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:


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.


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.


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.


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 “”. 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.

Just ship it!

Sometimes we can get overwhelmed and bogged down in trying to make an idea perfect – so much so that great ideas never make their way to reality.

Seth Godin talks about how shipping – the art of getting something out the door and into the real world – separates the “ok” from the great.

And it’s true. We need to take pride in what we do. We need to thrash around, work to make something perfect, and work hard at it. But the best approach is often to get the idea out there, into the real world, and refine it as it grows.

Example One – Check out this early version of Twitter:

Example Two – The first iPhone had no App options. Steve Jobs didn’t think they were needed and risked messing up the user experience (Instead developers could build pages that worked for the Safari browser already installed on the phone). Later, he changed his mind and the iPhone went from no apps to “there’s an app for that.”

Example Three – Almost any event I’ve seen repeated from year to year in a department with a consistent staff dedicated to growing or improving it. At our school, ResLife does some “fencepost” events that we are known for. It’s been amazing to see the improvements from year-to-year as Residence Directors brainstorm how to streamline processes and build in new, creative, energizing ideas.

Know what you stand for, and make it accessible

What does your organization or department stand for? What do you stand for?

Clearly defining our core values is one of the most difficult and most important things we can do. We’re going to make decisions daily. We can either make them with pre-established guidelines that reflect what we truly value, or we can make them in the moment, trusting that our emotions and the sway of what’s urgent and reacting to what gets placed before us.

So defining our values is proactive. Responding based on the moment is reactive.

National Community Church in Washington D.C. has a unique set of core values. Very “un-church-like.” They’re sticky. They represent a set of beliefs, but they’re phrased in a way that helps people remember and understand them.

When someone hits a situation in their day-to-day life to which one of the values relates, there’s a good chance they’ll remember it. When the church (which meets in movie theaters across D.C. and runs a coffee shop as one of their venues) comes across a new opportunity that means change in how they’re doing things, values like “Playing it safe is risky” and “Irrelevance is irreverence” help them filter the decision through values that speak to the importance of change and relevance. When a person in the church finds personal change and growth hard, a value like “It’s never too late to be who you might have been” inspires them to take steps toward growth.

When we worked to build our developmental model for Residence Life, we realized there are a lot of great, well-researched models out there. But most are in researcher-talk. For something to stick – to influence behavior – it has to be written in a way that connects to the people it’s meant to impact. RAs must “get it” enough to share it or program with it. So we boiled it down to seven core values and tried to name them in ways that would stick. We’re always working to improve things, but so far, they seem to have worked better than anything else we’ve tried.

Core values can be prescriptive and descriptive. They both help simplify decisions by making clear where you stand and what you’re about. But they also show others who you are from the outset.

What about you? Do you have some clear values that drive where you work? Do you have clear personal values that help you filter decisions and actions?

Does social media contribute to or distract from your main thing?

John Mayer spoke to students at Berklee College of Music this summer, and one thing he talked about was the impact social media had on his creativity. While it helped him connect with his fans (millions of followers on Twitter), it robbed him of creative power for his main thing – music:

“The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still 4 minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still 4 minutes long…I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore. And I was a tweetaholic. I had four million twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using twitter as an outlet and I started using twitter as the instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song.”

It’s something worth thinking about for everyone. What’s your main thing? Where should your energy go? Some things like Facebook and Twitter can connect us and even make us feel productive, but if it’s robbing us of the core/central thing (if it becomes our main instrument), it may need to be cut back.

I know people in Student Affairs who have used Twitter to connect with colleagues in amazing ways – to learn, to find support, and to share ideas. But for every person who finds #SAChat conversations and a new circle for professional growth, there may be five more who just use it as an escape for the real work of connection, creativity, and getting things done.

So what about you? How has Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Pinterest/Whatever helped you do what you do? What are the temptations that distract you from the main things you do?


The Wednesday List

It’s been busy around here (hello August!), but here are a few things that have caught my eye.

  • This TED presentation by Salman Kahn, founder and teacher for the Kahn Academy, deserves a post of its own. The implications for how we teach and learn are huge. But for now, just watch the video and see what they’re doing.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to get rid of “stuff” (read: clutter) in our lives because it means something (read: sentimental). But Unclutterer has a few good mantras to help us remember to focus on living, not preserving.
  • Environments matter. Look what happens when you put a coffee table at a bus stop.
  • I’ll admit, I usually love every post Seth Godin writes, so I try to avoid linking to every. single. one. But you’ve got to read this one about embracing constraints because now, more than ever, it’s timely and true. “When we fight constraints and eliminate them, we often gain access to new insights, new productivity and new solutions. It also makes it easier to compete against people who don’t have those constraints.”
  • And finally, just for fun, go to before August 15, type a letter to anyone, add the address, and someone will write it out, add an illustration, stick it in an envelope, and mail it to whoever you request. Free of charge. Really!

Stop it! Rework it! Reclaim time and sanity by cutting things that don’t matter.

Sometimes we get it all wrong. In order to achieve a better life we feel like we have to have more, do more and accomplish more. Sometimes more helps, but most of the time “better” is about doing the right things, not more things.

Sometimes when we’re feeling behind and overwhelmed we need to SIMPLIFY, not work harder to catch up.

Look at what you’re doing – is it worth it? Is the time you’re spending on that thing (whatever it is) worth what you’re getting from it? Does it align with your values? Does it make sense?

At home – are you happy with the amount of time you have to spend cleaning and organizing your stuff? Or would it be better to get rid of some of the excess and have more time for life? *

Is the time you spend catching up after a day of busy activities worth it? What would it look like to do fewer things, invest in them, and have a little margin in your life at the end of the day?

Even simpler – When you’re doing dishes, is the stuff you use most often the most accessible? Or are you wasting minutes every day with an inefficient setup?

Or at your job – is the paperwork you do (or require others to do) helpful? Or is it taking up more time than it’s worth?

How do you track your budget? Could you do a better job with more tracking? Less tracking? A simpler method?

Most people slow down a little over the summer. Why not use that time to examine your values and the default systems and habits you live by? Do they support those values?

Sometimes we create busyness for ourselves because it feels good. It feels like we’re productive. It’s easier to be busy than to make the tough decisions and do the things we really value.

Take some time to write out the things you really care about – the areas of life that you value. And list a few goals or dreams for each of those areas. It could be family, relationships, health, your job, and your broader mission or platform. Your list will look different. Where are you right now? Where do you want to be?

It’s worth centering our actions around deeply held values, not reactionary impulses.

Maybe it means doing less stuff so we can do the right things. Or maybe being ok with the dishes staying dirty a little while longer so we can connect with a friend. Or maybe it’s getting the junk out of the sink so you can cook a real meal and sit down for quality time with your family.

It looks different for each person. But we all feel it inside. We know where those areas of change are for us. Where are yours?

*Yes – this may be a little autobiographical.

The Wednesday List

  • We’re moving about 200 yards down the street today, so wish us luck! That’s a lot of packing for a short distance!
  • Think you have to create what you’re doing from scratch? Watch the first two episodes of this online series and remember that Everything is a Remix.
  • Saying someone has too much time on their hands is often just a way to get out of feeling bad for how they spent their time when compared to what we’ve done with the same number of hours.
  • If you use Pandora, you should also check out Grooveshark. You can search and play almost any song you want. Pandora’s great when you want music in the background, but Grooveshark is where to go if you want to listen to that specific song.
  • 10 myths about introverts (and what to do about it)
  • Here’s how to get that exit row seat on your next flight. (Sometimes it’s easier than others)

Good sources for free, quality fonts

There are a lot of places where you can download free fonts out there, but as a design person, I’ve found a lot of them require you to weed through piles of less-than-useful fonts to find something that looks professional but different – you know, the quality stuff. Here are a few sites I’ve appreciated for fonts recently (one free, one lets you pay what you want – from $0 up):

  • Font Squirrel – Free, commercially licensed fonts. A wide variety. Good, professional stuff.
  • Lost Type Co-op – This one has a limited selection, but they’re unique and well done. It uses a pay-what-you-want model.
  • The League of Movable Type – Similar to Lost Type, free, open-source, quality fonts.
  • And a final freebie. If these are too boring, and you’re just looking for that font to imitate the Star Trek font or lots of things similar to comic sans, just go here.)