Four Things I Learned Over A Weekend

April 1, 2015 by

On a recent weekend, as I was visiting a museum, judging a contest, watching sports, and preparing a budget, insights turned into learnings.

Beware of superlatives. While at a museum, I was reminded that New Guinea is the second largest island in the world. The exhibit however didn’t mention the largest island, upon which a lively debate arose. Greenland or Australia? To end the suspense, Greenland is the largest. Australia is considered a continent, though apparently it is sometimes referred to as the ‘island continent.’ Greenland and New Guinea, on almost opposite ends of the world, different in climate and culture, are very near in one superlative – land mass size. Superlatives illuminate one aspect of a country or a person, while largely ignoring the nuances and differences that make up the whole, the combination of characteristics that sets up for success. As someone privileged to lead, I adhere to the premise that, unlike the high school yearbook, everyone is ‘most likely to succeed.’ This doesn’t mean that as in grade school soccer, everyone gets a trophy. It means that everyone should be supported and developed to get their own personal trophy. Just as one superlative should not define a person, one definition of success does not apply to all.

“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” Albert Einstein

You’ve never ‘seen it all.’ I was honored to serve as a judge at #SpartaHack, the MSU hackathon. For 36 hours, individuals and teams worked to build an application. A collaboration app designed for humanities, a 3D gestured-controlled update on a 1980s arcade game, improved mobile phone power management, bill paying for multi-tenant housing … these are just some of the amazing new ideas brought to life by students, some still in high school. When a student (showing no signs of 36 hours without sleep) bounded to the front of the auditorium festooned with strings of lights to demo his group’s motion-controlled lighting, I knew that yet again, I hadn’t seen it all. Creativity and innovation are all around us. Every school and every community should have its own “SpartaHack.”

“Gettin’ good players is easy. Gettin’ ‘em to play together is the hard part.” Casey Stengel

Teamwork matters. Admittedly, I wasn’t mad about March Madness until coming to the Big 10, but I’ve become a fan and admirer. Watching the MSU Spartans make it to the Final Four is a reminder that while there are always stand-out individuals, it is the team that plays, the team that wins or loses. The best talent in the world will fail if there is no team structure or culture. The leader as coach needs to go beyond talent acquisition, they need to make the talent to be stronger than the sum of its parts.

“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.” Edward G Bulwer-Lytton

Be (im)patient. There’s always a goal out there: strategic objectives, project completions, process improvements. It’s good to be impatient if that energy is directed towards positive progress. Have metrics improved since last month? Has a project issue or risk disappeared? Did that new feature get built? Did the budget template get filled out? While waiting for the big hairy audacious goal to be achieved, ensure that as each day passes, the incremental steps that lead to major achievement are happening. Every journey starts with the first step, and you’ve got to keep walking.

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