Posts Tagged 'Priorities'

Infinite Game

infiniteseries

Short term thinking sometimes causes us to betray ourselves in the long run. It could be from making a bad, if convenient or safe decision. Often it’s from making no decision. How long is the long run? It’s hard to know, and seems to depend a lot on context. Some people tend to measure the world in flashes, and they’re happy to do something they call generous for a few seconds, as long as they get a payback before a few minutes up. More common and more celebrated are people who play a longer game. They build an asset, earn trust, give before getting, and then, after paying their dues, win.

There’s something else available, though, something called an infinite game.

In finite games (short and long) there are players, there are rules and there are winners. The game is based on an outcome and is designed to end. In the infinite game something completely different is going on. The point is to keep playing, not to win. In the infinite game, the journey is all there is. And so, players in an infinite game never stop giving so they can take. Players in this game throw a slower pitch so the batter can hit it, because a no-hitter shutout has no real upside.

A good mom, of course, always plays the infinite game. But it’s possible to build an organization or even a society that does this as well. Build hospitals and schools instead of forts and barricades…

You probably know people who play this game. You may well have been touched by them, inspired by them and taught by them. The wrong question to ask is, “but how do they win?” The right way to understand it is, “is it worth playing?”

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.

 

 

Projects

girlflowerswallframeprojects

Projects can become quite a burden, even the ones you think you want to do. Something happens when we start one. Often we become invested in the principle of finishing, even though we question whether it’s worthwhile.

When applied to art, it invariably corrupts. Once the scales tip in that direction, it’s virtually impossible to reel it back in without starting over, or taking a different direction.

Getting to the Change

headinsandwoman

One of the most difficult skills to master in life is helping people  (ourselves included) make changes that will benefit them in the long run – even if it means annoyance or sacrifice in the short term. That could mean anything from getting a child to clean his or her room to convincing a customer to switch from a competitor’s brand to yours.

We’re all selling something, but you can’t force anyone to buy it. Worse, if someone feels you are pushing it on them, emotions will take over and they will resist buying it even if it hurts them not to.

That’s why the best salespeople see themselves as trusted service providers and advisors, not product pushers. They understand that change isn’t easy, and that’s what makes them effective in creating strong relationships with customers. Regardless of the context or gravity of whatever the situation is, these basic questions apply:

  1. What does the person want to change?
  2. Why does the person want to change?
  3. What does the she really want? What is the ultimate goal?
  4. What is preventing someone from changing? Why has he or she not already changed?
  5. What motivates the him? What makes her tick?
  6. What is involved in making the change? What will it take?
  7. How will the person behave before, during, and after the change?

You can practice this almost anywhere you encounter people, even picking random ones out of a group at a restaurant or park. See what answers you can come up with: Why is this person here? Where does that person want to go in life?

To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” How many times a day do other people ask you to do something without going to the trouble of outlining how you’ll benefit from taking on the task? People need to feel ownership over change, even if the idea doesn’t come from them. Before you ask someone to take a step in a new direction, be sure to communicate your vision of a new and great experience.

Comfort

marshmellows

We seek comfort. Not just the nice sofa kind, but the emotional kind. You can see it in people’s actions all the time. We avoid what produces a FEELING of discomfort and gravitate toward what soothes and keeps us feeling safe. Comfort in the short run can be overrated and too much of a driver of our actions, while comfort in the long run may be underrated and isn’t focused on enough. We should be disciplined and take care of our futures. Those are the basics.

So we have been taught in many ways that comfort in the short term is not that important, and maybe even immoral. Don’t cave to your wants and desires. Instead remain disciplined, do the hard work, and stay the course. It’s that classic dilemma of what actions must be taken now to produce the future one wants. We think we sacrifice now to set up the fate (**) we want.

We fight against our tendency to live in the now. Yet, so many self-help experts tell us we need to live in the now more.

It shows in religion, career, saving money or other resources. Sacrifices. It shows in living a less than full or ideal life in hopes that we’re not squandering the future.

However comfort, when we have it, isn’t fully appreciated. We routinely take perfectly adiquite situations and blow them up trying to get more of something (excitement) or something different. We are taught that this is reckless and unwise. No, it can be in certain contexts, but it isn’t inherently so. It is simply our nature – to strive and have an ambition that there is something more. When we program people too much in the discipline of being disciplined, sometimes we inadvertently squish the life out of them. We chip away at the human sense of adventure, and we end up with a society of people who live in fear, can’t create, lack initiative, circle the wagons, and don’t contribute much beyond (maybe) hard work. Nothing wrong with some good hard work, but when it becomes out of balance with the human spirit to “go for it” then we get stagnant, and things begin to go sideways. The real “specialness” of being human is lost, and we risk becoming drones toiling away to get through a life avoiding too much thinking about what we aren’t. All for the sake of trying to protect an unknown future.

But we don’t recognize that the long run eventually becomes the short run.  It’s going to blow up by the time we get there anyway.

There is a balance to be had. Save a little money. Spend some time learning and improving. Don’t forsake your body or mind, but for heaven’s sake, live a life. Force yourself (if necessary) to have a sense of adventure, or act like you do and it will come. Take risks. Blow things up. Start over. I’m not advocating being reckless. I am advocating some actions that could appear as reckless to those around you who want to play it safe. Maybe that play it safe person is you. Blow that up. It is not as audacious as you may think, because if you’re playing it safe (also a risk), it’s probably at least partially because of the almighty fear, which is you not giving you enough credit for being capable and able to figure out how to navigate through the storms you chase.

You can do it if you really want to. The question is, what do you really want? Comfort or happiness?

LettingGo

`(**) – Meant to write “future” there, but it came out as “fate.” I kinda’ like that.

Changes

Continued from yesterday’s Fit or Adapt.

changes

Things change. The world, and our view of it. Some of us are more accepting of change than others, though it depends on the type of change as well as how much we’ve become invested in the status quo.

Once we are adults, the underlying core of who we are is pretty well fixed. It mostly forms in our early years, and then elements are added to it as we learn and grow through adulthood. I’m referring to the core of who we are, not so much our behaviors and ways we interact with the world. Those are informed by our core, but there are layers of conscious and subconscious actions, thoughts, beliefs, and memories in between.

But we can still change in ways that matter. It’s usually pretty slow. Triggered by our experiences and desires, or sometimes through shattering realizations. We usually don’t control it. It just happens to us, though one can do it consciously with great discipline.

Though we aren’t going to make major changes to who we fundamentally are, we sometimes have to adapt to differing circumstances. True adaptation requires often difficult transitions in how we perceive ourselves, which informs how we interact. This type of big change does occur with people sometimes, though it’s pretty rare once we’re adults.

While you may change in ways that make you fit into a situation better, you may at once be changing in ways that cause you to not fit as well into another. This may be by design, and could be a good thing. But it can also be disruptive, especially when you aren’t aware of it.

You change jobs, and move to a different city. After a time, the old place and people may not resonate with you nearly as much. You changed. They didn’t. Everyone is still fundamentally the same at the core, but the layers of things in between that were making it work before have now changed in your case (not theirs). You move on. They move on.

You get married, and have kids. The old relationships and sensibilities no longer work or make sense for you. You changed. Some change more than others through this transition. The ones who don’t get all the way there often struggle with the responsibility of a family.

You experienced things growing up (we all do) that caused you to build layers of boundaries and idiosyncrasies in how you process reality. You are programmed, and some of that programming is a function of you protecting yourself from negative events, feelings, and perceptions earlier in life.

These complicated layers are built on top of the core of who you are, but over time become indistinguishable from it. Until…sometimes…

It unravels. We get a new job, and a new place, but hate it. We long for the old relationships. The marriage changes. The kids grow up, and it’s discovered that a life devoted to that has now left a void. Or, we may find, through a series of events, that we added layers to ourselves that aren’t true to who we are (or want to be) at the core. Once we begin to grapple with all of that and see it more clearly, we begin to change in meaningful ways, even fundamental ones. I maintain that we are still fundamentally the same, but when enough of the extra junk gets stripped away or modified, it’s as if we have fundamentally changed.

I make no qualitative assessment of whether this is good or bad, a step forward or backwards. It simply is a thing that can happen, and may be a double-edged sword.

Suppose a person gets a job in which she is challenged in new ways that never so much as existed for her before, and is able to rise to those challenges, and feels a deep satisfaction relating to it. Self-esteem is at a new high. She wants more. Most of us have reached some new plateaus like this in life. They can bring about a lot of changes. It’s just that for most of us they usually happen when we’re relatively young, and still forming what our lives will be about. Anyway, she soon finds herself running with a different group of people, and is stimulated in ways unimaginable before. She begins to change in ways that go deep. The fundamental kind. Soon, the old life doesn’t satisfy the way it once did. It begins to seem flat and uninspiring. Well, that old life has a spouse and a family. What of them? They didn’t change, nor do anything wrong. Those relationships are now different, and there is probably nothing anyone can do about it.

Or suppose a person realizes through a series of emotionally trying events that his way of interacting with the world had been contrived, based on stuff built up from earlier events. Suddenly he begins to break down walls that were constructed as protection before. More vulnerable now, but also more sensitive to his surroundings. More affected by them. Ways of interacting that were comfortable before now seem hollow and devoid of meaning. Instead he begins to prefer, even needs, a different, perhaps more intimate way of interacting. The old people didn’t change. He did. But that doesn’t make his needs any less valid.

These types of big changes can be great (or not), but they can mess with the lives we have constructed for ourselves in the process. Some may be more or less profound than others, and thus the stress they can introduce varies, which also depends on how others react to it.

These changes aren’t easily avoided (assuming we’d even want to or think it a good idea) because we often don’t see them until we are in a new place looking back. By then it’s too late. We have a new reality now. We are different. Changed. Past tense. It has already happened. The stuff we actually observe as the changing is really just the fallout.

In many situations, especially where close friends, coworkers, family or spouses are involved, one will experience pressure not to change. They are there because they like (the old) you and are comfortable with the way things were. You feel the pressure to stay in it. In some cases these changes force us to grapple with our morality, the stuff we’ve been programmed with that seems unchangeably “right” or “wrong.” Others have put this on us in part so that we don’t approach life too frivolously, but as your awareness increases, it can become a cage. What we’ve previously concocted for ourselves starts to break down as we struggle with thoughts that we’re wrong, bad, evil, immoral, messed up, insane. It is possible we could be any of those things, so a good hard look is in order, but it’s also quite likely we have simply changed and nothing is really wrong, even though it may feel as such. Hopefully things that were barriers have been removed or modified. Change takes different forms, but in any of those it’s not at all easy, or sometimes even feasible to control. It happened, and now you have a new reality you have to work within. It also comes with a new space of possibilities.

What do you do?

  1. Sometimes we can undo it all, if we work hard enough. But usually what we’re really doing is adding another modifying layer on top of it. Life is additive. In time that layer can become pretty real to us, especially when we aren’t aware that’s what we’ve done, but we’re vulnerable to things coming along and stripping that contrived reality away.
  2. I say it’s usually best to take your lumps and move on from the old and into the new. It sucks sometimes. But it’s probably for the best in the long run. This is usually referred to as growth when looked at later.
  3. The option often chosen is to stick it out. Make it work. That’s the caged way. It can be pretty miserable sometimes, or not that noticeable. Think of the people you see who seem complacent in their lives. Some are great at compensating and seem really bubbly on the surface, but when you get closer the angst becomes palpable. Sometimes it can be manageable. It depends on your temperament and how much you are able to push yourself down in favor of avoiding the stress and consequences of the underlying changes. The biggest problem with this is it robs you of happiness. On some level you know it, but many of us are pretty good at glossing over it on the surface. Other things start to affect you in unpredictable ways. The tension may mount, which causes issues, or you may eventually become resigned to it, and even content, but there will always be some unrest in there. Or…it may bubble up enough periodically that you eventually realize you need to opt for #2, which could mean that you just wasted years of your life (and maybe that of others) or possibly passed opportunities by that no longer exist.

Each of these “solutions” kind of sucks in its own way, but #2 has the highest probability of getting you to the other end of the tunnel. The other two may look like tunnels, but aren’t. They are caves with a light in them instead. You can probably survive in there, but you’re never going to see the actual sun.

Change of this type happens to all of us at times in our lives. Usually we’re young enough that we don’t fear following through or just roll with the punches. But when we’re older, more set in our lives, and believe we have more to lose…

changes2flower

 

Fit or Adapt

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Working, living, being in close proximity to others for an extended period is dynamic, and has its challenges (**). Some people fit right in to our sensibilities, or at least challenge them in ways we appreciate. Others, not so much. Yet so much of getting along and making things work is about attitude. Attitude can get you a long way. You are 100% in control of your attitude.

You can adapt. You can make almost anything work if you really want to. But how far should you go?

I used to believe in making it work almost no matter what. There’s certainly no reason not to be kind. But as you move through life and experience different people, one begins to realize that sometimes it’s a lot harder than it needs to be. Sometimes it’s harder than it’s worth. Some people just don’t fit quite right, or in a way that’s productive and mutually beneficial, and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. It’s easier to adapt to others in a general work environment, but when it is someone you have to live with all the time or work very closely with regularly, it can really wear you down.

Should you adapt? Should you make it work?

You can adapt if one of you is a morning person and the other is not.

You can adapt if you don’t have many television shows you both like.

You can usually adapt if you have different religious or cultural sensibilities.

You can usually adapt if one is a risk taker and the other is conservative.

You might be able to adapt if one prefers the mountains and the other the sea.

You might be able to adapt if you only have a few foods in common you enjoy.

You can’t truly adapt if…

You are a cooperator and the other a bully.

You have conflicting goals for your lives (the business, the band, etc.).

You are a happy, easy person and the other is permanent mood swinger.

You want freedom and independence, but the other wants to keep very close ties on you.

You perceive that you’re always on a significant moral high ground relative to the other.

You like to cuddle and your partner hates affection.

You hate to fight over stupid little things, but the other searches for fights.

You do not want children and the other wants a big family.

You want a rewarding career, but the other wants you to stay home, or monopolize your time.

One would have to make big sacrifices to make some situations work. It can be done. Is it healthy? What happens in the long run? Why would one do it?

These (above) don’t really address the complex and often nuanced areas of emotional and intellectual compatibility, not to mention the erosion of those as certain of these types of issues are in conflict.

There are so many people in this world. Why live even a borderline miserable/compromised life, especially if you can find someone who is a much better fit? Being in a relationship should not be hard; it should not drain your energy; it should make you happy. Some people do not match. It’s as simple as that. To try to push it is a desperate cry to not be alone.

It always, always comes back to the fear.

It’s not always easy to sort out, but eventually it’s relatively straight forward to assess when viewed through the intuitive feelings we get around others. We know what the fit is, but there is a wicked-nasty curve ball life throws at us. Stay tuned for part 2, tomorrow.

 

(**)  I speak from the experience of having siblings, a large extended family, being married (twice), teaching, working in small (3 people) and medium sized (1,100 people) companies, being in bands (which is like being married to five people at the same time), working solo, and maintaining long distance relationships. 

 

 



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