A teacher . . . leads you to the threshold of your own mind

Teaching XVIII

No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.

The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.

If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.

The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.

And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.

For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.

And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

Khalil Gibran

If you care enough, you can build it, and they will come

I am amazed by what I wrote months and months ago.  You really should keep a blog and write and write.  At the time, your posts may be rough, but they will clarify and when you reread them months late, you will be surprised by your insights.

It seems that some months ago, I jotted down some of my thoughts on using Twitter in classrooms.  In the course of the post, I jotted down three critical features of developing flourishing communities like thriving classrooms.

#1 Conversations

Talk to someone.  Work with someone.  If there is no one else, feel the ground under your feet.  Listen to the birds.  Pay attention!  As we pay attention to the world, we ourselves come alive and the world pays attention to us.

Managers & designers:  Start the conversation. Provide tools and opportunities for people to talk to each other. Watch the range of conversations and help people join in.  Also watch the content of conversations and help people extend their conversations – to more people in and outside the organization.

#2 Community

Be positive. I don’t mean gushy and airy-fairy.  I mean talk to the facts, including your own negative emotions, but don’t exclude other stories.  We should own our negative experience but not think they are the whole story.  Keep a gratitude diary because if you don’t, with the best will in the world, when shit-happens, and it does, you might find you cannot see the good with the bad.

Managers & designers: Set up “positive” procedures – which are procedures that allow us to recognize negative events, which ensure that we never disrespect anyone by ignoring how events impact on them, yet which acknowledge what is good and true and that we want to do more of.  Abandoning the negative art of “gap management” takes thought and disciplined work.  Falling out of love with our own tempers takes practice and like-minded friends.  But unless and until we can achieve positivity : negativity ratios of 5:1 when things are going badly, we will not predictably sustain communities where we will flourish.  The key to flourishing communities begins with us and our loyalty to our members.

#3  Meta-cognition (talking about)

As people settle in, watch out for discussion of the “rules of engagement” and the purpose of our existence.  Everyone will have an idea and they need to be heard. We need to listen to others to allow them to hear themselves and to help them relax sufficiently to hear others.  We need to be patient because this takes time and some people aren’t good at it.  Once advocacy is balanced with curiosity, the group might begin to thrive as a group.  Blogging, of course, as a form of talking-about – of putting our experiences into words and making sense of them.

Managers & designers: Help the group move through the five stages of group formation (forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning) and move as fast or as slow as they do extending the conversations appropriately but listening to the relevant concerns that people have at each stage though, quite rightly, these concerns are very different from yours.  People move on faster when they are allowed to complete each stage to their satisfaction.

Leading takes work. No doubt about that!  It is not as glamorous as it looks.

If you have read this far, you’ll have noticed that I am making little distinction between classrooms, businesses and for that matter, my own life.  I don’t.  I think the three points

  • talk to others
  • keep faith with others (even when it taxes your patience)
  • and put into words what we are thinking and experience

these three simple points are guides to building any community that you care enough to build.


 

We can’t run our banks or trains BUT we have raised a fair and decent GEN Y?

Life in the 21st century is a little grim

One of the pleasures of living in the UK is long commutes on overfull trains.  I am not talking overcrowding Mumbai-style (aka Bombay) to be sure. But there is a more than 50-50 chance in the UK that I will find myself standing for an hour, or finding a free wall and sitting on the carpet – damn the higher dry cleaning bills.

Two trips back, I plonked my teaching file down on the aisle carpet and sat on it, embarrassing the 50-something who had a seat next to me.  When I declined his kind offer to change places, he retorted, so you can tell your friends about how things used to be better!

But I think it has got better

Actually, I don’t think things have got worse.  I’ve been away from UK and because I pop in and out, I see change intermittently and I think have a less distorted view.  UK is cleaner and quicker than it was 10 years ago and much cleaner and quicker than it was 20 years ago.

And more optimistic

I also don’t think things have got worse for another reason.  I teach (college).  And teaching brings me into contact with Gen Y twice a week.

Gen Y may be many things.  What you can count on is that they want to do a good job.  They ask questions.  They are knowledgeable about what they have been in contact with.  They want to run fair and decent businesses.  They are intensely interested in any curriculum to do with being a good manager or a good leader.  I can hear a pin drop when I get onto topics like charismatic leadership.  It may be narcissism on their part (and mine), but I like to think differently.

So why have we done so well?

So lets pose  a question.  We see so much shocking leadership and management in today’s world.   Steve Roesler pointed to the obvious today.  Many of our workplaces seem to reward bad leadership.  The collapse of the financial system seems to be a case in point.  The post mortems will tell us eventually.

How is it that

We cannot provide decent commuting trains in the 6th richest country in the world, or fair mortgages in the 1st richest country,

BUT

We have raised our children to be intensely interested in being decent, fair and engaging?

Why did we do so well? I am asking sincerely.  What did we do to bring up such a pleasant, decent, energetic, and fair generation of youngsters?

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Doldrums to OK to fantastic classrooms

Positive communities are important in learning

I’ve taught in colleges and universities for 25 years.  One thing I am reasonably certain about teaching is that a good class has a strong sense of community.  It is common sense that a good social atmosphere will be more attractive than a cold, totally clinical atmosphere.  There is also a clutch of professional ideas explaining the impact of group norms, collective efficacy, belonging, system boundaries, and so on.

Why, though, do we so much prefer a 500 person auditorium to a pod cast?

What I’ve not been able to put my finger on, until today, is a tight model explaining why communities are so important – why for example we prefer to listen to a lecture in an anonymous 500 person auditorium than on a podcast.

Today my Google Alert flashed up this article on Twittering in Education.  A US College Professor set up a class channel on Twitter.  Twittering lead to more discussion between students and ultimately to writing a book “online” with completely voluntary help from students as far afield as China.

The post also describes the mechanism.

Meta-cognition & meaning

Conversations lead to community (And v.v.  We know it is important to seed a social media channel with conversations.)  The conversations lead to ‘meta-cognition’ – talking about the course.  And talking about the course helps us understand why and how the course and the material fits into our lives.  Greater clarity and shared understandings leads to more community, and more community to better conversations.

Do we get phase states?

Though the article does not say, I suspect that at some stage, the energy moving between conversations, community and meta-cognition (talking about) reaches a tipping point and we see greater levels of learning and action.  So we move from the struggling, to the satisfactory, to the spectacular.

I rather suspect that this is a fractal model, such as we see with Happiness.  The three characteristics of the class – conversations, community and ‘talking about’ – interplay.  When this interplay is healthy, it moves through the broad swathe of emotional space.  When we have done well, we celebrate, for example, ultimately ending with someone suggesting we get back to work.  When things do not go well, we grieve, ultimately ending with someone suggesting it is time to start living again.

My thoughts on this glittering sunny day in autumn in rural England are to ask:

  • are these the three critical variables: conversations, community, and meta-cognition?
  • do they interplay with each other in a self-correcting manner going from positive to negative and back again as the need dictates?
  • is it right to use a phase state model where we look for the tipping points which take this energy system from the doldrums to OK and then to fantastic?
  • do the three variables co-affect each other through a set of Lorenz equations, and if not, how do they inter-relate?
  • how can we explore these variables in a field study?

Enough for now.  The sun calls.  I would love to hear from anyone interested in building communities with or without social media like Twitter.

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HRM: do you show your bottom-line impact?

I am back in the traces teaching HRM at under-graduate level and Strategic HRM at post-graduate level.

The undergraduates have been well prepared and readily match HRM ideas to ideas they have already learned in Management.  I mention “hard & soft”; they counter with McKinsey‘s 7 S’s.  I talk about strategy; they counter with contingency theory and scenario planning.

The HRM book that we are using is not quite up-to-speed, I think.  We are always lamenting that line managers don’t take us seriously.  Yet, we readily regress to operational HR.  No where in this book do we make a direct case for impacting on the bottom-line.

My post-grad class includes an owner of a bus company.  His business provides a ready example of bottom-line impact.

  • If I have 5 buses and 4 drivers, I am losing the opportunity to make money out of the 5th bus.
  • If I have 5 buses and 6 drivers, then I am paying wages for someone to do nothing.
  • If I have 5 buses and 5 drivers, what do I do when someone is ill or on holiday?

This looks like “hard HRM”, and so it is.  But “soft HRM” provides solutions to the same dilemma.  I might have a ‘culture’ in which a bus driver happily takes on other tasks when s/he is not driving; just as I might have a culture in which I readily reschedule work to allow drivers to attend to personal business.  I might have a culture where bus drivers cooperate so buses don’t “all come together”.  They informally resolve scheduling problems that would otherwise be the province of expensive management scientists.

Good HRM delivers economy.  The ratio of HR costs to Sales Dollars should be optimal.  As a rule-of-thumb, in manufacturing 10 cents of every sales dollar is spent on HR.   Without the “soft”, I will never achieve this goal.  Without the “hard”, I may achieve my goal but I would never know!

I wish HRM textbooks would show the “vertical integration” they talk about and show the link to the bottom line!  And on that note, I must ask the bus company owner to ask his accountants what is their ratio of HR costs to Sales. And we can call up a few other companies to compare!

Teaching is perpetually fascinating!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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A video of Ben Zander speaking on contribution

Here we are.

UPDATE: If you’ve never heard Ben Zander, the orchestra conductor, speak on leadership, I recommend it strongly.  Half an hour that will truly change your life.

Ben Zander,  comfortable of course, in front of a large audience speaks on his work as teacher, university professor and professional conductor.

He has learned to look for the spirit of musicians and talks about “one buttock playing”, “bringing the light to people’s eyes” and  “apologizing and inviting”.  With these three rules of thumb, you’ll transform the way you work with others.

Welcome to the world of ease and merriment of Ben Zander!

Law of attraction, positive thinking . . . how old is it?

A long back story

I took out Goodbye Mr Chips from my local library thinking it would be nice to relax for a couple of hours with this gentle, slightly sentimental, very inspirational movie. For non-Brits, this is a classic pygmalion, teacher story with romance thrown in. Think To Sir With Love, History Boys and Freedom Writers. I think when Yanks write pygmalion stories they are typically about basketball coaches. Britain has teacher stories.

Goodbye Mr Chips is a double-pygmalion story. Mr Chipping is an awkward “Latin master” in a “public school”.  If you are non-Brit, read exclusive private school (or prep school in Americanese – a prep school here preps you to go to public school which takes you to the army academy or university).

Mr Chipping has two mentors. A charming relaxed fellow teacher and his wife. They are the catalysts in allowing Mr Chipping, or Chips as he comes to be called, to incorporate the softer side of his nature in his teaching style, reform the rugged-masculine-bullying culture of the school, and to encourage boy-after-boy, and their sons after them, to blend the feminine sides of their nature with the masculine demands of their school and obligations to country.

I thought I was borrowing the musical version with Peter O’Toole from the library.   When I got home, I discovered I a new version with Martin Clunes, the star of the TV show, Doc Martin. He makes a marvellous Mr Chips with the mixture of clumsiness and kindness that we also see in Doc Martin. (He doesn’t sing btw, and nor do we hear the boys singing which we did in the earlier version).

The story seems slightly different too – but so be it. After this long back story, this is the quote I wanted to give you.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Positive psychology is more than positive thinking

This is the concept which takes positive psychology far beyond positive thinking. It has echoes of the pygmalion effect, popularized in the musical My Fair Lady in which a flower girl becomes a lady. It includes the Galatea effect, ably researched by Dov Eden, who also researches the pygmalion effect in work settings. Basically, the Pygmalion effect is the effect of other people’s expectations on us. So a teacher creates clever pupils by expecting more of them. A teacher creates dull pupils by expecting failure and subtly communicating doubts and restricting the resources and time we need to learn. The Galatea effect works the other way around. It is the effect of our own self-perception.  It is not that seeing is believing. But that, believing is seeing.

Is this new?

George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion 100 years ago. 150 years ago Goethe wrote:

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Goethe

The idea that we shape the future is so new to us in the west. The idea that the universe comes to us sounds a little new age.

Of course, we cannot do anything. We don’t want to do anything.

But there are some things, we want to do. And if we can imagine those things, if we believe in them deeply without effort, if they make sense, if they seem right in themselves, if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

if we believe in them enough to take the first hesitant step,

then the universe conspires to help us.

Skeptical?

This is tautological, of course. It will work because it is right and it is right because it works.

Ask only whether what you want is right, and why you would want anything that doesn’t work!