Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bouillabaisse For Personal Effectiveness

Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provencal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille , France. This delicious dish is a seafood soup made with various kinds of cooked fish, shellfish and vegetables, flavored with a variety of herbs and spices.

There is also a bouillabaisse for personal effectiveness, which, with the right ingredients and flavoring can assist you on your life long journey of personal growth and development. These are the must have ingredients. A list you can supplement and spice according to your taste – according to your station in life and your personal needs.
The basic ingredients for the bouillabaisse of personal effectiveness:

-       100 % Awareness of yourself (such as your beliefs, your strengths and weaknesses, your feelings and responses), awareness of others, and awareness of your environment. Without it there is little (self) knowledge, understanding, connection, and influence.

-       Ripe values that guide you in good and in difficult times and that show others what you stand for. Your values influence every decision and how you came to this decision. Your values are the essence of who you are. They help you choose a career, an organization, a partner, and much more. And if they do not, you will end up unfulfilled, disappointed, ever searching, or any other type of imbalance.  

-       A strong sense of purpose so that you and others know where you are heading and why. People seek purpose and people gladly join and follow someone who lives and acts with a clear and communicated purpose. A purpose statement defines your vision (where you want to go), your mission (what you do), and your strategy (how you get there, how you do it).

-       A healthy appetite for humor and play: laughing about yourself and laughing with others releases tension, puts things into perspective and is a fun thing to do. Laughter is a strong medicine for mind and for body and therefore another necessary ingredient for the bouillabaisse of personal effectiveness. And besides, laughter is known to lower blood pressure, reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, it increases memory and learning, and it improves alertness, creativity, and memory just to mention a few health benefits of laughter.
Ready for your delicious bouillabaisse of personal effectiveness? It all sounds so easy but let’s put you through a test: Can you list your beliefs, values, purpose and the amount of time spent laughing, all without much thought and in 2 minutes? If not, you might want to explore and work on these ingredients because you should not have to think about them or have difficulty formulating them.

Enjoy the soup, but more so, the process, the journey, the cooking.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Collecting Leadership Skills – Authorities Speaking

Lists with characteristics and skills of great, effective leaders abound, I looked for authorities in the field who emphasize aspects of leadership that too often seem to go under emphasized. It’s a personal selection, and could easily have contained other experts and characteristics. I consider the following five crucial to effectively leading groups and organizations, even though it is not an all-inclusive list.  

1.    Integrating different mindsets

“The Five Minds of a Manager” by Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg tells us that the following need to be combined: The reflective mind-set, the analytical mind-set, the worldly mind-set, the collaborative mind-set, and the action mind-set. This is far from an easy task, but it starts with awareness of the importance of these mindsets, with awareness of how you function on these five mind sets, with soliciting feedback from others, and last and most crucial: with consistently working to choose the right mindset and persistently working to improve. In my experience, when the going gets tough, too many leaders have difficulty with the collaborative and the reflective mind-set: They retreat in their trenches, go in to self-defense mode, and the level of suspicion and the amount of ego-centered perspectives and decisions rockets sky high. Be aware!

2.    The Power of Play

Play. What can I say? It inspires creativity, it is a state of mind. My earlier post titled Let’s Play, on May 18, 2011 is inspired by Stuart Brown’s Minneapolis lecture and on his book on the importance of play. Same thing here.

Creativity requires playfulness. To innovate and to solve complicated problems you must play with things, words, ideas, and people. You also need the ability to maintain a sense of humor and to see the contradictions in life as exciting challenges. Everyone is capable of using his imagination but in the world of business, the focus tends to be on the so-called objective reality and on analytical skills. Dreams, fantasies, and imagination seem to be devaluated outside the world of art, design, and children. Fundamental to a reluctance to play is a fear of appearing irrational, emotional, silly, or out of control. What a shame, it’s so rich and promising. Some ways to increase your ‘playfulness’: ask ‘ What if…’, turn things upside down, literally, watch animals and nature, and associate freely.

If we stop playing our behavior becomes fixed, we limit our perspectives and our choices, and we take the fun and humor out of life.

3.    Fanatic Discipline

Morten T. Hansen is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and at INSEAD, France. He is the author of Collaboration and coauthor of Great by Choice (with Jim Collins).
Hansen discusses discipline in “Three Leadership Skills That Count”, HBR blog post of October 20, 2011. Discipline can mean many things — working hard, following rules, being obedient, and so on. Hansen refers to something else: The best-performing leaders in his study “exhibited discipline as consistency of action — consistency with values, long-term goals, and performance standards; consistency of method; and consistency over time. It involves rejecting conventional wisdom, hype, and the madness of crowds — essentially being a nonconformist. In difficult, unpredictable times I think it is exactly this consistency with values and long-term goals that is often difficult to maintain for leaders but so important.”

4.    Filters and perspectives
“Breaking through your filters” by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown (HBR Blog Network October 10, 2011) discusses a topic I have emphasized repeatedly in earlier posts: perspectives and filters. Hagel and Brown state: “It is no surprise that we instinctively seek out those who share our interests. This is especially true in times of increasing pressure and uncertainty. We have an understandable tendency in such times to seek out the familiar and comfortable as a buffer against the unforeseen changes around us. In so doing we can inadvertently put ourselves in a cage of similarity that narrows our peripheral vision of the world and our options. The result? We may be even more vulnerable to being blindsided by events and trends coming at us from new and unusual directions.” This needs no further explanation. Make sure you step out of your framework and stay away from that windowless cage.

5.    Self-control
The last aspect of leadership that I have chosen for this post is something we talk to about our children so often: self-control. I perceive it to be a crucial factor for anyone to focus on, let alone if you’re in a leading position, influencing others, modeling what you want to see in others. Tony Schwartz on HBR Blog Network (September 13, 2011) in “Self-Control”: Self control is the ability to say no, in the face of temptation, and to take sustained action, despite the difficulty of a given challenge. At its heart, self-control requires the ability to delay gratification. More commonly, it's called discipline, or will. Without self-control, we can hardly accomplish anything of enduring value. And we rarely pay much attention to it. Energy is the fuel for self-control. We each have one reservoir of energy to get things done. Each act that requires self-control progressively depletes this energy reservoir, whether it's when you use it to resist a piece of cake, or focus single-mindedly on a difficult problem, or stay calm when you feel provoked.”

Even though self-control and discipline could be considered one and the same thing it might be obvious from the pieces I have chosen that these authors take different and complimentary perspectives.

Wishing you wisdom, discipline, self-control, fun and multiple perspectives while constantly working to improve as a leader. With many thanks to the valuable insights of Gosling, Mintzberg, Stuart Brown, Hansen, Hagel, Seely Brown, and Schwartz.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From The World Book of Happiness

Post number 100. I decided to make this a positive and happy one. The World Book of Happiness was my inspiration for this post.

Findings and food for thought from about one hundred experts in Positive Psychology, that’s the World Book of Happiness. More than just positive talk, these researchers from Germany, South-Africa, China, the U.S., France, Austria, Iceland, Australia, and many more countries share insights based on world-wide scientific research.  Knowledge about the role of family, money, genetics, free will, health, stress, future perspectives and about happiness for individuals, groups, and countries is shared in this wonderfully compiled work by Leo Bormans.
I’m just passing the stick, passing a tiny piece of happiness wisdom here.

Dr. Jose de Jesus Garcia Vega, university of Monterey, Mexico

Ignorance is the biggest obstacle on the path to happiness. There are many small and big ideas and methods to live a happier live, and many of them work well. Knowing is the first step, consistently applying them is the second step. It’s amazing how many people work hard, their whole lives, trying to be successful, totally forgetting to live happily. Later in life they spend a lot of money on trying to fix their health, their relationships, their family.
Do you recognize yourself or loved ones?

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, experimental social psychologist, University of California

Studies with identical and fraternal twins show that every person is born with an innate ‘set value of happiness’. That is the baseline or potential for happiness to which you always return, even after heavy setbacks or fantastic triumphs. You could compare this with the set value for weight. Some people effortlessly stay at the same weight while others have to work real hard at it, because their set value for weight is much higher. Does this mean we’re doomed as far as level of happiness is concerned? It’s not, says Lyubomirsky. Her controlled intervention research shows that people’s happiness can be increased and sustained through permanent changes and actions. Some of the deal makers are:
-          Creating a feeling of connection with your goals.
-          Avoiding excessive worrying about little things.
-          Investing in relationships.
-          Learning to forgive.
-          Enjoying small things.
-          Appreciating what you have.

Nothing much new, but how well do you score on these, how much time do you invest in these areas?

Professor Michael Hagerty, computer sciences and psychology, University of California

You can increase your happiness by consistently
-          Learning the art of forgiving to prevent being eaten by bitterness.
-          Healthy optimism that helps you persevere.
-          Setting goals that make you proud.
-          Daily meditations to get to know yourself better.

My experience taught me that for most people the hard part is in the ‘consistently’.

Dr. Vahid Sari-Saraf, Tabriz University of Iran, physiologist

Dr. Vahid Sari-Saraf researches the immune system of happy people and discovered the secret power of sports. Research with Iranian students has shown that athletes have a more extraverted personality and are happier than non athletes. Within the group of non athletes there is also a strong correlation between extraversion and happiness. Playing the right kind of sports for you on a regular basis can be a pleasant and social activity and stimulate happiness.
Another good remedy: laughing. An old saying in Iran says:  A laugh heals all pains.

How is your level of physical activity? How about laughing? Remember, a baby smiles around 400 times a day, and many adults don’t even make it to 20.

Hamba Kahle!
(Zulu for Good Luck)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The APC of Life and Business

How is it that some people seem totally at ease with their choices in life and others don’t? How is it that some people work excruciatingly hard and still don’t succeed when others bloom with seemingly less input? How is it that some people get knocked down repeatedly and still show strength and determination while others are down and out when the first setback presents itself?

I do not have the easy answer, the quick fix, nor the magical solution. The answer to the above questions is more complicated than that. Many factors influence a person’s thinking, choices, chances, fortunes, and results. Having said that, I find my APC of Life and Business to be working well for me and for my clients. It’s not the total story or the whole picture, but more a foundation for health and for results, both in life and in business.

A for Attitude
Attitude sells better than anything else. Better than the best products, services, or punch lines. Your attitude is contagious, more contagious than anything. If your attitude is drenched with optimism rather than gloom, with ideas and solutions rather than roadblocks, with true customer care rather than ego-focus … I could go on but you get the picture. A constructive, can-do, no-victim attitude has positive effects on your thinking, acting, and feeling and on the people around you. As John Maxwell states in his 2003 book Attitude 101, “Good attitudes among players do not guarantee a team’s success, but bad attitudes guarantee its failure.”

Your attitude determines how you view yourself, it determines your approach to life, it determines the nature and quality of your relationships (including the one with yourself), and attitude determines how you deal with adversity. Viktor Frankl in his 1959 book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except for one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot always control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” If this doesn’t convince you of the importance of attitude I don’t know what could! What’s your attitude today? Tomorrow? Do you choose your attitude? Are you aware of your attitude and its effect on the people around you?

P for Patience

Patience is like a wolf in sheep’s clothes. I remember adults telling me as a child: Just be patient just count to ten, just wait your turn. Such an easy concept and often so difficult to practice. Patience seems to conflict with passion and ambition, but it doesn’t have to.
Patience, to me is:
à Seeing the bigger picture, beyond the immediate event, disappointment, success, or clash.
à Knowing when to accept others’ ways of doing things, and others people's pace.
à Letting go of rigid standards when they are in the way of building relationships and accomplishing results.
à And certainly also being more in the here-and-now, aware of all what's going on, aware and appreciative of the beauty of the moment instead of constantly rushing to get more done while not living the moment, the only moment you can really live.

A slightly different view on patience, probably, but one that can work for you.  

C for Commitment
Albert Einstein once said: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” That is commitment.

Part of commitment, or better, a prerequisite to commitment is knowing where you are heading and for what reason. We’re talking purpose, values, and goals. Next, commitment includes perseverance when things get tough. Getting up when you fall and learning from your failings without beating yourself (or others!) up. Commitment does not work without resilience – your capacity to face up to an adverse event such as misfortune, illness, trauma, or change, to withstand considerable hardship, and to not only overcome it but also be made stronger by it.
I think Vince Lombardi saw it clearly when he stated that the quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor.

I like to fully commit to my customers and exceed my customer’s expectations, every time again. Do you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Resistance, control, and the use of salt

Resistance is a concept that has received an amazing amount of attention since the time of Freud. This concept has been a central issue in both the arenas of psychotherapy and of organizational development and change. Resistance is generally considered an unpopular phenomenon when personal but especially organizational change is at stake. It is seen as counterproductive, as annoying, as an emotional response, as oppositional behavior, as blocking progress and many more negative connotations and, I would almost say, accusations. For a much more positive perspective on resistance to change see my earlier blog post on this topic called Change and Resistance (February 7,2011). In the present writing I want to make the connection between experiencing resistance within yourself and personal development by means of learning and growing from your resistance. In order to make this connection I use the four most common reasons why people resist change as listed by Kotter and Schlesinger in their widely used article Six Change Approaches (1979):

1.       Self-interest or the desire not to give up something of value.  

2.       A misunderstanding of the challenge and its implications: inadequate information and miscommunication.

3.       A belief that the change does not make sense for the organization: different assessments of the situation and of the benefits for the organization.

4.       A low tolerance for change: some people are more keen on stability and predictability than others.

Your personal development take-away from this mini-lecture: Assess your own thoughts about (anticipated) change and your responses to change by asking yourself the above questions:

1.       Is my self-interest in conflict with the pending change? Is this really the case or just my perception? Who can I discuss this with? How can I possibly benefit from the change and how can I (or others in the organization) minimize possible negative consequences on my interests?

2.       Do I have enough information on the nature of the change and its implications and possible consequences? Where can I get more information? Have I looked at the possible implications from multiple perspectives such as short term and long term or personal and team perspective?

3.       How informed and knowledgeable am I about the value that the change(s) is adding to the organization? Do I see the bigger picture? Will this organization, after the change takes effect, still fit my values and my purpose?

4.       What do I know about my tolerance for change? How have I dealt with changes in the past, either in a personal or an organizational setting? Which are my strengths, my opportunities, my weaknesses, and my threats in regards to changes and coping with changes? How can I strengthen myself in dealing with changes and who could support me in this endeavor?

And again, these questions do not only apply to dealing with organizational changes. They are as valid when dealing with personal changes such as career switches, family changes, or international transfers. Whether it be organizational or personal change, some changes are self-imposed and under your control (or we believe to think they are) while other changes just come our way, whether we like them or not. Your perspective, your beliefs, and your thinking will greatly influence how you perceive the changes, how you will anticipate them, and how you will deal with them. This is where you can exert control. But remember, using control can have similar effects as using salt: a pinch of it can greatly improve results, however, too much of it can ruin everything. This is where trust, intuition, and learning by experiencing come into play.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perspective Reorientation Techniques

“We are near-sighted until we open up to new perspectives, different habits, and creative ways.”

I regularly tweet about the benefits of taking on different perspectives and the above was one of my latest ones on this topic.  I wrote an earlier post on this blog called “Broadening your perspective, looking with new eyes.” So why do I address this topic again?

Situation one: Swapping one prisoner for about a thousand prisoners amongst which are people who have been accused of involvement in terrorist activities. Is this fair, does it make sense, do you perceive any balance in this deal? Your answers will depend on the perspective you take which goes far beyond supporting one group or the other. Your perspective can be based on the desire to influence your own domestic audience, on personal experiences related to terrorism, on the perceived long term political benefits of this transaction and much more. There are many perspectives to choose from, but the question is: Do you really choose?

Another situation, a little different than the first one to say the least: Two children are fighting over a toy. What perspective do you take and what role do you assume? Do you act as a referee and solve the problem for them? Do you create the conditions for them to learn to solve these issues themselves? Do you take the toy away and punish both children? What perspective do you take, which role do you assume, what are your guiding values and principles?

Situation three: A company’s executive team decides to hunker down and invest very conservatively despite the company’s strong financial health. Whether you understand and agree with this decision depends on many factors, including the perspective you take. One of the factors influencing your perspective is your role within the company. Are you the CFO looking out for the long-term health of the company? Are you a plant manager ready to invest in modern technology to increase quality and production? Are you a sales representative worried about job security? Perspectives are very personal and generally valid, no matter how contradictory they appear.

Taking on different perspectives is switching between long term and short term, switching between prosecutor and defense lawyer, switching between Jekyll and Hyde, switching between executive and floor perspective and many more subtle switches. Taking on different perspectives enables you to broaden your view, to see things with different eyes, to switch between short term and long term goals and gains, to create more approaches, and to find and use more than one way of relating to people, situations, and the world. Wouldn’t that be great!

But how do you do ensure using multiple perspectives? I had to laugh about the term “Perspective Reorientation Techniques” on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network recently, but I guess that’s what they could be called. It’s not rocket science in any way. Just some reminders on how to take off your own coat, see with new eyes, and move to previously uncharted territory and perspectives that potentially hold new information and possibilities. I strive for you to benefit from my seven ideas for creating and using multiple perspectives:

1.    The empty chair technique, borrowed from the world of therapy and maybe most often used in Gestalt therapy. This technique is used in two ways. First, for the client to address the person she is focusing on as if he were sitting on that chair. But more significantly, the empty chair technique asks you to step in someone else’s shoes and put on their clothes and glasses to see things from their perspective. Or from what we believe to be their perspective. So the client moves from his own chair (and thus perspective) to the empty chair and is asked to think and talk from the other person’s perspective –thinking and talking like you expect the other person to think and talk including how she could possibly perceive you.
2.    The well-known devil’s advocate, possibly more used in group discussions and in decision making processes but also useful when aiming to broaden your perspective. In groups generally one member plays the devil’s advocate to the potential opinion or decision by stating all the opposite possibilities, which can help prevent "groupthink". As perspective reorientation technique you can play prosecutor and defense lawyer, hereby practicing the devil’s advocate against your own most preferred perspective.
3.    The bigger-picture perspective:  It is exactly what it sounds like, looking at the bigger picture, going beyond and behind the immediate goal or hurdle and looking at the longer term situation, prospect, objectives and at the company or society at large. I’m talking about taking a macro instead of a micro perspective. Realizing that today’s challenges are often tomorrows building stones and vice versa.
4.    The ‘Me First’ perspective: This is not a plea for inflated ego-orientation but a plea for looking in the mirror before you look at, point to, and judge the other person. Rather than taking the other person’s perspective and sitting on her chair, you can decide to look at yourself in a different manner, and to look at yourself through introspection and reflection before theorizing and judging the other person and his perspective.
5.    The metaphor perspective: Metaphors are widely used in psychotherapy and counseling and increasingly in business and other areas. A therapeutic metaphor is defined as a technique of storytelling which provides an individual with information that instigates new, productive thoughts and behavior. Why not join therapists and use this technique yourself? How often have you heard of the corporate business team being compared to a sports team, or the advice to tend to yourself like you would tend to a garden with regular sowing and watering? Use metaphors to explain, to inspire, to change.
6.    Visualization: Picturing your career in ten years from now or visualizing what success for your company will look like is part of visualization. Visualization is creating a mental picture of something. This technique makes the future become more clear. Also, seeing yourself already achieving your goal makes your brain believe that attaining that goal is possible which increases self-confidence and coping. Consistent focus through visualization brings the goal closer to you. Just as visualization techniques have been used by experts to coach and improve musicians and actors, visualizing your success (both the end result as the steps you see yourself taking to get there) can be very helpful in being more successful. It enhances your mind and your brain’s creative process.
7.    And the last one is experience – driven perspective, referring to the multiple perspectives you can take based on your many experiences in different areas of work and life. The more we live and experience (not the longer we live, because that might not be correlated) the bulkier our reservoir of experiences that we can draw from. Get out of that comfort zone and seek out and create opportunities to enrich, learn, and do new stuff with new perspectives.

     Let's please inspire ourselves and others not to remain stuck in one, limited, straight-jacket like perspective. It's not just near-sighted. It's dangerous.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Eight People on Leadership

As a fanatic reader of business books I read many books on leadership, all representing different beliefs and attitudes regarding leadership. These are books and authors who stimulate my thinking, help me reflect on my own leadership, and provide me with ingredients for coaching business leaders. Of the many available leadership authors, who are sometimes great leaders themselves, I have chosen thoughts of eight leadership authors to stimulate my readers reflect, rethink, and reengineer their leadership beliefs and practices. Because it’s not about the great lines, the quotes nor the wonderful success stories. It’s about how these thinkers and their books help you grow, adjust, persevere, and strengthen your own leadership effectiveness.

 Leadership development is a complex, interdependent process that involves a person’s natural abilities, talents, personality, and level of awareness, working together within the specific historical context and business situation in which people are embedded.”
Mark Bodnarczuk, author and the Executive Director of the Breckenridge Institute®, a research center for the study of organizational culture based in Boulder, Colorado.

“Leadership is not just about what you do, nor just about what you think, it is about what you do because of what you think.”
Barbara Kellerman in Leadership – Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence, 2010

“Genuine leadership is not something that magically happens because we’ve been handed a certain position or role to play. It is a quality that we nurture in ourselves, regardless of job or station in life. It is a function not of title, academic degrees, or access to power, but of how we treat and connect with people around us.”

Betsy Myers in Take the Lead, 2010

"Whatever you do, do with Integrity.
Wherever you go, go as a Leader.
Whomever you serve, serve with caring.
Whenever you dream, dream your All.
And never, ever give up."

Marilyn Carlson Nelson in How We Lead Matters - chairman and former CEO of Carlson

Leadership: Living a life of success or a life of significance?
Leaders should be learners and learning requires feedback: How am I doing? But most leaders don’t ask this question, which can be called an essential leadership shortcoming. Great leaders know they can’t be perfect and they don’t strive to be. They welcome critics – people who care enough and know themselves safe when telling leaders the truth.  

James Kouzes & Barry Posner in A Leader’s Legacy, 2006

“The Leadership Diamond®” model of Koestenbaum focuses on the power of depth, which leads to emphasizing the power of free will, the ubiquitous presence of polarity and paradox, analyzing the structure of courage, and the critical importance of understanding systems and strategy. This leadership philosophy leverages the power of negative experiences for clues to breakthroughs. Koestenbaum’s model is a model of the leadership mind and a methodology for expanding leadership. The Diamond distinguishes four interdependent leadership imperatives, or "orientations": Ethics, Vision, Courage and Reality. These orientations are presented as your inner resources, always available to help you if you access them
Peter Koestenbaum, Ph.D., founder and Chairman of PiB and the Koestenbaum Institute.

Keys to leadership      Key # 3: Do the work

“Lead from the gut.
Know your pegs and shims.
Stay hugely humble.
Get mud on your boots.
Stay grounded.
And trust yourself.“

Bob Burg and John David Mann in It’s not about you – a little story about what matters most in business, 2011

And to conclude it all, some leadership thoughts by John Maxwell:

- Trust is the foundation of leadership. A strong, dependable respectful character is a leader and will be trusted.
- The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.
- Successful leaders are learners, and the learning process is ongoing. A result of self-discipline and perseverance.  
- The first person you lead is you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Ability to Simplify Complexity

On Thursday October 6th, Pete Dymit, principal of Minnetonka Middle School East in Minnesota, added a personal message to the electronic newsletter to parents. The message was a response to the tributes to Steve Jobs and it struck me as an insightful message with a vision. A message showing leadership and addressing the crucial ability to simplify complexity. A message pertaining to change management, personal development as well as leadership development. Over to Pete, who is kind of enough to share his message through my blog:

Message from the Principal

During the last twelve hours I’ve been listening to an endless stream of tributes to Steve Jobs. Of all the assessments of who he was and what he accomplished, the one that most resonates with me was the one that described him as having a “singular ability to simplify complexity.” Before Jobs, digital music and MP3 players were available, but no one else was able to deliver it in a simple and elegant way like the iPod did. Before Jobs, smartphones were available, but no one was able to simply integrate a phone/music/internet device the way the iPhone did. These two devices have significantly changed our worlds and they epitomize complexity simplified.
For all of the talk lately about how our students need 21st Century Skills and STEM experiences, there is still a great deal of ambiguity surrounding exactly what these skills and experiences really are. One explanation might be to say these are the skills and experiences that will provide students with the know-how to simplify complexity….….and the ability to simplify complexity is a talent essential to their futures.

Information technology has become massively complex and in a world where almost all information is available at the touch of a finger, what information is relevant and what is merely a time suck? In a job environment where you are collaborating with IT people in India, manufacturers in China, and advertising people in New York, how do you take the complex array of cultures, languages, personalities, motivations, and perceptions that are brought to the table and simplify them down to the essential elements of effective collaboration?
An engineering degree will provide a student with the skills to create and manipulate complexity, but if that is all you can do, there is someone else in another part of the world that can do it for pennies to your dollar. A Master’s degree in business will provide students with the skills to manage complexity, but if that is all you can do, you will likely end up in a middle management job stressed out, overworked, and a half step ahead of the next round of restructuring. Those with the ability to simplify complexity will be the sought after resources and will be the people who will shape the future.

What does all of this mean to a middle schooler at MME? It means that if you want to be a person who can simplify complexity, it is not enough to get the math problem right; you need to understand how math explains relationships. It means that it is not enough to remember the facts of WW II, you need to understand how themes like power, greed, autonomy, scarcity, values, and resources influence human behavior and create conflict, which shape history. It means that it is not enough to know the periodic table and the life cycle of a frog, you need to understand how the scientific process and engineering design principles are the foundation to understanding how our world works. Finally, for us as adults, it means always encouraging them to understand the “why” behind the “what.” That intuitive understanding of the “why” and what to do with it, is what made Steve Jobs a legend.

Pete Dymit