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.

 

 

 

 

About Inspirational Quotes

 

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When one thinks “Inspirational quotes” an image of sunrises or sunsets, waves washing upon a shore come to mind, with particularly succinct pieces of wisdom nestled in the scene as if writ by the hands of the almighty.  In the “old days” these made their way into posters that decorated dorm rooms. Now they find their way into facebook updates encouraging you to “share” when they show up in one’s newsfeed.

Among those oft quoted (usually, but not always, men) are such notables as Twain, Churchill and Einstein. The best inspirational quotes, however, I think are those that have withstood the test of time. In this category, the winner by far are the “Chinese Proverbs.”  These are two of my favorites:

Those who say it cannot be done
should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Talk doesn’t cook rice… four words that really say it all.

In the early days of my having founded an organization that was going to be heavily dependent upon inspiring individuals to reach deep into their pockets and donate,  I embarked on the exercise to find that inspirational phrase that was so visceral as to trigger the reader  to volunteer to head off to Africa or, better yet, write a check.  There were also times when the going was so tough, I turned to the Chinese proverbs for a bit of inspirational lift from periodic disappointments. rocky sea blog

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I know many of you are intellectuals, scholarly and tend not to find too much literary merit in a quote or anything that in ten words or less takes the place of reading the book. To you I suggest that in life there are sometimes complexities that require something very straightforward and utterly simple, to plug a hole in life’s dike. In those moments, I have looked to the wisdom of one of history’s innovators, leaders or authors for inspirational lift.

never give in blogA blog is by its very nature the epitome of sharing, and the author assumes, correctly or incorrectly, that the information shared is interesting, worthwhile, funny, instructional or maybe even  inspirational. The quotes pictured here were most assuringly  not authored by me but they were among those that did in fact inspire me. As an aside, I think you will agree that in wrapping them in pictures from my phone I have managed to create several images that would fit nicely into the genre of cheesy poster art, not to mention, fare well in any competition matched against your every day Facebook fodder. 

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.

What’s it all about Alfie?

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I never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song past the second line, but find myself on not infrequent occasions muttering or humming the tune’s first lines. If you need a refresher…here’s how it starts:

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give…

There are those among us who have a difficult time giving ourselves permission to become completely absorbed in the day to day trivialities of life. You know who you are. You’re the ones who when you leave work, joining the throngs of people in mass exit heading home towards parking lots or public transit, wonder if it isn’t reminiscent of the ants we marvel at in summer, all marching along in concert to support the colony.

You are the ones who have conversations with yourself, while trying to convince a colleague, group or client of the value of a particular course of action and the long and short term beneficial consequences.

You are the one who, while walking down the street curiously observing your fellow man, queries yourself if you are indeed the only one thinking about, “what its all about,”– for you are sure everyone seems quite absorbed in the task of getting somewhere, going somewhere, doing something, none of which  include being perplexed about their state of being.

Do you sometimes think, in 50 years most of the people I’m looking at will not be on this planet and wonder if this thought has occurred to them? I do, with more regularity than I’d like to admit, and in those moments, this e e cummings’ quote comes to mind:

little man
(in a hurry
full of an
important worry)
halt stop forget relax

wait

How apropos is it then, that as I write, this ad appears in my inbox, imploring me to get the “big picture” into my life. I chuckle. For some the “big picture” refers to a  large screen TV, nothing more, nothing less.

big picture2So today, I leave you with this: try a little Socratic scrutiny in your life. What’s your deal?  How do you see “the big picture?”  If it is true that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I do believe that is the case, then consider  periodically pressing your personal pause button.  Purvey the landscape of your life, the people in it that you value, the values that you espouse and consider whether they are all in sync.

If after reading this you happen to pass me on the street, no need to say hello, just nod. I’ll get it. Despite all the warnings my kids give me about not making eye contact with strangers, I’m likely to return the nod with a deeply satisfying, but polite and appropriately reserved smile.    So, go ahead, make my day.