Monday, October 29, 2007

Woman Mentor, Anyone?

For Those Who Missed Having a Woman Mentor

Continuing from the last post . . .

Betsy Myers is the woman mentor I wish I had had -- in fact, I had many strong male mentors who gave me similar advice as she in the following passages but without the understanding of the differences between the way women and men think. For those of you looking for the entire piece, see Women and Leadership, p.67, this week's issue.

Here's what she said:

No one is going to invite you to the table; you have to take the initiative. That means you have to have a thick skin. Ninety-nine percent of the time it isn't personal. People aren't sitting around thinking how they can exclude you.

Some of it is common sense:

Do your homework. Know your issues. Know them better than anyone else. Study. Listen. Show up on time -- preferably early.

The Rest No One Ever Told Me (And I'm Not Alone)

When I interviewed a good friend who is also a high-ranking female executive, she told me she had to learn the following on her own -- I did, too, as did all the other women I know of my age:

Don't think you know everything. No one knows everything. Don't act like you know everything. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to be comfortable with what you don't know. Get experts to brief you and guide you on what you don't know. Your ability to get things done . . . is all about relationships. Our reputations follow us throughout our lives, so how you treat others will be remembered.

The piece ends with an a call for rewarding and praising a team when they deserve it because it is an underrated skill. This, along with the focus on relationship, has always been gendered female.

If It's Gendered Female, Why Say It?

The assumption for women of my generation -- and perhaps those after -- is that women have to do everything on their own or they will be seen as less capable than their male peers. So although most women might live their lives in one way outside the office, they are forced to relearn these precepts once they got to work.

Of course, some women aren't trained to be gendered female in the first place. But it's good management nonetheless.

On Meetings

How many people you manage follow this advice?

. . . don't think you need to be in every meeting. People make the mistake of thinking that if they're not in a meeting, they're not important or they're going to miss something. But if you go to every meeting, you don't get any work done. . . .

Don't talk in a meeting unless you have something to add. A lot of people think if they sit in a meeting and say nothing, people will think they don't know anything. And then say something that's not relevant just to participate.

Shorter and fewer meetings, anyone?

On Email

One skill I've spent a lot of time teaching women I manage (but not men) is how to write an email. I wish I had had these words to sum it up succinctly:

Don't send long, flowery e-mails. To be taken seriously as a woman, you have to understand how men's brains work. Be succinct in your response and very clear about what you're asking in the email.

Finally . . .

Perhaps my lack of female mentors makes this article resonate for me disproportionately. However, the fact that Myers talks about herself as a woman executive to other women -- without either condescending or pulling punches -- than seems very unusual to me.

What do you think?

Lessons in Leadership: Newsweek?

There's so much more to tell about Pop Tech, but first, a note on an article on everyone lips when I got to New York after the conference.

It's been a long time since so many people I know have read Newsweek and were discussing it in extremes. It's not a bad publication, but let's face it -- it's not exactly the first magazine you'd expect the digirati to be going on about.

I Usually Don't Pick Up Magazines Before Getting on a Plane (Airport Prices . . . )

. . . however, I picked up a Newseek on the way from London to Maine for the Pop Tech conference because it promised to reveal the principles by which women leaders do their thing.

Most of the articles spoke in platitudes, so I looked hopefully to the piece in which women speak for themselves.

The Political Becomes Personal

Betty Friedan wrote an article for the New York Times a few years ago about the death of feminism. OK, the word itself seems dated and has come to represent individual stridency rather than political necessity. But for Friedan, "individual" was the key challenge for post '70s women: problems that so recently had been seen as political are now being internalized by women as personal. There's no sense that a collective

Unremarkable, then, that almost all gave their parents at least some of the credit for the confidence to pursue paths untried. Equally unsurprising, each focused primarily on individual autobiographical details that set them apart from other men AND women. Women mentoring seemed more an anomaly than something one should expect. The political has become personal in all but format.

However Betsy Myers made me feel I had got my money's worth. More in the next post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pop Tech: Slow is Good

I'm at Pop Tech in Maine, and I had the pleasure of meeting Carl Honoré, one of the speakers with whom I seemed to agree vociferously -- in particular, on the benefits of going slow.

I told him I'd share in more depth some ideas we began discussing last night. But first, a brief review for those who have not yet visited my planet.

Where Does the Time Go?

Last year, I consulted to the Thought Leadership group (as they call themselves) at PricewaterhouseCoopers to break down the essentials of what they do. For obvious reasons, I didn't mention the name of the company (although Carl and I had a word on it as well).

The information I posted about grown-ups comes from work with kids (who are really just children in uneven ways. Makes them very complicated students).

For Carl, I hearken back to those posts for a quick summary -- and at some points I'll try to find him some links.

The Point

For PwC, I posted extensively on principles of learning, blocks to learning, and thought leadership (if you'll pardon the expression) so that one member of the group had references with which to persuade higher up's of changing direction.

The Gist

Curiosity, is like hunger or thirst for a child, propels them to forward when fear or other emotional blocks would otherwise stop them from. Pursuing ideas for their own reasons can be frightening -- or worse: might not even occur to them as an option -- if very tall people in charge seem to be expecting you to read their minds. Fast.

What's Wrong With This (Other Than the Obvious)?

For novices and experts alike, fast is bad. The latter could probably use this lesson more than the former.

In attempts at problem-solving or analysis, most people get stuck somewhere between observation and drawing conclusions. We're an answer-based culture that designs schools in which kids feel they do not own their own educations.

Instead of exploring ideas with a sense that they might have new ideas on an old subject, kids more often get the impression that the answer pre-exists them walking into a classroom. It's their job to conduct a kind of scavenger hunt.

(To be fair to teachers, they have unreasonable goals to meet -- it's not their fault. But that's another post).

So What Happens?

Kids begin at a young age dissociate from what engages them and about which they are curious. Instead, they try to guess the answer that will please the teacher. Observation of the facts is rushed, and conclusions are drawn by short cuts.

The only way to make something else happen is to slow down the process of observation. It's essential to practice - and get feedback - on the results of observing what's in front of you.

Then comes the tricky part -- observing your own thought processes. Once you understand to look carefully at your own intellectual reactions, emotional reactions, and the relationship between them, that you have at least a shot at knowing what you think.

This requires slowing down for long periods of time. Always, if possible.

Why Bother?
This cuts to the core of the Big Picture reason for education: f children don't know what they think or how they arrived at their conclusions, how can you take responsibility for their convictions?

For businesses, this is no less important an issue when everyone is looking for innovation:

Without employees ability to observe both what is in front of them and the ways in which they process information, they'll continue to come up with what you already know. The unknown might be uncomfortable, but spending time in that space is essential to develop new ideas.

In other words, use known data points, and there's no way to come up with anything new.

From Kids to Corporates

As I mentioned, I've written many of these posts (sustainable curiosity, for example) explicitly for a corporate (or older child -- say, 40). All of these ideas come from children of the ordinary age.

More after today's sessions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thoughts Before Pop Tech

Pop Tech: The Conference

For the uninitiated who would like to know, Pop Tech is a much anticipated conference on the impact of technology on the people. The website goes on to say we're here to talk about technology's "human impact."

It's more than that, however -- at least as I have understood it.

Pop Tech is a forum for people with remarkable experience and perspectives to share ideas. In other words, people come here to get recharged for their own missions, to learn other directions to go (sometimes, better), and to get inspired for the next long haul of doing whatever it is that they do.

From the Sublime . . .

This might sound a little mundane on the eve of an inspiring three days, but I can't help asking:

Why Camden?

I flew in from London to Philly, then from Philly to Portland, Maine. Not wanting to drive after that much time on planes, I took a taxi service to Camden where the conference is held every year. $215 later, I check into one of the pricey places in this very charming (but expensive) town.

It's not a lot better, even coming from the East Coast. I was talking to a fellow who traveled from Baltimore to Portland and then rented a car. The car was more expensive than the flight, The trip took forever.

Why Is This a Problem?

Pop Tech is devoted to changing the world - in fact, Andrew Golli, the curator, has begun several projects himself that can have real impact and next year is bringing 50 Fellows at no cost to help in this mission.

However, at the same time, Pop Tech has become so expensive and difficult to attend that only those with a lot of money -- or fame - can attend.

The cost is prohibitive for most independent consultants I know (even past speakers have told me that they can't justify the money to return as attendees). Starting next year, tickets are $3500. My boss will pay for it, but what of all the independent thinkers who could contribute who can't possibly afford the price of admission?

What's more, the conference is tied to the Camden Opera House that seats something like 400 people. This means, like Ted, if you aren't on the inside -- you either haven't already attended the conference or don't know when tickets go on sale -- you can't attend. There simply are no tickets left.

The value of the community work -- and of meeting the individuals who attend -- should be offered to people who are neither stars or wealthy (or "in"), particularly given the stated (and real) effect of the event -- inclusiveness of contributions from those with new perspectives.

It was a great experience, and I feel lucky to have attended, but this all must be said.

More on why people work so hard to get there in the next posts.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Painting Stories

One of the most remarkable storytellers I know is Fanny Rush. Fanny is a portrait painter who began as an art director and taught herself to paint in Brazil.

Fanny's work is quite, quite beautiful -- and in addition to the stories she tells with the portraits about the sitters, her website tells stories of her process. Fascinating stuff.

We recently sat at supper with two other friends, and the subject of -- well -- subjects (of portraits) came up. Fanny suggested that it annoys her when the first question about a painting that someone asks is about the identity of the sitter.

I had asked about the sitters in a painting in her studio just a week before. And another friend at the table said it was her inclination as well.

I admitted to being nosy -- I look into apartments in NY when I pass by if the shades aren't drawn (I call it apartment neck). I like seeing the inside of other people's houses, particularly in my neighborhood or in my apartment block. Everything about it interests me.

But I don't think I'm so unusual. Before all else, the minds of most people I know are drawn to narrative. We non-specialists rush to know the story behind whatever we see or hear, or we create one to fill the void left by inadequate information. It happens so fast that we're not even conscious of it.

Fanny, on the other hand, sees her work as a painting first and foremost. But then she already knows more of the story than we will consider.

Is this the issue? Or is it a question of different ways of seeing?

All ideas are welcome.

Critical Theory is for the Birds (Although They Wouldn't Be Interested Either)

Continuing from the last post . . .

No listener, especially if he or she is a child, needs to be told the lesson of the stories of Red Riding Hood (either the traditional one or the one written about 15 minutes ago on this blog).

That's the beauty of a good story -- they make us feel, think, and draw conclusions without the work of theoretical analysis. The choices a storyteller makes place the listener in a position where he or she is persuaded of either justice or injustice of a situation or action, depending on how the characters a listener likes act and the consequences of that action.

No discussion necessary to draw conclusions. But if you don't know why you think what you do, how can you take responsibility for your choices?

Telling Our Own Stories: Taking Ownership of Our Place in Them

So -- what if we look at the choices while telling a story? What if we change the choices and explore the differences in what we feel, think, and assume?

The CAGSE storytelling program begins by asking the children to create a story as a group. They use theatre games, writing exercises, and performance, and they choose the setting, events, characters, and outcomes.

Throughout the year, each child adds to the community story by creating new pieces from local environment or imagination. At the end of the year, we see the variety of choices and the implications of those choices on the way we think and feel about the story.

More explanation of the kinds of work we do -- and why -- in the next post.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

When Last We Saw Our Hero . . .

. . . I had arrived in London but was not posting. Too much to do to set up CAGSE LLC UK (and US).

Happily, I can announce that after two and a half months, we have a full Latin program in place in at least three boroughs -- in primary schools, years 5 and 6, every week -- and a Storytelling program ready to launch.

Classic Approaches to Learning Along with the Classical

Latin is a bit more straightforward than storytelling as a course within the primary school curriculum. Furthermore, CAGSE's unique approach to Latin has already been discussed, so it's time to give the other program a go.

Storytelling and interpreting stories are no less rigorous activities than learning Latin. They sound like fun, and are. They also provide serious skills that run across the curriculum.

Here's why.

Tell a Story, Make a Choice

Every story, every situation within a story, every character is the result of a series of choices. Every choice works with the others to persuade the listener (or viewer) of a series of values and attitudes.

Sometimes the choices have explicit implications (eg Martin Luther King marched on Washington to protest racism) and sometimes implicit (eg Cinderella's sisters are ugly and bad while she is lovely and good -- ergo, sue me if you don't agree -- or at least the writer of the tale).

Hear a Story, Make a Choice

All stories situate characters in and hold them to ethical standards. For example, if the wolf eats a nice girl in red, he dies. He is punished for choosing to eat someone the listener likes.

The story simultaneiously situates the listener within the same ethical standards by attempting to persuade the listener that the standards are absolute to which the characters are held.

Who could like a wolf who eats someone with whom the listener has empathy when that same wolf seems to have no redeeming characteristics at all?

The wolf SEEMS to have no redeeming characteristics because the storyteller CHOSE to deny him any. That way, it's hard to side with him and easy to think him deserving when killed by a local hunter.

If the Wolf Had a Family . . . .

What happens if you tell the same basic story but make other choices?

Say a storyteller gives Red Riding Hood's wolf a name (Peter) and a family -- Mrs. Loop de Loup, little Romulus, and his baby sister who they affectionately call Pup.

The listener hears that the Loups have been hungry for weeks. We hear of Rommy's and Pup's weakness and see them fading from lack of nourishment. Deforestation and propagation of human suburbs will soon completely destroy their homes, and the homeless, particularly of the canine variety, are rounded up and put in pounds where they await execution.


Say Red Riding Hood's family historically has been active in the National Rifle Association and the Loup Klux Klan, believes that killing is fun, and, in particular, that killing baby wolves is a real hoot because a hunter can watch them die slowly.

Now whose side are you on?

More in the next post.