Tag Archives: reflection

What if Your Job Was Focused on Play?

james-siegal

James Siegal (picture from his Twitter profile, @jsiegal at http://twitter.com/jsiegal)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to James Siegal, the President of KaBOOM! – a non-profit whose mission is lighthearted, but certainly not frivolous: to bring balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids! James is another new Business Innovation Factory (BIF) storyteller for 2015… and I wanted to find out how I could learn from his experiences to bring a sense of play into the work environment. (For me, that’s at a university, interacting with students on a daily basis.)

Over the past 20 years, KaBOOM! has built thousands of playgrounds, focusing on children growing up in poverty. By enlisting the help of over a million volunteers, James and his organization have mobilized communities using a model that starts with kids designing their dream playgrounds. It’s a form of crowdsourced placemaking.

Now, KaBOOM! is thinking about a vision that’s a little broader: driving social change at the city level. Doing this, they’ve found, requires answering one key question: How can you integrate play into the daily routine for kids and families? If play is a destination, there are “hassle factors” that must be overcome: safety, travel time, good lighting, and restroom facilities, for starters. So, in addition to building playgrounds, KaBOOM! is challenging cities to think about integrating play everywhere — on the sidewalk, at the bus stop, and beyond.

How can this same logic apply to organizations integrating play into their cultures? Although KaBOOM! focuses on kids, he had some more generalizable advice:

  • The desire for play has to be authentic, not forced. “We truly value kids, and we truly value families. Our policies and our culture strive to reflect that.” What does your organization value at its core? Seek to amplify the enjoyment of that.
  • We take our work really seriously,” he said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. You have to leave your ego at the door.” Can your organization engage in more playful collaboration?
  • We drive creativity out of kids as they grow older, he noted. “Kids expect to play everywhere,” and so even ordinary elements like sidewalks can turn into experiences. (This reminded me of how people decorate the Porta-Potties at Burning Man with lights and music… although I wouldn’t necessarily do the same thing to the restrooms at my university, it did make me think about how we might make ordinary places or situations more fun for our students.)

KaBOOM! is such a unique organization that I had to ask James: what’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever observed in your role as President? He says it’s something that hasn’t just happened once… but happens every time KaBOOM! organizes a new playground build. When people from diverse backgrounds come together with a strong shared mission, vision, and purpose, you foster intense community engagement that yields powerful, tangible results — and this is something that so many organizations strive to achieve.

If you haven’t made plans already to hear James and the other storytellers at BIF, there may be a few tickets left — but this event always sells out! Check the BIF registration page and share a memorable experience with the BIF community this year: http://www.businessinnovationfactory.com/summit/register

ASQ Asks: What Can We Do to Encourage STEM? I Say: STEAM

zome-2In his March 2015 post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks “What can we do to encourage the next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) professionals?” My answer will be short today because I’ve been actively working on that for the past several months with a senior capstone project team (Cassidy Moellers, Dylan Chance, and Robert Spinoza) at James Madison University – we’re getting ready to finalize the project in the next couple of weeks, and submit an academic paper to the STEAM Journal about how you can use art to catalyze interest and engagement in STEM. [Postscript: Check out our published paper in the STEAM Journal — Radziwill, N. M., Benton, M. C., & Moellers, C. (2015). From STEM to STEAM: Reframing what it means to learn. The STEAM Journal2(1), 3.]

So much innovation in STEM is fueled by imagination and exploration, and in my opinion, we don’t communicate that very well to younger people. A great gateway drug for this purpose is art. There’s even a movement underway to expand out vision of STEM, and more tightly and more essentially integrate aesthetics, form, design, and fun into what we do via STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math).

STEAM doesn’t advocate just doing the arts alongside more traditional science and engineering. It actually requires that we look towards how we can use STEAM to create meaning for ourselves and our communities. In other words, it can help us get our mind off of science and engineering to understand and control the world around us – and focus more on how beautiful and intriguing things are that we can learn in those domains.

The picture above is the interactive zonohedral dome (or “zome”) that our students created specifically to engage others in the fun of integrated science and engineering. Here’s how they summarize their project:

As our communities expand rapidly, both physically and digitally, we can lose our sense of connection and togetherness. Interactive and participatory art interventions cultivate community by provoking engagement in unexpected areas. In this project, the prototype for an interactive zonohedral dome (or “zome”) was constructed as a proof of concept for an art intervention to engage students in collaborative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math ) learning, by creating feelings of connection with the technology and with each other. Consequently, it demonstrates the values of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) movement in education. Design elements (and an assessment approach) were selected based on a comprehensive literature review which focused on the aspects of engagement that would boost participants’ interest in and proficiency with STEM subjects.
 
A zome is a structure that supports itself solely due to its geometry. No nails or glue are used in the construction. The interactive nature of the structure emerges from sensors that detect occupancy, with music and lights automatically responding to the pattern of people entering and leaving the zome. Many technologies were combined to create this experience, including SketchUp (to design the components), Makerbot Replicator II (to build the structure), Arduino (to detect occupancy via phototransistors), LightShowPi (to generate Fast Fourier transforms of music files and control the frequency and amplitude of audio communicated via LEDs), and RaspberryPi (a microcomputer to run LightShowPi and translate the signals from the Arduino to play audio at pre-designated decibel levels). 
We’ll post a video of the zome in action very soon. It’s so fun to look at, and play with… and what better way to learn programming than to make a structure respond to the presence and motion of the people around it?

Quality and Innovation in the Counterculture

Inside the Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Image Credit: John David Tupper (photographerinfocus.com)

Inside the Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Image Credit: John David Tupper (photographerinfocus.com)

This week, I was the guest blogger at the American Society for Quality’s “View from the Q” where I shared some anecdotes about encountering quality tools and concepts at Burning Man this past August.

Check it out and learn what’s so great about “MOOP“.

How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.

Quality as a Cultural Vision: My Week in Japan

japan-treesIn his July post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy reflects on the immense value of an ultra-clear organizational vision. After a trip to Sweden, where he attended a quality conference organized by the European Organization for Quality (EOQ), he was struck by IKEA’s starkly elegant focus on its customers’ needs, and Volvo’s BHAGgy(*) goal that no one will be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo by 2020.

This past June, I went to Japan for the first time. It wasn’t a work trip, so I didn’t visit any companies or do any plant tours. I didn’t intend to learn anything about quality, despite the obvious opportunities. And quite frankly, I wasn’t really sure I would enjoy Japan, or feel comfortable in that country, despite my profession’s obvious ties to that country’s insights and contributions to knowledge!

Why? Well, two reasons. The first is that I have some deep-seated emotional issues associated with Japan. It’s kind of like that time I was 16 and decided to experiment with too much vodka and Great Bluedini Kool-Aid. It was not a good idea. And I’ve never been able to eat or drink anything blue (or even drink Kool-Aid) since — that’s over 20 years completely inoculated to Kool-Aid, all because of a negative emotional association. I kind of had the same thing with Japan, prior to this summer.

My second reason for resisting Japan is more legitimate. I’ve worked with Japanese colleagues in the past, and it’s always been subtly disturbing. I always got the distinct sense of a lack of authenticity, and authenticity has always been a really important value of mine. I found that my Japanese colleagues could be very nice to my face, but then later, I’d realize that they completely disagreed with me (or in fact, disliked me completely). I didn’t like the (real or perceived) dichotomy. It made me nervous. If I can’t know you authentically, how can I work with you?

After spending a week in Japan, I’m not so bothered by this “lack of authenticity”. Even acknowledging this shift in my feelings is very surprising to me.

Being in Japan is an amazing, refreshing experience. Each person clearly has a sense of duty. Everyone I encountered was very respectful, genuinely interested in not bothering other people, and genuinely interested in providing a high level of service quality. There was no question about it: if you were in a service role, you were going to provide high quality. If you were responsible for providing products: they were going to be of high quality, regardless of how much you had paid for the privilege.

It would be shameful if you did not provide high quality.

This just seems to be part of their culture. I’m not advocating the threat of shame, or the threat of being ostracized by your community if you don’t meet their expectations — but there’s something very nice about having a socially-enforced baseline of high expectations. This  cultural vision, socialized into everyone since childhood, ensures that the entire country routinely meets high standards for quality just because how could it be any other way?

In fact, the cultural vision related to quality in Japan is so clear, I’m sure no one can even see it.

 

(*)BHAG = “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or alternatively, a really crazy-out-there stretch goal, conceptualized and popularized by Collins and Porras (1994).

Baldrige as a Micro-Framework for Organizational Planning

7737-thumbnailIn his June post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy shares the news that ASQ has recently been awarded the Excellence level of achievement in 2014 for the Wisconsin Forward Award, which is the state’s quality program that reflects the values of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA). He asks what experiences others have had with using quality award programs as frameworks for reflection and continuous improvement.

I had a great experience in 2006 using the Baldrige Criteria to develop a Workforce Management Plan for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). We were tasked by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to prepare this report, which was definitely going to require us to dig deep and reflect on how we were managing our workforce, both at the operational level and in service of our strategic priorities. Unfortunately, none of us had ever done this before, so we were pretty much clueless as to what elements such a report would require, and what sorts of questions we might have to answer to ensure that we were approaching the question of workforce management strategically. The NSF wasn’t really able to provide guidance to us other than “you should use best practices from business and industry.” Fortunately, because I had been involved in the quality community for several years, I knew that the Baldrige Criteria might help us accomplish our goal. And it did!

In addition to using the questions in Section 5, Workforce Focus, we also integrated some of the elements of the “P” section of the Criteria to develop our plan. This helped us construct the initial draft in an intense week, rather than the weeks or months it might have taken if we didn’t have the Criteria to guide us. We captured our experience in a paper that was published to an Observatory Operations conference proceedings book in 2006, which you can read here for additional background if you need to construct a Workforce Management Plan. We also included the outline for our report (even though the content itself was confidential). The main point is that you don’t need to use or implement all sections of the Baldrige Criteria for it to yield immediate tangible value for your organization… consider applying the sections when you need them in your continuous improvement journey. I hope you find it useful!

Is the Manufacturing Outlook Sufficiently Far-Reaching?

view-from-qIn his January post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski discusses the results from ASQ’s 2013 manufacturing outlook survey. Although the majority of manufacturers reported revenue growth in 2013, many are still very concerned about the state of the economy. Paul was inquiring whether this “optimistic but guarded” perspective was a good assessment, and asked for examples from manufacturers that might shed some more light on the situation.

I’ve alluded over Twitter that my relationship with quality – as a concept – has been changing over the past few months. That’s the main reason that I haven’t been posting as frequently on this blog… I’m trying to sort out my feelings. (It’s almost like what happens when you’ve been in a relationship for years, but then gradually discover that you’ve changed, and the relationship is no longer meeting your deepest needs.)

Paul’s January post has helped me clarify some of these feelings.

If we focus on revenue growth as a measure of “the health of manufacturing”, we’re all missing the point. Current trends in production indicate that the locus of power is increasingly shifting from large manufacturing companies to individuals and small groups. Examples such as the Maker movement, the success of online platforms like Etsy to support craftspeople, and the increasing availability of new technologies like 3D printing at reasonable costs are shifting the environmental dynamism of what has traditionally been a slowly evolving arena:

“with the Maker movement we will be increasingly surprised at what seemed small and local and small‑scale, now will continue to grow…”  —http://techonomy.com/conf/13-detroit/the-new-techonomy/can-the-maker-movement-re-make-america/

I was reminded of Clayton Christensen’s landmark 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. By successfully satisfying current needs, we are potentially blinded to the ability to satisfy future needs. We are so accustomed to the model of manufacturing working so well, over so many decades, that we may fail to recognize when the centralized approach is losing ground.

How are manufacturers addressing these shifts? Are they re-examining the core assumptions upon which their industries are based? I think this should be the focus, rather than continued revenue growth and “concern” about the state of the economy.

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