Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Balaton Group" Members - bonded and empowered by face-to-face conversations

I am writing in my Ibis Styles hotel room, on a cold, rainy fall evening in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River. This morning, my Balaton Group colleagues and I concluded most recent of successive annual meetings on the shores of Lake Balaton that began in 1982.  The group’s mission “generating new research, new action and new solutions for sustainability” is aptly described on the Group’s website, and need not be repeated.  A display of several hundred book covers of volumes published by Balaton Group members exhibits the range of member interests and contributions. There is a short video, crafted by filmmaker John deGraaf that conveys the texture of our annual meeting, limited to about 50 members, that more closely resembles an extended-family gathering than a professional meeting.
At this year’s conference, a survey by Balaton Group co-founder Dennis Meadows provided a useful way of capturing this distinctive ambience. Members were given a sheet listing the names of the 50 plus participants.  We were asked to enumerate our conversations with other members according to the following scheme: (a) a pleasant, casual conversation (b) an extended conversation including new information that would be professionally useful  (c) an extended conversation containing contextual and theoretically relevant content that could very likely lead to a future professional collaboration.
Conversations typically took place during meals, in one-on-one conversations arranged by appointment; on the bus-rides to-and-from Budapest, and on long walks. In “category b” I also included “professional coaching” sessions.  I always have extended conversations of this nature with present and former “Donella Meadows” fellows, highly capable young professionals who are invited to join the meeting and discussions, with full funding.
Reviewing this compilation was illuminating, both about the meeting process and my own role. I had engaged in at least one-on-one or small group casual conversations with all but three participants.  There had been twenty or more extended conversations, including those with Donella Meadows Fellowship recipients. Two of these lasted more than two hours, and several consumed more than an hour. At least three are likely to be followed up with professional collaborations.
I came away from the meeting, exhausted, but also enriched and empowered, both professionally and personally.  The result was exactly what Donella and Dennis Meadows envisioned when they founded the Balaton Group. I am reminded of a quotation from Lee Kuan Yew School Dean Kishore Mahbubani that I have posted in my office.   One of the oldest truths about the human condition is that direct conversation always helps.  There is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Why reports of recent US Naval ship collisions puzzle and sadden me

As my students know, I spent five years on active duty in the US Navy. This was preceded by four years as a “Midshipman,” while attending Dartmouth College, prior to commissioning as an “Ensign” the most junior officer rank.
Three of my active duty years were “sea duty” on the USS Lansing, a 300 plus foot long radar picket destroyer (DER388). One of the most responsible duties of a naval officer at sea is standing “Officer Of the Deck” watches. I was also Officer of the Deck during general quarters and “special sea detail” (circumstances involving greater potential hazards to the ship like entering and leaving port
In the capacity of “officer of the deck” safety of the ship is one of his (or her)  primary responsibilities.  He is “on watch” quite literally. Officer of the Deck watches are particularly important during the hours from 10PM in the evening until 7 AM or so when the ship’s captain may be asleep or, at least, no on the ship’s bridge.
In discussion of the collisions with container ship and abstract speculations about causes of these two catastrophic collisions, why has been no mention the fact that respective officers of the deck failed to carry out their duties  Were they not on the bridge, looking about them, carrying out their primary mission ensuring the safety of their ships?  Along with the ship’s captains (who have – properl _y been targeted)  why have they not been mentioned as complicit in these happenings.  How could these  officers of the not have seen the huge bulk of a container ship and maneuvered to avoid it.  Why are discussions of these catastrophes couched in abstractions?  Was the officer of the deck not on deck?  Was he relying on some IT system rather than viewing the circumstances of this ship through the bridge window shields, anticipating the problem, summoning the captain to the bridge and, in the meantime taking the necessary evasive action.

Perhaps the US Navy has become a different organization, with different definitions of responsibility than when I served.  However I find it hard to understand why collisions between naval vessels and container ships could not have been avoided if officers of the deck and the captains who qualified them as watch standers had been following the practices and precautions that were viewed as imperatives during my years of active duty naval service. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tasking your staff members to do what they love: American University's Green Teaching Certificate Program

Though It has been nine years since I stepped down as Director of American University’s Centre for Teaching, Research and Learning (CTRL)  and eight years since I became Emeritus Professor, I still receive announcements of Centre Programs. Yesterday, I received the following announcement from Anna Olsson, Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning Resources.

As you are getting ready for your fall courses, this is a great time to consider joining over 500 AU faculty members and become a Certified Green Teacher.  AU's Green Teaching Program, which both has won a national award and been adopted by six other universities around the country, allows faculty to choose from a list of sustainability measures to collect points towards a Green Teaching Certificate for their courses. The process only takes ten minutes, and if certified, your 2017-2018 course syllabi and Blackboard pages will be awarded a Green Teaching Certificate Seal.  Learn more, and start your Green Teaching Certificate Application

The “Award winning Green Teaching Program,” described in the CTRL message offers an example of one of my favorite management principles:  find out what colleagues in your organization most enjoy doing and create opportunities for them to do it as part of their responsibilities. 
Some years ago, Anna Olsson was Director of a CTRL facility called “The “Faculty Corner.  It was combination lounge and teaching, learning and IT support resource for faculty members.  Free amenities were available.  There was a great library of teaching and learning books and other resources.  There were always two or more of our best consultants available for face-to-face assistance.

One day, I was hanging out in the Faculty Corner;  Anna and I were speaking.  She was an environmentally conscious staff member and was bemoaning what she viewed as an excessive use of paper in our teaching activities.  “Create a program to address the problem,” I suggested; “you will have my full support and any resources you need.”  Anna’s creation was the Award Winning Green Teaching Certificate  Program. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore - The World's Friendliest Tax Collector

When I returned to the office after my sojourn in Florida, Cambridge Mass and Taos New Mexico, a letter from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore awaited me.  “Your account shows tax balance of a [about] $500, the letter informed me.  The deadline for paying without an additional assessment had already expired. Thus an additional fine would have to be paid, though the amount was not large.  
I knew that my best strategy was “direct action.” The next morning I booked a Comfort-Citicab taxi and embarked for Revenue House, the headquarters of the IRAS, located at Singapore’s Novena Square.
Because Revenue House is also home to the National Population and Talent Division and the National Climate Change Secretariat, Office of the Prime Minister it is a familiar venue. It was my privilege to introduce System Dynamics modeling to staff members of the two Ministries in the spring of 2014. Once before,  I had also paid a visit to resolve a minor tax issue.
Customers with tax issues to resolve first approach a service counter where four revenue officers are on duty.  While clients are encouraged to use online services, seeking personal attention seems to carry no stigma. My wait-time before receiving personal attention was less than 5 minutes.  The revenue officer who served me was a courteous, knowledgeable, just-past-middle-aged professional.  Locating my file online, based on the correspondence I provided, he explained that the arrears was not covered by the “Automatic No Filing Service” submission for 2016, but a recalculation holdover from the previous year. On his own authority, he immediately set-aside the modest fine for late payment.  I would be able to pay by cheque and the cheque could be submitted at an adjacent office of the Singapore Post Office, he explained. The post office employee who accepted my cheque was equally courteous, helpful and efficient.   Excluding transit time, the entire transaction took less than 30 minutes, leaving me time to buy groceries an a nearby shopping centre before returning to my office.
“Comparisons are invidious” my mother taught me years ago.  The US Tax Code is far more complex. For Taxpayers with any degree of complexity in their income stream, obtaining the professional assistance of a tax accountant is mandatory. Meeting and Internal Revenue Service Officer personally, unless one is being audited is out of the question. Employees of the US Internal Revenue Service are dedicated professionals, doing their best, however their task is a daunting one.

However credit should be accorded where credit is due.  Were there an international award given for “The World’s Friendliest Tax Collector,” Singapore’s Internal Revenue Authority would win my nomination, hands down!!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Cornfield in the Middle of A Campus?

8 August,  2017
This Sunday is “check in day” at Residential College 4, National University of Singapore. It is a fun day for greeting arriving new students, sometimes accompanied by their parents; also for catching up with older students who are departing for international exchange adventures.
A few minutes ago I spoke with a student who soon will be departing for the University of Illinois, located in the Midwestern heartland of the US, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I know this institution very well.  It was one research site for my doctoral dissertation and first book, Partners in Development: An Analysis of AID University Relations 1960-1966. What I remember most about about U of I Champaign Urbana is that a cornfield, rather than a grass-covered quadrangle, graces, its center-campus.
This highlights U of I Champaign Urbana’s origins as one of American’s educational innovations, the “Land-Grant” public university. These Universities are legacies of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, enacted in 1862, which endowed higher-education institutions, devoted primarily to agriculture and engineering, with substantial grants of public lands. Among them are my own Ph.D. Alma Mater, The University of Minnesota; also the University of Michigan, the University of Indiana, Cornell University, and many more. The mission of these institutions was public service. For years, low tuitions made the opportunity tor a high quality university education available to all. As I recall, my University of Minnesota tuition was $50 per credit hour. Sadly, this is less true today.
It has always interested me that Singapore’s educational leaders seem to look more towards America’s “Ivy League” Universities rather than its Land Grant Universities for institutional models. An exciting exemplar, Yale-NUS College, is a towering neighbor of our Residential Colleges, including my own Residential College 4. I have nothing against ‘”the Ivies” of course.  After all, my undergraduate degree is from one of them, Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire! 
To be sure, NUS has no cornfield gracing its mid-campus.  However Congressman Justin Morrill and his colleagues would be gratified to know that in a far distant land, there is another institution with a similar mission to the Land Grant Universities: public service to the Nation of Singapore and its people. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Sharing Three Management Lessons with a Gifted Colleague

Not long ago I received word that one my American University School of International Service’s most brilliant, multifaceted doctoral students, Prof. (Dr.) Christine Chin, had assumed one of my former responsibilities, Director of the University’s Center for Teaching Research and Learning - CTRL (formerly the Center for Teaching Excellence – CTE) . More recently I learned she had been named as the School’s interim Dean.  Happily she is slated to return to CTRL after a one-year term.
These appointments led me to reflect on and share three lessons that I drew from my own years as a manager.  While they might not be relevant all cultural contexts, they served me well..
Lesson #1. “Bad news” is the “news” a manager most needs to know and the hardest for her (or him) to get. Don’t only be open to “bad news” seek it out.  Edwin Catmull expresses the same truth differently in his marvelous book on effective management at Pixar, Creativity Inc.  “If there is more truth telling around the water-cooler than in the executive suite the organization is in trouble” He observes.
Lesson #2. If you want to have staff members be effective, find out what the like to do best and, no matter what is their “job description,” create opportunities for them to do it. Applying this principal transformed several mediocre performers into stars.
Lesson #3. Commitment to serve. I also shared a practice that contributed to the distinctiveness and reputation of CTE/CTRL University-wide.  At a point in our beginning-fall-term day-long welcome and orientation for more that 50 new and old staff members I would ask the assembled group – “if you receive a request from someone seeking information or assistance from (CTE/CTRL), whatever the request may be, what are the four words with which, if you respond, may result in summary dismissal?  The answer: