Our Collective Genius

“Good” leaders take charge and set the course for their organizations, or so some textbooks would have you believe. That might work for making widgets, but for education and partnerships? Not so much. The work we do in ISU Extension and Outreach requires a bit more give and take from all of us, particularly if we’re interested in innovating. Innovation is the creation of something both new and useful. It doesn’t necessarily stem from the “good” leadership model in which people follow the vision of their leader and do what they are told. Instead, leading innovation requires creating conditions for good things to happen.

Authors Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback call this “collective genius.” (See their article in Harvard Business Review.) It occurs when companies – or organizations – develop their ability to innovate. But it doesn’t just happen; it takes work. To be innovative, the authors say, an organization has to develop three capabilities:

  • creative abrasion – the ability to generate ideas through discourse and debate, allowing for collaboration;
  • creative agility – which enables discovery-driven learning, being able to test and experiment through quick pursuit, reflection, and adjustment; and
  • creative resolution – the ability to make decisions that combine disparate and sometimes opposing ideas.

There’s one more crucial piece to creating collective genius: People who want to make good things happen. People who are willing to generate and try new ideas. And as we say in the Extension Professional’s Creed, people who believe in their work and in the opportunity they have to make their lives useful to humanity. In ISU Extension and Outreach it’s about people – and our collective genius – working and partnering for a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter.

Stay Curious

A few weeks ago Lyn Brodersen, our assistant vice president for Organizational Development, welcomed junior high and high school students who’d come to campus for the State Science and Technology Fair of Iowa. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks.

Continue exploring science as you prepare for your career. The basic principles of scientific investigation — experimentation, shaping hypotheses, testing theories — are the foundation for formal education and the world of work. When I was your age, I was fascinated by botany, biology, math, and languages. Those topics encouraged me, as a college student, to engage in history and education, and to share the knowledge I had found with those around me. I explored literature, philosophy, and political science as well. Ultimately, the thing that bound these differing interests together was curiosity.

What changed for me along the way? The complexity of the problems with which I grappled. The culture and habits of the people around whom I lived. The context with which I approached issues and problems. What never changed? The fact that I was curious. I never wanted to stop hypothesizing, experimenting, proving, learning, and sharing. Because the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education. The ability to think, share, create, imagine, talk with other people, and solve problems for the benefit of all is a gift of infinite value.

Take advantage of your interest in science. Make it apply to other interests as well. Don’t stop experimenting, learning, and creating. Don’t stop sharing your dreams and approaches with others. And, above all, maintain your curiosity about our world for the rest of your life.

Lyn’s advice is appropriate for all of us. We should always believe in our ability to learn – and stay curious. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter.

What We Really Cultivate

Spring field work can turn an extension professional’s thoughts to cultivation – and I’m not just talking about our agriculture and natural resources specialists. Though some of us in ISU Extension and Outreach regularly focus on tillage and planting, all of us should be centered on a much bigger and more important crop – the people of Iowa. Our real job is to cultivate an educated and informed citizenry.

Upon signing the Morrill Act, President Abraham Lincoln said, “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support, and their confidence.” Ever since the first students arrived on the Iowa State campus in 1869, ever since the extension idea took shape in Sioux County in 1903, and ever since counties began organizing for extension work in 1912, Iowans have looked to the land-grant mission to guide their education and partnerships.

We can provide technical training and increase competency – that’s the easy part. (Iowa State’s motto is “science with practice” after all.) But while training and competency are important, they are not enough. Likewise, we can spur scientific and technological innovations, which also are important, but still not enough. We need people who can make wise decisions about how to use these innovations and knowledge in ways that grow our economy, enhance our world, and enrich our lives. When we cultivate educated and informed Iowans, we are building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

What Extension and Outreach Means to Us

What does it mean to you, personally, to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach? I asked that question of the leadership team recently and I’d like to share some of their answers.

To Debra Sellers, associate dean and director of Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, being part of ISU Extension and Outreach means “to engage with others in a shared vision of empowering people and growing lives, to contribute to a legacy that is larger than just myself, and to have a little fun along the way.”

Our budget analyst, John Flickinger, says, “I have the privilege to provide assistance to program leaders and staff so they can focus on educational and training opportunities for the citizens and communities of Iowa, our nation, and our world – opportunities that will enable youth, adults, business owners, and community leaders to make better choices for themselves, their families, and their overall lives. Even though my role is ‘indirect support,’ knowing the end product and our mission for ISU Extension and Outreach is what brings fulfillment to me.”

According to John Lawrence, associate dean and director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach, “There is not just one thing, but rather many things that it means to me. Being part of ISU Extension and Outreach allows me to serve agriculture and Iowa. I get to participate and to make a difference. Being part of ISU Extension and Outreach allows me to work with and earn the respect of great people as colleagues and clients. I’m proud to be part of an organization that has and continues to impact people, policy, and the planet.”

Bob Dodds, assistant vice president for County Services, says, “Through education, ISU Extension and Outreach improves the lives of Iowans. I work for ISU Extension and Outreach because of this, but equally important, I learn each day with those we serve. I appreciate the opportunity to be innovative and create, and the opportunities are endless. I know firsthand the impact the land-grant mission has had on my life, my family, and my community. To be a part of the Iowa State land-grant mission is very rewarding. I truly believe the land-grant mission is as relevant today as it was when Lincoln signed the Morrill Act.”

We all could provide our own answers about what it means to be part of ISU Extension and Outreach. Take a moment to ask a colleague and be sure to ask yourself. It’s all good food for thought as we continue building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter.

Strong Iowa State University, Strong Iowa

This week as we wrap up from Annual Conference and look ahead to Extension and Outreach Week 2016, I’m happy to share a guest blog message from Iowa State University President Steven Leath:

LeathWhile I was proud to report back in fall 2015 that Iowa State was a campus of exactly 36,001, our university community is much larger than that. That’s because ISU Extension and Outreach faculty, staff, council members, volunteers, and partners are an essential part of Iowa State.

You ensure that our education and research extend well beyond the walls of Iowa State and our campus in Ames. You help translate our research and our knowledge beyond the classroom and the lab. You ensure our science-based solutions and our resources are accessible and understandable. You partner with communities to help families become healthier, happier, and more financially secure. You partner with businesses to help them expand, create jobs, and become more profitable. You partner with farmers to help them become more innovative, sustainable, and efficient. And you partner with young Iowans to prepare them for future success through youth programs like 4-H.

Partnerships are at the very foundation of how we will move our university, our communities, and our state forward. Right now, we’re developing Iowa State’s new 5-year Strategic Plan to position the university for excellence in education, research, economic development, and service to Iowans, while ensuring we provide a safe, inclusive environment. From the very beginning, I’ve said that I want Iowa State to be known as the “partnership university.” By fostering new partnerships, we’ll be able to achieve our goals – sharing knowledge and expertise, leveraging resources, gaining exposure to different perspectives, developing a greater appreciation for diversity, and ultimately leaving our university and our state in a stronger position for the next generation.

Extension and Outreach is changing lives every day, in every county, so I offer this challenge: Work to become a more innovative, flexible, and agile partner. Connect with those outside your college, community, or area of expertise. Embrace diverse ideas and new perspectives, and become demand-driven by listening more as you develop original, science-based solutions. Your big ideas and your ability to take bold action to implement those ideas is how, together, we will create a strong Iowa State and a strong Iowa!

See you there (and Go, Cyclones!).

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter.

Our Greatest Asset

Showing new Iowans how to buy, eat, and live healthy; helping entrepreneurs start their own businesses; assisting farm families as they transition their operation from one generation to the next: These are wonderful examples of how ISU Extension and Outreach is harnessing the resources of our university to build a strong Iowa. At our annual conference yesterday we began sharing our #STRONGIOWA stories. We have so many compelling examples of the importance of education and partnerships. These stories demonstrate our commitment to excellence, access, community, and engagement. We all need to share our stories so people understand the private and public good of our work in ISU Extension and Outreach.

As President Leath pointed out yesterday, serving as a 99 county campus requires a strong university, connecting Iowans from river to river and border to border. That is why we have expanded ISU Extension and Outreach into all ISU colleges, developed programs like the Rising Stars Internship and our new Data Center, and established our Engaged Scholarship Funding Program. Today, we are in a solid position to enhance the university through building capacity for extension and engagement. Five years ago we made a commitment to rebuilding a strong ISU Extension and Outreach. Because we made and carried through on that commitment, now we are in a position to work in partnership with the people of this state – to build a strong Iowa.

One of the keys to our success these past five years has been the investment in our greatest asset – our people. For those of you among the nearly 500 who came to Hilton yesterday, thank you for coming and I hope you felt enriched and valued. I know I walked away with a few ideas percolating around in my head: Napoleon’s regret, understanding more about the larger land-grant family through Carrie Billy, Iowa trivia, and my favorite, from Chris Bashinelli, “I thought I was here to change the world, now I know the world is here to change me.”

The progress we’ve made within ISU Extension and Outreach during the past five years is the direct result of the dedication and talent of all of you – the many people who make up our system, including faculty, staff, council members, and volunteers. Our strength is our team, our collaborations, and dedication to our mission. “We believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith; in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions…I believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have to make my life useful to humanity”*

See you there.

— Cathann

*From the Extension Professionals’ Creed

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. Remember to use #STRONGIOWA and share your stories on Twitter. For a glimpse at what happened at Annual Conference, search social media under #STRONGIOWA.

A Nugget of Pride

In 1965 astronaut Ed White, on the Gemini 4 mission, became the first American to conduct a spacewalk. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and over 2,500 others were arrested in Selma, Alabama, during demonstrations against voter-registration rules. The last link was placed in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. And here in Iowa, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was established and Marilyn Walker was hired as an office professional with ISU Extension and Outreach in Monroe County. Essentially, Marilyn’s career has spanned nearly half of our organization’s existence and she will be recognized for her 50 years of service during our ISU Extension and Outreach Awards Ceremony and Reception March 8. We’ll be honoring Marilyn along with other extension professionals who have reached the 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5 years-of-service milestones. What a tremendous legacy of service for our fellow Iowans.

People sometimes ask me what I’m proud of in ISU Extension and Outreach. Well, I’m proud that we have dedicated faculty and staff throughout the state – like Marilyn and all the others being recognized for their length of service. I’m proud that people are committed to ISU Extension and Outreach for the long haul, and I’m proud that new people continue to join the ranks of our extension professionals. I’m also proud of the faculty, staff, and council members who will be receiving awards for their programming, partnerships, innovation, creativity, scholarship, engagement, achievement, and impact – and for demonstrating the Spirit of Cy. But here’s the nugget of pride for me: I’m proud to be part of an organization full of people who daily choose to see possibility rather than just succumbing to the status quo. People who are eager to explore ways to serve their fellow Iowans and ensure our state and communities are able to sustain and thrive.

Most of all, I’m proud of the work that we all do together in ISU Extension and Outreach, because I’ve seen firsthand the impact on the communities and people of Iowa. I’m enormously proud to be part of an institution that values this work for the public good and sees its role as fulfilling a partnership with our citizens. We all can be proud that together we are building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. The ISU Extension and Outreach Awards Ceremony and Reception will begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8 at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Because We’re People

Those who know me know that I read a lot – books, blogs, cereal boxes – you name it, I’ll read it. You never know where the next good idea will come from – particularly if it has something to do with education. (It’s hard to stop being an education professor). In one of the blogs I follow, I read about Joan Murphy and her school’s use of the “Responsive Classroom.” Murphy, a K-5 school counselor, explained that this research-based approach to teaching is based on the idea that the social side of education is as important as the academic side. Murphy shared the example of a new student who asked, “Why is everyone so nice here?” The teacher answered, “Who we learn with is as important as what we learn. It’s important to show that we care about each other.” In a responsive classroom, the greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.

As I read through the guiding principles, I thought about how they could apply in extension and engagement work. When I replaced the word children with people, and the reference to teachers with extension professionals, they seemed a pretty good fit.

  • How people learn is as important as what they learn.
  • To be successful academically and socially, people need to learn and practice a specific set of social skills: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  • Knowing the people we teach individually, culturally, and developmentally is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  • Knowing the families of the people we teach is as important as knowing the people we teach.
  • How we, extension professionals, work together is as important as our individual competence.

I’ve said many times that our work isn’t just about creating access to education, our work is about people. Because we’re people and our clients and partners are people. The education and experiences we provide and the interactions we share work together to build a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can read Joan Murphy’s article, “The Responsive Classroom: ‘Why Is Everyone So Nice Here?’” in Edutopia.  You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

It’s Still about People

As our nation has been commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday and numerous events this month, 41 people from across all of ISU Extension and Outreach gathered together to begin developing a diversity and inclusion strategic plan to guide our work in building a strong Iowa. On behalf of our whole system, I expressed my appreciation to these colleagues for their willingness to take on this challenge and provide this much needed leadership.

Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but there’s a reason we do what we do in ISU Extension and Outreach. We want a strong Iowa. That’s why we partner with the people of Iowa and harness the resources of our university. We want all communities and farmers to thrive. We want all families and children to be healthy. And eventually we want to turn the world over to everyone in the next generation better than we found it. We want to best serve Iowans, no matter their location or need.

Our legacy in Iowa is forward-thinking people – people ahead of their time, people determined to make life better for others, people who want to make a difference. Within ISU Extension and Outreach, we also are committed to creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and safe. So we must constantly review, evaluate, and improve our practices and our processes. And we must remove any barriers that may get in the way.

We’ve asked our diversity and inclusion strategic planning team to focus on the next three years. They are thinking about how we can embody diversity and inclusion in our programs, practices, and people. They also are considering how to help faculty and staff see that their individual actions contribute to our collective effort. Although the team is leading the strategic planning effort, we all need to thoughtfully address these issues.

Extension and Outreach is a 99-county campus. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how diverse cultures can work in partnership to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Our work isn’t just about creating access to education, our work is about people. See you there.

– Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Do Things Which Count

I recently learned some interesting extension history from my friend and fellow extension director over in Kansas, Daryl Bucholz. He asked me if our regional director Alan Ladd had ever shared the story of the re-discovery of The Extension Worker’s Code after years of it being somewhat forgotten.

The Extension Worker’s Code, Extension Bulletin No. 33, was published by the Division of College Extension at Kansas State Agricultural College in February 1922, and there’s a great deal of wisdom packed into the booklet’s 20 pocket-sized pages. Author T.J. Talbert covered everything from basic decorum – arriving promptly, dressing appropriately, and not smoking on the job – to building relationships and reaching as many people as possible with research-based educational programs.

Daryl shared that a doctor and his son were restoring their old stone house on the west side of Manhattan and up in the attic found a stash of extension publications, including The Extension Worker’s Code. The doctor knew Alan and presented him with the treasures. When Alan gave a program on the principles in the booklet, Daryl told him that they needed to reprint the publication and get it back into circulation to remind everyone of these important principles of extension work. Many of his colleagues know that Daryl carries this small booklet with him, so I asked him what the code means to him.

“With all the changes that have taken place in technology, transportation, communication over the past 100 years, human connection and relationships remain constant,” Daryl replied. “To become a trusted source. Also, the principles of planning, implementing, evaluating, and reporting were all cited in this 1922 publication! It carries such a great message of extension’s foundational principles, and is a simple, fun read. I carry it in my computer bag all the time. I present a copy of it to our new employees, and tell them I expect they will read it!”

At one time all the USDA CSREES workforce was provided a copy. When Rajiv Shah was REE under-secretary and chief scientist, he carried copies with him when travelling the world. Daryl learned of that when he received a call from Dennis Kopp, USDA – CSREES, asking if they could send more copies because Dr. Shah had given his last copy to a minister of agriculture in an African nation as they were talking about taking the research to the people and the need for extension.

Daryl said he finds it useful to reference with people asking about “the why or how of extension.” Much has changed, but many foundational elements of our ability to know and serve the people have not changed, and T.J. Talbert captured those principles so well in his description of how to be successful as an extension professional. It’s a great reminder and refresher from time to time, simply thumbing through the topical headings and then reading a paragraph or two.

While there are great sections throughout, Daryl and I recommend our favorite sections which start on page 15: Have a Vision, Keep Your Eye on the Big Things, Do the Things Which Will Count, and Finish What You Start. Great advice for all extension professionals in being successful in our work. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. The Extension Worker’s Code is available online from K-State Research and Extension.