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Educationally Speaking

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017


No matter your circumstances, married/involved/single, there are probably kids somewhere in your world.

I read a lot of articles about education, but three about kids really stood out for me and I believe will be of value to you.

The first looks at the unpleasant fact that our so-called modern education is producing workers more fit for 19th and early 20th Century jobs than those that will be available when they enter the workforce. In other words, acing standardized tests does not prepare you for anything more than functioning in rote.

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Speaking of behind-the-times teaching.

The only thing that can be said for the traditional approach to math, which, along with critical thinking, is one of the most critical skills needed in the future, is that it stinks.

Whether you look at the results by age (including adults), race or gender math skills are sadly lacking in the US and many other countries.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

John Mighton, a Canadian playwright, author, and math tutor who struggled with math himself, has designed a teaching program that has some of the worst-performing math students performing well and actually enjoying math. There’s mounting evidence that the method works for all kids of all abilities.

Finally, or maybe foremost, is culture.

Just as in companies, the culture in a school is the determining factor on whether kids learn — or not.

The prevailing culture of many schools, especially the vaunted charter schools, has been one “no excuses.” A culture focused on regimentation and inflicted mostly on poor children of color.

But as any idiot knows, regimentation is not going to produce the next Marc Benioff or Larry Elison, So what does?

Ascend Public Charter Schools network began to retrain teachers to focus on social and emotional development. This provided the framework for creative problem solving to help prevent conflicts between students, or between teachers and students, from escalating.

Does it work? Is it making a measurable difference? Short answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Around the same time that Ascend was transforming its culture, it put in place a new curriculum, more closely aligned with progressive schools, that focuses on intellectual inquiry rather than received knowledge. At Ascend’s lower and middle schools in Brownsville, passing grades on the annual state English test increased to 39 percent in 2016, from 22 percent in 2014, while the rate on the math test increased to 37 percent, from 29 percent. It’s hard to isolate the cause for the improvement, but it is likely to be a combination of both the academic and cultural changes, which makes Ascend a bold testing ground for the theory that children from low-income homes can be educated the same way as children from affluent families.

Finally, what about adult education, specifically the much ballyhooed MBA? Does it provide the education that provides the skills to climb the corporate ladder?

Not really, according to Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professorship of Management Studies at McGill University, who looked at CEOs from what is considered the most elite university on the planet: Harvard.

Joseph Lampel and I studied the post-1990 records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that their company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable.

I sent the article to another Harvard-educated CEO I know. His reaction?

Excellent  article. Very true. It took me years to unlearn what I’d been taught at business school…

The article is well worth your time, especially if you, or someone you know, are considering spending the money/going into debt for your MBA.

One more irreverent note, compliments of CB Insights, that is oh, so, true.

Hack: How to hire MBAs
My co-founder Jon stumbled upon this hack to get lots of MBA resumes which I’m going to let you in on.
Whatever the job title, throw the word “strategic” in front of it.

Image credit: .waldec

More than Money

Monday, April 16th, 2012

3236677121_fc8711b629_mI’ve often cited Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers regarding right time/right place luck—often an accident of birth. For example Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy were all born between 1953 and 1955

Another example of right time/right place is found in Harvard’s MBA class of 1974 as chronicled by Laurence Shames in The Big Time: The Harvard Business School’s Most Successful Class & How It Shaped America, originally published in 1986 and being republished now.

1974 was probably the most successful single group of MBAs ever graduated from any school; further, this class actually did stuff and built things, as opposed to shuffling money around.

But they also worked their tails off. They didn’t expect anything to be handed to them. They always asked for more work, not less. They were a very competitive, driven group. But, again, not only for their own monetary gains. They wanted to excel. They wanted to be leaders.

When the ’49ers graduated, I think there were 653 graduates. Only six guys went to Wall Street –less than one percent of the class. It just wasn’t considered where the action was or considered a place where you could make a meaningful difference.

Learning about that class makes you wonder what happened. Where did the drive for more than money go?

What happened between 1974 and 2008 that so changed the attitude of our best and brightest? Why did money gain primacy as the only thing that matters?

The funny thing is that if you ask the folks who actually are changing our world, such as Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Kevin Systrom, they’ll all say the same thing—they didn’t do it for the money.

Flickr image credit: Patricia Drury

Leadership’s Future: Ethics in the Modern World

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Wally Bock has an excellent post regarding his rethinking of the value of the MBA Oath and its possible effect on future ethics. Wally quotes from a post by Scott Eblin entitled “Why we need an MBA oath.”

“What doesn’t get said, doesn’t get heard. If the MBA Oath causes even a few leaders to stand up and say out loud how they intend to conduct themselves then it was worth the effort of writing and promoting it.”

That idea dovetails perfectly with a tongue-in-cheek op-ed column by Edward E. Sanders, an adjunct lecturer at New York City College, textbook author and entrepreneur.

Sculpture: Deadly Sins #1, Pure Products USA, by Nova Ligovano aSanders suggests that today’s leaders got their ethics lessons watching JR and Gordon Gekko and many followed in their footsteps, so perhaps Hollywood could produce a new batch of TV shows and movies that focus on CEOs making tough choices and doing the right thing.

Perhaps Tom Hanks (as a John Wayne character) could play the role of a competent and honest CEO — a person respected and trusted, and who inspires others to do the right thing when confronted with compromising choices.

Sanders may be on to something. How about a group of forensic accountants fighting financial crimes a la CSI.

Most kids need ethical examples beyond their parents and they do look for them in their various entertainment forms.

The problem, of course, is money.  All entertainment mediums build their offerings around what sells and what sells is from the dark side.Pride

It doesn’t matter that JR and Gekko get their comeuppance at the end, viewers’ well-developed “but me” tool reassures them that their outcome will be different.

But like the MBA Oath, it can’t hurt and it might help.

Image credit: Flickr

Ducks In A Row: Composted Leadership

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Continuing with more thoughts on yesterday’s post Leadership Is Fertilizer.

Fertilizer is produced in a lab with scientists controlling which chemicals in what amount are used and then mass produce that particular formula in a factory.

Anyone who gardens knows that there are a multitude of brands that produce different fertilizers, some considered “general purpose,” but most with specific formulas to accomplish specific goals, including forcing growth.

Experts say compost is a better choice.

Compost is natural, produced when multiple kinds of organic matter are brought together and left to decompose with the aid of a variety of organisms. The result is an incredibly rich material that produces sustainable results without damaging the environment.

Leadership is similar.

You have the kind that is produced in colleges and MBA programs, learned in a sterile environment, with ingredients that parallel the thinking of selected experts’ mindsets and attitudes. Thus, the student is indoctrinated in a set of specifics and is often prejudiced against anything that falls outside those boundaries.

Leadership learned through doing—taking the initiative and accepting the risk of failure—is different. It combines a variety of experiences, good, bad and indifferent and adds a variety of organisms in the form of the varied humans that populate the organization. The effect of those organisms on the experiences of individual initiative produces a deeper, richer, more flexible form of leadership.

Chemical fertilizer needs to be applied again and again as it wears out.

Compost mixes with and enriches the soil itself, so that the more you add the better the growth medium.

In which do you want to plant your people?

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

The Rise Of the MBA And The Fall Of Business

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’ve never been a lover of the MBA, its almost holy status, depending on the school, and especially its dominance on Wall Street,

In a recent post Justine Larbalestier said, “I was fascinated by Background Briefing’s recent documentary about the emergence of business schools and their effect on corporate culture and its relationship to the current crisis: MBA: Mostly Bloody Awful.”

I agree with Justine regarding the illogic of assuming that people can walk in and manage or advise a business of which they know little to nothing, especially with little to no experience.

It’s said that MBA can also stand for ‘Mediocre but Arrogant’ or ‘Management by Accident’; I would add Muddled by Ascendancy and Master Bull Artist.

The podcast by ABC Radio’s Stephen Crittenden is excellent. I hope you’ll take the time to listen and, hopefully, rethink some of your hiring assumptions.

MBA: Mostly bloody awful

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Podcast credit: ABCRadio

Image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com on flickr

Leadership's Future: Hopeful New Directions

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

It’s great when VSI (vested self-interest) drives positive happenings anywhere, but when it happens in kid-focused media it’s definitely cause for cheering.

And so it has to the MTV—channel folks love to hate.

“After years of celebrating wealth, celebrity and the vapid excesses of youth, MTV is trying to gloss its escapist entertainment with a veneer of positive social messages.”

According to Stephen Friedman, MTV’s general manager, for Gen X “the humor was more cynical, the idea of community seemed earnest and not cool. It’s the opposite now.”

I don’t care that it’s driven by the bottom line, it’s also a recognition that the youth market is changing. And if MTV thinks that the Millennials have a different attitude they probably do—hopefully one strong enough to outweigh its entitled mindset and need for constant praise.

Viacom, MTV’s corporate parent, even has a new deal with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make shows more supportive of education, which is truly amazing.

Jumping to the older part of that generation, the current economic downturn is taking many newly minted MBAs in new directions.

Historically, graduates from the top business schools headed for Wall Street. Now it seems that many didn’t really want that path.

“There was a real herd mentality to get into investment banking, noting that prestige, peer pressure and parents often channeled students to Wall Street. But because of the crisis, “there was suddenly permission to pursue something you were interested in that your parents three years ago would have said absolutely no to.” –Jessica Levy, Wharton senior.

“Some students now acknowledge that they were pursuing investment banking jobs largely to placate parents who, having invested nearly $200,000 in their children’s educations, were eager for them to earn top dollar — and some prestige too.”

I find it interesting that the supposed cream of the talent pool, highly (and expensively) educated, our future leaders with supposedly outstanding independent/critical thinking skills succumbed not out of personal desire, but from outside pressures. Nope, they didn’t really want to work on Wall Street with its gargantuan salaries and over-the-top, masters of the universe mentality. Who woulda thunk it.

All sarcasm aside, I do hope that this is a bit more of the silver lining the banking meltdown. It’s not that Wall Street is always bad, but that there are many ways and places to contribute.

“It’s always been about the brass ring and it’s always been about the brand recognition, and for a lot of students that meant jobs at Goldman Sachs,” Emanuel Sturman, director of career services at Dartmouth College. “It’s premature to say the bloom is off the rose totally, but I think students are starting to look at a wider array of brass rings.”

And who knows, maybe working in other industries will enable them to contribute to the common good in ways more meaningful than just writing a check.

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Image credit: Idea-Listic on flickr

Saturday Odd Bits Roundup: Innovation And Compensation

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Who’s innovating? Why is it important to stay focused on innovation? How are companies doing it in today’s economy?

Check out Business Week’s story on the 50 Most Innovative Companies and don’t miss the side bar on the 25 most innovative companies you’ve probably never heard of.

A second innovation commentary comes from consultant Peter Bregman who offers up and interesting perspective on why it’s better to be David in this economy than Goliath.

Finally, what’s happening in compensation these days aside from Wall Street bankers with dubious bonuses?

Here’s the information for those of you wondering what CEOs are earning or whether it’s worth going for an MBA.

Image credit: MykReeve on flickr

Saturday Odd Bits Roundup: Innovation And Compensation

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Who’s innovating? Why is it important to stay focused on innovation? How are companies doing it in today’s economy? Check out Business Week’s story on the 50 Most Innovative Companies and don’t miss the side bar on the 25 most innovative companies you’ve probably never heard about.

A second innovation commentary comes from consultant Peter Bregman who offers up and interesting perspective on why It’s better to be David in this economy than Goliath.

What’s happening in compensation these days aside from Wall Street bankers with dubious bonuses? Here’s the information for those of you wondering what CEOs are earning or whether it’s worth going for MBA.

That’s it for this week. Have a wonderful weekend and keep your eye on the innovation ball—that’s really what pays.

Image credit: MykReeve on flickr

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