Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bogglers Block

When I wrote my first post to this blog Dec. 29, 2009, Disruption is Coming, I committed to a post every week within the themes of the future, technology, and education.  I held to that until May 6, 2012.  My wife and I went on our first European vacation in that month and if not now, when - questionboth disconnected from blogging and Twitter.  Again in August, I only wrote one post and on Christmas break, skipped a week.  This past summer I skipped six weeks of blogging – it was awesome.  It would seem that blogging has become a bit of a chore for me and I’m having some difficulty with the commitment to write regularly.  I guess after 171 posts, I’m struggling to find inspiring new things I want to write about.  Perhaps I have ‘bloggers block’.  This post is a think-out-loud on some concerns I have on my mind about the three themes for this blog.

The more I read about the future the more concerned I become.  Technology is “miraculous” for sure, but there are disturbing trends that I think we are overlooking.  Trends towards a jobless / workerless future that is hyper automated.  The financial system of the world is bankrupt with countries creating digital money out of thin air – everyone knows this yet they/we ignore it hoping it will solve itself.  The authors of Aftershock apparently predicted the crash of 2008 and talk about it getting worse in this decade.  There is the disturbing trend to eliminate the middle class, concentrate more of the world’s wealth with the few, and increase the ranks of iStock_000018154109XSmallthe poor.  I am an optimist for the most part but technological disruption of work and the financial systems are both worrisome trends.

There are truly miraculous breakthroughs in technology aren’t there.  Google’s driverless vehicles are amazing – who would’ve thought that to be possible?  Have you ever wondered about the complexity of our society and the remarkable talent human beings have in design, construction, and invention?  Next time you are in a commercial jet flying somewhere, pause and think about what is actually happening: you are flying through the air really fast in a very heavy chunk of metal and other materials.  A computer is flying the machine – it can take off, fly, and land it.  The pilot is really a ‘baby sitter’.  I just saw on the news that there are now pilotless fighter jets and of course we all know about the 1000s of remote flight and autonomous drones.  Or, ponder the smart phone in your hand and the marvel that is.  Is it a phone, map/GPS, news team, communicator, music player, tomb of knowledge, writing instrument, photo album, calculator, teacher, camera, flashlight, Starbucks Card, Bible, planner, or what?  It’s every thing housed in a solid state ‘brick’ with a screen.  How is this possible?  We live in truly amazing times.  But, our machines are really starting to gain momentum in replacing humans in all sorts of occupations.  Is this something we really want?  Are the inventors of these capabilities intentionally heading us there or is it science and invention run amuck converging us on a future destination without regard to the consequences?  I wonder…

Education, the rewiring of the human mind.  Education over the past few hundred years has proven to be an accelerator for change.  The technological disruptions I refer to are a result of an amplified, accelerated loop of learning, combined with machine learning and work, like never seen before.  It’s interesting how some people refer to our education system as broken.  I disagree!  It may need better I spy with my little eye...embrace modern tools and ways but our system continues to graduation very capable individuals who go on to fill a variety of roles in society, many inventing and creating the next wave of change.  I think our education systems could use a heavy dose of ethics teaching.  It is our future designers, scientists, and inventors who will continue to propel us to an uncertain future if they lack an ethical orientation towards their work and the future.  As we increasingly infuse technology into learning and teaching, we ought to ensure kids and teachers are deeply committed to ethical thinking, citizenship, and social responsibility.  The alternative would not bode well for the future.

That’s all for now.  I wonder what I will write about next time and when that might be?  Stay tuned…

Saturday, September 7, 2013


It’s a short but profound little question, “why?”.  Why influences a persons motivation to choose one path or thing over another.  In the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek that I’m currently imagelistening to on my commute between Vancouver and Maple Ridge, the author introduces the golden circle (watch the TEDx video).  So many companies and individuals are focused on what they do and how they do it but miss the mark of why they are doing it.  In his book, Simon uses an example of when MP3 players came out.  Manufacturers would talk about what these did or had such as how many gigabytes, how long the battery would last, etc.  When Apple produced the iPod, they focused on why you would want one.  They described a lifestyle, talked about why you would want 1000 songs in your pocket, etc.  Once you were hooked, you would ask about what such as how much memory.  Apple wanted to change your life as you experienced music, not just sell you a better MP3 player.  Clearly they answered the why.  Bill Gates, believing that having a computer with access to diverse software will change lives, wanted to put a PC in every home – he believed that Microsoft’s software would make that happen.  It did (for the most part)…

Essentially, the why is a compelling and inspiring vision for the future, how defines the mission, and what embodies the strategic plan to get you there.  It’s interesting how difficult it is for many of us to answer the why question.  We often start articulating what we, our company, our product, our project does or will do, thinking we are describing why it exists.

When I decided to join the Vancouver School Board (VSB) in my new role as their CIO, I had to wrestle with why.  I had to ponder why I would want to double my iStock_000017763418Smallcommute, face the complex and steep learning curve of a diverse large urban school district.  It all came down to this for me: I want to transform learning and work through technology to create a better future for all.  This is why I do what I do and why I invest my time in people and processes at the VSB.  I want to make a difference for the better.  How I will do this and what I will do, well, that’s a complex undertaking that will take years to unfold – I’ll write about this as the journey unfolds.  But my “why” will serve to keep me aligned and focused.

One example how to accomplish my why is to increase the access for students to powerful digital learning tools.  With better access, the use of technology to transform learning is possible.  Just like when kids gained access to their own pencil, notebooks, and textbooks a profound transformation from scarcity to abundance occurred, their technological access will cause a major shift in learning.  One of the “whats” I am pursuing is a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative.  In this rapidly BYOD concept in tag cloudchanging world of ours, kids are increasingly bringing powerful devices but in VSB schools, most often they are asked to put them away.  This is a tragedy given what smartphones, tablets, and laptops are capable of doing for kids and their learning.  We all know how it has transformed our personal lives.  Access to unlimited information and knowledge, tools that border on artificial intelligence, tools that enable access to diverse audiences, tools that enable collaboration and sharing, tools that enable creativity in many domains of music, video, art, writing, presenting, mathematics, physics, chemical modeling, robotics, geography, to name a few.  The traditional world of knowledge transmission, limited projects, memorization, and testing is ripe for transformation, if only kids had access to the tools and teachers were ready, able, and willing to transform pedagogy to fit new ways.

A second “what” to support my why and the above how, is increasing bandwidth.  Currently, this is a huge barrier to realizing the why of transformation and the how of access.  A third “what” is providing wireless networking in all learning spaces.  You start to see the alignment come together.  I find this model to be very helpful to keep me grounded and focused.  There are so many things we could do and with limited funds, we must be crystal clear about our what, how, and why or we will work on the wrong things and supporting a why we never set out to pursue.

I think being grounded in why-how-what for individual initiatives is also a powerful approach to implementation.  Those of you familiar with Rogers Diffusion of Innovation work will recall the “buckets” populations fall into: innovators, early adoptors, early majority, late majority, and laggards.  To successfully implement a significant change, such as a BYOD initiative, your why will need to be tailored to the thinking of each of these groups.  If you talk about what you are doing and all the details involved without first hooking them on why you are doing it, you will fail to reach a critical mass with each population.  It’s a challenge to stop and think this through, it takes patience to figure out how best to reach different types of people.  I wish I realized and understood this when I was early into my career.  Then, I could not understand why people didn’t just “get it” the way I did.  Now I know…  I don’t claim to be an expert at this but I’m learning and adapting all the time.

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your own professional why, develop clear hows, and anchor your whats back to your why.  I also encourage you think about why – how – what for each of your major change initiatives.  Also, keep the innovation population research in mind as you figure out your implementation plans.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Don't Panic

Shelley and watched a great movie a few weeks ago on Netflix called Chasing Mavericks, which is based on a true story.  This one will tug at your heart strings a bit.  One of the characters Frosty Hesson, agreed to train young Jay Moriarity how to prepare to surf a maverick wave (think massive 30-40 footers) in California.  Frosty talked to Jay about fear being a good and natural thing but that panic is not.  In other words, it’s what you do when you face fear that matters, not the fear itself.  He also asked Jay “what do you fear?” and asked him to write about and face it.  Jay had to face many fears without panic, to be fully prepared mentally and emotionally to accomplish the monumental task of riding a maverick and living to tell about.

Since we’re on the movie theme, I have to mention that we watched Money Ball, also based on a true story, last night on Netflix.  Our Superintendent showed a clip from this inspiring movie last week during the annual startup meeting with principals.  Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is a professional major league ball player turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics.  His team is underfunded relative to the big names (Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, etc.) and struggles to keep great players on the payroll.  He decides to employ an unorthodox method of identifying talent that relies purely on statistics and data analysis and not on the long standing tradition of scouts, intuition, and gut feel.  As he assembled a “team of misfits” that lost most games of the season, he was criticized and resisted widely. His job was on the line, but he did not panic.  He persisiStock_000016399116XSmallted and then his team started winning.  They won 20 games in a row, something not accomplished in over 100 years by any team!

What do you fear?  You know, that is a scary question in itself.  Speaking for myself, I’m not entirely comfortable responding to the question.  But, I think it is important and healthy to do so.  I suspect many people live “in fear”, afraid to try, to step outside their comfort zone, and when their fears face them, they panic.  I know I have and still do at times. 

Those of us in formal leadership positions, if we are honest with ourselves, likely harbor the fear of failure, the fear of being wrong, the fear of tunnel vision, the fear of criticism, to name a few.  How we handle these fears is what separates an okay leader from a great one.  Knee jerk reactions, overreactions, questioning ones decisions, are signs of panic.  We need to resist being pulled down by fear and use it to make us stronger, to leverage it.  It’s kind-of like going to the gym, doing a major hike, or some other form of exercise, it’s painful while you’re doing it but after some time, you become stronger and more able to face more of the same.  Muscles have to tear to be able to grow stronger.  I think this is analogous to dealing with fear effectively.

As I contemplate my first school startup in my role as Chief Information Officer for the Vancouver School Board (VSB), I surprisingly feel calm and confident.  Even though over the summer my team has implemented a lot of new technology in schools and a lot of back-end systems upgrades, I feel confident in the outcome.  Even though we are implementing a new service model for our service desk and field service technicians, I eagerly anticipate good results.  I’m not na├»ve to think there won’t be problems, but I am pleased with the team I’ve inherited and their ability to make iStock_000019575299Largethings happen and to pull together to work through problems.  I do have fears to face still though…  there are high expectations for significant initiatives and changes to come.  When I think about them all at once, I’m overwhelmed, some anxiety sneaks in, and the fear starts to evoke feelings of panic.  But, I back away from that precipice and take things one day at a time with a view and vision for an exciting future.  I am excited about what’s to come for the VSB: Cloud email and storage for students, Bring your own Device, the creation of new online and mobile Learning & Work Spaces, increased process standardization, improved communication, increased automation, to name a few along with all the professional learning necessary for success. 

For all you that work in school systems, here’s to a successful, rewarding, exciting, and scary 2013-14 school year.  Ask yourself, “what do I fear” and embrace your fears.  Don’t panic rather, find ways to thrive on your fear and turn that into something great!