This is a strange week – I'm looking forward to Saturday while simultaneously finding the week to be flying by. I've spent the bulk of the last 3 days with a group of new academics at the Programmatic Orientation. I don't know about the group of participants but it appeared to me as a whole lot of information to absorb. I suspect one could attend a couple of times and get something different out of the event each time. I suspect the most valued part of the time was the networking with others. And the tour was great – despite having such short time to line things up and prepare due to a change in venue at the last minute. Kudos to the Program Support Unit for their efforts!
One of the tour stops was a visit with Susie Kocher #UCSierraforest. She talked to us about a 2014 fire and the current reforestation effort in the area. The big excitement was the helicopter that was onsite in case a fire broke out. The chopper carried 5 to 7 persons to deploy them to the fire area and 260 gallons of water to put out small grass fires. It was a beautiful view. Our new fire Advisor Kate Wilkins and new forestry Specialist Jodi Axelson had quite a bit to contribute to the conversation as well.
Next we visited Apple Hill in El Dorado County. Lynn Wunderlich talked about how she started her program 17 years ago and the value of long-time collaborations with producers like the one she has with Ron from Gold Bud Mountain Fruit (seated next to her in the photo). One of the things that really impressed me was how many of the new Advisors, like Luke Milliron, and Specialists, including Houston Wilson, that Lyn already knew. I'm glad even those outside of orchard and vineyard expertise had a chance to learn a few things from Lyn.
Our lunch stop included a tour of Sherwood Demonstration Gardens in Placerville where Master Gardener Coordinator Tracy Celio showed us around, talked about the history of the garden and the breadth of programming that takes place. We had a chance to meet some of the hardworking volunteers.
After lunch we were at UC Davis where we met Katherine Pope at the UC Plant Pathology farm, Sam Sandoval and Jeff Mitchell at Russell Ranch, and Margaret Lloyd at the Center for Land Based Learning. It was a long and informative day.
I think the session most enjoyed by participants today was a panel of Advisors and Specialists that provided career tips. Leslie Roche #UCDRange, Dorina Espinoza, David Doll, Andrew Sutherland, David Lewis and Sam Sandoval did a great job sharing their experiences and wisdom with the group. David Lewis shared that Steven Covey's 7 Habits and David Allen's Getting Things Done have turned out to be important reads for him. I'm going to check out David Allen's ideas and see if I can pick up a few things to help me. Maybe he has a TED Talk so that I can save time from reading it.
I spent the afternoon with some of our new academics at the Programmatic Orientation. Some of them have been on board as much as 2 years but many (most?) for less than 6 months. It's always exciting to see new blood! Julia Van Soelen Kim, Lisa Blecker, David Doll, Mark Hoddle and Yana Valachovic shared their insights into developing a new program. This type of sharing experiences reminds me of the concept of ‘learning circles' that seems to be trending now in Extension. I've heard about them during the National Extension Directors Association (NEDA) meeting (via eXtension), from one of our academics who is thinking about a thought leaders group, and from a colleague who has been reading “Working Out Loud”. At the NEDA meeting, we talked about learning circles from the perspective of encouraging innovation in Extension. I've shared some of those updates previously.
At the Programmatic Orientation, I was thinking about the learning circles as the basis for developing peer cohorts for Advisors and Specialists. In addition to a traditional mentoring approach, peer cohorts offer an equally valuable method of mentoring in that peers better recognize current challenges and what is needed because our peers are faced with those same situations. Essentially it becomes a learning circle for trading ideas, successes, cautions, and information. This group of academics are an impressive group. I look forward to helping them get started with the cohort and supporting them along the way.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of a learning circle, as I see it, is the opportunity to get ideas from others, particularly when the circle is comprised of those who are otherwise strangers – I don't normally work with them and have different areas of expertise. Albert Einstein said “We can't solve problems using the same thinking that was used to create them”. That learning circle of strangers is a mechanism to engage in different thinking. Perhaps this is the path towards addressing emerging issues that arise as the result of current conditions, that we helped to create. Looking at problems from 30,000 ft and spending some time working at that level offers the same opportunity – the logic behind Strategic Initiatives, I presume.
Two Vice Provost positions are posted. We took a different approach to constructing the positions from how they had been constructed when Chris Greer and Lisa Fischer were in the positions. They are big shoes to fill but hopefully we will be successful with this new configuration. In addition, we are looking for 2 Assistant Vice Provosts. These are partial appointments for existing academics and offer an opportunity to not only support one of the Vice Provost positions but also provide an advanced leadership opportunity to 2 of our academics without having to jump in with a full time effort. These positions, in particular, are not fully described. Rather, we are going to build the airplane as we fly it and tailor the positions to the strengths of the individuals in the positions, including the Vice Provost when they are on board. Please help share these positions with your colleagues in California and across the US!
A friend referred me to a TED Talk that I watched over the last couple of days. The talk was given by Davis Lee and the topic was “Why jobs of the future won't feel like work”. He talks about most jobs being replaced by robots in the future because we are overly focused on tasks rather than creativity – so our work is well suited for robots. His argument is that we need to bring our weekend selves to work on Wednesday and then Mondays will come easier. On weekends we are creative – we become gardeners, plumbers, builders and quilters. We do things we are passionate about. It follows then that if we had greater opportunity to be creative during the work week, we would be more excited about our jobs, resulting in improved outcomes.
I don't know if the suggested TED Talk is the result of a previous blog post or not, but it fits in the same theme as one of the sessions held at the Western Extension Directors Association annual meeting. That session focused on adopting innovative work habits. We had an interactive session where we worked with Adobe's Kickbox Toolkit to take what was originally presumed to be a bad idea and turn it into a good solution to an existing problem. It was an interesting exercise. My table ended up working through a concept of using virtual reality to teach and train, including demonstrating the impacts of different decisions. We used pruning techniques as the pilot project – through a VR platform, students could explore different techniques and the results of using the various methods. The problem solved was time constraints – for both instructors and students.
During that session we talked about ‘ideation' whereby many ideas are proposed rather than what is presumed to be the ‘best idea'. These many ideas are then evaluated such that small, early failures are achieved through testing and iteration. The idea that ‘sticks' is scaled for adoption and implementation. The goal is to avoid costly big mistakes by not testing ideas early on at a small scale and modifying them before costly scaling occurs. Ideation isn't always a team sport but teams tend to perform better than individuals. Creativity is stimulated by the group – assuming the environment and the team members are motivated and passionate about the creative process. This gets back then to fostering creativity by providing the right environment as well as the support to fail.
I attended the celebration of Steve Orloff on Saturday. I did not know him well but I was left humbled by his passion for his family and friends, his work, and life. The memories people shared were both touching and funny. The distance so many traveled to attend demonstrates the friend Steve was. I hope the event helped to begin the healing process for all who miss Steve.
Over the weekend I reviewed the compiled list of recommended condition changes that were collected by Program Team, Strategic Initiative, Statewide Program and Institute leaders. Thank you to all who were part of this process! Obviously there was a great deal of thought and effort put into the process. The next step is to make some tough decisions about what to move forward. This won't be easy because clearly we interpret words quite differently. Given that the purpose isn't to develop a list of changes that call out a program area/audience but rather develop a list that applies across program areas and audiences, it's important to use words that resonate broadly. To foster the sense that UC ANR is a system, as opposed to a confederation of individuals, the path forward will be to avoid calling out specific program areas in the condition changes and encourage people, teams, groups, programs to consider how their work fits into any of the condition changes, and what data support this. We'll be able to sort through the stories and indicators by program area using the Program Team codes that will replace Core Issues in the reporting program. The result is that when we can share the stories of how our efforts effect change, we can address the breadth of our programs or we can tailor the content to the audience by talking about the range of condition changes affected within the program area.
I had a chance to meet a few of our new Advisors this week when I visited Lassen, Plumas and Butte counties. While in Lassen, Janyne Little (Junior Specialist) talked about a project she is working on with David Lile, Laura Snell, Elise Gornish and Leslie Roche to look at post-fire grazing. It was a timely topic given what's going on across California. David and Mary Ann Gollnick (office manager) took me out to see some of the grazing sites that are part of the local research – a beautiful day and meadows that are really beautiful this time of year. It was nice to meet Darcy and Jack Hanson for dinner. Darcy is a long-time 4H program rep and Jack is a member of the President's Advisory Committee for UC ANR. It was a fun day despite all of the news rolling in about office closures due to fires.
The group that met in Plumas were all reasonably new to UC ANR, David Lile excluded. It was fun to listen to the group talk about how they could collaborate on different projects! As I mentioned in an earlier post, Traci Schohr hadn't even officially started yet. And I learned a ton of things about weeds from Tom Getts. Kari O'Reilly shared her perspective of the challenge of reaching more youth when the population is declining. This is a high energy group that keeps Barbara Goulet (office manager) busy, I'm sure.
The group in Butte County UCCE is relatively new as well. But already this is a tight-know team that enjoys each other's company. Oddly, even those that are ‘new' (Luke Milliron, Chelsey Slattery, Nicole Marshall) all have a past connection. Be sure to visit with them and learn about that connection. Don't forget to bring Suzie Lawry-Hall, Karina Hathorn and the ring leader, Emily Symmes, along to guarantee a fun time. We all went to the Chico State farm and met with Dean of the College of Agriculture who started about the same time I did (also an Animal Scientist and from Kansas State University so we have some colleagues in common). The partnership with Chico State is remarkable. Dani Lightle and Betsy Karle made me aware of this soon after I arrived in 2016. This was reinforced on this visit and we had a chance to see how Dani's work is progressing as well as some of the work that Emily and Luke are undertaking at the farm. Tons of opportunity to expand efforts with the college!
This blog is getting a bit long so maybe next time I will circle back to finish some of my thoughts that were stimulated by the Western Extension Directors Association meeting.
Please stay safe everyone!
Today was definitely a two hands on the steering wheel day as I headed north to Susanville. I even saw some tumbleweeds go across the highway. Despite the GPS indicating it was quicker to go to Reno and then head north, I decided to take the long way.
This evening I took a short cut. Instead of reading a book I learned about last week at the National Extension Directors Association meeting, I found that the author has a TED Talk on the subject and I listened to it. I try to listen to 2 TED Talks each week with no particular focus on topic. The book is Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. Here's a synopsis of the 15-min TED Talk:
An idea is a network – network of neurons. To develop into a good idea, your brain needs an environment where it is contact with more ideas (network expands). Good ideas are parts of ideas that are stitched or cobbled together to form something that actually works. This means we need to change our models of how deep thinking occurs. The change could mean providing creative spaces (i.e. Google pods or the British coffee houses that led to the Enlightenment) or Innovation Time Off (also Google). Important ideas have very long incubation periods (remember, overnight successes are rarely overnight). Great ideas linger for decades. Darwin's natural selection theory wasn't a ‘Eureka!' moment but instead took months to evolve. Therefore, in addition to creative spaces, we need to create environments that accommodate a long incubation time. Need to value the premise of connecting ideas and not just protecting them via Intellectual Property. Chance favors the connected mind.
A while back I read a report from a team across UC ANR that evaluated Work Groups some years ago. One of the conclusions was that there was insufficient cross fertilization of ideas across the entire division. Program Teams emerged to help foster ideas. I suspect Strategic Initiatives followed for much the same reason. This doesn't detract from the work and function of Work Groups but is intended to facilitate creative spaces for idea expansion. I've certainly found value in working across disciplines, sitting with people outside of my usual circle, and attending conferences that are outside of my typical meetings. Collaborations foster ideas; new collaborations should foster new ideas. Perhaps a path to new success is to brainstorm at the Division level, working across Program Teams and Strategic Initiatives, then implement at the Work Group level.
I have more to share and think through related to last week's meeting. But it's time to get ready for this coming week. I'm looking forward to my visits to Lassen/Sierra/Plumas Counties and Butte County. During the visit I will have a chance to meet Tracy Schohr, Assistant Area Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor headquartered in Quincy, with programmatic responsibilities in Plumas, Sierra and Butte Counties. Tracy doesn't officially start until next week so I am particularly appreciative that she is making time to meet.
This week UC ANR welcomes Mary Bonaparte-Saller, Assistant 4-H Youth Development Advisor, headquartered in Irvine with programmatic responsibilities in Orange County. I hope to meet Mary and many of the other new hires next week at the New Academic Orientation in Hopland.
I still have reading to do tonight. I'm about half through my grant reviews for the UC ANR Competitive Grants Program. It looks like there will be some hard decisions ahead – so many good ideas in the proposals! No shortcuts here, so I had better get reading.