Symphony and the power of intention

In this article I discuss the connection between AWARENESS, INTENTION and SYMPHONY.

When you walked in the front door of your office this morning what was in your mind? I’m guessing there were probably 101 things ranging from dealing with an under-performing staff member to the argument you had with your teenager this morning. Perhaps there was a good segment on the radio that made you think and you were still pondering as you came through the door.

That’s usually a fair description of my state of mind as I walk into my office. However something I read just before I went to sleep last night made me think about how we all do this and in doing so we miss so much. The particular phrase is not important, just that it made me stop and think.

It made me think about the source of my awareness. What was I paying attention to? As I drove down the road was I aware that there were real people in the cars going past? What sort of day might they be having? When I take all the people I pass or pass me on the way to work is there one particular message I’m picking up? Maybe. Maybe not. I won’t know unless I tune in and become aware of the source of my attention.

If you do this your awareness becomes heightened. Now go back to the front door of your office again. (You can do this in your mind if you like.) What did you see when you came in? What was the mood? Who was there? What were they doing? What were they wearing?

Now ask yourself again what you were thinking about and how you felt as you came in the door. What was your intention? Did you have an overarching intention for the day?

So often I get to my desk and just start doing whatever is on it. I forget why I am there and what is important. I forget my compelling vision. Why I am doing what I’m doing.

So can I ask you to go back to the front door of your office once again (in your mind again is fine.) This time, just before you open the door, stop for a moment. Think about your intention for this day. What is it you want to achieve? What single message do you want to convey to your team?

If you can really focus on your intention, you’re ready to conduct a symphony. Not a physical orchestra but a metaphorical one. The conductor works with each part of the orchestra and then brings them all together for the performance. Each section coming in at exactly the right moment with just the right sensitivity of phrasing. One moment making the gentlest softest sound and the next with every instrument ringing to its full volume.

This is your job. To bring all the different skills, personalities and viewpoints of your team into one performance. You don’t want to make them the same – how dull would that be? You want the different instruments ringing out a tune in tune and in time with the rest of the orchestra.

Imagine that before you walk in the door. Your intention for the day is to conduct one of the greatest symphonies every performed and it’s all going to happen within the boundaries of your organisation.

Further Reading:

Education standards are falling?

Do you think education standards are falling?

I would hazard a guess that almost everyone reading this completed Year 9 (of Form 3) Maths (or Math is some countries.)

Here are some questions from the 2009 Year 9 NAPLAN Numeracy test. See how you go. You’re welcome to tell me what you think the answers should be in a comment on this post. I would be interested to know.

NAPLAN Arrow Question.jpg

NAPLAN Graphy Question.jpg

NAPLAN Area Questions.jpg

Silicon Valley sidelines best talent

The NYT article here raises two issues dear to our hearts at The Spiral Path: discrimination
against women in the workplace and cultures that frustrate innovation.

In another string to the argument business is irrational and makes decisions that hinder
productivity and profit, 
this piece 
in the New York Times points out the prevailing culture of sex discrimination
at Silicon Valley.

Women, although better at the helm of startups than their male counterparts, are rarely given
the chance. (Now of course The Spiral Path recognises that research is often
misreported so we mention quote the august NYT here with some slight hesitancy.

According to the article:

Women own 40 percent of the private businesses in the
United States … But they create only 8 percent of the venture-backed tech start-ups.

Candace Fleming, used as a case study for the article, 

“has a double major in industrial engineering and English from Stanford, an MBA from
Harvard, a
management position at Hewlett-Packard and experience as  president of a small
software company.”

Yet she was unable to obtain finance from any of the 30 venture capitalists she tried, instead
raising money from angel investors “including Golden Seeds
, a fund that emphasizes investing in start-ups led by women”.

More disturbing than this, though was the way she was treated by men on her journey.

  • one told her that she didn’t really need business cards because they would just
    say “Mom.”
  • another showed her a naked picture of himself as a way of inviting her on a yachting weekend
    with him.

Quoting further from the NYT:

Research indicates that investing in women as tech entrepreneurs is good for the bottom line.
Venture-backed start-ups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than start-ups run
by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock,
according to a recent white paper by Cindy Padnos,
a venture capitalist who compiled data from 100 studies on gender and tech entrepreneurship.

“When you have gender diversity in an organization, you have better innovation, and I don’t
know where innovation is more important than in the high-tech world,” says Ms. Padnos, who recently
founded Illuminate Ventures, which invests in
start-ups led by women.

Human Potential and Hope

I came across this piece by Marcia Devlin this morning.

The first part of her post reminded me of my Grade 6 teacher. (A Mr Horn, if I remember correctly.) Now I liked Mr Horn very much. I thought he was an engaging teacher who always made us think. But I do remember him one day looking around the class and saying, quite seriously and matter of factly, “I don’t think any of you will go to university.”

I now have four degrees and I know one other member of the same class has a PhD.

Predictions are not really very useful. I could go on about that but the part of Marcia’s post that really caught my attention was :

I’m a bit taken lately with human potential ideology and hope theory. The former moves away from deficit models to models of human potential and the latter promotes the generation and pursuit of goals. (links added.)

I was excited by just the thought of these concepts. How would it be if we were to move away from all this talk about (inherently self-limiting) standards in education and moved towards finding the potential in each child in our care? That instead of focussing on all that is wrong with our world, we were to move towards generating hope.

Our previous prime minister was famous for saying he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable. On reflection, this sounds like an opium for the masses. It sounds a long way from finding the potential in every member of our society and generating hope.

Education is currently dominated by standards. What if it were dominated by potential and hope?

Business leaders are evaluated on achievement against “key performance indicators.” What if they were evaluated against the extent to which they developed their organisation’s potential? What if they were evaluated against their achievement in promoting hope, both within their organisation and in the wider community?

Lot’s of questions I know. You didn’t really expect me to provide answers did you?

Further reading:

The Dangers of the Human Potential Movement.

Education is broken – but it doesn’t have to be

If you read this blog regularly you will know that my heart weeps for education.
At a time in which the world faces its greatest ever challenges, we are returning to
models of education that were essentially developed 200 years ago.

In Australia, we have the NAPLAN and
MySchool which are regressive simplistic
measures of student and school performance respectively. It is as though we have not moved a
millimetre from the industrial revolution model of education since wide scale public education
became common in the mid 19th Century.

In addition the Australian federal Education Minister,
Julia Gillard, declaring herself
a world expert on education has just announced a ‘back to basics’
national curriculum.

Kevin Donnelly, one of the most
conservative education commentators in the country has completed a 180 degree shift on national
testing. Previously one of the strongest and most vocal advocates for public accountability of
schools through ‘league tables’ Donnelly

now argues
that the evidence from overseas indicates that these measures do not increase
educational performance.

In this piece on the ABC website, he argues:

…an argument is put that test scores, while giving the impression of being scientific,
are not completely objective or reliable. In addition, standardised, multiple and short answer
tests (like Australia’s National Assessment Programme Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)) measure a
limited range of skills as schools are forced to narrow “the curriculum towards the knowledge
and skills that are easy to assess on such tests”


Jeremy Ludowyke
, principal of
Melbourne High School,
(itself ranked #1 on literacy in Victoria), pointing out that his school is one of those that
stands to gain the most from national comparisons of the type promoted by MySchool describes
the whole initiative as ‘nonsense’
(The Age 8/2/10.)

At heart these initiatives are based on a belief that 

  • teachers have a cosy life and have little or no interest in providing high quality education
  • education has been hijacked by left wing ideology (eg see this piece by Donnelly)
  • parents demands are more important than the view of educators

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Wide scale public education was a mid 19th Century response to the industrial revolution.

Many argue that as a result it was modelled on the successes of industrial production. Children could be treated as items to be produced. You start with raw materials and apply the same processes consistently to produce items of consistent quality. Put all children through the same education and they will all learn the same things. Of course, some children are ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ and refuse to either apply themselves or to learn. But, by and large, the successful products of the system have similar characteristics.

Right there, at the beginning of public education, we were confronted with a dilemma. Do we educate children to provide fodder for the industrial machine or do we educate them to produce thinking individuals who will experience better lives because of their ability to make decisions for themselves?

We have never fully addresses this dilemma.

Perhaps we don’t have to. Perhaps we have moved beyond the industrial revolution to a place where educated, independent thinking individuals able to make independent decisions are what we need as a post industrial society and is also a socially just outcome of education.

In a future article I will discuss ‘modern’ approaches to education and how they might indeed be just what we need.

Clara Schumann

Do a google search on Schumann and you will most likely find references to Robert Schumann, the 19th century composer. You won’t immediately find that his wife Clara Schumann, was also a noted composer and virtuoso pianist.

As an interesting aside there was a strong and complex relationship between Robert, Clara and Johannes Brahms

Marie Curie

Marie Curie‘s name is intimately associated with the discovery of ‘radioactivity.’ This is not accurate as that discovery belongs to Henri Becquerel. To me precise she isolated the active radioactive source within pitchblende. Starting with several tonnes of pitchblende working with he husband Pierre, she isolated one gram of pure Radium.

From the Nobel Prize website:

Her early researches, together with her husband, were often performed under difficult conditions, laboratory arrangements were poor and both had to undertake much teaching to earn a livelihood. The discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel in 1896 inspired the Curies in their brilliant researches and analyses which led to the isolation of polonium, named after the country of Marie’s birth, and radium. Mme. Curie developed methods for the separation of radium from radioactive residues in sufficient quantities to allow for its characterization and the careful study of its properties, therapeutic properties in particular.

Frank Tate

Frank Tate was Victoria’s first Director of Education. Reading his biography is an amazing experience. Here was someone who was passionate about education and an educational reformer. He addressed issues we think of as modern.

Tate was not content to be a routine inspector and embarked on a personal crusade to revive Victorian state education. He sped through his huge district, winning the loyalty of teachers by his gift for humour, anecdote and epigram, and by his seemingly inexhaustible flow of quotations from English literature, especially Shakespeare. He offered them a vision of a liberal curriculum, imaginative and realistic methods, and a gentler and more constructive discipline; he introduced them to the ideas of the ‘new education’, a loosely organized reform movement which was gaining popularity in Britain. He showed teachers, as they toiled for meagre salaries in century heat in their tin-roofed schools, that their task, although grossly undervalued by society, was one of importance and dignity. Through them, state-school children, previously offered a narrow and unappealing fare dominated by the three Rs taught rigidly and by rote, could be introduced to the richness and variety of a great culture.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi held no pubic office and was the head of no organisation yet he was one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.