black box thinking

Last week, I read this book as part of my doctoral studies. It draws parallels between the aviation industry and other business sectors. In a nutshell, the book is about failure and how failure can be the impetus of growth and change. 

Failure is a dirty word in most organizations. And, failure is something many of us are now experiencing given the ways in which the system has failed us. Failure of leadership at the national level in response to the pandemic. Failure to hold officials accountable for their actions. Failure to ensure all citizens are given equal rights under the law. I could keep going, but I my intent is not to point to all the failures, big and small, in society and business. My point in talking about failure to echo the theme of this book.

Simply stated, there is often a disparity in the approach to failure and how it can guide our thinking. This is especially true when comparing the aviation company's approach to failure with the approach taken in the health-care industry. If we fail to analyze our failures, fail to share our thinking, and fail to improve our approach, then we are destined to be stuck in a loop of blame and ignorance.

Fail hard. Fail often. Fail forward.

quotes from Black Box Thinking:

  • “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

  • “A failure to learn from mistakes has been one of the single greatest obstacles to human progress.”

  • “Society, as a whole, has a deeply contradictory attitude to failure. Even as we find excuses for our own failings, we are quick to blame others who mess up.”

  • “It is partly because we are so willing to blame others for their mistakes that we are so keen to conceal our own. We anticipate, with remarkable clarity, how people will react, how they will point the finger, how little time they will take to put themselves in the tough, high-pressure situation in which the error occurred. The net effect is simple: it obliterates openness and spawns cover-ups. It destroys the vital information we need in order to learn.”

  • “Only by redefining failure will we unleash progress, creativity, and resilience.”

  • “Attention, it turns out, is a scarce resource: if you focus on one thing, you will lose awareness of other things.”

  • “When people don’t interrogate errors, they sometimes don’t even know they have made one (even if they suspect they may have).”

  • “When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.”

  • “Cognitive dissonance occurs when mistakes are too threatening to admit to, so they are reframed or ignored. This can be thought of as the internal fear of failure: how we struggle to admit mistakes to ourselves.”

  • “The problem today is that we operate with a ballistic model of success. The idea is that once you’ve identified a target (creating a new website, designing a new product, improving a political outcome) you come up with a really clever strategy designed to hit the bullseye.”

  • “Success is not just dependent on before-the-event reasoning, it is also about after-the-trigger adaptation.”

  • “In the absence of data, narrative is the best we have.”

  • “Marginal gains is not about making small changes and hoping they fly. Rather, it is about breaking down a big problem into small parts in order to rigorously establish what works and what doesn’t.”

  • “Creativity is, in many respects, a response.”

  • “If we wish to fulfill our potential as individuals and organizations, we must redefine failure.”

life

The new normal.  
I've heard this phrase a lot lately. Repeated in the media, on twitter, and in conversations. It crops up almost as much as the word pivot...another word that needs to disappear. Even the meteorologist used it recently. "We are going to pivot into some warmer temperatures over the next few days." Ugh. 


But, the phrase the new normal bothers me. Why are we trying to normalize this pandemic? We have all made adjustments to our daily routines. We have watched the economy come to a grinding halt. And, now many public school districts are facing massive budget shortfalls. There is nothing normal about it. 

School will be different as the Fall semester begins. That much is certain. Students, parents, staff, and every stakeholder in education knows this. I am optimistic that education can shift away from high-stakes testing, but I worry that many of the services will be absent when kids return to school. Districts here in California are already planning to reduce staff. And, librarians and counselors top the list. Elective course, like art and computer science, may not exist in the Fall. 

It is difficult to see a way out of this new normal, I suppose. Maybe we are looking at this situation the wrong way. Maybe it requires us to look beyond the surface. Maybe something good can come of this situation and create a new and better normal. 

rights & responsibilities

With the current discussion around the reopening of schools and businesses, there is little understanding of how accomplish it safely. I understand that many business owners want to generate revenue and employees want to return to work. And, I know many kids want to return to the classroom...just as most teachers and professors do. But, reopening schools and reopening businesses are two vastly different notions.  

I do not have the answers. I trust the scientists, physicians, immunologists, and other highly skilled people to find the answers. Yet, the divide between science and politics is evident in this country. Some want freedom, and to "liberate" their state from quarantine, while others wonder what else can be done. And, I think the image below sums up this argument quite nicely. 

Either way, school will look very different going forward. UC, CSU, and many community colleges have opted for online learning (distance learning) only for the Fall 2020 semester. While distance learning is better than nothing, it makes me wonder about the pedagogy and the practice of learning online. Education as we know it is changing. For some, this is a good thing. For others, this is terribly frightening. For me, it just shows that technology alone will not fix education. Students have a right to quality education. As educators, we have a responsibility to shape it into something amazing. 

Each new craze proclaims that the house is falling down, even as it does nothing to repair the real, foundational problems…

William Rankin 

behaviors

Behaviors of Servant Leadership

Last week's studies detailed the 10 characteristics of servant leadership as identified by Spears (2002) from the writings of Robert Greenleaf. Now that I know the attributes of a servant leader, how do I begin to translate those dispositions into actions and behaviors? 

Liden, Wayne, Zhao, and Henderson (as cited in Northouse, 2019) identified seven behaviors as part of the servant leadership process. Each behavior can comprise multiple actions to accomplish the work of servant leadership. Here are the behaviors with some sample actions that servant leaders take to maintain the servant leadership model:

  1. Conceptualizing: deep understanding of an organization’s purpose, mission, goals, and problems (Northouse, 2019) 

  2. Emotional healing: showing active support for a person’s well-being 

  3. Put followers first: soulful connection with people, customers, and stakeholders  

  4. Helping followers grow and succeed: Mentoring is a conscious effort to help followers (Murphy, 2011)

  5. Behaving ethically: leading by example and modeling the values that the organization espouses (Kouzes & Posner, 2012) 

  6. Empowering: providing the freedom and support for followers to make independent decisions (Northouse, 2019) 

  7. Creating value for the community: goes beyond the core business of an organization 

To lead people, walk behind them.

—Lao Tzu