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.
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.
Welcome to Luke Milliron, the Sustainable Orchard Systems Advisor for Glenn, Butte, and Tehama Counties, based in Oroville. Luke joined UC ANR on June 11. Officially starting this weekend is Keith Taylor, Assistant Specialist in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis. I am looking forward to meeting both Luke and Keith soon. With all of the new hires, we are preparing to kick off a peer cohort of recent hires to help people settle in when they arrive at UC ANR. The idea is that the group can learn from each other, get to know peers who may not work in the same program area, geographic area or at the same campus and, as a group, connect with resources and information from around UC ANR. If anyone has experience with such a program or wishes to share ideas to ensure success, we'd love to hear them. The plan is to discuss it at the New Employee Orientation to be held mid-October so there's plenty of time to share your ideas and experiences.
The Forbes Ag Tech Summit was nice. I'm still digesting the information. But it was great to see Crop Manage in the Innovation tent and meet a number of people from diverse businesses. It was also nice to meet more of UC ANR; people I had only emailed with or spoken on the phone with previously. A keynote from Steve Forbes was really a highlight - turns out he is from an ag background in New Jersey and his wife is the caretaker for their 100-head herd of belted Galloways. President Napolitano received high marks for her keynote the previous day. One start up that was in the innovation competition and caught my eye applies acoustic technology to make smart irrigation systems using an algorithm that factors in the size of water droplets – fascinating. Not quite at the same level, on my ‘fascination scale' as solving odor problems encountered by astronauts but exciting all the same. More homeowners need to identify and adopt irrigation systems that sense when water is needed rather than deploy a clock-based schedule. I also saw some interesting platforms that integrate a multitude of sensor data into a single report – it made me wonder if they were easier to code than LabView (National Instruments; Austin, TX) which is the platform I coded for my labs in Iowa and Michigan. The user interface of the product was certainly nicer than what my group developed but we weren't going for pretty but rather an easy means of seeing real-time conditions.
There's always so many options of things to do each day. As a result of attending the Forbes Summit, I was unable to attend an informal gathering to recognize Chris Greer as he relocates to SLO. He will remain Vice Provost – Cooperative Extension through the end of the September but last week's heat likely has him looking forward to a change in scenery and climate. I'll have to find someone else to chat with first thing in the morning. Vice Provost Greer has been a tremendous asset to me and many of us so we wish him well but won't let him off too easy for the next several months.
I suspect many may be heading out for an extended weekend. Whether or not that's the case, I hope everyone enjoys the weekend and the holiday. Stay safe.
There was role playing! And homework! I survived both. Despite these surprises, the Crucial Conversations training was well worth my time. I suspect that may be why no one prepared me for the homework. The other unexpected observation was that there were no males in the class – certainly not a reflection of whose work would benefit from the training. In addition to the benefits of the training, it was nice to see a number of the people I have met through my travels across UC ANR. My learning partner and I will touch base at the end of May to share how our new skills are working for us. She was not only helpful but has an amazing story. What an inspiration!
Speaking of conversations, if you haven't already purchased your ticket for next week's screening of Food Evolution, there may still be seats left. The screening event was partially funded from the new ANR Opportunity Grants Program that was developed by Program Council. Unfortunately the screening date happens to fall during Program Council who will be meeting in Santa Paula next week (May 2-3). For more information or to purchase tickets, go to Eventbrite and search under Food Evolution for events on May 2nd. The Global Food Initiative has a link to the Food Evolution screening on their homepage.
Tomorrow, this year's Global Food Initiative Fellows will be visiting with UC ANR and taking a food tour of the San Joaquin Valley. This should be a great opportunity to introduce the Fellows to the work of UC ANR and help improve understanding of food production and challenges in California. I am looking forward to meeting the Fellows and hearing their impressions of what they see and hear.
Students across the campuses are wrapping up classes and projects. The Berkeley Big Ideas team I worked with this semester has done quite well with their innovation. They won $750 at the University of Oregon New Venture Championship (NVC) and are competing at the UCSB NVC on May 3. Jake, one of the entrepreneurs, was selected as the UCSB winner of the UC Entrepreneur Video Campaign and will meet with 3 venture capital firms on May 5. And if that's not enough, they won an Honorable Mention in the UC competition in the Food Systems category. Way to go Jake and Caitlin!
Don't forget that Mark Bell begins May 1 as the UC ANR Vice Provost of Statewide Programs and Strategic Initiatives. You may have already seen him around the Davis ANR building as he has been lining up meetings for the last couple of weeks. Please welcome Mark!