Beyond Category

Duke Ellington, one of the greatest jazz musicians and prolific composers with thousands of compositions, created a category for those individuals that were so exceptional they were, as he called them, “Beyond Category.”  Some musicians he referred to with this moniker include Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Billy Eckstein.

Duke used the term in another way as well. When referring to music which was labeled as one style or another, he said “it’s either agreeable to the ear or not. If it’s agreeable to the ear, why does it have to have a category?  Even the most trite songs given to a great performer can be extraordinary…it all depends on the performance anyway.”   Note that Ella Fitzgerald had her first hit from singing the nursery rhyme “A tisket and tasket.”

So who and what qualifies as “beyond category?”  Who are these exceptional people, and what does it mean to get there?  And what do we need to take out of a box and say it doesn’t fit in any category, it’s beyond category?

In the field of management thinking, the Oscars of management thought leaders is called the Top 50 management thinkers.   Marshall Goldsmith has been a Top 10 member of this list since it was created in 2011 and earlier this year, 2018,  the organization created “The Marshall Goldsmth Distinguished Achievement Award for Coaching and Mentoring.”  Is Marshall Beyond Category? They had to create an award in his name just to keep up!

In politics you think of leaders like Gandhi, Mandela, Havel, Walesa – all of whom brought about huge change – peacefully –  and freedom in their countries.   Beyond Category.

In science people who are beyond category are many of the greats – Einstein, Newton, Pasteur.  Currently Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who makes astronomy and astrophysics understandable and accessable to many, can be called beyond category as a person, and also for his work which is much broader than just astronomy.

In every field you can find those people that stand out, not just for who they are and  how they do it but for what takes them above and … beyond category.   And when I think of subjects and cross-functional thinking, I believe those are beyond category too.  How do you describe fields that combine several domains – neuropsychology and neurobiology, psychopharmacology – they don’t fit in just one box.   And then there’s people such as Leonardo Da Vinci, who was multi-talented in many fields including engineering, inventing, and art.

So what does that mean for you and me?  How does beyond category open up your thinking?  Who can you emulate and admire that you believe is beyond category?   What subjects, organizations, and fields of thought cannot be categorized in just one area? As I continue to explore this concept of beyond cateory, I welcome your thoughts on what this means to you and what we can all gain from it.


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Simple is Best

Why do we always try to complicate things? The simpler, the easier it is to do, to remember, to teach.    Last night at Midwest Speaking Professionals, my friend Stephanie Kurokawa reminded me of this fact that I know so well and forget too often. I gave a speech that was better received and engaging because it was simpler, with a few key points rather than complex and overloaded with too much data and facts.

So often in life we try and make things more difficult than they need to be.   We pride ourselves in handling volumes of data and doing something with it, taking a simple process and adding so many steps it’s a wonder that anything gets done.   Need to assemble something? Wouldn’t you rather have 3-5 simple steps instead of hundreds?   Some examples of beautiful and simple:

Some of Louis Armstrong’s best solos were only a few well played, well intonated notes,

Some of the best recipes are just a few ingredients,

Some of the most important theories are the ones with simple formulas,

Some of the best pictures are of simple sunrises and sunsets,

One of my favorite songs is the one-note samba,

Some of the best ball players focus on hitting the ball, shooting the basket, or catching and running (and notice when they are “in the groove” they are so much better than when they try to outthink).

Today, try and simplify something you’re doing.  Reduce the steps, use fewer words, make it easier and more elegant and see what happens – you’ll often find a much better outcome! Lake Michigan Sunrise

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Take Time For Learning

I just saw a youtube video that’s from 2011. It’s all about creativity and takes only 2 minutes to view.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to be talking about what’s in the video!

Today more than ever we are trying to squeeze learning into tubes and like toothpaste, just squeeze out what we need when we need it.  Good for toothpaste, otherwise we’d be buying more every day!  But learning is not toothpaste, nor can it always be dictated by time frames.  You can provide information in a certain time frame, but whether it is learned or not in that time is another story.

When I ask  a musician how long it takes to become a professional, they just stare at me.   I read that Bobby Lewis,  a well-known Chicago area trumpeter recently talked about practicing hours a day at 80.   Clearly musicians are constantly learning, growing, perfecting.

So how long does it take to learn something?  It depends on what it is, how it is taught, what methodology works best for the learner and the subject, and how often they put it to use.  For example, I was “taught” how to mark bills for accounting, but I only did it once a year.  Do you think I remembered?   .

Time and learning, like creativity, aren’t necessarily related.  Yet we still have the toothpaste dilemma.

As the video showed, what a difference even a little time can make.  IF you can learn something quickly, great.  If not, take the time needed for learning so that it will take.  Let those learning light bulbs go off.  Otherwise, you’ll get as frustrated as everyone does trying to squeeze that last bit of toothpaste from the end of the tube.

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Ten lessons learned living a life well lived

I hope you’ve been following me on LinkedIn, ATD, and CLO where I have posted blogs the past several months.  Time to come back home and share some thoughts.

We learn in the most unusual ways, in the most unusual places.  How many of you have been to a funeral of a friend, a friend’s parents, someone you know from your club, group, or house of worship?   I find it always amazing how I learn things that I never knew, that I wish I knew, about the person.  That I wish we had a chance to talk about.  Lessons and a legacy that the person “leaves behind” for the rest of us to learn and pick up on.

Lois was one of those people – bright, colorful, talented, warm and friendly to all.   She loved bright colors, playing in outstanding orchestras and ensembles, and living life to the fullest.   Lesson 1: always live life to the fullest, no matter what.   Lesson 2: be yourself, conform to your own values and beliefs.  Lesson 3: be excellent at what you love to do.

But it doesn’t take a eulogy or passing to celebrate.  My cousin’s 90th birthday brought about so many accolades – how she dedicates herself to the homeless, to soup kitchens, to reaching out to those in need.  How she quietly and without fanfare has made a difference to those around her for all her adult life.   Lesson 4: Do what you believe is the right thing to do.  Lesson 5: Do what you believe for yourself – if accolades come, so be it, but don’t do it for recognition.  Lesson 6: Tell people while they are here how much of a difference they make.

My friend Karolus celebrated his 70th birthday, and spontaneously the same thing happened.  What a creative soul he is.  How his work in theater, in training, and in culture inspires so many others.   How he can create a life and journey that can weather the bumps along the way and still turn out like the journey we all want to travel on.   Lesson 7: Each of us has our own journey.  Lesson 8: Allow people to tell you what you mean to them.  Lesson 9: Even bumps along the way are good if they keep us on the path we want to be on.

Lesson 10: To thine own self be true (thanks to the Bard for this lesson).  Whatever we do and wherever we go, the only person we truly have to answer to is the person in the mirror.  Be true to yourself, to your values, beliefs, and ideals.  To your sense of adventure, friendship, and journeys.  Cherish the people you care most about and let them know.  Too often we don’t do that. Too often we show up a different way in one setting versus another.  As you can see in Lessons 1-9 these people showed up the same way wherever they went.   Lesson 10 says that by being true to yourself, you can do so too.   Imagine a life of openness, honesty, and transparency.   Imagine YOUR life well lived.  Make it so.

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Oh say what do you see, and what do we not see?

Fireworks are fun to watch.  Once again I took off my glasses for half the show and instead of pinpoints of light, sparkles, and gorgeous displays, I saw giant snowflakes, molecules, and honeycombs of all sorts of colors.  The single points of light became even more gorgeous because they were so much larger and different, almost like I was looking through a giant microscope.  (The second photo is what each point of light looks like to me without glasses – think of this with hundreds of lights such as fireworks.) Seeing it again in this way made me stop to ask – what are we missing by looking at things “normally?”

Three weeks ago a car came out of nowhere and hit me in the front left side and corner.  I saw him a fraction of a second before, no time to react. It sent my car flying over and over several times, wondering if I would be alive at the end of the “journey.”  Miraculously I survived.  As I’ve been trying to understand what happened and it’s impact on me, a counselor helped me deal with it by helping me understand what I didn’t see in myself personally, my own blind spot, as I try to make sense of what happened.  What am I personally not seeing?  What are we all missing?

In the 50’s a couple of Psychologists developed the tool the Johari Window.  It was, as in many psychology models,  displayed as a 2×2 (see below).   There are things we know and don’t know, and things that others know and don’t know about us.  The blind spot is what they know and we don’t; the unconscious spot is what’s unknown to us and unknown to others.

I realized that I didn’t glimpse death in the accident, I glimpsed my unconscious and blind sides.  What I was missing or hiding from myself.  Now I HIGHLY recommend much SAFER ways to uncover this information!!  For me, it was so revealing about my thoughts about life, the contributions I still want to make, and who I am.   By understanding these better, I am more at peace with myself and believe I can contribute so much more.

Understand that to keep each of us feeling secure, we keep some beliefs from ourselves that are so locked down inside of us as to seem undiscoverable.  They’re hidden, even to us.  Now that I’ve revealed some of mine to me, I plan to use them to be a more insightful, understanding, and open person.  Time will tell how I use this new discoveries.

How about you?  Please stay safe. But do take your glasses off (or put funny ones on that show other images in light) and start looking at other things in a new way.  You’ll be amazed at the difference as you begin to scan and see life in a new light.  Discover your hidden self, and start discovering what you can be.

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The Crisis in Leadership Development

With hundreds of classes and programs by hundreds of organizations offering many types of management and leadership training formally and informally, classroom and online, you wouldn’t think we would be in a crisis.  With US$15 Billion spent annually on leadership development, it doesn’t appear to be hurting.  Looks can be deceiving.  Just look at some of these statistics:

According to PWC, 81% of CEOs rate Leadership Development programs as less than highly effective.

According to the Corporate Executive Board, 63% of senior leaders lack the required abilities to achieve critical results today.

According to i4cp, only 32% of mid-managers exhibit behaviors consistent with the global capabilities their organizations deem most important.  And 87% DO NOT formally measure the impact of leadership development performance!

Research just conducted this spring, 2015, by Advance Learning Group for the ATD International Conference and Exhibition both confirms these figures and adds to them.   Some quick findings:

  • Mid-level managers are one of the biggest needs
  • There are no 1 or 2 key measures of leadership development success
  • Formal programs are preferred but these are not the way incumbents learned

These results all point to one thing: Leadership Development is in crisis today.  We aren’t training the right way, people aren’t transferring or retaining the knowledge, and rarely is leadership development measured and evaluated, especially in a meaningful way to senior executives.

There are many ways we can help resolve this crisis, but the first and foremost is to measure, evaluate, and share results.  I’ll be sharing more data from these studies in the future in blog posts, white papers, and journal articles.  In the meantime, let’s end this crisis now through proper measurement, application and transfer of skills learned.

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What’s the Purpose?

As I’ve been working to define and build my business, I am reading voraciously studies, results, reports, and analysis on learning. The one piece that I see in common that’s too often missing is the purpose. What’s the purpose of the training.

When you go grocery shopping, what’s the purpose? Satisfy hunger, nutrition, health and taste needs.  And the grocery store?  Their purpose is to provide you access to all the food and food products you need.
When you go to a concert or show, what’s the purpose? Entertainment, enjoyment, relaxation.  The performers?  Money and pleasure from playing.
When you go to training, what’s the purpose? GOTCHA! Is the purpose to get away from work?  To get as many people through as possible? So what? Is the purpose to gain new information or ideas? Is training the best way to do that? Is the purpose to learn new skills, processes, techniques, methods? We’re getting warmer, but again I ask, for what purpose?

I believe learning and training are lifelong necessities. Change is happening so rapidly that the only way we can keep abreast is to continually learn. We are growing so rapidly that without ongoing learning, we’ll be going the way of the rotary phone – an old method that takes 5-10 times as long to do as any push button cell phone with redial or saved number can do. We simply do not have the time for that.

Yet what scares me the most is that we learn what we must, but not always what we should. We’re good at picking up the necessities – how do we work our new phones, computers, TVs or cars. But what about the life skills, the so-called “soft skills” and leadership skills that enable us to learn and grow on the job, in interactions with others including coworkers, bosses, friends, and family? Study after study reports on the low effectiveness and transfer of leadership, communications, and other so-called “soft skills.” In a recent study on executive education by the Schulich Executive Education Center, 90% say their organization engages in some form of management education, but only 50% think it is made a priority. Over 80% say they need more! Almost 75 percent of respondents to Brandon Hall Group’s 2013 Leadership Development Benchmarking Survey said their leadership development programs are not very effective.
So what do we do about this? Three steps.

1)Make the purpose clear for leadership and softskills learning. Answer the following: What can this do for you? Why is it important?
2)Measure it. Find ways to measure the effectiveness of the learning. Highlight where and how it makes a difference. Share results widely.
3)Make it YOUR priority. Make sure that learning the softskills doesn’t take a backseat to other learning or work.

Learning is important, but without knowing, and measuring, the purpose for the learning, it becomes an exercise in futility – nice to do but not a necessity.   Make sure your efforts as a learning professional or learner are not for naught – make sure the purpose is known!

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Straight talk – Connecting leaders with employees

I’m just reading the Towers Watson 2014 report on the Global Workforce.  Some real insights that could impact companies significantly in the next year.

The headlines: A) the disconnect between what employees want from work and what management thinks they want B) Lack of trust and engagement with immediate managers C) Motivation.

Surprised?  I’m not. With the economy strengthening, employees are saying what they’ve held back on the last few years.   In the Top 5, employees want learning and development, job security and paid time off.  Employers did not have any of these in the top 5. Instead employers thought employees valued the mission/vision/values.  Sorry, not interested.

Some quick advice. Think about how simple it is to retain your talent.  Offer them ways to continue to grow and develop – you’ll have a better trained and motivated employee.  Don’t be so quick to layoff.  And be generous in your time off policies.  If employees are expected to be “on call” 24/7 or working “whatever it takes,” then give them the time they need to recharge.

Only 40% of employees are highly engaged.  The rest feel either unsupported (54% report managers do not remove obstacles), detached or disengaged.  We can do better.  There are more “working managers” today than ever – even at the executive ranks. I’ve talked to leaders who are not just managing and directing, they are doing work too. Perhaps because of this ramp up/do more culture, we’re missing opportunities to engage with our workforce.

Motivation.  Today, employees are looking to be treated as customers.  We’ve paid lip service to that for a long time.  It’s time to move towards action. A motivated, engaged worker is a better face for the company, more committed and more apt to go out of their way to ensure the customer is satisfied.  We need to remove obstacles so they can do this. We need to build trust and give trust to our employees on the front lines.

This is the perfect time – end of one calendar year and soon the start of a new one – to strengthen your relationship, policies, and engagement with your employees and set yourself up for greater success in 2015.  You can read about the study here.

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Gaining Trust

Trust – it’s the first point of the Scout Law.  It’s what enables everything from businesses to families to work together successfully.  It’s a necessary ingredient for a good business-provider partnership.   Yet it’s something we so readily either skip or forget about in order to achieve whatever goals we’ve been tasked to do, whether it’s a major project, support effort, or running an errand.  In fact, Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” has trust as the first factor a successful team needs to have.

According to Lencioni, trust is defined as “A firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”  As someone with a newer consulting practice, it’s something I need to gain in order to earn business.  Top tier educational providers, consulting firms and major companies get it as a result of who they are and past success with their customers.  We trust Disney, McDonald’s, P&G and Harvard.  The rest of us have to do earn trust ourselves.  Why and how?

Why is the easy part. With trust, you can have a relationship that can be candid, open, and mutually beneficial.  Without trust, every word, statement and project becomes a test and can be viewed skeptically.  My goal is to be seen as a trusted business partner and for my clients to know I have their best interests at heart.  That’s always proven successful to me in the work I have done with clients in the past.  In fact, I always offer a value-add. What does your company need that I can help with, and what do you need for yourself professionally? Let me help you in both ways.

How do you gain this trust?  Several ways based on the acronym TRUST:

T – track record – Have you proven yourself?  Show it.

R – results – Have you shown results with this person or with others? Prove it.

U – understanding – Do you understand this situation, issue, or challenge? Demonstrate it.

S – safe – Are conversations confidential and respectful? Give it.

T – time – Do you respond quickly?   Live it.

By building TRUST you can give trust, and be on your way to having a highly successful client, customer, and family relationship.

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Advance Learning through Learning Strategy

Advancing learning has been the name of this blog since I started it over 5 years ago.  I am now taking that forward to my business, aptly named, with a focus on learning strategy, leadership and team development.

But what exactly is learning strategy?  Today there are more ways than ever to learn, and the learner has as much responsibility as the trainer/educator/teacher.  How do you choose and share the options the available?  Where do you go to map out learning paths?

Michael Lessard-Clouston has written, “Within the field of education over the last few decades a gradual but significant shift has taken place, resulting in less emphasis on teaching and greater stress on learners and learning.”  Klassen, Lam, et. al. from the City University of Hong Kong recently conducted research into learning. They summarized “The recent constructivist view toward knowledge acquisition places greater emphasis on the role of learners in constructing their own knowledge.  Learners have their own systematic way of transforming information into knowledge, and good and poor learners differ in how and how well they do this. In other words, learners employ different learning strategies when they learn.”  The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning defined learning strategy as “a person’s approach to learning and using information.”  Defining a learning strategy and finding the best way for people to learn is critical if you want learning to last.

We are pummeled with more data and information each and every day than our parents received in a lifetime.  In fact IBM has reported that knowledge will soon be doubling every 12 hours!  How do we sort it out? What do we choose to absorb of this vast amount of information?  What are the different ways we can learn vital new skills and knowledge, and what is the best way to do so?

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey devised the theory of situational leadership which stated that there is a right leadership style for every person and in each situation.

I profess that there’s also a right way to learn for each person, each organization, and each topic.  Have time or is it a critical skill that needs practice, feedback and discussion?  Classroom may be best.  Is it short bytes of product knowledge in a field environment?   Mobile learning may be the way to go.  Do you need to onboard new hires remotely?  Then a webinar or combination could work.

There are more ways to learn than ever.  Choosing the right method, coming up with an overall learning strategy, and implementing it are necessary to ensure that you are considering about the needs of the learner.   As Lessard-Clouston said, learners today are more self-directed and motivated than ever before.  Helping them make those right choices, and having information in modes that work best, is equally important.

Tools such as the Learning Receptiveness Profiles from Neuro-Link, the Herrmann Brain Dominance Inventory (HBDI), and other learning assessments help the learner understand the way they learn best.  This can help learners choose learning methods that work best for him or her.

For organizations today, it is all about choosing, defining and creating the right learning strategy, and making it available to associates.  Three steps to achieve this:

1)      Determine what the critical information or skills are needed

2)      Map out the various and best options available for learning those skills

3)      Create a plan to design, deliver, and communicate those options, helping learners identify which ones are best for them, and measure their success.

Make sure your learning strategy is up to date, and that learning goals are achieved.  You’ll be a better learning professional, educator, and leader by doing so.

(Photo of friends learning this summer)


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