The Innovative University

The Innovative University

This blog title is the same as a book by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring published earlier this year. Clayton Christensen has been lauded many times as one of the best thinkers on the planet by Forbes and others. He came to my attention a long number of years ago with a book titled: How Will You Measure Your Life.” You should read it; it will provoke serious thinking.  Dr Christensen left us in January R.I.P.

The Innovative University was published in 2011 but it is very appropriate today.

But let me start with the theme of customer service. Schools are no different than any other business which is supplying a product or a service to a customer. In the Industry in which I spent my career, the Construction Equipment Industry I wrote often in my monthly columns about customer service. I would like to highlight some key points on customer service from a book titled “The Discipline of Market Leaders” written by Michael Treacey and Fred Wiersema. They focused on three areas: –

  1. Operational Excellence

Offering attractive pricing as well as convenience and reliability

  1. Product Excellence

The result of product of service performance excellence

  1. Customer Intimacy

The use of “micro” marketing to work with smaller segments of the market.

Educators need to pay more attention to these three items.

In the customer service world, there is a long-standing perspective that says “if you are going to be mediocre – stay mediocre – don’t confuse your customer.” Well let’s apply that to education. How consistently does the customer get a “consistent” offering of learning? So there is the first question to be answered? Who is the customer? In the Innovative University they say it is “Alumni and State Legislators. I say it is the Students and their Parents. The second question is – What IS a learning offering? What are the schools teaching? It used to be that schooling was put in place to provide professional personal development to students to prepare them for a career. That the career would be contributing to society and provide productivity and profitability for the employer. Is that what we are dealing with today?

The total student debt in the US in 2019 reached an all-time high of $1.41 Trillion.

One of the interesting aspects of education in this “disruptive world” is that although we have seen many new “entrants” to the learning platform we have seen very few “exits.” The book used as the title of this blog had a goal “to inspire today’s higher education community to do what it did in the late 1800’s when Harvard and its ‘peers created a new model of higher education.”

So, let’s take a deeper dive into education. To start with education is typically the largest discretionary item on the budget of the states. In most states it is on the chopping block or at least subjected to large tuition and other related costs for the student to pay. Are we getting our money’s worth? Are we getting work ready people with degrees? I won’t answer that question as I think it is quite obvious as to the answer.

Over the years we have seen some dramatic changes in education. In 1929 – 1930 there were 248,000 public schools.  In 2015 – 2016 that number dropped to 98,000. Elementary schools have changed their approach with Middle Schools and Junior High Schools but the total number of secondary schools has remained relatively constant at 23,900.

After secondary school society has been pushing everyone to get a college degree. Vocational and Technical Schools are also in the teaching business. This type of learning typically leds to job-specific certifications – “job ready” graduates. This sector of the education world is growing at an ever-increasing rate as technology becomes more embedded in more and more jobs. An Education World article “What Happened to Vocational Education (and why we need it back) states that about 70% of High Schools students attend College. However, of those who attend college 40% of the students don’t complete their schooling. And on top of that 37% of the currently employed college graduates are employed doing work that only a high school degree is required.

Clearly these facts are telling us something.

One final note is to be made. Benchmark Assessments, form Common Core standards, to SAT’s and ACT’s everyone seems to be focused on college readiness. More recently you are seeing Colleges drop the need of SAT’s and ACT’s. The SAT, Scholastic Aptitude Test) was introduced by the College Board in 1926. The SAT was originally designed NOT to be aligned with a high school curriculum. In 2016 that was changed. Now it is tied to Common Core.

The scores have changed over the years. Combined Math and Reading/Verbal scores have changed. In 1972 it was 1,039 – In 1982 the score was 997 – In 1992 it was 1,001 – In 2002 it was 1,020 in 2012 it was 1,014. Reasonably consistent. The changes made make comparisons between the old scores and the new scores very difficult.

It is now clearly recognized that there is a need for a radical review and redesign of the learning process. The Internet and On-Line learning have shown that quite effectively. This pandemic, however, has caused some hesitation. Many schools simply went to “Zoom” or some other technology tool and taught the same material in the same manner with the same teachers as if they were in the classroom. That is not a workable answer. Parents across the country in surveys are expressing their opinions on this and those opinions are not favorable.

For “Learning Without Scars” we use skills assessments extensively. They are specific assessments to a specific job function. We have “Skill Levels” for each job function based on thousands of assessments being completed. We categorize employees as having four levels of skills; basic, intermediate, advanced, and expert. We provide specific classes within “Learning Paths” to allow the employees to improve their skill level. We are providing the employees the opportunity to improve their skills and as a result improve the opportunities that they have for their careers.

The US has a high preponderance of the schools for higher education in the world. In 1990 Henry Rosovsky, former Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences wrote that “Fully two thirds to three quarters of the best Universities are located in the United States.”  That is still true. In 2010 the academic ranking of World Universities listed seventeen US Universities in the top twenty globally and thirty-six of the top fifty Universities in the world.

Those results show that we do know how to do it. However, we have work to do. It is time we had a comprehensive review and redesign of some of the foundation building blocks.

The Time is Now.

The Times We Live In

The Times We Live In

I have just finished an incredible book by a man I consider to be one of the best thinkers on the planet today. His name is George Friedman, and the book is “The Storm Before The Calm.” With everything going on in the world today I thought it would be appropriate to introduce this book.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I would like to change that. I disagree. I believe that the only thing that we have to fear is the unknown. With the worldwide fear associated with the novel Coronavirus infecting more than a hundred nations I believe a great deal of the panic surrounding this virus is more about the unknown than anything else. In our lifetimes, we have not experienced this type of emergency in our country.

This is where Friedman’s book comes in. He talks about two major cycles in the history of the United States: the Institutional Cycle and the Socioeconomic cycle. One typically spans eighty years and the other spans fifty years. In the 2020 – 2030 decade both of these cycles, for the first time in our history, occur within the same decade.

Today we live in highly polarized times. In my recollection, there used to be a time when two people, or groups, of differing political leanings could talk to each other. Now, it seems as if everyone is in their own echo chamber. The political parties continue to create “identity” groups and we are labelled with “derogatory” labels if we don’t agree with the other side, no matter what the side.

Most of you are aware of the challenges facing the educational community today. There is huge student debt, supported by federal government guarantees. There is elitism at the major Universities. There are professors who are grossly underutilized. There is almost too much happening. Into this world comes internet-based learning. This is the arena in which we are directly involved at Learning Without Scars.

Friedman puts forward a very interesting thesis regarding the future state of education. It is both timely and well worth the read. I trust that it will provoke some thinking for all of you.

The Time is Now.

Goals – Passion – Struggles

Goals – Passion – Struggles

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman by the name of Ed Wallace. He is he author of many books as well as being on the faculty of Drexel’s LeBow College of Business and Villanova University’s Human Resources Master’s Program.

In his book “Business Relationships That Last” he talks about five steps to transform contacts into high-performing relationships. It is a great read.

In it he talks about GPS. No, not the type in your car or on your telephone, GPS in your relationships with people. He is telling us that if you are perceived by people, your customers, your co-workers, your family and friends, to be interested in and helping them deal with their goals and passions and struggles you are on the way to building a strong relationship with them. There is a problem with this though isn’t there? People generally will not share their goals, passions and struggles. They have to have developed trust with you first.

You develop trust in how you communicate with them and how you are as a person. Do you care about them? Do you listen to them when they are talking? No, I mean LISTEN to them not just hearing them. It is about who you are as a person. Are you capable in what you do, your competence? Are you credible? Do you know what it is that you are talking about and are you believable? These are very simple attributes that I am sure each of you have in a large quantity.

Read the book, have a fresh look then at how you operate. It will be worth your while. You will be building better relationships every day. You will be more conscious of how you are being with others. That is a terrific beginning, isn’t it?

The Time is Now.

The Science of Successful Learning

The Science of Successful Learning

There are many things that people can do for themselves in order to learn better and remember longer. We have to remember that the responsibility for learning rests with each and every individual. Teachers and coaches, too, can be more effective right now by helping their students understand these principles and by using these principles to design each learning experience.

The book “Make It Stick” discusses the science of successful learning. Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel are the authors. Two of them are cognitive scientists who have dedicated their careers to the study of learning and Peter Brown is a storyteller. The book is not about how to change the education system, although there are clearly implications for that as well,  rather the book is written for students and teachers who have a high priority to make learning effective. It also outlines ideas and thoughts for adult learners who want to hone their skills so that they can stay relevant.

This book is obviously one of the elements we used in constructing our learning programs at “Learning Without Scars.” One of the critical lessons that I learned from this book, that we have utilized in our class learning paths, is that simple quizzes after reading a text, or hearing a lecture, produces better learning and remembering than rereading the test or reviewing lecture notes. In other words, it deals with what we should have learned as students from our school and. Periodic practice stops forgetting, strengthens richer retrieval paths, and is essential for hanging onto the law of knowledge that we want to gain. Putting new knowledge into a larger context helps learning. People who learn how to extract key ideas from new material and organize them into their mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery. This book is the diamond in the learning universe.

I highly recommend that you read it and think seriously about the content. It might initiate ideas that you can use to become a better you. All the best.

The Time is Now.

Who Are You?

Who are you?

 One of the networks I follow poses questions often. The most recent question was “What’s the #1 thing you have learned this year?

 The problem I have with the question is that I am continually learning. I am a very curious man and not a big fan of the status quo. However, over my seventy plus years, I have learned a few things that I would like to highlight. 

I would like to think that I am continually learning. I am a very curious man and not a big fan of the status quo. I have learned a few things that I would like to highlight. 

First, from a book by Edith Hall called “Aristotle’s Way,” is a reminder. This is not something that is new for me, but it is an important one. Aristotle suggested that we have a personal responsibility to ourselves to be happy. I have had as a foundation stone in my life, the philosophy “Before you can be of any value to anyone else you have to be of value to yourself.” The two ideas are tied together, aren’t they?

More recently I obtained a book by Simon Sinek called “The Infinite Game.” This picks up the theme from “Finite and Infinite Games” a book written by James P. Carse. This is also reinforcing strong beliefs that I have had for most of my life. Life is not about winning and losing. We must be focused more on our lifetimes than individual events. I grew up swimming competitively and had a tough time. I didn’t lose many races and had national records for age groups consistently. That was the result, the pathway was another thing altogether. I would be sick before I left my home to go to a swimming meet, I would be sick changing into my bathing suit, and if there was anything left, I would be sick before going out to the start of the race. Not much fun. As you might imagine, this always bothered me. What was the matter with me? Did I need to win that much or was I afraid to lose. You see I didn’t lose very often so I never really got an answer that was clear. What finally penetrated my mind was that those two outcomes – needing to win or fear of losing – are the same. You see, if you take one of your attributes to its full extent you reach the direct opposite. So, when taken to the extreme, needing to win and fear of losing are the same thing. That brought me peace. What was more important and remains another foundation stone for my life is that you are not competing with the other swimmers in the race. You are competing with yourself. That is a much more serious competitor. You are trying to improve your own individual performance constantly. I believe this is a critical element in life. You are never finished. You can continually get better. To some degree it means never being satisfied with your situation or performance.

For the close today I will move to my life as a teacher. I come from a long line of teachers. I love to teach. I love to see the lights go on in people’s eyes when they “get it.”  That truly turns my crank: it excites me, and it motivates me.

There have been many books written about self-improvement. I will reference you here to one called “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.” 

 There are far too many truly amazing points in this book to pick out only one. Let me do it this way. In our own “progression of learning” (my view of learning) we need to be “testing” ourselves frequently. It has been proven scientifically that assessments, both formative and summative, when taken during the learning process significantly improve the retention of the knowledge. By retaining knowledge, we will be able to apply our knowledge to the challenges we face in our lives.

Learning is a lifelong activity. It is a truly rewarding activity as well. Genetics determines our brain power. Learning is what is required if you are to reach your personal potential.

Think about these points. They are important and I believe that they will help you as a person.


The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek

The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek

Branch Operations.

In most dealerships the senior management structures are similar. There is a President, perhaps a CEO, in larger dealers a COO, followed by the Departmental Executives. There are numerous customer facing functions, and support facing functions.

The “Executives” focus on goals and objectives and market share. That is important, performance matters. Everything looks at goals and objectives: financial performance, sales, gross profit, expense control. All are very important. What about the Customer Experience? Who is responsible for ensuring that the Customer is at the forefront of everything that we do?

Who is the person that creates the “vision” for the dealership? Who is it that inspires every employee to be driven to get better at what they do – at “delighting” the customer?

This is an area that Simon Sinek points at in his recent book “The Infinite Game.”

He posits that we are all too concentrated on winning and avoiding losses. We are focused on the short term with no real attention paid to the future. But he isn’t talking about next year or the year beyond. He is talking in terms in decades. How can we make our businesses sustainable over time?    

This caused me some interesting reflection time. Most of you know I swam when I was a young person. Swimming is all about improving your own performance and less about “beating” the other swimmers in your race. I think that gave me a focus that was somewhat different than my peers. I was always about making everything better. There was no such thing as “best.” That is a “point in time.” Think about GE under Jack Welsh, arguable one of their best leaders to date. He was always about the short term. His comment was “Isn’t long term just a series of short terms?” Well to be honest it isn’t. As a result, GE since he left has had serious performance failures. Jim Collins, author of “Built to Last” among others, famously compared two companies in the same Industry and pointed at similar things. Most of our businesses focus on the short term. A study by McKinsey reported that the average life span of a S&P company has dropped since the 1950’s, over a span of fifty years, from sixty-one years to eighteen years today. Harvard Business Review, and many others, report that 70% – 90% of acquisitions fail. A rather serious statement on the ability of business to merge two businesses together.

Sinek contends that is because of our focus on the short term at the expense of the long term. In his book “Start With Why,” on of the most watched TED Talks ever he says; “Most people know What They Do, some can even tell you How they do it, but very few people can tell you Why they do it. It isn’t about making money.

“The Infinite Game” uses the United States as an example of a “Business.” It started with the War of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was not a statement of getting rid of the control of the country by Great Britain. It was about “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That made the effort worthwhile. They then got to work on writing the Constitution which set out a series of enduring principles to protect and advance their big, bold, and idealistic vision of the future. That is a future that we still strive to achieve and will constantly be aiming at that vision. It is not an end game it is a journey.

In order to stay in the game long term, to stay in business, long term we must be good operationally at all of those win/lose games we play; market share, gross margin and expense control, asset management, etc.. That this is critical, is something on which we can all agree. But in order to have long term sustainable success it is also about the culture of the company. What makes each employee strive to be better at what they do in order to satisfy their customers.      

I highly recommend that you read “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. It might provoke you to reevaluate your view on how your business operates. 

The Time is Now.

Personal Responsibility – Part 2

Personal Responsibility – Part 2

If you remember my last post, I left off with the challenges that face us when we move into the realm of teaching and learning as adults.  Open-mindedness is a critical component of the entire process, and we become more “set” in our ways with each passing year.

That brings me back to Peterson. His most recent book is “12 Rules for Life – an Antidote to Chaos.” (I strongly urge everyone to read this book) One of his rules is “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” If you start out in a learning situation wouldn’t it be nice if each learning had the attitude that you should pay attention because the person doing the teaching might knew things that the students did not know.

So, for adult education, which is what we are doing at learning Without Scars, we have an audience of students who already know a fair amount about subject matter we are covering. It is our job to provoke their thinking to take them to places of learning that they didn’t think they needed to go. And we measure our success with assessments through the classes and at the conclusion of each class.

We require each student to achieve an 80% mastery level before they can go on to the next class. Of course, in my opinion, they should all achieve 100% as we do not limit the number of times they can go through the class.

Which then takes me to personal responsibility.

Each of us is responsible for ourselves. We are all responsible for our position in life; our education, our personal status, our parenting, our life skills, our work skills, out interests. We are responsible for a lot of “stuff.” So, when you look in the mirror, which is a dangerous thing to do, I want you to ask a question of yourself – “am I doing the best I can?”

Now please remember, the person in the mirror is the easiest person in the world to lie to – juts don’t do it.

As Peterson puts it in one of his other rules – “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. And one last rule – Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient) Did I say it was a terrific read?


I will wrap up the topic of Personal Responsibility this week.

The time is NOW.

Books and Reading #MondayBlogs

Today for #MondayBlogs, I want to talk about books and reading and their ability to bring about dramatic change.

Learning is undergoing a radical transformation, although you wouldn’t know it looking at our present school structures and systems. You are seeing the internet transforming schooling. You have the Khan Academy changing the early school years and EdX transforming the Universities of today.

The standardization of curricula designed to create efficiency and accountability may fail to tap the intrinsic motivation of students. It may feel especially restrictive to those who have an intense drive to learn, their intellectual wings constrained by too much structure. Innovators and other change agents are not much interested in the standards applied to schooling.

Innovators wanted to dive deep into topics of their own choosing rather than follow the path of a syllabus. They exhibited a true love of learning – even if they had no love for school.”

This is from Melissa A. Schilling, the John Herzog professor of Management at NUU’s Stern School of Business who is the author of “Quirky: The remarkable story of the traits, foibles and genius of breakthrough innovators who changed the world.”

She also notes the power of reading and of books.

“Their stories (the innovators) also highlight something else: the power of books. Books may not seem as glamorous as recent technology-enabled alternatives like videos and webinars, but few learning vehicles can rival what can be delivered with a book. It is far easier to customize how one consumes a book than a video, lecture, or in-class discussion. These latter alternatives are great complements to books, but not substitutes. You can skim sections of a book to see its overall structure; you can study some passages intensely, re-reading them if you want, and pausing to contemplate. You can also easily move back and forth between text and diagrams in whatever pace and pattern works for your learning style. You can take a book home and read it in bed, or out to a park or coffee shop. This is more important than may at first be obvious; some people function better with some level of background stimulation while others require a setting with as little background stimulation as possible. Allowing people to choose is important. And when a book sits on your shelf, it serves as a visual placeholder that reminds you of its content (a large advantage print books still have over digital).”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every serial breakthrough innovator I studied had an outsized appetite for books. Books enabled them to choose the areas of expertise they would develop, and to circumvent barriers that might have held them back.

A few blogs ago we exposed to you the reading list from our consulting web site and also the articles we have written over the past twenty-five years. Have a look and do some reading. It will help in your personal growth which is, after all, our goal at Learning Without Scars.

The Time is NOW.

Resources and Reading #MondayBlogs

Reading is so much more than an enjoyable pastime.

Reading can broaden the foundation we use to build our knowledge, taking our learning to the next level.

Tonight, quickly, I want to share with you all that we have resources available.

For quick bites, if you’re pressed for time, we have an entire library of articles available to you here.

If you have a little more time at hand, we also have an entire reading list of books that are we highly recommend.  That reading list can be accessed on this page.

I hope you find some ideas and thoughts that help you along the way.

The time is now.

Book of the Week: Damnation

Most of you know by now that my daughter is recovering from Cancer, three years cancer free, and decided during chemotherapy that she was going to do what she planned to do if she survived her bout with cancer. Well so far so good after three years cancer free.

Her passion has always been writing. She published poetry in several magazines during her stay at University. So since her bout with cancer she started writing with a purpose. Her first effort was a short series of poems call “Songs from the Road”. Then came the “Cancer Free Gourmet’ a self help book for cancer patients dealing with the loss of taste. Then she hit the fiction with a book called “Blessings”. Now comes the sequel called “Damnation.”

To any of you who have a kindle or access to “ebooks” these are all wonderful to read even if I am Caroline’s father.

The time is now.