Friday, November 30, 2012

#182 gone but not forgotten

Higher education has a wonderful tradition for retiring faculty -- if they have served with distinction for a considerable length of time, they are bestowed the title of "emeritus".  Mostly this means that they are able to continue using their title (as in professor emeritus), but it also garners them invitations to some all-campus events and keeps them in the communication loop.  

I believe all organizations would be well-served to treat departing staff members -- even if they are not retiring -- with sort of an emeritus standing.  One of the signs of a healthy culture is how the organization treats people who have left.  If you wave goodbye and don't talk to your ex-staff again, you are losing a golden opportunity for them to continue in an ambassador role for you. If they were great employees, with a little effort you can turn them into great ex-employees. They know you well and presumably were a cheerleader for your brand when they were here; why let it stop?

With the holiday season approaching, think about reaching out to your former employees with a greeting or invitation to a social event. Invite them back to have lunch with former colleagues every now and then.  Send them a newsletter or copy of existing publication to share your good news.  Develop an email distribution list of former employees so that you can keep them abreast of major developments.  Keep them on your fund-raising solicitation list!    Send along one of those promotional products every now and then (see #168).  Use them as a resource on occasion.  Help them connect with other former staff.

There are many things you can do after you say goodbye to a staff member.  Just make sure that something is on the list!

-- beth triplett

Thursday, November 29, 2012

#181 parallel lessons

I recently facilitated a session on being a catalyst for change and I started the workshop with cornstarch.

I asked volunteers to come forward and attempt to mix cornstarch and water in a cup so that it reached a consistency that would allow a spoon to be inserted into it and to be turned upside down.

There are many lessons to be learned from this exercise and parallels to change efforts:
> More people want to watch than want to volunteer to initiate/participate in the change;
> Change is messy;
> There is no recipe or set formula for making the mixture -- or for creating change.  You need to experiment;
> And you need to keep at it.  Persistence is more valuable than expecting instant success
> Sometimes you need less of an element than you thought you would -- a little can go a long way;
> If you try to push the spoon in slowly (aka create change slowly) there is less resistance and it is easier to accomplish than if you try to push it in quickly;
> Sometimes your efforts are a failure;
> We can learn from each other.  We get smarter as a group as our efforts progress;
> Two different entities can create something new. The exercise involves using something you have seen often, but never looked at it this way or considered it for this purpose;
> It helps to know your purpose in the beginning;
> It can be fun -- especially in the end when it works!

You may consider conducting this experiment with your group as you start your next change effort.  Lots of lessons from an unlikely (and cheap!) source of inspiration.

-- beth triplett

(Original concept from Tracy Knofla)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

#180 not guilty

My advice from being called twice to serve on jury duty:  if you have to be on the jury, be the foreman.  

If I am going to spend my time at the trial and deliberation, I want to see a productive outcome (verdict) as a result.  So if I have to be there, I'm going to step up and lead the discussion to help us stay on topic.

The same principle applies to meetings outside the legal arena.  If you have to be at a meeting, act like the foreman.  Take an active role in the discussion to frame the issue, bring out the various views, point out the commonalities and move the group toward action.  The foreman is a facilitator, not dictator, and it is a good model to follow.  

You don't need to hold an official position of power to help move the meeting along.  If you have been convened with the purpose of deciding, step up to the role.  Whether your goal is group consensus or majority rule, you can help drive the discussion to facilitate action.  

Don't just sit there and be guilty of leaving the verdict of the meeting in someone else's hands.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

#179 finger art

There is nothing like nail polish to make me feel old.  For my whole life I have worn pinks, reds or French (another variation on pink only with white tips), mostly because that was all that was available.  And never in my life have all 10 nails been anything but the same color.  I am so dated!

Today, nail polish is available in more shades than paint.  It comes in glitter, "cracked", neon and swirl.  If that isn't enough, peel on nail coverings are available in every print imaginable:  leopard, striped, holiday, pictures of the Jonas Brothers and Twilight icons.  If you name it, I am sure it is available for your fingertips.

And if all that choice doesn't satisfy you, the trend lately seems to be painting different fingers in different colors.  Or four of one color and the fifth in a totally different shade on the same hand.  When screenwriter Zoe Lister-Jones appeared in a Time* feature, she had all five fingers on her hand with a different pattern.  Who has time for this?

I think nail polish is a symbol for today's consumer.  People want to personalize every product and have the flexibility to express their individualism in ways not previously considered. 

Are you making your customers or clients wear only red and pink -- because that is what you successfully offered for decades, or have you come to infuse teal and Disney princesses into your offerings?  One look at Seventeen's Nail Hall of Fame ( and you'll know that the expectations are more than they used to be.

-- beth triplett

*June 11, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

#178 the long term

I have been following with interest the experiment that is currently underway at J. C. Penney.  Ron Johnson was hired as CEO a year ago in hopes that he could work his retail magic on the dated, declining department store.  

If you don't know Johnson by name, surely you have seen the results of his efforts.  He is responsible for introducing designer brands at Target (even though the pundits predicted high end goods at a discount retailer would fail), and designing profitable Apple retail stores (another idea many thought wouldn't work).  So can he do it again at JCP?

Right now, the experiment is not going so well.  The company has experienced three consecutive quarters of major losses ($260 million last period), but Johnson remains optimistic that his vision will succeed.  He has focused first on a new pricing model, and now is in the business of revamping the layout of all the stores and providing different lines of merchandise.  Their vibrant new advertising was enough to get me inside for the first time in a decade, and it is clear that something is a buzz. 

Johnson is quoted as saying "Lots of people think we're crazy.  But that's what it takes to get ahead."  I hope that the board gives Johnson enough time for his efforts to have a chance.  Revitalizing all of the classic four marketing elements (product, price, place and promotion) is not a short-term fix.  Hopefully there was a realistic time frame agreed upon when he took the job.

I am not a regular JCP shopper and may never be.  But I applaud Johnson's willingness to tackle another risky venture instead of resting on his Target and Apple laurels.  He almost certainly did not need to gamble on Penney and face the public ridicule when results weren't instantaneous.  Apparently the personal satisfaction from doing something difficult provides enough thrill to risk the daunting short-term consequences.

Let him be a model for you to tackle the hard stuff and work toward transformation in the long term, even if people snicker in the process.

-- beth triplett

(J.C. Penney's CEO taking another gamble by Anne D'Innocenzio Associated Press in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald 11/15/12 p.4B)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

#177 at last

I was listening to Pandora radio when they had an interview with Etta James.  "Every time someone gets married," she said, "they say sing 'At Last'."

For fifty years, Etta James = At Last.  It has been her signature song since the album was released in 1960.

What is your signature action?  Maybe it's not belting out a certain song at weddings, but everyone has a special talent for something.  Figure out what yours is and be conscious about sharing it.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, November 24, 2012

#176 expand your palette

When Binney and Smith introduced Crayola crayons in 1903, there were 8 colors available, thus the iconic 8-pack box.  Today, there are 120 color options.

There are about as many packaging options as well.  A recent trip to Target featured an entire section of 8-pack crayons -- over 30 in all -- now cleverly marketed with child-appealing names.  Instead of buying the 64-pack (which used to be the ultimate thrill), consumers today are encouraged to customize their colors by purchasing multiple 8-packs (@ .99 each) and putting them in the metal tin (@ $2.99) that looks like a Crayola box.

These "modern" 8-packs come with names such as:  "Born to Rock", "Surfin' Safari", "Dinosaur Roar", "Pink Princess", "Cupcake My Day", "Over the Rainbow" and "Fruit-opia".  But what colors are inside?  Just various combinations of the same 120 colors which are available (for a lot less money) in the normal 64 pack.

The Crayola display causes me to have two thoughts as it relates to organizational life --
> What are you doing that you could package differently and re-purpose?  Could you offer essentially the same services in a different way to create new interest and markets? How does what you name something allow it to be perceived as new and fresh?  (If you have any doubt whether this matters, check out the crayon aisle next time you're at a Target.)
> People want to have choice.  If they are willing to pay extra to create their own box of crayons, what opportunity does this create for your organization?  Can you repackage some services and charge more for them by allowing customers to package a la carte?

Crayola 8-packs ain't what they used to be.  Is your organization still only working with black, red and blue or have you moved on to provide inch worm, jazzberry jam, mango tango and wild blue yonder (the newest Crayola colors)?  It's up to you to keep your palette appealing.

-- beth triplett

(Crayola crayon color chronology at

Friday, November 23, 2012

#175 fascinating

I recently saw the movie "Flight" (starring Denzel Washington).  I wasn't expecting it, but it was one of the more thought-provoking movies that I have seen.  If anyone is in a "Movie Club" instead of a "Book Club", this would be a film that would generate a lot of discussion.  

In one of the scenes, the son of Denzel's character is applying for colleges and needs to write an essay.  The question:  "who is the most fascinating person that you never met?"  Think about that one for awhile.  (My personal answer: either Hillary Clinton or author/blogger Seth Godin)

I took this a step further and asked myself: "who is the most fascinating person that you never met that you realistically could meet?"  In other words, I'm not likely to have lunch with Hillary anytime soon, so who could I have lunch with that would fascinate me?  (my answer:  Jude Becker, a pig farmer who I heard speak of his vision for the role of organic farming in Dubuque's economic development -- it was fascinating!)

And, since I was pondering this on an hour-long solo drive, part 3 is: "who is the most fascinating person that you have met?" (hard one: maybe my former boss Keith Lovin).  For some reason, the two questions I arbitrarily added were harder for me to answer than the hypothetical one, but they provided some good mental fodder and made the miles go by quickly.

Think about your answers to the above three questions -- and then throw in a twist.  What should you be doing differently so that someone answers "you" to their question?!

-- beth triplett

(Jude Becker =

Thursday, November 22, 2012

#174 turkey talk

I have never cooked a turkey in my life, but even I know about the Butterball help line.  Officially called the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, when it was started in 1983 the staff answered 11,000 questions.  Today, the fifty "professionally trained, college-educated home economists and nutritionists" answer more than 100,000 questions during the service's November and December operation!  

If cooks have an individual turkey dilemma, they can get free assistance at 1-800-BUTTERBALL (obviously they didn't read blog #49!),   "No question is too tough for these turkey talkers, and they are ready and excited to tackle any challenge you throw at them," says the website.  

My guess is that when the hotline started 29 years ago, a majority of the 11,000 questions were about something that is now instantaneously available on the Internet.  Cooks can refer to and be greeted by handy calculators which give the proper increments to thaw, roast, stuff, freeze and remove the turkey from the oven.  But there are still times where human interaction is better than any website, and the reassuring voice of a Turkey Talk-Line Expert is what is needed to mitigate the holiday stress.  (Keep that in mind as your organization allocates its human resources and considers automating in order to save costs!)

Regardless of whether you heap your thanks on a Butterball helper, your kid sister, that goofy cousin or your four-legged pal, I hope you have something to give thanks for today.  

-- beth triplett

inspired by Emily Kruse

And in case you need it:  1-800-BUTTERBALL translates to 1-800-288-8372.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

#173 sneak peek

In New York City, there is one night a year when "inflation" is a good word.  On the night before Thanksgiving, the Central Park West area comes alive with tankers full of helium, giant netting, hundreds of sandbags and a swarm of volunteers -- all to inflate the giant balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

When I was among the throngs to see this event in person, I believe that I enjoyed it more than the parade itself.  It is a well-oiled machine -- with each balloon taking up more than a full city block.  At ground level, the balloons seem even more enormous than they do when floating down Broadway.  I can't watch the parade today without thinking about the process that goes into getting them ready for the sky.

Since 1927, Macy's has been allowing the public to observe the night-before parade preparations. I suppose they could rope off the areas or keep the fleet of helium tankers in a remote location, but instead they have embraced the crowds who serve to build excitement for the main event.

Do you do something that could benefit from others being involved in the preparations?  Could you invite people for a sneak peek into event set up, video filming, photo shoots or the like?  What about creating a window above your building construction site, publicly displaying interior design options or giving behind-the-scenes tours?  

Think of how you can help others see what really goes into your end product, give them an opportunity to gain appreciation for your work and build the loyalty that comes when they feel like an "insider".

The Wizard of Oz should be the only one behind the curtain.  Let people peek behind yours.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

#172 sold out

With the announcement that Hostess is closing, there is suddenly a Twinkie craze -- stores have been emptied out, entrepreneurs are selling them for hundreds of dollars on the Internet and people are creating a nostalgia mania for the calorie-laden treats.

I haven't had a Twinkie in probably 25 years, and suddenly I want one!  If all the people who are now buying Twinkies had purchased them at even a fraction of the pace, Hostess would probably be alive and well today.

Humans are a funny lot.  As soon as something is scarce, the interest in it skyrockets.  As soon as we are told that we can't have something, it makes us long for it. 

How do you turn that psychology into something that benefits you?  Can you provide a service for a "limited time"?  Offer something to the "limited few"?  Make your restaurant smaller so there is a cache about eating there?  Have events in smaller spaces so you sell out and turn people away -- creating a buzz for next time?  

Instead of offering everything "a plenty", think about how to use scarcity to your benefit on occasion.

-- beth triplett

Monday, November 19, 2012

#171 four score and seven years ago

On this day, 149 years ago, Lincoln delivered "a few appropriate remarks" at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.  In under three minutes, Lincoln spoke ten sentences and succeeded in reframing the Civil War to be about the preservation of the Union and "the government of the people, by the people, for the people."

A few, well-written words deliver a more powerful impact than puffery that drones on.  

If Lincoln could do all of this with the limited text as shown above, think of how this translates to your work.  Copywriter Rob Lombardi used to preach to us that writing should be "uncomfortably short".  Get the wiggle words out of your action plans so your intent doesn't get lost in the clutter.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, November 18, 2012

#170 raising the bar

Often the fine hotels model service innovations that set the expectations bar higher for other industries.  From express check-in and check-out, to concierges, to loyalty status and special floors, hotels have been continuously upgrading their service delivery for decades.

Think of all the things that have become standard in hotel rooms beyond the bed -- and televisions and air conditioner (both of which were innovative when they were first introduced).  Now most hotel rooms routinely come with: beds with down comforters and lots of pillows, multi-head showers, wireless Internet, iPod docks, HD, cable and movies-on-demand television; mini-bars, coffee makers and premium coffee in the room; ironing boards and irons; and blow dryers.

In addition, the hotel itself keeps adding services like hot breakfasts -- some even made-to-order, exercise rooms, pools, upscale restaurants, Starbucks, bars, shuttle services, saunas, fresh flowers, and the list goes on.

The latest innovation comes from Westin, in an ingenious partnership with New Balance.  They explicitly recognize that "maintaining a daily exercise routine can often be difficult while traveling.  Strict carry-on requirements make it harder to pack shoes..." so for $5 shoes and clothes in your size will be delivered to your door!  They also provide a pair of new socks that are yours to keep.

What a great idea in spotting a need, finding a partner with a mutual interest in meeting the need, and making it as convenient as possible for the client.

How can you look at your organization with Westin's eyes?  Where do your customers have a need that you can meet -- and how can you do so at little to no cost to either party?  Take a lesson from the fine hotels and try to meet their service level at your place.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, November 17, 2012

#169 new eyes

There is something to be said for having a fresh set of eyes look at things.  New staff members can bring a perspective that is often overlooked by those who see things every day.  Our university president often tells new hires that they are at their best in their initial weeks -- at least when it comes to pointing out inconsistencies, places where reality did not align with expectations, and being aware of changes that are needed.

One particularly ironic example was shared by a conference participant.  He worked at a Methodist institution so the Methodist logo -- consisting of a cross and flame -- was prominently posted on the campus wall.  Someone seeing it for the first time pointed out that it was inadvertently placed right next to the fire extinguisher!  

Have someone with a detached perspective walk through your place.  What counter-productive messages are you sending by default?

-- beth triplett

Friday, November 16, 2012

#168 spread the word

Last summer, I was in Florida and got a car decal from the "world famous" Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach.  I made a token purchase there to remind my sister of one of the funniest moments of all our travels that occurred there years ago.  And in my bag were two car decals.  For free.

I did not put them on my car, but since that time I have noticed dozens of others who did.  The back of the decal reads "Congratulations!  You are now the proud owner of a Ron Jon Sticker -- the coolest and most recognized sticker on the planet.  This Ron Jon Sticker won't make your car get better gas mileage, but will say something about who you are and how you live your life.  So stick it on.  Enjoy it!  Be sure to honk and give a friendly wave the next time you see someone with a Ron Jon sticker on their car, RV, moped, motorcycle or riding lawnmower.  You've got it, now flaunt it!"  

What a great idea to allow people to promote their business for them -- far more broadly than they could pay to do and with more impact.  They make you feel special by having one.  They come right out and encourage you to use it.  And then they build loyalty to their brand by having you honk when you see others.  All this from a surf shop.

What have you done lately to encourage your fans to spread the word and to strengthen their bonds?  Have you given your best customers/clients/students free merchandise lately -- or did that happen only in the courting process?  I am a huge fan of promotional products -- they should be plentiful, widely distributed, boldly imprinted and free.  Make it easy for others to evangelize for you.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, November 15, 2012

#167 four ounces

Recently an article reported that 40% of U.S. teenagers now own an iPhone!  Not just a cell phone, but the specific Apple brand.  In spring of 2011, the number was only 17%.

Couple that with the recent statistic from USA Today in one of their "USA Today Snapshot" graphs that asked "What is the longest college students go without using digital technology?"  Half of them reported 30 minutes or less, and only a third said over an hour.

The world's culture, information, commerce and even relationships are being brokered through a four ounce device. 

It leaves me with two thoughts:
> we need to digitize daily if we want to share content/stories/legends/anything with others
> we need to work harder to model the "low tech" elements that connect us to each other.  Emotions don't travel as well via broadband or wireless and we need to ensure that they remain part of the equation.

Digitize your thoughts in your blog -- but then go hug someone or at least talk face-to-face!

-- beth triplett

(Sources:  Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, as quoted in the 10-14-12 Telegraph Herald and USA Today Snapshots 6-26-12)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#166 organizational fruit

This week, I got my first pomegranate of the season -- one of the few wintertime things that I actually enjoy!  I did not even know what the fruit was until a few years ago, but now I will have a bowl of pomegranate seeds in my refrigerator continuously until spring comes and they are no longer available.  

Pomegranates are a lot like organizations.  If you open one up, there are pods with seeds clumped together, but the seeds are all individual pieces.  It's a lot like departments in an organization -- honeycombs of little seeds -- all separated from each other.  

For those who try to get all the seeds out individually, it is a lot of work.  Usually, it is more work than is worth it.  But if you cut the pomegranate in half and soak the halves in a bowl of water, the seeds will pull away from each other effortlessly and are easily skimmed off.

So it is with organizations.  If you encompass the group in a common environment and have a shared mission, people will come out of their clusters and become part of the whole.  If you try to gain favor individually without an overarching vision, it is difficult to achieve.

Next time you're at the market, pick up a pomegranate if you haven't yet enjoyed one and think about organizational culture when you're preparing it for your yogurt or salad.  There are lessons to be learned everywhere.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

#165 preservation

A friend sent me an email: "please write about how important it is to keep some things for a long time and how to know the difference."

As far as work goes, I have a simple mantra:  keep things when you are the source.  If I am the head of the committee that held the meetings, planned the event, wrote the grant or hired the person, I think you need to keep the backup materials and much more detail than others do.  But if I am just a member of the committee, my minutes go almost immediately into the recycle bin if they are even printed at all.  If I can get something elsewhere, I let them do the storing instead of me.  It is a delineation that has served me well for many years.

As for what to keep of a personal nature, I refer to a quote from William Morris of the Arts & Crafts Movement:  "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."  I will admit that I have amassed a collection of personal mementos that go beyond that strict interpretation, but I do try to keep the volume in check.    

For me, moving has served as a trigger to go through such goodies and purge.  Time has a way of making things either more or less valuable -- that room decoration from college loses its sentiment after a few decades, but the art from first grade seems to increase in value.  But as long as it is only one piece of art, I can frame it, enjoy it and recycle the rest without regret.

The second part of my friend's email read: "I like antiques and sometimes the "antique" way of life like manners, civility, caring about quality get lost in our focus on the new!"  Regarding the intangibles, I think we should strive to preserve the timeless principals of civility, manners, patriotism, respect, etc. -- and update the way they manifest themselves. Thank you notes are still important, but they don't have to be written with a quill pen.  

The theme of the whole message is to find a workable balance -- if you're spending too much time tracking down or bemoaning that you have given things away, you can hold on to a bit more.  If your collection of "stuff" impedes your ability to find documents or a free surface in your house, then a bit of elimination may be what is called for.  And if your focus is all about you and not about the other guy, whack yourself on the head with an old-fashioned Golden Ruler and follow the advice of your ancestors.

-- beth triplett

(Thank you Tracy!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

#164 uniform

In 1954, Congress approved Veterans Day to be celebrated on the 11th of November each year.  But in 1968, the Uniform Holiday Bill was passed and Veterans Day was moved to the third weekend in October.  

There was good logic behind this bill.  Congress intended for Federal employees to have three-day weekends by celebrating four holidays on Mondays:  Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day.  "It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production."*  Technically, it all made sense.

What wasn't accounted for by that Congress was that the November 11 date was specifically chosen to mark the 11th hour of the 11th month when the armistice treaty was signed for WWI.  While there may have been a logical reason to change the date, it overlooked the emotional reason why the original date was chosen.  Thus, President Ford returned the observance to November 11, beginning in 1978.

I have read that 80% of the reasons for proposing change are technical, and 20% of change is initiated for emotional reasons.  However; 80% of the resistance to change is for emotional reasons and only 20% for technical flaws.  The date of Veterans Day is a prime example of this in action.

The next time you're tempted to enact something like a Uniform Holiday Bill -- which makes sense for pragmatic reasons -- don't inadvertently overlook the emotional component which could derail your efforts for an equally valid, but entirely different set of values.

-- beth triplett


Sunday, November 11, 2012

#163 thank you

Today is Veterans Day -- a day set aside by Congress to honor those who have served in America's armed forces.  It is also Remembrance Day in Canada, a day to recall the sacrifices that Canadians have made in armed conflicts, and similar days are commemorated in other countries throughout the world.  The November 11 date was chosen in recognition of the day World War I hostilities officially ended in 1918.

Unlike Memorial Day, which remembers those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, "Veterans Day is intended to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military -- in wartime or peacetime.  In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living Veterans for their service, and to underscore the fact that all those who served -- not only those who died -- have sacrificed and done their duty."

The VA estimates that there are currently more than 22 million Veterans who have served in the armed forces and have reintegrated back into society.  Surely you know at least one of them.  Take a moment today to express your appreciation to those who have defended the freedoms you enjoy.

-- beth triplett


Saturday, November 10, 2012

#162 replay

I watched the movie Sleepless in Seattle again the other night.  Instead of being captivated by the story, I was stunned at how dated the film had become.  

Not just how young Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan looked, but how far we had come in so many ways:
> They only used land lines, with the long extension cords so you could hide in the closet for a private conversation.
> No one had personal computers on their desk.  Reporter Annie Reed had a dumb terminal with the flashing green cursor to use all same-font capitals to request a background check.
> The flight to New York was booked through a travel agent and produced a paper ticket.
> Annie pushed mechanical buttons to change the radio station in her car.
> They drank water from a faucet and not a bottle.
> Incoming passengers were greeted at the gate at the airport.
> People used radio call-in shows to find dates.
> The responses to the call-in show were delivered via the postal service and hand-written letters.
> Of course, the World Trade Center still towered above New York.

Sometimes it is good to have a look back, even if it is via a 19-year old romantic comedy to make a note of our changes.  If someone re-played the movie of your life, or of your organization, what differences would they see?  It may warrant another showing to reflect on what you have done -- and to see what changes you need to write into the script for your sequel.

-- beth triplett

Friday, November 9, 2012

#161 lily pads

Q:  There is one lily pad floating on a pond.  Every day the number of lily pads in the pond will double.  If it will take one month to cover the entire pond with lily pads, on what day will the pond be half-covered?

A:  On the 29th day
If this was a change initiative project, everyone who wasn't directly involved in the implementation would be "wowed" on day 30 when the full effort was unveiled.  People think that change happens in big increments instead of a series of small ones, and it is this illusion that allows change to take on mythical powers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Change happens in little steps, often involving a lot of grunt work, do-overs, trial & error and frustrations.  Only after enough persistence in this mode does a true "breakthrough" occur.  

Change is not lofty.  Change is not mysterious.  Change is not caused by those who are lucky. Change happens because everyday people put in the effort, over time, to take baby steps toward a goal.  They connect the dots.

Today is Day 1.  What steps are you taking to fill your pond on Day 30 (or 300)?

-- beth triplett

Thursday, November 8, 2012

#160 unstructured

On the Christmas lists for many children are LEGOs -- not just a box of the plastic pieces as used to be the case, but now very specific LEGO kits.  Instead of being a tool to fuel creativity, LEGOs now come with instructions, structure and specific pieces for specific functions.  How sad.

What happened to dumping a box of LEGOs on the living room floor and seeing what you could make?  I wonder where children today learn the art of creating their own fun.  After school and weekend activities are structured.  Playing wii games and X-Box and computer games all have rules and patterns to follow.  Doll clothes are sold in outfits, accompanied by pre-written stories about the girl's background instead of letting the imagination create a scenario.

Already I see the impact of this with the college students and young staff I supervise.  There are more requests for "rules" and a greater need to outline the steps and parameters vs. having people take the initiative to create from scratch.  People want the "instruction sheet" for projects instead of trying to figure things out on their own.  More and more, people seek the "right" way to do things.

Take a step back and let those you interact with metaphorically dump the box of LEGOs on the office floor.  You may not get the exact Super Star Destroyer model or the Buildable Galaxy to scale, but what you do get may be out of this world.  Nothing truly great ever came with an instruction sheet.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#159 the gap

The winner of our university's Humanitarian Service Award runs a program to help low income Chicago public school students overcome the obstacles to higher education.  Entitled "TNT" (Targeting New Transitions), it is billed as "a dynamite program for ninth graders."  

In her comments after receiving the award, Mary Conway Charles spoke of her work with college students who assist her in the program.  "The line between possibilities and expectations is blurred for young people -- I harness that energy.  They don't see social problems as daunting; they see it as an opportunity."

It reminded me of a comment that Lee Williams made when describing the work of student life professionals: "they inhabit the gap."  There is a gap between knowledge and action -- for example, we know what it takes to be healthy but often need intervention in order to act on that knowledge; we know that there are hungry people but need structure to provide action to help them.  Student affairs often fills that gap for students on campus.

Where do you have the chance to take advantage of a gap between what is and what could be -- either in your own life or bridging that gap for others?  How can we work to help the newly elected officials inhabit the gap between a vision for America's future and partisanship?  How can you translate your interest in particular social issues into advocacy for a cause?  Think about where there is a gap between what your organization espouses as its values/brand/mission and what you deliver.  How can you take a step toward filling that void today?

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

#158 tightrope

I will start my day today waiting in line to vote, and hopefully by the time I wake up tomorrow morning we will know the result of the election.  

I know that Obama and Romney both passionately want to win, but why?  Would you want that job?  One man will literally have the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He will likely win by only a small margin and be faced with enacting change with nearly half of the people against him.  He will be fresh off a negative campaign season and need to engender support from those he has been bashing for the past year.  He faces huge fiscal challenges, world unrest, economic woes and a host of social issues.  I wonder what the best part of the job is.  

The new Spielberg movie Lincoln opens next week.  In a review in Time*, it referenced an analogy that Lincoln quoted about the Great Blondin, a tightrope walker who crossed over Niagara Falls.  "Suppose," Lincoln said, "that all the material values in this great country of ours...could have been concentrated and given to Blondin to carry over that awful crossing."  Suppose "you had been standing upon the shore as he was going over, as he was carefully feeling his way along and balancing his pole with all his most delicate skill over the thundering cataract.  Would you have shouted at him, 'Blondin, a step to the right!' 'Blondin, a step to the left!' or would you have stood there speechless and held your breath and prayed to the Almighty to guide and help him safely through the trial?"

Let us not cast aspersions on the ultimate victor tonight; rather we should fervently hope that he is able to accomplish the inevitable tightrope walking with grace.

-- beth triplett

*"Lincoln to the Rescue" by David Von Drehle in Time, November 5, 2012, p. 34