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The SocialSmarts blog is moving!

August 19, 2011

I’m happy to announce that this blog has “outgrown” its capacity here on the free site.  As of today, the new blog will live under my main site The direct link for the blog is (how original!) and this site will also be redirecting to that new location.


For all of you who have subscribed via email, we’ll be duplicating that functionality shortly and your subscriptions will be moved as well.  As an alternative, you can also subscribe/link to us via RSS feed — just look for the icon at the top left of the blog page along with the Twitter logo, FB, etc.

Please pop over, visit the new site and let me know what you think. I will be putting out the first new post under its new location tomorrow. Same great content…less filling. (no, wait, isn’t that a BEER slogan?) Ok, let’s try “same great content, less confusion.”

Hope to see you all soon!

90% of business success is about “showing up”

August 14, 2011

Hollywood writer/producer Woody Allen is credited with saying that “90% of life is just showing up.”  That saying has been morphed to apply to many situations, particularly business.  And, it’s more true than ever in today’s current business climate. It’s truly amazing what success you can have if you apply this quote to your business life.

What do I mean about “showing up?”  It’s any number of things and many of them are so easy, it’s a wonder why people don’t do it.

  • Return a phone call promptly or within a reasonable period of time
  • Show up on time for a meeting and call if you are delayed for some reason
  • Respond to an email
  • Follow up on communication, particularly if you are the one who initiated it
  • Keep a committment or fulfill an obligation

As I said, these “show ups” sound so easy, but think about it: how often have you tried to communicate with someone, left message after message, and they never return the call, reply to an email, or respond to a letter? There certainly could be many reasons for why — they didn’t get the message, email ended up in the spam filter, or your letter is in a stack of correspondence. But each of those disconnects is a lost opportunity, and let’s be honest, avoiding returning a call — for whatever reason — is just plain rude.

Maybe the communication is a business solicitation and you’re just not interested. I can understand that — it happens to me all the time. So, because you didn’t ask for it, you just ignore it, hoping the caller will eventually the hint and go away.  Ok, that seems reasonable; we all do it.  But, may I make a suggestion: if you’re not interested, just respond to the person and tell them so.  You’ll achieve your objective much more quickly, and the person can go on to the next prospect, without having to waste more time on you.

You may be thinking, “Well, why should I bother?  This takes up valuable time that I could be spending on my own work?”  Here’s why: Read more…

School discipline: pay me now or pay me (more) later

July 27, 2011

Virtually everybody today has an opinion aboutwhat we need to do to improve public education in this country, and at the same time, a corresponding reason for why it can’t be improved under present circumstances. You can’t go a single day without hearing about how the economy is affecting funding to schools; or how classroom sizes are too large to allow for quality learning; or how we aren’t focusing enough on STEM; how teachers  are overworked and underpaid; or that our students should be in school for longer days, even a longer year.

These are all commonly debated topics on why education isn’t working, yet aren’t the primary reason our system is failing.  A recent article published in the NY Times got somewhat close to the issue, but didn’t go far enough. “School Discipline Study Raises Fresh Questions” discussed the impact of student suspensions and expulsions in Texas middle and high schools. The data shared in the article was troubling; one in seven students was suspended or expelled roughly 11 times in their upper-school career.  However, what the study didn’t discuss was the overall problem of classroom order and discipline. Suspensions and expulsions are on the extreme end of discipline. What else is going on in the classrooms before it gets to that point?

I can tell you. Classroom discipline and behavior is literally robbing our education system of productive time, energy, money, and results. When repeated studies show teachers lose, on average, 30/40/50% or more of what should be teaching time to managing student discipline and behavior, it’s no wonder Johnny can’t read. To put this in perspective, even a “modest” loss of only 30% of classroom time is the equivalent of 60 full days out of our average 180 day school year. If we only consider the financial impact of loss of productive teaching time, it  represents $100B or more of educational funding that goes out the window each year nationwide. It’s  consistently within the top three reasons for why teachers leave the profession, regardless of what they are paid, and it hurts the learning environment for everyone in it.

In spite of this massive impact on all aspects of the system, this issue receives precious little attention.  It is responsible for everything from the “ordinary” level of disruption and noise in the classroom; to issues of ethics,  integrity, cheating and plagiarism; to the extreme end of the continuum of bullying, harassment and school-based violence.  Our usual response is to deal with it once it’s a problem when it’s harder to fix and more costly. It may cost a school district $500 or more to suspend a student, but one suspension frequently leads to more, so clearly there’s no “fix” in that. And, in spite of the billions that are being spent on anti-bullying policies, procedures and legislation, bullying remains an epidemic in our schools today.

The typical solution proposed to fix this problem is for teachers to receive better training in classroom management. Yet, that only addresses half the equation. Read more…

Rotary 4-Way Test: Don’t just recite it — live it

July 17, 2011

I had a meeting the other day with a gentleman I admire greatly.  He’s really a super individual: smart, very business savvy, has a great heart for important causes and practices the art of service — in other words, the ideal Rotarian.  I had originally met him at a Rotary club where I was speaking, so I had always believed he WAS a Rotarian.  Imainge my surprise when he told me he wasn’t actually a Rotarian, but he had been made an honorary Rotarian because of his service to both the club and the community as a whole.

I found this quite surprising. When I asked him why he didn’t become an actual Rotarian, his answer surprised me: he shared with me very frankly that, in his opinion, there were too many people in the club that, while they all talked about the importance of The 4-Way Test, they didn’t really live it.

Now, this happened several days ago, but it stuck in my craw and has been bugging me ever since. I’ve had the same experiences myself, I have to admit, and it really troubles me when a fellow Rotarian behaves in a way that goes against the principles of The 4-Way Test. Especially when they act that way toward other Rotarians.

For those of you who may not be Rotarians but are reading this blog, let me quickly cite its four principles so you know what we’re talking about.  In the 4-Way Test, we Rotarians are encouraged to consider…

In all we think, say or do…:

  • Is it the TRUTH?
  • Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  • Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER friendships?
  • Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Now, I’ve certainly discussed the individual meaning of the points of The 4-Way Test in other posts, so I don’t plan to do that again here. Feel free to look those up if you want to explore its meaning and significance more deeply. What I do want to talk about is the importance of not only reciting it, but the importance of believing it and living it, if you are truly bought into the purpose and meaning of Rotary. Read more…

Life is short…are you LIVING?

July 14, 2011

This may not seem like a post on the typical topics of social skills, character, school reform at first. But I think, by the end, you’ll see where I’m going with this.

A really shocking reality came at me this past weekend. I was visiting a steady client, whose Board Members I have seen a come to know fairly well, for over four years now. On Saturday, I learned that one of them, a founding member had suddenly passed away just a few months ago. This is, frankly, the second time that I’ve been hit over the head with a completely unexpected death in the past few months. Both times, the news left me completely gobsmacked. (Yes, that is the ideal word for my reaction…)

In this case, I had really gotten to know the gentleman (I’ll call him Richard) quite well.  He was an amazing man, generous like you wouldn’t believe, full of joy, full of life. Along with his wife, he co-founded the organization I was visiting. They were frequent and generous donors to many charitable organizations, and both had offered their talents, their home, their energy to these causes.  And, with his wife, Richard was a genuine, authentic, and overall NICE guy.  He is one of those who shouldn’t go, much less before his time.  He was only 51, but he died living his life to the fullest.

Essentially he experienced a heart attack while learning to scuba dive. His physician had advised against it because he did suffer from some heart issues.  But, he felt the risk wasn’t too great so he pursued the sport he loved.

I am deeply in shock, as are so many who came to know him, especially those with whom he had regular contact.  His passing has given me a lot to think about.  Certainly none of us knows when our time is up, and there are limitless sayings about how to live today like you’re going to die tomorrow.  But how many of us actually DO it?  Read more…

How would YOU like to be remembered?

June 27, 2011

It’s amazing sometimes where inspiration finds you.  For those of you who write regularly, you know that there are days when it “works” and days where you couldn’t beg your way into a coherent and cohesive article.  But then, suddenly, out of the blue, there it is: the “A ha!” Well, this time, I can thank one of my Facebook friends, “Beth” (I won’t reveal her whole name or FB profile in case she is keeping it private, but email me if you’d like to connect), for the inspiration.  Just two days ago, here’s what she shared on FB:

Today I shall behave … as if this is the day I will be remembered.

~ Dr. Seuss

Wow…Dr. Seuss said THAT?  I mean, yes, I think he’s brilliant with all the great things he has written (I mean, really, who can get past “Green Eggs and Ham”), and he was very in-tune with how to connect with kids — and adults– but this isn’t something I would have expected from the professional “silly guy.”
It’s profound wisdom, really. Think about it: if you KNEW someone was looking at you…right here, right now…how WOULD you conduct yourself? Would you be yelling at your child? Dressing down an employee? Belittling a spouse or friend? Would you lie? (allright, we KNOW plenty of people DO lie on camera, but I truly believe they think no one KNOWS they are lying…let’s not go THERE, ok?)  Would you wear your rattiest, most disheveled clothes, hair unkempt, teeth unbrushed? Generally I think most of us would say, no.

Read more…

The unforseen impact of online “friendships”

June 24, 2011

I was speaking for a group yesterday on the topic of “Overcoming Failure to Educate,” and afterwards one of the audience members came up to me and shared a story that really drove home a point that I’m guessing many of us really don’t think about: be careful who you “friend.”

Now, I’m sure most of us are conscious of certain types of people who may request online friendship and we accept/ignore them based on our own internal radar. But let me tell you this story and see if it doesn’t impact your thinking a bit.

It seems a teen was applying for a job as security guard for the local Port Authority.  He was a high school graduate, decent kid, kept himself out of trouble.  Apparently a good candidate by all reason. During the interview, he was asked by the recruiter if he had ever been incarcerated or if  any of his friends had been or were presently. Read more…

You can’t teach them if they’re not paying attention…

June 20, 2011

Yes, this is a basic statement and will likely cause several “yeah, duh” reactions, but it’s surprising how overlooked this simple truth really is.  When we read about the factors influencing education, we hear so much about curriculum – whether there should be national standards or not, should there be more emphasis on STEM, etc. Or, funding — there is a never-ending litany of schools/districts/states talking about how there isn’t enough money to do what needs to be done.  Classroom size is another oft-debated topic — our classrooms are still “over-crowded” yet on average they have been getting consistently smaller over the last 30 years.  Or how about charter schools are the better way to educate our children?

The one thing that gets VERY little attention, however, and has, frankly the biggest impact on education is student behavior. All of the above things I just mentioned are directly affected, for good or for bad, by how students conduct themselves in the classroom, yet this is virtually never addressed in any high-level discussions on how to improve education!

I know it’s a problem, both from my direct experience in the classroom as well as from discussions and feedback from teachers and administrators. Take, for example, this comment on a recent posting of mine. Steve wrote Read more…

The “Anti-Social” Social Media

June 17, 2011

Before I get into the meat of this post, let me say that while it is directed primarily at kids and youth, the topic is certainly be applicable to adults.  I really started thinking about this a while back as part of the research I was doing for the “It’s Not Who You Know…” book.  There’s a body of thought that believes technology, particularly social media, has given us a great boost in finding, building and keeping connections with people.  But the reality is that it’s a “yes and no” kind of answer.  Social media can be a great tool…if used correctly and appropriately. Yet, too often, it’s not. And that’s when the complications set in. Let’s look at a few of the issues:

Amount of time spent: our young people are spending increasing amounts of time on various social media platforms.  According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report (2010), teens are spending an average of more than 53 linear hours a week using “entertainment media.” But, because of their talent for multi-tasking they are actually “using” a lot more time than that.  Consider that this is the equivalent of more than a full-time “job!”

Another concern is what they are doing with that time.  I’m not going to get into all the details of the really bad stuff like cyberbullying, lurking potential predators, and sexting in this post — that’s a huge can of worms to be opening today.  But what I do want to talk about is how this online “social” time is affecting their offline social abilities. Consider:

  • Of your many FaceBook/MySpace…pick your platform…”friends,” how many people do you actually know?  It may be a few dozen…maybe a hundred.  But you can’t really form “friendships” with thousands of people, now can you?  Often someone’s popularity is dictated specifically by how many followers they have.  If you are a teen, is your self-esteem affected by whether or not you have a large following?
  • The paradigm for forming friendships or building relationships on social media is not something that easily translates into the real world.  You can’t just knock on someone’s door, ask if there are any kids who live there, and suddenly become “friends.”  Yet, this is essentially what a lot of social media connections are based on. You find someone who may have one or more common interests, see if they seem interesting, and ask to be their friend.  Now, you may use that as the basis for later developing a friendship, but it’s a bit backwards of a model. Read more…

“Change” requires DOING something different

June 4, 2011

Do you ever find yourself in a situation that seems like a never-ending circular argument?  Sometimes it seems to me that our schools are stuck in a permanent state of “Who’s on First?”

There is so much talk about how schools want to improve their present circumstances.  They want their students to get better grades, achieve more in reading/math/science/technology. They want teachers to be happier and  more productive. They want bullying or other anti-social behavior to diminish. They want parents to be more involved and engaged in their children’s education.  The schools are full of wants and objectives…but what do they do with that?

It’s in the “do” that things fall apart.  You see, in order for things to be different in the schools, something has to change.  And, we all know that change is VERY hard. Even positive change.  And, for many schools, districts or administrations, change is virtually impossible. Here’s what happens when you suggest change to improve their present circumstances:

Before I get too far down the road here with generalizations (anyone who has read this blog for a while KNOWS I hate rubber-stamping everyone with the same label), let me just say that I KNOW this isn’t true of all schools, so please don’t be offended if you are one of the enlightened and inspired ones who is honestly striving to make a difference. But this blog is directed at those for whom the following conditions ring true. Read more…