Tag Archives: power

Quality in Education Part 3: Drive Out Fear. Teach Quality Standards.


Image Credit: Lucy Glover Photography (http://lucyglover.com/)

Image Credit: Lucy Glover Photography (http://lucyglover.com/)

[This is the third article in a three-part series responding to ASQ’s May question in “View from the Q”. It follows Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed and Quality in Education Part 2: There is Power in Variation.]

What can we do to break out of the “manufacturing system mentality” of education? It’s not like this dilemma is unrecognized… just today, Time published an article with the tagline “Today’s education is training yesterday’s students.” Because of the severe downshift in the economy, the authors argue, the real value is in teaching students how to be entrepreneurial — to identify new opportunities (in every field, really) and be empowered to move forward and realize them.

So how do we teach students to be entrepreneurial now… without waiting for the system to change and broadly support it? I’m sure there are many ideas, but in addition to the Burning Mind Project, here are two things that I aim to build into all of my courses – supporting the shift to new modalities of education, while still supporting the institution within which I am embedded.

#3.1: Drive out fear. In addition to being one of Deming’s famed 14 Points, this (to me) is also the key to innovation. Everyone must be given permission to explore, to attempt, to fail, to wildly succeed. It seems almost like a cliche, but we have been cultured into a world dominated by fear, and so the landscape of fear is so endemic it is nearly invisible. We, like our students, tend to behave like free range chickens… and we have to shift that dynamic so that our gifts and talents can emerge and be used to benefit society.

#3.2: Teach students to identify and pursue high standards for quality. What does it mean to be excellent? Who decides what is excellent? What should you be able to do if you want to be recognized as excellent? These are questions students should be able to answer for themselves… and we need to help them figure out how to do it. For example, when you write your Master’s thesis or work on a dissertation, there’s no such thing as “getting a passing grade”. You basically commit to work, and work, and work… until you “get it” and everyone on your committee is happy… but then there are always a few more things that need to be improved before you’re totally done and can graduate.

Here are some brief examples of people and organizations that are working to redefine the meaning of education. Each of them, in my opinion, seeks to drive out fear AND help students critically examine, and then work to meet, quality standards.:

  • Mycelium: This North-Carolina based school recognizes that not everyone has four (or more) years to dedicate to a traditional university experience. Their program is structured in terms of 12-week learning journeys, where a “living laboratory” is created between thought leaders, mentors, and students.
  • The Minerva Project: This school aims to reinvent the university experience from the ground up, by focusing on the habits of mind and leadership competencies that can help students (of ANY age!) be successful in any field. It’s still a four year experience: the first year is in San Francisco, the second in either Berlin or Buenos Aires, the third in Hong Kong or Mumbai, and the final year in London or New York.
  • The BIF Student Experience Lab‘s “Students Design for Education” (SD4E) project: What if 24 students got together and designed what they feel would be the perfect school? BIF is going to find out soon.
  • SF Brightworks: This San Francisco-based primary school provides a theme-based and open-ended educational experience that encourages young students to explore, collaborate, and solve practical problems. Instead of assuming that everyone must learn exactly the same thing, Brightworks focuses more on what groups can create by combining their knowledge and experience… an analog of what happens in the real world, after traditional schooling is “complete”.

And our discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Nikhil Goyal, who has bravely become the outspoken voice of the oppressed masses populating primary and secondary schools all over the U.S. Although he has recently graduated from Syosset High School, there’s no doubt that he’ll continue to catalyze driving out fear — both for students, and for the institutions that fear change.

What are YOUR ideas? What can individuals and small groups do to transform the quality of education?

Decidere: The Power of Decision

(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco, CA)

I committed to a decision today. It was a big decision — one that’s been hanging over my head for many months. I am certain that this decision will impact the rest of my life, and it’s so personal, I can’t even reveal to you what it is! But let me just say that it was a very difficult decision to make, mainly because it requires me to accept that other people are not going to change their behavior for me to get what I really want. All I can change… is me.

My ego had to get out of the way. I have to be selfless to pull this off, and I had to be selfless to say “I’m making this decision!” in the first place. My ego’s been scared.

In fact, I thought I got rid of the need to make this decision in the spring. I was wrong. It came back to me, like a boomerang, saying “You can’t do that! You’re going to have to deal with me.” Sigh… back to the drawing board.

“There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster, and cheaper. These four goals appear in the order of priority.” – Shigeo Shingo

The word “decision” comes from the Latin decidere – to “cut off all other options.” This might seem drastic, but once you cut off all potential for doing or thinking or being any way that does not align with your DECISION, your life instantly becomes easier – the first and most significant element of Shingo’s conceptualization of improvement.

Decisions make things easier. Even the Harvard Business Review recognizes that “making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy.”  In their September 19, 2012 post entitled “Boring is Productive,” Robert C. Pozen notes that President Obama wears the same suits and eats the same breakfast to “routinize the routine” and give him more energy to make more significant decisions.

Being submerged in a continual stream of decisions not only weakens mental energy, but depletes emotional reserves (and willpower) too. I’m tired of being continually depleted of my emotional reserves. I had become so tired, that I had to make a decision about who I want to be. I’ve been afraid of getting hurt. I’ve been afraid of being abandoned. (And a lot of these feelings are rather tangential to the actual issue at hand… everything’s just all conflated inside of me.)

I’ve been worried about making the wrong decisionabout settling for something that’s less than what I know I really want, deep down on the inside. That’s why I’ve kept my options open… whyI haven’t cut off other options… so if a new opportunity comes around, I’m poised to capture it. I am not one to wait for the dandelion promises of an uncertain future, especially when those promises are made or implied by other people. All I have to depend on, really, is what’s inside of me – my state of being right now.

Part of me has been hesitant, thinking “if I make this decision, I’m accepting the things around me that I don’t like.” But then I realized that the decision and the external circumstances are not quite as entangled with one another as I might think. By making the decision, I’m changing everything around me, because I’m changing me.

“For so long most of us have used the term ‘decision’ so loosely that it’s come to describe something like a wish list. Instead of making decisions, we keep stating preferences… Making a true decision means committing to achieving a result, and then cutting yourself off from any other possibility.” — Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within

Is there a decision hanging over you that’s sucking up your emotional energy? If you’re afraid of making the wrong decision, choose a “set point” in the future where you will allow yourself to revise your decision, to change the contract – and adjust, if appropriate. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get completely into the feel of your decision. And to watch the world around you adjust to your decision.

Make the decision.

Cut off any other possibilities.

Move forward and don’t look back.

Be IN the decision. Be a part of it. Invite it to become part of you…

…at least for a while, until maybe your “set point” date in the future.

But I guarantee you, when that day comes, the external environment will look so different that the reason you had to make the decision in the first place could have evaporated completely. The scene will have changed, along with the scenery, and perhaps even the actors.

And then you’ll probably be faced with another decision : )

Getting Your “Work Mojo” Back

(This is being reprinted from one of my October 2008 posts due to overwhelming and unexpected positive response!)

Productivity is totally dependent upon whether or not you actually want to be doing something. Psychologists and management scholars call this intrinsic motivation, but when it pertains to the workplace, I call it my “work mojo”. For the past couple months, I’ve been trying to figure out “how to get my work mojo back”. In the meantime, I haven’t actually stopped to think of what I mean by that.

Here’s what Merriam Webster has to say about “mojo”:

Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
plural mojoes or mojos
probably of African origin; akin to Fulani moco'o medicine man
: a magic spell, hex, or charm ; broadly : magical power <works his mojo on the tennis court>

What I WANT is to feel invigorated by what I’m doing, feel completely capable dealing with all of the stuff on my to do list, and to feel like it means something to others – that’s what I think would get my work mojo back. So the Merriam-Webster definition fits pretty well – How can I get my magical power back at work? Ron said he feels the same way about his productivity on personal projects, and would really like to get his “personal project mojo” back as well. We brainstormed about it over lunch and identified four elements for the Mojo Maintenance Toolkit which can shape your own personal quality system:

  1. boundaries (in both space and time)
  2. vacation (in both space and time)
  3. objective affirmation
  4. subjective affirmation

First, let’s talk about boundaries. It’s called a “day job” for a reason – if you are chipping away at your office to-do list during evenings, weekends, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, you are not setting good boundaries for yourself. If you’re multitasking when you’re on a family outing, or checking your email on your Blackberry while you’re stopped at a traffic light, you are not setting good boundaries. I’m particularly guilty on this count, and have taken some concrete steps to set better boundaries: a) my work email does not forward to my Blackberry, only my personal email (so if a few key people really need me, they can get to me) and b) I don’t do “work work” on my home computer any more. If I leave my work computer at work, that’s it – I can see it again the next day, and the work will have to wait. (There’s quite a bit of separation anxiety that comes when you try to do this. Don’t be too hard on yourself.)

Vacation is the second ingredient required to keep your mojo alive. To appreciate something, you need to be away from it. Totally, completely, mentally and physically away. I appreciate my job much more after I’ve been away from it for a while. I appreciate my coworkers much more when I haven’t seen them in a while. I appreciate the weekends the most after a long, productive week. I appreciate my kid more when I’ve picked him up after a long day at school (and I have the sense he appreciates me more as a result too). Reflection is a natural part of growth and learning, and you need to give yourself time to gain perspective – to let all of your thoughts and ideas percolate into well-rounded solutions.

Objective affirmation is the next ingredient. You need to measure your progress, and be able to reflect on it, to get a sense of accomplishment. There have been times when I’ve sat in my office, (figuratively) crying into my coffee, beating myself up because I feel like I didn’t get enough done. But when I take a look at the status reports from myself and my team over the past few weeks, or progress reports that cover a longer amount of time, it’s pretty clear that we get a lot of stuff done – it’s just not obvious unless we can see our world today is different than our world was a few weeks, months of years ago.

Subjective affirmation is the final (and most insidious) of the keys to cultivating your mojo. In addition to being able to see and feel that you’re moving forward and getting things done, if you don’t have the feeling that the people around you appreciate your contributions, your level of inspiration is bound to wane. (Occasionally, the rewards from doing the task itself might be enough to negate the need for subjective affirmation – but this is not commonplace.) Do people really care about what you’re doing? Do they value the contributions you make? Or do they think you’re an idiot who can’t get anything right? Do they just not like the job you were hired to do (ie. it makes their job harder)? A solid, healthy team will provide a lot of subjective affirmation; a fractious organization will not. Additionally, the subjective affirmation really has to come from people who have no vested interest in your success or failure. Subjective affirmation from my most trusted colleagues and my boss is nice, but I know they’re on my side (I’m lucky to have a fantastic boss). But what about everybody else?

The concept of subjective affirmation extends beyond the workplace as well, though. Ever feel like doing the laundry is a thankless job? It might be, because you get no subjective affirmation as a result of doing it. You can objectively measure your progress every time you put the folded shirts in the drawer, but if no one seems to care, it’s unlikely that the thrill of the job itself will continue to motivate you.

Morale is a consequence of all four of these “mojo factors” aligning among the individuals in a team or organization. To get your own morale up, see if you can find ways to achieve each of the four.