Posts Tagged 'politics'

Organization’s Effects

artguy

If you take a group of people, a subgroup of the larger population, and expose them to focused messages again and again, you will start to change their point of view. If you augment those messages with exposure to other members of the group, the messages will begin to have ever more impact.

We generally tend to align ourselves with those we’re around. We don’t fully understand why. There is a lot of psychology we know, and then other stuff we can’t explain. Yawning, for instance, can be statistically shown to be contagious. It has been studied for years, yet we don’t know why it happens.

Once a group starts to become aligned, and starts acting like a tribe, the messages of the tribe will become self-reinforcing. When someone is born into that tribe, there is a very high probability she will never know the difference. It is simply her common sense about the way the world works.

Programmed.

The Racket of Education

educationracket

The government doesn’t do a great job of educating our children, mostly because there is inherently some level of corruption, and people and organizations think they need (more) money to do the great work. So it all ends up gamed, and the blame diffused. There’s a lot of good, mind you. I’m not advocating tearing it all down. But we do need to learn to see through the B.S. and maintain accountability.

The Show versus Reality: For the most part teachers are evaluated primarily on observation and test scores. For the first few years performance is evaluated by an administrator who comes into into classroom to watch. It happens about two or three times a year, and they generally know when it’s going to happen because either the admin team wants to be sure the administrator is there on a day and time that makes sense for getting the evaluation done (not wasting his or her time) or simply to give the teacher a chance to shave up the dogs and ponies as a favor. I don’t mean to imply that all teachers get a pass all the time. The principle usually figures out who the good and bad ones are, but this process, which could be instrumental, is only incidental toward that end. It lets them put the right things on a checklist, and takes the pressure off of them to take significant action that would otherwise be warranted.

Standardized testing is a measure that’s semi-objective, at least on the surface, but is fraught with its own problems. One of the big ones is that many teachers will teach to what they believe the test is, rather than to the overall betterment of the student. It makes the teacher look better, and again removes the burden for anyone to take more difficult action.

The other concern is establishing what the standards should be that are tested. This process is inherently filled with bias, whether cultural, demographic, religious or otherwise. “Standard” by definition ignores the individual. How much of this makes sense is debated. One problem I see everywhere that I’ve spent years talking about in this blog is how programmed we all have become. We’re made to think and act in certain ways so as to more easily fit or conform to society and be good workers. Of course, this mindset comes from a time when we needed people to show up for work every day and be good, consistent, quiet workers who don’t upset the way things are done or challenge anyone or anything. To conform. These days we struggle because the world has moved on, and this deeply ingrained training no longer serves us. We can’t figure out what to do. Schools have been very slow to respond to these changes.

Principals and superintendents shave the dogs and ponies for their shows as well. Schools and districts are compelled by honors and accolades from various sources. From Lighthouse Schools to National Board Certification for teachers to publisher rankings to accrediting agencies, school leaders are compelled to score high. Competition is good and it makes us better, but the problem here is that schools are going through the motions. While accolades from publishers or high scores from accrediting agencies seem great, they’re merely snapshots. If you look good that day or that week, by teaching something that will impress them (in spite of what lesson really should be taught in the context of the course material), it creates a perception that’s not reality.

You may have heard of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which in many ways is an organization that tries to help. Teachers who receive NBPTS accreditation have done good work and have done a LOT of work. I’m sure many people have been through the process and found it to be incredibly effective and rewarding. However, some get the certification and the promised increase in pay only until the next time the state decides budgets need to be cut. The state got the appearance they were looking for and moved on.

It’s not just firms like NBPTS that cash in on education. Publishing companies write textbooks specifically for large districts or large states. We’re talking big money here. Once books are adopted, many firms have a leg up on their competition. Textbook adoption is usually a district level decision. I’m not going all the way down this rabbit hole here because this one topic is covered quite a bit elsewhere, and one would truly have to have her head in the sand to not have an inkling of how gamed it all is, but suffice to say that the values of a few in power impact the many in unusually profound ways given how few controls there are in place to manage the merits of texts. It reminds me of the phrase, “History is written by the conquerers.”

Software developers also benefit from this situation. Schools are eager to adopt a new program or system to manage grades or attendance or all sorts of student data with only a cursory review. Sure, they talk a good game: peer review, teacher and parent consultation, blah, blah, blah. What it often amounts to is a five or six person panel calling the shot for the whole district.

None of this compares to the accrediting boondoggle. These are for profit companies hired to manage…accreditations. Their agenda is to produce sales. Each time the accrediting agencies show up, the school puts on a nice show and blows a nice chunk of change on wooing them. They usually don’t even eat or spend time with students. Teachers, have you ever seen anyone from an accrediting agency so much as eating in the same cafeteria with the students?

Then there is the Cool Stuff Arms Race. Interactive white boards that barely can be kept working, or are so difficult to use they end up wasting more time than they are worth. Never mind that the school asks teachers to be careful about using it because the bulbs are expensive!  iPods (not pads, “pods,” the music players) were rolled out at many schools a number of years ago. Hardly used. Eventually dropped. Districts don’t seem to understand what it takes to feed and clothe these technological wonders they bring home. Each school seems to have its own handful of things, but the teachers are rarely consulted about what they need, and once they have (what they don’t need) they struggle with a less than fully trained IT staff to keep it running. It ends up being not worth the effort, and traditional means are often used, which in most cases work just fine anyway. It’s all up to whether the teacher is committed and good at it, not so much the technological pyrotechnics involved. Cool new stuff keeps getting added to look good to parents, the media, and accrediting agencies.

This is not to say it is all bad. Good schools do well overall. It’s just frustrating to watch the massive amounts of waste in the process. Waste that results in no money for things that matter. Like the teachers. They are treated like the same commodity pens and paper are in a lot of ways. We try to build a structure that forces them into a paradigm that some idealistic administrator visioned without really understanding that it’s nearly impossible to manage that type of human interaction so systemically. (The medical profession, by the way, suffers from the same thing.) Instead, we should be taking every possible step to build the competency of the teachers, and then paying them accordingly so that once they become brilliant and skilled, they will actually want to remain in the profession, rather than going out to get a real job where they can earn a professional living.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes, and it really shouldn’t take more, but the reality is it probably will. Government is horribly inefficient, but it’s the best thing we have. Until people get serious about (first) understanding what education is needed for kids and then (second) demanding it, I doubt things will change significantly anytime soon.

Meanwhile, how do you know if your kids’ teachers are doing a good job and the district is a good one? You can start by asking your kids and watching what’s going on with their scores on standardized tests. Look deeper. Ask your kids’ teachers what the kids are supposed to learn and ask the kids about those topics. Talk to your kids about the content of their courses. If you’re kids’ teachers are worth their pay, they’ll be glad you did. There’s no substitute for being an involved parent. Not an overbearing, annoying one. But one whose head is in the game paying attention, and talking with the teachers.

Some take this to the extreme of homeschooling. In some situations this may be a viable alternative, and I absolutely applaud folks who can do it, but I expect there are precious few qualified to teach their kids AP subjects in multiple disciplines. Private schooling can be a good answer answer. Certainly many of the inefficiencies and half-baked decisions are minimized, not to mention the elimination of the grindingly slow pace of any kind of change in any governmental body such as eduction. The good private schools can’t game their reputations as easily because they are accountable for what happens to the kids once they leave because they are populated by kids whose parents have resources and talk to each other in the community, not to mention many of them knowing themselves from experience what a good education looks like. But that’s the elite. Below that, it’s still going to require diligent parenting to ensure success.

Hands on. No escaping that. Look past the BS for reality.

 

 

Bad Guys and Castles

musclemanprotectscastle

People, men especially, seem preoccupied with protection centered around having something to protect. It’s as if guarding the castle is somehow what makes them men. There are primitive systems at work within us here. Though most would claim otherwise, and point to all sorts of evidence to rationalize it, the truth is we engage in this way not (usually) because it’s legitimately necessary, but because it gives us a means to validate ourselves and satisfies a need, even chemically.

It parallels our tendency to gravitate toward outrage, or choosing to get offended. Yes, it is often a choice. It’s bottled with so much righteous indignation, judgment, and in extreme cases even hate. It’s also often bottled with baggage of our own. Things we’re hiding from and want to protect. We build things, ideas, beliefs, and lives that are sacred to us, then spend a lot of time and energy protecting them from any kind of affront. We become territorial. It’s us and them. We’re trained that this gives us power, makes us feel like men, protecting the helpless. Meanwhile, we sometimes want what they have, which then reinforces our belief that it’s a danger. We’re easy prey for this because of our ancestral instincts.

Man, it is just not as hard as we make it. The proverbial boogie-man isn’t outside your door. Yes, terrible things happen sometimes, but most of it is so overblown by the fear-inducing media that it’s skewed in our minds. We’ve been trained to look for discord, to protect from nearly any possible threat; to worry. By the way, we must remember that this day and age, the function of news organizations is to attract an audience so ads can be sold. Drama, controversy, and fear compels people to engage. It’s a simple formula. Hollywood uses it, too. Our value and contribution is as consumers. If we happen to overreact along the way, no big deal (to them).

We don’t really need the media to take us there. It simply reinforces and capitalizes on primitive stuff that already exists within.

A man wants to feel like he is the king of his domain, the protector of his castle. That’s part of what validates him. Simple as that. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It doesn’t help that women often validate this behavior.

Mankind, on the other hand, needs harmony. Sure there are legitimate threats, and we do need to be mindful of them and take appropriate actions. But we feel threatened by things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t ultimately matter that much. We feel threatened when people do things we don’t approve of, or understand, even though they may not seriously affect our ability to live a life. Our way of life may be challenged at times, and we hate that. We recoil at the idea of someone taking something away from us, whether it be a perceived bit of freedom, a possession, or the time and heart of another. It’s all perfectly understandable, but taken to the extremes we’re fighting what becomes an impossible war, and we’re caught in the crossfire of it at the same time. Any semblance of control over others is a dangerous illusion. See the writing on the wall. Be, and, this is really important, let others be.

Your validation and happiness as a human isn’t going to ultimately be found in what you protect and hold on to. Let go. Let the chips fall where they may. Let others make their decisions about what they care about.

Hidden in Front of Your Face

SLSubliminalThere are hidden messages everywhere, in everything. It’s the extra stuff you don’t always perceive, but can color or change the meaning of what you do perceive in profound ways. They’re always there. Very easy to breeze through and not concern yourself with most of the time. It’s also sometimes easy to invent your own messages and takeaways, based on what you’re in.

Sometimes, once you become aware of something that wasn’t apparent, you are shocked that you didn’t perceive it before, which paints perceptions on our canvass of trust. After a time you usually realize it was right in front of your face.

In communication, body language, tone, reading between the lines of word choice, and knowing the full context are each important, if often difficult to fully attain. You must be aware and look for it, making do with what you have. Far more importantly, you must accept it for what it is, and not invent an interpretation driven by your own narrative.

Open your eyes, ears, heart…and see. Sonja, I love you.

6 Intangibles of Leadership

ducks

There’s been much written about it. We know when we sense it in others because we are willing to listen and follow genuinely, as if it’s in our best interest, not just because we’re supposed to or because we’re riding on the coat tails of some opportunistic agenda. Things like trust are vital, but what are the other mystery qualities that produce a characterization of genuine leadership?

In no particular order…

  1. Grit – Passionate perseverance over the long haul. Toughness and dedication.
  2. Self-Awareness – We all have our blind spots, those things that we have no idea exist that can trip us up. Leaders have fewer, or they seem less significant.
  3. Resourcefulness – Learning agility. The ability and tenacity (see #1) to figure it out.
  4. Self Sacrificing Love – Possibly the core of leadership. Truly acting in a manner consistent with and showing care for those around you. The willingness to take less when it counts so others can have more.
  5. Manages Discomfort – The emotional awareness to assess causes of discomfort and translate it into appropriate actions.
  6. Creates a Sense of Meaning in Others – People will gravitate toward those who provide clarity about the what, how, and all important why. They will be more compelled by someone who clarifies their own why. Call it the Big Why – that top box on the list of things that drive you.

For the most part these characteristics can’t be manufactured. You can fake some of them for a while, but eventually the truth shines through. They are part of the makeup of who you are. It’s possible to over time learn to amplify and leverage these characteristics in oneself, though it’s extremely difficult to navigate without help. Those capable of providing this type of profound wisdom need to believe in you enough (see #6) to invest that capital. You still have to figure a lot of it out yourself along the way.

Duality of Labels

IMG_9048Labels give us an idea about something while also limiting our ideas about it.

We need them. We gain a lot of efficiency by packaging things up into easily recognizable forms. But then it’s really hard for us to see beyond the form which we have given them. Sometimes life requires that we muster the wisdom and will to examine things more deeply. And to even break things, including ourselves, out of the labels that trap us. The closer it gets to our self-imposed boundaries the harder it is to even recognize the need to do it, not to mention mustering the courage to try.

We must remember that while adventure is dangerous, routine can be lethal. Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths. If you’re not courageous, you’re going to be hanging around the water cooler, talking about the person who actually is.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. – Harold R. McAlindon

Of course it’s extremely uncomfortable at times, but with the application of some discipline one can learn to summon the courage necessary to fight the fear and forge ahead. A good goal for the year.

 

Blind Spot

selfreflection3.erase

Aside from our other senses, we are temporarily blind to the half of the world located behind our head at any given moment. Some call that our blind spot. However, it’s not completely blind because we’re aware of the fact that we aren’t seeing it, not to mention the fact that the blindness is usually pretty easy to remedy when we need to, though it can be dangerous if we’re not paying attention.

Contrast that with our actual blind spot. Ironically the very place where the eye connects to the brain (via the optic nerve) is an area on our retina where we do not see – the blind spot. We do not notice it, and are thus unaware of it, because our brain fills the gap by extrapolating the likely content from the surroundings. We make it up. Fortunately this defect in our vision is small enough that it rarely causes a problem.

Combine those two characteristics and there would be significant issues. Imagine large areas of your vision that appear to be functioning fine, but are in fact being made up by your brain. We would call that being delusional (or one of a few other maladies).

Yet we are, in fact, delusional to some extent. We roll through life with our programming while being largely unaware that we’re thinking and acting according to it rather than objectively processing all the input we receive. These blind spots in our awareness – things we haven’t been programmed to be sensitive to – are all around waiting to trip us up. Most of the time the stumbles are minor, however, on occasion we can go pretty far astray and not be aware of it. We can hit the wall and crash, or we can do more subtle damage that we don’t see for a while, or we get what appears to us as having been randomly blindsided.

There is no solution to this in the moment. No easy shortcut to improve your odds beyond simply acquiring more wisdom as you experience more of life. You must start by accepting that what you see and believe is not an objective reality. It is simply what your brain has selectively chosen to make you conscious of. The best you can do is educate yourself and work at being informed and aware. Work at empathy by forcing yourself to be sensitive to others. Prepare within reason for mishaps so you can recover. There is a discipline to managing the risk, but in the end it’s impossible to eliminate it all. Being prepared includes the perspective of knowing we can’t be completely prepared. We must still be willing to act. To risk that we may be stepping into something that isn’t as it appears. Once we recognize how often this actually happens in our lives it could help us reconcile the fear we have when we do see the potential pitfalls. The risks our limbic system chooses to put in front of us are often as overblown as the risks we don’t see that are glossed over. Even the seemingly sure things had them. We just weren’t aware of it.

Diffusion of Blame

finger-pointingx4We find it handy in our culture to be able to ascribe blame for things we don’t like. Consequently we often tend to oversimplify problems. The righteous indignation from those who feel they are on some obvious moral high ground can be palpable.

People do need to be accountable for their actions, but it’s often not so simple as it can appear.

Example: Slave labor in clothing manufacturing.

How do you assign blame for the practice of human beings enslaving other human beings to produce cheap clothing? Do you blame the kidnappers who captured the slaves? Do you blame the smugglers who trafficked them? Do you blame the staffing personnel who bought and hired them? Do you blame the foremen who makes the working conditions harsh? Do you blame the executives who made the policies? Do you blame the investors who financed the factory? Do you blame the brand who sources the clothing from such factories? Do you blame the retailers who carried the brands? Do you blame the consumers who purchased the products?

The truth is that without any one link in the chain the shackles would fall to the ground. However, each link can rationalize that their own little sin isn’t all that bad, or that their hands were tied without reasonably viable options, and that if they weren’t there someone else would come and take their place.

After all, the consumer doesn’t generally feel involved with how brands produce their products. The brands are just trying to give the customers what they want at the right price. In order to do that, they’re willing to make a few sourcing compromises, or simply “can’t” (don’t) afford the time to understand the details of the whole chain. The factories realize that if they’re not doing everything they can to cut costs, they’re going to lose the bid. The foremen believe that if they don’t keep their workers in fear they don’t get the output that they have to have in order to avoid repercussions on themselves. The staffing realizes that if they outspend their competition they’re not going to exist anymore, so they make a compromise and acquire slaves. The traffickers, after all, never kidnapped anyone, they’re just getting them where the slave trader wanted them to go. And the kidnappers themselves? It’s just too lucrative, “if I didn’t do it, someone else would,” then the moral atrocity still takes place and someone else gets paid besides me.

Everyone can sleep at night within their scope of relative sin. Who do you really blame, and what actions must be taken to stop it? Are the people and organizations who might be able to stop it to blame? Government? Usually something eventually happens when a light is shone on something bad, but cockroaches are good at slithering into the shadows and carrying on.

Do you think your life is devoid of these compromises (sins)? We’re a consumption oriented society. Look around your house. Look around your place of work. Really look, and think about where stuff comes from and goes. What business are you in? It’s probably not pure. No, we are all guilty. It’s not black and white at all. We can throw stones at them, but we best be ready to duck a few as well.

Power to the People?

34 years ago today the chartkillspeopleworld changed in a way that isn’t as spectacular or as talked about as some of the major tragedies or accomplishments as they are often portrayed in the drama hungry media.

On August 5th, 1981 Ronald Reagan ushered in a mindset that mass layoffs were acceptable with the firing of over 10,000 employees during the air traffic controllers strike. He also banned the workers from returning to the profession for the rest of their lives!

The merits of their arguments and the various points of view have been debated. It should not be forgotten that the strike itself was illegal, as mandated by the sometimes controversial Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which prohibits any labor strike that can cause unfair harm to those not involved or negatively affect general welfare and commerce. The union leader at the time has gone on record since, acknowledging that they botched it, were too arrogant, and didn’t understand a lot of the underlying politics, not to mention the power of spinning public opinion in one’s favor (or not).

Up to this time it was not common to use mass layoffs to handle strikes. This incident eased those inhibitions significantly. Reagan broke the union (it should be noted that the union that eventually replaced it got most of the demands the fired employees were asking for), and in a way galvanized a growing mindset that unions were too powerful and not in the best interests of the economy overall. While Reagan may have been ‘right’ in some ways, and was viewed as effective in quickly restoring order to a situation that was getting out of control, the message that was taken has had some dire long term consequences.

We often don’t/can’t know the consequences of perturbing a system, especially one as complex as the economy with the various complications of the corporations and the workforce driving it. Reagan’s actions communicated from on high that it was acceptable to use swift and massive layoffs to help guard against a short-term economic disruption. Though he never intended it as such, there was now a precedence for protecting commerce before protecting people. Social conventions that had restrained CEO’s from doing something many would have liked to do were disrupted. Not surprisingly some began to take advantage of this tacit permission to take such dramatic action affecting the lives of so many. It became gradually more and more common for workers to be viewed simply as assets and liabilities on a spread sheet, with the math at the bottom supporting their actions to make the numbers for a quarter in efforts to appease stockholders and justify, if only in the short term, the CEO’s position to the board.

Protecting the money eventually became a clear imperative over protecting the people. The very concept of putting a number or resource before a person flies in the face of the protection our anthropology says leaders (alphas) are supposed to offer. It’s kind of like a parent putting the care of the car a child rides in before the actual care of the child. On the surface it may appear to make sense sometimes, but our biology knows better.

Now we much more commonly see leaders, whether CEO’s, politicians, record labels, news organizations, or bankers betray the trust of the very people they are supposed to be serving, often by allowing outside, unengaged constituents to have too much influence over decisions and actions, all in the interest of short term gains and the almighty dollar. When people are lower down the priority list they are less able to operate from a secure position and do the really great work. They are more prone to operate from a position of fear and insecurity, which leads to more focus on the short term protection derived from looking good than the profound work that will make the big difference. Differentiation and innovation give way to commoditization, which ironically spells trouble in the long run.

Contrary to what many would say these days, or at least contrary to where their actions take us, the power, or at least the care, needs to be in the hands of the people, and they need to be provided with an environment where humanity and social relations and the accompanying support they provide can prevail. If we listen to our biology, which at this point in time is what it is, we can cultivate environments that take advantage of our core strengths as social animals. At the most practical level, companies who bring a better value to the table will do better in the long run, and studies have shown that companies with more rigorous financial scrutiny tend to have fewer patents, and the ones they have are generally less profound. Give the people the leadership and security to do their best work and the results will come in time.

Or the few who forge their way to power can try to protect it and hang on at all costs, with all of the stresses and difficulties running rampant in our culture today.

There is a better way.

Winning

cross walk Jesus

Sometimes the battles you’re fighting are not as they appear, or will not lead to a result you really want. Observe how you define winning and think through what it really is. Some players at the poker table will never show you what cards they had after they beat you. It makes sense. If you show people what cards you beat them with they can start unwinding your game. I knew a player who would always flash you his hand, or tell you later over a drink, how he beat you. He cared more about your feeling in defeat than his victory in the next hand. He cared about the connection. What battles are you waging, and why? What do you really want?


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