I had the privilege to share a panel with New Yorker Staff Cartoonist Liza Donnelly and Social Entrepreneur Superstar Susan McPherson on October 8th at the Granoff Center's Martinos Auditorium, Brown University, discussing our professional paths. This was the first Creative Mind Lecture of the 2014-2015 series. Many thanks to Ian Gonsher for using his iPhone as a video camera and to Nicha Ratana who made the video as 'followable' as possible and has made the Creative Mind Lecture series a reality.
I grew up in Rumson, NJ using my fake ID to get into the Stone Pony with a $2 cover charge to hear Bruce Springsteen (before we knew how famous he'd be). Who knew? In his new book, Leading the Life You Want: Skills for integrating World and Life, Stew Friedman shares how The Boss has harmonized parts of his life to find a balance that works for him. It can work for all of us - if we're willing to learn...because after all, we were all born to run!
Bruce Springsteen didn't get to where he is today with a well crafted 20 year plan for his life. It hasn't even been through a fully conscious quest for work-life balance but, rather, a continually evolving search for harmony among the different parts of his life. But he is here - a globally adored artist, a proud father, and a catalyst for progressive social change.
You can’t have it all: Complete success in all areas of your life, all at the same time. No one can. But, even though it can seem impossible, The Boss, and many others who’ve achieved greatness, prove that harmony among the different parts of life is attainable.
The most successful people harness the powers of the various aspects of their lives, bringing them together in the pursuit of what I call “four-way wins”--actions that result over the long haul in things like being better at work, at home, in the community, and for yourself. Skeptics, take heed: Anyone can do this. There are learnable skills that help you find ways to lead the life you want.
To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you. It’s your answer to this basic question: What matters most to me?
To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life affect each other. This means identifying who matters most to you at work, at home, and in the community; understanding what you need from each other; and seeing whether and how these needs mesh.
To be innovative is to act with creativity by experimenting with how things get done in ways that are good for you and for the people around you--taking realistic steps aimed at scoring four-way wins.
These principles come alive in skills you can practice every day, and Springsteen illustrates each of these skills.
HE IS TRUE TO HIMSELF, ALWAYS
In the confusing warp of fame and wealth, many rock stars forsake their values and fall prey to scandal, artistic stagnation, or early death. Springsteen is grounded by his musical mission, his family, his community of origin and the world community of fans he’s created. This has also allowed him to remain at heart the same down-to-earth Jersey guy he was before striking it big.
Rather than conforming to external pressures, Springsteen relies on his values to guide his behavior. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. People relate to his music and lyrics on such a deeply personal level because he is consciously striving to be true to himself--a struggle to which all can relate. Springsteen wasn’t born with the ability to give voice to the truth of his experience; it’s a skill he’s refined.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Springsteen struggled to come to terms with the horrifying attack. In a way that was even more explicit than his previous albums, in "The Rising" he produced songs to express the grief and hope he found in himself, his family, and his community. Not only was this a way to articulate what was important in all aspects of his life, it was a turning pointp for him because it put him on a path to becoming more directly involved in politics.
Springsteen has since grown more fervent in his appreciation of how important it is to take political stands rooted in his family, societal, and spiritual domains. He tries to be who he is, wherever he is.
HE COMMUNICATES OPENLY ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
The skill of clarifying expectations involves both advocacy for your own point of view and inquiry about what others want.
Springsteen has always been insistent and clear--with his band, producers, engineers, and audiences--about the sounds inside his head that he’s trying to recreate. It took days of trial and error, for example, just to find the right timbre for the drums on "Darkness on the Edge of Town," but the young Springsteen (still in his twenties) wouldn’t stop pushing until everyone grasped exactly the sound he was looking for.
Another episode, much further down the line, occurred during a live performance of "American Skin (41 Shots)." The audience was noisily rustling during the introductory refrain and Springsteen demanded quiet. Hush ensued. He is good at letting people know what he wants.
But communication about expectations must be a two-way street. Springsteen’s capacity to hear the rumblings around him has enabled him to stay current with the culture. A great storyteller must be a great listener.
After 9/11, Springsteen offered condolences to families of local victims and honored first responders with new versions of his songs. In his 2012 South by Southwest keynote, Springsteen said he got the inspiration for "The Rising" a few days after the attacks, when a stranger in a car stopped next to him, rolled down his window, and said: "We need you now.” Staying closely attuned to his audience’s changing interests is a crucial element in Springsteen’s repertoire of leadership skills.
HE ENCOURAGES INNOVATION IN HIMSELF AND OTHERS
Springsteen looks for opportunities to show others how he’s learning new ways of doing things and encourages them to innovate. Leading by example, he inspires others to be creative. His enthusiasm for learning is contagious.
A main ingredient in Springsteen’s recipe for success, personally and professionally, is his thirst for useful knowledge; his desire to change the world--to create something new that makes things better--and to change himself. He talked to the 2012 South by Southwest crowd about his hunger to learn and how he had to step out of the mold to discover his own musical style.
But not only has he been on a lifelong search for better ways to express his ideas in music, Springsteen has been seeking to better understand his inner life. Here, too, he has used his own experience to inspire others.
His use of psychotherapy demonstrates his belief in the value of disciplined self-discovery. Therapy helped Springsteen work through the scars of his childhood and learn how to appreciate life beyond work and especially real intimacy and the family he’s created.
Talking about this pursuit of self-knowledge turned him into a role model, helping to de-stigmatize therapy and open doors for people, especially men, who might not otherwise seek such help. It wasn’t easy to talk about these things publicly, but Springsteen mustered the will to do so. He crafted an analogy (going to your auto mechanic to check under the hood) to convey what he was doing. He showed others there are practical means available--tools they can use--to heal their own scars. Springsteen is a teacher.
His mega-star success as a performing artist has come as a consequence of, and not at a cost to, his investments in his family, his community, and his private self. His music is greatly enriched by these other parts of his life, and his music is the vehicle through which he is able to live a rewarding life beyond it.
While most of us won’t reach the dizzying heights of public renown like Springsteen has, we can all learn how to pursue four-way wins and create a greater sense of harmony in our lives.
Since 1984 Stew Friedman has been at Wharton, where he is the Practice Professor of Management. In 1991 he founded both the Wharton Leadership Program – initiating the required MBA and Undergraduate leadership courses – and the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project.
Stew’s most recent book is Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life (Harvard Business, 2014). In 2013 he published Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family (Wharton Digital Press). He is also author of the award-winning bestseller, Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life (Harvard Business, 2008). It describes his challenging Wharton course (originally produced at Ford), in which participants do real-world exercises to increase their leadership performance in all parts of their lives by better integrating them, while working in peer-to-peer coaching relationships and using an innovative social learning site. The Total Leadership program – which marries the work/life and leadership development fields – is now used by individuals and organizations worldwide, including the 57K+ students in his recent Coursera course. The Total Leadership Web site was chosen as one of Forbes’ best for women. Stew also publishes at Harvard Business Review.
(This article is adapted a Fast Company adaptation of Stew's book, with his permission)
Alex Osterwalder & team have created the definitive easy-to/must-uses guide on how to create a compelling value proposition - Value Proposition Design. Yes, definitive. Any business is first and foremost about the customer, even though it seems so many have forgotten that. If you don’t have a compelling value proposition, you don’t need a business model because you won’t have a business.
Value Proposition Design (#VPDesign) clearly teaches how to discover customers’ real needs – the needs they have for and by themselves, not the needs we want them to have or the needs we want to solve…even if they aren’t really the customers’. The VPDesign toolkit – which is easy to follow, use and adopt – makes it difficult to retain your own biases and see reality.
It’s not just the words. The fabulous visual and symbolic style of the book makes it easy to follow, to use as a handbook and daily tool for prototyping, testing, iterating and creating meaningful and valuable solutions for customers. The icons are memorable and can become part of your team’s lexicon for thinking about customers. Just as in Business Model Generation, this book is a tool to use daily to think about your business – internally and externally. I’ve used the VPDesign extensively with entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and for customers outside the organization and inside the organization.
In full disclosure, I helped co-create Alex & Yves’ first book, Business Model Generation, was a pre-reader for Value Proposition Design book and is a friend of Alex's. And that's why I know, first-hand, how incredible and necessary these books are! Get them!!
Why are we so lousy at teaching math? Why can't it be taught so kids love it? Lukas WinklerPrins thinks there is a better way. As a 21 year-old mathematician studying metrics, dynamic systems, involved in STEAM and a major Lego lover, his advice is first-hand, based on recent experience and worthy of experimentation.
When you think of math, where does your mind go? Tiresome sets of problems and difficult-to-understand literature? If so, you are not uncommon—there are not many who stay curious in math past grade school.
Sentiments of sadness at the public state of mathematics are well articulated in Paul Lockhart’s A Mathematician’s Lament and P.R. Halmos’ Mathematics as a Creative Art. Both authors espouse mathematics as a creative, thriving field, but bemoan its opaqueness and terrible methods of teaching, with the former being largely a result of the latter. The articles articulate how American math curricula virtually prohibit the viewing of beauty in mathematical ideas, while simultaneously failing to provide meaningful everyday examples. The first point has to do with the chronology of math education.
When educators shield students from the terrors of “higher mathematics” (proof writing and analysis), they are inculcating a fear of it. A beginning violinist can gain much from hearing a masterpiece performed, just as a budding painter can learn by observing and emulating the masters in art museums—even if neither of them can fully comprehend the thoughts and meaning that went into creating the pieces. The deep understanding comes through material practice, knowledge of context, and an ability to self-discover. Almost all three of these steps are scrapped in math education (only bits of the first, through rote memorization, remain).
To be fair, this might be a problem at multiple levels. Students can be complacent or passive, teachers not well-trained in their field, and university professors doing arcane research instead of bringing their knowledge to the public sphere. But we have to start somewhere.
I propose a three-pronged approach to tackle this at the K-8 teaching level.
Many approaches to early-age math education start with physical play. The most famous set of math toys, perhaps, are Cuisenaire rods* (used for ratios in Montessori-style schools). This teaching method comes out of necessity: it is the most directly relevant to children of a young age. Tangible objects are immediate and visual, giving students spatial and relational understanding of numbers as objects with weight, color, and shape—attributes the human body is adept at measuring and understanding. Alan Kay referenced a letter Einstein wrote to the French Mathematician Jacques Hadamard: "'I have sensations of a kinesthetic or muscular type.' Einstein could feel the abstract spaces he was dealing with, in the muscles of his arms and his fingers…”. Hands-on projects in math education give students the opportunity to form this sensibility through experience and introduction to some high-level concepts early on. The scope of tactile representation is limited, however, and ultimately students must learn to work with symbols.
Symbols & Language
Among the most difficult things in the study of mathematics for me personally is notation. Mathematics notation is capricious and context-sensitive, and as such the language is difficult to read and unintuitive. I again implore math educators to focus on the feel, or intuitive understanding of an idea. Language is important: it allows mathematicians to find unintuitive conclusions through intuitive use of syntax. How can we merge these two lines of thought?
As a transitional period of mathematics study, we can still use sensory means of explanation alongside the corresponding equations and symbols. In this sense Math can learn much from Language instruction—the idea of a thing must be known before the word can be learned. Groundwork on concepts can be made through intuitive means, but the notation can come as a simultaneous layer on top; thus, notation will be taught while accommodating for its arbitrariness. As students progress, they will carry their intuition into further symbolic manipulation.
Beyond the issues of understanding and semantics, students must _care_ about what they study. Common rhetoric encourages focusing on “applications” of mathematics—word problems. I warn against this. Teaching by problems is constraining; elegant theories and patterns get squeezed into templates of problems, and the student will find it difficult to pull ideas from diverse fields to solve new and unseen challenges. Modern students need to know how to navigate ambiguous and unknown problems.
Instead, I advocate for “play”. Play should be a bit messy, aimless, and bored, because these are ripe environments for creative action. But the classroom can be a gently guiding force. A community of students studying what they enjoy (through self-directed play) is a more effective learning environment than forced classroom material. Allow the student to guide herself through issues and questions that arise naturally. The key component is making sure the student can justify their choices and explain their thinking, pushing the student to become meta-cognitive and envision alternative possibilities.
All together, this means that a lesson should:
- Introduce concepts through visual & tactile means for a more direct connection to the student.
- Focus on use, meaning, and relations of an idea before enforcing a certain terminology or symbolism.
- Allow for students to play with ideas themselves, nudging them towards correct use through communal experimentation.
Starting here, I hope we can help set the foundations for a generation of students who feel more comfortable, creative, and insightful in the field of mathematics.
BIO: Lukas WinklerPrins is a mathematician and apprentice at Atelier Boris Bally. His work on metrics and dynamic systems has taken him to Thicket, a social design lab, Community Systems Foundation, and NSF grant work at Brown. He helped start Brown STEAM, a diverse team dedicated to innovation between the disciplines at Brown University, and serves as a STEAM advisor for three independent schools throughout the country. Lukas has also served as an organizer for Brickworld Chicago, the largest LEGO fan convention in North America. Contact him through LTWP.NET.
*Personal Note: I had Cuisinaire rods as a kid and loved them!! Math was fun and playful...so I used them with my kids! I don't know if it's related but they both love math!
"Root Cause Analysis (RCA) – sounds like a blast doesn’t it? We can all agree it’s important and should be a habit we adopt in our organizations, but few of us do it. Why? It takes time, self-reflection (personal and organizational), analysis and…. it’s focused on the negative, what didn’t work, what didn’t go well. Makes you wonder if Root Cause Analysis isn’t an oxymoron." Read on....