Independent Study

I’m in the process of co-creating a summer independent study curriculum for one of my students. As we began our discussion of the design, I asked her what she most wanted to get out of the experience. She talked about gaining practical, usable skills in her field of study, about doing something interactive, hands-on and engaging. She is nearing the end of her undergraduate career and clearly hungry for something that resembles what goes on in the “real world.”

The independent study arrangement is a jewel of an opportunity. Created and managed well it can serve as a doorway to, and incentive for, the kind of learning I hope that all people will aspire to throughout their professional lives.

And, good news, the independent study approach is not proprietary to higher education. It is, in fact, available to anyone so inclined to design an approach to their own learning with the support of one or more supportive collaborators.

Recently I asked you to consider what it is you have to teach us. Today, I wonder, what is it you are ready to learn?

Who will you ask to help you? And when will you begin?


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The High Five Test

Vicki Gravlin is a local school district administrator who is responsible for “academic excellence and innovation.” She spoke to my business school undergraduate classes this week about the joys, challenges and every day realities of leading innovation and change in the highly diverse and complicated world of K-12 education.

In a common sense, often very funny and always inspirational style, she reminded us that an effective leader is “always on” and always engaged, especially when it’s the last thing they want to be. She challenged us to meet our people right where they are – at their school, in their office, in the classroom – to best understand what is going on, how they are feeling and what they need.

One of her proven methods for doing so is through the liberal application of the “High Five” test. It’s not complicated. She stands at the door of the classroom (or walks around her office environment) and as the students file past she gives them a high five. From this simple and brief act of physical contact she is able to gather a ton of information about both that individual and the state of the group overall.

A look away and a half-hearted effort probably means that the student is preoccupied or disengaged. A too aggressive slap of her hand lets her know there is something unresolved or unexpressed. She’s learned to pull a lot of data from these encounters but she doesn’t accept it all at face value. She connects and verifies with those around her through sincere questions and thoughtful listening to put the pieces together.

Vicki’s high five test is a reminder of the simple and potent power of connection. A small and sincere effort, in the classroom or the office, to even just momentarily connect with others kicks open the door of learning and awareness.

If you’re looking for evidence of thoughtful and committed leadership, the consistent pursuit of learning and awareness is about the best data you can get.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Rethinking Organizational Intelligence

fullsizeoutput_1a1e

As a parent of three children I’m often amazed that three extraordinarily different human beings could come from the same source. In raising our kids – one now in college and the others in late middle school and early high school – we have been front row attendees in a crash course on the appreciation of widely different aptitudes and interests and the necessity to adapt our approaches so that each receives the best possible support.

I know that we’ve done well but I would gladly take a few do-overs!

We discovered along the way a son whose intelligence is in the bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal, a daughter whose domains are musical and intra-personal and a daughter who thrives in the spatial and logical-mathematical areas.

The adjustments we’ve made haven’t been radical or deeply insightful on our part. They’ve come from paying attention to clear and concrete evidence that different needs require different resources. Doing so promotes confidence, encourages experimentation and cultivates a greater sense of ease that can only emerge when realities are acknowledged and acted upon as they are.

The traditional education system is predicated on a sameness that today seems ludicrous but back in my formative years was assumed. If you didn’t fit the model there weren’t charter schools or homeschooling or the myriad support mechanisms available today. There was a “portable” classroom for the kids with “special needs.”

We’ve come a long way in recognizing this diversity of intelligence and creating venues and systems to support it.

What if our workplaces also moved in this direction? More specifically, what if those in supervisory positions educated themselves on the multiple intelligences and then spent time with team members discussing what domains best describe them? What if they had thoughtful conversations about how they saw themselves and the kinds of contributions they would like to make?

What might be possible if, instead of slotting people into prescribed roles, we reconsidered organizational design through the lens of the types of intelligence we need access to and then found people who bring that intelligence to the table?

This kind of flexibility is the key to sustainability over the long-term. The organizations thriving a decade or two from now will be the ones who move away from the traditional recruiting practices of job descriptions and job postings and to a more holistic perspective on who this organization is and where it is trying to go.

When that becomes the conversation, the diversity of intelligences will no longer be just interesting to consider but the foundation on which organizational future’s are built.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

The Importance of Local

When I focus too much of my attention on global, national and even regional issues I am left feeling negative, overwhelmed and sometimes even heartbroken.

When I focus more of attention on my local community, especially those sub-communities of which I am a part – family, church, workplace, client organizations – I feel challenged, energized, connected and yes, sometimes heartbroken.

I consider it my responsibility to be an informed global, national and regional citizen. I consider it a privilege to be a participant within the vibrant context just beyond my front door.

The difference is intimacy, physical connection and the natural give and take of creating and sustaining viable communities. We can and must continue to pay attention to the big picture but nothing changes, nothing at all, until we practice locally.

At a recent dinner with friends we followed the routine pattern of loose and light introductory conversation. And then, with the comfort of a good meal and the support of our earned trust, we found another level.  We explored race and gender and education. We did so inexpertly and we solved nothing, changed no minds, won no victories. What we did accomplish, at least as I see it, was to remind ourselves that we share the same concerns, that we need a place to express them, and that it is a powerful gift to provide and receive that from one another.

In that spirit, here’s an organization you should know about: The People’s Supper. They have models and tools to help us come together around the table to connect more openly, to listen and to learn.

Their focus is local, the only place we can start to change.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Just Do Something

A friend once complained that since he didn’t have time to do his “full” workout he wasn’t going to bother going to the gym.

He knew that a quick walk around the block would make him feel better – would be a good use of the time he did have – but his benchmark for “workout” wouldn’t allow it.

Or have you ever been in conversation with a colleague and said, “Well, I don’t have time to go into that right now” and then gone into it anyway and found that “that” only took a few minutes?

It wasn’t the expression itself that needed much time but the buildup – perhaps the anxiety – you felt about it that made it feel that way.

Or is it even possible that you knew that once you expressed it you would have let the air out of that particular balloon, the stretched surface of which had provided a particular kind of self-righteousness. Once expressed – once normalized – that feeling no longer quite fit the situation and had to be let go.

I’m convinced that leaders regularly avoid career conversations, development conversations and even routine feedback conversations with their employees because they have a story in their head that a “big” conversation requires a big expense of time and energy when all they’ve got is the equivalent of a walk around the block.

The big investments – relationships, fitness, education – require some effort every day. Drip by drip that effort accumulates into something stable, sustainable and reliable.

Heavy rains tend to do more harm than good.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.