Tag Archives: Learning

What I did on my summer vacation

The cycle continues this week with the autumnal equinox marking the end of the summer season. My summer plans started out fairly consistent with previous summers – teaching summer school, hitting selected Chicago street festivals, a trip or 2, and hanging out with friends. I headed west to Reno for some family time and a couple of weddings. What I did on my summer vacation turn out much different than anticipated, it lasted 54 days in total.

Wedding plans were right on schedule. Those ‘save the date’ cards actually work. I even went to a bonus wedding for a high school friend. I celebrated a few birthdays out west as well, mine included. There was a great reunion with some friends that included a going away party for their daughter as she moved to Portland, OR. And, the unexpected…I attended two funerals while I was home. The first was for my aunt’s sister. Finally, the biggest event of my whole summer was the funeral for my mom.

Yeah, how is that for a speed bump? This was moving along so smoothly too. When last we met I told a couple of stories about being with my mom over the summer. However, the fog from her Alzheimer’s disease turned from her state of confusion and a stunted life trajectory to mine. But, I don’t want to go there, at the moment. I want to wander through a few things I realized about my mom, my family, and me over the summer. It has been a month since we were surrounding her with love and support as she made her final transition. I have to believe she is in a better “frame of mind” now than she had been in for the last few years of her life, and definitely her last month.

Let’s start with gratitude. Speed bump number two, or yet another 90-degree turn on this little journey I am leading you through. It gives me extreme peace to know that she is not struggling anymore. Her final words to me were “Good night, Rich.” This didn’t occur on the night she died, but it was this summer. Nevertheless, she told me good night AND she said my name. Metaphorically I look at this interaction as her goodbye and a verbal hug acknowledging our relationship. The more heartbreaking of our visits was just after that good night during some alone time between us. I was talking; she was nonverbal for the last month. THEN… she looked at me with a smile in her eyes, she was smiling, her energy was just like so many of the great times we had throughout my life – we were together and we were smiling. That 3-seconds was fleeting. She started to cry. It wasn’t just tears, it was a sad upset crying. It was an “I think I am leaving,” crying. Thankfully that turned quickly to blank again and then I was the one crying. When I think of her death, those 6-seconds help to remind me she is not hurting. Back to gratitude – I spent most of the summer with her and working on her behalf. I got to be there to do my part to help my dad and brothers as the family administrator guy. I got to spend time with mom. I had 3 amazing (all things are relative) moments with my mom. I miss her so damn much. I am not sure how or when this “fog” I am in will lift…but they tell me it gets easier.

There are many great stories I could share. These help us remember what the treasure my Mom is…I guess I should say was now, but I think I’ll keep the present tense for now. In my world she is a treasure. One I will treasure in real time forever. Over the summer I had many conversations with people about her. I started to keep a list of what was said. In a quick, quasi qualitative research approach I noticed themes – kindest, sweetest, nicest, a lovely lady, a special bond between us, warm, talented, classical grandma, loving, laughing, patient, special lady, the word favorite is often attributed to her… Someone told me that she was a gentle giant, the person that never really jumped to the lead role (although she could do it, and she did lead) she was always the one you could count on to be there and provide support. Her Karma bank was always overflowing with simplicity, love and a smile. There are a couple of books, Quiet and Quiet Influence, about the leadership qualities of the introvert. My mom was in her own class. She was an extroverted Introvert or the introverted Extrovert; loved to be with people and part of the action. She was on the quiet side. In Emergenetics© terms (I never tested her, damn!) she had to be a second third Expressive and a first third Assertive. I am sure she was a third third flexible, holy decisions batman. Her leadership style was that of an influencer with a quiet determination.

In my earlier research on leadership one of the themes we found was – Legacy/Lasting Difference. The interviewed leaders said this legacy piece was something that one didn’t set out to do, but it was nice when you are remembered for something. When I stood at the funeral to give the eulogy I looked at the church. It was packed, people were standing in the back, and they were in the entryway. Through tears I said my mom was such an understated woman that she would be surprised that so many turned out to honor and celebrate her life and legacy. It was overwhelming and comforting. A recent daily encouragement from my Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhist practice said this: “Ultimately, people only die as they have lived.” To die happily is therefore extremely difficult. And since death is the final settlement of accounts for one’s life, it is when our true self comes to the fore…” (Daisaku Ikeda). A packed house honoring her true self seemed appropriate. She was the gentle, quiet leader that was there to provide giant support for others. A legacy of love, support, and care among those she touched in her 70 short (too short) years.

Ability: “Talents, skills, Power or capacity to do.” We all have the ability to lead from the front, the middle, or behind. We all have the ability to leave a legacy and to make a difference for someone/everyone. I knew my mom was an amazing woman that made great (quiet) contributions for the good. What I did on my summer vacation was be there for her, with her, and to see life and purpose through her. Even in her final days and hours she taught me the power of connections and community. Hmmmmm…when the student is ready the teacher arrives. Thanks mom!


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Learning through experience – It follows a cycle

Have you ever bought anything or, maybe a better question is, have you ever tried to build anything you bought from IKEA? You see the object of your desire in the store on football field level 3. You grab the box or two from bin 12L. Open it and find a cartoon series, a baggie full of different shaped screws, plastic gizmos, and some brackety things. What does IKEA mean anyhow? Maybe it is an acronym for I Kan Everything Assemble (loosely translated, it’s Swedish remember). 

How do you attack this project? (A). Lay it all out and count the screws and such. (B). Read the cartoon thoroughly. (C). Recruit someone to help you or walk you through it. (D). Just start slapping things together based on the picture or the floor model? In some cases, you probably got it right on the second or third attempt, or the repurchase. Oddly enough, this little vignette could explain how we think (and/or behave) from the Emergenetics blog. It also gives us some idea about learning and our learning styles.

How do we learn stuff? What is learning all about? Another topic I get a little excited (ok, just plain excited) about is Experiential Learning. When I am designing a course, a class, or a workshop I go to the work of David Kolb. He was trying to figure out how to help his students learn and he developed this learning cycle that explains our learning styles. It is really cool stuff.  It is based on 2 axes. Vertical is a continuum between Concrete Experience (top) and Abstract Conceptualization (bottom). The horizontal is Reflective Observation (right) and Active Experimentation (left). I put an image in here to help the visual learners.    



Batter up!

Think about a baseball diamond, four bases right? Hey, hey… coincidently there’s four points in our cycle. Kolb says we touch all of the bases (points) in the experience of learning. Learning is really an experiential activity. We run around the diamond. One little catch (pun wasn’t intended but it really works here) is the learning cycle starts at 2nd base runs to 1st then home then 3rd. Easy right? See how flexible and abstract you are here? You visualized a ball diamond (concrete). The alternate running path takes a little observation of a different perspective (reflection). You analyze this to intellectually conjure it up (abstract). You could run around to make it work, or just physically draw it out (experimentation).

POOF. Experiential learning. You experience something, you reflect on your observation, you connect concepts in the abstract, and then you do it. Time out; go back to the IKEA example. You doubt this works, it can’t be that easy, thinking is complex and brainy. Cool fact #2, a biologist, James Zull (he’s a biologist), wrote a book and connected brainy stuff and function to Kolb.  

There are different styles of learning

Different people have different entry points into our four bases. There are four learning styles (actually Kolb as increased these to nine…but that throws my baseball game into too many innings, stick with me here). The four are:

DIVERGING – combo of experiencing and reflecting, diverging from conventional solutions.

ASSIMILATING – combo of reflection and abstract, you probably focus less on people and more on abstract and theories.

CONVERGING – combo of abstract and doing. You are a gatherer of information and like to solve problems.

ACCOMODATING – combo of doing and the concrete. You have an ability to adapt the information or changing circumstances into action. You probably like to work with others to make this happen too. 

News Flash:  There isn’t a whole lot of NEW learnin’ goin on out there

WHAT?!  “No way,” you say. Well let’s think about this. Learning is really your interpretation of what you are “newly” learning with something you already know/knew?  We’re really just revising our learning, broadening our understanding based on the new context we now have. Maybe we just have new vocabulary words for it now.

No, for reals. There are people who have studied learning and talk about all of this and they say the same thing. They even have a few $5 words for all this learning, revising, and expanding too. Check out some of those academic journals to check me here.


This all connects back to our ability and to leadership. Our ability to learn is based on this brain stuff. Learning is about change. When we learn we change. This change connects those neurons and creates additional neural pathways when we need to search that big hard drive between our ears. Our raw ability is about our natural ways of taking in information. We also know that we can teach and train people to be leaders. The experience of being a leader is experiential. We learn more about being a leader while working, serving, and practicing leadership. This supports the notion that the decisions made by the learner are based on the lived events as well as future choices. The primary purpose of all this is to provide information about one’s preferred approach to learning.

Leadership is about working WITH others. When we understand all this stuff about learning and there is more than one way to learn and get something done. When we understand that there is more than one way to touch all of the bases, we can see that a diversity of learning styles might add to our group or team. It is similar to the WE Teams from Emergenetics.

What is your learning style? Who thinks/learns differently than you do? Interesting fact #3, how we learn is typically how we teach. If we have a style, a natural extension of that would be, “of course this is how we (i.e., everybody) learn.” Not so much. So, relax when you aren’t getting it, or your student isn’t getting it. Maybe you change up (ok that pun was intended) how you are helping them learn…. use a different approach to meet their strengths. Now that’s leadership ability.

Maybe an Einstein quote would fit here – “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

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Brains: A users manual

I just realized that I have been writing this blog for a few months and I have not yet written much about brains, learning, thinking, and behaving. WHOA! If you know me, or you have been in a class with me you know I talk about this stuff all of the time. I need to say something about the 3-pound (or so) cranial powerhouse we are all packing around up there. Oh sure, the things I have been writing about could be associated with brain power, mind, and how we make up our mind, set our intention and realize our ability. But today I thought a little about how brain based thinking, behaving and learning sounded like fun. Oh…that was one semi-geeky comment.

I associated with the work of Doctors Geil Browning and Wendell Williams about ten years ago; the profile and company is Emergenetics International. I love their tag line: Moving Thinking Forward. I liked it so much that I became a certified associate and have presented it to classes and groups and I’ve included the work in my presentations, research and writing. So, a little intro is appropriate here.

What’s this word – Emergenetics – you ask?

The word itself (Emergenetics) comprises the words emerge (i.e., life experience or nurture) and genetics (i.e., nature) to help explain how each person uses preferences based on thinking and behavioral preferences. An Emergenetics© profile provides a tool that will help you understand thinking and behavioral preferences based on the latest brain research.

So it really fits in with my theme of raw ability and the talents and strengths we each bring to an activity, a situation, a team, a group, a leadership responsibility, a….well…really everything. It is part of the total package we walk in with EVERYTIME we show up.

The metaphor we use in Emergenetics divides up the brain into four quadrants of the thinking attributes with an outline of our behavioral preferences. The behaviors are metaphorically encircling the thinking because one would notice our presenting styles through behaviors first, and then the thinking would follow as we engage in dialogue/interaction. The four thinking attributes (Analytical, Structural, Social, and Conceptual) and the three behavioral attributes (Expressiveness, Assertiveness, and Flexibility) combine patterns that can explain our diversity. Each of us has a beautiful brain regardless of the profile or picture of your brain. The beauty lies within the combination of how our strengths emerge from our genetics. More information can be found it the book Emergenetics: New Science of Success (2006). AND, just keep reading this blog….you can bet I will write more about this stuff.

Our approach to the world is the cumulative effect of our past, in the context of the present, as we prepare for the future. The leader’s identity process could become engaged before the person even realizes it is happening, “your brain changes with each movement, thought, experience or conversation you have” (Browning, 2006, p. 17). Our brain is engaged in the identity process and creating the leader within. Warren Bennis has written about this idea by stating that leaders are the products of their entire lives. He suggests that a leader is someone who takes in all his or her experiences and creates (and continually recreates) a new self.

ME + WE =

Wait, there’s more! Since we’ve established a team has multiple ME (you can’t really make me plural, hmmm imagine that). So there is a mixture of individuals, each with their own brain, which creates synergy and energy. This ME + WE = Energy, Synergy, and Esprit. I just found out that Esprit is defined as lively intelligence…I like it. In Emergenetics language we call this combination of people (i.e., brains) a WE Team. WE of course is the combo of members and it also means Whole Emergenetics Team. It is also possible to coordinate groups or teams (from a larger group) into a whole team that combines thinking and behavioral preferences so we have a balance of each of the seven preferences represented “at the table”.

It’s electric!

Our brain functions through the connections and synapses of a couple 100 billion neurons lighting up some scientific machinery. I read one place we have 100 billion neurons and then another source said that was a myth, we only have 86 billion. What’s a few billion neurons among friends? The point is…there is a whole lot of electricity moving around within us and between us. This alacrity (within each) building on the energy and esprit (lively intelligence) of ability is how we can create great things together.

How do you think about things? Are you more of a “let me think about it and get back to you” person or a “let me ask around and see what others think” type of person? Are you the grand entrance type of person or more of the slip in and sit down sort? What roles do you play in a team? Chances are…the role you play in one group is probably pretty much your persona. Yeah?

To find out more about this Emergenetics Profile for you or your organization: 

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