Archive for category: Change

Acting “As If” and Speaking “As If” Helps Make It Happen

My Georgetown colleague Ann Oliveri (here) posted this lovely short video the other day.


The philosopher and early psychologist William James said that if we act as if something were already true that doing so immediately has an effect in reality.  The video says this quite nicely with a number of different examples.

I believe an important corollary to the examples given in the video is in the special case of speech acts.  Speaking about things as though they have come to pass also has this kind of magic.  In iFoundry we talked to students about the 3 joys, the joy of engineering, the joy of community, and the joy of learning, and the cohort was more joyful, more interested in engineering, a tighter knit community of engaged learners than they otherwise would have been.  

When clients change their story (and believe the new story), the feel better, act better, and get better results almost immediately.

This sounds too good to be true, but it is a part of a number of ancient traditions. The Buddhist practice of samma vaca or right speech points in this direction as well as the Toltec practice of impeccability with your word.    To engineering ears, it sounds like a violation of some unstated law of nature, conservation of hardship, or some such thing, but I bear witness as a hard-nosed engineer who has seen it in action to often to doubt it any longer.

Try it.  You’ll like it.  Act as if and speak as if, and immediately start reaping the benefits of the way you would like things to be.

Don’t Cry for Me Argentinian Engineering Education

María Teresa Morresi from AGIBTA Magazine (here) sent me a list of interview questions regarding engineering education.  I shot back a quick reply, and I thought the spontaneity of my answers gave them a force that was worth sharing.  Here is a somewhat edited version of her questions and what I wrote:

AGIBTA: I became aware of your work in engineering education through the 2nd Engineer of the Future meeting (EotF2.0) at Olin College in 2009 (here). Tell me a little more about your involvement in engineering ed transformation before and since that time. 

Dave G: Prior to my work on EotF2.o I was involved in starting and running the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (here) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The success of the work on iFoundry and with my colleagues at Olin College on Engineer of the Future and other activities led me to resign my tenure from the University of Illinois to (1) take training as a leadership coach, (2) start ThreeJoy Associates, Inc. as a coaching, training, and consulting/facilitating firm to transform engineering education and (3) to start the Big Beacon, a global movement to transform engineering education as a non-profit corporation.  For more information on these and other things, see the website, manifesto, and blog (, the ThreeJoy blog (, and an informative series of Huffington Post articles  (here).

AGIBTA: Which are the innovations to improve engineering education and transform classrooms? 

Dave G: Most change programs concentrate on curriculum and content.  This is largely misplaced emphasis, in my view. The key innovations are emotional and cultural.  We have a culture of distrust.  We need a culture of trust.  We have a culture of individual effort.  We need a culture of connection and openness.  We need a culture of courage.  We have a culture of fear
AGIBTA: Could you please let as know a bit more about the relationship between self-efficacy and project-based learning among engineering students?
Dave G: The question assumes that project-based learning is a solution to achieve self-efficacy, but I remember going to a school in Brazil once and being shown a project-based course as an exemplar of “new pedagogy.”  I went to class and the students were presenting a project, and the prof was correcting each and every sentence that came out of the students’ mouths.  
We need self-efficacy, and to achieve it we need what I call unleashing experiences.  Unleashing experiences begin where a faculty member (or the student themselves) trusts the student.  The student believes they are trusted.  Finally, the student has the courage to take a risk and do something that leads to their mastery of something new.  Diagrammatically this is shown below:
This unleashing is the key.  I think we need to stop speaking in code words like “project-based learning” or “active learning” and starting getting at root emotional and cultural variables that really unleash our kids.

AGIBTA: Which are the best e-learning strategies?

Dave G: E-learning properly conceived, supports emotionally and cutlurally engaged education.  Unfortunately, the current excitement about MOOCs puts the cart before the horse.  Once we get our heads straight about what’s important in the class and why, we can adopt effective E-learning techniques.  Until then, we are mistaking tools for solutions.
AGIBTA: Students are a powerful force in transforming engineering educationHow to include them in new educational strategies implementation?
Dave G: I love this question.  Students are the only powerful force in transforming engineering education.  Unfortunately, they are rarely consulted in change efforts and usually only subjected to whatever the administration and faculty think is necessary after the design is in place.  Then we wonder how to get student “buy-in” which suggests our wonder about why they don’t think much of the new design.
How do we include them?  We start by noticing them.  We continue by listening to them deeply with empathy.  We continue by asking them open ended questions and listening some more.  We also trust them to be full members of the redesign effort.  
If we could do one thing that would transform our schools, it would be to create a culture of listening. 
AGIBTA: How you prepare students to become innovative?
Dave G: You challenge them, trust them, let them fail. coach them to success, and repeat.
AGIBTA: Which are the current challenges for Engineering Universities?
Dave G:  The problem is that universities are victims of their success. Universities are ancient institutions. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088.  Since then, there has been a 10-century consensus about the role of professors as experts. Unfortunately, since World War 2, the quality revolution, entrepreneurial revolution, and the information technology revolution, what I have called the missed revolutions–missed in the sense that universities teach but don’t practice their lessons–have changed the world we live in.
As a result, returns to expertise are diminished.  In turn, this diminuition of expertise challenges the role of the professor in both the lab and the classroom. Unfortunately, professors are one trick ponies. They only know how to be experts. The brave new world of the 21st century and our creative era demands a combination of expertise with an ability to trust and develop others. In other words, the world today requires an academy full of Experts/Coaches, not just pure experts. 
This is a terrific challenge, one that can be overcome, but most of the noises coming from our research universities suggest business as usual, a doubling down on WW2-based strategies of research and expertise, and a lack of recognition how a 9 or 10 century consensus toward the role of the university and the role of the professor is being undermined before our very eyes.  
Given the very slow decision making apparatus of a university, it is not clear whether these ancient and venerable institutions have what it takes to transform themselves. The current fumbling is sad to watch. It is also exciting to be a part of a growing number of efforts to try to change it, and I think there are effective tactics and strategies to follow in those institutions that are aware of the challenges they face.
AGIBTA: What conclusions can be drawn from the Summits on the Engineer of the Future?
Dave G: The first engineer of the future event was held in 2007 at the University of Illinois. The one in 2009 was the 2nd. There was a 3rd and we are hoping for a fourth. These events set into motion a number of activities at Olin, at Illinois, and elsewhere to practically address many of the questions and answers presented here. There is still much to learn, but it is clear that by (1)  focusing on change management itself, (2) by viewing change as a cultural and emotional process, and (3) by working to inject a new kind of actor, an actor with both expertise and an ability to listen and coach, that real change can be made.  How quickly this can work and whether it can work quickly and broadly enough remain open questions.
AGIBTA: Thank you for your thoughtful responses.
Dave G: Thank you for your thoughtful questions, and I wish all my colleagues in Argentina and elsewhere in South America the space and openness to reflect on these challenges and the wisdom and courage to move ahead with effective, in-context solutions.

Are You Ready to Flip?

I gave a talk at NUS on Thursday entitled Are You Ready to Flip? Responding to Deep Faculty Challenges in an Era of MOOCs & Pervasive Online Expertise. Here’s the abstract:

The blogosphere is abuzz with MOOCs, massive, open, online courses, in which lectures are conveyed to thousands or tens of thousands of students around the globe, and the possibility of the flipped classroom, where such widely available online content is assigned outside the classroom, and classroom time is used for active learning and reflective activity.   These most recent changes come at a time when the role of the professor as research authority is challenged 24/7 by ubiquitous online resources and expertise available to graduate students at the push of an internet button

Though much has been written about the technological side of these changes, the human challenges these developments pose for successful professors and lecturers are less frequently addressed.  This talk begins by considering how all these challenges stem from a reduction in information asymmetry and how this reduction challenges the very notion of the faculty member’s privileged position as expert.  

The talk then turns to work in deep faculty development (DFD) pioneered at NUS over the last 2 and a half years.  Since its inception, this approach has spread to the US through work at iFoundry & Olin College ( to South America at UFMG and with the aid of Harvard-affiliated LASPAU ( and to Europe through work at TUDelft and Politecnico Milano.  Using an amalgam of results from leadership studies, executive coaching, neuroscience, and mindfulness research, the approach helps faculty members develop deep noticing, listening, questioning (NLQ), and narrative design skills necessary in these fluid and creative times.  

The talk highlights the concrete benefits of this approach to faculty career development, success, and happiness and concludes with an invitation to attend a short series of deep faculty development workshops open to NUS faculty this semester (semester 2).

I have written and spoken about the need for engineering education change, but this is the first time I directed similar arguments at an individual faculty member’s expertise in teaching and research.  

The powerpoint slides from the talk are available in the viewer below:

[slideshare id=16414270&doc=ready-to-flip-2-7-2013-v2-130207225809-phpapp02]

Those interested in workshops like those described should consider the I2E2 workshop, Change that Sticks, this summer (here) or write to me at


In the Year 2023

In the year 2023. The year is 2023, and engineering has become the education of choice for an increasing number of college-bound high school seniors. Where once top students aspired to business, law, or medicine, engineering is now seen as both a prestigious and balanced liberal education in a human-centered age dependent upon scientific and technological advance. With an increasing emphasis on engineering as a people profession, larger numbers of women now join their male counterparts to take a growing number of opportunities at engineering schools around the country to the point where gender parity is all but achieved.  Furthermore the broader appeal and nature of engineering education has encouraged what used to be called underrepresented minorities to increasingly find their way into engineering colleges.

From the basics to the missing basics. The change is a startling one, and engineering remains an education where science, math and engineering science remain important elements, but widespread reforms adopted in 2018 now teach an engineering canon that respects reflective thinking as applied to technology, human organizations and society, and lifelong learning alike.  These missing basics (here and here) helped engineering educators early in the century to stop thinking of the great gifts of Greece and the Western tradition as soft skills, and to start thinking of them as a way to bring conceptual rigor to the mathematical and scientific kind (here and here).  Education historians trace the rise and diffusion of these innovations to the Big Beacon movement of collaborative disruption, the diffusion of courses such as Olin College’s (here) User-Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD), Design Nature, and Foundations of Business and Entrepreneurship (FBE), and the adoption of practices such noticing, listening, and questioning (NLQ) by an increasing number of faculty and students alike.

No more dancing with lone wolves. The lone wolf student of the late 20th and early 21st century is also a thing of the past.  Teamwork pervades engineering education from the first day a freshman steps foot on campus.  Research showed the socialization advantages of such arrangements (here), but it wasn’t until some practical experiments earlier in the century showed how to (a) include such teamwork scalably and low cost and (b) in a way that respected student aspirations for helping others, entrepreneurship, and the design of cool technology (here) that schools around the country were able to integrate such pervasive teamwork into the education of young engineers at low cost with modest administration.  In 2023, engineering schools and engineering education, more generally, are themselves, more innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial.  Engineering education earlier in the century was a stodgy affair, where strictly disciplinary professors talked confidently about “the basics” of engineering as though they were handed down from Mount Sinai by the almighty himself, but now curriculum/programmatic incubators are de rigueur in all the best schools, and continuous and discontinuous innovation is carried on perpetually within a spirit of perpetual novelty, interdisciplinarity, and innovation

Innovation & entrepreneurship as more than a chrome cognitive hubcap. A primary change is that innovation is no longer an add-on or an option.  Where once schools innovated because of the public relations value of jazzy freshmen programs or industrially sponsored senior design courses, or because NSF infused large amounts to create curriculum coalitions, today engineering schools are connected to one another in rich collaborative networks that encourage pervasive and immediate sharing of best practices.  Many respectful structure spaces for innovation (RSSIs) connect the departments and colleges of yesteryear, helping them to continue innovating within and between schools.  Change artifacts (CAs) are regularly posted on a diverse network of public and privately maintain social and digital media.  Moreover, a rich network of bloggers and digerati covers the fast-moving world of engineering education innovation in a way that contrasts with the dearth of coverage that existed as recently as 2012.

Motivated students through autonomy, mastery & purpose. Particularly important to the attraction of innovative students and faculty alike as of late has been the replacement of a carrot and stick approach of traditional extrinsic motivation with a inner-directed sense of intrinsic motivation.  Books earlier in the century such as Dan Pink’s Drive helped to focus attention on two decades of research by such pioneers as Deci & Ryan (here) and Dweck (here).  These led to an understanding of the explosive potential for emotional engagement by students and faculty.  Earlier in the century, schools learned the value of respecting student aspirations, thereby helping them develop initiative, confidence, and engineering identity in activities and projects of meaning to them; this opened up the possibility of converting other courses to intrinsically motivated pedagogical style in which students take a significantly large role in mastering traditional course material, relatively autonomously, and for their own purposes.  This transformation in student motivation and treatment led to a second transformation in creating a more intrinsically motivated faculty and faculty evaluation.

To hasten this not-too-distant day in engineering education, contact and learn about ThreeJoy Associates, Inc. and coaching, training, and smooth change consulting services. 

Getting to the Heart of the Educational Matter

In my work with iFoundry (, Olin (, and now ThreeJoy ( and the Big Beacon (, I’ve progressively moved from thinking about education as starting from the head to increasingly feeling and believing that it starts from the heart.

Educational theorists and devotees start to get at this when they talk about the various X learnings (where X is an element of {active, experiential, project-based, challenge-based, problem-based, etc}), and experiences and projects and problems and challenges elicit emotions and discussion of human motivation more so than the usual pedagogical approaches, but the various X learnings are particular practices or techniques and invoking one or more of them doesn’t really get to the core of what it is that we are trying to achieve or the fundamental processes that might achieve it.

A recent Huffington Post article (here) takes a different tack by identifying trust, courage, connection, and joy as the pillars to successful educational transformation.  If I were to focus on one of these as primary, I would suggest that educational transformation is about moving from educating a student who shuts up, listens, and obeys to one who has the courage to take initiative, even in the face of resistance (see this article here).

These four largely cultural and emotional variables are rarely discussed, but once these distinctions are made and introduced, it is hard to stop reflecting on them and how we can enhance their presence in educational settings undergoing change.

Unicorns, the Cult of the Average, and the Happiness Advantage

90% of your happiness is due to internal, not external matters.  Watch this video to put a smile on your face for a week.


Shawn Achor’s message of positive psych, gratitude, and positive action turns normal ideas of success on their head.  Normally, we think that if we are successful then we will be happy, but for a variety of reasons this doesn’t work.  If we are happy, through gratitude, acts of kindness, and generous thoughts, we can first be happy, then successful.

Thanks to Lesley Millar for sharing this link.

3 Habits at 3 Levels for Change

Mark Somerville and I have an article out on Huffington Post entitled Three Habits at Three Levels for Improved Engineering Education. The article starts as follows:

Students in advanced economies today want to become anything but engineers (A.B.E.) and often choose to become lawyers, physicians, or businesspeople instead. Even those who do study engineering sometimes leave because (1) they are unable to align their aspirations with the subject matter as taught, and (2) a hostile, dismissive, or indifferent educational culture discourages the young people it is charged with educating.

Changing these things isn’t easy, but to use New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg’s phrase, we can use the power of habit at three different levels — at the personal, organizational, and system levels — to bring about change that attracts and retains bright young people to become the engineers our planet needs.

It goes on to suggest that the three habits are as follows:

  1. Noticing, listening, & questioning (NLQ). Related post here and HuffPo article here.
  2. Dot connecting. Connecting people across an organization to achieve lateral aligment.
  3. Collaborative disruption. Connecting with people outside your organization, even competitors, to build support for a common change.

Read the whole article here, and read four other HuffPo articles here.

Are You in Judger Mode or Learner Mode?

There are many things to like about Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life (here).  Written as a business parable, this book explores the role of asking questions and curiosity in effectiveness at work and in life.  Routinely in my coaching and training practice, I use many of her particular questions as well as her idea of Q-storming (brainstorming with questions) to help clients become more creative and less stuck.

One of the most useful distinctions in the book is the distinction Adams makes between judging and learning.  Oftentimes, someone behaves in a manner we are unaccustomed to or tells us something unfamiliar, and we immediately judge it, oftentimes as something bad.  This is entirely natural, as human beings we are “living-breathing assessment machines,” and the making of assessments and judgments is part of our evolutionary apparatus that once protected us from harm on the savanna.

Of course, what is good for survival in a hostile and dangerous environment  may not be as appropriate in modern civilization, and nowadays we find ourselves in a stream of unconscious judgment during much of our waking hours, a stream of judgment that is misaligned with the relative peace and tranquility of our everyday lives, a stream of judgement that serves us poorly, especially when we need to be innovative, creative, or collaborative.

Adams suggests that being in judgment this way prevents us from learning very much.  By rejecting something as bad, we don’t reflect on it sufficiently long to learn whatever lessons might be embedded in the thing that we are judging.  This is such an important lesson she depicts it graphically in the choice map shown below. When we judge, our judgment locks us into a particular point of view leading to the judger pit, a self-induced morass from which reflection and learning are nearlyimpossible.  When we switch from the judger path to the learner path (through the asking of “switching questions”) our ability to be curious and reflect and learn returns.

A useful exercise is to self-observe your own thoughts and feelings during the course of 2-3 days, and notice what portion of the time you are in judgment of what is happening or being said (or not).   Are you in judgment, 10% 50%, 90%, or exactly what percentage of the day?  In the exercise, you should simply be aware or notice your degree of judgmentalism, but try to not judge yourself (about the degree of judgment) regardless of the outcome.  Awareness is the first step to change, and once we are aware, we can do something different, but especially in this exercise, moving to harsh critical self-judgment misses the opportunity to learn from the observation.

What we do with the results of self-observation is up to us, but a good follow-on question is this.  In what ways does the degree of judgment observed serve me and what ways does it not?  Knowing the percentage of time you are in judger versus learner and then reflecting on whether that serves the life you want to live is a good starting point for effective personal growth and change.

Creativity Is vs. Creativity As

In developing a course at the University of Illinois on Modeling for Tech Visionaries, I did two lectures on creativity.  The Powerpoint slides from the first lecture are presented in the viewer below or may be viewed on the slideshare page here.

[slideshare id=55929&doc=what-is-creativity-55929-26002]

Slides numbers 5 and 6 have dictionary definitions of the term “creativity,” and for this post, I’ll call this the creativity is perspective.  In other words, when we give a definition we are trying to nail down a concept or term and describe exactly what we mean by it.  Unfortunately for such attempts at precision, terms such as “creativity” are overloaded with meaning, and attempts to say what creativity “is” almost always fall short.

As a result, I chose to take a different approach in my two lectures on creativity. I intentionally chose to view the term from different perspectives.  In other words, I adopted a creativity as approach.  In the ppt in the viewer, for example, I considered creativity (1) as individual thought process. (2) as group brainstorming. (3) as socially enabled/mediated process. (3) as history. (4) as generative vision. (5) as heuristic inventive process, and (6) as eliminating resistance/blocks.  By choosing to view creativity as not a single thing, but rather as a multifaceted concept, I was able to explore it more fully, hopefully getting closer to a fuller understanding of what the complex term “creativity” is really all about.

Of course, taking this approach is not limited to the term “creativity.”  The next time you are having difficulty getting your hands around a complex concept or term, try the trick of substituting “as” for “is.”  You can then explore different facets of the term–X as Y, X as Z, and so on–asking “What else?” after each exploration, and in this way you get a fuller understanding of the larger concept.  This can be especially helpful in multidisciplinary settings where terms are oftentimes used quite differently in different disciplines.  Breaking the logjam of disciplinary expertise requires exactly this relaxation of the expert’s certainty that his or her discipline or profession has the received truth, thereby allowing him or her to listen to how others with different expertise use the same word.

Try it, substitute “as” for “is” and explore the richness of different perspectives, today.

Posters as Pattern Interrupts & Reach Boosters

Karen Salmansohn has a nice blog post (here) in Psychology Today on her use of posters (such as the Big Beacon poster displayed) and flash cards as pattern interrupts. 

I began calling my daily posters I was writing and designing my “Daily Inspirational Flashcards” — because their goal was to quickly remind people of the positive psychological beliefs and productive habits which lead to the happiest life. Soon, my “Inspirational Flashcards” began to go viral — with thousands — then hundreds of thousands — then even millions of shares for a single poster. I began receiving hundreds of emails from people — thanking me — explaining that my daily “Inspirational Flashcards” were truly helping them battle depressed emotional states — even when it came to dealing with majorly challenging issues like a bipolar disorder or a loved one’s death.


In terms of getting your message out and communicating with others, the use of graphical posters seems to be much more effective than a simple text posting alone.  In a month of using graphic posters Rajesh Setty reports an nearly 30-fold improvement in Facebook reach in going from text to images. Read the full post here.