Fall foliage is stunning. Orange and brown and red and yellow and green blend together to make a gorgeous tapestry on the ground. Yesterday I was raking the leaves from my yard, and it dawned on me that the trees are changing. It is a type of “micro-reinvention”. And it got me wondering about the ways that I will reinvent myself? Which areas of my life will I reinvent — faith, self, family, venture, career, community? What small experiments can I try in the reinvention process, that will tell me if an idea will work, without committing a huge investment first? I am planning 6 weeks toward generating reinvention ideas in the late part of this year and early next year. Even when things are going well, we can run experiments in reinvention, see which ones will transform our lives for the better, and GO!
Do not criticize, condemn, or complain. Those 3 C’s make up the first technique of working with people, from Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. In that book he tells the story below to emphasize the point.
“I made a special study of Lincoln’s method of dealing with people. Did he indulge in criticism? Oh, yes. As a young man in the Pigeon Creek Valley of Indiana, he not only criticized but he wrote letters and poems ridiculing people and dropped these letters on the country roads where they were sure to be found. One of these letters aroused resentments that burned for a lifetime.
Even after Lincoln had become a practicing lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he attacked his opponents openly in letters published in the newspapers. But he did this just once too often.
In the autumn of 1842 he ridiculed a vain, pugnacious politician by the name of James Shields. Lincoln lamned him through an anonymous letter published in Springfield Journal. The town roared with laughter. Shields, sensitive and proud, boiled with indignation. He found out who wrote the letter, leaped on his horse, started after Lincoln, and challenged him to fight a duel. Lincoln didn’t want to fight. He was opposed to dueling, but he couldn’t get out of it and save his honor. He was given the choice of weapons. Since he had very long arms, he chose cavalry broadswords and took lessons in sword fighting from a West Point graduate; and, on the appointed day, he and Shields met on a sandbar in the Mississippi River, prepared to fight to the death; but, at the last minute, their seconds interrupted and stopped the duel.
That was the most lurid personal incident in Lincoln’s life. It taught him an invaluable lesson in the art of dealing with people. Never again did he write an insulting letter. Never again did he ridicule anyone. And from that time on, he almost never criticized anybody for anything.”
This week our department has evaluators from ABET visiting. ABET is the “Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABET). Every 6 years, they visit our department — we invite them and pay their expenses — and they look over the extensive documentation we prepare during the intervening 6 years, and evaluate whether we are doing for our undergraduate education what we as a department, college, and university say we will do. As far as I know, nobody enjoys it.
But does that mean we should not do it? There are other cases that perhaps nobody enjoys: Going to the dentist comes to mind. For 6 months we brush and floss each day in preparation for the evaluation. Then we go to the dentist, where our teeth are cleaned properly with a sharp tool, and inspected for underlying damage that we call “cavities”. If there are cavities, they represent failures in our daily process of brushing and flossing. Yes, we then need to go through the pain and expense of fixing them, but the evaluation allows us to identify the problem and correct it before it causes further damage. We don’t like it, but it’s good for us.
Now here are two critical questions: 1) In what areas of life do each of us need to set up periodic evaluation processes, to do a proper cleaning and identify and remove “cavities”? 2) What daily process will we establish so that we are ready for this evaluation? If we are going to imagine great dreams and win great victories, in what areas do we need periodic accreditation, either from ourselves or from a team of external evaluators?
This past weekend I visited Ellis Island in New York City, where 12 million immigrants came to pursue a new life. One of those immigrants was Piotr Wylegala of Poland, my great grandfather, a poor tailor from Poland, whom I never met. And yet, Great Grandpap Pete left a huge inheritance for his children, his children’s children, and generations after. By spending what might have been a life’s fortune for travel, by braving a putrid 3rd-class voyage across the sea, by starting anew in a land foreign in tongue and culture … he became an American. And as a result, I am an American, and my children are American. The inheritance my Great Grandpap Pete left was not one of money or property, but of opportunity and hope. I am deeply thankful.
When I was about 5 years old, I had my tonsils taken out. My Grandma Kopson bought me a gift, to cheer me: a handheld calculator. It seemed as large as a brick — much larger than today’s calculators — and used a lot of batteries. And I loved it. I loved to play with numbers, try little experiments with numbers, see numbers. That love of numbers and math has extended to the present. I am using calculations with my research in “Physics of Community”, which studies community decision making, power, conflict, competition, cooperation, and the like. What do you love so much that you doodle with it in your spare time? Dance? Writing? Piano? Gardening? Woodwork? Cars? These are things that we excel at. Let us never give up our pursuit of Excellence in those things we love.
This is a week of change. My two daughters are back in school, the older one now in middle school. My wife and I are back to teaching for the Fall 2014 semester, and I have a new course in “Physics of Community”. The MOOC on “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” that I am co-teaching — with more than 58,000 students enrolled — is ending. It’s a time for both nostalgia for a great Summer, and hope for a great Fall. It’s a time to set new a new WIG (Wildly Important Goal). Not 10 WIGs, not 5 WIGs, and probably not even 2 WIGs. 1 WIG. What is yours?
This afternoon I spent 4 hours doing tedious, time-consuming, boring work. It had to be done. I could not delegate it. It will form part of a package that will be outstanding and beautiful however. There are times in our work when we have to “clean the latrines”. Today was my day. I took a nap, started at 2 pm, and promised myself that I would keep working at it until it was done or 6 pm. And it is done. Are you willing to spend the required time doing drudge work? Don’t let all your time — or even a lot of it — slip in that direction. But a helpful saying from the famous athlete Jerry Rice might help: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” Finish the tedious work, if it helps to make a beautiful product.
Recently we returned from vacation at the beach — a beautiful week with no emails and no phone calls, and lots of family time. Now comes Fall. For me as a professor, that means school schedules for my family, and courses and students at Penn State. In short, a lot more discipline and deadlines will be needed. And I can’t wait. There is a time for relaxing, but there is a time for digging in, for working hard, for excelling at something you love to do. Knowing that the seasons come and go helps me to stay tenacious toward my dream. In times of battle, I know there are times of relaxation coming, and in times of reflection and revitalization, I know that I will soon be able to jump back into the battle with gusto. Yes, invite the seasons!
Tonight my wife and I took my daughter to an orientation evening for middle school, where she will start this Fall 2014. Strangely, I enjoyed the experience … I think because I knew I would not be GRADED! Seeing the tech room, the computers, the 3D printers, the gymnasium, the music room — they made me want to learn! What ideas do we have for education that uses assessment meant for helping students, rather than for sorting or ranking them? How can we guide students toward self-assessment, that uses other people’s input as the students see best? Ideas?
By meeting in the hallways with colleagues, we have come up with serendipitous ideas. These ideas are usually within our domain of expertise. These I think of as “micro-serendipity” (microS). On the other hand, by meeting for lunches — or even retreats — with people from other disciplines, we have come up with more significant, broader, potentially-higher-impact ideas. These I think of as “macro-serendipity” (macroS). MicroS advances the ideas in a given field, in ways that are usually somewhat predictable and frequently important. MacroS can create a new field. Both microS and macroS are important, at the right time. Are you doing one, and need to try the other more often?