Solid Business Principles, with special guest: Dr. Bret L. Simmons

We’re back after a very short break and  before we pick up where we left off, I want to recap real quickly. In the last post I was talking with Dr. Bret L. Simmons about his classes (projects) and how he manages them each semester. We also touched on what he tries to instill in his students and how he might fine tune from semester to semester. In this post, we’re going to talk about this transformational period we’re in right now when it comes to social media but first we hit on a very specific incident that I witnessed in one of his classes and it’s got some good stuff so let’s get straight to that.

Elton: “Okay, I might be getting off topic here but I was in your 720 class last spring and there was a point at the end of the semester where the final was put up on the screen (the class was being recorded) and there was the possibility of a screen shot being shared publically. What drove the decision to give everyone the same grade across the board with no exam as opposed to creating a new exam for the final?”

Bret: “You know, I was trying to be consistent with the principles I was teaching. Because, one of the core principles is fairness, justice. And a couple of students had notified me that the exam had been compromised, they had gone and seen it on the recording. So, if you had gone and seen the recording, you could see the whole exam.”

Elton: “Oh wow!”

Bret: “It was all there because I had scrolled through all the pages. And so, essentially, if I had given the same exam, some students would have had an unfair advantage. Which was one option. I could have lived with the fact that a few students had an unfair advantage. That would have advantaged some, but disadvantaged most.”

“The second option was to rewrite the exam totally. And with the principle of reliability, that would have disadvantaged the entire class. So, the only option that would advantage the entire class, was the one that disadvantaged me on the surface. And that was to just not give the exam.  That was the only way to be totally and completely fair to everyone was to say it was compromised and give everyone the complete score.”

Elton: “That’s interesting.”

Bret: “It was the only way to be utterly, completely, and totally fair. Any other choice, someone, at least one person would have felt slighted. And to me that just wasn’t acceptable because it was my mistake.”

Elton: “That solution is indeed in line with those principles that you were really driving in the class, the ones we had been talking about from the beginning. Now that I hear your version of it, it is dead on with what you …”

Bret: “… yep. It was the only thing to do. I thought through all the possible alternatives and really pretty quickly arrived at the conclusion that this is the only way to be fair to everyone is to just not give it.”

Elton: “Wow! I glad I brought this up because I think there are some important things that relate to the things that I deal with, the things that other project managers are dealing with on a day to day basis. And that is this consistency (I touch on consistency in another post with Sean Ostehagen). And that is such a powerful thing that I believe lacks and could be practiced in a much stronger fashion in a lot of business these days.”

Bret: “Well, it’s also very much a business principle. You know? If you make a mistake, the customer shouldn’t have to pay for it. I made the mistake, and in any other decision, at least one of my customers would have had to have paid for my mistake. So, the only way to do that, really, was to give the customer a freebie. The customer got a freebie on that one because I screwed up.”Clip #3

Elton: “And from that standpoint, it makes total sense. If you really relate it to, and I’m not saying this isn’t real world, but if you relate it to the outside world, practicality, it is clear, very clear.”

Bret: “Yeah, to me it’s just a solid business principle.”

Elton: “Good stuff. Well, I’d like up wrap up this interview with this. As you read in my interview with Mark Babbitt, I’ve really bought into this idea of being social. So, I’d like to ask how you’re trying to implement social not just into the 726 class, but into the other classes as well. Because I see that you’ve bought into all of this stuff, and there’s got to be a point at which you’re trying to convey some of this stuff to the other classes?”

Bret: “Actually no, I don’t try at all to bring social into my other two classes. I’ve been to a session at a professional meeting where they were talking about how they were trying to do that. How they made the whole class get on Twitter and have discussion groups. And to me that, that makes it very uncomfortable. To me, at its core, social should, in the education realm, should be voluntary. So, 720 and 722 are mandatory classes, therefore I will never force anyone into the social realm. Because some people will say ‘I just don’t want to do this, you shouldn’t force me to do it.’ And they are correct. So, I’m really uncomfortable in having social as an integrated part of every class. Except in that I’m social, I tweet stuff that’s related to my classes, I write about stuff that’s related to my classes. You’re welcome to find me online and engage with me online, but that’s all totally optional.”

Expert’s Input: There is a plethora of information online about whether or not we should be teaching social in the classroom and it’s probably as split down the middle as gay marriage was 10 years ago. But, ideas and attitudes are changing and in a piece titled: Should teachers be using social media in the classroom? the pros and cons are briefly evaluated by two different authors. In the pro category, Don Goble says: “Yet in most cases, students are not learning social media skills. Think about it: would you give the keys to a brand new Ferrari to a 13-year-old with no driving lessons and say, have fun? This is essentially what we are doing with social media.” I think there is a lot of validity there. I am myself just behind the wheel of my new “Ferrari” learning to drive under the guidance of this 726 program.

In the cons category, Gail Leicht says: “Other teachers have told me that students are actually participating less than they did a few years ago. And instead of encouraging them to share their thoughts, maybe we should be teaching them that no, they don’t have to share every thought.” This is another important point that I believe applies here and it ties directly in to the “pros” stated above. Teachers could be teaching what could be considered appropriate, and what is not. Teaching how to align their image on all platforms, and how to know when and when not to click that “friend” button. More on that “friend” concept later so let’s get back to it. We were talking about how Bret does and does not use social in his classrooms.

“For the class you’re taking, 726, it is not a mandatory class, it is an elective. In fact, at the undergraduate level I used to teach a required class that was social and I don’t teach that class anymore. If I am going to teach this class, it has to be pure elective so that people have an opportunity. And I try to tell you before you even ever walk into the class, I’ll send you an email stating that we’re getting ready to write blog posts, get on Facebook, Tweet, LinkedIn, and if you don’t want to do any of that, then don’t take the class. It’s entirely optional. And that’s the only way to approach it. You know, I teach it as an immersion experience. But, that is a voluntary immersing experience. So, my assumption is that at the beginning of the semester, everyone knows what their getting into and they’re volunteering for that.”

Elton: “And there are still, even a couple of weeks in, there were a few raised hands: ‘Well, what if I want to do it this way?’ And I’m thinking: ‘we’re you there for the first class?’ (Chuckle)”

Bret: “I said it pretty clearly in that first class, exactly like that! Because that’s how I hear it. Because three weeks in, like you said: ‘Well, what if I want to do it that way?’”

Elton: & Bret: “NO!” (Both laugh).

Bret: “That’s very purposeful on the first day because that’s what I typically hear three to four weeks in.”

Elton: “With this thing social, why do you feel it’s important for the students? And maybe in a broader sense, why is it so important to you?  Because I think that translates directly to the students.”

Bret: “Well, for a number of reasons. But, it is the most transformational change I have seen in my lifetime; we are living through a time of transformational change. These technologies and the things people are doing with them, as Clay Shirky says: ‘When the technology gets boring, the application gets interesting.’ We don’t think about all the software behind these things, we just take them for granted. Twitter works, this video chat program we’re now using works, Instagram, etc. We don’t worry how it works, we just worry about how we want to use it. And it’s radically transforming how people communicate which radically transforms so much of what we do, especially in business. So to me, it’s the practical lesson of immersing yourself in the experience. But then you also have a metacognitive evaluation of it. You don’t just go along for the ride, you step back and you think about: ‘Now what am I really doing?’

Elton: “Oh yeah! I’ve felt that!”

Bret: “And so, A World Gone Social was a great treatment of that. It was very much two steps back and saying: ‘Let’s just think about what’s really going on here.’ Which is one things I really appreciated about that book so much was it wasn’t just: ‘How do you do this’, A World Gone Social was two steps back saying: ‘All right, let’s look at the big picture, let’s look are what people are really doing. Let’s think where this is going and what the end game is and what this means.’ So, that is my huge lesson that I hope people won’t just be along for the ride because their lives are going to be like this for a long time. Don’t just go along for the ride, step back and look at what you’re doing and ask yourself some questions.”Social

“You know, the prime example was Facebook. Facebook uses this term ‘friend’ and we buy it hook line and sinker. We think: ‘Oh, it really is about friend.’ And yet, the metacognitive activity recognizes that’s just a word, it’s a word they selected. And if we interpret the word that they selected, then we allow them to govern our behavior. Just so simple, that a piece of technology governs our behavior when if you really stepped back and thought about it, you’re really not constrained by their interpretation of the word. When you click on that button, there’s just software that starts moving that connects one profile to another. So, you can totally reframe it as a tool, for your purposes, and not necessarily what they intended it for.”

Elton: “I understand about that taking a step back because this whole semester has been about me getting ready to hit that button. But also, at the same time, taking that step back and saying to myself: ‘Okay, this is really going out there, and once it’s out there I can’t take it back. Is this what I want to share? Is this in line with that brand that I’ve been trying to establish the whole semester long?’”

Bret: “And that’s one of the big questions in A World Gone Social is that it’s easier than ever to speak, but it kind of ups the ante on responsibility. You have to realize that you’re responsible and accountable for everything you say and do. And if you’re not comfortable with that, then don’t say it, and don’t do it.”

Elton: “On the inverse, this idea of stepping back and being responsible, being accountable for what you send out, this is also such a powerful tool to direct and to manage your life and in a right manner, and in an effective way. To get your voice out on these different platforms, I am really coming to appreciate more and more on a daily basis.”

Bret: “Well, you appreciate it more because you’re doing it, you didn’t just read a book about it. Again, the immersion experience is different than just reading about it.”

Elton: “Oh yeah! And this is truly immersion, I’ve referenced it as ‘Social Media Boot Camp’ a couple times to friends but …”

Bret: “… (Chuckles) that’s exactly what it is …”

Elton: “… I’ve said: ‘Take it, you will either love to hate it. Or, like me, you’ll hate that you’re loving it.’” (More laughter)

Bret: “That’s a good way to say it.”

Elton: “So, I don’t have anything else, I really appreciate you taking a brief amount of time from your day and I’ll see you in class on Tuesday.”

Bret: “Very cool, thank you.”

Well, that wraps up a glimpse into how this professor juggles multiple classes. Or, in my view, how this leader effectively manages multiple projects/businesses to the satisfaction of his clientele. We also got some insight into, like it or not, the social you’re engaging on in even reading this is. And how it’s radically changing the way we communicate. So, allow that metacognitive to step in more often, and remember that button that says “friend” has a more connected to it than those seven letters. Consciously take control of those clicks, you’ll be on the path to your own Social Ownership. I want to thank Dr. Bret for a great conversation regardless of the fact that I was in Hawaii while conducting the interview; technology is awesome!

Note: These last two posts were in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with other project managers and leaders from a WIDE variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.

Image credits: Sketch and photo by author


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