THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCHOOL START TIMES AND BIOLOGY: IF THE SUCCESS OF CHILDREN IS OUR GOAL, WHY DON’T WE ACT LIKE IT.

“What is the purpose of school?” my mentor asked of me when I was moved up into administration. I wrote high minded paragraphs citing everyone from Socrates to Neal Postman, that he tossed in the garbage. “Rich”, he said, “You have about 10 seconds or eyes will glaze over or you’ll sound like you’re shoveling S$*t.”

No quick answer came for a day or two until on a run on an old rail trail formed into an A-Ha moment. The next day, I tossed an index card on his desk. “That works”. “Now be it and use it”. I had written, The Purpose of School is to Provide Success Opportunities for Kids”. And I believed it then and now – throughout my education career as a district curriculum director, high school principal, consultant to state education departments, author, and speaker. Even when I moved to the corporate world marketing and designing learning, I held this belief in my heart. And yes, I’m a parent and now grandparent. I have a vested interest.

So, accepting this as a fair premise why are schools not living up to their responsibility? Is every decision, a ‘kid’ decision? And of course, the answer is no. In the educational-institutional-industrial complex (my term, feel free to use) admitting the problem and overcoming the status quo are challenges we’ve never acted upon.

Let’s check out some statistical knowns. And here is where the divergence of success opportunities and the exigencies of the real world collide. (The source of these are available at the end of the article)

FACT: Rise times are determined by a single factor—school start times. Delaying school start times for adolescents is often proposed as a policy change to address insufficient sleep and potentially improve students’ academic performance, reduce engagement in risk behaviors, and improve health.

Most adolescents may need at least 9 hours of sleep per night, yet, fewer than 8% of high school students report getting this amount.

Insufficient sleep in adolescents:


  • Failure to Pay Attention
  • Poor Academic Performance – Lower GPA
  • In general, poor mental health:
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Alcohol Use
  • Tobacco Smoking
  • Marijuana Use
  • Prescription Drug Abuse
  • Unhealthy weight control strategies
  • Greater Sexual Activity
  • Bullying
  • School Violence-Related Behaviors
  • Physical Fighting
  • Unintentional Injury
  • Traffic accidents

Findings Summarized


Most studies demonstrate evidence that delaying school start time delaying rise times increases weeknight sleep duration among adolescents. Most studies signal an increase in sleep duration even with relatively small delays in start times of half an hour or so. Later start times also generally correspond to better attendance, less tardiness, less falling asleep in class, higher grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes.

In younger adolescents and children, lack of adequate sleep results in poor mental and physical health to behavioral problems and poor academic grades. Insufficient sleep is linked to excess weight, decreased physical activity, and increased food intake, likely due to alterations in appetite-regulating hormones.

One of the early changes associated with puberty is an alteration of a child’s circadian rhythms—adolescents are more alert in the afternoons and evenings and need morning sleep. Their natural body clocks can keep them awake until 11 PM or later, despite going to bed earlier and practicing good sleep hygiene avoiding stimulating activity at night and minimizing caffeine intake in the afternoon or evening.

A brief history of schools and the educational-institutional-industrial complex


It’s no secret the daily schedule set by school start times is wholly illogical and an insult to student health and achievement. Parents and caregivers know all too well that hauling a teenager out of bed while it’s still dark, or as the sun is rising is not a pleasant undertaking. Breakfasting as a family is an anachronism. More often grabbing a snack, fruit, toast, even an ‘energy bar’ is the norm. Catching the bus, meeting friends, getting a ride, or even walking to a local school, hurries students of all ages to compress time, accelerating changes in biology from somnambulant to full cognition in shorter periods of time than is optimal.

FACT: The time between rising and leaving home is compressed as students want to get up as late as possible before they leave.

Children of all ages are processed as moving human freight to make the schedule work.


Admit it or not we have internalized the idea kids are a product. If we think if our children as unique—custom-built—they require individual and specific bioengineering to be whole. Instead, we have acquiesced to the one size fits all model – with exceptions for those with identifiable talents, vocational aspirations, or special needs. And this has been the tragic yield of the educational-institutional-industrial complex of school as a factory: The processing of as many products as possible, at the lowest cost, in the shortest time with minimal disruption to the standardized model while hoping for the best product quality.

There are two foundations that have created school as we know it:


1. The growth of school districts as a comprehensive operation is built on the industrial model – a modern post-war movement tied to time/motion studies learned from Ford’s (and others) assembly lines and rapid response to the production of materiel for the second world war. And its corollary, spending less money per student (not just for instruction – but in materials, supplies, tools, ‘factory’ maintenance, support personnel, insurance, food and drink – heat, air, light and water, and a safe plant) by the sheer scale and bargaining power optimizes costs. The arrival of students from far and wide at the same time is aligned to the ideal functioning of the ‘plant’. it has remained the status quo as substantive changes in education are tantamount to changing the direction of a large ocean-going container ship in one-hundred yards. Any core-level reconstitution will inevitably affect taxpayers – residential and commercial, municipalities, infrastructure, small businesses, and even roads and traffic.

The post-war population boom and movement to the suburbs meant the increase of students (today’s Baby Boomers), resulted in an explosion in building, staff, and district real estate. School districts are now major landholders, in some cases covering hundreds of square miles. While the instructional answer has been to build campuses of multiple buildings so fewer delivery points, replicating the collegiate model makes sense – but in older districts schools have remained in neighborhoods where housing has sprung up or in existence long before the burgeoning kiddie pool.

2. The crusade to get students to school at the same time to as few destinations as possible is fundamental as an effective way to deliver uniform instruction on the industrial model. School buses with fixed routes required multiple runs to deliver students of all ages from far-flung homesteads. In most but the smallest districts, each bus needs to load, discharge, and then start new runs to serve up more students to the education machine.

As for the inevitable question, “Why don’t parents bear the responsibility of getting their kids to school on time?” In most households, both parent’s or care-giver’s work and their responsibilities rarely align with the school schedule and physical adjacency. In urban areas, public transit carries students (at discounts) across cities.

This leads to the scheduling of transportation that, in larger districts, now demands complex software not unfamiliar to military planners – fuel, vehicles, (and stand-by’s) drivers, mechanics, monitors, parts, cleaning, timing and scheduling for departures,/turnarounds/ and redeployment, supervision through a chain of command, communications within the transportation complex and with schools planning for traditional emergencies and now a new type of crisis situations, weather, risk aversion and coordination. Not to mention managing the products; students-who pose a whole separate methodology of management.

Now’s is the conspicuous moment to ask: Knowing the biology of adolescents, why do older students have to be the shock (and shocked) troops, embarking earliest?

  1. They can take care of themselves, be at the bus stop with no supervision
  2. They are more wakeful when social and in tune with the adult world while their parents are getting ready to leave for work
  3. The bus pickup shelters or locations can be farther apart, meaning fewer stops and faster delivery
  4. They can often share the bus with middle school students, whose schools are often on the same campus and close enough in age so social conflicts can be minimized, often ameliorated by older, more mature students if not the bus monitor.
  5. Knowing how the system works means fewer instructions from the driver – and hopefully fewer distractions – faster at seating and ready to roll on time. They also understand the consequences if they hobble the system.
  6. Perhaps most importantly for some students is their need to work after school. An earlier dismissal time—by starting early—allow for more working hours. This matter goes to the heart of our economy, where often the fiscal situation in the home is codependent on their earnings.

Younger students – elementary and middle school – whose days start later and whose get ready times are longer (help with bathroom hygiene, clothes, books, homework, backpacks, etc.) are usually compelled to eat by parents. They enjoy an extended period from arousal to cognition. Additionally, many are accompanied by adults to the bus stop until they are safely onboard and seated. Of course, by this time, their buses, having completed an earlier run are in service a second time for the younger students.

It’s not that governments, municipalities, school boards, and educators do not understand these issues, and to be fair, many have tried to rework school start times. The challenges are profound: How to flip the schedules without incurring additional costs, addressing parental concerns that waking younger children and getting them out the door will be a challenge and that working parents might not fully trust their teens to exercise responsibility to get themselves to the bus or a ride responsibly.

There have been as many attempts at solving this conundrum; like commercial airlines that can’t seem to load and unload passengers without infuriating their customers or within federal safety mandates. Back in the parking lots, adding buses dedicated to single runs would improve the situation. Then flip the bus schedule by starting later—about ½ an hour for elementary students, then later still (research says about (9:00AM is best for middle and high schoolers) will align the factory and the product for better results and solving a host of other educational and safety issues as well. But more buses equals more of everything a moving fleet requires besides the short and long-term cost.

Presently, buses, once finished with AM runs either retire awaiting half-day students, transporting classes on field excursions or called to the garage for maintenance. The afternoon or PM runs are similar to the morning though buses are pressed into service to shuffle teams for athletic competition, concerts, academic opportunities, and other post-session activities. Nevertheless, fleet managers always want to maximize usage and avoid idle times or ‘deadheading’ the buses to no particular purpose other than standing by awaiting a call to service. What to do with a surfeit of the fleet used once in the morning and once in the afternoon means a lot of capital equipment are sunk costs.

And so: The introduction of AI software has indeed maximized transportation utilization, but as of this moment it remains that adolescent students are forced to fight their own biology in the interests of school start times.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement urging middle and high schools to adjust start times to allow students to obtain adequate sleep and improve physical and mental health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life. As of this date in 2019, no significant changes have been implemented. This problem is not insoluble. It requires new thinking and a shift in expectations if school is about learning and opportunity. Adaptations ranging from the student’s behaviors, parents, teacher’s and their unions, administrators, boards of education, local municipalities, state, and federal governments and all of us taxpayers agreed to appreciate the enigma and disequilibrium. And convinced any additional costs will have an equivalent improvement in student achievement now and in the future. Benefits to individuals, comity in the community, a tax burden shared as new ratables are attracted by great educational opportunity


There’s an adage among school administrators:
“The transportation tail wags the educational dog”.

If the day arrives when biology and educational services are in balance, more innovation of instruction is possible and in step with the technological revolution cultivating better student achievement through improvements in biological health.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Ample biological science is definitive, and I stipulate agreement with the article School Start Times, Sleep, Behavioral, Health, and Academic Outcomes: A Review of the Literature. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4824552/ from which the statistics and science have been drawn. All other material is amply supported by research and behaviorists, academic texts, articles, anecdotes, and personal observations as well.

Here’s a Way to Fix Relationships in Distress

OK. Not really about business creativity & communications, etc., but I decided to toss this in for fun.


In how many advice columns and mantras is it said a triangle is an ugly shape from which healthy relationships cannot grow. Three of anything unless it’s a grouping of items in a sentence or the set-up of a classic joke doesn’t cut it. Is it an odd number thing? Five seems to work among friends and work teams, seven seems to be challenging…it invites cliques to form.

Anyway, we presume a couple is a basis for the highest form of intimacy. From best friendships to marriage, monogamy is more the rule than the exception. But that brings its own problems, doesn’t it?

All couples share dark moments from misunderstandings, misfortunes, malfeasance. People change, grow, and move towards or away from each other. How deep the rift, how often the cuts and makeups and how long the cycle continues is a metric of whether the relationship has legs for a long run. Is it time to split up the books and furniture? Before this crossroads, can a relationship recover? Hey, don’t ask me—I’m married fifty years, but you’ll not get good advice that I never listened to. But I did do the research.

You see when there is an object of affection, a neutral third party uniquely qualified to step into the fray, there is hope for a fractious couple. And an ‘object’ of mutual affection within a troubled relationship offers a possibility the transference of caring might roll over to the couple. According to my readings, scientific definitions, and keen observation, intense situations can be improved. And there is only one—and again—my experience here—only one “equiniminous third” up to the task.

Enter Canis lupus familiaris.


Dogs are exceptionally successful in making triangles from duos. Rounded over by a dog in the house, most adoptive dog parents benefit from the neutral third. Not to win approval – dogs always approve of you unless mistreated – the acknowledgment that another sentient being with feelings is enough to make humans, well, more human.

Let me explain.

So, there’s a dog nearby you’ve raised or taken in. Doesn’t matter. Loyalty comes quickly if you love your dog—that’s a certified caveat. If you can’t do that, stop here – I can’t make my point.

Dogs don’t take sides and don’t require details. They don’t care if you cheated and she wrecked your BMW. But dogs have superb emotional antenna. They know when the chemistry is off. They watch body language, more impressively they smell the emotions as odors you excrete naturally. With 30 million nasal sensors they have your fully cataloged. And of course, they are incredible listeners – they may not know the language, but they get the gist.

They can’t stand yelling and will remove themselves–or act out–if there is screaming and throwing of objects. Remember dogs are creatures of habit. When there is a tilt in their world, they are uncomfortable. And they are empathetic – not in a human way, they comfort in a canine way. But at the outset, they are nervous, fidgety and want normal back. A dog is not my brother, nor my wife’s grandma. We want a dog to be a dog.

A dog will offer its physical self to assess if there is an opportunity for affection – to give or receive. If there’s no violence your dog will approach one of you – I don’t know why. Each one of us thinks the dog thinks we are the ‘alpha’ when research shows neither of you is.

The dog will make himself available and if you look their way, you’ll likely get a look in return. And then he may approach. He may make physical contact, not just because you need it-he needs reassurance too. So, you open your arms and he’ll sidle over for a rub or scratch. He feels better and you do, too. The temperature in the room will go down a notch.

If the room is cooling off, so is the dog. Now, he might lay down at your feet—or hop up on the couch (if permissible) to get next to one of you. The dog love begins – you’ll rub, scratch, nuzzle, coo, whatever – and this distraction allows for a real cooling off period. The dog’s very being-ness has distracted you. Now’s the time you can start a conversation and find common ground. Take Harley for a walk. He’ll be himself, the real dog, calm or excited, as he regains his emotional balance. This is his stage and his nature, and you are a mere ‘bit player’. When you return, there’s an opportunity for a rational discussion – as you fill his water dish or food bowl and minister to him. This releases your own hormones leading to a relaxation of emotional tension.

This is the concept I mentioned, the neutral third. The dog cares less about issues and more about behavior returning to normal. And he can be more normal, too. As vocal tonality and dynamics soften, your odor indicates a return to a more congenial state. And the dog senses you are cool, and he knows his habitat is returning to the status quo.

Well, we’ve made a home to more than a dozen dogs over fifty years and regardless of breed, they were all particularly sensitive to the household mood. Some better than others naturally – and I mean naturally as in their nature.

During our marriage, like most, my wife and I have had monstrous battles. My crass behaviors, her failures I didn’t easily forgive, nasty words, real anger, slamming doors – the whole bit. Through it all every dog we were privileged to have was the soft tip of the triangle, blunting anger and offering themselves to distract us. Some were pedigreed champions and some of a dubious lineage.

I don’t believe the love of any animal can change one’s fundamental behavior but in day to day life, with its wins and losses, anger, and joy, they were all necessary for our emotional maintenance.

We wouldn’t have made fifty years without them.


CODA:

Finally, some points about having a dog in the household that contributes to personal well-being. Consider when each partner is happy and healthy, they have more to give to the relationship, what therapists call the third person–the marriage. Don’t overlook the dog is also a subject of discussion – a neutral topic that partners can discuss even when all other communication stalls.

Banking emotional and physical reserves are helpful by supporting self-control, a most important trait in the ongoing sustenance of a relationship. A lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, less depression, and a decrease in general illness are fully proven benefits. The more obvious: exercise, a better social life, and heart health. And happiness—playing fetch or simply petting your dog increases the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone and lowers cortisol, the stress-inducing, fat-making hormone.

And the obvious, especially among the growing ranks of seniors, relieving loneliness, anxiety, and faster recovery from stressful incidents.

When a dog is present in the home, and its human family provides love and care, the more likely the tone is set for these behaviors to be available as an emotional resource in times of difficulty in the marriage. No doubt no dog can retrieve a hopeless relationship. Interestingly, divorce attorneys often say one of the biggest bones of contention in a breakup is who gets to keep the dog.

As for me and my wife, currently without a dog for the first time in fifty years, few days go by when we don’t look for new residents in our local animal shelter and who among our friends and relatives have puppies on the way.

The heck with the new carpets, I’ll take the new puppy smell, the fur against my cheek, even the 6 AM walk, for the licks and doggie kisses any day.

 

DELIVERING IN THE 3.0 WORLD

I’m the owner and managing director of Wonderful Brain LLC. We offer custom learning solutions, knowledge & content management and program/project professional services with enthusiastic leadership to drive or support business strategies resulting in compelling user experiences, people performance, and major profitability.

 

ACCEPTING THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

An Inability to Take Action Because of Practical Issues is Not Wholly the Cause of Inaction.

There are as many reasons for contracts failing to close, as there are flavors of Haagen Dazs. Unfortunately, if you don’t close many deals, you’ll be eating some house brand frozen treat. So a double yecch, right?

What brought this to mind was a TED video I viewed last evening. Malcolm Gladwell was discussing, as a point of departure about unintended consequences, the development of the Norden Bombsight, considered by its inventor that, by its precision, would limit unnecessary deaths of innocents in Allied wartime bombardments. That it failed to work as designed was formative to Gladwell’s point that when aiming to solve one problem one often creates another: the unintended consequences. In this case, it was that the instrument designed by its inventor to decrease wanton loss of life was used in the Hiroshima conflagration.

Now hold that thought for a minute.

At the same I was spurred on to re-read Moby Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick’s short volume about what can be gained by looking at this classic as an adult rather than a high school student. One takeaway for me was the enormous preparation required of the Pequod’s Quaker owners to provide everything necessary for human sustenance all the while ensuring the ship was primarily fitted to do the work of a whale-processing factory. Since a Nantucket whaler– over a three year voyage down the Atlantic and around Cape Horn to the Pacific whaling ‘line’ – never put in to port (even fresh water was stored as ballast), no ‘uh oh’ factor would be tolerable. Of course we all know that for all the preparationand well fortified the Pequod, she goes down with all hands but one, when the great whale stoves in the ship. Clearly an unintended consequence of obsessive madness.

I know you’re thinking, is there a point here for me—the learning developer/business person.In fact, there is much to be gained.

By experience I’ve observed the bigger or fresher or more inventive the project, initiative or idea the less it will meet with initial acceptance. Some of this can be put on the known attitude that many organizations are neither innovators nor early adopters – either a blind spot or risk aversion stultifies their movement into new waters. However, I propose it’s often their fear of something unplanned for which they are unprepared that will scotch the venture, taking them down with it. Even if the unintended consequence can’t be named or identified, the sense that doom is a real potential will outweigh what could be enormous benefit. Ergo, if you want to put forward a new idea, by this theory, your chances of success are built on two pilings: one, that risk will be more acceptable if the concept is narrowly focused and limited in scope, and two, that risk is mitigated by building a failsafe into the idea allowing a fall back or stoppage if there is a hint on of storm clouds on the horizon.

Considering unintended consequences, if you want to close the deal or the make an idea acceptable heed the following:

  1. The reputation of the creator/inventor/schemer/seller must be rock solid and preferably with winning projects as a de facto portfolio
  2. There is historical precedent that looks something like what is being proposed. Pointing to past success is—despite what every disclaimer printed or spoken— a reasonable enough foundation upon which new bricks can be laid
  3. Similarly, other risky ventures that have some semblance to this infant proposal or deal having been successful will have more credence than a virginal tender—even if brilliantly conceived and potentially profitable (by one measure)—since it carries unknowns with unintended outcomes.
  4. A capacity to mitigate, cordon off, sequester, or limit a meltdown often provides a wide enough crack of sunshine to permit a new scheme to move towards the light of day.
  5. Finally, sometimes the upside is too powerful or significant to ignore. This is true in highly competitive environments where often a first mover takes home the prize. Technology software, the hardware of war apparatus, even foodstuffs are brought to market with the potential of the blowback of unintended consequences must accept the risk. Sometimes the payoff is Google, sometimes it’s Google+. Pharmaceutical companies must take chances—in fact, their business model demands it even in the face of unintended consequences. You might remember—or should look up the tragedy of the sedative Thalidomide. From 1957 until 1961 when it was withdrawn from the market after being found to be a cause of birth defects it has been called “one of the biggest medical tragedies of modern times. Ever wonder why most television adverts for medicines consist of 20 seconds of conditional benefits, followed by 40 seconds of disclaimers? Still, circumstances demand invention for years of benefit (cash flow, goodwill, or advancement of the human condition) and with it the cellar door to failure.

Assuming all the hard work has been done already and your due diligence is complete then remove the negatives even if unspoken or even unthought…

  1. Make your design somehow quantifiable and measurable. It’s expected.
  2. Use respected key performance indicators from which the formative temperature of the initiative can be viewed against the organizations expectations and, most importantly risk triggers.
  3. As the parent of this change, keep your nose in the air for any whiff of worry that would cause a decision maker to get nervous. Intercede using any appropriate technique. Starbuck tried to deter Ahab refocusing the mission towards harvesting oil and away from the whale. The Norden Bombsight, at the time the single largest military expenditure ever, contained a self-destructive mechanism.
  4. Ensure your internal champion is a real believer, can take a political hit and either brush it off or weather it. If someone isn’t whispering about the containment of unintended consequences along with features and benefits, the deal will crash at the first push back.
  5. Tout every incremental success publicly, either within the organizational community or to the greater public. Then everyone is inoculated against a fatality if, in the end, the lab blows up.
  6. Publish and announce all risk mitigation maneuvers. The idea is to insulate upper management from appearing too enamored of greed to turn a blind eye to the potential for catastrophic failure. At the same time, everyone involved in the go decision understands their role if things go south. With the awareness, you can actually build more enthusiasm knowing the oxygen mask will fall from the overhead compartment and you can breathe normally.

Any idea, any sale, any interpersonal relationship comes with unintended consequences. If you are a mover, a driver, an innovator, get used to naysayers and realize they are making decisions on more than mere cost, effort, organizational concerns and as much from the unknowns contained within the concept of unintended consequences. You say, we expect these benefits so let’s move on it; others immediately wonder ‘what-if.’ There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it gets an airing and you can respond. Bear in mind this old maxim: No plan survives its first encounter with the enemy. While you needn’t see change as necessarily confrontational, remember this other quote: The only one who likes change is a wet baby.

While you plan your next great innovation design or sales methodology, in the next column over start listing potential unintended consequences and next to that column how you’ll survive with them—or in the best situation how you can make them work for you.

A Knowledge Management Whitepaper.

IMPROVING PERFORMANCE | KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT SERIES WHITE PAPER

What can we learn from the methods used to develop curriculum from the academic and corporate sides of the street? In this comparison we can draw come conclusions and discover ways to enhance the integrity of the processes and the resulting knowledge development. Click here for the Improving Performance White Paper

Comments and responses are welcome. Please respond via the blog.

Impact on Business? Not Return on Investment? A New Learning Metric.

Have you seen the whitepaper published by Blackboard? They’ve made a very persuasive case for applying a new metric for measuring learning they are calling Impact On Business – IOB. In opposition to Return on Investment (ROI) they make very good arguments for using this approach. I presume they – Blackboard – would like to see this become the standard by which all learning would be measured.

We all know ROI as a way to measure investment vs results is useful but profoundly flawed. As they say measuring something will help drive down costs because of the scrutiny applied from above, but the bottom line – the profitability – that comes from change in behaviors are what yield business or personal level improvement. And that has always been ambiguous.

What I like so much about the IOB approach is it focuses on behaviors first – the most difficult challenge for any learning leader. By re-engineering learning strategies within the organization a more honest balance between formal and informal learning will be created. We know most learning takes place after the course is completed or the instructor leaves the classroom. Why not, they say build your informal learning systems to account for this. On a continuum, rather than a series of predetermined curricula.

Naturally there is more to it but I do suggest this ‘paper’ (though it really is marketing collateral) is a well supported document worth reading. http://blog.blackboard.com/blackboard/2010/10/impact-on-business-a-better-corporate-learning-metric.html

Lastly, I’m prejudiced. It jives well with the way I build learning – with a solid foundation that begins well before any preconceived notions of what the learning should look like is discussed. Believe it or not, after many years and thousands of hours of courseware this is not standard operating procedure amongst many companies or vendors. That’s why I’m a strategist, not a manager. Someone has to aim the darts down the middle.

Learning A Lesson

The requirements of building courseware for a client are profound. The androgogical issues, visualization, interactions and technologies are to be expected – they are at the heart of transferring knowledge, skills and behaviors through the digital pipe. What I find more challenging are the political relationships; that is between the client and their constituencies and management, as well as our internal thrusts and parries for creative influence, budget and resources.  But the most important function is to service the professional (and social) relationship between two organizations and attempting to harmonize them for the greater good.

When working in a customer relationship capacity the former me was hyper prepared and naturally anxious, therefore insecure. I was successful but I missed many other opportunities to expand my influence – and I certainly didn’t revel in the experiences. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally survived enough times that I now prepare the very least amount of material required to guide the meetings and establish mutually agreed upon outcomes: Set the stage, remove the ego, and listen hard. More importantly, taking a zen like approach to the relationship and the meetings has allowed me to actually enjoy these opportunities.

I am constantly reminded – and I share this with colleagues – we are not curing cancer here.

Surrounded by failures of leadership, a tanking economy, a society bereft of honesty and trust, focusing inward has allowed me to flow through these encounters with an ease I never thought possible. How did that happen?  Simple.  After so many months of scraping by, hemorrhaging clients and money, unable to latch onto an executive position or gain prospects, I hit rock bottom – and I survived.

After that, I figured quite consciously nothing could be so bad that I couldn’t endure. With nothing to lose, I loosened up. And by believing things would turn around (and of course working towards that goal) slowly and fortuitously, I have emerged. So many others are beginning their slide, and I am on the other side of the curve.

I moved fiercely to control my destiny through sheer force of will by networking contacts, contacting networks, applying here, there and everywhere. Interviews, few; frustrations many. Mounting bills and pressures. I thought I would blow but instead the negativity just began to evaporate. Then I got quiet. Still. A few small contracts came in. I did great work. Then some major opportunities landed and then more. Until I am homo workus erectus. I realize of course this can be as temporary as spindrift flying off a wave. And…if the slide begins again so be it.

It may not last but it offers a lasting lesson.

Win-Win-Winning: It’s (Not) Just The People, Stupid.”

In a recent post on another forum, a questioner asked how to ensure the success of a win-win-win negotiation. There were a number of responses that saw the problem in concrete terms; how to build a lasting agreement by making sure all sides feel that their agenda has been satisfied. However, very few writers went deeper perhaps because we are all taught that if an agreement falters we go to a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). I abjured this answer as too pat and not elastic enough to embrace the human side of the equation. My response for what it’s worth:

In the physical world, a triangle is the most stable conventional geometric form; in human terms probably the most fragile. If we accept that your inquiry is focused on win-win-win then let’s decide what that means. To me, especially in a learning engagement, the consultant, vendor or provider wins (the opportunity to work), the client company wins (they get a viable product built to specifications) and most importantly the end-user wins as the takeaway will inform their professional lives in some positive way. THAT triangle when executed well will rarely fail since winning is presumed to be advantageous for everyone. (Substitute your business here).

Consider however, human forces at work, those like politics, power, position, prestige which are not business processes but rather people traits that can so easily derail energies when subverted and can diminish or destroy any idea, project or effort , no matter its quality or viability. Though management might have forged the triangle with the best of intentions, announced, and anointed it proactively, simple venality is kryptonite to genius, vision, effort.

So how are these potentials managed? In my experience the prior introduction of emotional intelligence precepts, EQ of some form, franchises the corporate idea that behavior comes to the table along with intellect. Statistics bear this out, more importantly I imagine you are sensing this as you read the words. Even if you don’t believe it (can’t be tasted, touched or smelled) you know that self-awareness can govern outward actions and in that sense change behaviors; especially when the group is onboard, too.

Is it perfect? Don’t be silly – we’re talking about people, many high-powered ego-driven and many out of touch with their inner selves. But if the process of EQ/EI is espoused as a corporate value and preemptively inserted into business practices — and supported by the culture — many conflicts and more than a few deformed triangles can remain standing. So rather than discuss what to do if a defective win-win-win implodes a project, constructing a corporate foundation of behavioral expectations well ahead of time provides a scaffold for behaviors and an expectation of collaborative maintenance for the structure of work.

Breaking The Code

I’ve been — once again — recommending to friends and colleagues the amazing book by Clotaire Rapaille, “The Culture Code.” The subtitle kind of gives away the content, An Ingenious Way To Understand Why People Around The World Buy and Live As They Do. Say that in one breath… Yet it really is only half, well more than half the story. I will not synopsize it here because I’ll do it an injustice, I may push you away from reading it if you think you get the headlines, and lastly, it’s not the whole story. I will not pose as the ‘code breaker.’

Rapaille is – or rather was – a practicing psychiatrist whose work with autistic children led him to discover modes of behavior rooted in culture, rather than say, intelligence, that informs our decision making. Frankly with all the poor decisions I’ve seen lately both domestic and global, by people who should know, or don’t want to know better, us simple folk better learn the basics of how the brain works to make decisions. So leaving aside his main thrust of culture, let’s look at his real premise.

Simply stated R. makes the case that a brain has clearly delineated functional parts. No, not just biologically, like the cerebellum, amagdyla, brain stem, etc., but two (only) parts that matter when decision making is left up to us. Here it is; the cortex functions include thinking and intelligence. The part of the brain that deals with emotions and/or instinct… (pause for drama) is the reptilian brain. Love that moniker.

Here’s a really basic way to see how these parts function. Harry is shopping for a new car. At the Chevrolet dealer he cuts past the sedans and trucks, SUV’s and coupes like an NFL running back to a bright yellow Corvette shimmering at the other end of the showroom. Like a moth to flame, Harry, who might not have children though he has a wife, is magnetically drawn to the ‘Vette. His reptilian brain says; wowie wow – wow – wow, lust, vroom, me, fast, virility, too cool, friend envy, chick magnet, me Harry, you blecchh, etc. After he stops drooling and after his imagination recedes to Defcon 1, the cortex chimes in. “Harry,” it says “I know that other brain wants this car.” “Let me help,” to wit, “it’s bright yellow so it can be seen in traffic – this could be called safe. Also the visibility is terrific and with that handling it will be a breeze to drive safely. And it’s an All-American product – the quintessitential statement of sporting idealism, made right here to beat the world. Price is OK, and the wife will love the way she looks in it.”

You see it is in the reptilian brain the real answers, the real decisions are made. The cortex gets bypassed by the power of emotion. Emotion is everything; the keys to learning, the keys to imprinting. Yet the cortex serves the purpose of putting a rational face on the decision – a more human, less, kind of, reptilian face.

R. says emotions create a series of mental connections or highways that condition us to see the world in predictable ways. And since the majority of our learning takes place before we are seven, most of the highways have been constructed. Emotionally powerful experiences are seared into our brains.

I could extrapolate this as context (which he says is all) but you’ll want to read the book – and it is a fun read. However my point — which I am finally coming to — is to look at what has happened during this election cycle and how the candidates have been chosen and how they present themselves. What are their ads like and when they go negative what does that say. And the personalities of not merely the 4 protagonists but their surrogates and party machines that supply the scripts whose singular attempt is to drive you to their candidate or, mostly it seems, away from the other side.

Now go back and examine the reptilian brain, emotions and decision making. Certainly you can notice the play to emotions rather than fact. And the tangible form that the reptilian brain takes as a physical manifestation is the big lie. Because it need not be defended by fact, nor encumbered by nuance, a lie is very powerful and manageable. It will merge on to those mental highways much more effectively than ‘information.’ Of course the great dictators knew this, entertainers know this and sports mythology lives off it. The latter two are benign of course, but the former – what the master misogynists know – is that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. And you begin to feel in your gut that it’s true. At that point – game over.

So, what’s the end story? Our country is entering into an election devoid of cortex, once again used to prop up the decisions of the reptilian brain. Until either party starts to recognize this, we will get the leader we deserve – a gut checker who leaves his cortex at the (White House) door and trots out information only to substantiate his/her inner desires. I don’t know about you, but the difference between buying a Corvette and being the ostensible leader of the free world, should be made with distinctly different criteria. Of course, that requires thinking, and the truth, and access to facts without taint and with first person observation. Can we manage to do that or has the media and political parties subverted us all for ratings and winnings?

As Clotaire Rapaille says, “The Reptile Always Wins.”

Stuck Inside a Loop of Bad Behavior

One of my major clients called for professional services last week – actually I’ve been inching forward on this project a bit longer – and after quite a bit of preparation a team of us went to present to a major international bank last Thursday.

Though we were on time, it seems the first presenters were an hour late, then of course this cascaded into a mess which meant that we, who were last were not only off our schedule but 3 of the decision makers had left!  This meant we were ‘invited’ to show only a bit of our solution and would have to return and wow them all over again.

Today, a recruiter who had promised a call back on Friday failed to do so. Rude – and don’t bother saying what if he had an emergency in some squeaky upper register. I had had enough. I wrote him asking if he had been in an auto accident or contracted a rare tropical disease that acted so quickly he couldn’t possibly communicate. If not I suggested — I would imagine I would hear from him today. Grrrr.

Finally, as events happen according to the rule of three’s, don’t you know, my root canal that I am actually looking forward to (imagine the pain) has been put off because one of the two specialists is gone – just…gone. Where I asked, Denver to be a superdelegate? The assistant didn’t get it.

I guess this makes clear how much we are all at the mercy of those who hold some level of power over us. Being a man of action I believe it’s time to strike back. Taking on the recruiter with pithy language is a start but not enough. I remember in a Woody Allen movie, it think Manhattan, his character reacts to another who complains about a neo Nazi demonstration in New Jersey that should be greeted by protests and handbills. Woody suggests baseball bats and steel toed boots I think. Well, I’m not suggesting violence (yet) but I’ll tell you this; for me it is over. I will not longer capitulate by excusing inexcusable behaviors that chill the social agreement we have with each other. As long as I don’t hurt anyone else (like my business partners) someone is going to get a steel pointed comment right to the id.