How to Teach Strategic Thinking

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Recently in a conversation with a faculty at a reputable law school, I was asked what I saw as the biggest shortcoming in recently graduated young lawyers. I shot the answer out lickety split–no question about it–they completely lacked the ability to think strategically. The question that followed was–well, one naturally to be expected: Would you be willing to conduct a lecture as part of a post graduate offering, on how young lawyers can learn to think strategically?  Again, my answer was far too quick. Flooded with the a rush of self congratulation over the invitation, the answer oozed out of me as smoothly as a salted  caramel from chocolate on a hot day…” I’d love to.”

Thirty days into the process of designing the itinerary for the self-discovery journey to strategic thinking, apropos of the subject, I find myself murmuring: What was I thinking? Was I thinking at all? One thing for certain there was nothing measured or tempered about my enthusiasm to take on the challenge. Dare I say–nothing strategic about that decision.   So on this glorious weekend summer’s day  in a small Connecticut village that New Yorkers kill themselves to get to negotiating I-95 every Friday night, I sit. At my computer. An intentionally made-to-look-retro fan keeps me cooled while its rattle drowns out  bird tweets and competes with gentle breezes. “Help Me Rhonda” fittingly plays in the background.

In the last thirty days, I have spent most of my discretionary time reading everything in sight and googling every conceivable variation of the phrase “how to teach strategic thinking”…to adults, to millennials, nay even children. After querying  colleagues and daughter MBA candidate came the flood of recommendations… Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” A trip to the book store lured me with no fewer than ten different volumes of HBR (Harvard Business Review) compilations–promoted as “must reads.”  I got the one on “managing people” possibly influenced by  the tag line “If you read nothing else on managing people, read these definitive articles.”  Sold.

So, in these intervening weeks since the caramel oozed out of my chocolate,  my world has become an exploration of mastering outside the box inventiveness, analyzing human effectiveness and managing intuitions and interventions.

For those of you who are regular followers, this is the part of my blog where I pull something out of the hat of my past and draw an connection that most assuredly seems to have little to do with the blog topic. My personal paraprosdokian literary widget.
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Not too long ago  on my way home from work, I passed Tate Modern and read a poster about an exhibit of Matisse’s cutouts. It was there, on the south bank looking up at the billboard promoting the exhibition, where I  learned, for the first time, that my favorite Matisse art piece was actually a collage fashioned from cut out pieces of paper. How did I not know that in the 40 years since my first encounter and subsequent love affair with the piece? Now come to find out, he didn’t paint or even draw my favorite blue nude–he pasted it.    I believed I knew a Matisse  painting when I saw one.  Turns out, I didn’t. As for pornography and knowing it when I see it–I’m going to have to reconsider that as well.  Which brings us to strategic thinking…right now I can’t quite pin down for you what it is or how you can acquire a knack for it, but I can tell you this: if you work with me, trip up and make that strategic fail and I can be all over you like a wet t-shirt.





Breaking the fourth wall

4th-wall“Oh, you’ve gotten tickets for the inauguration…what a thrill. I’m so happy for you.”

These words were not said to me, nor do I think that they ever will be directed towards me, for you see, I voted for Mr. Trump, now President-elect. Even as I pen this blog, I have some trepidation. Those colleagues and friends, for whom I have only the greatest respect, will  judge me harshly. I have some confidence that their high regard for me will lessen, in some instances, substantially. Forget that I have the benefit of my own personal interaction with the man, as my guide, they will not want to hear that, nor will it affect their opinion of me, or of him or those other 60+ million people who voted for him.

The words in the opening sentence of this blog, reflected my actual delight that a good, intelligent, well respected colleague of mine obtained tickets to President Obama’s second inauguration. She was deliriously happy, and I was happy for her. I had my own feelings toward the man, but that did not get in the way of my realization that millions of intelligent people placed their faith and hope in him and his capacity to deliver hope and change. My candidate did not win. I was disappointed. As an advocate for rule of law around the world, it did not elude me that like charity, belief in the the rule of law and the orderly of transfer of power, “starts at home.” And so, with my long list of reservations, I demonstrated publicly and privately, respect for the man we have called Mr. President these last eight years.

Now the scene switches. The tables have turned. It is I who am not only decidedly not deplorable, but a thoughtful and intelligent person, also hoping for change. I watch with quiet contentment as my preferred candidate begins to make his way to the White House. As a resident of the east coast, there are few places where one can publicly display the pleasure at that prospect.  Make no mistake, I am disappointed  that I will likely not see a woman be President of the United States in my lifetime. But, I am equally determined never to vote along any line, party, race or gender, simply to break a ceiling or other metaphorical barrier.

Speaking of barriers, comes the perfect segue to the title of this blog:  The fourth wall…a dramatic convention often used in pantomime or children’s theater, rarely broken without artistic purpose. Once a tool  used to “heighten the comedic tone of a show” last week’s fourth wall break in the Broadway show Hamilton instead  reflects something of a tragic milestone for democracy. Recognizing the futility of discourse on the subject, I leave you with this quote from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion-‘
‘I don’t, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.”

The Observation Effect: The Fear of Not Filtering

Its been sometime since I published this blog. Mind you, not for lack of thoughts and ideas I was willing to share, but more due to the discovery that my blog was likely being monitored by litigants with an interest in  generating inferences where none were intended.  I have decided to blog again, this time influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by a recognition that it might be read by a more diverse spectrum of readers than I had originally anticipated.

You might think, don’t all writers, especially those who publicly publish their work expect to be observed? And do not authors expect to have their writings criticized?  All that is true, but at least this former trial lawyer oftentimes tempers speech through a courtroom lens. On a fairly regular basis I query myself: “How would this sound in a trial transcript?” Or, “What kind of cross examination would this comment generate?  And, “How would I rebut the inferences from this or that remark?”

Familiar with how words may come to haunt someone, many people, I think, reachdoubleslit1 a point where commentary is more and more measured– mindful of how one’s words might be construed in an entirely unrelated context, years from when they were originally uttered. At work is a sort of personal  iteration of the “observation effect” alluded to by quantum scientists–considering what one wants to say (the particle), observing the two slits ahead (what you mean and what someone else might construe you to mean) and the “interference”–your inner voice modifying the words and modifying  the thought process that generated them–resulting in the original thought differently (and more safely) expressed.

Politicians engage in this process fairly regularly. And, those politicos who don’t, probably should.  When I read my grandfather’s travel diaries, he often “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the next generation of readers directly with comments like, “Your grandmother looked beautiful tonight.” His descriptives were careful and measured, in a way one might not expect of a “diary.” He was masterful at filtering. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words, so carefully constructed, are what is left for the next generation who barely knew him, if at all.

My own return to blogging was spurred by a reader who recently reached out hoping that the failure to post this last year was not due to any misfortune. So touched was I, that I decided to resume writing,  with some modest filtering.

But, I wonder whether  in this age of fact-checking and instant and meticulous googling, coupled with fear of not-filtering,  will we lose grasp of the genuine? Will the process of change, growth and progress be inhibited by the apprehension that one’s unfiltered words will return to haunt them?

Will we not be able to trace a writer’s or public speaker’s transitions of thought over time, as we do the evolution of the artist or composer? Will the time come when we all filter, out of necessity, abandoning the spontaneous and mud-luscious in this puddle-cummings_quote_spring2
wonderful world?

I am reminded of what a senior judge once counseled when I could not overcome opposing counsel’s recurring objection to my leading examination of a witness: “Say this, ‘And then what…'”?

Happy Vernal Equinox. Glad to be back.






Managing Change and Transition …Put one foot In front of the other (and don’t look back).

In life we learn through literature that there is big stuff and small stuff, as in “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  There are things that are key, critical–that go to the coreImage. In the “small stuff” column we find the discretionary, optional and elective.  Among the “core” things in life, and possibly one of the most critical one can master on this planet, are transitions. The ability to transition from point A to B, or to put in its simplest terms, to move on. 

You’ve heard often about the person who “doesn’t handle transitions well.”  At the same time, we’ve all witnessed people who have faced seemingly overwhelming odds, yet have managed to reinvent themselves, transition and emerge no worse for the wear.

As I scoured the web for visuals that represented transitions–it was interesting how many aspects of life involve transitions. That was only matched by the realization that the person who hasn’t mastered transitions, or the ability to finesse one gracefully,  likely faces an uphill climb over and over again. Transitioning affects us all, more or less, depending upon our circumstances.  The spectrum in which it presents is broad: in or out of a relationship, quitting or leaving a job, losing a loved one, going to school, leaving school, changing school, moving out of one house and into another, divorce, retirement or other fundamental passage.

In an earlier post, I wrote about people plagued by inertia–but I may have to stand corrected. It may not be so much the inertia, but a fundamental inability to manage change that is at the root of the paralysis. I didn’t spend much if any time reading or studying Kierkegaard in my years studying philosophy, but this “inspirational” quote seems to get to the heart of the matter.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Moving-On-in-Life-QuotesAt a relatively young age, I was confronted more than once with some of life’s  “fundamental passages.”  In later years, but well before adulthood arrived, I was exposed to adults who represented both extremes on the transition scale. On the one hand a parent who was entrenched in past recriminations and regrets , on the other hand a grandparent, who at the drop of a hat, could transition into a new plan if any part of the present was presenting an obstacle, literally and figuratively, to where she wanted to be or where she wanted to go.

Perhaps the exposure to these two approaches, paired with the several transitions I was exposed to at so early an age as to think them natural,  is what influenced me and my outlook on life. Whatever the source, that outlook has served me well. Confronting passages and transitions without paralyzing fear, regret or apprehension and harnessing the ability to manage expectations grows confidence in one’s own wings. Confidence prevents the kind of procrastination that is responsible for so many of life’s missed opportunities.  Good timing then, often mistaken by onlookers as “good luck,” generates positive outcomes.

But this process, and it is a process, requires conscious thought–no bumbling about, being buffeted by the “slings and arrows” of life.  It requires that one acquire a penchant for flexibility, adaptability, willingness to consider change and acquire a zest for the anticipation that transitions generate. In the end there are two types of people, those who become fluent in the art of transition and change and those who are simply, sadly, stuck in the past or the memory of it.

Like any one of a number of habits one might want to kick, I suggest this as a first step in learning how to transition gracefully:untitled

When you find yourself looking backwards, standing still, frozen in your steps or seized with apprehension–in words that aren’t mine, but have a simplicity I love: 

Put one foot in front of the other…and, I might add,  don’t look back.

If it helps, whistle the tune below, or in the manner of Jimmy Fallon,  grab a bunch of muppets and sing your way through the transition.

Either way you’ll be off to something of a start.