The Pursuit of Less

The Tuesday Reading from Dec. 2 discusses our never-ending thirst for always doing more. It is based upon the HBR.org article by Greg McKeown “Why we Humblebrag about being busy” and Jim Collins’ “undisciplined pursuit of more”.  We are called to be essentialists, or in the words of Jim Collins, the one key to being successful today is developing “a ferocious understanding of what you’renot going to do.” How does one design their life around only the essentials things? In a world full of constant information, meetings and never ending e-mails how do we find the “stuff” that is meaningful to us? One tip is taking the time to walk, allowing yourself quite time to think and reflect. Another reason to get our there and walk! Greq McKeown suggests:

1. Schedule a personal quarterly offsite: Every three months take three hours to come up with three things you want to accomplish in the next three months. Of course the key here is to keep them essential and achievable. I can also see the need to schedule in time to accomplish these and to create milestones. First I need to schedule in my three hours to reflect on what three things do I want to accomplish. A new year seems the perfect time for this! They are on my calendar, that’s the first step.

2. Rest Well to Excel: Am I getting enough quality sleep? The easy answer to that is no. The question is how can I take the concept of being an essentialist and use it to enable me to get more sleep? How can I make better use of my time?

3. Add expiration dates on new activities: Even though an activity is successful does it need to become a “tradition”? What “traditions” are nice but not essential. McKeown says, “The next time you have a successful event, enjoy it, make the memory, and move on.” I’m not sure this always applies. Surely some repeating events are worth repeating. I think assessing at the completion of every event and discussing what the goals and objectives would be for repeating the event would be important.

4. Say no to a good opportunity every week: “consider what you would bring to the table, what you might drop to take this on, etc.  If you don’t have time to do this evaluation, you don’t have the space to do it if you accept.”  I love this statement and have shared this advice with many people already. The new behavior I need to work on is not immediately saying yes, but “that sounds really interesting, let me look at my load and see if I have the time to fit it in”.

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Personal Priorities

This week’s MOR Associates Tuesday reading focuses on not just setting priorities, but honoring them.  I wrote my Tuesday reflection on how difficult it is to do just that. I commented on how easy it is to let the week go by and not spend any ELP time. I made a commitment to block out time every week and even said that I was immediately going to put that on my calendar. Yet what actually happened? As soon as I finished the reflection I had to run off to a meeting and told my self I would do it when I got back. Well, here I am a month later and I still have not blocked out the time on my calendar. This weeks reading was a good reminder for me. There, I just blocked out the time. Now I need to guard it and honor the priority. I feel I’ve been given an amazing opportunity, being a part of this program, and it is important to me to make the most of it.

The other thing that struck me in this week’s reading was how one spends their lunch time. In the past I used that time for walking. At some point I started sitting at my desk working rather than going out for a walk. I’ve been using the time to read  articles,  and catch up on e-mail.  Rather than choosing between reading or walking I’m going to try and combine the two and listen to a book while walking.

I created this blog to serve the purpose of keeping me accountable and doing more than just reading. Blogging forces me to really listen to what is being said, think about it and respond on how I will involve, change and follow-up. Listening doesn’t just have to be in real time.

Building Those Relationships

Some tips for increasing our network given to us by MOR include:

  • Make a point to connect with people
  • Show up a few minutes early at meetings, walk out with someone different, engage with others more readily
  • Ask people how they are doing and listen
  • Have a cup of coffee with someone or go to lunch
  • Take your employee to breakfast on his or her anniversary

After a meeting, conference or other social gathering MOR suggest you reflect on the following:

  • What kind of energy do you feel you brought to the room?
  • What image are you conveying? What is the image you want to convey?
  • How are you interacting with others? What impression are you making?
  • Think about your voice, tone and projection. Do they convey the image you want?

Since I just came back from #aln14 this is a perfect time for me to reflect on my presence and networking. I had the perfect opportunity to “put it into action” since I was working in the Technology Test Kitchen. This event consisted of talking with faculty, instructional designers and administrators about how they would like to use technology, what problems they were having and what their goals were. I had three full days of opportunity and sometimes I was more successful than others. We were set up in a corner of the room where the vendor showcase was so there were people who were intentionally stopping by and those who were just strolling along. While some people did the initiating most people walked by looking and wondering what was going on. I “read” these people as someone who is looking to be asked to join in. This was great practice for reaching out and initiating. I had the opportunity to connect with all kinds of people and practice inquiring, investing and in many cases influencing. Now that I am back it is time to reflect on my presence.

I observed my actions and those of the other “chefs” when thinking about what energy we each brought to the room. One of the great joys of working on a team is the different skills and energies we each brought to the room. Some were silly, some were serious and others were in between. I think of myself as in between. I’m not the one who will jump up and down and do something crazy silly, but I  am also not the one who is all business. I think my energy was to make people feel welcome, and that this was a “safe place” to ask questions, play and experiment. I’ve been told that I have a very positive energy, and that I make people feel comfortable. My skill was getting people to tell their story and engage. I was the “gatherer” who invited people in and communicated why they would want to spend time in this space. After hearing their story I would either help them or send them to one of the other “chefs” who better fit their area of interest.

When I think about the image I want to convey, it is of someone who is easily approachable. I want to come across as someone who is confident and knowledgeable but not a “know it all”. Based on my interactions and feedback I’ve gotten from others I think this is the image I convey.

I will continue to keep these questions in mind as I find myself in a range of situations and reflect on my presence in different contexts.

What Will You Do When You Come Back to the Workplace

This is what it is all about. We can attend workshops, read, watch videos and reflect but it all comes down to putting it into action. We’re being told again and again to “get out of our comfort zone”. One of the new skills we are supposed to be working on is our presence and the 4 I’s:

  • Initiate
  • Inquire
  • Invest
  • Influence

When walking into a meeting or room where you don’t know someone, instead of pulling out your cellphone and reading e-mail, initiate contact. The first step, which can be the hardest, is simply sticking your hand out and saying “hi, I’m Patrice”.  Don’t leave it at that, inquire. This is something that needs to be practiced and some thought should be put into it. Don’t just ask questions, but ask meaningful questions. What do you really want to know about this person? What information would be helpful to you in building a relationship? Most importantly, invest. If you are asking questions but not actively invested and listening it will come across. When having a conversation you should only be focused on that. In our multi-tasking overworked world this can be especially hard. Working at building relationships will then enable you to influence. Don’t forget to practice your elevator speech. Be ready when somebody initiates with you!

At the first meeting I attended after our first session I felt I missed an opportunity to “put it into action”. I walked into a room where everyone knew each other and I didn’t know anyone. They were not engaged in conversation as they waited for the meeting to begin but sitting and reading their phones. While I think of myself as an outgoing person, I found it difficult to try and initiate a conversation with people focused on not conversing. If someone is busily reading e-mail are they: catching up on work and don’t want to be interrupted? Feeling uncomfortable and going to their phone to avoid conversation? Hoping that someone will approach them and start a conversation?

For me getting out of my comfort zone isn’t just about initiating conversation with people I don’t know but in situations where I am uncomfortable. This could be a meeting I’ve been invited to that is not directly in my area of expertise. As I reflect on how I interact in different situations I’ve realized that when I’m in a space that is not my “area of expertise” I am less comfortable speaking up and voicing my ideas and opinions. This quote shared in our MOR materials seems very appropriate:

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Will a MOOC still be called a MOOC in 2030?

I was recently invited to a symposium organized by George Siemens. The topic of our meeting was what the higher education landscape will look like in 2030. Now that we’ve passed the MOOC media frenzy we can reflect on how the idea of MOOCs can improve learning experiences, increase access to education and better match the educational process with ever changing employment needs. As George Siemens pointed out, a MOOC is not a thing…the idea of a MOOC will continue to be around under a different name.

For two full days we discussed a wide range of topics: competency based learning, creating cohorts using a similar algorithm as dating services; following learner trajectories like Google or Amazon; next generation textbook; how knowledge is created and shared; the need to understand the architecture of knowledge; the importance of research driving informed change; and how MOOCs have made teaching transparent.

I was struck by the similar challenges universities big and small faced: lack of resources and clear goals and strategy for entering the MOOC market and a lack of trickle down to residential students. Universities are finding themselves unprepared for the new legal questions and processes needed. A great outcome of this event was the opportunity to share, reflect, and build our understanding of the future of higher education together. Rather than working in silos a move toward sharing across universities is needed. How do we innovate and scale up together.

What innovations and impact do you see the idea of MOOCs having at your university?

Underappreciated IT Leadership Skills

This week’s MOR ELP Tuesday reading is based on an article by Whiteny Hischier and Rajiv Ball about 3  underappreciated IT leadership skills.It discusses a transition that is similar to the transition many service based businesses have gone through in the last several years: moving from mass production to personalization; reducing costs; increasing value. In this new world Hischier and Ball suggest there are three needed competencies:

  • Problem Finding, Problem Solving: I was excited to see that the suggestion here was to use the design thinking methodology. I’ve recently used it as a way to understand whether my team was addressing the right problem and found it to be a very effective process. Last week I participated in a symposium organized by George Siemens focused on a MOOCs and creating a vision of Higher Ed in 2030. Upon reflection on our two days of discussion I think a design thinking session would be the perfect next step. We came up with several challenges we felt our universities faced. I think it would be beneficial to use design thinking to narrow in on finding the problem that is at the root of these challenges and then, as a team, developing a solution.
  • Be a True Peer and Sparring Partner to Business: Hischier and Ball suggest IT leaders must, “articulate their own ideas and perspective and do so in a way that resonates across the organizational boundaries”. It always comes down to communication! For me the key phrase here is in a way that “resonates across organizational boundaries”. ELP stresses the importance of developing relationships. No matter how good your communication skills are I don’t think you can effectively communicate with a person or organization unless you truly understand their culture. We recently went through a team building exercise and one of the things that quickly rose to the top was how different our organizational cultures were which impacted how we approached things. Once we had a mutual understanding of each other’s culture we were able to communicate more effectively.
  • Move Others to Action: This aligns with my goal of building a coalition of people aligned with my goal of providing leadership and direction in support of digital learning initiatives and increasing access to education. Hischier and Ball suggest, “nurturing and sustaining trusted, mutually supportive relationships.”  Trust is critical. I recently ran a workshop about how to build collaboration in our IT community. What rose up to the top, across sessions, was that we can’t have collaboration without trust. Something to consider is how you define trust. It is important all stakeholders have a mutually agreed upon definition of trust. I will be attending a Franklin Covey session on The Speed of Trust to learn more about this.

Making the time to read these articles and finding a quiet space to reflect and think has been a challenge. Not different from exercising, it is alway difficult to find the time but when you are done you never you never wish you hadn’t. When I mentioned my difficulty in carving out time, my MOR coach, Susan Washburn said, “We all have the same amount of hours in the day, but some of the ways we choose to spend those hours TAKE energy and some GIVE energy.  Time to reflect, for example, can be a deposit into your energy resources where as time wasted in an unnecessary meeting is energy taken”. 

Leadership is a Contact Sport

As part of the MOR Associates Cornell Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) I am supposed to reflect upon the Tuesday readings. Last week’s reading was based upon a Marshall Goldsmith video “Leadership is a Contact Sport”.  A leader should reach out, listen and learn..sounds easy, right? The eight steps to being an effective leader and team member include:

  • Ask: In ELP we are learning to always ask for feedback. Ask what kind of a job we’re doing and how can we do things better. I’ve always been an “asker” and sought feedback. I now find myself being more “planful and thoughtful” when it comes to asking for feedback. I first consider what my goal is, what is it I want to know or improve? Asking is the easy part…
  • Listen: This is the hard part. In our last ELP session we were given an example of how 40 people can hear the exact same thing and interpret it 40 different ways. I think we’ve all experienced this. In my job I’m seeing on a daily basis how easy it is for this to happen and how important it is to not just listen but repeat back what you think you heard. A follow up e-mail summarizing your conversation is even better. I’m thinking about how I can be a better listener not just at work but at home. I am working on clearing my mind and focusing on only the person speaking. This is not easy to do. Our minds are used to multi-tasking and processing input from any number of places. It is hard to turn it all off and just…
  • Think: We’ve beed told that the feedback we receive is a gift worthy of reflective time. After receiving feedback allow some “dead air” to just think about what you’ve heard. What additional information do you need? What do you not understand? It is not easy to allow time to just think…
  • Thank: There is nothing as important as a thank you when receiving a gift. We’re learning to say “thank you for the feedback”.  That will take some practice. Why does it feel so awkward to say?
  • Respond: This is the critical step. We’ve all been to a performance review or conference and left reinvigorated to make changes and do things differently. How frequently do we end up doing the same thing, forgetting those changes? What will I do to make sure I respond to the feedback I receive? I’m hoping this blog will help. A place to reflect upon my journey, share with others and watch my growth. I’ve found for me the most important thing is blocking time off on my calendar each week. Time for me to think, respond and reflect on how I will involve, change and follow-up.
  • Involve: I’ve been lucky to continuously find myself surrounded by people who support me in reaching my goals. Moving forward I would like to expand my network and develop relationships with people I might not normally interact or work with. What can I learn as I move out of my comfort zone?
  • Change: Aren’t we always told “people don’t change”.  Change is hard. It requires deep understanding of not just why the change is important but how to effectively change. Change needs to be meaningful. For me, meaningful change will help me attain my goal of providing leadership and direction in support of digital learning initiatives and increasing access to education.  As I continue to develop my goals and action steps I’m thinking about what changes I need to make. Once you change, how do you know if you really changed or if the change you made was a positive one?
  • Follow-up: Follow-up of course! This is an iterative process. After I’ve changed I need to go back to step 1 and start over again. I’m looking forward to our next ELP session and discussing with others what they are doing to implement these 8 steps.

I have posted the following words above my desk…”Remember to reach out, listen and learn”.