It’s A Can of Soup, On A Shelf

Not everyone will grow up to become President of The United States and history typically only has room for one; Steve Jobs, Einstein, Ben Franklin or Gandhi. And that’s ok because success is a purely subjective term and excellence can be found without necessarily achieving fortune or fame.

In fact there are probably far more examples of people who have found excellence in their personal and professional lives, most have seemingly ordinary careers such as insurance agents, fire fighters, teachers and many others. What’s different about these people is their unrelenting sense of purpose, to do more. They refuse to live within the median and this competitive spirit is not with others but with the person in the mirror.

Amongst these people who seem to find and sustain excellence, there are many common denominators. They share many of the same attitudes and philosophies, focus on developing the same types of skills and have the same balanced approach to career and living. To illustrate, here is an example of one theme that comes up over and over with the concept of excellence.

The Skill That Changed Everything

It was over twenty years ago when I first heard the phrase that would become a core business axiom and it would be much later when I began to appreciate and understand its depth. I was asking a respected business mentor whether or not I should take a job in a very unglamorous industry and he said, “it’s all the same, regardless of the industry, sales is sales. Products are all the same; it’s a can of soup on a shelf. If people are hungry, they will buy it. Would you care if you were selling toilet seats if the money was good?” He was never one to sugar coat anything but his philosophy would prove to be both profound and recurring.

“It’s a can of soup, on a shelf. If people are hungry they will buy it.”

A little over a decade later, this idea would reemerge in a significant way. This time it was over dinner conversation with my father-in-law. A man whom I have great respect and admiration for, both as a mentor and someone committed to excellence in all things, he does not come across as a “sales man”. A Vietnam veteran, my father-in-law has both the discipline and confidence of a military man yet a calming demeanor much like my own father. Further, with over forty years of business success, my father-in-law’s words carry credibility worth careful consideration.

When our conversation turned to sales, it caught me off guard when he stated, “it really does matter what industry you’re in or job you have, it’s all sales”. Over the next few weeks I would ponder that statement. That pondering became an experiment to test my father-in-law’s theory that would last for the next few years.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or job you have, it’s all sales.”

 Testing The Theory

Over the next few years, the goal of the experiment was simple, “find a profession that did not involve sales at any level”. Starting with the easy stuff, I interviewed people who excelled within the traditional core areas of business and asked the questions;

  • What is Customer Service? Selling the experience to the end user so that they will come back and tell others.
  • What is Human Resource? Selling the benefits and opportunities of a career within our company.
  • What is Recruiting? Selling an applicant on working at our company
  • What is an Interview? Selling yourself to get the job

Next, I challenged any associate to pick a profession that they believed did not involve sales. Subsequently, I would find someone who excelled in that profession and interview them without any tipoff as to the real topic of interest. At some point I would ask the question, “Do you think that your profession involves sales at any level?” Here are some of the responses over the years;

  • Police Officers: “Absolutely, the toughest part of our job is selling ourselves in the community”
  • Teachers: “Of course, we’re selling the love of learning”
  • Preachers: “In a sense, yes. We’re influencing people on the fate of their soul”

The point was driven home when I spoke to John, a noted PhD and extremely busy archeologist who stated,

“Are you kidding me? Have you ever tried to get funding for a dig? You have to put a proposal together then pitch it to those who have the money. Then you have to put a team together and pitch them on being on the project. Then you have to sell the results so the project doesn’t get cut off.”

 Pink & Others Bring It Home

In 2012, author Daniel Pink published the book; To Sell Is Human, The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. In it he combines the recent history of sales from the time of The Fuller Brush Man with sound research to validate the idea that every profession involves influencing others to action. In other words, it’s all sales. In an interesting twist of irony, I sat down with my father-in-law when the book was published to discuss it as well as my findings. He informed me that his father was one of the famous Fuller Brush Men.

More recently Inc.com posted the article below where Mark Cuban further validates the idea sales is a core skill related to sustained excellence.

Source: Mark Cuban Reveals the Skill That Made Him Millions (and That Anyone Can Learn) | Inc.com

If that is not evidence enough, consider the recent presentation by Michael Bidwill, President of the Arizona Cardinals Football Club at the recent Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce luncheon. There he talked about business leaders responsibility to promote and sell the economic development of their communities. He cited Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, as an excellent example of a civic leader selling his state across a global landscape.

Michael Bidwill speaks at the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Finding and sustaining excellence does not make a person perfect, nor will it ensure fame or fortune. It also won’t ensure one a good person. It can however lead to a greater depth of purpose in personal as well as professional life. There are common denominators to excellence in all things, embracing those skills is key to sustaining excellence. Chief among them is the idea that, “it’s all sales”.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unprecedented Change, In Our Time & Musashi’s Time

On October 21st, 1600 the battle of Sekigahara established the Tokugawa Shogunate, a military dictatorship that effectively ended centuries of civil war in Japan. Over the next generation clans were merged, territories acquired and military budgets consolidated. As a result, countless samurai were dismissed from their positions as their services were no longer required. They were in effect, laid off from their jobs.

The word samurai means ‘to serve’ and without a ruler and/or patron to serve they were said to be Ronin or masterless samurai. It also meant no money so many became mercenaries or changed professions all together. This was a world in transition, a world going through unprecedented change. This was the world that Miyamoto Musashi would have grown up in. He would become a rare example of a samurai who would thrive his entire life as a Ronin. Like Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin, he was a self-made made in a world in flux.

The Tokugawa Shogunate would organize Japanese society like a well run corporation and rule in relative peace for over two and a half centuries. The remaining Samurai, however, would become a redundant element as firearms, artillery and ordnance technology would reshape the notion of combat in Japan. Less and less, battles would be fought with bows and swords. The Samurai would essentially be reduced to a cross between military police and ‘middle management’ of society. By the Meiji Restoration in 1868, both the Samurai and the Shogunate were officially rendered obsolete. They were all out of a job and once again the country went through both an economic and cultural transition leading up to World War II.

Cultural transition, unprecedented technological change, mergers, acquisitions and lay-offs, does any of this sound familiar? The Western world has gone through many similar periods of transition, much of the current rhetoric suggest that we live in one today. The recent article in Business Insider below serves as a good example. What does that say for the modern business professional?

Source: Bill Ford: The auto industry is going through ‘unprecedented change’ – Business Insider

The Price Of Wisdom

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“When I was a little boy my grand mother told me the story of the wisdom of Solomon. After she had finished, I was so enthralled by the story that in the late of night I asked God to make me wise like the great king. Had I known then that the price of wisdom came by way of experience, earned only through many mistakes, it’s likely I would have just asked for a Porsche .” -Bryan Nann

Digging For Excellence & Developing Artists

In The Book of Five Rings, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi writes that, “The warriors way is the two-fold way of pen and sword”. Much of his meaning behind that expression resides in the idea that the subtle movements of the hand, in wielding the pen or specifically the calligraphy brush, can help hone the finer movements of the hand with a samurai sword.

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There is, however, a deeper meaning that goes beyond swordsmanship, one that was visible throughout Musashi’s life. It was the idea that to be truly effective and complete in the samurai profession, one must develop both the technical as well as the creative skill sets. In Musashi’s terms, the science of swordsmanship and the art of calligraphy or painting, together, developed a well-balanced warrior.

In 20th Century Western terms, this sort of developmental activity has often been associated with Lateralization of Brain Function or oversimplified as “Right vs. Left” brain activity. Current science has punched holes in much of this theory but there is still evidence to suggest that creative combined with analytical learning taps into something within the human psyche. It has a developmental multiplier effect greater than each learning path on its own. Intuitively, Musashi knew in 1645 what we’ve summarized for decades in the phrase;

“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”

But in an age of analytics, Big Data, Lean Logic and vocation specific education, the synergy between the so-called left and right brain can get lost. With so much focus on efficiencies and doing more with less over the last decade, the left-brain has dominated much of the professional landscape. In fact, in many institutions of higher learning, liberal arts education is facing extinction as a relic of an impractical past. As a result, many extremely well-trained professionals struggle in moving their careers forward due to a lack of the often intangible, ‘Right Brain’ skill sets.

Left and Right brain function illustration
Left and Right brain function illustration

Not long ago, this concept came full circle personally and caused me to revisit what Musashi had written almost four centuries ago. It was over dinner with a business acquaintance who had apparently researched my LinkedIn profile extensively. He stated that he found my background very interesting and was intrigued by what I meant with my title phrase,

“Digging for Excellence and Developing Artists.”

Frankly, I was caught a little off guard. No one had ever done his or her homework in such detail, let alone question me on the title phrase of my professional network. Needless to say, my explanation was not very articulate and underwhelming at best.

So putting poetic license aside, it can be summarized as a balanced approach to professional development. “Digging for Excellence” is the science, the tangibles, the continuous improvement, the things often associated with driving individual and organizational productivity. It is all of the “left brain” activity ranging from root cause analysis to action plans that drive KPIs. It is also developing the technical, the mechanical skills of one’s profession. It’s more than just drilling on the fundamentals of one’s trade, it’s expanding the skill sets and tool sets that drive professional mastery.

Somewhat more elusive and often difficult to cultivate is the intangible flip side to the science of “Digging for excellence”. This is stuff of the “Right Brain” and examples would include creativity, empathy, the ability to listen or communicate effectively, etc.

To be effective in selling themselves, for example, professionals must be able to deploy all of the aforementioned skills. Creativity, communication, empathetic listening and so forth must all work in concert with technical prowess, empirical evidence or other tangibles. In other words, the science must work in concert with the artistry.

After all, what is customer service but selling yourself and the experience? What is marketing but selling yourself and the value of the product or service? What is employee development but selling yourself, your leadership and the long-term value for the employee?

So what is professional mastery in the digital age? It is the two-fold way of digging for excellence and developing artistry. One must cultivate tangible and intangible skill sets and mind sets both inside as well as outside their profession. To be an effective leader, one must understand that this symbiosis is at the heart of developing the people that they lead. They must also have the courage to evangelize this concept in an increasingly data driven, left brain world. In his book, A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink brings this concept of science and artistry further to life. Using scientific analysis and data, he stresses the relevance and need for right brain learning in the 21st Century. Well worth the read.

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Musashi’s “9”in the Digital Age

In The Book of Five Rings, legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi uses the martial arts and swordsmanship as metaphors to illustrate how the larger concept of strategy can be applied to everyday life. He was a swordsman, a samurai and combat was his profession since childhood. The sword was intertwined with his life, it’s what he knew best and it would be only natural for him to write from such a perspective.

Throughout the book Musashi eludes to the idea that this paradigm he called ‘Strategy’ has a much broader application than combat or military purpose alone. Further, it was rare for samurai to write their philosophy or teachings so his work, by default, has become a cultural icon in Japan. It’s influence can been still seen today in economics, politics, education and more.

For many in the West, however, it can be difficult to find practical value in Eastern writing like The Book of Five Rings. For some, it comes across as esoteric poetry. Still others assess it as the ravings of a senile and violent madman. Ideas also get lost in translation as Japanese, like many Eastern languages, is complex. Separating the principles from the context can significantly alter their meaning, potentially diluting their value. In this case, the writing is three & a half centuries old and written in the context of feudal Japan. How is it possibly relevant in 21st Century Western society? In addition, both martial artists and non-martial artists often see his work as a mere text on combat or sword fighting and miss the depth of the Strategy.

 It’s impossible to know what Miyamoto Musashi was thinking when he wrote The Book of Five Rings. It’s also impossible to know what he would say about the world today, had he been here. What follows, however, is at least a plausible interpretation of Musashi’s Nine Rules as they apply to the Digital Age.

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Musashi’s Nine Rules

“Think of that which does not deviate from the way”

Translation = Cultivate an everyday mindset through self-discipline and focus

 This refers to developing an everyday mindset of strategy and applying it universally, to everything you do. It is the very act of mapping out your career path, for example; the, “where would you like to be in five years” question. Subsequently keeping your mind focused on the daily actions that move you forward toward those ends.

“Train in the way”

Translation = Develop the skillsets necessary to move you forward in accordance to the strategy, practice daily with purpose.

 This refers to developing the skillsets required to move forward on that map. It’s the daily disciplines, the incremental improvements repeated over and over. It’s the 10,000 hours spent practicing a new skill that makes the difference. True skill and knowledge cannot be learned in “10 Easy Lessons”.

 Weight loss is a good example to illustrate this. People spend tons of money, go on expensive diets for 30-60days, lose some weight and by the end of the year are right back where they started. Or, they make new years resolutions to ‘get in shape’, work out like crazy the first few months, then are burnt out by mid-year. No one gets ‘out of shape’ in 30-60 days and no one gets ‘in shape’ that way either. Only through incremental discipline does lasting impact take shape.

“Take an interest in all the arts”

Translation = Step outside of your comfort zone, engage in creative learning

 The digital age has brought so much focus on what can be called Left Brain activities; CORE curriculum education, Big Data and analytics in business, a ‘quantified self’ in professional development, efficiencies, process improvement, robots and other technological obsessions. There is of course nothing wrong with all of these, except when it becomes too much of a good thing. Right brain, creative activities including simple play allows for free thinking, new ideas and imaginative exploration. Without the balance of liberal arts and education, innovation suffers. As the saying goes, “All work and no play, makes one dull”.

“Know the way of all professions”

Translation = Learn the value of transferable skills and other career paths.

 If you take time to study other professions, you might make two potentially life changing discoveries; First, you may discover a latent interest that may result in you wanting to make a significant career course adjustment (Example: An associate of mine spent over twenty years with a successful career in the military. At some point, his travels brought him to Egypt where he was exposed to archeology. It sparked such an interest in him that at age 42, he went on to earn his PhD and become a full-time archeologist).

Second, you will discover a set of professional skills that are, at some level, transferable to every profession. It’s always amusing to hear professionals say, “I’m just not a sales person”. I then ask them what they do. Subsequently diving into the particulars of their job, there’s always a sales related component. After all, as author Daniel Pink states in his book, “To Sell Is Human”.

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“Know how to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of each thing”

Translation = Moderation, temperance and balance. Too much of a good thing can be bad.

 The technology of the digital age provides a great example of this. People across the globe, are connected in ways never imagined a century ago. At the same time, people have become more disconnected than ever. Regardless of generation, people now struggle to have face-to-face conversations with friends, family and professional colleagues without pausing to look at the latest update on their cell phone. Walk through any airport, on any given day, you will see the majority of people buried in some type of screen. Understanding the limits of tools and technologies, knowing when to ‘say when’ or step away from the phone, the tablet, the PC. It can have a balancing effect and be very advantageous.

“Learn to judge the quality of each thing”

Translation = Develop reasoning, critical thinking and sound judgement skills

 Today, we joke by saying, “it must be true because I read it on Facebook”. Generations before the Internet, a similar saying stated; “Don’t believe everything you read and only half of what you see.” The Internet is a marvelous tool that has brought information, learning and connection across the globe like never before.

Technological advances, however, can be easily manipulated for less than noble purpose. Information, “Big Data”, advertising, your cell phone, etc. can all be used as tools to sway public and your personal opinions. Very little replaces objective, logical reasoning skills and the ability to question validity. Unfortunately, today there is more hype than substance and the ability to separate the two is becoming an increasingly valued commodity.

“Perceive and understand that which is not visible from the outside”

 Translation = Cultivating awareness, fine tuning the senses and the power of introspection.

 We live in an age of workplace violence, one in four car crashes involving distracted drivers, obsession with multi-tasking and life in sound bites of two minutes or less. Now more than ever, the ability to pick up on details and subtleties of situations is an invaluable skill. What is often referred to as, “reading between the lines” and “thinking two steps ahead”. Very little time is spent today on developing the senses in concert with what can be called a ‘sixth sense’, meaning the ability to utilize intuition. Science has begun to establish significant evidence that multi-tasking actually dulls the senses and makes one really good at doing a bunch of things poorly.

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“Be attentive even to minimal things”

Translation = Pay attention to the details

Can you shut out all the noise and pick up on details? Do you listen for understanding or simply to respond? Picking up on details is a skill that anyone can develop, but it takes time and practice. The ability to listen for understanding is not taught in school, we must develop it on our own. Few invest the time and effort to get good at it, that’s what makes it a rare and valuable skill.

“Do not perform useless acts”

Translation = Time Management

 It has been estimated that by some counts, people in developed countries now spend on average, up to seven hours per day on digital media of some sort. This includes email as well as social media, gaming, video, etc. That’s almost an entire workday! The ability to cut all of that off and refocus has become a major challenge of the digital age. The idea here is that there will always be distractions willing to lead you away from the personal and professional course you’ve charted. Part of Strategy is in developing that daily discipline and focus to avoid getting sucked in.

Defining Sustained Excellence -2016

Why is that some people, despite the disadvantages of circumstance, lack of resources or monumental obstacles, manage to consistently thrive and excel? They make habit, throughout their lives, of turning adversity into opportunity. They reinvent themselves over and over in ways that seem to defy conventional wisdom. Meanwhile others, despite having the advantages of birth, wealth, talent or circumstance, manage to reach an apex of success or significance, only to self-destruct often in the most tragic of ways?

After almost thirty years of studying people from all walks of life; the wealthy and famous as well as those who are not, those of significant historical contribution as well as the mundane, those of extensive formal education as well as those of minimal informal education, etc. Certain common denominators have emerged in those who excel, repeatedly throughout their lives. Conversely, patterns have also emerged in those who aspire to and/or achieve the aforementioned and subsequently unwind those achievements at one or more levels.

So in defining “sustained excellence” the phrase doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the sense of fame, fortune or historical notoriety although those are possible byproducts. It’s more synonymous with terms such as significance, contribution and even reinvention, although even these are incomplete in thoroughly defining the topic.

Nonetheless, in those who have repeatedly found excellence and sustained it throughout their lives, they all exhibit this same formula within some range of exception;

MENTAL EXCELLENCE

They all have some form of “personal code” which operates as guiding principles and supersedes all other influences. They also utilize some measure of introspection, which allows them to regularly reorient, or ‘get back on course’ with the principles of this code.

PHYSICAL EXCELLENCE

Whether consciously or intuitively, each recognizes the need for the physical energy and vitality to sustain excellence in the long-term. As a result, all practice some combination of the rules for good health that include; Diet, Rest, Exercise, Stress Reduction and Social Connection.

SKILLS EXCELLENCE

All recognize the need for continuous personal improvement whether at the intellectual, physical or psychological levels. They regularly step out of their comfort zones into new experiences.

TEAM EXCELLENCE

As a result of the momentum created by the first three ‘rings’, what one might call Leadership Gravity begins to exert its forces around these individuals. People rally around them, to their cause and/or vision quests. This by no means suggests that they are either perfect or universally liked. There are documented examples such as Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and even Benjamin Franklin, who all had real character flaws, but suggest that this leadership gravity occurs despite those flaws.

INSTITUTIONAL EXCELLENCE

Out of the momentum created by the first four rings, culture begins to develop. It can become a movement, an organization, a business or even the heart of a society that, if properly incubated, can out last that individual’s lifetime.

Not everyone aspires to change society or create a lasting organization. Many are content with finding equilibrium in the first three or four rings throughout their lives. The formula remains, however, visible at some level in all individuals who consistently excel and overcome adversity.

This is what is referred to as the “Five Rings of Sustaining Excellence”

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Bringin Musashi Back

Around the middle of the 17th Century, renowned Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, wrote a manuscript that outlined the importance in having a ‘roadmap for success’ in ones profession and in life. He wrote this manuscript in the context of his own career as a swordsman, a samurai as well as his life in a turbulent, feudal Japan. He summarized all of this experience, philosophy and specifics into one word…Strategy.

His book entitled, Gorin No Sho or A Book of Five Rings was the culmination of Musashi’s life work and experiences as a leader in many areas including but not restricted to swordsmanship and combat. It’s also one of the few existing historical Japanese documents on martial arts of its kind. Many people in feudal Japan, including many samurai, could not read or write but there were other factors making such documents rare.

Traditionally, skills like swordsmanship and martial arts were considered ‘trade secrets’ to the practitioners much like the formula for Coca Cola or Google’s Algorithm is today. Additionally, it is often difficult to articulate the nuances of physical skill and movement in written word. Much like it is one thing to read about the mechanics of swinging a baseball bat to hit a fastball, yet it’s quite another to stand in the batter’s box and actually hit the ball. As a result, much of these traditions were transmitted orally and makes Musashi’s writings somewhat of a historical treasure to many in Japan and the martial arts community.

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By User Alkivar on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today, Miyamoto Musashi remains a folk hero in Japan and required reading for Japanese businessmen although popularity of the Book of Five Rings seems to have waned since the 1990’s with the advent of continued economic crisis in Japan. Very few in the West, however, outside of those in the martial arts community have even heard of Miyamoto Musashi let alone embraced his writings.

Language is the first barrier at which many Westerners give up on Eastern text. Meaning in Eastern language, both written and spoken, can often have many layers dependent upon context. Japanese for example has characters that can have literally dozens of meanings in English, depending on the context used. Without the original author being present, the translator is often left to decide on literal meaning vs. implied meaning. This gives rise to phrases like, ‘lost in translation’ and ‘reading between the lines’ and can frustrate Western readers who are accustomed to the more literal Latin based languages.

Further, the Book of Five Rings was written by a Samurai using swordsmanship as a metaphor for a larger concept and in the context of violent, war stricken times of feudal Japan. As a result, the book often gets glossed over as some esoteric manual on sword fighting skill, a reputation only perpetuated by the modern myths and fictionalization of Musashi himself.

Lastly, most in the West simply don’t attribute the same historical significance to Musashi as they do to people like Benjamin Franklin or Leonardo Da Vinci. He’s just another sword fighter, who happened to write a book and whose life was a quaint anecdote to the adventures of the samurai and the height of feudal Japan.

Over the next few months most of the posts will be devoted to Bringing Musashi Back and adapting the ideas of “strategy” found in the Book of Five Rings to a 21st Century world. Hopefully it will reignite interest from people in both the East and the West in the writings of Miyamoto Musashi.

Why You Should Stand Up For Truly “FREE” – and not just your checking account

US President, Barack Obama, recently proposed a plan to offer two years of community college at no charge to the student, in an effort to promote higher education in the United States. The dynamics of the proposal can be read in more detail below in the link to the NPR report on the proposal. Ideologically the concept is sound, earning a college degree in the first part of the 21st century has been become what a high school degree was at the beginning of the 20th century. Affordable, higher education can and should be made available to the masses. Sounds great right? So what’s the rub?

The fundamental flaw in this plan is that “free” isn’t. The proposal passes the cost on to an already heavily burdened US tax payer. A cost, by the way, that has become obscenely expensive just in the time frame since the beginning of the economic crisis, 2009 to present. To illustrate, the average cost of community college in 2009 was approximately $26 per unit. So if you took a single, 5 unit language class, it would cost you $130 for the semester before books, parking and other expenses. In 2014 that same class cost an average of $75 per unit or $375 for the semester. That’s almost triple just in the time period since the beginning of the economic crisis.

Obama In Tennessee To Promote Free Community College : NPR Ed : NPR.

What’s an alternative? One of the best kept secrets in today’s digital age is that truly free higher education already exists. It’s called MOOC or Massive, Open source, Online, Courses and despite heated criticism it’s shifting the paradigm of higher education at an exponential rate.

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By Mathieu Plourde {(Mathplourde on Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Simply put, colleges and universities all over the world are offering free online courses from an ever-growing number of subjects and disciplines. Most of these are being offered by highly credited academic institutions from MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, the list goes on. These are quality courses, taught by quality professors all over the world and the cost to the student is typically just for books and incidentals.  There are also organizations that curate these courses into one source to make it as easy as possible to find what you are looking for and get signed up.

MOOC has grown to the point that many students have organized full course curriculums that completely mirror the required course work for a bachelor or even a master’s degree in a growing number of disciplines. In other words, you could, in theory, complete the entire coursework through MOOC required to earn an MBA from an established academic institution. Your cost? Somewhere around $1000 for all the necessary books and incidentals. Sounds great right? So again, what’s the catch to all of this?

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Image: Courtesy of Nature magazine

The challenge is that a student could complete an entire coursework set for an MBA through MOOC, they could get straight A’s on the exams, the assigned papers, the research projects, they could participate in every online class conversation, be present in every video conference and even lead the discussions. They could be at the top of their class on every course and the reality at the end of it all would be this

“Currently, there is no academic institution in the world that will recognize a student who has completed the required coursework through MOOC as having earned that associated degree.”

Critics of MOOC from all directions appear to use the same set of basic arguments wrapped in a different packages but they really fall into just a couple of main headings

Substandard Learning Environment

 This argument contends that the student is being denied the element of social integration and people/relationship skills by participating solely in MOOC courses versus the traditional in-person classroom. There are three fundamental flaws with this argument however; First, the traditional in-person model doesn’t necessary assure students learn those skills either. Having gone to college the traditional route, I’ve personally known students who graduated with very few new social skills. Second, the argument presupposes that college is the key, if not only, environment where a young adult could develop social skill sets. Family, sports organizations, religious affiliations, community involvement and even entry-level work place roles can all provide a forum for college students to develop people/relationship skills.

Most significantly, the same logic used by critics could be applied to all online courses, whether paid or free, and therefore in kind be considered substandard. So in other words, the MBA purchased from the Thunderbird School of Global Management online would lack the same quality as any course taken through MOOC.

The reality is that technology allows students in an online course to interact through live chat, video conference and other tools that allow discussion and debate on a global scale that was unheard of a few decades ago. Students that previously would never have had a voice in a lecture hall of 300-500 students, now can.

No Pay, No skin in the game

Another argument promotes the “carrot & stick” theory of human motivation with earning a degree as ‘the carrot’ and extensive cost for said degree as ‘the stick’. So the idea is that the guilt of the financial burden is what keeps the student going to class and disciplined to finish the degree. While there could be some validity to this argument, the flip side is even more significant. True, self-guided learning requires an incredible amount of personal discipline and will, but therein lies its power. Only those with the highest commitment and academic discipline will even finish a program through MOOC, but isn’t that a goal of higher education? Isn’t the point to elevate the students personal and academic discipline? Isn’t developing personal initiative and follow through a key trait that top employers look for in the work place?

Academic Dishonesty

Has been around since the beginning and is unfortunately a part of the human condition. As long as there have been rules and systems, people have found ways to break the rules and game the systems. Governance of the consequences of people’s actions will simply have to be evolved to meet the needs of the digital age.

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Affordable higher education is and should be available to everyone, the answer is already out there creating a quantum shift in learning. The status quo will not go quietly however and the systems that risk extinction will fight wholeheartedly for survival.

America’s first Mixed Martial Artist

Mixed martial arts or “MMA” as it is now known has greatly ramped up in popularity over the last few decades. It’s become a mainstay of the global athletic landscape and of course the cable television networks. MMA has even become the basis for a series of reality TV shows. Today, there are over 18 million people in the United States alone that practice some form of martial arts.

Fans and martial artists like to give the credit for all of this popularity to Bruce Lee. Many have called him “father of MMA” and there is no doubt that he was well ahead of his time compared to the American martial arts populous of the 1960’s & 70’s. Still others want to give the credit to the Gracie Family, since they popularized and commercialized the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC).

But here is a little known martial arts fact. More than 70 years before Bruce Lee honed Chinese martial arts, grappling and boxing into a mixed system he called Jeet Kune Do, the 26th president of the United States had already begun that experiment. That’s right, Theodore Roosevelt was America’s first mixed martial artist.

Many people know and it’s well documented that TR was an accomplished boxer. Most also know that he used boxing and physical mastery to overcome tremendous health obstacles as a child. Plagued with terrible, chronic asthma and other maladies, his mere survival was a small miracle given 19th century medicine. He endured and survived through mind/body conditioning and what he later called, “The principle of living the strenuous life.” A philosophy that became the heart of everything he said and did.

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Theodore Roosevelt in his teenage years as a competitive boxer.

 

TR went farther than boxing, he was among the first in the United States to really utilize mixing martial arts to round out his physical and mental mastery. In addition to his boxing, he was also a devout student of the following;

  • Traditional Wrestling
  • JuJitsu
  • Judo
  • Single Stick

All in the early 1900’s, long before the term martial arts, let alone mixed martial arts came into use.

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In November of 2007, the United States Judo Federation posthumously presented Theodore Roosevelt a Black Belt in Judo for his commitment to the sport and his life’s pursuit of self-mastery.

There is no denying that today’s mixed martial arts owes both its origins and popularity to many contributors, events and even mass communication. The fact remains that in the turn of the 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt had already begun to pave the way. He too deserves credit as America’s original mixed martial artist.

 

ENMEI, made simple…

Whiteboard presentations and info graphics continue to be the rage in digital marketing and ad campaigns….so here is the concept of ENMEI made simple, compliments of the white board.

ENMEI Whiteboard
The ENMEI Formula

In The Book of Five Rings, legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi suggested the need for a definitive “strategy” in one’s profession and in life. Although he used his profession, swordsmanship, to illustrate this model, he made several comparisons to other professions to demonstrate that the strategy could be applied to any endeavor. This is likely what he meant by one of his famous quotes;

“From one thing, know ten thousand things.”

 

History has also demonstrated that when individuals consistently follow this formula, they develop a sustained excellence in themselves that can spread throughout a group, an organization or even a society. This is perhaps what is truly meant by the phrase, “Leadership by Example”.