Good Tension? Maybe …

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I believe we all have our favorites when it comes to authors whose pieces we search for. You know, the ones that nudge us to re-Consider our current thinking on a topic or – occasionally – introduce us to a topic we’ve not really Considered before. If you look through the archives of this blog, you’ll quickly identify quite a few of my favorites. These days, with all of the flexibility of access due to social media, these writings are easily gathered. [Aside: I feel compelled to caution that ‘favorites’ should never become unquestioned sources. Rather they must always be simply one of many sources, all Considered carefully and deliberately as we develop our beliefs and positions.]

This blog post grew out of a post from Seth Godin. It’s titled “Tension vs. Fear.” Quoting from the piece: “Fear’s a dream killer. It puts people into suspended animation, holding their breath, paralyzed and unable to move forward. Fear is present in many education settings, because fear’s a cheap way to ensure compliance.  ‘ Do this,’ the teacher threatens, ‘or something bad is going to happen to you.'” And: “Tension is the hallmark of a great educational experience. The tension of not quite knowing where we are in the process, not being sure of the curriculum, not having a guarantee that it’s about to happen.”

Yes, this particular post led me to Consider my thinking and beliefs on both education and personal success. For me, by the way, education (Effective Learning, really) is a critical contributor to personal success. While this particular Consideration is far from reaching resolution, I nevertheless wanted to share my thinking to date. For me, fear is indeed all too often the source of blandness and status quo. “I / we can avoid failure if I / we simply keep doing what I / we have always done. Think of the negative impact on me / us if I / we fail. And you know how common failure is. I / we will be seen as worthless or useless, despised by colleagues and many friends.”

My response to those gripped and controlled by fear: Get over it! Success – in any way one defines it – depends upon our being curious and then creative in addressing that curiosity. Creativity in turn most certainly includes the risk, the probability, of failure during our efforts. But this should not be feared; these failures (love the acronym, FAIL: First Attempt In Learning) must be seen as routine, as opportunities to reflect and refine our efforts. Opportunities that are helpful and valuable to our efforts leading to success.

But here’s where I have some problems with Seth Godin. Does this mean the fear must be replaced by tension? Yes, I know he sees tension as a good thing… Yes, I presume that he thus doesn’t see it impacting our well being negatively. But I’m of the strong belief that success can occur without significant tension. Of course, we must expect tension to exist at various times during the creative addressing of important situations. But visualizing efforts to address important situations as including routine / constant tension, I believe, is a negative approach – probably leading to fear most of the time.

Again, quoting Godin: “Effective teachers have the courage to create tension. And adult learners on their way to levelling up actively seek out this tension, because it works. It pushes us over the chasm to the other side.” Create tension, seek out this tension… Again, I ask why? A betterapproach, I believe: Teachers must facilitate development of four skills: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Developing these skills is accomplished via student efforts on addressing meaningful defining questions generated to align with appropriate standards. Will this be hard work for students and teachers? Yes, of course! Should it ‘create tension?’ Of course not!

The importance of this effort (What percentage of teachers think this is their main responsibility in the classroom? Probably quite low, agreed???) lies in developing these skills into habitual skills, in a non-pressure environment. The post-secondary college or employment then has been prepared for; the lifelong learning absolutely required for a successful career and personal life has then been prepared for. Yes, there will be short periods of tension dealing from time to time with situations that arise in the course of addressing meaningful situations. But there will be no creating tension, no seeking tension!

So, good tension??? I continue to believe any tension can be minimized and dealt with when it occurs. I don’t think that’s the tension Seth Godin was talking about – his good tension… Maybe minimal natural tension that’s addressed; maybe that’s “good” tension!

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Getting to Clarity of Purpose

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In his post of January 7, 2014 to the Switch & Shift blog, Shawn Murphy argues that clarity of purpose is critical to any group having success in their work together.  Shawn suggests a series of “mini-workshops” to visit questions such as “What do we do?” and “What do we need to do?” to establish purpose so critical to the subsequent team efforts.

In my thinking, such workshops will be more successful if each group member were to consider her or his personal connections to each of the questions, the vision of what to organization purpose has been and seems appropriate for the immediate future.  Where does each person see their contribution optimized for the best possible sense of organizational purpose.  This would likely include among other information what the sense of accomplishment has been individually, within the group, and across the organization.  It would include feedback from customers as well as information on competitors; it would include information on what has transpired in terms of product revisions and possible revisions.

Such consideration by each member does of course require effort. But I would argue that such efforts are important to subsequent group discussion and to optimization of personal opportunities. As with the referenced blog post, most leadership mentors / coaches argue appropriately that the decision making must include all members working with the leadership – must be transparent.  In the post, Shawn notes that decision making that’s not transparent often descends into chaos, serving mostly as a information delivery system.

With the additional individual consideration efforts, the subsequent honest and open group discussion has so much more information for input: individual input to the status of current efforts and the potential for growth or at least realignment of future efforts.  The considerations are unlikely to lead to any one vision being chosen for implementation; but the development of those visions provide a rich background for considering each person’s input as the group works toward Steven Covey’s better alternative: the outcome that each group member believes honestly is better than their original vision.

Contrast that with the honest group discussions (everyone’s input genuinely sought and considered) but without the preceding individual considerations.  I would argue that such discussion is better than the manager providing the sense of purpose and implementation path for sure.  But think about the impact of the honest discussions that are not fueled by the visions leading the understanding of each participant.  Is it likely that opportunities or potential roadblocks / critical shifts will be missed? Is it possible that concerns about suggestions made by any member might be overlooked?  Is it likely that the emerging sense of purpose and implementation plan will be less robust, less understood, and thus less motivating?  My expectations are that the answer is yes to these and other questions of concern.

There are unfortunately regular examples of promising organizations with good initial results being driven out of business because of lack of sustained efforts that were responsible for the original success.  The organization needs a sense of purpose, a set of goals, and a plan of action that is accepted and acted upon routinely as Shawn suggests.  I love his thought that this is so obvious by the similar stories / messages each person tells.  My additional suggestion is for that employee input to optimized by the expectation and valuing of individual consideration.

Understanding Requires Consideration

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In a recent post from Seth Godin to his blog of 01/05/14, he writes about wanting an opinion without understanding the information relevant to that opinion. This blog is dedicated to the importance (really requirement) of the skill / habit of CONSIDERATION to the gradual development of understanding!

Why do I call it a skill? Probably obvious because there’s no switch that can be thrown to add this or any other capability as a useful one. It takes conscious attention to the process (dare I write consideration of the process – of consideration itself in this case) as one tries different efforts, routinely self-assesses progress and the need for refinement, and adjusts as the skill is developed into a usable and useful one. Lest you think there will be an end to this effort, hope I’m not discouraging you when I suggest this will be lifelong!

Why do I call it a habit? Clearly obvious to me at least in that a habit is sort of like a pair of comfortable boots in a snow storm: the peace of mind from relying on “auto-pilot” of habit enables the confidence in achieving the best outcome. In reaching that best outcome, we are comforted in our judgement and our ability to deal with the inevitable miss-steps.

But this consideration does much more than enable an opinion to be formed. It enables us to discuss the topic and test our opinion with others. It seems clear to me that the best opinion I might develop myself will be better through consideration. BUT to believe it the best possible without “testing” through conversation to me is not possible. Nor is any opinion “set in stone” when clearly it’s an opinion about a dynamic situation!

Most importantly, conversation among parties with opposing opinions BUT ones developed through consideration enable what the late Stephen Covey called the BETTER ALTERNATIVE. Otherwise that “conversation” is reduced to a prelude to “going to the mattresses” and conflict without resolution.

Consideration is YOUR best opportunity to develop a vision regarding any topic that enables you to engage with others in improving lives in general. That, for me at least, is far more important and satisfying than merely defending a possibly poorly developed position.

As always, your feedback and dialogue is honestly sought.

Welcome to Considerations!!!

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As I have read and responded to many favorite blog posts, both related to Leadership and Education, I have routinely connected with a concept important to success in any field, a concept I have called CONSIDERATIONS. This blog will in various future posts discuss my interpretation of considerations as a process, my thoughts on consideration application, my suggestions for important topics for consideration, and thoughts on my considerations of topics I wish to share publicly. I also certainly seek posts from readers of this blog – feedback on previously published posts as well as new posts from you.

A brief overview of Considerations as I define the word: Considerations go beyond the notions of reading, studying, and/or learning material – to the understanding the material through its many interpretations, its many viewpoints, its contradictions, its relationships with other material. The objective is the development of a vision of how all of this fits together. Such a vision enables one to dialogue with others to explore new or misinterpreted vision components, to apply the vision to address situations encountered, and to assist through writing and facilitating discussion the general improved public vision of the topic.