Learning to maintain buildings

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

"building" by Narumi
“building” by Narumi

When things go wrong and I don’t know what to do next, my instinctive reaction is to scan the scholarly literature to see if I can find solutions or new angles to whatever challenge I am confronting. Two weeks ago, the owners of our strata corporation didn’t support a motion to take an incremental step towards a major maintenance project.

The anthropologist in me wants to consider the implications diversity on collective building maintenance projects. It turns out that this owners in multi-owner housing (e.g. condominiums, co-ops, strata corporations) in different parts of the world have different attitudes towards the need to do maintenance on common property. For example. Yau studies homeowners attitudes in Hong Kong.  Yau (2011) mentions two barriers  that Hong Kong owners cite as barrier for them participating in building care that resonate with my building’s situation:

difficulties in raising fund or collecting money was the most frequently mentioned barrier (71.4 per cent). This obstacle is followed by the lack of confidence of the homeowners in the building professionals and contractors engaging in the building management and maintenance exercise (64.2 per cent)

Many of my neighbours, regardless of where they are from, distrust the professionals that the strata corporation employs to offer professional service and expertise, and the most cited issue they raise is about proceeding with the project is how lower- or fixed-income owners will be able to obtain financing to cover the cost of the common maintenance. It will be hard work to address both these barriers, but it might lead to interesting conversations on different perspectives on trusting expertise.

In another 2011 study, Yau sets out conditions that are most likely to precipitate collective action and participation by owners in collective maintenance:

In general, collective action is likely to occur when members of the group are geographically close, have low turnover of membership, share a common interest and believe that they can succeed (Elster, 1978; Bicchieri, 1990; Chwe, 1999). By the same logic, if homeowners in MOH deem that their participation offers genuine opportunities to influence collective outcomes and make gains, they are more willing to participate in housing management affairs. As a result, collective action is more likely to occur. (p.5)

This passage inspires me to reframe the wicked problem my strata corporation is currently facing from the immediate challenge of how to advance a specific project to the broader issue of how my neighbours and I might co-create a shared vision for  our property  and working together to make that vision a reality in the future.

 

Kanban (or how to manage email in 2014)

Reading time: 1 – 2 minutes

I’ve been exploring Kanban over the winter as part of my efforts to take control of my workload.

Kanban originates with the Toyota Manufacturing Systems. It is based on two simple principles:

  1. Visualize the work.
  2. Limit the work in progress.

What I find most valuable about Kanban is that it demands that you clarify what your work is, how it flows (or doesn’t), who informs your efforts, and who your efforts serve.  It might be going too far to suggest that Kanban enables co-creation, but at least it escapes the dominant logic of individual psychology in its propositions for enabling work.

Check out the books and tools I’ve been playing with on on my Pinterest board:
Follow David’s board Kanban on Pinterest.

My own experiments with Kanban has been somewhat tentative to date, partially because I operate independently in my day job, and my tasks are not as standardized as those in software development or manufacturing, where Kanban is widely used.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Coaching in 10 Hours of Practice

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

I am currently pursuing an ICF ACC coaching credential. I have completed 60 hours of training with essential impact, and I am now in the process of accumulating my 100 practice hours. Get in touch with me if you would are interested in a conversation.

1. Notice when you are in a conversational cul-de-sac and bring it to the coachee’s attention.

2. Offer the coachee choices and let her decide which topics to address.

3. What are the limits of non-directive coaching? How can processes and exercises be woven into the coachee’s experience? My hunch is that the coachee must design the experiment himself.

4. Some coaches are obsessed with contracting and re-contracting. My approach is more organic. The contract is a touchstone to return to to assess progress rather that an absolute determiner of success or failure.

5. Flaherty is right when he talks about three levels of conversation:

Level 1: Single conversation to build or sharpen competence
Level 2: A more complex conversation over several sessions
Level 3. A profound and longer conversation intended to bring about fundamental change
(Flahrety, 2010, p. 116)

With most coachees so far, the conversations have been about practical day-to-day challenges rather than transformative challenges.

6. I’ve aligned myself with Essential Impact’s non-directive coaching approach, and I see clear resonances with Jenny Rogers’s perspectives on developmental coaching. I’m struggling to position myself within particular coaching theories, particularly those that align with psychology and neuroscience.

7. Coachees have consistently demonstrated creativity, determination, vulnerability, and resourcefulness.

8. Committing to a coachee demands that I set aside any squeamishness I have about emotions or about the conversation venturing in different aspects of the coachee’s lifeworld. We were taught to “coach the whole person” and, more often than not, the tensions or obstacles people are grappling with run like veins throughout one’s
experience.

9. People come to understand coaching by experiencing it first-hand. Most people leave expressing positive statements. It easier to demonstrate than it is to explain.

10. People want value from the coaching experience, and some struggle with setting a course for themselves. They may look to me for structure.

Coaching for pragmatism with emotions?

Reading time: 2 – 2 minutes

My coaching collaborators are helping me recognize that my bias as the coach is towards the pragmatic. My coachee may want to sit with his affective truth for a while and unearth cognitive roots: “I feel…because…” Usually I resist going into that pasture because I aim to keep the focus foward-looking.

Clearly there is a core tension around affect for me in coaching practice. I am not against emotions and affect — they interest me intellectually and coaching is helping me be more aware of them in myself. But I cringe when coaches lead with questions about feelings.

Thinking about this brings me back to Silvan Tomkins, who I read at UBC, and some remarkable passages in Shame and Her Sisters :

For me, talking with emotion and affect is one kind of interpersonal interaction in which I vary from many people.

If one ideal in coaching is mutual freedom of expression (Flahrety) than not only do I have an obligation to let the coachee explore affects and emotion if that is where a person wants to go, but I must invite coachees to intervene when I push too hard to the practical.

Escaping disciplinary tunnel vision

Reading time: 1 – 2 minutes

Don Norman and Scott Klemmer’s commentary State of Design: How Design Education Must Change challenges the design field to embrace theory and integrative educational approaches. It compliments the Carnegie Foundation’s recent report on the future of business education, which calls on business schools to integrate elements of liberal education into undergraduate business curricula.

These thinkers challenge their fields and disciplines to escape disciplinary tunnel vision and embrace marginalized  or new practices.

If integrative learning is the future of adult and higher education, not only must fields change, but also institutions, and higher education systems.

My hunch is that we need to find ways to move beyond binary thinking. Theory—Practice, Quantitative—Qualitative, Skills—Knowledge, Art—Science — Such spectra limit our ability to progress. So do linear metaphors like tunnels.

Can public sector services be ambidextrous like Apple?

Reading time: 1 – 2 minutes

Ian McCarthy posted a link to Ben Thompson’s interesting analysis What if Steve Ballmer Ran Apple?

As McCarthy points out strategic ambidexterity is a choice between short-term exploitation to maximize profit or longer-term exploration to create the future.

Strategy lessons in the technology sector can inform public-sector services. Organizations that aim to maximize and co-create value with clients and other stakeholders will have strong long-term prospects. The field of educational development, for example, wrestles with ambidexterity on a daily basis. Should one offer learning events that cut across an institution or should one dive deep into the situated mess of daily practices and look for ways to create value with communities in ways that matter most to people themselves over a longer time frame? These are wicked problems without easy answers, but, ultimately, I believe learning and development has better prospects if we situate ourselves with the clients we serve for the long haul.

12 books that can help you teach or plan better at a university or college

Reading time: < 1 minute As the fall semester approaches here in North America, I wanted to share some of my favourite books on teaching and learning in higher education and course and program planning for anyone who is returning to campus in a few weeks. Here are 12 or my favourite titles that I think could help you with your teaching or planning.

What is your favourite book on teaching and learning in higher education, or in business or management education?

Learning to parent

My recent dive into the literature on informal learning and my friend Mark Watkins’s Pan-dad-emonium Daddy blog and piece for The Good Men Project, have inspired me to write a bit about my learning experiences as a parent. Below I’ve tried to capture and share knowledge that Fiona and I gained through practice and through interaction with nurses, doctors and other parents in the lead up to and early aftermath of the births of our twin daughters Claire and Megan. Like many parents-to-be, we took prenatal classes, but that formal learning was poor preparation for our actual experience in the hospital and at home.

Be ready for the call — it can come any time. Megan decided she was ready to be born around lunchtime on a Monday. I was sitting down to a lunch of lentil soup and green salad with two of my SFU colleagues when Fiona rang to tell me she was heading for the hospital. We had just finished renovating our townhouse, and Fiona was looking forward to a few weeks of rest before her due date. We had been back into our bedroom for only a week after spending a month sleeping on two different pull-out sofa beds. (Have I mentioned that Fiona is my hero?) We had been planning to pack a hospital bag that night. Fiona spent four days supine in the “Ladies in Waiting Ward” before the girls were born on Friday, and I had to make several trips back to our place for stuff. Learn from our mistake and have your bag ready to go.

Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes

Claire (top) and Megan (bottom), shortly after they came home.
Claire (top) and Megan (bottom) in June 2011, shortly after they came home.

My recent dive into the literature on informal  learning  and my friend Mark Watkins’s Pan-dad-emonium Daddy blog and piece for The Good Men Project, have inspired me to write a bit about my learning experiences as a parent. Below I’ve tried to capture and share  knowledge that Fiona and I gained through practice and through interaction with nurses, doctors and other parents in the lead up to and early aftermath of the births of our twin daughters Claire and Megan.   Like many parents-to-be, we took prenatal classes, but that formal learning was poor preparation for our actual experience in the hospital and at home. 

Be ready for the call  — it can come any time. Megan decided she was ready to be born around lunchtime on a Monday. I was sitting down to a lunch of lentil soup and green salad with two of my SFU colleagues when Fiona rang to tell me she was heading for the hospital. We had just finished renovating our townhouse, and Fiona was looking forward to a few weeks of rest before her due date. We had been back into our bedroom for only a week after spending a month sleeping on two different pull-out sofa beds. (Have I mentioned that Fiona is my hero?) We had been planning to pack a hospital bag that night. Fiona spent four days supine in the “Ladies in Waiting Ward” before the girls were born on Friday, and I had to make several trips back to our place for stuff. Learn from our mistake and have your bag ready to go.

Learn from the nurses. Our daughters stayed in the intermediate nursery for a couple of weeks after they were born. We spent the Victoria Day long weekend shuttling from Fiona’s room to the nursery. We were legitimate, peripheral parents. The nurses trained the girls to eat and sleep on a schedule, and they trained us to feed, bath, and care for the girls.

The nurses who cared for Fiona were equally helpful. We will always be grateful to Nurse Nancy, the charge nurse who coached Fiona through the birth,  helpfully grabbed the camera from me to take pictures after I was overcome with emotion, and directed me to the resus room to be with the girls as the paediatricians cleaned them up and prepared them to move to the nursery. One of the nurses who cared for Fiona after the birth was also a mother of twins and gave us a valuable piece of advice that we have followed:  Bake each of the girls a birthday cake every year and sing Happy Birthday twice.

Be careful what you say to partner. The worst moment of my post-natal hospital experience  occurred one day after the girls were born

David, standing at the bus stop waiting to go back to the hospital, answers his phone. 

Fiona: “There is a surgeon here looking at Claire. Come to the hospital.”

David: [All the anxiety and stress from the previous week — a marathon of waiting that culminated in 100m dash births — wells up. Near panic.]

Did she say surgeon?

What’s wrong with Claire?

“Pardon?”

Fiona: “There is a doctor looking a Claire.”

David: “I’ll be there as soon as I can.

I was a basket case. Fiona will tell you I was particularly melodramatic when I arrived at the nursery. I said something to the effect, “If you think I haven’t bonded with this baby, you are wrong.” Fiona, on the other hand, was amazingly calm and collected, thanks to her years of crisis management experience as a lifeguard and family lawyer. It was an interesting first test of our parenting skills in a crisis. Claire had to have an x-ray because she had not pooed  in her first 24 hours. Thankfully, she managed to get the job done just as they went to squirt radioactive dye up her bum.  Pity the poor intern who was standing ready in full scrubs had she had needed surgery and the thoughtless doctor who burst excitedly into the radiology department not knowing we were standing in the corner, shrouded in lead. Fiona’s comment to the intern was priceless: “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you won’t be doing surgery on my baby today.” I am married to an amazing woman.

Go the extra mile for your partner. As I said before, we spent a long weekend in the hospital before Fiona was discharged. The hospital food was unappetizing, and I quickly tired of the bleak cafeteria offerings. So I made a point of going out and bringing back takeout from Main Street restaurants for our dinners. Fiona had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her pregnancy, so she particularly enjoyed a giant souvlaki platter including all the carbohydrates she  hadn’t been able to eat for three months. Make the hospital stay as bearable as you can for both of you.

Master the Craigslist informal economy. You won’t believe how much stuff people tell you that you need to take care of babies and toddlers. Now I understand why marketers target expectant parents so much You can save  a lot of money by buying and selling baby gear on Craigslist. The trick is to watch the sales at the major baby stores around town and the current listings to figure out how to price your stuff and to consider what you are willing to pay. My rule of thumb has always been to price gear we bought new around 45-50% of the original price unless I know the item I am sell something valuable and hard to find. Keep in mind that most gear you buy in the first year will only be useful for three months before the kids outgrow it.

Stephen Billett, Trevor Marchand and other scholars of workplace learning describe how motivated workers learn through observation, mimesis, practice, and social interaction with peers more experienced colleagues. As I dive deeper into anthropological accounts of learning, I will be curious to discover how other scholars have used ethnography and other methods to explore how parents learn.

How did you learn to parent? What principles have served you well over time? What skills and performances should expectant parents practice?

 

How I learned to know my business from a seafood cookbook

Reading time: 2 – 3 minutes

King Salmon (Photo: Jeremy Keith)

Last year, I stumbled across a simple educational story while thumbing through cookbooks in the Boston vacation home we rented for the  Academy of Management Annual Meeting.

In the preface to The New Legal Seafood Cookbook, Roger Berkowitz recounts his experiences as a student in a continuing education program at the Harvard Business School. One of the Harvard professors asked Berkowitz what kind of business he was in. His initial answer was restaurants. The professor encouraged Berkowitz to reconsider. By the end of his formal learning experience, Berkowitz concluded he was in the fish business, and  he adopted the concept of offering customers the freshest, highest-quality fish available as the central principle of his enterprise.

This simple educational story has stuck with me for a year. I think its power lies in the generative question it invites learners to wrestle with: What business are you in? 

If someone asked me what business I was in when I started  learning informally about educational development over 10 year ago, my answer would likely have been teaching and learning methods. If you had asked me five years ago, when I started working as an instructional designer, my answer would have been evidence-based educational practices. Today, I am in the coaching and consulting business. The people I work with are educated, successful professionals. All but a few have little time for formal learning, so I am persuaded that the future of learning and  development lies in informal, social, work-based learning. Professionals, in the academy and industry alike, need less formal, didactic instruction and more just-in-time, in-the-moment performance and social support.

What powerful, thought-provoking stories have you encountered in unexpected places? What are your thoughts on the the raison-d’être of learning and development work?

Tools for Service Design

Reading time: 1 – 2 minutes

My consulting practice centres around User Experience Design (UX) and Service Design.

I’ve created a mural on Mural.ly to share my favorite resources on these area of practice. You are welcome to browse:

Here are three places your can start learning:

  1.  Service Design Network. This organization connect service designers from around the world.
  2. Smashing Magazine. The UX Design section of Smashing Magazine regularly features useful posts on user experience design approaches.
  3. Service Design Tools. This collection of communication tools demonstrates the many ways you might represent the system you are aiming to create.