If you live your life working to innovate inside the academy all you have to do is watch the first minute and a half of the above scene from the Hudsucker Proxy and you’ll find yourself in very familiar territory. I especially love that the same questions get asked over and over without even waiting to hear an answer. In my experience the questions are mostly a smoke screen to draw attention away from the real issue — fear. Want to know what I love about the people who will show up at the 2011 TLT Symposium this weekend? They ask questions not to divert attention, but to actually work to understand the potential answers. Bring your questions and your passion … it is on! My favorite time of the work year has arrived!

Being Better

I was shared an article in the NY Times yesterday morning titled, Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss. It is really an interesting read for lots of reasons, but some of the things buried in the article speak to me on many levels. It is no secret that managers and administrators are nearly always criticized for what those around us perceive as major shortcomings. I am not always above the critical voice, but I am also in a position where I am really trying to provide the kind of leadership my staff can be proud of. I know I don’t always pull that off.

A serious topic of conversation with my leadership team has been the notion of developing leadership from all areas of the organization. That isn’t an easy concept to grab ahold of for lots of reasons, but the bottom line is that so many people are so busy that asking them to take on more to learn how to manage better is really difficult. In higher education that is sometimes one of the few ways to grow — take on more. The last thing I want is for people to be in management situations before they are ready for it — the idea of a group of people being managed by someone not ready makes me uncomfortable. I think in a lot of IT organizations we think about how our IT managers needs to be the strongest technical people in our organizations. Google found something different as they dug through the data.

But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

I think this is a really big thing for us all to pay attention to. Too often we don’t promote people who don’t fit into our model of the seriously technical. What google is exposing is something we need to be aware of — technical expertise is really important for a technical manager, but less so than the ability to connect with staff. Sounds simple but in practice it is elusive. The data google is using to make this discovery is related to a trend that is evident in our field as we are all living in a world with a new reliance on data to make decisions in education technology. The annual Educause Learning Initiative meeting last month is evidence of that movement.

H.R. has long run on gut instincts more than hard data. But a growing number of companies are trying to apply a data-driven approach to the unpredictable world of human interactions.

While I don’t think we need to get utterly carried away with the notion of analytics for every decision, we do need to collect and pay attention to what our data is telling us. Using google’s results is a great start and leads us to a place where we can start to take a deeper look at how we are all doing our jobs. In our space it is so critical to be self reflective — to step back, look in the mirror, and try to get better through reflection. It isn’t always easy, but just knowing that sometimes it is better to simply listen and help then it is to solve is a start.

Update: here is a a link to all eight of google’s principles.

I’m Back.

“I’m back.”
–Michael Jordan, announcing on March 18, 1995 his return to the Chicago Bulls

Too dramatic? Yeah, probably, but it is almost March 18th. Over a year ago I had decided to move my entire blog existence from a self hosted WordPress platform to TypePad. I did this for quite a few reasons, the biggest two were to get out of the business of managing my own installation and to experience another platform altogether. I was so frustrated by a really slow host and what I considered a less than powerful writing environment. I really enjoyed using TypePad, but there were too many times I missed the advances happening in the WP space. I will say that in the year I was away, WP really grew and matured. In the end, there are just too many people on this bus.

So in light of all that progress and growth I’ve decided to come back. I spent a few hours yesterday migrating things back over here to my own installation of WordPress, writing under my own URL again, and am finding myself to be pleasantly surprised by the speed I am experiencing. What does this mean for other parts of my life where I’ve neglected WP? Not quite sure yet, but rest assured that the labs are cooking up something really good. We all have to stay tuned to how deep the energy flow can take our collective decision making across multiple spaces. In short, I am very excited about the potential moving forward on lots of fronts.

I’ll have to leave it at that for now. What I will say is that it was amazingly easy to make the migration. The other thing I will mention is that I learned quite a bit from using TypePad for an extended period of time … it does a few things so much better than WP. Some of those things are ideas I’ve pulled into conversations relative to how publishing platforms can better support faculty, staff, and student workflows, social connections, and participation. I am still searching for some of the more elusive pieces to integrate into my professional workflows, but by sampling a diversity of platforms I feel like I am getting closer to it. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for Jim to leave a taunting comment or tweet.

Well, we’ll see if it sticks … I mean it took Jordan until March 28th to really be back. Now that was a killer Birthday present!

Becoming a New Object

Good iPad apps can make the iPad feel not like a device running an app, but like an object that is the app. GarageBand isn’t a musical app running on an iPad. It turns an iPad into a musical instrument.


This is John Gruber talking about GarageBand from the iPad 2 reveal earlier this week. This thought, that the best apps turn the iPad into a whole new device is something we discussed when it first arrived last year. Scott McDonlad and I took our iPads into our Disruptive Technology class a day after it shipped to share with our students … that single point was what many of the students marveled at — that a device like the iPad becomes something new each time you launch a new app, at least when you launch a good app.

I like that notion a lot. It is still what separates the iPad from my laptop — it is the app I am running.