leadership dot #2654: enhanced

I’m listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Talking to Strangers and it’s a whole new experience in audiobooks. Instead of one narrator reading the verbatim copy from the print version, Gladwell produced this book more like a podcast: it has music, interludes, and audio clips from the source giving the quote instead of another reading it. It’s definitely not your grandmother’s book-on-tape!

I think a parallel example is if a book on Kindle came complete with videos, animations and hyperlinks. I know this occurs already with “e-features” in online versions of magazines and I imagine that books aren’t far behind.

All of this rich media serves to enhance the content and, in my opinion, also serves to diminish the imagination. I rely on books to take me to new lands – in my head. I don’t need literal pictures or audio to create characters if the author is competent in their craft.

It’s often said that movies aren’t as good as the book – in large measure because our own interpretation is different from what the director’s was. Let’s leave it that way by leaving it open for us to craft whole worlds in our imagination instead of being spoon-fed what was in someone else’s head.

leadership dot #2627: Sundays

It is surprising to me that traditional car dealers (at least in our area) are not open on Sunday. It’s also interesting to me that many states do not allow alcohol sales before noon on Sundays. Both seem to be vestiges of old “blue laws” when religious leanings prevented shopping or recreation on the Sabbath day. Now, almost everything is available 24/7 so it seems outdated and nonsensical that these two exceptions remain.

I wonder if car dealers will change their policy – presumably still in place for the convenience of their staff rather than for the consumer – when more online car outlets gain popularity. People are getting less and less tolerant about waiting for anything – and if they can’t buy from the dealer on Sunday, they may be apt to pursue other alternatives rather than shop on Monday.

Overall, it seems archaic that in today’s times any product is regulated or chooses to limit their sales availability. When the restrictions were first enacted, there were no online stores or 24/7 supercenters and now both are plentiful. Maybe it’s time to revisit who sells what when – if brick and mortar retailers want the “where” to be with them.


leadership dot #2598: camp

Two of my pre-teen friends and family are at overnight camp this summer, and since I am an avid user of snail mail, I’ve been invited to correspond.

One of the camps has a standard “no food” policy and checks packages to ensure that well-meaning relatives aren’t tempting the animals in an effort to treat their camper. But the other camp won’t even allow anything larger than a regular business-size envelope – not to keep the critters away, rather to allow the campers to disconnect from Amazon! Apparently last year several participants received daily deliveries courtesy of Prime and the administration (wisely) changed policy to stop it.

It’s one thing to have everything at your fingertips if you’re an adult or living in a metropolitan area but I wonder what it teaches young people when they have near-instant access to everything while at a remote camp. In this situation, I think the good intentions of the sender are misplaced and the young people would benefit more from a week free of technology, commercialism, and instant gratification. After all, isn’t that part of what going to camp is all about?

So, if you are lucky enough to have a summer pen pal, opt for a touch of nostalgia and send correspondence that is as primitive as their environment. Postcards are as much of a treat as Amazon and even more of a novelty in this day and age.

leadership dot #2583: library

Merriam-Webster needs to update its definition of “library.” Currently, a library is defined as “ a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale” — but that definition is so yesterday.

Today’s library is the Library of Things.

Libraries are among the best institutions at adapting to changing needs. They have reinvented themselves to focus on “lending” rather than maintain a narrow focus of what that involves. Libraries went from just having books to adding periodicals. Next came audiobooks (cassettes, then CDs, then streaming), then movies (videos, then DVDs, then BluRay). Now libraries fuel the sharing economy by offering collections of games, puzzles, specialty baking pans, tools and equipment. One library converted its obsolete card catalog into a Seed Library – filling the drawers with envelopes of seeds for customers to take and return when their grown plant creates new ones.

Libraries were among the first to furnish Maker Spaces as a venue to share audiovisual equipment, jewelry-making tools, sewing machines, 3-D printers, cameras, button machines, green screens and pottery wheels. One library near Lake Michigan checks out metal detectors on the beach and others loan clients reading glasses, computers, and Kindles.

The library has become what Starbucks defined as the Third Place – somewhere to meet and gather besides home or work. They provide access to the internet, coffee shops and children’s areas. In Boston, the library revamped its map room into a café with a tea lounge, complete with specialty drinks named after literary greats.

Today’s library embraces the key concept from Built to Last*: preserve the core and stimulate progress. They have remained true to the mission of offering free lending while embracing a modern interpretation of what articles they lend. They are good for the budget, for the environment, for the mind and for community connectedness.

How can you model the flexibility of today’s library and embrace the essence of your mission in a decidedly contemporary way?

*Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 2004

leadership dot #2568: fundamentals

When my 11-year old niece was visiting, one of the moments of entertainment was teaching her how to read a map. I got out the atlas in the car to show her some perspective of where the airport was vis a vis where I lived and it turned into a play-by-play accounting of the roads to take, the mileage and what town was coming next. Not being a driver, she has little need for maps or even GPS but from her novice perspective, it was quite fascinating that all the roads and cities were plotted out ahead of time.

Map reading is just one of the many foundational skills that are going by the wayside. My construction friend asked a young helper to read the tape measure and was dismayed to hear the answer as “5 and a third.” Anyone who knows about measurements knows that the marks are in quantities divisible by two – not in thirds – but apparently, ruler-reading has been dropped from the skill development repertoire.

The same is true for cursive writing, making change from the cash register when the machine fails to announce the proper amount to give, writing a check, addressing an envelope and a host of other life skills that once were commonplace.

While technology is wonderful, so is the knowledge that frees you from reliance on it. Take a moment to teach the young people with whom you interact the basics and keep the fundamentals from fading into oblivion.

at the University of Minnesota Post Office!

leadership dot #2519: vintage

Last weekend our town held its city-wide garage sales and I was struck by how the event has gone from a highlight of the spring to something barely noticeable. It used to be that hoards of people would walk the main streets, going from house to house hunting for treasures. This year we practically had to drive between sales because they were so few and far between and the buyers were even more sparse. It was a bust.

I hypothesize that eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other sites have diminished the allure of a garage sale. Families no longer need to rely on the annual event to unload their unwanted items; they can post them daily and garner some pocket change without the work required to host a weekend-long sale. I was talking with one of the lonely sellers about the phenomenon and she had two other thoughts on why the enthusiasm around sales had dulled: 1) people today are minimalists who don’t want shelves of knickknacks or lots of possessions without a purpose and 2) people are much more mobile, thus purge with each new move instead of accumulating generations of possessions in the family attic. They just have less to sell and have a waning interest in buying something that isn’t the latest and greatest.

Whatever the reason, it is sad that another community-building event seeming has reverted to an online transaction with no personal connections involved. While it may be more efficient to buy and sell via an e-commerce site, there is joy in spending a spring day wandering the neighborhood gathering bargains and treasures for a quarter here and a dollar there.

When you think of “shopping small” think of your local garage sales in that vein. You’ll keep someone’s castaways out of the landfill and amass your own eclectic collection of treasures for a bargain.

leadership dot #2489: mission creep

A recent editorial in our local paper lamented how the city has several elementary schools where nearly three out of four students qualify for free or reduced lunches and questioned whether the school district could do more for low-income schools. It caused me to wonder: when did schools become all-encompassing social services?

When I went to school, I was there to receive instruction. We brought our own lunches, made our own fun at home after school hours and received medical care from the doctor. Today, schools are expected to provide resources for health, wellness, mental health and recreation. The districts manage transportation, meals that accommodate a host of allergies and meet nutritional guidelines and post-school child care options. Schools are asked to address a wide range of social issues: bullying, vaping, teen pregnancy, drug education and now, apparently, even poverty.

I think about organizations like the school district and the role that communication plays in their organization. Consider what is required to keep the legislators, taxpayers and other influencers aware of the significant mission creep that the districts face – and the resources that are needed to effectively support them. Similar communication challenges happen in other centralized organizations that take on more and more over time – if they don’t effectively communicate how the scope has grown it’s likely that their tasks outweigh the human and financial assets required to provide all that is expected.

When you think of schools you think of classrooms, but they have become so much more. Is your organization in a similar situation – providing resources well beyond your original charge? If so, start today to repeatedly communicate what you really do so others understand the complexity and depth of what appears straightforward on the surface, and be prepared to draw the line if the scope creeps beyond your ability to provide it.

Editorial: “Data shows Dubuque’s ‘walk’ far from over, April 5, 2019, Telegraph Herald, p. 4A