Byron's Babbles

“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?

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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?”

Pushing Our Boundaries & Reaching Beyond Ourselves

As I was driving across Central Florida from Orlando to Tampa yesterday on I-4, I noticed a place that I will definitely have to factor into my next excursion for facilitating my Florida 3D Leadership gatherings. When I got to Polk City I looked over to the north and saw a place called Fantasy of Flight. As you all know, I am an avid student of the history of flight; particularly as it relates to the Wright Brothers. I have blogged about them so many times I am not going to put any links to posts here, but if you search Wright Brothers here in my blog you will find lots about the inspiration I have found from these to great men in our world’s history.

I say world’s history because I really believe that their tenacity and vision for the why of flight might be the single most important innovation ever. This is why I was so struck by the name of this museum and event venue – Fantasy of Flight. It is so perfect because for so many flight was a fantasy. But, the right brothers took the fantasy and made it a reality. This quote from the owner, Kermit Weeks, is so perfect (Not to mention that I love metaphors!):

“Flight is the most profound metaphor for pushing our boundaries, reaching beyond ourselves, and freedom. And…don’t we All…fly in our dreams?” ~ Kermit Weeks

As I continued across the beautiful Florida countryside I noticed many birds and remembered how the Wright Brothers studied the wings of birds and how they took off, landed, climbed in altitude, and glided. I can imagine them fantasizing about flying. It is hard for me to imagine what was going through their minds. I’ve never lived in a time without airplanes, so I am envious of their incredible, artistic, and creative abilities that it took to invent the first plane. They used intersective innovation by taking the design of the bird and applying it to the first flying machine. Amazingly, those same designs and innovations on the first Wright flyer are in use on the plane I am sitting on right now, preparing to fly me home.

Imagine the audacity to think they could build a machine that would fly. Remember, people made fun of them. Also, the audacity to know what being able to fly would do to affect all generations to come. In other words, WHY being able to fly would be advantageous to the human race. Basically, everything in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum , where their first plane is on display, is there as a result of the Wright Brother’s innovative leadership! Additionally, there would be no Fantasy Of Flight museum without the Wright Brothers.

I am so glad I was paying attention on my drive yesterday and saw Fantasy Of Flight. It also gives me something to look forward to exploring. I so want to meet Kermit Weeks. I also see where they have flying experiences available in bi-planes – I am so doing it! I can’t wait to fly out in the open air like Orville did on that fateful day in December, 1903.

The Wright Brothers believed that just because it had never been done before, did not mean that it could not be done. They were modeling for us how to push beyond the boundaries. Think about all the impossible things that have been conquered by man. These things might include, landing on the moon, landing a craft on Mars, curing many diseases, organ transplants, and yes – even first flight.

What are you working on that is pushing your boundaries? What is your Fantasy Of (insert here)? Go ahead, fly in your dreams!

That’s A Little Too Far Out There!

This past weekend, at our Carolinas 3D Leadership gathering, I was recording comments during a planning discussion for a project they were working one. It struck me that at one point they went from talking transformation to the comment, “That’s a little too far out there.” I’m thinking to myself, “Uhm…if it’s going to be transformational, it probably needs to be out there.” I’ve always believed, and I we often see this; the idea that seems crazy at first turns out to be the idea that propels the organization forward or enables the desired transformation.

As I see it, passion, purpose, and capacity are the only requirements for coming up with and participation in “way out there” ideas. And, once the freedom to try out new ideas becomes ingrained in employees’ behavior, it can spread and transform the entire culture of your organization to be nimbler and more creative.

We need to create environments where we can challenge the status quo as if no one’s judging you. If being open and willing to try out new ways of working isn’t practiced and encouraged in the culture at the top of the organization, how anyone ever have the courage to voice their ideas?

The secret to truly agile and innovative organizations is this: they encourage and invite new ideas from all levels and see leaders at every level. So, next time you have that idea that might just go too far, voice that “crazy” idea regardless of your title or level; lead from where you are!

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?

Teacher Leadership

IMG_3896This week I had the chance to do a couple of sessions on Teacher Leadership at the Impact CSUSA 2020 Conference that Noble Education Initiative put on. In the session we discussed creating a shared leadership model and engagement pipeline. I even did a plate spinning show to represent how hard it is to spin all the plates we need to as leaders. If we empower teacher leaders, we can spread out the load and keep all the plates spinning. We must create a supportive community where everyone helps to spin the plates. By the way, I can only keep three going at once, but brought others up and we were able to have all six plates that I have going at once. Another one of my metaphors!

IMG_3891First, let’s start by answering the question, “What is teacher leadership?”Here’s the definition I have always liked: “Teacher leadership is the process by which teachers, individually or collectively; influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.” (York-Barr & Duke, 2004, p. 287) During the workshop, participants came up with a list of teacher leadership roles. Here is there list:IMG_3884I also laid out a seven step process for growing teacher leaders:

  1. Realize teacher leadership is essential
  2. Recognize teacher leadership as a teachable skill
  3. Recruit teachers to become teacher leaders
  4. Build leadership capabilities among teachers
  5. Nurture leadership qualities in teachers
  6. Empower teacher leaders
  7. Provide ongoing professional growth opportunities for teacher leaders

Of course it wouldn’t be a session by me without there being model making, innovation, creativity, and creations. First, I asked the question, “Why is building a great teacher leadership pipeline more like chess than checkers?” We had a great discussion in both sessions about this. We discussed how in checkers there are very limited moves and you can’t the checkers cannot be promoted until they reach the other side of the board – we believe everyone should lead from where they are. We discussed how chess is about strategy and a longer term overall play. I’m sure you get the idea.

I broke the participants into groups of four or five, gave them a chess board, pipe cleaners of all sizes, colors, and even with glitter, glue sticks, masking tape, little eyes, fuzzy balls of all sizes, and straws. I then told them that there objective was to replace the traditional chess pieces with ones that represented the ideal chess game for building an amazing pipeline of teacher leaders. I’ve got to tell you, it was amazing to watch them. Even more amazing were the descriptions of the chess pieces and and the discussion. Following are pictures of some of the games created:IMG_3892

IMG_3894

IMG_3895

Finally, we created a list of attributes for effectively developing teacher leaders. Here’s our list:

  • Results-driven
  • Standards-based
  • Job-embedded
  • Differentiated
  • Linked to learning needs (student and teacher)
  • Collaborative in nature
  • Sustained over time
  • Discipline-focused/Content rich
  • Reflective
  • Evaluated

How are you doing at developing your teacher leaders?

I’ve Been BitMoji’d, Literally!

IMG_3776So, I was asked to provide a BitMoji for my work to use on a key card. Sounded fun, but honestly, I had no idea what a BitMoji was. I knew what an emoji was, and have even blogged about them. In fact I just checked and I have blogged about emojis seven times. Click here to find my blogs on emojis. You are probably asking yourself, how did he figure out what a BitMoji was? Well, I did what any baby boomer would do, asked a much younger and tech savvy person. I happened to be working in a school at the time asked, so I asked a teacher. She was kind enough to help me find the app, download it, and show we how it worked. I love this reverse-mentoring stuff. What fun!

Well, do you BitMoji? If not, then you are missing out! I found it to be quite fun and even an exercise in reflection. I like the fact that you take a selfie and then your selfie is right there as you are creating the avatar. I found this to be a metaphor for how we reflect on how we are doing as leaders and in our jobs. Sometimes we need that selfie to help us reflect. Here’s my selfie and BitMoji (how did I do?):

What is funny is that at our 3D Leadership gathering this past weekend, the group was kidding me about using the word “literally” a lot. They created a “literally” hashtag: #literally. How cool was it that there literally is a “lit·er·al·ly” BitMoji. This caused me to reflect about the words and language I use,  because we all know language matters.

Building a positive culture in our organizations takes commitment, consistency, and teamwork…and adding a little Bitmoji may just add that extra fun you are looking for. Don’t forget, it can also bring some reflection time into your own personal development and growth. Next time you are looking to represent your organization or school’s culture, just remember, there’s a Bitmoji for that! How will you use Bitmojis to add to your organization’s positive culture?

Leader Traits From The Palmetto State

I was reading some research on leadership development this week and one of pieces that jumped out at me was the statement, “what leaders really want is a personalized experience and the opportunity to learn from…their fellow-leaders.” I was reminded of this last night during the September 3D Leadership gathering of our South Carolina members. One of the things discussed during our plus/delta time at the end was the fact they were able to discuss freely and transparently which made it possible for them to get to know each other and learn from each other. In fact one participant said, “I’m so glad you brought up the issue of communication and that we discussed that. Now we can work on making it better.” Effective leadership development involves time for reflection and learning from those around us.

We did one such learning activity last night where the South Carolina group developed their own top list of good and bad leadership traits. It was a great discussion with being supportive coming out as their number one trait every good leader should have. Here are the rest of their results:

Here’s what we know: Success in today’s world depends on how leaders perform as a team. The unpredictable and rapidly changing landscape, whether it is in government, education, or business, means you need to have people with a variety of skillsets and mindsets who can quickly step in to show leadership in response to a variety of challenges. This is why organizations need to look at all employees as leaders, with “leadership potential,” and start developing leadership potential earlier in careers. That is why we do 3D Leadership – to help our leaders Discover, Develop, and Distribute leadership wherever and whenever it is needed.

Horse Power – What is the Equivalent for Companies? HumanPower

This guest post originally appeared on the Alex Vorobieff Blog

Horse Power – What is the Equivalent for Companies? HumanPower

By Alex Vorobieff

Today, there is a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence, AI, and computers taking over more jobs but as I write this, human beings still provide the essential power to build thriving companies. What is this power we provide? The term “Human Resources” is inadequate. The term “Human Capital” is static. A company’s power comes from its people’s ability to coordinate their efforts. HumanPower is what propels companies. We quantify car engine horse power but what is the equivalent for companies? HumanPower.

What determines whether a company thrives or slowly dies? How well its people use their experience and expertise to coordinate their decisions and actions.

Recent scientific insight has shed light on how our species of humans, homo sapiens, evolved and thrived while other species died out even though we were not the fastest or strongest.  We survived because of our unique competitive advantage; our ability to coordinate our efforts.

Coordinating efforts generates the HumanPower that propels the few companies past the many that struggle, but misaligned HumanPower can also tear companies apart. For example in an Olympic rowing competition, team members rowing at slightly different paces are working against each other and diminishing their HumanPower. Understanding how to harness HumanPower is critical for growing a business successfully.

Okay Vorobieff, how do we coordinate the efforts of our people? By answering key questions that provide guidance for people within the company to make big and small decisions such as:

Why does the company exist?

• What are we really selling? (What problem are we solving for our customer?)

• Who is our core customer?

• What is essential for the company to survive and thrive?

• What are the core values essential for keeping our unique culture?

• Who is responsible for what?

• When things don’t go according to plan, how do we get back on track?

• What is the number one priority for the company?

These questions do not answer themselves. If answered, the answers are easily forgotten, or often not communicated to new team members.  Most companies do not have clear answers to these questions. Over time, differing and conflicting answers evolve generating conflicting decisions and efforts or worse DeadPayroll.

How can you measure HumanPower? There is no Dynamometer to hook people up to measure a company’s horsepower. It’s easier to measure the drag than the force. Start with measuring your DeadPayroll.

You can also measure HumanPower by using the most powerful tool humans’ possess, questions. Start asking the key questions listed above to your leadership team. Let them answer separately and see if your people are headed in the same direction or are pulling the company in different directions.

Coordinating decisions and actions was the competitive advantage our ancestors used to survive and thrive in a harsh environment where survival was not guaranteed, and the same coordination will determine whether your company thrives in a competitive environment where long-term survival is not guaranteed.

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About Alex Vorobieff

Founder and CEO of The Vorobieff Company, Alex Vorobieff is a business turnaround specialist, working to implement Business Alignment Tools for their specific needs. Alex has served as clean-up CFO and president of companies in telecommunications, aviation, aerospace, and real estate development, leading successful turnarounds in as little as three months. He shares his how-tos and techniques through Confident ROi magazine and his latest book, Transform Your Company: Escape Frustration, Align Your Business, and Get Your Life Back.

Employers Need To Know What To Expect

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 4.43.46 PMIn meetings this past week a theme developed: Employers need to know what to expect. This was referring to the fact that employers need to know what to expect that students coming to work for them will know. As I have continued my work, as an Indiana State Board of Education member and Chair of the Indiana Graduation Pathways, I am spending a great deal of time with employers, learning the employee skill needs. It is abundantly clear there is a skills gap, but I do not believe it is insurmountable. I believe the answer is to identify those transferable skills and competencies that every student needs. Additionally, the transferable skills and competencies needed for specific trades need to be identified.

Even though the study dealt with college students, The Chronicle For Higher Education reported on a study that dealt with the question of “The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates.” What the study found was that employers really value experiences outside of academics: Internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurriculars. I have to believe this would also apply to high school graduates. From the many employers I have visited with, I would have to say that these things do apply to high school students. Maybe even more!

Below is the graph of the results from what employers want:

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 4.03.54 PM

One of the pieces of our Indiana Graduation Pathways we were very explicit about was the need for Work Based Learning and Project Based Learning. Just so we are on the same page, Work Based Learning is an educational strategy that provides students with real-life and real-world work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills and develop their employability skills in a relevant context. Work-based learning encompasses a wide array of learning experiences, from exposing high school students to careers through activities like job shadowing, to providing incumbent workers with specialized training. Work-based learning extends into the workplace through on-the-job training, mentoring, and other supports in a continuum of lifelong learning and skill development. I really want to highlight the point of lifelong learning. We really need to get out of the fixed mindset that the pathway everyone should take is to graduate high school and go straight to a four year college/university. This is not for everyone and Work Based Learning can help provide an avenue for our students.

Work Based Learning is at its most powerful when experiences advance along a sequential, purposeful continuum. Experiences along the continuum are increasingly personalized and aligned with specific industries and occupations, providing participants with opportunities to contextualize what they learn and build their skills and knowledge. This also can provide the employer with a pipeline of employees that have been trained in their own environment and on their own equipment. In this setting employers know exactly what they are getting.

Even beyond the Work Based Learning, however, employers need to know what to expect from the students that will become their future employees. We need to partner with employers to develop transferable skills and competencies that all students need to know. We really need to take a step back and fully develop what every high school needs to know when he/she graduates. Make no mistake, I am not saying students do not need math, English, and the other cores we always discuss, but that there is more. Employers need to know what to expect from the future employees, that are our students. We need to listen and make sure what employers expect is what employers get. Furthermore we must also make sure our students know what to expect they will be expected to know when entering the workplace.