Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ode to Leadership Wyoming

Care Takers…

Rising high and majestic above the looping Snake River
loom the Tetons, full, craggy, sharp, stoic, beautiful.
From their crevices and hidden springs run tributaries,
gurgling their way from snowy outcrops and sloping ravines,

meandering toward the Snake and the mighty Pacific.
For a moment, each of us perches on the top of our peak,
staring down into the valley below and beyond.
Our thoughts and knowledge flow from us,

taking our gifts that we keep sacred yet share freely,
mixing them with others through the flow of water,
clear, clean, vibrant, confluencing downhill
or on the flat, growing larger and stronger, giving

life to the parched lands and clamoring minds around them.
From a single point on the mountain, we rise as one;
and as we head downstream, our oneness joins
with others’ oneness, and we still are one—

in thought, in deed, in wisdom, in purpose, full of gathering
and congregating our enormous wealth
of life’s gifts to share with others as we saunter
into the meadows, through lush grasses and plains—

service to our churches, service to our communities,
service to those most in need, service to our neighborhoods,
service to our families, service to ourselves.
In time, our memories remain, multiple and diverse,

filling the streams with turning conversations,
emotions that run deep, singing , perhaps even humming,
the covenant that we make to ourselves and others
on the playground or on swings in the deep night

or on the soft leather sofa in our office
or in the gondola, chugging slowly to the top
or even in early morning shadows among quaken aspen:
“If you are part of a place, you take care of it.”

It is no wonder as we stand on our pinnacles,
far above the valley yet one with it,
we sense who we are, whose we are—
for we are one, focused and committed to serve.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Free, Free, Free: Knowledge...Bring your Own Containers"

“Free, free, free—Knowledge. Bring you own containers,” so reads a poster hanging on a wall in Jaime Escalante’s classroom (Escalante’s life was portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver). Although some of the information we need to be successful is not free, what’s so amazing in today’s society is how much information is out there, something to the tune of doubling every 18 months.

Knowledge flows so quickly, equally dramatically as well as undramatically, that it is there for the gathering. It seems everyone is willing—or appears to be willing—to share his or her knowledge with us.

Like baby birds in a nest, sometimes all we have to do is open our mouths (our personal containers), and knowledge plops in almost effortlessly and faster than we are able to digest it. Knowledge is prolific, and intriguing questions emerge from the flow:

 How are we dealing with the information?
 Is it overwhelming us?
 Are we ignoring it?
 Are we taking advantage of it?

I believe the latter question is of grave consequence to each of us. Taking advantage of this new information will enlighten us and help us become more productive and successful in the marketplace. Consider the following five areas of “filling your containers”:

1. Research what is happening in your market place/product area. In every business sector, someone is researching something for somebody to gain, hopefully, the market edge. Of course, you have to ask yourself: Do the research results parallel my own market analysis or do I need to do one myself? Or do I need more training in certain aspects of the business? Keeping current with the research is, at best, difficult to do, even if you have someone working full time just keeping tabs on the pulse of the information. Nonetheless, knowing what is going on in your market and how you will deal with it is imperative to your future survival.

2. Capture the newest and best information. While there is a surging flow of information, some of it may not be pertinent to you and your market. After you have identified the sources for the information, then decide the most appropriate information for you. Having a “jaundiced eye” will keep you from pursuing information not relevant to your mission. Being on the “cutting edge” is always nice, especially if you want to be ahead of the game.

3. Implement the new information. You have done the research. You know the best information possible. You send your employees or yourself to be trained in the new information. Now is the time to implement the new information/ techniques and see if all of your research will pay off. Implementation may be the scariest part although you should be moderately confident you have done your homework.

4. Assess how the information works. Most companies are constantly assessing and reassessing the process of how they do a particular component of their business. They are objective enough to understand when something does not work and either dumping the “container of information” altogether or readjusting the information to fit their current operation. Whatever the case may be, make sure you are striving for continuous improvement.

5. Continue the cycle. Part of any cycle is continuously running through the process and completing it all over again and monitoring it at every step. A continuous effort in capturing the best information from the most appropriate sources; converting that information to tangible, concrete answers for your business; continually assessing to see what impact the information had on your company, both short term and long term; and starting the process all over again—all these constitute a visionary yet practical process of remaining competitive.

If all else fails, remember Jaime Escalante and always keep an open container with you. You will never know when you will need to lean over and pluck some new tidbit of information from the roaring river of data. Don’t worry if you fall in. As you dry out, you will have time to reflect your future. Good luck filling those containers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Paucity of Respect"

Okay, I am confused by all of the fuss about President Obama's speech to America's students. I am confused about a our local headline that read: "Should we invite Obama to our classrooms?"

Am I missing something here or are people having some sort of historical log jam that causes brain waves to dismount and flow into some abnormal recess where they won't have to think? Having the President of the United States of American talk to our children should be a good thing.

Before I launch in, I didn't vote for President Obama, but I do believe that he believes like I believe that education is the most important ingredient to add to one's life experience in order to "see beyond the present." In fact, my formulaic motto has been this (taken from strategic planning concepts): past + the future = the present. And I think that is what President Obama has tasked himself to do. He wants students to understand that school is very, very important. I don't think there is one person alive--well, maybe a couple--who doesn't believe that education is the key to personal success and the success of economic development.

From what I can gather, President Obama wants to discuss basically three things: 1) to encourage students to work hard (since when is working hard a bad thing?); 2) to encourage students to set education goals for their futures (now, there's a novel idea to set goals so you can achieve something); and 3) help student understand the importance of taking on personal responsibility for learning (student should be taught to be lifelong learners). Tell me what is wrong with these three items?

Okay, I know that there is a particularly "curriculum" that has been devised/developed/created by the Department of Education. I realize that some of the "discussion questions" may not be what some teachers or parents would like their children to be asked. But any teacher worth his or her salt can surely devise other questions that ostensibly will encourage some critical thinking. It seems to me that for decades, teachers--me included--have attempted to inculcate critical thinking into our curricula--across the board. Truly, it cannot be that tough to create other types of discussion or assignments to be used in the classroom. I can think of dozens of ways to make President Obama's speech to students integral to classroom learning. You just have to think about it.

Now, if today's teachers could utilize holograms to "invite" presidents to their classrooms, would they invite Washington, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and other historical figures to the classroom? You bet! Who wouldn't want President Lincoln to enter their classroom to talk about a variety of issues in his time. If you remember back, there were a whole lot of people who didn't believe anything he said for almost five years. In fact, we went to war over these issues, and families were destroyed because of them. But today, I believe, we would highly encourage President Lincoln to come. Can you imagine having him come and talk about the "Gettysburg Address" and its significance to him and that time and place?

But now, President Obama--the current President of the United States, duly elected by the people--would like a few words with our children to help them understand his love of education and its importance in their lives? I personally do not think there is anything wrong with this.

President Obama talks about the "audacity of hope." All of this hoopla seems to be nothing but a "paucity of respect" for the President of the United States of America. Let's see what he says and then have the discussion--an open, respectful, and critically thought out discussion.