The week@work – A school for watchmakers, innovations in teaching, #OptOutside and other leadership stories

The theme of the past week@work was innovation: creating a school for those who work with their hands, teaching history through theater on Broadway, using video games to modernize MBA education and opting out to #OptOutside.

CBS News produced a segment on luxury brand watchmaker, Patek Philippe and the creation of a school for watchmakers in New York to meet a growing customer demand for craftsmanship in a digital age. “…the 175-year-old company decided to open its own watch school at its New York City offices.

Around 300 people applied; six were chosen. for their temperament as much as for their technical aptitude. So what personal characteristics does Patek Philippe look for in order to select students?

“We need people who are committed, so commitment is a big quality,” replied master watchmaker Laurent Junod, who heads the school. Plus, “Patience, of course.”

“We do a training program here that is two years long. But the learning is not finished. You have to learn all your life.”

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The program provides an alternative career for those who seek to work with their hands. “The school is free. Students are paid a small stipend to cover expenses.

Gaman Kwok had been tutoring elementary school kids. “If somebody told me that I will be training to be a watchmaker a year ago, I would, look at them like, ‘What? Really?'”

Juan Alonzo was working at a men’s clothing store. “I want to be as good as Laurent!” he said of his ambition.

At the end of the course — if they pass their exams — Patek Philippe will hire them. They’ll move on to a lifetime of silence, and precision, and learning.”

Do you think they get an employee discount?

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There is a play on Broadway about our founding fathers, one in particular, Alexander Hamilton. ‘Hamilton’ is a hip hop musical retelling of the story of an immigrant who rose to become a force in the building of a new nation. It is based on Ron Chernow’s 818 page biography published in 2004. How many eleventh graders do you think would read an 818 page biography? How many teachers could find the time to read the same?

Sounds like an opportunity to innovate. This week the producers and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a partnership to provide 20,000 New York City eleventh graders with a chance to attend a performance and continue the learning.“The curriculum will be put together by the nonprofit Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which plans to create a website with copies of the primary documents that undergird the book and lyrics, and teaching materials about Hamilton and the founding fathers. Students will be invited to create and share their own artistic responses to Hamilton’s life.”

Think about this – 20,000 students who probably have never had access to the lights of Broadway will now be sitting in orchestra seats for one of the most important and creative plays staged in recent memory. And, it’s about history.

“Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of “Hamilton,” said that he was frequently asked at the stage door how the show, which is both costly to attend and often sold out, could be made more accessible to young people, and he said finding a way to do that has been a priority for him. Mr. Miranda, 35, is a graduate of the Hunter College elementary and high schools for gifted students in New York City.

“If we can excite curiosity in students, there’s no telling what can happen next,” he said. “Not to say we’re going to make 1,300 history majors or 1,300 musical theater writers every time we do the show, but hopefully they will take away how much Hamilton did with his life in the time that he had.”

No telling what can happen next..

Shane Ferro, business journalist for the Huffington Post reported on a new video game, ‘One Day’, being developed for MBA students at the Hult International Business School.

“While it is now fairly common for video games to teach elementary concepts — spelling, basic math, typing — higher education has more or less resisted encroaching technology up to this point. Until recently, higher-level concepts have been harder to program because there may be more than one right answer. “One Day,” which its creators say is the first game of its kind, poses some fairly new questions about learning in the digital age and the role of the professor in a modern classroom.

“I’ve been a business school professor for 30 years,” said John Beck, whose educational consulting company, North Star Leadership Group, developed “One Day.” He lamented that most MBA programs rely on teaching methods honed decades before the personal computing revolution. “For 30 years I’ve been thinking the system is so broken. The case studies model dates from the 1920s, and the lecture model from the 1850s.”

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The day after Thanksgiving, previously known as ‘Black Friday’, now carries a new hashtag courtesy of the leadership team at retailer REI. #OptOutside is a campaign to encourage folks to leave the shopping behind, enjoy the outdoors and share their experience on social media.

“REI is hoping to convince consumers to start a new Black Friday tradition, one that doesn’t involve buying anything. It has built a dedicated #OptOutside website with resources on local hiking trails. REI’s campaign was built with its employees and customers in mind — the company operates as a co-op, with roughly 5.5 million members who pay a one-time fee for a share of the business. Members contribute to at least 80% of REI’s sales.

The decision to close on Black Friday is bold in an industry that has practically made the day a mandatory part of business, not only because customers demand it, but because the bottom line often does, too. The holiday shopping season is the biggest, and most competitive, time of year for retailers, with Black Friday at the center of the hoopla.”

And while we are on the subject of leadership, here are two articles you might find interesting:

‘Giving More Corporate Chiefs the Steve Jobs Treatment’ Nitin Nohira “I worry that we’re too quick to forget the accomplishments of great business leaders, and that if the people leading companies felt some solace that their long-term legacies might warrant a more careful evaluation, as is now occurring around Steve Jobs, they might make very different decisions.”

‘How Not to Flunk at Failure’ John Danner & Mark Coopersmith “Failure is a strategic resource. Like the people you employ, the money you spend or the facilities and technologies you use, it has unique intrinsic value if you’re open and wise enough to manage it as such. Treat it like unrefined ore that needs to be processed and examined to reveal its riches. Failure is reality’s way of showing you what you don’t yet know, but need to learn. It contains the seeds of precisely the insight you’ve been looking for, if you have the honesty and humility to explore those secrets.”

The Saturday Read – ‘Shop Class As Soulcraft’ – Matthew Crawford

What can you do with a degree in philosophy? Matthew Crawford received his PhD in political philosophy from the University of Chicago in 2000. After a series of jobs as a ‘knowledge worker’ he created a career that combined philosophy, writing and custom motorcycle maintenance. Drawing from his personal journey, he wrote about the value of work and producing tangible results. His book, ‘Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work’, was published in 2009.

In a New York Times Magazine essay he argued ‘The Case for Working With Your Hands’.

“A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.”

He provides the historical context to explain how we got to where we are today.

“High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass. To begin with, such work often feels more enervating than gliding. More fundamentally, now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses.”

Contrasting his experience at a policy organization with his part-time experience tearing down an old Honda motorcycle under the guidance of an experienced tradesman: “As I sat in my K Street office, Fred’s life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun.”

He then considers the broader implications to our society when the best and the brightest are channeled into elite institutions bypassing an apprenticeship in problem solving in the world of grease and dirt.

“The visceral experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the career trajectories of gifted students. It stands to reason, then, that those who end up making big decisions that affect all of us don’t seem to have much sense of their own fallibility, and of how badly things can go wrong even with the best of intentions (like when I dropped that feeler gauge down into the Ninja). In the boardrooms of Wall Street and the corridors of Pennsylvania Avenue, I don’t think you’ll see a yellow sign that says “Think Safety!” as you do on job sites and in many repair shops, no doubt because those who sit on the swivel chairs tend to live remote from the consequences of the decisions they make. Why not encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country?”

He remains optimistic as he concludes the essay: “The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels… For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.”

Enjoy the Saturday read, ‘Shop Class As Soulcraft’.

A 19th century poem of work

When we think of work today, it’s often disconnected from manual labor and rarely would we describe it in song. Six years ago, author Matthew Crawford wrote of his experience leaving a white collar position to follow his dream, working with his hands.

“Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive.”

He concluded: “The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.”

With that in mind, the 19th century Whitman poem follows below in which workers express “the experience of individual agency” in song, “Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else..”

‘I Hear America Singing’

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman, 1819 – 1892