Purpose before Passion

May 17, 2009

Earlier posts dealt with authenticity and passion and will and passion.  Yet, probably more important than just being passionate about something is figuring out the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish.

I’ve now watched this video by Umair Haque twice because a) the power of what he’s talking about and b) because I’m not nearly as smart as him and it took awhile for some of this to sink in.  Overall, in this talk and otherwise on his blog, he  lays out “5 Paths to Behavioural Innovation” and talks about things like “thin value” v. “thick value” and building a business on ideals: not focusing on what we can do but what we should do.  Basically speaking, having a higher purpose.

I had the opportunity recently to hear Todd Sattersten, of 800-ceo-read and co-author (with Jack Covert) of “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time” , talk about the “meta-themes” that came out of their research and review in picking the “100 Best”.  They believe that the key leaders and successful organizations discussed in these 100 Best Business Books share 5 things in common.  The first of these meta-themes is “Clarity of Purpose”.

Final data point for me related to the importance of purpose came in reading Tara Hunt’s recently published book, The Whuffie Factor.  Her 9th chapter (of 10) is called “Find Your Higher Purpose” and why it’s important for building whuffie (social capital).

So, to better direct one’s passion should first come purpose.  What’s yours?


Common Sense on the Run

May 4, 2009

While there are myriad examples of common sense as a lost art these days, the current pandemic over the swine flu aka H1N1 aka Gripe Porcina makes me shake my head in wonder.  As of yesterday, the Milwaukee Health Department, was reporting 54 “Probable” cases of H1N1 influenza and 2 “confirmed” and yet 21 schools are closed until further notice.  You want more info?  Click around the site and learn about symptoms, preventive measures like covering your cough, and best of all a link to the CDC which includes links to get “buttons” for your social media websites.  Boy, I bet plastering your site with “Cover It!”, “Stay Home!”, and “Wash ‘Em!” illustrated buttons will bring loads of new clients.

If the MPS school closings keep up, I’m thinking of opening a temporary day care co-op for affected (not to be confused with infected) parents whose work places are still fully operational.  We’ll have the kids work on math word problems like the following: If there are 54 Probable cases of swine influenza, 2 confirmed cases, and 21 schools closed, how many schools will probably close?  Extra credit: How long before schools reopen?  The correct answers will determine the funding required to run the temporary day care service.

Fear, Fidelity, Focus & School Reform

April 14, 2009

“Fear, Fidelity, and Focus” were the themes of the Easter sermon this past Sunday at my Church (Plymouth Church).  My broader takeaway was that fidelity/trust + focus = courage which can overcome fear.  A certain amount of fear is natural and healthy and shouldn’t be ignored but can be overcome with courage as defined by the above equation.

Shortly before Church on Easter Sunday, I’d been contemplating one of the editorials from the local Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that continued a theme that had been running in the press for the better part of the last week: Milwaukee J-S editorial on school governance.  The editorial and rhetoric that preceded it earlier in the week involved suggestions that, based on outside consultants analysis, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) might be better off if taken over by the Mayor’s office.

Both Tom Barrett, Milwaukee’s mayor, and the WI Governor, Jim Doyle, spoke out against MPS in its current form and the fiscal shortcomings when compared to the results in terms of student performance.  Conservatives essentially gave a thumbs-up to the takeover of the system and liberals along w/ many in the current MPS system said “wait a minute”.  My feeling is that we need reform/improvement but let’s find a win/win situation for our children rather than an adversarial horn-locking fight over control of the system.

What does the MPS situation have to do w/ the Easter sermon message?  Well, for one, there’s a lot of Fear of change among those in the system.  In particular, notions of changed governance,  running schools like businesses, etc. bring fears of “test to the test” behaviors, job loss, and many other fears.  To me, the issue is we have an system/organization that’s getting less than stellar results given all the money that goes into it and we need a better run organization.  Let’s not use the phrase “run it like a business” because as the current economy demonstrates quite well many businesses are not well run.  However, a school system is an organization and there are many good examples of well run organizations in both the private and public sector.  Let’s discard the Fear of change and Focus on positive examples of change that can be realized within a climate of trust/Fidelity.

Personally, I’m a bit skeptical of whether government taking over the governance of MPS is going to make it a better run organization.  That said, we need to throw out the fears of change, find those passionate about making a difference in lives of our children, create a climate of trust and support for those passionate individuals,  and focus resources toward supporting their best efforts.

It does not mean trying to make all schools the same or even that all MPS schools currently aren’t doing well.  My son is in one of the language immersion schools (Milwaukee German Immersion) and they do great things there.  I feel privileged to have a choice system here that allows me to send him to a school like this.  Are language immersion schools the answer for everyone?  Of course not, there is no one answer that’s the solution to the problem for all children.  However, more experimentation in offerings, better education for parents on what the options are, and more committed teachers and leaders that are fully supported and enabled by the system are a big part of the answer.

Tonight I took part in an online class on “Entrepreneurial Strategies” put on by a company called eduFire that was lead by their passionate founder, Jon Bischke.  Many of their course offerings are language classes aimed at adult learners but they also have many other general interest courses including the one I took tonight.  I bring it up because we live in a world where education and learning cannot stop.  If you walk the aisles of college graduation in a month or so and shut down your intellectual curiosity, then you might as well burn the paper your diploma is printed on.  Likewise, I would argue that in any career pursuit today that if you are not interested in continuing to learn that you will be severely limited in what you can achieve.  If you are a teacher and you are not passionate about life-long learning, then you need to find a new profession.

Will and Passion

March 31, 2009

Two days ago, 60 Minutes aired an interview between Steve Croft and LeBron James.  Much of the attention before, on promos run during the NCAA March Madness games just prior, and after focused on James sinking a 1-handed shot from half court in one take.  While that was quite remarkable given the apparent ease with which he flipped the shot in, I was struck more by an exchange between Croft and James a few minutes earlier.  Croft asked him what the most important part of his game was.  LeBron’s response: “the way I approach the game mentally.”  This apparently surprised Croft who called it “an unusual answer”.  I would argue that no one should be surprised by that answer: those at the top (in sports but probably most professions) have a talent set way above average, but they also want it more.
Around the same time the 60 Minutes interview was airing, Tiger Woods was coming from behind at Bay Hill to win his first PGA match post-surgery layoff.  Not only winning, but dropping in a long putt on the final hole to do so.  He’s an unbelievably talented golfer, but I think his passion and will to win put him over the top time and again.

In his 60 Minutes interview with the late Ed Bradley in March of 2006, Tiger said “I love to compete.  That’s the essence of who I am.”  Asked to clarify, Tiger explains that if he and Bradley were playing cards “right now”  that he’d “want to kick your butt.”  Bradley asks: “You’d want to win?”  Tiger: “No, I want to kick your butt.  There’s a difference.”

Before there was LeBron, the NBA was dominated by Michael Jordan.  His philosophy: “I play to win, whether during practice or a real game.  And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.”   Sound familiar?  Note the use of the word “will”.  Living in Chicago in the late 80’s and 90’s, I saw many key games come down to a remarkable finish with Michael willing his team to victory.

Final sports quote of this post: “You can’t put a limit on anything.  The more you dream, the farther you get.”  This one from another Michael, Phelps – the Golden Boy of the 2008 Summer Games.

While most of us do not have the physical or other gifts that could make us literally #1 in the world in our chosen professions, channeling the will and desire of the very best is what we need to keep in mind.  Find/pursue your passions, keep Michael P’s Big Dreams quote in mind, and don’t limit yourself.

Accentuate the positive!

March 23, 2009

I’ve been following the mainstream media (MSM) news coverage less and less these days.  Too much focus on negativity, celebrity culture, and attack politics.  A few examples from today’s morning lead stories (national):

  1. A plane crash in Montana.
  2. An economic story with a “will any of this really work” tone to the interview questions.
  3. Investigative report on banks using corporate jets, more to follow on longer report tonight (boy, can’t wait for that!)
  4. “Smiley Face” killer story; no update on who it might be, just a revisit of story and interview from nearly a year ago.


  1. Fatal crash involving cyclist from last night.
  2. Prison guard on trial for sex crimes.
  3. U of WI and Marquette both lose in NCAA tournament play.

Some positive stories or angles with potential positive spin, that either weren’t covered or were buried several pages in:

  1. UW women’s hockey team wins 3rd national championship in 4 years – is on p. 8 of the local sports pages.
  2. Retief Goosen wins first PGA event in nearly 4 years (p. 8 of sports as well).
  3. Find information and cover companies that are succeeding in tough times.  They’re out there (hint: don’t just follow big business and public firms).
  4. Cover weather when it’s not just storms wreaking havoc.  How about a list of Top 10 picks of places with great 7-day advance forecasts?
  5. Local examples of companies, schools, community services that are making a positive difference.  Again, they’re out there, let’s hear more about them.

Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed piece in NYT this weekend, “Are We Home Alone?”, where he puts forth a call to action to leaders to inspire more positive energy.  He quotes Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, “Laws tell you what you can do.  Values inspire in you what you should do.  It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.”  We need our leaders, at all levels, to inspire more.

Life is not always a bed of roses and I’m not advocating that we ignore the significant problems and challenges facing us these days.  However, I think we need more leaders with the courage to speak out about what’s working and stop hiding behind attack politics and the blame game.  To me this includes the media.  Much of MSM will likely stay the path of negative, sensationalist stories because they’ve convinced themselves that this sells.  Why don’t some within MSM take it upon themselves to go a different, positive direction – set the lead, stop following!

Finding fault and criticizing others is easy to do.  Figuring out what works, playing to our strengths, and staying on task related to ideals that really matter is harder but worth it in the long run.  All of us can help drive positive change if we start thinking about the positive changes we can affect in the world.  Stop watching and reading the MSM negative stories is a start; read and link others to positive ideas and thoughts online; help and encourage others around you; do some volunteer work; teach a kid a new skill; mentor a new co-worker; etc.

As I type this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks where the barista is greeting customers with “have a marvelous  Monday!” – on a rainy day no less.  We need more of that type of attitude right now.

Focus on What Matters

March 20, 2009

Today Eric Ries posted thoughts on building “companies that matter” on his Lessons Learned blog. This is a specific application of something I think we all need to spend more time on these days: focusing on what matters.  Ultimately we all have to determine what matters most to each of us and there are usually multiple things that matter in different facets of our lives.  However, in this world of information overload, continual mainstream media sensationalism and negativity, “transparency” that blurs the lines between personal and private, and on and on it’s easy to lose track of what matters.

If you get confused or wonder where to start, how about at the end?  That is, what do you want it to say on your gravestone?  I doubt it’s “reads and responds to lots of e-mail”, “great with Twitter”, “writes great ad pieces” . . .  My advice, first think about what you want your family and friends to say about you – would they say what you want?  Then, your co-workers and customers – would they say what you want and more importantly would the customers and co-workers agree?  If you’re getting honest yes answers to these questions, then you’re probably focused on what matters.  If not, restart, recharge, and think more about the big picture.

Quality v Quantity

March 12, 2009

I was going to title this “Best & Worst of Internet are the Same”. In other words, the breadth/quantity of the info at our fingertips these days is amazing but sifting through it for what matters to you (quality as defined by user) can be daunting. Even with the best search tools as your guide. However, I decided that this is also true about more than just the Internet (the first search entry on quality v quantity doesn’t even mention the Internet and sex is high on the list of items discussed).

Part of what prompted my current thought on the topic is trying to keep up with the endless stream of tweets on Twitter (e.g. over 20 in the last hour from at least 13 different people/sources and I’m only “following” 88). While there are great snippets of info & links here, even some of the “thought leaders” have random musings that clutter the feed. That said, I’ll still take the quality of what’s there weighed against the downside of quantity overload. To me it’s about constantly broadening the scope of who, what, and how you’re listening/gathering information and using the continually improving search tools and your own critical thinking skills to refine and go deeper on what adds value for you.

Readers can judge the quality of this post; to stay quantity light, I will end here.