Archives For Change

The Power of Brevity

February 27, 2014 — Leave a comment
Thomas Jefferson -- One Word Will Do

Thomas Jefferson — One Word Will Do


In his talk Assessing Digital Innovations in Education at the Apple Leadership Institute in Vancouver BC this past week, Dr. Michael Fullan challenged the room full of Teachers, Technology Directors, Principal, Superintendents, and other educational leaders to start making some significant changes to our education system because “Kids Can’t Wait.”

I have been working as a change agent in education for the past two decades so his talk was reassuring and inspiring. Reassuring in the sense that those of use who have been working toward improving education need to keep on working because we are finally starting to see some progress. Inspiring in the sense that many younger leaders are picking up the challenge and are motivated to keep on pressing toward change.

While these aspects of his talk were excellent the most impactful part of his talk was the reminder that there is a tendency toward paralysis by analysis and we (academics and educators) do a really good job of generating huge reports which become shelfware.

Fullan challenged the audience with the following statement [paraphrased]:

If you can’t say it in 3 pages you don’t know what you are talking about. If you write more than 3 pages people won’t read it anyway…

Change by jeffrey1
I have been reflecting on the positive aspects of change for several months/years now and in my post Catching the Openness to Change I indicated that as a result of our many moves and life in different cultures my boys have become much more adaptable, appreciative, accepting, resilient and open to change. I also reflected on how my boys have expanded their comfort zones, explored new opportunities, developed new relationships, acquired new mentors and learned how to deal with a wide variety of physical challenges. My grand experiment in becoming an Intentional Father and helping my boys grow into positive young men appears to be working and the past five months have confirmed that practicing change is necessary if you expect to your children to continue to grow in the attributes that I listed above and to also learn how to set priorities and discern what is genuinely important and what is not.

This past weekend my family and I moved from Chilliwack to North Vancouver. Since this was the fourth major move we made this year we have a lot of practice so the move was virtually stress free and went off without a hitch. Marilyn and the boys left Edmonton at the end of June and moved into a condo in the Silver Star Resort in Vernon for the month of June. The next move was to Chilliwack to stay with family for just under a month and then the move to Whistler for almost two months and finally this past weekend, after a couple more weeks in Chilliwack, we all moved into a house in the Lynn Valley area of North Vancouver. Everyone is quite excited to finally stay in one place for the next five months. That is right; we only have a five month lease and we are considering several options for the next year so there will be a few more moves to come. I also need to add that while my family has been moving from mountain to mountain, I have also maintained a very small apartment in Burnaby on the edge of the BCIT campus where I am currently employed, so in addition to moving my family I have also had to move. If you haven’t had the chance to follow our story in my previous posts I encourage you to review the post in the Intentional Father category of my blog.

Why all the moves? Levi and Caleb have been involved in DownHill (DH) mountain biking for the past eight to ten years and last year they decided that they would like to race DH and work toward becoming professional racers/riders. Since there aren’t any mountains in Edmonton, and the type of commitment racing and turning pro require, we realized that we would have to move to either the interior of BC, or the North Shore/Whistler area to enable the boys to ride and train year round. This past summer the boys raced in the BC Cup circuit and gained some valuable experience and by the end of the season both had top ten finishes so the dream of riding full time is a not too distant reality. Over the past five months we traveled the province of BC to attend all the races and also explored living in Vernon/Silver Star and Whistler and now we are exploring the North Shore of Vancouver. We have learned that you can’t just vacation or visit a place. You need to have to have an extended stay where you actually live in the location to really understand the culture and the dynamics of the community.

A couple of days into this latest move the boys have their guitars and amps set up, the living room has been set up as a bike shop, because their high-end bikes require extensive daily maintenance, and they have started riding Mount Seymour and Fromme North Shore trails in pursuit of a good place to practice their skills. Can’t forget to mention the fact that the boys are also working daily on their high school studies. The last couple of weeks have been a bit more challenging because of two moves so close together and Levi’s latest results on a Physics exam were a little disappointing but his attitude–that he just has to work harder and be more disciplined means that he is on the right track–this attitude is a result of encouragement from one of Levi’s new mentors. Similarly, Caleb has learned that hard work and discipline is necessary for all things that are important. The life of an extreme athlete and in particular a DH racer is a life of constant travel and change so the boys lives are only going to get more complicated and there will be even more change in the years to come. Learning how to deal with and adapt to all this change now is extremely important.

Learning how to deal with change in a positive way is fundamental to being a productive part of society and is something that my boys will have to master but it is not something that our society promotes or embraces proactively. We (society in general) have been talking about the fact that the world around us is constantly changing and that we need to be able to adapt to all this change ever since Heraclitus a 500BC, greek philosopher argued: “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”. And yet the resistance to change, significant change, is rampant in the world around us. The reason I stressed the point of significant change is to differentiate between the actual change that makes us uncomfortable or forces to to adjust to new circumstances from change that many of use to distract ourselves with when we strive to satisfy our common desires for the latest and greatest technological gadgets, toys, cars, houses or items that we use to make our lives more comfortable. I believe we busy ourselves with the constant pursuit of latest technology as a distraction so that we don’t have to face genuine change.

The resistance to change, or at least dealing with the resistance to change, in the workplace has spawned an entire industry filed with books, workshops, webinars and an endless parade of consultants and experts who offer the 5, 8 or 12 key factors to limit or counter the resistance to change. I have played the role of change agent in several organizations and have worked with several different leadership teams on dealing with this major challenge and in my experience and research I have come to realize that we may all be attempting to deal with the symptoms of the problems as opposed to dealing with the problem itself.

The problem is our society, for the most part, is change averse and we simply do not practice change–we talk about it and research it, but we don’t practice it–at least not nearly enough. Furthermore, rather then embrace change as an opportunity for growth we have tendency to do whatever we can to limit the uncertainty and the discomfort that change demands. We strive to create a safe and secure environment for our children which in and of itself is good but as a result we may be sheltering them from the positive aspects of change. Children are no longer allowed to walk to school or to explore their neighbourhoods and communities for fear that something may happen to them. Our learning institutions which should be the fundamental proponents of change have become mired in tradition, security and stability–see my post Pick Two – Innovation, Change or Stability for details thoughts on this sticking point.

In his book Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix, Edwin Friedman uses history and the example of the European discovery of the New World as an allegory of the human experience of getting unstuck. Friedman argues:

when any system is imaginatively gridlocked, it cannot get free simply through more thinking about the problem. Conceptually stuck systems cannot become unstuck simply by trying harder. For a fundamental reorientation to occur, the spirit of adventure which optimizes serendipity and which enables new perceptions beyond the control of our thinking process must happen first. This is equally true regarding families, institutions, whole nations and entire civilizations.

But for that type of change to occur, the system in turn must produce leaders who can both take the first step and maintain the stamina to follow through in the face of predictable resistance and sabotage. Any renaissance, anywhere, whether in marriage, or a business, depends primarily not only on new data and techniques but on the capacity of leaders to separate themselves from the surrounding emotional climate so that they can break through the barriers that are keeping everyone from “going the other way”.

The type of leader that Friedman is talking about is one who practices change by living it. They have the adventurous leadership qualities required to breakthrough the imaginative gridlock we are facing in our society today. It is my hope that I am raising young men who have this spirit of adventure who can embrace change and make the most of it. Right now their life of change is self serving and they are pursuing their dreams of racing professionally. The sense of purpose, passion, spirit of adventure that they need to succeed in their personal pursuits can easily be focused on broader pursuits that they will inevitably pursue as they continue to grow and mature.

My boys are practicing change by living. It is my hope that this will help them in all their future endeavours. Time will tell.

Adapt or Die

September 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

Byron P. White, vice president for university engagement and chief diversity officer at Cleveland State University a shares Déjà vu moment by comparing a University senior leadership retreat where the need for innovation and change was discussed to a similar retreat discussion he had years earlier as part of the senior management of the Chicago Tribune. The fundamental challenges that were obvious to the newspaper industry a short while ago are amazingly similar to those that higher education faces now and like the newspaper industry, higher education is not listening to the demands of the general public. The following data is just one example of the gap in thinking:

A survey of 1,000 American adults and 540 senior-level administrators released last fall by Time magazine and the Carnegie Corporation of New York bears this out. While 62 percent of the administrators included “to learn to think critically” as either the most-important or second-most-important reason people should go to college, only 26 percent of the public ranked it as such. Likewise, 80 percent of the adults said that at many colleges, the education students receive is not worth what they pay for it. Only 41 percent of the administrators agreed with them.

Even though I am a staunch supporter of a liberal education even I can see that most people view education as a preparation for jobs rather than a preparation for society. Unlike White who is optimistic and posits that higher education does have the appetite for change I subscribe to Clayton Christensen’s way thinking and suggest that it will take a significant disruption to higher education before we start to see the changes that so many know are necessary.

Read the full article…

In Adam Kahane’s powerful address at RSA he sums up his Transformative Scenario Planning approach as simply:

“Telling stories about what might happen. Not stories about what will happen, not forecasts; not stories about what should happen; not proposals or visions or positions but stories about what MIGHT happen–relevant, challenging plausible clear stories about what might happen. And in this way building new understandings new relationships, new intentions and hence new actions.”

Kahane points out three challenges to this approach which have been transcribed directly from his talk:

“First of all in working in this way we are trying not only to implement an idea or a way forward that we already have but together to discover a way forward. One of the features of complex conflictual problematic situations is there is agreement neither on the solution nor even on the problem. This is above all an emergent process which means it’s not predictable and it’s not controllable and for many people including for me who who like knowing where we’re going and like being in control of where we’re going this feels uncomfortable and difficult and risky.

The second way in which it’s not easy is that it requires us to work not only with our friends and colleagues but also with strangers and opponents. We’re were working on affecting transformations that we are unable to affect alone or just with our people. If you work not just with friends and colleagues but the strangers and opponents you will find yourself in real conflict, deep conflict, and for people like me who like things to be rational and nice this feels deeply uncomfortable and difficult and risky.

The final way in which it’s not easy and this is the most fundamental of all is that we’re working here not simply to adapt to un unpredictable world, were working in this way to transform the situation which we find to be unacceptable, unstable, unsustainable. In this way transformative scenario planning takes conventional scenario planning and turns it exactly on its head. And what’s required is exactly the discernment which Reinhold Niebuhr pointed to in this very famous invocation: lord give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. This here is where the real difference between advisers and actors that comes into the story. There’s that joke that in a in a ham omelette what is the difference in the contribution of the chicken and the pig. The chicken is involved and the pig is committed. This is the big difference if you’re trying to affect systemic transformation between being an observer, an advisor, and being an actor. Are you willing to be committed? And for for many people including people like me who are used to standing on the sidelines this is profoundly uncomfortable and difficult and risky. But these days it is exactly this stretching this uncomfortable difficult risky stretching that is needed of us. This is how we can create futures.”

In 2007 Abilene Christian University (ACU) produced and filmed a video called ACU Connected in which they told a story about what might happen if an entire University were to deploy mobile devices and embark on a mobile learning initiative. The video really was just a story about what might happen because when the script for the video was written the iPhone was not yet released and all of the scenarios portrayed were, at that time, just wishful thinking. The ACU Connected video simply presented what might happen, how relationships would develop, and most importantly how a new understanding of learning could be enhanced through mobility. The ACU Connected development team later referred to the video as a video vision cast because the vision that the video created was the primary catalyst for the success of the ACU mobile learning initiative. Faculty, administration and students watched the video and bought into the vision of the future that mobile learning could offer. More importantly faculty, administration and the students created that future.

I had always pointed to the ACU Connected video as the single most important catalyst for the mobile learning initiative at ACU and now with the help of Adam Kahane’s Transformative Scenario Planning approach I can substantiate my hypothesis. Change in higher education is very difficult to foster because of the complex conflictual problematic situations that are central to the academic setting. In addition there is seldom any agreement on whether there even is problem that requires a solution and as a result technological change is often avoided until it has been proven elsewhere.

The story that the ACU Connected told was big and plausible enough that an entire university to buy into. The realization of that vision took several years and is still ongoing but in only four short years there is ubiquitous mobile device usage at ACU and the learning culture of the institution has been positively changed. This does confirm that if we do dream big enough and share those dreams we can create new futures.

So if we really want to bring about change in our organizations we can use video to create and project a plausible and realistic a story of what could be. As Adam Kahane points out “telling stories about what might happen” goes a long way to actually making those stories a reality.