Wednesday, November 26

Figuring It Out

In education, we talk a lot about hands-on learning, productive struggle, critical thinking and problem solving. Come to think of it, we speak of many of the same things in the corporate world even if we don't use exactly the same terms. We are, in general, speaking of being able to work through a problem or situation to figure out the best possible or most reasonable solution.

Eons ago, when Prodigy Services was Trintex, we were just figuring it out, including what we could possibly be if the company survived start-up. The online world was still emerging. AOL was green letters blinking on a black background. Graphic interfaces were clunky and limited. Graphic designers were morphing into an entirely new field.

I remember my director returning to the office and talking about how he had been exploring the system we had when he did something that bumped his mouse and something unexpected occurred. A good something, but an unexpected something nonetheless.

I remember working with one of our two largest retail customers that wanted potential customers to be able to purchase online from their print catalog. Of course they wanted their current process--mail, in person, and phone--replicated as much as possible. We had to figure out how our system could talk to their system and we could replicate that customer experience, and maybe even improve upon it.

I remember having meetings with a large grocery chain that was curious about the possibility of online grocery shopping. We eventually were stumped by picking and packing process as well as the warehouse process. It was harder than they imagined to try to replicate the typical grocery shopping experience and we all struggled to imagine how that might work any differently. The real challenge for us was produce because one person's perfect banana might not be the same for someone else.

Figuring it out. Sometimes it's hard work. Sometimes it's a lot of fun and filled with opportunities for random and unexpected surprises. But it's what we've been doing since someone figured out how to make fire or create the wheel or solve whatever problem or manage whatever situation.

Figuring it out seems to be intrinsic to human nature so it should be commonplace to the learning experience just as it so often is simply part of what people do in the work place. In the work place, figuring it out becomes a new or revised process; figuring it out becomes a better or safer or less expensive or more efficient way of doing something. Figuring it out means that the new method or process or way of thinking becomes part of the culture which, in turn, influences more experimentation and thinking to figure out something else that could be better.

Figuring it out isn't just about constructing knowledge for further learning, though that is invaluable. Figuring it out is also an opportunity to explore an individual's capacity for ingenuity, creativity, and perseverance. And who knows what great things might come of individuals learning to figure out just how far they might be able to go?

Tuesday, November 18

2.5 million children homeless. In America. Shame on us.

There is no single nor easy answer to homelessness. Last night I watched the news and learned that 2.5 million children are homeless in America. That's about 1 in 30 children. If you have a child who is in school and in a classroom of at least 30 kids, just imagine that one of those kids could be homeless. Homeless.

Because of the American Institutes for Research America's Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, we know where most of the homeless children live and, to a certain extent, why they're there.

I've long thought athletes are overpaid. I like to watch sports. I love football and truly enjoy collegiate basketball. I like to watch baseball. I know that sports makes a lot of money for a lot of people and those people wouldn't make a lot of money if millions of people like me didn't watch sports and weren't willing to cough up ridiculous amounts of money to attend a game in person. Even so, athletes are overpaid. They've chosen to play a game for their careers so they have to know going in that their careers will last as long as their bodies permit.

What does that have to do with homelessness? Nothing, except in the very same news cycle in which it was reported that a shameful 2.5 million children are homeless in America, we learned that Giancarlo Stanton has inked a deal for $325 million over 13 years. That's $154,321 per game. I wonder how much playing time the average player actually gets during an average game because I think we'd be even more horrified by how much he gets paid for this time on the field. Sure, he's got practice and whatever else he does to get back in shape before spring training. Sure, baseball is a really long season but he pays for practically nothing during the season because all of his travel expenses (planes, buses, hotels, meals) are paid for by the team. Playing gear is paid for by the team. I pretty certain players have to buy his own underwear unless they have a deal with a manufacturer. So not only can athletes get paid absurd amounts of money but they can make even more money through promotional deals. Yea, yea I know they have shorter careers but, again, they know that going in. Playing a sport puts a lot of wear and tear on a player's body. Sure a lot of players go bankrupt but that's on them for hiring terrible business managers or thinking the money will never end. Plenty of non-athletes go bankrupt for the same bad decision-making.

I just find it hard to reconcile that we have 2.5 million children homeless in America and that we are willing to support in a wide range of ways the extravagant salaries of athletes.

Just another stark example of how we seem to value escapist entertain more than we value the well-being of our children, of our fellow citizens. I'm guilty of it, too.

There are many ways to help the homeless--and not just at the holidays because they are homeless year-round.
  • JustGive.org offers 35 different ways to help the homeless
  • NoKidHungry.org focuses on feeding the children of America. While 2.5 million are homeless, nearly 16 million go hungry
  • The homeless shelter directory will help you find one of the 3,572 homeless shelters in the US
  • This SpareSomeChange search engine offers help in locating food banks, soup kitchens, shelters, and more for the homeless and needy
  • Habitat for Humanity has long been known for its work to provide housing for those in need
  • Any charity will welcome your contributions, so use CharityNavigator to find one you believe in and that you believe makes a difference
Whether your state is first or worst in whatever category, don't "blame" child homelessness on anything. Kids could be homeless for all kinds of reasons, including parental ineptitude. But that's not the kid's fault.

Every one of us can help in large and small ways. We don't need to humble brag about the good we might do in the world. We just need to do it. As often as we can.