Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

Archive for July 2010

New Neighboring Norms—Carla’s Café to Cyber Space

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(posted on the Employee Engagement Network 7.25.2010)

While picking David Zinger’s brain on community and involvement, he shared a morning run revelation he had a while back. He had experienced difficulty explaining the popularity of social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook, to an older hence pretty traditional farmer. I personally do not do that stuff, so this was very relevant to me as well.

Carla’s Café is a regular pit stop for David on his runs—a small rural Canadian establishment where the local farmers and town folk gather to share coffee and gossip. Sounds like my community—the Midtown Café and Joe’s Barber Shop. For that matter, that describes a lot of Iowa!

David finally got through to the farmer, a regular at the café, that social media is a lot like Carla’s Café. People choose where they go to hang out and with whom they share meaningful gossip and idle chatter and every now and then deeper meaning of life and social commentary topics. And they can do it wherever they are, whenever they choose to, without making the journey to Carla’s.

That Old Time Feeling…

I remember very clearly what “neighboring” was when I was growing up. This was not small town Iowa but a fairly decent sized city by Iowa standards: 100k. People would sit on the front porch to have their morning coffee, and it was common to see a neighbor coming across the street still in pj’s to visit, share morning coffee and browse through the morning paper, especially to see who died and who got arrested.

It was common for the street to get together for a “block party”. We would barricade the block off so no traffic would come through (no permit required!). Saw horses and plywood served as banquet tables, holding every kind of wonderful food imaginable. The gathering lasted for hours, ending well after dark and the food was all gone. Sometimes one of the neighbors would bring a transistor radio out and the dancing would start. Us kids would get a great laugh from our parents being such…“goofs” I think we called them?

The “pot luck” is thankfully still alive and well, but hosted by organizations rather than neighborhoods. But block parties? No chance.

When I was five years old, I watched “the neighborhood gang” build our garage evenings and weekends until it was done. I learned a lesson in the currency value of home-brewed beer, as I was the runner for the thirsty dads. That was all the “pay” they needed. But it came to me not long ago that this wasn’t remuneration, it was fuel for the social event that centered around building our garage together. A downsized, citified version of a “barn raising”.

We got snowed in one winter, literally. The drifts were so high that many of us couldn’t open their doors to get out of the house. The few who could fought through the drifts to shovel out those who could not without being asked to. After each successful drift-busting, one more shovel soldier joined the battle. It may have been pointless because no one was going anywhere for a few days, not even across the street for morning coffee in their pj’s. It was too cold. But they did have coffee in the middle of the drifted-shut street in full winter gear, probably discussing the next block party.

Flash Forward

This morning, as usual, I had my morning coffee on the back deck. Six foot tall hedge roses made sure no one could see me in my pj’s and I could hear others on their back decks behind their privacy fences. We share idle chatter now and then, but who are they? I mean, who are they really?

There are people across the street who I usually wave to if we both happen to be out front, and we say “hi” if we run into each other at the store. But it occurred to me I don’t even know some of their names. A neighbor three doors down died last year, and I didn’t realize it for a few months. “Hey, I haven’t seen Joe around for a while have you?”

OK, so maybe I need to make the first move. But I never seem to get around to it. Maybe they will some time. Or not.

Hey, there’s Bob out on his front porch…gotta go. But wait, I’m still in my pj’s. What will the neighbors think?


Written by Craig

July 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm

UPDATE: Creative Tension and Education

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I pulled together Part One Education and Economic Issues and Creative Tension-Desired Future For Education added a whole lot to it and published a 7-page pdf on the Flawless-Execution web site, on the Greater Good corner.  

See the link titled  Education: Current State, Desired Future.  This white paper examines the current state of education and the long-term economic effects, and presents one possible solution to just a portion of the issues we are facing. As there is a good deal to do, it is my hope that the thoughts presented here will prompt other like-minded people to get involved to address these issues. There is plenty to go around, and I just want to do my part.

As a reminder, the premise of the “Greater Good” is that business and industry tools and techniques, concepts and philosophies can be directly applied to other areas—community, society, education.

Take a close look at the issues and the opportunities. You will see that there is no choice but to get involved.

Written by Craig

July 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Creative Tension-Desired Future For Education

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This is the continuation of defining my creative tension surrounding education and economic issues. Part One: overview and current reality. If you haven’t done so yet, read Part One first.

My mission: turn “my vision” into “our creative tension”. My vision for education, as best as I can briefly articulate it:

Academia and business collaborate to provide our young people with the best possible preparation for what awaits them in the real world, ensuring the success of the graduate, therefore impacting our global competitiveness and the long term viability of our quality of life.

Nothing too grandiose for me…if the following is intriguing to you or if you have questions or personal experience to relate, please join in!

Without getting into nuts and bolts, ACE-PONSI recommends college credits for non-academic organizations’ training and development. As ACE is the American Council of Education, the credits are accepted by most colleges. This opens a huge door of opportunity for forward thinking organizations and even communities, to offer a value-adding enhancement to traditional higher education. Just for kicks, call it “Real World Prep School” (RWPS). I’m working to upload a presentation that examines RWPS, and includes some of the ACE credit recommendation process. If youwant it, email me:

Benefits to Employers. RWPS is a recruiting incentive to those who could not continue into higher education: earn and learn. Employers can expand their recruiting pool beyond degreed candidates, an increasingly endangered species. High potentials in the RWPS system can be identified and hire, then developed. Learning and growth opportunities are high on the list of why people stay with a company, making RWPS a factor for retention. The curriculum is determined by the company, therefore it precisely targets goals and needs much more than traditional education can. And application-intensive projects and assignments ensure targeted, value-adding results, not just course completion and a grade. Finally, as ACE requires a high level of academic rigor and discipline, RWPS validates the quality and integrity of company training programs.

Benefits for Learners. RWPS is a highly accessible, affordable learning opportunity to take part in high quality, accredited learning. As the coursework is based on real-world skills needed that students learn and apply, they develop an impressive portfolio of real-world tools. This means greater employability compared to an academic degree alone. With distance learning, any student anywhere can earn credits.

ACE notes these benefits for learners: enables faster attainment of educational and career goals, increases ability to complete postsecondary credentials, and improves workplace mobility as credits earned are portable.

Benefits for the Education System. RWPS is not in competition with academia, but is an enhancement of learning opportunities. As RWPS is accessible to more students, more learners are recruited into the learning process, which they are more likely to continue with traditional schools. When local B & I and community grows, student enrollments increase as well. Last, RWPS establishes a long-needed partnership between education and the business sector, with each taking care of what they do best.

Economic Impact Potential. The community that crafts an innovative, world-class approach to education will be a big winner. In business relocation or expansion decisions, a key criteria is the local education system as it impacts current and future workforce preparedness. Growing families certainly look at education systems in their decision-making process. More business and more families = larger tax base. Pretty basic stuff.

Benefits for the Community. In addition to the above economic impacts, RWPS provides easy access to lifelong learning opportunity for all citizens. And if the community is experiencing business and population growth we can expect more of our talented teens at home-no need to go to greener pastures!

The Big Question: In a direct comparison of workplace relevance and value between a standard academic degree and completion of RWPS coursework, which would provide more relevance and value to the learner and employer?

Written by Craig

July 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Let the Rabbits Run, redux

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(It seems I get a query or two a day on this parable. Tells me there are a lot of rabbits who want to be allowed to run. STOP making them take swimming lessons!

What really gets me is that the education system is hell-bent on teaching rabbits to swim. I know, I know…we cannot allow anarchy to rule the schoolhouse. No way can kids be allowed to learn only what they like and what they are good at, just as we can’t permit them to avoid what they hate…I’m just sayin’.)

A parable from the book: Soar With Your Strengths, by Clifton and Nelson. This book is a classic!

 Imagine there is a meadow. In that meadow there is a duck, a fish, an eagle, an owl, a squirrel, and a rabbit. They decide they want to have a school so they can be smart, just like people.

With the help of some grown-up animals, they come up with a curriculum they believe will make a well-rounded animal: running, swimming, tree climbing, jumping, and flying.

On the first day of school, little rabbit combed his ears, and he went hopping off to his running class. There he was a star. He ran to the top of the hill and back as fast as he could go, and, oh, did it feel good. He said to himself, “I can’t believe it. At school, I get to do what I do best.”

The instructor said, “Rabbit, you really have talent for running. You have great muscles in your rear legs. With some training, you will get more out of every hop.”

The rabbit said, “I love school. I get to do what I like to do and get to learn to do it better.”

The next class was swimming. When the rabbit smelled the chlorine, he said, “Wait, wait! Rabbits don’t like to swim.”

The instructor said, “Well, you may not like it now, but five years from now you’ll know it was a good thing for you.”

In the tree-climbing class, a tree trunk was set at a 30-degree angle so all the animals had a chance to succeed. The little rabbit tried so hard he hurt his leg.

In jumping class, the rabbit got along just fine; in flying class, he had a problem. So the teacher gave him a test and discovered he belonged in remedial flying.

In remedial flying class, the rabbit had to practice jumping off a cliff. They told him if he’d just work hard enough, he could succeed.

The next morning, he went on to swimming class. The instructor said, “Today we jump in the water.”

“Wait, wait. I talked to my parents about swimming. They didn’t learn to swim. We don’t like to get wet. I’d like to drop this course.” The instructor said, “You can’t drop it. The drop-and-add period is over. At this point you have a choice: Either you jump in or you flunk.”

The rabbit jumped in. He panicked! He went down once. He went down twice. Bubbles came up. The instructor saw he was drowning and pulled him out. The other animals had never seen anything quite as funny as this wet rabbit who looked more like a rat without a tail, and so they chirped, and jumped, and barked, and laughed at the rabbit. The rabbit was more humiliated than he had ever been in his life. He wanted desperately to get out of class that day. He was glad when it was over.

He thought that he would head home, that his parents would understand and help him. When he arrived, he said to his parents, “I don’t like school. I just want to be free.”

“If the rabbits are going to get ahead, you have to get a diploma” replied his parents.

The rabbit said, “I don’t want a diploma!”

The parents said, “You’re going to get a diploma whether you want one or not!”

They argued, and finally the parents made the rabbit go to bed. In the morning the rabbit headed off to school with a slow hop. Then he remembered that the principal had said that any time he had a problem to remember that the counselor’s door is always open.

When he arrived at school, he hopped up in the chair by the counselor and said, “I don’t like school.”

And the counselor said, “Mmmm, tell me about it.”

And the rabbit did.

The counselor said, “Rabbit, I hear you. I hear you saying you don’t like school because you don’t like swimming. I think I have diagnosed that correctly.”

“Rabbit, I tell you what we’ll do. You’re doing just fine in running. I don’t know why you need to work on running. What you need to work on is swimming. I’ll arrange it so you don’t have to go to running anymore, and you can have two periods of swimming.”

When the rabbit heard that, he just threw up!

As the rabbit hopped out of the counselor’s office, he looked up and saw his old friend, the Wise Old Owl who, after listening to little rabbit’s sad tale, cocked his head and said, “Rabbit, life doesn’t have to be that way. We could have schools and businesses where people are allowed to concentrate on what they do well.”

Rabbit was inspired. He thought when he graduated, he would start a business where the rabbits would do nothing but run, the squirrels could just climb trees, and the fish could just swim. As he disappeared into the meadow, he sighed softly to himself and said…

“Oh, what a great place that would be.”

A great place, indeed. Weigh in:

  • Was owl smoking something to plant those fool thoughts in rabbit’s head?
  • Why would, or wouldn’t, rabbit’s utopian business work?
  • How much of your work makes you feel like a rabbit running? And, how much of your work makes you feel like a rabbit in water?

The whole “Strengths” genre is fascinating. Plan on seeing much more about this soon.

Creative Tension-Defining the Education Gap

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I found educator Blair Peterson’s Creative Tension blog while surfing to see what has been written lately on creative tension. The home post led me to define my own creative tension relative to education…thank you, Blair.

Per the pundits (cool word for “people smarter and more famous than me”) managing creative tension requires clearly defining current reality, then painting a compelling picture of the desired future. It is simpler for an individual than it is organizationally, as personal relevance is easier to establish. And that’s where most organizations fail—they don’t reach Everyman with a compelling message for either the current reality or the desired future. No reason to change.

My current reality: occupation (what I get paid for) and avocation (what I would do if money were no object) are two different things. If our priorities were straight and teachers were paid what they were worth I’d be an educator, not a company man. So I have to go with the second-best alternative: working school-to-career issues from the private sector side of the fence.

The gap and resulting creative tension is what drives me to continue to find a way to get involved and influence education, even though there is often is too much distance between the two…my rubber band is stretched to the limit. But simply understanding the nature of creative tension helps me to manage the resulting distress when it gets too great, and this is an essential part of managing the gap.

Education issues cannot be resolved solely from within academia and certainly cannot be impacted by a small handful of individuals. Senge (most definitely a pundit by the above definition) talks about shared vision. Creative tension must also be “shared”. The gap must be defined in a way that is relevant and compelling for others. If I can get enough people to understand the current reality (set the platform on fire with accurate, relevant information) and buy into the desired future (shared vision), it will help get others involved.

Current Reality. As a US citizen in a small community rocked by plant closures, and as a grandparent, I am deeply concerned about tomorrow and the longer-term future. The economy is tanked, our education system is floundering, social structure is unraveling and our quality of life is in danger of being irreparably relegated to second rate. Overwhelming altogether, so focus is narrowed to academics: Education and Economic Issues spells out some of the challenges.

Desired Future, Briefly. Beyond family I’d like to think I’ve impacted young peoples’ lives. I’ve coached pre-high schoolers in everything except chess and debate, and I’ve been a high school substitute and adjunct college instructor. As someone who has spent much of their career in training and development positions, the potential future of the knowledge industry is tantalizing. As an entrepreneur, I see an untapped market with unlimited potential. Why can’t that potential be targeted at workforce preparation a.k.a. helping school kids get ready for the real world while strengthening the talent pool and our competitiveness?

Coming soon to a post near you…a possibly compelling picture of one desired future. The mission: turn “my vision” into “our creative tension”.

Creative Tension, Burning Platform, Goals and Change

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The broad topic: effective goals and managing through periods of change. Sub-topics: creative tension (Senge); burning platform (Schein); lead / lag; stretch goals. Purpose: what are the relevant applications in business and industry, government, community, education, family?

This post got too long for a blog. Below are excerpts, go to the full version here and come back to comment if so inclined. The full version will be expanded as appropriate.

Creative Tension, Burning Platform, Greater Good

I wanted to revisit Peter Senge’s creative tension model as it is an effective and simple illustration of goal-setting and change management that I’ve pulled out of my classroom hat real-time many times. So I looked around to see what has been done already.

Blair Peterson is an educator who maintains a blog titled Creative Tension. I stumbled across it by accident and, as the target of his creative tension is education, props up-front to Blair!

And, after the following was pretty much written, I came across a great analysis of creative tension by Cath Duncan at Productive Flourishing Rather than throw out what I had already done or re-create wheels already designed by others, here’s the whole shooting match.


The diagram is fuzzy but I couldn’t find better. And, I cannot find the source to give credit. At least you get the picture.

 Creative tension illustrates effectively managing the gap between vision and reality. From 5th Discipline author Peter Senge:

The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.

My contribution to the creative tension dialogue is to highlight the connection to Edgar Schein’s burning platform theory of motivation and change management, and to goal-setting generally. The Schein and Senge models target the same basic concept: closing the gap between current reality and desired future. Schein’s theory is examined in the link above but briefly: for people to make a leap from today’s platform to the relative unknown, it must be more uncomfortable for them to stay on today’s platform than the perceived anxiety created by the change to tomorrow’s desired future.

The creative tension diagram shows a rubber band stretched between two hands. The lower hand represents today’s reality, and the upper hand is the desired future. When the rubber band stretches, the resulting tension forces one hand or the other to move or the rubber band will break.

The million dollar question: will the lower hand or the upper hand win the battle? Current reality can exert resisting pressure on the desired future to the point that expectations must be lowered or the gap becomes too great…the rubber band breaks. Or, the upper hand is a relatively safe distance above the lower hand, and the pressure exerted by the desired future is ample enough to pull the current reality up.

The full version here includes a few thoughts on managing creative tension and change.

Creative Tension vs Stretch Goals

Which came first, creative tension or stretch goals? I recall the 5th Discipline coming out before stretch goals caught on, so I’ll assume that the rubber band hands inspired what was a nightmare for many. I hope some management theory historian verifies that because I didn’t dig back to find the answer.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

“Lead” and “lag” applies to goals as well as metrics. Lag goals like increase market share and profit are not good real-time motivators for performance for the first line. See What Gets Measured.

Applications for Leadership and the Greater Good

These concepts are critical for leaders to understand and apply toward managing their constituents’ journey toward the desired future. There are certainly applications for the Greater Good: the scope of operations matters little—business and industry, government, community, education, even family.

After defining the current reality and desired future and identifying intelligent goals to close the gap, how can we apply these models in education and community to effectively manage the gap?

Written by Craig

July 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Education and the Greater Good Connection

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The premise of the Greater Good is that business and industry tools and techniques, concepts and philosophies can be directly applied to other areas—community, society, education. The first private sector concepts to really make a connection were engagement and alignment.

My personal vision and mission includes making an impact by helping others….leave the campground in better shape than you found it. I feel the greatest potential for lasting impact is through youth via education, school-to-career specifically.

My career is in the private sector, people and process improvement. I’ve been marginally involved in education, as a high school substitute and adjunct college instructor. If our priorities were straight and educators were paid what they were worth, I’d be an educator not a company man. My second best alternative to educational immersion is to impact youth by working the school-to-career issues from the private sector side of the fence.

Education and business / industry have perceptions of each other that are anchored in reality to a large degree. The private sector feels that education is not preparing students for the real world, the system is out of touch with real needs, and is inflexible and / or slow to change. The view from the other side: business and industry refuses to get involved in education, much less seriously commit to making it better. B & I doesn’t know what it needs, has academic education and job skills training confused, and is expecting too much from an overtaxed system.

These perceptions are correct for the most part and that is the arena into which I’ve chosen to attempt to make an impact.

There’s no politically correct way to say this, so may as well be blunt: educators do not much appreciate outsiders messing with their stuff. And B & I typically operates best in reactionary mode: complain about the issues rather than commit to being part of the solution. But thankfully there is a potential marriage of necessity on the horizon (shotgun wedding?) between education and business and industry. I hope to sneak into the wedding party, or at least crash the reception.

I have started a web page for ongoing collection of Greater Good-related thoughts.  Future posts may link into that information.

Written by Craig

July 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm