Quotes: On changing the world and being a leader

Two unrelated but interesting quotes. (And they’re real. I’ll leave April Fools Day to folks like YouTube or Gmail)

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” — Jim Rohn

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B. White

Data + Intuition = Success

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Ok, I’ll admit there’s a lot more that goes into that equation for it to work in real life. But it’s a start.

Here’s what Jason Kottke says at the end of a post about expensive products that lose money but show the company cares about excellence (think the Corvette and Mac Pro):

Normally I’m not a big fan of advice like “do what big car companies do”, but what Siracusa’s piece demontrates is one of the things that’s problematic about data: there are important things about business and success that you can’t measure. And I would go so far as to say that these unmeasurables are the most important things, the stuff that makes or breaks a business or product or, hell, even a relationship, stuff that you just can’t measure quantitatively, no matter how Big your Data is.

There are two sides to this. 

1. Most companies, non-profits, and universities don’t measure enough. They make decisions based on assumptions. It’s important to ask questions, gather data, and see what is really happening out there.

2. Data alone won’t do it. Some things can’t be measured (or, we don’t know how to measure them well).

So ask good questions. But don’t let the data distract from the bigger goal. Don’t miss potential big-picture wins by getting bogged down in numbers, satisfaction scores, and focus groups. Every once in a while, take a risk on that thing that doesn’t make sense.

Yahoo, telecommuting, focused work, and higher ed

There’s been a good amount of chatter over Yahoo’s kibosh on telecommuting. They’ve called everyone back to the office. Work from here, or don’t work. 

Some people think it’s great. Others think it’s a move backwards. A few things stand out:

  • Every workplace is different. Programmers who can be evaluated on productivity and lines of code may not need the same office environment as other jobs.
  • Environment matters. Some part of creativity comes from serendipitous conversations and connections. There’s something about connecting face to face with your coworkers that makes a difference.
  • Sometimes, to do good work, you need an environment where you can focus. This article hit home for me. It’s great to work from home, but it’s also frustrating to try to do good work from home if your work requires concentration. Sometimes it’s best to go somewhere, be present, and do your work. Then go somewhere else, be present, and do whatever you do when you’re not working.
  • The author says it better here: “Look, I don’t know what Marisa Mayer is thinking. I’ve heard her workforce is lazy–telecommuting for no good reason at all. I’ve heard her called draconian, a traitor to mothers, to parents, to her generation. And I don’t really care what she’s up to at Yahoo, whose raison d’être has been in doubt for more than half the company’s existence. But I do know that I like to work at work—it lets me separate that me from the other me, the dad I am when the sun goes down from the guy who’s charged with steering a publication into the future. Neither my family nor my co-workers should have to deal with the other guy. I certainly wouldn’t want to.”

I wonder what relation this has to the online vs physical university trends we are seeing in higher education. For some people, working at home works. But for others, going to a place with other people for a focused time makes a difference. 

Looking at undergraduate education, non-traditional students can benefit from how online options allow them to fit education into an already full life. And we absolutely need to rethink how the traditional undergraduate experience is shaped. But the physical environment – around other people, working together for a purpose – still makes a difference.

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but for some groups, the environment and experience can make a real impact on the outcome.

Donald Miller: If you’re rushing, something is wrong

scream kid2I appreciate a recent post from Donald Miller about how they work at Storyline. He says he’s worked with people and companies where everything is urgent. Emails need a response today. Plans change at the last minute. He says that’s a sign something is off.

Rush happens, but it’s not always necessary. Crisis happens – especially in student affairs. Respond.

But also realize it’s easier to be in crisis mode and react than it is to be disciplined and work ahead. Sometimes we slip into rushing and crisis because it takes less work than being proactive. We feed off the clarifying pressure of the last minute or crisis.

Here are four ways Don says his team avoids the rush:

1. We think long term. At Storyline, we have five year goals. Nobody panics about five year goals. We just point in that direction on the horizon and get moving.

2. We devise a plan. Before moving on anything, we develop a plan. The plan needs to encompass all aspects of the project and everybody involved needs to know where they fit and why what they are doing is important to the overall narrative of the project.

3. We choose pace over profit. Many business owners will cringe at this, but we never go for the quick buck. We’d rather define ourselves by being calm under pressure than by reacting quickly. We want to be the narrative-planning company of the future, not the company of the moment.

4. We are early. By this, I mean we start long before we need to to get the job done. We were a month early on our Christmas campaign, a year early on taking registrations for our conferences, a month early reordering books and so on. Rushing often happens when somebody is late with something. We try not to be late.

What about you? Is “hurry” negative? How do you stay ahead?

Stress and indecision

Bobb Biehl says that 85% of stress is caused by either indecision or lack of control.

What three things are causing you the most stress right now? Of those three, which are stressful because of indecision? Lack of control?

If it’s indecision, the way forward is to act. Decide and move or collect the additional information you need to make the decision.

If it’s an area of life that’s out of control, brainstorm how you can get that area back under control (or even a small section of it), and take a step forward today.*

 

*Some things we stress about we have no control over even if we wanted it. Letting go of anxiety about things we cannot control is a topic for another post.

Follow delight

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I should have changed the plan as soon as we got in line.

Peter Pan is clearly one of Disneyland’s kids’ rides, but my son looked at the line and said, “no no no.” Being the good parents that we are, we told him he would love it and worked to amp him up for the experience.

After the 20-minute wait and the three-minute ride, my two-year-old was right and we were wrong. He hated Peter Pan.

His “nononono” had continued as he rode through Neverland with his ears plugged because of the loud music. Who knew a kid wouldn’t like a kid’s ride?

But as soon as it was over and we emerged from the ride, my shaken child with tears in his eyes pointed to the nearby carousel and smiled, yelling “Merry Go Round!”

So we went over and let him ride the ride he wanted to ride. He spent the whole time laughing and cheering.

As the carousel slowed down, he pointed to Dumbo and shouted “Elephants!” So we rode Dumbo, and he loved making his cart go up and down while waving at the people watching below.

It’s Disney. One ride isn’t better than another. So why didn’t we listen as soon as we got into the Peter Pan ride to his “no”? We thought we knew better, he’d like it as soon as he tried it, and it would be good for him to experience.

The same thing happens outside of Disney. With “grownups.”

We push people to rides they’re not ready for. Life has enough stretching in it without us finding new ways for people to grow. The best thing student affairs folks or people in helping professions can do is help people navigate the challenges that are already happening. In that process, help them name and identify who they really are. Help them notice the intersection between what they are good at and what they enjoy. Help them find the inner joy that comes from living out the way they are wired.

We push ourselves to rides we won’t enjoy because we think it will be “good for us.” It’s as true for us (me) as it is for others (you). Without realizing it, we can spend half our lives living for other people’s values – stretching because we’ve been told we should. Stretching in the wrong direction.

Every person is different. That’s good. There are some rides you’ll love and some you’ll hate. There are some we have to ride regardless. But when we have the choice, the secret to success is to choose the options, opportunities, and actions you’ll can’t wait to be a part of. And say no to everything else.

Your time is limited. Clear space for what matters. [quote]

“As a creator, you don’t have time to waste. Time is your greatest commodity, and spending it on experiences you think you should have instead of experiences that feed your soul is a waste of time. Cutting the experiential clutter out of your life will free room for you to do great work.

“Of course there is clutter in your life that is there by necessity. But we’re not talking about that. We are talking about those Christmas parties you went to that you didn’t enjoy, and always saying yes to coffee, and that vacation in which you thought you HAD to go to disneyland. Put an end to it.”

Donald Miller

Grammar Police: Towards vs Toward

I’m re-editing a paper for my doctoral program based on some recent feedback, and I came across an interesting edit I disagreed with.

(Well, it’s interesting if you find anything dealing with grammar interesting. Which I think comes from my days in journalism. Which probably means it’s not really interesting.)

I used “towards” in the paper and received the note, “Toward never has an ‘s’ at the end.”

I beg to differ. You see, I remembered my college roommate and editor of the yearbook researching this exact topic for a yearbook titled “Accelerating towards (toward?) something.” He determined that both are equally acceptable. One may have a preference, but it’s just that: a preference.

I trusted his research, but once I had a smart person telling me I was wrong, I realized that my roomie wasn’t always known for his grammatical preciseness (Sorry, Ryan). So it was time to do some research.

Turns out, I’m right. But I’m going to change anyway. Here’s why.

One of my favorite grammarians, Grammar Girl, says this:

“Toward” and “towards” are both correct and interchangeable: you can use either one because they mean the same thing. Many sources say the “s” is more common in Britain than in the United States, so you should take into account what the convention is in your country, and use “towards” in Britain and “toward” in the U.S.

Grammarist backs this up. They write that both are acceptable and share meanings (yes!), but that towards is more common in British writing while  toward has gained popularity in American writing (again!). They include these nice charts, courtesy of Google Ngram, that show towards and toward usage in over the past 200 years or so.

Usage in British books

 

Usage in American books

Interesting, isn’t it? So there you have it. I still say they’re interchangeable  BUT, I also recognize that I’m an American writing papers in America for primarily American readers. So I’ll use toward.

It’s also a good reminder that language is always in flux. There are rules, but beyond the style guide for your specific field, there are usually gray areas.

(Disclaimer – this is a blog post, not a paper. As soon as you write about grammar, someone shows up to critique the language you used to write the post. I’m sure I made mistakes throughout this. As long as I got close, I’m happy.)

Don’t lose the room: Three elements of a compelling presentation

When you’re speaking or teaching, how you say something matters more than what you say.

Yes – content matters. You’ve got to start with something worth sharing. But most who are willing to get in front of a group have something worth passing along. The problem is, that kernel of amazing insight gets lost in the rest of the words.

Any time you speak, here are three things to consider:

STORY

Yes, your talk should have goals, or in “education-speak,” learning objectives. But compelling sessions can’t stop there. A good message has a story. It fits your topic into a broader narrative. It asks questions. It even invites mystery.

When JJ Abrams spoke at TED, he described every good story as a series of mystery boxes. A closed box is presented. The story moves the viewer toward the box, eventually opening it and discovering a new mystery box.  I’ve shared these before, but they’re so good, they’re worth repeating:

  • The best stories are mystery boxes. They are question after question after question that pull you through a complete story.
  • Withholding info increases interest. The Jaws shark didn’t work half the time so it was shown less. That’s what made it frightening – the unseen.
  • The best stories hold a difference between what you think you’re getting and what you’re really getting. ET isn’t about an alien who meets a kid. It’s about a heartbreaking divorce and a kid who’s finding his way in life. Jaws isn’t all about a shark attacking people, it’s about a man wrestling with his place in the world, his masculinity, and his family. If you want to do a sequel, don’t rip off the shark, that’s not what makes it work! Rip off the story – the characters – the struggle.

EMOTION

I’ve read that emotion accounts for 80% of our decision making. Take that, logic. And even if the stat is wrong, it certainly feels about right. When we tell a good story, what’s really happening is we are tapping into that emotion.

There are two basic models of human nature in the business world. The Homo sapiens model assumes that it’s human sapience—wisdom, intelligence—that really sets our species apart. Based on this model, the best way to achieve business goals is to crunch numbers, lay out facts, and wait for rational actors to flock to your point of view.  This is the traditional model. But a new model of human nature is emerging to complement—not replace—the traditional model.  This is what I call the Homo fictus (fiction man) model of human nature. This model acknowledges that humans are creatures of emotion as much as logic, and that facts and arguments move us most when they are embedded in good stories.  The world’s priests, politicians, and teachers have always known this by instinct, and so have the world’s marketers.

Jonathan Gottschall

As someone who leans more toward the “logical” side of the spectrum, this freaks me out. But we all live and make decisions by emotion. Logic may direct the ship (a little), but emotion powers it. Without tapping into emotion – passion, joy, pain, compassion – the information presented is unlikely to cause change.

Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard  is a great book about how we decide. It describes this tension as the elephant (our emotion) and the rider (our logic). The rider may decide where it wants to go, but if the elephant disagrees, the elephant’s going to win.

RELEVANCE

This one is about connection. Why does this topic matter to this group? Not, what do I know about this topic? Or, what do I find interesting? Why will this make an immediate difference in the lives of the people listening? Find the piece of information or the angle that connects with the needs of the group. Without relevance, you’ll lose people’s interest. Every time.

What you share needs to connect with a current need in your listener’s lives. It can be how to fix a problem, how to become better at something, or even something that relates to a topic they’re passionate about. But it must connect.

WANT MORE?

If you want to read more on how to master presenting, I highly recommend  Made to Stick (the absolute best book on communicating – everyone should read) and Give Your Speech, Change the World (a more typical book on speaking, but helpful and interesting). And while we’re at it, Seth Godin’s Really Bad Powerpoint (and how to avoid it) is a must for presenters (and here’s a related blog post).

Creating space for connection

APU’s new recreation complex is almost completed, and it’s already packed with students playing soccer, basketball, and sand volleyball every night. It reminds me how important third places are for community – in cities and on college campuses.

As we focus on improving the overall college experience, don’t forget those spots that aren’t the classroom or the residence hall. The places where people play games, do homework, talk over coffee, and compete in sports are also an important, indispensable part of any community.

Reconsidering textbooks in a digital world – or – Why a $100 ebook is crazy

I’m jumping back into the world of education as I start studies for a PhD in Higher Ed in about a week, and as I start that journey, I’m reminded of some of the joys of life as a student.

Like that some books cost $150.

Some people are outraged by this. I’m hit with a little sticker shock, but overall, I get the reasons. Publishers frequently attribute the high cost to the resale market. When you publish a textbook, it sells well the first semester then quickly drops off as students sell the book back, and the bookstore sells the used books for less than new.

But here’s what I don’t get (and one of the biggest opportunities in the publishing market). One book I purchased was $122 new and $100 for the Kindle version.

That’s crazy. That’s someone taking an old model and laying it over a new paradigm. Digital scales differently. There’s no incremental cost. And, most importantly for textbooks, it’s really, really hard to have a secondary resale market.

When you sell an ebook, you’re selling something that cannot be resold. The customer purchased the right to view the information. That should change the cost structure, but most publishers are comparing ebooks to the traditional book market and pricing them just a little below physical book pricing,

There is an opportunity here. The ebook market is renewable. Fresh income comes in every semester without demanding a new edition every few years to kill the resale market. Price a $122 textbook at $20 or $30, well below what the bookstores can sell a used hard copy for. You’ll sell more every semester at pure profit. Amazon will take a cut of the money, but even then it’s a better deal.

Or cut Amazon out of the picture and make 100% profit. Textbooks get sold to the professor, not the students. The professor makes the choice and requires (compels?) the students to purchase it. Make it clear an ebook version is for sale on your own website, and the professor can direct the students there. You have a captive audience, and for $100 savings, students will gladly click over to “randompublisherssite.com”. In the end, this benefits the students (more affordable), the teacher (happier students), and the authors (opportunities for a better royalty structure). Everyone wins – except those people buying back used books and selling them for the markup.

How Facebook Camera changes the way we share our lives

Facebook is evolving. It’s been a slow shift, but over time, the site’s purpose has changed.

At first, the goal was to collect your friends and acquaintances in one place. You could see what was happening with your best friend and check in on that classmate you haven’t seen since high school.

As the site grew, Zuckerberg and company began to come up with ways to increase user engagement. After all, more time spent on the site equals more ad views, more app use, and more revenue. So, they add the news feed, increase the prominence of status updates, add messenger, create timeline, and now, create a separate camera app.

These are all great ideas. But I think they’ll also create tension for some users of the site. Here’s why.

In the book The Search to Belong, Joseph Myers talks about the various ways people find connection and belonging. Borrowing from concepts of physical space, he describes four unique “spheres.”

The outer circle is the Public sphere. These are people you know by first name or recognize their faces. You may say “hi” or share a short conversation about the weather or that recent football game. This is the same sphere where you might feel affinity or belonging in a stadium cheering for a team. You may not know the people next to you, but you feel you belong.

Moving one in, we have the Social sphere. This is someone you share a known commonality or two. You might ask them for a small favor, but you probably haven’t spent time in their home.

Next, there’s the Personal sphere. This is the group you regularly share life with. You spend time together. You’ve been in their home. They know your feelings and needs.

Finally, there’s the Intimate sphere. These are the people with whom you share your “deepest secrets, desires, needs, and struggles.” This is a spouse or a best friend. Most people will only have 2-3 of these relationships at a time. Some will only have a few their whole life. They are rare relationships that are difficult to maintain.

So when we look back at Facebook, here’s the takeaway: for most people, the more you share, the smaller the group of people you share it with. 

When people started out on the site, the point was to share a little with a lot of folks. You were able to see what that friend from high school looks like 10 years later or find out if that girl you sat next to in class is “in a relationship.”

Now, Facebook’s goal is to create a timeline of your life as it happens. Share your thoughts as updates. Post what music you’re listening to on Spotify. Share pictures of what you’re doing (along with a required location – though I think Facebook will drop that soon). It’s your life – in real time.

Depending on how people use the tools, Facebook has moved over time from a public space to either a social, personal, or – at times – intimate space.

As the site changes, users’ behavior will change in one of these three ways:

  • Some will use the site less and keep it as a place to ‘track’ people.
  • Some will narrow their friend lists and share with a smaller group.
  • Others will broadcast more information to more people.

What do you think? Does Facebook change us? Or do we change how we use the site?

The job hunt – Are you moving to or from?

It’s that season in the Higher Ed world. People across the country are scouring the job listings for open positions.

If you’re looking for a “next step” in your career, there’s an important question to consider.

Are you running to something or running from something?

One is healthy and natural. The other should at least cause you to pause and consider your motivations.

Here’s why. The best life changes come when we are drawn to a place, not from a place. Pursuing your passion and finding a place that fits your strengths is a perfect reason to look. Often, the timing and opportunity is right. The new position matches your strengths and passions, and it’s a logical, exciting next step.

But sometimes you can run from a situation that could be a great fit with just a little effort or communication. Is the move spurred by a strong connection with the new role or a feeling of discontent with where you’re currently working? It’s easy to see how the grass is greener “over there,” but what connections and momentum will you be giving up if you make the jump?

So before you move and simply find yourself discontent in a new place, consider all the options. There may be changes in your current context that will allow you to step into your strengths while building on the momentum and relationships you’ve already established.

Innovation belongs to the tweakers

Malcolm Gladwell writes a great article on why Steve Jobs’ genius wasn’t so much in how he invented or pioneered but instead tweaked ideas.

“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. That is not a lesser task.”

Read more here.