Five Components of A Vision-based Work Culture

2017 has brought a new vision for THINK’ID8.  It’s fitting that the first post on the new site focuses on vision and how vision impacts work culture.  Crafting a vision for your organization is hard work, and it should be.  After all, vision is what defines your organization.  Vision establishes a picture for your organization and like a good snapshot, needs a defined, in-focus subject that is attractive to many.  Vision informs every activity, every system, every product, every customer interaction and every employee’s role and performance.  Yes, vision is THAT important.

Walk into your morning coffee or bagel shop and start observing the environment, the team, the food, the other customers.  Can you tell what their vision is?  How does the staff respond to your arrival?  Do they care that you made a choice to visit their shop?  Do they share their enthusiasm for your patronage?  Does the team understand their individual roles in meeting your needs?  The reason you return to the shop frequently  is related to their vision.  An organization without vision will do little to attract customers, regardless of the type of organization. Staff will feel lost and not understand how to interact with each other or those they serve.  And, the products and service will have limited appeal and quality.

Crafting a vision is just part of a vision-based work culture.  An organization with a well crafted vision has little more than a statement to be framed or posted on a website.   If you’re looking to build a vision-based work culture, start by considering the following five components.

  •  An easy to remember, shareable vision.

Too often, vision statements are LONG and cumbersome.  Vision statements can’t be hard to envision.  The simpler the better.  Your team can’t remember a complex statement that isn’t easily thought about during the course of their day.  Your vision should also be something easy to post in a variety  of places.  Use this rule.  If you can’t put your vision onto your business card, it’s too long.

  • Vision-based work cultures talk about their vision…A LOT!

Start meetings with a review of the topic and how it relates to your organizational vision.  In organizational communications, include your vision and again, relate the message of the communication to your vision. Be sincere, and NEVER make light of your vision or assume everyone’s tired of hearing about it.

  • Establish an understanding of anti-vision behavior and performance.

Knowing what DOESN’T match your vision is as important as knowing what does.  As your team goes about their day, each person has a responsibility to watch and listen for anti-vision behavior from others.  Each person should be empowered to react in an instructional way to help others.  And, everyone must be open to receiving this instruction.  The key is to not make this peer level support feel like criticism or compliance.  Respect and empathy must be at the center of changing anti-vision behavior and aligning performance standards to your vision.

  • Create a vision-based working environment.

 Space, or better, use of space, is an important part of managing a vision-based work culture.  Your team’s space must support the organizational vision.  Also important is work time and place.  With many organizations harnessing the power of the conceptual age we’re experiencing today, work is becoming less about time and more about results.  As such, remote work, flexible office spaces, functional shared and open spaces are becoming more important and prevalent. Create recurring moments for your team to reflect on your work environment and build flexible, reactive systems should  changes be identified.  Set policies and permission-oriented procedures may be needed but not to a point where they create barriers.

  • Align services, products and projects to the organizational vision.

Every effort of the organization needs to have a clear relationship to the vision of the organization.  Before launching any project, spend time as a team outlining how the project will help the organization approach the vision.  If the team struggles for more than a few minutes, that project may not be of value.  If you start to notice none of your projects are related to your vision, then your team may be working form old habits, your vision may not be clear, or worse, your organization may have a vision that just isn’t valid.

A vision-based work culture is yours if you’re willing to invest the energy and persevere.  If you’re the leader of your organization, you’ll be the main character in this effort.  But, building vision-based work cultures is far from being a top-down effort.  Vision-based organizations are highly communicative, focused on learning, flexible and quick to change as needs and opportunities arise. Practice the five components above to get started and let me know the results of your efforts.

Mark T. Burke
CEO, Founder of THINK’ID8





Vision and Mission

Am I on a Mission, or do I have a Vision?

By Mark T. Burke

Confused about Mission vs. Vision?  These words are often used interchangeably within organizations.  But that leads to confusion.  A common phrase, “I’m on a mission” tells us something important about the distinction between Mission and Vision.  Let’s explore.

Vision and Mission

Spend a few minutes on the Merriam-Webster site and you’ll find a variety of definitions for both words.  Keep in mind though, we’re exploring the distinctions between these two words.  I found the graphic above and it speaks to the important distinction.  Notice that Vision is all about Ideas, Foresight, Concepts, Seeing and Direction.  Mission involves Plans, Scales, Paths, Tools and Goals or Accomplishments.  This graphic showcases well that Vision is an idea and Mission is the path to help you accomplish an idea.

If you’re a Sci-Fi fan, you probably know about MARS, the series on NatGeo.  I believe this series does a great job of making the distinction between Vision and Mission clear.

Vision = Colonize Mars

Mission = Build rockets that can land and take off again, Build systems to support life, Gather tons of money and support, Train experts, Break the laws of physics, etc. etc.

Vision is the DREAM, Mission is what we do to achieve that DREAM (Vision).

The relationship between the two as well as the distinction, helps organizations create clear internal and external facing documentation of both.  And, as we aim to ensure we have a powerful Vision and a clear Mission, understanding the two clarifies the development process.

If you have any questions about Vision and Mission or you’re ready to explore your organization’s development and application of both, use the Contact tab above to send me a message.

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.





Impact Zone Graphic

Instructional Design and Vision, IMPACT Zone!

By Mark T. Burke

When two objects collide, they change.  Everything about them changes.  Their physical shape, their color, their weight, even their atomic structure, the fundamental makeup of the objects can change.  The space between them changes.  The surrounding environment changes.  In many cases, new pathways are created through existing barriers.  The energy given off by the two object’s IMPACT changes to energy of a new type and that energy seeks out new IMPACT zones.

Impact Zone Graphic
Impacts create unknown pathways.

Organizational visioning can be incredibly difficult work.  Determining why an organization exists, its purpose, is just the beginning.  Visioning includes the work to align the WHOLE organization with the vision.  That means that everything from people to processes, to language, incentives, all systems need to be aligned.  The need for that alignment can highlight an organization’s need to learn and grow.  If a Vision can be reach today, it’s not big enough. So how does an organization fill the gap between what they know today and what they need to know to reach their vision?  Well look up.  That big meteor-like object coming at you fast is known as Instructional Design.

Instructional Design has a reputation of being a field where non-educator people help subject matter experts build educational content for delivery via various mediums.  Reputation vs reality…Instructional Design if far from that definition.  I’ve had the fortune of being an ID’er for the past 20 years (time flies).  During that time I’ve witnessed, as well as advocated for a broadening of the perspectives on the value of ID within organizations.  A few years ago, I attended a webinar on how Caribou Coffee approached their vision through the use of the Wisetail Learning Management System.  That webinar kick-started my thoughts on the impact zone between instructional design and organization vision.  When organizations are failing to meet their vision, have NO vision, or are seeking a new vision, LEARNING is the “object” that will create the pathway(s) to that vision.  The IMPACT ZONE between Instructional Design and Vision is the beginning to organizational shifts and vision oriented work.

What should we know about this IMPACT Zone and how to harness it?

  1.  Set the trajectory for the IMPACT.  Instructional Designer and the process of Instructional Design, helps organizations build training AND change mental models.  Training is the easy part.  Training reinforces the “do this now” type of tasks within all organizations.  Building and changing staff mental models…whoa!  Now, that’s not easy.  Changing mental models involves exposing staff to THINKING they may not be familiar with or open to. When vision work is viewed as the instructional challenge it is (ie…an organization sets each on a collision courses), the most fundamental causes for why an organization is not vision-oriented or why they are not moving toward their vision is addressed….the HUMANS!
  2. Be Prepared for the Initial IMPACT. Impact of two weighty objects creates a lot of heat.  When Instructional Design is placed on a course to IMPACT an organization’s Vision, and they ultimately collide, both will be changed immediately.  In day-to-day terms, staff may see immediate shifts that change the way they think, the way they are treated and the way they treat others (customers and peers).  Some will embrace the collision and others will buckle in and push back.  But people can change over time.  Instructional Design solutions have to consider the initial IMPACT as a temporary phenomenon to embrace.  But, that energy soon changes as it starts to dissipate outward.
  3. Get Ahead of the IMPACT Wave.  Shaping the relationship between Instructional Design and Vision is an ongoing process.  There won’t be a point where an organization can say, “we’re done.”  People are creatures of habits that form and stay.  It’s up to us how long.  Vision work requires continual guidance along an IMPACT wave.  The need for continual reshaping of mental models is what drives vision oriented organizations.  As I mentioned earlier, if a Vision is something you can reach today, it’s not big enough.

Please share your thoughts and ideas on this topic.  If you would like to learn more, use the Contact tab above to send me a personal message.  Thanks for reading.