Happy Thanksgiving

My wife and I just celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary, and we are in the process of planning the wedding for our daughter and her fiancé next November. How did we get here? It was just a few years ago that we were married and a few years after that we raised our children. Where has the time gone?

We recently received an anniversary card from a dear friend that included the following reflection by Penny Schwab, entitled, “What Makes Love Last”:

For our golden wedding anniversary, my husband, Don, gave me a card with a picture of a cat hugging a dog. The caption read, “Weird, but it works.” That phrase summarized our day.

First, the vacuum cleaner broke. Then the pressure switch on the water system got stuck. My phone died and took all my contact information with it. We spent the day solving problems. Finally, we ate our anniversary dinner in the car – hamburgers and French fries at our favorite fast-food place – and enjoyed it!

As I thought about the “celebration,” I realized Don’s card also summed up the years of our marriage. We like different thing, and we disagree about money and politics. I love mysteries, and he only reads nonfiction. My idea of a great vacation is Disney World and he prefers fishing. He roots of Oklahoma State’s basketball team while I’m a true Kansas Jayhawker. Our personalities are different, too, but we make a good team. I appreciate Don’s calmness and the way it balances my tendency to panic. He’s even-tempered and always has a positive attitude – attributes I’m still working to develop.

We’re happy together because we love each other and God. We’ve learned to rely on God’s amazing grace to handle not only our differences but the many times when everything goes wrong. It’s weird, but it works.

I don’t know that my wife and I are so different as Penny describes – I don’t fish and like Disney World as does my wife – but it is true that we have our differences, and in many ways, they complement each other. We have learned over the years to be more open-minded and to talk through those “tense moments.” And I believe that we have become stronger in our marriage and in our individual selves to be able to be present for our children, family members, and friends.

In a world and country that seems so divided around issues and about fundamental beliefs, my Thanksgiving prayer is that we can find ways to come together in peace to give thanks to our God for all of creation – that with which we can identify, and those parts that require empathy and compassion to understand and accept.

May you and your family enjoy a Thanksgiving that is filled with wonderful reunions, particularly with those who, perhaps, may share different ideas and thoughts that could set us apart, but instead cause us to dialog and learn a perspective we may or may not respectfully embrace.

Autumn Prayer

It has been summer-like weather for quite a few days this autumn, until recently, when the chill in the air and the wind scattering the fallen leaves have signaled that the seasons are changing. Summer is giving way to a time when nature sheds many of its blooms, only to return with the longer, warmer days of Spring. This life cycle is a hopeful reminder to us about renewal and new life, as our school community mourns the loss of Anthony Penna ’19 and gratefully welcomes the return to school of Gabrielle ’20, his sister. Never has Archmere felt more united as a community of faith as we did in the hours, days, and weeks after the tragic accident that occurred on the morning of September 29th. Administrators, students, and parents of many other area schools were in contact with us at Archmere and with the Penna Family, offering messages of support and prayers, cards and flowers. We are truly grateful to all who have supported the Penna Family and our students and members of our school community.

We continue to have faith in God and the promise of everlasting life made real by the resurrection of Jesus. We pray in the weeks, months, and years ahead for the wisdom and strength to manage our many challenges that may be a part of our journey.

At a recent meeting that I attended, we prayed the following “Autumn Prayer” by Peter Jarret, C.S.C. I share in the same spirit of community that continues to unify and shape us.

God of all creation, you give us the gift of seasons to mark our journey through time.

The season of autumn, with its changes of colors and falling leaves reminds us that sometimes things must die and fall away for new life to arise.

Such is the message of the cross –

That through death to self we find life in all its richness.

In those moments when we experience setbacks or failures,

Help us to remember that you are with us always,

And that there is no failure or sin your love cannot heal.

Help us to trust in you and in your promise of new life.

 Amen.

Personal Innovation

One of the books on my summer reading list was The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. The authors analyzed multiple organizations in an effort to study why innovations succeeded or failed. I thought this would be timely reading material in light of the Academy beginning a new strategic planning cycle, and with it, potentially new and innovative ideas that might be developed. However, the more I read, the more I realized that the successful processes of innovation the authors described could be applied to students’ learning, as well. I shared the following thoughts with the faculty and staff during our professional days in August.

Govindarajan and Trimble developed the simple formulas: Innovation = Ideas + Process; and Process = Leader + Team + Plan. They also devoted many pages of their book to the role of a dedicated team of people who need to be assigned to innovative, non-routine tasks. This team is most effective when its members work collaboratively and in coordination with others who continue to perform the routine tasks of the organization. The authors explain that this necessary partnership creates sustainable innovation through a single organizational plan. Hence, innovation requires adequate resources, and also needs to somehow coordinate with the status quo – the day-to-day business at hand.

Adapting this model to an individuals’ sense of balance between innovation and the daily routine, one must be able to set aside time and other personal resources to innovate, while at the same time, continue with daily responsibilities, tasks, and demands. Harry Kraemer, in his TedTalk on leadership comments that daily self-reflection is critical to understanding the difference between our activity and our productivity. He poses the question, “We can be busy multi-tasking all day, but has all the activity produced the results that matter and that we value?” So, it might be that the first step to personal innovation is to assess the value of all the activities in which we are currently engaged to determine if we can eliminate any or be more efficient about them so that we have time to be innovative.

Govindarajan and Trimble suggest running a disciplined experiment to determine the success of our innovation or an enhanced productivity. They suggest documenting a single, clear hypothesis, then determine what can be learned from the outcomes. For example, if the end results are low outcomes, are they a result of poor execution or too high predictions indicating potentially poor assumptions? In other words, accountability in some measurable way is an essential and valuable piece of the innovation process that is made up of three components: Results = Did you deliver? Actions = Did you execute? and Learning = Did you follow a rigorous learning process?

If there was a time for an innovative spirit to take hold to rebuild communities and individuals’ lives, it is now. In the last few weeks, the natural disasters around the globe and particularly in the Caribbean, Texas, and Florida seem overwhelming. Along with the stories of devastation are stories of hope, compassion, and heroism. It seems that at the darkest moments, the human spirit triumphs. In the last few days, students, parents, and other members of the Archmere community have been organizing responses to help those affected by these tragic events. While we sometimes feel helpless and inadequate in responding to victims’ immediate needs, we, as a faith community, can immediately offer our prayers. And organized prayer can be very powerful. I ask you to commit to daily prayer particularly for the people affected by the hurricanes.

As we begin a new school year, perhaps preoccupied with nature’s catastrophic events, may we all use our time together to be innovative, and in doing so become better persons who are more self-aware of our place in the world, enjoying the work we are called to do in response to the needs of those around us.