Friday, July 30, 2010

One Idea for Back-to-School

If someone asked you to invent a high school or college course what would it be?

My pick would be "Building Your Platform for The Platform Age."

This class would be about leadership. It would be different than the standard vision, values, integrity and intellect courses designed to lay the foundation for good and great leaders.

The first day of this class would start with an offbeat exercise. Imagine yourself as a great technology platform like Apple or Microsoft or SAP. These platforms are built to be easy to connect with, to get stuff done. The result is tens of millions of people do so to get lots of work accomplished.

Homework for the first day of class would ask leaders to describe all the ways you are, or could be, easy for people to connect with. It'd also ask to identify ways you make connecting difficult and how you can fix that.

This platform building class would examine the concept of platform, chiefly understood as your community with intention; something that doesn't simply happen. No, great leaders work hard at building their platforms, their communities, disciplined with consistent purpose, seasoned with distinctive culture biased toward action.

This class would provide context about The Platform Age. We live in a moment, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, when one-third of the entire U.S. labor force changes jobs every year; when 91% of employers need their employees to take on more responsibilities and use broader skills than in the past; when writing, reasoning and social / interpersonal skills are most in need and command the highest salaries.

Yes, we live in an age screaming for good and great leaders nurturing communities. People who have fundamental leadership skills. But who also have the know-how to build platforms of people and processes to connect to make things happen together.

This class will teach that building platform is art. There is no standard template; no one-size-fits-all platform.

There are, however, tools of the trade. And today they are abundant. Many are free and easy to use. And they help amplify communication and culture, reinforcing connection across the platform. Blogs, social media, podcasts, are a few of these tools.

The art of platform building is seeing a need in the world and defining your response, then finding your voice and communicating it authentically and consistently with the right tools in a way that inspires others to join your response.

History is generous with the grandmasters of platform building. So class will dwell on maestros from various walks, from civic leaders such as Kennedy, Reagan and Obama; to the religious, Gandhi, John Paul II and The Dalai Lama; to business, Welch, Jobs and Gates; to thinkers and writers, Merton, Tolle, Godin.

Final exams will be in essay form, asking students to stretch beyond their fundamental leadership skills; those you've acquired to climb the mountain.

This final test will ask a simple question. Even more important than climbing the mountain, this examination wants to know,

"How will you go about moving the mountain?"


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Friday, July 16, 2010

Nine Questions

"Every creature is a word about God and is a book about God."

Meister Eckhart's words above can make you ask,

"So, what kind of book am I?"

Good question. Tough question.

Some days my book's a comedy. Some days a tragedy. Too few days, a love story. Often, my book's a dry do-it-yourself (myself) instruction manual. And every day it's a mystery.

The other day I came across nine great questions asked by Bret Nicolaus, a fellow who's in the book business. He wrote these questions to help books become bestsellers.

If we are the books Meister Eckhart says we are, Bret's questions are worth answering:

1) What makes Your Book DIFFERENT from similar books out there? (This is the most important question of all!)

2) What is the biggest BENEFIT of the thing that makes Your Book different?

3) What specific PROBLEM is Your Book the answer to?

4) WHO are the people out there that have this problem (primary, secondary, and even tertiary audiences)?

5) What is the "DISASTER" waiting to happen if people don't read Your Book?

6) What popularly held MYTH does Your Book explode?

7) What is the BUT of Your Book? (This essentially tells the customer the thing they will be most surprised to learn as they read Your Book. Think of it as the "secret" Your Book will reveal to the reader... Example: "Everyone thinks that milk is good for you, BUT milk actually causes everything from the common cold to serious, life-threatening diseases." The book then exposes all the risks of drinking milk -- a surprise to most people.)

8) What is the FIVE-SECOND description of Your Book (Just the facts, Ma'am)? This is a straightforward explanation of the product. At its most BASIC level (think talking to a first-grader) what is Your Book about?

9) Why are you the right person to write Your Book?

If I was a book looking for a job, or starting a business, or ramping up a new sales campaign, or going into politics, or about to be read by God (yikes!), I'd work really hard to nail the answers so I could be a bestseller, compared to all the other books out there trying to do the same thing I'm hoping to do.

Working through these questions makes me think about the outside jacket cover and wonder if the art on the outside of my book would line up with the art inside.

I also wonder how hard it would be to come up with a title, and even the inside front-cover copy describing my book.

How would you do that?

Here's to finding time and a good beach this summer -- reading, writing, living, mulling Your Book.


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Friday, July 9, 2010

Sub-Prime Goes To College

That title comes from Steve Eisman, a hotshot investor in THE BIG SHORT, the excellent Michael Lewis bestseller about our financial collapse that triggered the Great Recession.

Steve Eisman was one of the few people who saw the meltdown coming. Now he says trouble's brewing in another area:

"Until recently, I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive as the subprime mortgage industry. I was wrong. The For-Profit Education Industry has proven equal to the task."

Oh my!

If you enjoyed THE BIG SHORT, you'll love Eisman's testimony to Congress about the mess many for-profit, subprime-like colleges are creating. It's really good stuff and worth a read.

Michael Lewis is one of my favorite storytellers. But, yikes, I hope and pray there's not another book in him detailing a new-new cluster; this one being about how America hosed up higher-ed; where for-profits pumped out bogus degrees; where traditional campuses crowed about how many student applicants they reject each year; where students and families are crushed by debt.

How is it possible that you can walk into to a world-class brand like Target and get fashionable back-to-school duds for less than a hundred bucks?

And then buy a world-class device like Apple's slick iPad that puts the world in your fingertips for a few hundred bucks?

And then settle in to study with a comforting beverage on nearly any city block in America from a world-class place like Starbucks for a few dollars?

And yet, the smartest people in our smartest institutions haven't invented affordable, accessible and open learning for all, acquired from any of the college and university platforms one might desire.

Why do we accept a system that breeds exclusiveness or inaccessibility or high-cost or crushing debt or all-of-the-above as normal?

Imagine what it'll be like when our kids and their kids who want to learn at a high level can walk into a quality school just like you can walk into Target, Apple Store and Starbucks. And then walk away without onerous debt. Imagine the top-spin that will put onto our economy.

Isn't this the knowledge age? A moment when we need all well-educated hands on-deck? A time to steer clear of subprime results with our most precious natural resource, our future generations of talent?

How great for America if our higher-ed leaders took notes from wise people at places like Target, Apple and Starbucks, and imagined completely new ways to mint really smart people openly, affordably and excellently.

Could there be a better way to spend summer vacation?

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