. Wow, I preach that all the time! In fact, I wrote a book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room, about it!

Anyway, the king gave each of the boys a horse and told them to go discover. The boys relished and took advantage of this experience. They learned from being on a journey of taking in real world experiences. Then in 1754, Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter. He described serendipity, by referring to the tale of the three princes, as making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of. He was excited about this word because there was no word to describe the discovery of something you are not looking for. It was really accidental sagacity.

Then comes the question, how do we create space for serendipity to happen. It probably won’t work to get everyone a horse, but I’m certainly up for it. Think about all the great inventions and innovations that have happened by accident. We need to remember in all this that creation precedes innovation. We need to provide ourselves and others varied routines and time for serendipitous moments to occur. It is why the story of the king sending the princes on a horseback adventure is so important. They’re heads were clear and they were just observing. Think about it; it’s why just taking a walk to clear your brain can bring creative thoughts and solutions. I do this a lot when facilitating teacher leader gatherings. I will tell them to split into groups and take a walk and discuss… They always come back refreshed and with great thoughts and ideas.

Leaders, including political leaders, need to recognize the important role serendipity plays in creativity, innovation, and even relationship building. Interestingly, in my research I found having lunch together as a strategy for encouraging serendipity. I blogged about having lunch together in Let’s Have Lunch Together, but not from the angle of serendipity.

We need to start looking for more serendipity to happen and create space for it. We might not be looking for something specific, but we need to be tuned into a channel of infinite possibilities. Think about it; this blog post was inspired by a two word sentence. It must have been serendipity!

Deep Innovation

As a self proclaimed energetic change agent, I had a great chance to check my values and views toward innovation while reading the awesome book, Innovation For The Fatigued: How To Build A Culture Of Deep Creativity by Alf Rehn. Rehn argued that we have become “shallow innovators” and need to start practicing “deep innovation.” One problem is we start using the same old rhetoric that makes us think we are “maverick innovators,” being “transformative,” or practicing “disruptive thinking.” We think these buzzwordy titles mean we are innovating, but really we are merely tinkering around the edges and making superficial changes. See why I gave this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️?

“Innovation has become a tired buzzword.” ~ Alf Rehn

According to Rehn, we need to focus on big solutions. In order to have deep innovation we need to start from scratch, or go in an entirely different direction. Real innovation, Rehn posited, looks beyond what we do and know now. One of my big takeaways was that we need to stop directing so much time and talent on incremental change. Many times we take the easy way out and make ourselves feel better, saying we are taking baby steps.

“Innovation history teaches us that human beings are terrible at identifying innovative ideas.” ~ Alf Rehn (p. 54)

Another part of the book that really jumped out at me was the section entitled “The Curse of Expertise” (p. 54). I have always worried about getting caught up listening to so called “experts.” In fact, I have blogged about my dislike of experts many times in Thanks For Not Being An Expert, Decision Making vs Problem Solving – and Why the Difference Matters, and Dig In & Stop Guessing. Rehn explained that many great ideas have been killed before they had a chance to prove themselves by these so called “experts.” Rehn said, “As curious as it sounds, the better we are at something and the more expertise we’ve amassed, the worse we often get” (p. 55). It is not that experts are bad, but we just should not rely on their word as the final word. Experts often forget that their expertise represents a very small part of the world’s total wealth of knowledge. We have a tendency to overestimate what experts know and want to use their opinions carte blanche. I see this happen a lot in policy decisions.

Finally, Rehn advised us to cultivate a culture of innovation. We need a certain amount of trust and an environment where we are able to voice our ideas or opinions without fear of censure or dismissal. This is what Amy Edmondson coined as “Psychological Safety.” If we lack an innovative culture we will only practice “shallow innovation” instead of “deep innovation.” This will then eat away at our organization’s purpose, according to Rehn. The loss of purpose will ruin an organization and affect employees at every pay grade of an organization.

So, let’s create a culture of innovation so we can practice “deep innovation” and change the world!

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.

Travel Is Education & BIG Learning

As you know from my previous posts, my family and I are in Calgary, Alberta, Canada right now and have seen and learned a lot. Here are my posts from the previous days:

As you can see, it has been an action packed few days of learning for my family and I. I am speaking and doing a workshop at an education research conference on leadership development here in Calgary and am so glad we came out a little early to do some exploring together.

Yesterday, before the conference we had the opportunity to go to Banff, Banff National Park Of Canada, and Lake Louise. These are two destinations that a person does not want to miss when traveling in Alberta. I am so glad that we have had the opportunity, as a family, to see so many different places and experience different cultures. My son made a comment yesterday about all the new ideas and things he has learned from talking to everyone and taking it all in. This is how we keep the creative juices flowing.

When we are young, like my son Heath, we are still finding ourselves and preparing for our education and career. The skills and experience we gain from traveling can give us life-long personal benefits as well as a leg up in the professional world. I believe traveling, even within one’s state, province, or country builds cultural awareness. Being aware of cultural values and norms is not only fascinating, but can help us understand international issues and conflicts, or even relate to the cultural norms of a foreign business partner. It is an important skill to be able to shift perspectives and see where someone else is coming from. In our globalized world it is so important to be culturally aware.

Yesterday, in Banff National Park Of Canada I learned that they are doing extensive studies on saving wildlife and reducing accidents on the Trans Canada Highway. They are fencing along the road and have built overpasses and underpasses for the wildlife to cross the interstate. Genius! Accidents and wildlife injuries have been reduced. Interestingly, they have found that black bears and cougars like to cross in the underpass and grizzly bears like to use the overpassed. You’ll find a picture of the overpass before this paragraph and a picture of the fencing here:

I get so many ideas when traveling. These inspirations can happen from seeing a sign, talking to a restaurant owner, meeting a local person, or just reflecting and meditating while enjoying the beauty of nature. I believe my creativity and innovative abilities are boosted by just taking in all I can experience. If you’re open and willing, travel will make you an incredibly more well-rounded human being.

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!

Cheesecake Talk Triggers

IMG_4995 2This past week I finished the great book, Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers With Word of Mouth by Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin. What I learned from the book was that talk triggers are all about sparking conversations between customers and potential customers. They allow people to tell stories about your product or service. I compared this to this to the leadership sessions I do where we use Mr. & Mrs. Potato Heads, toys, or glider planes. Everyone just can’t stop talking about their experience doing those things in our gatherings. Most actually have the Potato Heads sitting on their desks or are using them in some way. index

Studies show that a single-word-of-mouth recommendation by a new customer can lead to almost $200 in increased sales. The things that we do need to be:

  1. Be remarkable (the example in the book was how The Cheesecake Factory has remarkable food choices – in fact over 200 choices)
  2. Be relevant (the example in the book was how Hilton Double Tree give you a warm cookie when you check in)
  3. Be reasonable (Five Guys always gives you an extra order of fries)
  4. Be repeatable

“No differentiator will be loved by 100% of customers; if that were the case, it wouldn’t be different enough to create conversations.” ~ Jay Baer & Daniel Lemin

Talk triggers give customers an experience that sticks in their memories and they want to tell everyone. These talk triggers:

  • show empathy.
  • show generosity.
  • have attitude.
  • are emotions-based.
  • have speed.

Of course I had to dig a little deeper into the learning. I had never been to The Cheesecake Factory, so I told the family that we were going, and go we did, this past Sunday evening. I was looking for all the talk triggers that make it possible for The Cheesecake Factory to only need to use .2% (you are reading it right – point .2 percent) of their revenue on advertising.

After being seated by friendly staff, we were given the 21 page menu. I have to admit I was a little overwhelmed (in a positive way) at first. If you could not find something on this menu that you like, you are way to picky! To me this was truly remarkable. It took a while for us to decide what we wanted. Here is my video of the 21 page menu with over 200 remarkable choices:

One thing that will cause us to talk is that we had roasted artichoke which reminded us of being in California with our friends eating fresh artichoke. We even taught our waiter how to eat artichokes, by dipping the base of the petals into a great sauce; then pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy portion of the petals. It was awesome! I then went on to the gumbo and finished with original cheesecake.

It’s not just the volume of items that’s surprising; it is also the apparently random variety of dishes that comprise the menu make it hard to peg what the Cheesecake Factory is. The menu defies any normal definition of what we traditionally think a menu would look like. The menu also circumvents any semblance of restaurant menu item consistency. It’s almost as if the founder of the Cheesecake Factory decided to just put literally anything into the menu, as long as people liked it. It’s almost as if the folks at The Cheesecake Factory decided to just put literally anything into the menu, as long as people liked it. And, in doing a little studying I think that is exactly their plan.

As you can see, there really is something to these talk triggers. Clearly there are businesses who have figured this out. I believe it gives us all something to think about – I believe I had talk triggers when I was teaching in my classroom. What are your talk triggers?

 

“Innovation Happens Between The Ears”

I heard a great phrase from a retired U.S. Air Force General today. He said, “Innovation happens between the ears.” This quote was in reference to the story of the young Lieutenant George S. Patton developing a plan for making newly invented tanks into an effective tools for war in World War I in 1917. Tanks had not been effective yet because no one had taken the time, nor had the creative genius to figure out how to use the big, slow, machines that got stuck easily. Thus, innovation is not about the gizmo (in this case a tank); innovation is about how the gizmo is used to change the world.

I believe that the tanks mentioned above were just inventions, or worthless gizmos, until Patton got ahold of them and used them to innovate. In doing a little studying I came across the work of Canadian historian Benoit Godin. Godin attributes the differentiation between inventions/creations and innovation to a 1939 definition offered by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. He defined invention as an act of intellectual creativity undertaken without any thought given to its possible economic import, while innovation happens when individuals figure out how to craft inventions into constructive changes in their organizations, personal lives, or to change the world. This is why some believe, while use of the word innovation is at an all time high, actual innovation is on the decline.

It has taken innovation to take many creations, inventions, and failures into complete successes. There is a very thin line between brilliant innovation and absolute failure, and there are many famous examples. Examples that include: penicillin, slinky, Wheaties, plastic, pacemakers, and my favorite, Post-It Notes. The creation of a weak glue when Spencer Silver of 3M was trying create a super strong glue in 1968 was revolutionary. It took till 1980, however for the first Post-Its to be distributed. It took a little while and another 3M employee, Art Fry, for Spencer’s mistake creation to become an innovation that has certainly changed our world. Let’s face it, Post-It notes are everywhere.

In the context of change, innovation does not happen for innovation’s sake, but to find more effective ways of doing things. How about you? Are you creating gizmos and procedures, or innovating to create social change and break the status quo?

Dream Of Things That Never Were…

Not too long ago, I was in a meeting and one of the participants said, “we need to think in terms of aspirational goals, not what is already being done.” The individual went on to say, “you know, the way Byron is always coming up with wild ideas that nobody thinks could ever happen.” This really got me thinking about the value of aspirational thinking, planning, and goal making. I am guilty as charged for thinking this way. I guess my mind works in the way Robert Kennedy described it when paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw’s play Back To Methuselah (1921):

“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” ~ Robert Kennedy

Dreaming is aspirational, and fundamentally changes the way we think. This aspirational thinking liberates leaders to achieve the unachievable. Instead of being locked into what is theoretically achievable, we need to be asking the question “why can’t we do this?” We need to find ways to become unburdened by “the way things are done around here?” I love to ask the question “why is this still being done this way?” Almost three years ago I started asking the question “why are we one of only 14 states that still uses/has a graduation qualifying exam (GQE)?” Now, Indiana has Graduation Pathways with multiple ways to graduate based on the student desires, goals, and needs. We no longer have a GQE, or single path to graduation. Don’t think we didn’t here “This is the way it’s been done.” Or, “We’ll never get this changed.” But, guess what? We did, and it was the right thing to do for Indiana students. It started with an aspirational dream (and getting laughed out of a few meetings).

One advantage I have when it comes to aspirational dreaming is that I am comfortable being uncomfortable. Individuals, organizations, and groups need to remember it is important to set a goal or go after a dream without necessarily providing or having full certainty about exactly how it will be achieved. Clarity is achieved, however, from understanding why the aspirational goal is necessary.

Aspirational dreaming allows us to operate in an environment where “we are open to doing things differently.” There is something almost magical about having goals that are aspirational in nature. An aspirational goal defies logic in many ways in that you can’t see a specific path to achieving the goal when you set it. You just know that it is something that is very important and you want to find a way to bring it into your life or the lives of others over time.

Go ahead, dream a little and pull the levers that have never been pulled before, and ask “why not?”