I spent the morning trying to catch-up on all the emails that have been piling-up and the stuff I have been collecting to read for the book we are are writing on scaling-up excellence. Huggy Rao and I spent the week as co-directors of an executive program called Customer-Focused Innovation. We had great fun and learned an enormous amount from the 65 executives who participated in blend of traditional classroom education (we call it the "clean models" part) and d.school experiential education -- project with JetBlue aimed at bringing more "humanity" to air travel for their customers (we call this the "dirty hands" part).
The program appears to be a big success (participants rated it 4.87 on a 5-point "willingness to recommend" scale). But after all those logistics and all that social ramble, I am delighted to have a quiet day. I wasn't planning on doing a post, but I couldn't resist sharing the opening of an article by the amazing Karl Weick, one of the most imaginative people in my field.
Karl started out his 2002 British Journal of Management on "Puzzles in Organizational Learning: An Exercise in Disciplined Imagination" this way:
It is sometimes possible to explore basic questions in the university that are tough to raise in other settings. John Gardner (1968, p. 90) put it well when he said that the university stands for:
• things that are forgotten in the heat of battle
•values that get pushed aside in the rough and tumble of everyday living
• the goals we ought to be thinking about and never do
• the facts we don’t like to face
• the questions we lack the courage to ask
I read that list over and over. As you may know, the late John Gardner was one of the most thoughtful leadership "gurus" who ever lived and so much more. As a university professor, this reminded me of why my colleagues and I -- at our best, we all screw-up at times -- do certain things that annoy, surprise, and -- now and then -- actually help people. We feel obligated to take years trying to figure out the answers to questions that seem pretty simple on the surface. We study obscure things that seem trivial or at least not very important right now. We feel obligated to go with the best evidence even when we don't like answer (e.g., the recent Stanford study that shows there is little or no documented health advantage to organic food isn't something I want to hear, but it is so carefully done that I accept it as the provisionally true). We also feel obligated to ask questions of ourselves at others that can be quite unpleasant for everyone.
I think of my colleague Jeff Pfeffer in particular here, who throughout his whole career, has raised questions about everything from the overblown effects of leadership, to the ways that focusing on money turns us greedy and selfish, to his current work on how organizations and workplaces can make us ill and cause us to die premature deaths. Jeff has made a lot of people squirm people over the years, including me, but he is doing exactly what John Gardner asserted that a good professor ought to do -- seek and tell the truth, even when it is hard to take.
As has happened so many times throughout the nearly 30 years I have been a university professor, Karl Weick (with a big assist from John Gardner this time) has reminded me yet again of what is important in my line of work and the standards I should try to follow.