Is HOPE Killing Organizational Thinking?

There was a rather awful experiment in the 1950’s performed by Curt Richter using domesticated rats. The rats were placed in a container of water. They began swimming. The time it took them to drown was recorded. The experiment was repeated but the rats were removed from the water just before they went under. They were dried off and allowed to rest. Then, they were returned to the water. This group swam for hours and hours. Much longer than the group that drowned. The difference? Hope.

Recognize the signs of HOPE that kill your organizational thinking.

Most of us would agree, the power of HOPE is an incredible force. It keeps us alive when many things fail. Hope can be a beacon of light, a source of strength. For the rats in the second group, it provided survival. Survival, by most definitions is a great thing. But, it can also derail organizational thinking, kill vision-mission work and devalue strategy.

Organizations with a legacy are particularly susceptible to counting on hope to survive and lead them into the next fiscal year. Over time, they build a list of strong “hopeful happenings” they begin to look forward to. For example, a non-profit that ends its year with a few thousand dollars in its account feels hope. That happening, ending with a little bit of cash, is like being taken out of the water for a rest. The organization gets removed from the struggles of swimming in their work. That swimming becomes drowning over time. But, just before they go under, they get removed, dried off to rest. The horrible feeling of ALMOST drowning fades a bit as they rest. The struggles seem distant now and start to feel oddly comfortable. A mindset of “well, at least we know what to expect” creeps into the team. To compound that, other “hopeful happenings” pile on. A congratulatory handshake from a board member on staying afloat, a business cycle shift and relaxed pace, a repeat donor donation. Hope builds, but sameness, survival occurs. But, remember, that sameness means at a point in the near future, everyone will return to the water, start swimming and start to drown again.

Hope is so powerful, it can blind an organization to the power of thinking. An organization that commits to thinking can craft an incredible Vision-Mission and build the systems and capacities to support that Vision-Mission. As part of that work, they can also build strategic thinking skills among stakeholders. That work however can get sidestepped for the work to remain afloat, to depend on Hope, to survive. Hope is comfortable. Scary, but comfortable. Thinking differently, change, is scary, unknown, not comfortable for many.

What can we do?

  1. Know your organizational “hopeful happenings”, expose them for what they are and ensure everyone understands they are a drug with side effects.
  2. Stay close to those who show a strong connection to those “hopeful happenings” and are willing to recruit others to follow them. Work with them. If they can’t join, figure out an exit plan for them.
  3. Keep reminding everyone that hope will return you to a state of “almost drowning” and that will be, as expected, incredibly difficult, stressful, and detrimental to everyone.
  4. Make a distinction between a state of hope and your Vision-Mission, a future state that is special, meaningful, fulfilling and powerful.
  5. Celebrate moments when “hopeful happenings” have been eradicated. When you end the fiscal year with more than just a bit of cash, when your business cycles don’t negatively change as they once did, when you don’t have high staff turn over year over year. Don’t let those changes go unnoticed. Those changes didn’t come about from hope, they were possible because of THINKING.
  6. Don’t build new “hopeful happenings.” Be diligent and continually aware of how hope can creep back into your organization. Create events to spend time measuring how well you’re doing and assign roles to purposely be on the lookout.

This is a big moment. If you’ve been swimming for survival in your organization, you’re out of the water for a bit drying off and resting. You have a choice. Hope will throw you back in, or you can commit to THINKING and changing.

Project Management Isn’t About Tasks, It’s About Relationships

Crack open the PMBOK, the Project Management Book of Knowledge, and you’ll learn a TON about Inputs and Outputs.  You’ll learn about creating value for your stakeholders, with differing needs and priorities.  And you’ll learn about process.  The process of Project Management (PM) often attracts people and more so organizations to the field of study.  Have a large effort to accomplish?  Look to PM to help…it makes sense.  But PM is nothing on its own, it’s the people (us) that make PM live.  People build relationships.  When we SEE things that relate, we have the potential to take action to foster or prohibit that relationship.  That’s what PM is all about.

When we take action to foster a relationship, we see a new reality, an undiscovered pathway toward something larger IF we build on that relationship.  If we see harm based on a relationship, we also have the potential to take action to prevent that relationship from growing into an equally, less desired situation.  Notice, I haven’t mentioned PM as an effort to manage tasks.  There’s a reason for that.  While the PMBOK is about the driest read you’ll find, the value in the information is what you do with it.  If you can SEE that PM is about building relationships and not tasks, each paragraph can have a profound impact on your work and life.

Why is this distinction, PM as a relationship effort and not a task management effort important?

  •  We too often get stuck on what to do first.
  •   We  ask “Where are we?” more than “How are we?”

Here’s a great podcast from Todd Henry with David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done.”  They discuss the reality of how difficult it is to identify and act on the first thing we need to do to accomplish a larger effort.  If you’ve ever felt stymied when taking on a new project, you’ve been there.  That feeling of being trapped behind the “What do I do first”? wall is terrifying.  The effort seems SO big that knowing where to start seems impossible.  What I’ve learned over the years when creating something out of nothing (a project) is NOT to focus on what I believe are the first tasks, rather, focus on the first relationships that come to mind.  Who cares about this project?  A human relationship.  What systems will be impacted by this project?  Technical and/or process relationship.  What finances will be changed to address this project?  A cash flow relationship.  I could go on.  The point is, I think about the relationships as a way of helping decide WHAT (a task) needs to happen first.  The tasks evolve easily from this effort. Some would say organically. If the tasks aren’t developing, you haven’t thought enough about the relationships.  Keep digging, the tasks will come.

Last evening I watched Jurassic World for the second time.  Actually, a scene in the movie inspired this post.  Claire is flying in the helicopter with Mr. Masrani and he turns and asks “How are we doing?”  Claire being the stalwart manager she is proceeds to answer “Our year-over-year profits are up, while our visitations remain stagnant.”  That wasn’t what Mr. Masrani was asking so he asked her again, “Yes yes, but HOW are we doing? Are the guest and the animals having fun?”  Claire stumbles but offers the satisfaction rates of the visitors and explains they don’t have a way to measure if the animals are having fun.  Claire, responsible for managing tasks, had become SO focused on the WHAT and the WHERE (status), that she was blind to the “how”, the impact, the feelings, the RELATIONSHIPS.  In the end, glossing over those relationships would be the park’s doom.  Hopefully, that level of project failure isn’t something we all experiences in our work.

What can we do?

  1.  Adopt the mental model that as a PM you are responsible for managing relationships.
  2. Recognize you will oversee tasks, but those tasks should be built around relationships.
  3. Trust that HUMAN relationships are key in all PM efforts.
  4. Use practices and a PM tool that fosters relationships over tasks management.  My tool of choice,
  5. Use practices and tools to create ideas based on relationships.  My tool of choice, Plectica.
  6. Develop the skills to explain HOW your project is progressing by using storytelling.  (Feel free to email me for information on services and online courses I’ve built with my professional development partner.)

Thanks for reading.  If you have questions or additional thoughts, I would love to hear from you.


Mark is CEO and founder of THINK’ID8.  THINK’ID8 helps organizations build transformative systems to help grow programs and internal capacities.



Project Management: A New K-12 Core Subject

By Mark T. Burke

Project Based Learning (PBL), Graduation Projects, team, short and long-term projects, these are all common educational frameworks in our K-12 schools.  I call them frameworks because they are more than “assignment types.”  Yes, students are assigned projects.  But, those projects are not isolated activities.  They are connected (or should be) to previously acquired knowledge and skills as well as lead toward new knowledge and skills.  And, projects are often interdisciplinary.  Math is connected to science, science to social studies, social studies to art, and so on.  Projects by definition in our K-12 school systems are from my perspective:  “Opportunities for students to connect a variety of subject knowledge to build solutions to complex problems.” 

THINK’ID8 PM Tools for K-12

Looking at the most popular trend today, PBL, there are several definitions.

“Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.”  Edutopica (

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” BIE (

The trend is certainly valid.  Exposing K-12 students with real-world problems to solve is a fantastic educational framework.  In fact, I believe all work students complete should serve as some type of a valuable output to something bigger (more specifically defined than simply getting a good grade or earning a diploma).  While we in education space have spent time developing what PBL (and projects overall) should include and provide, more thought is needed in regards to actually managing those projects.  Yes, we can guide students through the work for a project using a series of reflection and inquiry questions.  But, in order to work on a project OVER TIME, students need a structure to stay on track, communicate progress, share results, and determine project success.

Many may not know that Project Management (PM) is a field of study.  PM dependent industries exist across our economy.  These industries require highly skilled PMs (those who have earned degrees or are specifically PM certified).  I don’t want to trivialize the field of PM study but for K-12 students, there is no need for a complete PM certification program.  In fact, I believe use of a good PM tool can meet many of the PM needs for students.

I use DaPulse for all of my client-based work. The more time I spend in this tool, the more I recognize how valuable the tool would be in a K-12 environment.  The tool provides a simple to use interface for listing tasks (Work Breakdown Structure), documenting dates (Earliest Start Dates, Earliest Completion Date, and any other customized date), notes (Status, text based updates), people (Responsibility Roles), and more.  For each task, a complete communication channel can be created for the team including comments, updates, files and even social media style “reactions.”

Why are these features important?  Because they point to the valuable skills we should be spending time addressing as we support students on the PBL journey. If teachers simply added a tool such as DaPulse into the workflow of their PBL opportunities, and explained the core features, students would be exposed to topics including:

  • Planning:  Breaking down complex tasks into a set of actionable, measurable efforts.
  • Inputs:  Assimilating information valuable to the start and ongoing management of the project.
  • Time Estimation:  Determining the efforts to complete the tasks requires thinking about the effort and relating it to efforts the student is familiar with.  This requires extrapolation.
  • Status:  Updates require tracking and communication.
  • Reporting:  Developing stories and showcasing data.
  • Outputs:  Showcasing real products.

If these topics are not directly addressed, PBL and projects overall, exist as assignments to be completed and checked off like compliance issues.  If a PM tool is used in the classroom, students have a hands-on method of teaching themselves about the value of planning and ultimately results.

Another reason to support growth in PM skills is the direct relationship to possible careers.  PM skills are in growing demand.  For more information on this topic, please review this report from PMI (The Project Management Institute, the world’s leading PM Organization).

How have you taught PM skills or used a PM tool to benefit your students?

Who’s On Your Thinking Team and How Do You Think?

Being a leader can be lonely.  Whether you’re a “C” level administrator, Division Leader, General Manager or a Solo-preneur, you’re expected to be a thinker.  Your day-to-day work places you in situations where solutions aren’t “in the manual.”  No, you must generate ideas and solve complex issues from original thought.  How do you do that?  If you’ve been struggling to describe how you think and you can’t seem to find a method that works, you are NOT alone.  In fact, being alone is a problem you need to fix, TODAY!

If you’re ready to learn more about thinking, register for the THINK’ID8 CO.LAB Design Thinking Training @ The Central PA Chamber of Commerce.  (Learn More)

If you’re feeling alone in your thinking, it’s time to gather your team and get thinking.  If you oversee staff, pull your team together from within your organization.  If you’re a Solo-preneur, seek out your trusted friends and advisors.  BUT, before you step into that thinking session, you need a plan.  Your team is counting on you for several things:

  1. They need you to have a clear understanding of the problem you are asking them to help you solve.
  2. They need to know you are not going to waste their time.
  3. They need to know HOW you plan to organize the group’s input.
  4. They need to feel secure sharing ideas.
  5. They need to know you will leave the session with an action plan and that the ideas will not disappear.
  6. They need to feel engaged in the entire process.

If you’ve read this far, you most likely don’t have an answer to the question, “How do you think?” and could use some help prepping for your next team think session.

The THINK’ID8 CO.LAB is designed to teach you the essentials of thinking and provide a structure for think sessions known as Design Thinking.  You may have heard about Design Thinking.  The process has been around for over 30+ years and has helped many great organizations achieve their goals.   After completing this full-day training, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities to lead a team in the efforts to solve your complex organizational problems and build solutions to new opportunities.

Click over to the THINK’ID8 CO.LAB page to register.  The full day session is $100.00 per person.  There are currently two dates to pick from.  Thanks in advance for registering.  I look forward to working with you.

Mark T. Burke
Founder of THINK’ID8

Leading Creatives and You’re a Sole Proprietor

For ten years now, I’ve had the difficult job, probably my MOST difficult job, of leading a team of creatives.  That team is a team of one.  And, I am the team.  I’m not boasting.  I’m saying it like it is.  In my past, I’ve had the pleasure of working with and leading teams.  I’ve had some successes and a TON of failures in those efforts.  For the past ten years though, I’ve earned a “Leading Creatives” badge and I want to share.

My first task has been to learn what a creative is.  That started with a lesson in what creativity is.  I long thought creativity was all about inspirational moments and butterflies flying around my brain creating vibrant ideas with pixie dust.  Ahh…no!  Creativity is the result of THINKING.  Deep thinking, scientific thinking, computational thinking, social thinking, systems thinking and other labels are fine.  Thinking, and the resulting ideas are the foundation of a creative’s work.  Creatives can’t wait for a moment to be inspired.  Ideas won’t just appear at the wave of a wand.  So, what we do as creatives to ensure ideas CAN happen is my next lesson.

In past jobs, I would spend the majority of my time tracking things that needed to get done.  I had spreadsheets of operational efforts that I would monitor and make notes on.  I would walk around (you know, that Manage by Walking around method) and talk to people.  I would ask how they were and about their work.  I could come back and fill in my sheets.  Tracking was king.  But, over time, tracking became my worst professional enemy.  It filled my days, but was it filling a purpose?  As a sole proprietor, I’ve learned the answer is NO.  We often fool ourselves into thinking being busy operationally equals value.  As a team of one, I can say, being busy means little.  Productivity means nothing if we equate it to keeping up with the influx.  We must get to the point were we are managing, that’s right, managing our creativity to ensure we are moving forward, innovating, ideating, evolving…CREATING.

So, how?  I think of two things to guide my day.

Be Pragmatic & Product Oriented

Being pragmatic as a creative means building an actionable, adaptable plan for everything I do. I use a project management tool for all of my work with clients and personal projects.  Clients expect me to be creative or they wouldn’t hire me.  For my own work, I don’t have much time, so I need to be efficient.  I once heard a quote by an famous author (I forget who).

“I have to be creative Monday through Friday, thank God it happens each of those days at 9:00am.”

I love this quote.  It’s how I feel every day.  I have to be creative, it’s my work.  If I had to wait for inspiration or the butterflies to feel inspired, oh man…I would be in trouble.  Leading creatives means kicking off creative efforts as needed.  “Ok gang, let’s create.”  That statements makes me cringe, but it is real.  Work begins each day and that’s reality.  So, creativity needs to do the same.  In my project tool (, I have a goal when I start something new.  I capture the first task quickly.  I don’t think about all the task, just one.  I type it in, add an ESD and ECD (earliest start date and earliest completion date) and then I add a few notes.  Typically by then, I start to map related tasks. I don’t worry about dependencies, or order, priority, urgency or any of that at this point.  I just capture tasks that represent relationships to other tasks that support the goal.  If there are three, there are three tasks. If there are ten, I capture ten.  When those thoughts seem complete, I start on task number one.

If I’m doing this work more closely with a client, we do this work together and build a shared understanding of the tasks.  We hold each other accountable for efforts and take ownership of specifics.  When our ideas end at that time, we break and get to work.

In either case, is the plan right?  Well, the definition of a project is “an effort that is new and has not been done before.”  So, yes, the list is right as far as we know.  I trust it.  I use it for all it’s worth.  I obey it and do what it says.  But I am it’s boss.  I change it as needed.  But, I don’t devalue it by ignoring it. I don’t delete items without considerable thought.  I don’t let it limit me or the work.  I add what is needed and consider additions deeply. I keep the creative work in focus and appreciate the power of the PM tool to keep the details out of my head and in clearer view in print.

Being Product Oriented means each day, I produce a product, a complete or incremental version is the goal.  Products are things that are tangible and could be delivered to a customer at some level.  When working with clients, I just think “what can I show them today that is different than yesterday?”  This is where my philosophy of just keeping up with operations isn’t valuable comes from.  Even in the most operationally oriented work, creatives strive to build a product that looks different today than yesterday.  Maybe it’s a report, a dashboard, a narrative about the day’s events.  This is what makes leading creatives hard yet rewarding.  And, as a team of one, playing both roles incredibly complex yet fulfilling.

There’s more to my story than this.  But, I wanted to share the starting point.  Much like my creative effort, my first task was to share the big picture.  With that complete, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and to build on these ideas.




Entrepreneurial Mindset

By Mark T Burke

Raise your hand if you understand…no….BELIEVE….that for entrepreneurial success, you have to serve the customer first, the customer is always right…the customer is KING.  Go ahead…raise your hand if that’s a truth for you.

Entrepreneurial Mindset
Entrepreneurial Mindset is a commitment to teaching customers about high impact solutions.

There…you’ve had a chance to admit that you believe something.  You’ve faced an audience of millions and exuberantly raised your hand to show your understanding and your frame of mind.  You’ve committed to being like-minded with so many of your peers.

At this point, you may be thinking you’ve mastered the Entrepreneurial Mindset.  Let’s explore that mindset.  Yesterday, I watched a Livestream recording of a 1 Million Cups event in Kansas.  The presentation was provided by the leader of a new, but very successful fitness equipment organization. At one point, he was asked about the build quality and reliability of a new piece of equipment the company had launched.  The presenter said, “It’s not a huge problem because the majority of the buyers will rarely use the device.”  The point he was making was that only a small percentage of the buyers will use the device hard enough to expose the weak points.  So, their support channels are ready to support that small percentage.  BUT…is that the right take-a-way?

So, tons of customers bought a product thinking they knew what they wanted.  In reality, few of them will actually use the device.  So…was the customer RIGHT? Did they ask for the right device. Did they say “if you could just build a device that did X, you could sell millions.”  Of course they did.  And, they were 100% WRONG!

This is why I teach the distinction between inventing things to please an audience and being a true entrepreneur.  I want to go to bed at night knowing that I’ve helped people change their lives.  And, I believe my fellow entrepreneurs think the same.  That is the Entrepreneurial Mindset.

Don’t think I see customers as always on the outside.  Successful businesses need customers.  We all benefit when we gather ideas from our customers, when we LISTEN deeply to our customers.  But when we parrot back what they are telling us under the guise of a solution, we are doing little to build a truly innovative, high impact offering.  One of the toughest jobs I experience as a coach and advisor is helping others think through informing their customers of what they DON’T know.

An Entrepreneurial Mindset freely informs customers of possibilities they have never explored.  It fills the gaps for customers, teaches them, guides them toward solutions that will benefit them to a greater degree than what they have been asking for.

If you consider yourself an entrepreneur, think back to your most recent presentation or conversation with a potential client.  Did your words leave them wanting to know more?  Did they ask you questions, or did they just stare at you?  Was your interaction and invitation to talk again, or a closing statement?  If you did little more than simply reply to their needs and their “demands” then, most likely, you’ve taken their view and did little to provide a REAL solution.

As entrepreneurs, building on our abilities to listen to customers but create true change means we’re committed to an entrepreneurial Mindset.  Please let me know how you keep your Entrepreneurial Mindset alive.


Youth is Wasted on Youth….An Entrepreneurial Perspective

This morning, I visited my Twitterverse and one of my trusted sources and fellow follower Mr. Michael Crawford (Real World Scholars) had posted this article “The Importance of Entrepreneurship in School Curriculum.” I thought the article was a great conversation starter around the reasons all schools, no matter what format or focus, need to have their ears to the tracks and be responsive to entrepreneurial youth skill-set, mind-set development.  This is my follow-up to my post and I hope it sparks conversation and more importantly ACTION.

I hate to talk about entrepreneurial benefits in any way that makes entrepreneurial work within education seem like an add-on.  Why?  Because add-ons are optional, our system is overburdened with them, and the add-on approach to school development is akin to a ship collecting barnacles or our refrigerators collecting magnets and family pictures.  Eventually, add-ons weigh down the host.  When I consider the scope of our US-based K12 education system, it seems we’ve done little more than continue to treat education as a place to add on an endless set of options this or that group feels is important.  Folks, our schools are full.  The model of continuing with add-ons has to stop and I don’t want to send any message that states I feel entrepreneurism should be another add-on.  So, with that context, I’ll send my message.  Entrepreneurism should be core!  Not an add-on.  Why?

Ego Check!

We’ve all experienced the realities of youth egocentric behavior.  There is a prevailing mental model of youth that the ego needed for growth doesn’t turn off and leads to ego-centric teens and ego-centric adults.  There are tenants of entrepreneurism requiring confidence, self-reliance, sure-footedness, and laser-focus.  From the outside, those may seem like ego.  But there’s a distinction.  Entrepreneurism brings about solutions for others, solves problems others can not, seeks answers to other’s troubles, worries and progress inhibitors.  In my experience, employees are more often than not rich with ego.  It often comes from over confidence in their security and roles within organizations driven by weak vision exchanged for high dollars.  Entrepreneurs however must deal every minute with how they are helping others. If they don’t, they won’t survive. Granted, there are plenty of ego driven entrepreneurs just as their are employees who care passionately about those they work to serve.  Remember, I’m presenting a perspective in a way to get us thinking…to spark thoughts we often have to deal with emotions.  Oh yeah, our egos!  In my entrepreneurial ecosystem, what I see are entrepreneurs who have pushed aside destructive ego and moved to action.  I think that’s a lesson all youth need as CORE.

There’s no reason for a lot of what we teach without a connection to products and services.

I feel like we know this, but we don’t seem to want to embrace it.  We like to say “we’re preparing kids for the future.”  Ahh, what does that mean?  Job? Work?  Life?  Sure, all of that.  And for each, what is central?  Seeing problems and opportunities. Yes.  Solving problems, designing solutions, products and services.  Yes.  This is why I see entrepreneurism  as a core way of being rather than a business management topic or activity to be assigned.

Who’s Responsible?  Ecosystems Are. 

After talking with schools over the last six years, I’ve learned that K12 schools should not be asked, nor are they in the position to take youth entrepreneurism on alone.  As I stated above, they are bombarded with add-ons every day.  New state or national regs and local groups attempting to get schools to single-handedly be the care-takers of growing entrepreneurial youth aren’t the answer.  Enter Ecosystems.  Ecosystems are mechanisms that unite local, regional and even national resources (such as Real World Scholars) in the efforts to build core entrepreneurial competencies.  Locally, I’m partnered on VISIONEURS-PA, our efforts to build a specific youth entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Ecosystems exist for adults, but few for youth.  Why?  It goes back to the school is everything mentality.  Schools are expected to provide ALL education.  The more we count on that, the less likely we’ll build an entrepreneurial nation.

Ecosystems can be responsible for youth entrepreneurial development because the end result is truly focused on solving big problems and making life better.  They are made up of groups, companies, service agencies, individuals, investors and charity organizations that believe in the power of entrepreneurial spirit.  Yes, we need students with essential literacy, behavioral, scientific and creative skills.  We need schools to do that good work.  As we think about applying those skills, the more we can make entrepreneurial core, those lessons gain more meaning.  The ecosystem can then be there to support the work that we can’t add-on to schools.  While some schools have cleared away enough clutter and created entrepreneurial cultures within, many can not and will not.  In those cases, the ecosystem can offer out of school supports at the community level.  When I think about those services, I think of prototyping, product testing, commercialization, business structure development, and a host of other real-life business supports.  Ecosystems add capacity to our schools.  That’s the key.  As we expect more from educational entities, we must be willing to help build those capacities.

Love to hear your thoughts.  I know this is somewhat polarizing.  And in no way is anything here meant as a dig to schools.  We’re in this together and we have to realize capacity building is needed.





Big Ideas, Micro-Learning

Supporting K-12 means my summers are busy. As schools and support organizations prepare for the upcoming academic year, they look to capture BIG ideas to share with staff, students and the community when they return.  The BIG ideas form frameworks for greater organizational goals.  Performance goals, cultural shifts, community building, Vision-Mission work, are great examples of topics that make sense to tackle over the summer. The problem is, most K-12 organizations have less staff contact over the summer, not MORE. And, these topics deserve and require time to weave into an organization.

Enter Micro-Learning.  Yep, I believe Big Ideas are well suited for Micro-Learning delivery.  It may seem counter-intuitive, after all, BIG ideas,, such as cultural shifts, aren’t going to be successful if they are approached as training events.  As organizational leaders know, BIG ideas take daily practice to become new norms within an organization. They must be pervasive and felt by everyone.  For this reason, I see micro-learning environments as incredible ways to launch BIG ideas.

Big Ideas aren’t usually associated with TONS of content.  In fact, using too much content hinders inculcation of big ideas. Big Ideas are just that, big, often simple ideas.  But, they’re BIG because they have significant impact on an organization and, here’s the BIG one, they are in no way easy to tackle.  Most times, Big Ideas will require changes in behaviors and habits and we all know how hard those are to influence.  If we’re going to change someone’s habits, we can’t confuse them with a ton of content.

Micro-Learning is all about the micro and the learning (I know, that’s not very original).  I see the micro aspect of Micro-Learning as a descriptor for three important items. Content, focus and delivery.  The Learning component of the name means the course must get the users thinking and building new knowledge.  Simple. Present an extremely focused content set and ensure learning. Micro-Learning.

I like to design micro-learning as a story.  To make an impact, a story can’t go on and on and on. When we tell stories, we tend to be concise.  When we write a course, we tend to go on and on and on…you get the picture.  Story writing provides a platform to connect emotionally with our audience, lay out the needed information in simple format and let the user imagine themselves being triumphant (ie…paint a picture of what life will be like after the change in habit).

Most Big Ideas will change teams, not just a single person.  So I like to include practice points within Micro-Learning courses that require teams to think together.  I don’t have time to go into the details around practice and assessment here, so just imagine great micro-learning as a component of your team’s day.  Big Idea, Micro-Learning.  I use questions that get teams thinking about how things will work after they change their habits.  Using this technique, you get teams to create their own new reality, their own new habits.  Over time, they start to SEE the shifts based on the Big Idea.

I know I skipped a lot of detail.  Big Idea, Micro-Learning….I followed my own rules. If you have a big shift to make, think small, keep the instruction focused, tell a story, get your team to build their new reality and repeat.  And keep repeating…Big Idea, Micro-Learning.



If you would like to talk to me about designing your Big Idea, Micro-Learning experience, send me an email.  Take care all.




STEM Locomotive

STEM ≠ Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

That’s right.  I am standing in front of the multi diesel locomotive driven train we call STEM with my hand up saying, “Hold up a second.”  I know the lag time to come to a stop will be great and I risk being flattened.  I have faith however, that the embedded systems we are attempting to instill in our students via STEM education will prevail and thus, create a way to slow the train quickly, and I’ll be safe.  So, here it goes.

STEM Locomotive

“Hold up a second.”

Those systems are kicking in and so far, I see the train beginning to slow.  While I start to sweat the reality and weight of that approaching mass of metal, let’s talk about why I am standing here.

I imagine many of you have limited time to play out this scenario. So, I’ll jump to the end.  STEM…it may be popularly represented as an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but, it shouldn’t be.  I suggest we re-frame our conversations to something more like,

STEM = Service, THINKING, Engagement, Modeling 

Why?  STEM as we know it is just a list of subjects.  That means, we’ve opened the door for subjects NOT on the list to feel left out.  They may not be left out, but boy, when you’re not on the list, you can feel that way.  Enter the “ARTS.”  Now, I am a life-long musician and past music teacher.  With the current STEM labeling, I can see why those supporting the arts feel like STEAM should be our focus.  But, I think that’s wrong. I’ve shared with my fellow music educators my justification for that reason.  My life has given me a ton of great opportunities, and one of those was serving as a project manager for a multi-year, grant-funded after-school “STEM” project.  I learned, through intense focus on the real meaning of STEM that the arts are inherently present in true STEM education.  I know the argument is that we need to build the arts into the name or it won’t “stick.”  That’s why it makes more sense to redefine the STEM formula.  Maybe tomorrow, we think Sociology is missing and we’ll need to add another “S”. That gives us “STEAMS.”  Maybe then we notice History, Interpreting, and Photography are missing.  Then, we’ll have “STEAMSHIP.”  I kind of like that though…humm.

Anyway, my point is, we’ve create a label that is nothing more than a short list of subjects, not much different that labeling courses such as SCI 101, or ENG 204.  STEM is just a perceived list of prioritized subjects that is supposed to do more than list the subjects.  And, I believe our intent is to focus on the deeper meaning behind STEM.  So, let’s get there from the top.  Let’s change our model of STEM by NAME so it reflects what we really see as the value behind the pedagogy.

Enter…STEM = Service, THINKING, Engagement, Modeling.

Service:  I can’t think of a better word to start off our new modeling of STEM.  Service describes the very purpose behind any work done within the fields of study embedded in STEM.  When we teach kids about Service, we are teaching them to discover with purpose.  And, that purpose is one of Service.  Service to others, Service to community, Service to Country, Service to Self.  Making the world a better place is a pretty awesome endeavor.  Scientific discovery is aimed at Service, or at least it should be.

Now, I want to share a bit about current methodologies.  STEM solutions abound.  Apps, gadgets, tech, games, computational devices, and kits fill our shelves.  I am a techie, so don’t think I don’t defend our gadgets.  I’ll take a little bird walk and share a story to set my perspective though.  If you’re pressed for time, you can jump ahead.

From 1993-1998, I was a music educator.  I taught for a district that was tech focused and eager to integrate tech tools.  Remember, this was 1993 and the internet was just finding a mainstream purpose in schools.  I helped setup labs, test computers and fix printers even though it wasn’t in my job description.  I loved helping others move past the basics so the kids could use the tech.  In my classroom, I established a tech presence.  The school supported the purchase of equipment to turn my classroom into a recording studio, MIDI lab and digital music performance center.  I had multiple keyboards, a digital drum set, a wind machine, multiple computers with notation and composition software and other gadgets.  My story is about that digital drum set.  I had a student in general music who profoundly changed my perspective on gadgets.  His name was Jack (for this story), and Jack struggled.  He struggled to be a motivated learner.  He struggled to come to school on time and struggled to pretend to be asleep in my general music class.  He had no real musical training or skills, but one day, after the arrival of the digital drum set, he came and ask me if he could use it.  I showed him the basics (that took about 1 minute) and he was hooked.  He would put the headphones on and pound away.  I say pound because that’s what he did.  This barely awake kid, pounded away.  The tool created something for him an acoustic drum set could not.  He could be in his own world through the headset, change sounds, and experiment and create within his own capabilities.  He showed up each morning for some time to play.  He seemed excited and more motivated to come to school.  And, he stayed awake in general music.  I don’t know what he’s doing now, but that story reminds me that our gadgets are vehicles, not destinations.  And, we need not elevate them beyond.  I spent ZERO time teaching the gadget.  It taught itself. 

That brings me to my second point about Service.  The apps, gadgets, tech, games, computational devices, and kits are NOT stem.  They Service our human needs to create and we must always keep that in mind.  The new model of STEM is meant to be bi-directional.  From one perspective, Service gives the work focus.  From another perspective, the tools we use to teach provide a Service back to our efforts and those of the learners.

With a focus on Service, let’s explore the rest of the new framework.

THINKING:  I capitalize THINKING for a reason.  THINKING is everything.  STEM pedagogy prioritizes THINKING.  We have to think in order to be Service minded.  We must think to create solutions (oh…wait…a sub category of Service.  If we are Service minded we THINK in order to create solutions…Love it!).

Metacognition in a framework of STEM is not my idea.  Many way smarter people than me created that connection.  I started the conversation around gadgets above for another reason.  Consider the tools you use most.  Why do you use them more than others?  Could it be they help you produce?  Produce ideas, products, and results.  The tools, i.e., gadgets we use should do that for us.  I recently had a conversation with a local start-up company about the shelf-life (life of customer interest) of their invention.  It is a game with physical movement and measurement involved.  It is winning many awards and being well placed within large sales channels.  I applaud the group.  They’ve done amazing work.  I also see a significant challenge.  During a recent awards ceremony, a mother shared with me that she bought the game for her two kids.  I asked her how the kids liked it and she said, they used it a bit during Christmas and haven’t had it out since.  What’s missing?  I think, the THINKING of the user is missing.

No matter what device, or gadget we put in the hands of learners, we must frame it around the THINKING to be done.  It is great that we have shelves of gadgets to choose from.  But, we must keep in mind that the even the best gadgets may not get kids THINKING on their own. That’s where our educational systems must play a role.

THINKING is not just related to gadgets.  The projects, challenges and problems presented to learners within a STEM context will be solved via THINKING. The effort to think must be prioritized so students understand how to do it.  A fundamental purpose of STEM is to create problem solvers.  A friend of mine also says, we need “problem identifiers.”  I love that phrase.  As we think about STEM, we have an opportunity to build a student’s capacity to THINK, to identify unnoticed problems, and solve them.

Engagement:  By now, you should see the relationship between the components of the new STEM framework.  When we humans are THINKING, and taking a perspective of Service for the purpose of helping solve problems, we are…wait for it…yes…. we are Engaged.  That’s fantastic.  So, what’s the challenge with engagement?  If we get the students thinking and they have a perspective of service, they will be engaged, end of effort, right?  Noooooooo…… Let’s talk about sustainable engagement.  Long term, not lesson engagement, project engagement, activity engagement, conversation engagement as our measure.  Let’s pull in our gadgets again.  We try gadget A, we try gadget B, we are engaged, we move on to gadget C and a new day, I am engaged.  Great…What am I engaged in?  Is there a relationship between gadgets and my engagement?  Is there a theme I am engaged in or am I engaged in the moment and not the mission?

As a music educator, I saw the power of true engagement. A year, after year, after year commitment of my students to their gadget, their musical instrument, meant they had to be engaged in the bigger picture.  That shiny new instrument dulls over time and the repetitive lessons start to become tiresome if they aren’t engaged in something higher, something beyond the idea of playing the saxophone because their best friend does too.  As a musician myself I feel the pull of engagement that is lasting and so personally gratifying.  That quest, that inner, untiring ability to keep “at it”, call it GRIT, call it what you want, but it should be our focus in STEM.  Engagement beyond the moment, engagement in the deeper journey.

Modeling:  I feel like I saved the best for last.  But, it’s just because I had to build a new Framework that ended in an M.  Modeling ties everything together.  I’m doing it now.  I’ve modeled a new way of thinking and I am adding the words to share my thinking.  I’ve shown a picture (the formula above) to help explain the complexity of my thinking, but simply.  I read an article on the Feynman method.  The gist was that to test what you are thinking, teach it to a young child.  This forces you to REALLY know your stuff. Using simple language enables you to explain clearly and assume little.  Modeling is similar from my perspective.  Modeling takes the complex and simplifies it.  What if we could get every student to build a model showcasing the thing they are going to pursue in life after high school?  What would that mean to our country?  Where are we teaching modeling?  Modeling can and should be applied to ANY subject area.  Therefore, I started this effort to redefine STEM.  We don’t just model in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields.  We should be teaching modeling in all subjects.  Why?  Because we need more modelers, more content creators in the world.  We need ideas to come to life and they won’t come to life if we can’t model.

I hear the wheels of the heavy locomotive screaming against the momentum of STEM as we know it.  Yet, I have faith we can be introspective and use the core values STEM is intended to create in learners and quickly find a path that goes beyond four subjects and the perceptions that naming convention communicates.  I see great work in this area and by no means feel it is my place to say this work is not happening. I am not a bait click producer hoping to get 100’s of comments saying, “this is already happening, open your eyes.”  I believe it is happening and that’s why I am writing this.  I want to see more evidence, more stories shared, more perspectives on the meaning of STEM.

I’m feeling the breeze from the air being pushed by the approaching train. Will it pause for this moment and consider these thoughts?  Let’s find out.





Your Manifesto is Your Compass

Manifest Your Manifesto

By Mark T Burke

Your Manifesto is Your Compass
Your Manifesto is Your Compass

Highly successful people have a clear compass that guides them forward.  That compass is not only clear to them, but clear to others.  It is visible, tangible, in sight at all times. Their beliefs and what they do each day, each minute, is manifest in a way that showcases the path you’ll take when working with them.  They decisively guide themselves and those they work with using that compass on personal and organizational journeys.  The compass eliminates distracting side trips yet allows for exploration and learning.  That compass is their Manifesto.

Developing a written, personal manifesto is a fantastic way to sort through your personal beliefs and make choices about what really means the most to you in your work and personal life.  A manifesto has a few key components.

  • Beliefs
  • Commitments
  • Principles

An example of one of my beliefs is:

“Build beautiful things.” 

I confess, this belief statement solidified for me after spending time reading and listening to Mr. Todd Henry, author of the Accidental Creative.  By the way, he has a great post on the value of building a manifesto.  And, it’s okay to borrow from others. In fact, we should.

Years before finding Todd Henry, I committed to building every product I could in a beautiful way.  Now, before you start thinking that is some lofty belief there Mark.  Well, look beyond the simple definition of “beautiful.”

“Build beautiful things” is my commitment to building products that are complete, finished.  Whether I am building a training, or a PowerPoint, or a spreadsheet for a client, my commitment to that work is to build it COMPLETELY.

“Build beautiful things” is my commitment to building products that meet a need.  That means I need to clearly understand the need and the expected end result.  If I’m working for a client, I want to know that what I produce will help them, serve a purpose and benefit their organization.  If what I build becomes a file in storage or a product on a shelf, we have more work to do.

“Build beautiful things” is my commitment to building things with design and human interaction in mind.  Functionality is an aspect of beauty that pushes me to create items that people like to interact with.

As you can see, a belief means a lot. The commitments and the principles develop naturally from the belief statements as you further share each belief.  Let’s deconstruct one of my statements above.

“Build beautiful things” (Belief) is my commitment to building products that meet a need. (Commitment)


  • That means I need to clearly understand the need and the expected end result.
  • If I’m working for a client, I want to know that what I produce will help them, serve a purpose and benefit their organization.
  • If what I build becomes a file in storage or a product on a shelf, we have more work to do. 

Manifesto work is ongoing.  A few years ago, I adopted the Serious eLearning Manifesto.  I won’t go into details here.  You can read all about those who authored it and promoted it from their website.    A copy of the complete manifesto hangs on my office wall beside my desk.  Throughout my days, I refer to it often as a way to focus my thoughts, to stay the course.  It is a compass that guides me.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a deeper desire to firm up MYMANIFESTO.  This will be my personal / professional manifesto guiding my work as I continue my journey.  I encourage everyone to think about the value of building your own manifesto, your own compass.  If you do, please share.