Author Archive

Postcards from the schoolhouse

By | August 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

Hi there:  I wanted to send this photo of my summer reading . . . err, my companion’s reading of Mark Helprin’s  In Sunlight and In Shadow.


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DexMgmt on sabbatical but still musing . . .

By | July 30, 2014 | 0 Comments
photo(15) I am enjoying the summer with family members seeing the world through the eyes of children, which are so clear and delightful.  I’ve also recently traveled to SW Virginia to enjoy more bluegrass than John Deere. Because I am so busy enjoying myself, I am taking a blog sabbatical for three months.On my sabbatical, I am developing new management and leadership materials to help you be more productive and focused in your daily life, on your work team and in your organizational management.
Stay tuned in the Fall of 2014 for new Dexterity Management methods and tools that you can use to translate your vision into operational outcomes and achieve your goals: whether they are personal, professional or organizational. 
And in 2015, please join me for  trainings and webinars detailing specific Dexterity Methods that you can apply to your life and work.

In the meanwhile, here are a few things that are keeping me busy:

Non Fiction:  Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together.  Slim, Pamela

This book is a great handbook and tutorial that helps individuals with diverse work backgrounds and entrepreneurial skill illustrate the connectedness among their knowledge, experience and attitudes.

Also I recently read: Choose Yourself by James Altucher which is a entrepreneur-meets-self-help book with some good guidelines and really friendly writing about how to create your own best work and maintain your priorities and principles.  Here is a link to a YouTube video of the author.

FictionIn Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin.  He is one of my favorite novelists.  He writes in long beautiful prose with a fantastic use of magical realism.  It takes me forever to get through his tomes, but I am always glad for having invested the time.  I started my Helprin reading A Soldier of the Great War.  If someone had told me what the book was about before I started, I never would have picked it up, that is how far afield it was from my usual interest area.  Nevertheless, I read every one of the many many many pages of it and loved it.  But — I am not going to tell you what it is about.

Wonder by R. J, Palacio.  I read this book with my nieces and it was a great children’s book (ages 8-11) about compassion, empathy and getting past our own perceptions of people.

MeditationHeadspace is a meditation App which I used to kickstart a lapsed meditation practice.  I found it a useful tool to re-engage myself.  I appreciate two things about this app.  First, it tells us that not focusing during meditation is part of the process and absolutely okay.  I find that too many meditation tools and practices have an un-stated goal that you will actually reach a meditative state, rather than simply journeying towards a meditative state.  Second, I tried a 10 minute Headspace segment with my ten year old nieces who had not ever heard the word before and they loved it!  They became comfortable really quickly.  I hope they stick with it because what 10 year old does not need  extra tools to focus?! There are some particularly compelling animations that illustrate meditation concepts well.  Go figure excellent meditation animation – what luck!
Podcasts:  I have listened to a few of James Altucher’s podcast which I find to be refreshing and amusing.  He is a strong believer in defining your own work and life terms with some basic good living elements to guide you.  In his podcasts, he interviews random interesting people and his interview style is quite forthright—he’ll really pushes people for an answer and to get to the bottom of an issue.  I give him credit for that.  He has two podcasts The James Altucher Show and Ask Altucher. I like the Show better than ask Altucher, because the latter can be rambling – but who can’t be rambling when they are passionate about something?!
 baby 3 Idle Hands are . .  I finished a baby blanket for my niece’s baby who was just born.  This is an improvisational M.C. Escher-type blanket that I think will be a great contrast in black and white while the little one’s vision is coming into focus

Thanks all for appreciating my sabbatical and I hope you are enjoying your summer!







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The Hunger Games – allegory — p. 3

By | January 23, 2014 | 0 Comments
Real Life Skills or Career Learning?
This is the third post in my series about lessons we can learn from Hunger Games.  Stay tuned for more posts.  The next one is : 4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities
Of course, we are cheering for Katniss to win the competition and her potential is telegraphed early on.  To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of her victory is that she learned her skills and wile in the school of hard knocks, as opposed to the “career” tributes who have been trained to compete in the Hunger Games.  I think the ability to learn life skills as a matter of living rather than as lessons or experiences bought is important.  Likewise, I think the ability to enjoy and embrace the work that is self-sufficiency is key.  I think early steps to learning this is simple work around the house.  I don’t think we can underestimate what we learn through mundane work. [1]  1104deer1_t300
   This was underscored for me recently during the very small snow storm in DC.  A friend posted to Facebook and was looking for someone to shovel a path to her door and to dig her car out.  I suggested that she set her daughters to do it.  She told me that her daughters were spoiled (but sweet) and did not do work.  I maintain, that if you set two kids outside with a challenge (and promise of hot cocoa) that they would not see the effort as work, but as a physical challenge.  My father used to pull my toe to get me out of bed to help with shoveling the driveway on snow days in northern PA, where I grew up.  To this day, I truly enjoy shoveling snow.  I generally do it for our own house and our neighbors in the row where we live.   Recently I have even volunteer’s for our city’s snow deployment team — where I am assigned a house to shovel out.  I am sure that I have that perspective because I was engaged in this work from an early age.  To me, for a kid, digging a car out of two inches of snow is not work, it is project management and problem solving and developing a strong sense of self. It is an early introduction to the satisfaction of hard work.

[1] See Leornard Sax’s book Boy’s Adrift where he discusses boy’s lack of engagement in school is because they are so disconnected from nature and the hands on mechanics of how the physical world works, so they are less interested in learning about it in school when they can’t apply it to anything in their world.

Hunger Games – Allegory for us (part 2)

By | January 13, 2014 | 0 Comments
Last week I started a multi-series blog about The Hunger Games and lessons we can learn for our own Panem (the country of Hunger Games).  More upcoming topics will be:; 3) the distinction between common sense learned from applied learning and that which comes from “training;”  4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities.  It occurs to me that this week subtitle could indeed be a cross-over for a popular Reality TV series.
The Price We Pay to Eat—could you kill and eat a squirrel?
Katniss, the main character in The Hunger Games, is poor and from a single parent family.  In order for her family to survive, she enters her name in the reaping lottery for The Hunger Games multiple times over the year.  To explain: in the story a person can get “charity” in exchange for entering his/her name multiple times in the drawing which pulls one girl and one boy’s names for the Hunger Games.  squirrel
In this case, literally poor kids are at greater risk to die simply based on their financial state.  This is the case with Katniss. Again, this is fiction and described a dystopia, but how far a stretch is it to compare to low-income youth in our real world?  Are they also fated to a similar outcome?  Furthermore, illegal activities are vital to Katniss’ family’s survival.  Katniss helps to feed her family through illegal hunting, which she sells to community members.  It is this hunting which ultimately makes her such a good competitor.  Our heroine participates in the black market to make ends meet.  When was the last time we looked at a poor person who was selling illegal things as a hero?  Hmmm – let’s pause to think about this.

The Hunger Games – allegory for our world? (part 1)

By | January 6, 2014 | 0 Comments
I have been wanting to have a conversation with my friend Oscar who is 12 and quite a Hunger Games fan, but he is quite busy with life these days – so alas, I have to take my questions and observations out on the blog.
Over my winter break I read The Hunger Games and watched the movie.  For the record, as usual, the book is much better and more dimensional than the movie. I thought the story was so interesting and provides such a great commentary on American Society today.  My next few blog posts are going to be based on lessons from Hunger Games – I hope you enjoy.  This week’s is about—1) reality TV and its hold on the US.
Upcoming posts will be:  2) the story as a metaphor for personal challenge and lot that we have in life ; 3) the distinction between common sense learned from applied learning and that which comes from “training;”  4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities


Katniss Everdeen and The Duck Dynasty—flip sides of the same coin?
What is the difference between the corporate selling of TV programs and The Hunger Games?  On reality TV individuals compete against each other in inane settings, or show their supposed day-to-day lives which are highly contrived and hyperbolic examples of their “beliefs” or ambitions.  As if the programs are not ridiculous enough, they can become fodder for political or social movements.  Katniss
The Hunger Games, which we are to believe are a fantasy world, have the same reality TV element and are a government-sponsored enterprise, to commemorate an uprising in the country. In Hunger Games, tributes are rewarded by commercial sponsors for actions and behaviors that garner greater viewer engagement. What are we telling 14 year olds when they are rewarded for kissing people?  The more they kiss the more rewards they get?  Ick.  And likewise, where genuine feeling and nice gestures (Rue’s funeral scene) are condemned and even personally dangerous?  How do we feel about the fact that subverting authority for the wellbeing of those you care for may garner retribution?  Obviously the story is fiction, but I see it as an allegory that bears discussion for the millions of young people who have watched it.  Likewise, it bears reflection for all of us who might be drawn into any reality TV series where we look at the commercial messages behind them and consider what is motivating the competition


Innovation Inflation is ruining us

By | November 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Daily, I read articles and hear advertisements about innovative new products or concepts.  I must disagree.  There is little true innovation in our daily lives.  By calling anything that is creative innovative, we are de-valuing true innovation.  There is an plenty of creativity and that is a good thing, but creativity and innovation are not the same.  Here is my take on the difference.innovation

Creativity is taking a new approach on an existing issue or task.  For example, in the new Iphone, having a finger print scan is a new take on phone security.  It is creative; it is not innovative. Smart phones, personal secure access and fingerprint scans each already exist and now they are re-combined in a new way.  Creativity is the ability to enhance an existing product of concept through aesthetics, function, or added features.  The finger print scan on the iphone is creative.  It is something that you say “oh cool.”

Innovation operates in a different dimensionInnovation identifies and executes a solution to a problem or need that most do not even realize exists.  The ipod and iphone were innovative.  They changed our access to music (ipod) and ability to manage large amounts of information at our fingertips (iphone).  More importantly, they changed the way that we think about our relationship to information and data.  I maintain that without the iphone, the current quantified self movement, which hopefully will transform health and fitness in positive ways, would not exist.

I also think there is a difference in the level of execution, discipline and perseverance between creative and innovative.  I think of myself as a very creative person.  I can think of ten great ways to try something new or design a system to accomplish a task.  However, my failings come in my ability to think harder, look differently and persevere through boredom and frustration to be truly innovative in identifying a need or articulating a solution that defines an undefined problem, or changes how or whether we think (or act) about something.

 The distance between creative and innovative is great and requires three important qualities.  The first is focus and perspective.  These are two sides of the same coin.  We must be able to focus on an issue or task to see its minutiae and to endure challenges.  I think of my nine-year old friend Charles who can sit for hours and make original origami and I think that someday he will have the patience to wade through complex problems and see them in a new light.  At the same time of seeing the detail, a person has to have perspective on the scope of the issue and understand where it fits, or cteetertotteran fit in the larger context.  Achieving both of these things can be like running across a teeter-totter, bumpy.

 The second quality is the ability to see the problems.  One quality that I often don’t like about myself is that I can have a glass half-empty mindset when looking at almost anything.  Although I maintain that this is my saving grace in terms of coming up with new solutions and not settling for okay.  I am confident that this quality will help me be innovative.  And I have learned how to wrestle the inner-critic when I need to, especially as a manager.

The third quality is endurance and comfort with ambiguity.  Individuals working towards innovation have to be comfortable with long periods of being lost and not being able to quite put their finger on the problem.   True innovation takes a great deal of poking, prodding, defining and re-defining a problem and a solution.  In our world of instantaneous everything, I think the patience and ability to be comfortable with unsolved problems will become more rare, yet more valuable.

Using Metaphor is Like . . .

By | October 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

good marketing is like sushi.
It is concise, attractive,
presented in small pieces.
It has a few ingredients, creatively displayed.  And it leaves the consumer asking for more.

I used this metaphor when giving a presentation to non profit leaders about creating better communications.  I am still reminded by people who heard that presentation that I changed their thinking about messaging through this simple metaphor.
I cringe when I hear friends and colleagues deliver a flat unimaginative presentation or article.  I know these individuals have lots of great information to share, but it falls flat when they deliver it without giving the audience any foundation to build upon or way to relate to the materials.Metaphors help to build a bridge between a complex subject and a novice’s understanding.  They give a framework for the listener to plug in to and are learning devices to remember content.  In my example above, everyone in the audience knows sushi and can see it as a desirable object.  Also, metaphors can suggest good graphics that make more interesting presentations.You do not have to be a walking metaphor machine to use this technique effectively.  Rather — come up with a couple and use them well.  Below are a few that can be used broadly to convey process, concepts, group dynamic or mechanics.

Keeping a couple of metaphor cards in your back pocket can be a saving grace
in delivering information in a way that audiences will remember.  

gardenface  Gardening:  you can think of gardening in a number of ways:  the soil, providing nutrients; the weather creating ongoing conditions that strengthen your garden and yield (extremes in any direction are not good for your outcome).  You can also think about the stages of gardening: prepping the soil, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting etc.  You can apply these phases to any number of steps in a process, of diversity of skills and conditions needs for a desired outcome.
Music:  How is a particular project like a type of music?  Jazz — highly improvised, rock and roll, a little rebellious, country music–expressing certain moods; classical — many disparate parts well choreographed; marching band–familiar tunes conducted over a large space . . . I know you are thinking of some yourself here . . . keep going.  Angel Tavira as violinist and guerilla fighter Don Plutarco, as
piecing Quilting:  A cover consisting of many patches which are brought together and arranged, the batting which is invisible in the final outcome, but creates the substance of the pieces.  Quilt backing, which is . . . well, the backing upon which the piece rests.  There is also the quilting itself which is functional and artistic and requires the endurance of the quilter(s).   Quilting is the finishing detail which brings subtly and strength to the piece.
As my earlier blog posts, co workers and friends will tell you, I use these metaphors a lot and can almost always tie an explanation or answer to them.  However, there are many more that you can use:  preparing a meal, visiting a zoo, an archeological site, a museum, a physical city infrastructure . . .

The key is to get creative and identify some that work for you. Whether you walk around with metaphors falling out of your backpack or use this technique the next time you have to explain something to someone . . . work to identify a symbol, process or outcome that your audience can relate to and build the bridge from that shared understanding to your content.

 bellyflop2 Don’t do a belly flop:  be sure to keep your metaphor accessible to your audience.  I would not use the sushi metaphor if I were speaking to a group of pre-schoolers.   In that case, I might use a sandwich metaphor to express the same concepts.  With a well-selected metaphor you can build a strong bond with your audience.
If you know the group well you can select an apt metaphor that is going to convey your knowledge of their expertise or culture, which can increase their confidence and interest in you.However, beware, if you do not know the culture well this can backfire on you.  I would not use the garden metaphor in talking to soil scientists or landscape architects because they understand gardening and its elements on a different, more nuanced layer than I could ever convey. 



Get Out of Your Own Brain to Get Happy

By | October 7, 2013 | 0 Comments
I find rocks soothing.

I find rocks soothing.

When you feel like you are going out of our mind, I think the best solution is to do just that.

 Lately I have been vacillating among numbness, sadness and panic.  All makes me feel like I am not as mentally engaged with the world as I wish I were.  So, my antidote to this feeling it to “go out of my mind,” . . . to stop thinking so hard and re-direct my energy into more life-affirming

Ongoing wars and oppression, government shut down, shooting at the Navy Yard, shooting at the US Capitol, husband away for two weeks, and being called to serve on a jury . . . it seems like lots of bad and sad things are piling up on my life scale.  These things have me working hard to keep my optimism.  Nevertheless, now is exactly when I need the optimism and perseverance the most.  Below are my strategies to ensure that I maintain it:

  • Go out of my mind . . . or rather get out of my mind . . . and into my body.  Exercise is vital to keeping an optimist outlook, staving off depression, and being able to think on a higher level in a more creative way.
  •  Nurture and nest . . . finding peace at home and connecting with creative and nurturing practices reinforces my sense of self reliance and dedication to my core values.  And there are a few babies who are going to be well dressed this winter because of it.  broom
  • Clean and clean out.   I find cleaning and organizing really cathartic.  I feel very productive, yet with a zen-like idleness when I am cleaning.  In fact, I think I come closer to a meditative state when I am cleaning than when I am (trying to) meditate.
  • Turn off the media . . . how many ways do you need to be told and re-told that there are wars, the government is shut down and whatever other items are plagueng your psyche?  We know that it is a 24-hour news cycle, but not much is happening, so to quote my mother, turn off the boob tube. . . . and facebook, twitter, etc.
  • Hang out with kids:  they will cheer you up, frustrate you in new ways and otherwise never ever ask a question about your opinion of Congress or civic strife.  They may query about which truck in their collection you like better, or whether you think it is weird to color the grass purple.

childs play


Harvard agrees with me . . . Check out this article (and more below in the Give and Take) about how not working can provide so many work dividends in terms of ideas, productivity and management.

See the Give and Take for some good books which inform my ideas.   My tactics might make your skin crawl and increase your anxiety . . . the point is to identify what takes you to the happy place and to get there.

Categories: Uncategorized

Institutional Change Through Quilting

By | September 27, 2013 | 0 Comments
Coalitions working for Institutional change have to hold a metaphoric quilting bee

Coalitions working for Institutional change have to hold a metaphoric quilting bee

I absolutely LOVE quilts.  I love them for their physical beauty as well as for everything they symbolize.  I love the idea of re-purposing fabric, bringing disparate pieces together and, creating a functional and aesthetic item that should last for generations.  Lately, I have been thinking about how coalitions can be like quilts. 


Over the past week I have worked with school reformers from local education advocacy groups when we gathered at Los Angeles Education Partnership offices to see and learn about their excellent work. I am also meeting with community members, educators and cultural resource professionals in North Carolina where I am giving a presentation on Coalitions working to change Institutions.

flag quilt


I am lucky to have a depth of experience in coalition work through my years working on environmental justice issues where I published, Righting the Wrong   which is about local government’s role in partnering with community stakeholders to address environmental justice issues. I have also worked in Dayton Ohio and Washington DC on a range of community issues.  Most recently, I am working with a coalition of education advocacy groups that are improving education outcomes in their communities.  Their roles can be difficult because they are both critics and defenders of public education in this period when there are so many paths called reform. 


Like my education partners, I believe in the power and purpose of institutions but also believe that they, like all of us, need to evolve over time.  Below are some of my thoughts about working with coalitions to effect institutional change.  These are based on a presentation that I gave at: NC Folklife Institute’s 2013 Statewide Folklife Summit, a gathering of cultural resource and community partners. 


Coalition work to effect institutional change, is like quilting in that you have elements that you need to bring together for a lasting outcome. The cover itself, the most visual aspect of the quilt, is comprised of disparate parts and pieces, woven from different fabrics, that have to be pieced together to create a whole.  Often times, the fabrics alone would not complement or align, however, when pieced from a community of fabrics, the diversity of colors and textures enriches the outcome. While the cover is the most visual aspect, the quality, function and durability of a quilt depend on piecing, quilting and binding the components together.  This metaphor is apt for successful coalition building where you have to assemble stakeholder interests into a shared picture and then use the tools and resources available to successfully join the disparate parts for a functional, durable outcome that reflects the culture from which it came.




Lighting a Candle for Someone Else, The Dividend of Being Nice

By | September 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
I chose these candles because the stones remind me of the ones on the Susquehanna River Bank in Lewisburg

I chose these candles because the stones remind me of the ones on the Susquehanna River Bank in Lewisburg

Recently, I received a gift certificate to Colonial Candlecrafters, in my wonderful home town, Lewisburg Pennsylvania.  I won the certificate helping to promote Colonial Candlecrafters through my social media which I did earnestly.  The owner of the shop, and online store, Pat Hess, has been widely recognized as a business leader in Pennsylvania and supporter of women’s enterprises.  Additionally, one of my strongest personal values is an appreciation of hand made items — so this good fortune represents alignment of many of my prioritie and reminded me that there is always a dividend to being nice.

Check out The Give and Take for More on the Power of Being Nice.   Also — please look to your right on this screen and be sure to subscribe for updates!

The flip side of being nice is being happy . . . watch this awesome YouTube Video about the science of happiness (done by Soul Pancake) how expressing gratitude makes you even happier! Let’s go people — thank you, thank me, thanks to everyone whom I don’t even know to thank!

Being nice is the best sort of recycling.  Being nice to people gives a buoyancy to the spirit and attracts niceness back.  On the other hand, being mean just sucks energy because you spread your meanness and then have to spend the time processing your angry feelings and they fester.

Paying It Forward ensures loyalty.  Evidence shows that time invested in individuals to cultivate and mentor talent has financial benefits for an organization.  It also keeps high performing individuals longer.  And, from a personal perspective, time invested in individuals results in terrific loyalty and potential down the road.  I have a meeting tonight with a former protégé whom I am considering a business opportunity with.

What is Nice?  In case you are not sure how to be nice without acting like a wimp:

  1. Ask someone how they are and listen to their answer compassionately
  2. How can I help?  When you see someone anywhere / any time who seems to be struggling, ask to help.
  3. Zip the Lip:  when you are interacting with someone who is not being nice – don’t engage with them.  Listen, resolve whatever issue is at hand and move on.  To engage a person or issue that is not with the best intentions is to validate it.  Even if you are arguing against it – you are choosing to invest your time in addressing it, meaning that it is taking your energy.
  4. Don’t stir the manure.  If someone is mean to you – leave it at that, don’t propagate the meanness by re-counting that act to others.  When you stir the manure, you spread the stink.
  5. Random Acts of Kindness – be known for a certain type of nice.  For  me, I send letters and cards to people.  I love to write them and people like to receive them.  Others always have a compliment, or are great at expressing their gratitude.  I aspire to do those things, but I do know that I am really good at note writing and people appreciate that.  (you should see my stationary box, it’s awesome!)

How to Be Nice Even When You Can’t Be Nice:  Sometimes we have to tell people they are under-performing, or deliver other bad news.   Here are three thoughts to consider:

  1. I am sorry to have to tell you this:  Here is the bad news.  However, I sincerely hope that there is good news or opportunity based on this bad news.  Understand and help others understand that the bad news may be a step towards good news.
  2. Address the future:  When addressing an issue or person that is unpleasant  — try to do so through the lens of what do I want this to be like in the future? This means tying feedback or discussion to a future possibility.  I think we should collaborate in the future to have a more competitive product.  To do that, I would like to ensure that we are respecting each other.  And from here you let the person know whatever not nice information you need to.
  3. Pick Your Battles:  You can choose to not let people who are not nice not bother you.  You can choose to not emotionally engage with a person altogether.   Keep a pleasant demeanor, but do not acknowledge, respond or react to their negativity.  Remember any engagement on your part requires an investment of your energy – save energy.

Find a Nice Person and Emulate: Teresa Hess is my living model of niceness.  In many ways in my days, I try to say WWTD – What Would Teresa Do?  And the answer is usually to listen to music and choose not to engage with negativity.   Even to seek out positivity as an antidote to negativity. The think about Teresa is that it is not like she is Suzy Sunshine all day long, but she always acts from a space of integrity with the goal of contributing positivity to the world.   I advise you all to find your own Teresa Hess!   So, Teresa Hess . . . even though I was scared of you in high school . . . now I am really grateful for you – thank you!