Friday, June 26, 2009

Your Island

This is a good day for America. Thomas Merton, the monk, became a U.S. citizen on this date in 1951.

He lived in a secluded monastery. And he had a lot to say about silence, especially to a noisy place like America.

Sometimes I'd like to live in a secluded monastery so I didn't have to listen to useless stuff like the passing of faded pop stars. But my wonderful wife and four kids and their stinky old dog probably wouldn't agree to this. (Or maybe they would...I'm too chicken to ask.)

An island works almost as well as a monastery, especially my favorite island in Lake Superior. This place is so disconnected that people line up outside Ed & Marilyn's Island Market to fetch the morning newspaper. (People lining up for the newspaper...shouldn't that be on the news?)

I usually think I go to the Island to find wisdom. But I'm wrong when I think like that. What really happens when I go to the Island is wisdom finds me. Sometimes. If I let it.

Do you have an Island (or maybe even a monastery)? I hope so. It's a great place to let wisdom find you.

So, here's to spending time this upcoming summer holiday in a place way off the grid, whether it's an island in the middle of a lake or in the middle of some other part of your world.

When you go there, do you have success letting wisdom find you? If you do, how did you do that?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fred the Math Teacher

I suck at math. Always have. I never thought I was smart enough to learn math.

This would be different if I had Fred the Math Teacher.

Fred is FRIDAY'S POST 2009 pick for Teacher of the Year. Here's why: Every day, Fred uploads his lessons (via smartboard video/audio) to a website for his students to watch and take notes from each night (to keep 'em honest, he checks notebooks every morning to make sure kids were watching him and not some reality TV show about desperate husbands and housewives somewhere).

Then -- and here's where the genius of Fred comes to life -- Fred and his kids do homework together in the classroom every day. He says it's simply amazing to see how much kids will talk about math concepts in detail (i.e. as a community) when he lets them watch lessons at night on the web and then work on problems the next day together in class.

Fred (who teaches at Benilde-St.Margarets School near Minneapolis; says his purpose and goal is to get kids to better communicate together about math.


When's the last time you ever heard an American who had that purpose and goal? Fred says kids in the US think you need to be really smart to be good at math. He says that's opposite of kids in places like China and India who believe being good at math means you just need to work hard (which is what Fred believes too).

So Fred's approach in his classroom is to get his kids engaged in the subject by letting them communicate more when it comes time to do homework. This means Fred lets his kids talk in class the whole time (how great would that have been back in the day).

He says ''I feel like I'm teaching more instead of just sitting behind my desk. I'm bouncing around the room actually building relationships with the kids.''

As for the students, Fred says they are getting the concepts behind math (not just looking for the quickest route to the answers); they are asking better questions; they aren't afraid or ashamed to ask for help when they get stuck; and best of all, they're enjoying math while working harder on it.

Fred is a hero for inventing "math-lessons-on-the-web-at-night-and-homework-during-the- class-hour." He's taken math class and turned it into an engaged community experience.

What would happen in America today if every teacher taught like Fred the Math Teacher? And what would happen if schools got rid of Math Class and replaced it with Math Community?

I'm liking America's chances in the globalized 21st Century with teachers and classroom community leaders like Fred the Math Teacher.


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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Age of Your People

You hear a lot of people in business talk about "lifetime value of the customer." Usually, it boils down to a dollar-and-cents thing.

No doubt there's a place for lifetime-value analysis when it comes to sizing up go-to-market investments. This is a well-baked process.

Less well-baked is "lifetime value of the community." You don't hear many organizations talking about their community, much less the value of their community.

Community is multi-dimensional, while customers and prospects are one-dimensional (You make an offer. They respond thumbs-up or thumbs-down.). Community includes customers, prospects and more: employees, shareholders, media, bloggers, industry analysts, academics, neighbors, neighborhood leaders and perhaps even politicians.

Nowadays these are your friends, fans and followers. As a community, they have a big say in the well-being of your business, brand, organization or institution. Measuring the economic value of all these constituents is difficult, even mysterious. But, nurturing your community well will allow you to accomplish big things (just ask the most recently elected U.S. president).

Community is two-way circuitry. Most businesses, organizations, brands, and institutions are one-way circuits. They lead and everyone else follows. Feedback often turns into noise. But that model is eroding. Now, your community of friends, fans and followers and their ability to swap inputs and outputs immediately are real-time zeitgeist of your business, your vision, your place in the world.

Some French fellow once said that demography is destiny. In the Age of Your People, "zeitgeist is destiny" too. Business, brands, organizations, and institutions are very good at getting people to follow them. In the Age of Your People, when you become a focused and innovative follower of your people, you will be a winner.

In an age like this, one measure comes to mind when thinking about the value of your community: priceless.

If you have time, drop a line about your people. How do you nurture them? How do they value you?

-- tim morin

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Friday, June 5, 2009


You can quickly sense a well positioned business, product, movement, person. They define themselves in a word.

The non-profit I met the other day does really inspiring work with troubled teens. It has a word: relationships. The U.S. president has a word: change. The governor of my state, Minnesota, has a word: accountability. America has a word: freedom. Young GIs who dropped into the water and hit the beach at Normandy 65 years ago (still) have a word: hero. At my company, we have a word (actually two words): smart catalogs.

It's hard work knowing your word. That's because a lot is packed into it. Like what you stand for; how you are different, even special; what you value; the way you behave; the kind of people you will hire; where you are heading. Knowing your word means you've made tough choices about what you are and what you're not.

It's just as hard staying true to your word, consistently breathing life into it. And letting it breathe life into you. What good is your word if you never use it in your messaging; or let it guide your strategy and your culture; or define your products and services; or influence the kind of customers you want to work with and the kind people you will hire?

Really successful organizations know their word. They are inspired and energized by it. They are true to themselves and others because of it. They are confident about their futures by remaining centered on it. This is why successful organizations keep their word.

So, what's your word and how is it helping you? Drop a note. It'd be great to hear the story of your word.


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