It’s time to step up and defend comfort zones. (Join the crusade.) – SCN Encourager

What’s so horrible about comfort zones, anyway?

I mean, really?

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-15-47-pmAnd don’t tell me you’ve never wondered about this.

After all, how many times have we seen this kind of visual?

Lot of times, right?

We never see anything that advises us to stay put where we are.

That is, until now.


Most of the successful innovations today are actually just incredible improvements (or extensions) of things or processes which already existed.

History shows the majority of our innovations didn’t pop up out of thin air.

They arose out of someone’s knowledge, imagination, and inner discontent with his or her comfort zone.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-10-47-47-pmIt’s a fact.

Innovators don’t bust out of their comfort zones like prison escapees.

They use the tools and resources within their reach to re-think, re-purpose, re-direct, and re-engineer.

They don’t flee to points unknown when there are already many things which can be envisioned and reconsidered in totally brand new ways.

Have you ever thought that simply creatively and productively moving about within your own comfort zone is actually the “road less travelled?”

Could be, you know.

I just think that innovators, learners, and school communicators need more comfort zones, not fewer.

Sure, I could be wrong.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-09-11-pmBut I hope I’m not.

Especially since comfort zones also come along with their own comfort food.

That’s a big big plus in my book!

So please consider showing some extra love to all of those comfort zones you’ll run across the rest of this week, including your own.

I’ll try, too.

But I can’t say I’m in my comfort zone these days as much as I’d like.

I’m usually in someone’s dog house.

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Victories by the Lions & Cubbies. The Ohio State upset. (The meaning of it all.) – SCN Encourager

School communicators already know the primo lesson of the weekend.

It can’t be ignored.

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-7-36-10-pmMiracles happen.

Yes, they do!

What was previously preordained (AKA predicted or assumed) suddenly no longer holds true.

Even if it’s just for a few days.

That’s how it is with many of  life’s pleasant pop-ups.

And this weekend’s events have special meaning for us because I believe school communicators view them from a unique vantage point.

Now, mind you, I’m not talking about us getting all hot and bothered about the game scores of our favorite sports teams, even though it might look this way.

(But I do this way more than I should, I know.)

I’m talking about how we approach what we do most everyday –
… striving to implement “systemic” certainty,
… responding to unanticipated flare-ups,
… and recognizing the many mini-miracles taking place in our midst.

And most of the time, we publicize the stories of our schools in the exact same order –
… how we strive to implement “systemic” certainty (curriculum, procedures, testing),
… how we respond to unanticipated flare-ups (crisis and emergencies),
… and how we recognize the many mini-miracles taking place in our midst (those moments of wonder).

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-7-41-00-pmThe challenge we now face is this, as this weekend’s events and their connected buzz remind us – is to flip-flop the time and attention we typically give to our day-in and day-out school stories.

Maybe we’re underwhelming when we should be miracle-mining.

We’d help our cause immensely if we intentionally moved the stories about the mini-miracles in our schools to the front of the publicity line, well ahead of our routine run-down of the planned, scheduled, budgeted, powerpointed, and mandated.

People are obviously drawn to miracle moments.

We need to make sure they see and hear ours.

And we’ve got plenty of them, don’tcha think?

Far more than just a weekend’s worth.

So… as wonderful as the last few days were for Lions’ fans, Cubbie die-hards, and Buckeye foes, I think we’re all in environments where we can do even better.

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-7-47-25-pmIt’s Monday.

There’s a brand new week ahead.

And we’re right where we need to be.

How cool is that?

There are miracles all around us if we just keep our eyes open.

You should know, though, I can only hold up my end of the bargain with only one eye.

I’ve got to keep one eye on the Red Wings tomorrow to see if they can extend their winning streak.


When it comes to miracles, I tend to get greedy.

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Listen up. Look out. (And yeah, I guess I missed something.) – SCN Encourager

Do you remember last week’s cautionary tale?

Personally, I thought it was brilliant.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-38-23-pmI reminded all of us to not go overboard with “attentive listening” at the expense of “mindful observing.”

Using your ears may be good, but using your eyes to note actual real-world behavior may be more beneficial.

Here it is.

Like I said, I thought it was brilliant.

Unfortunately my glowing self-assessment was a big-time over-reach.

(Did you know the former pop song “Oops. I did it again” was about me?)

Apparently though, we need to do more than just listen up and look out in our work as school communicators.

And this quote from Mark Twain (thanks to a reader) pretty well sums it up.












Now I don’t know what to tell you.

But dang, my moment of brilliance sure didn’t last very long, did it?

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There’s a lot to be learned from the New England Patriots – SCN Encourager

But I’m changing things up at the last second today

And why not?

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-7-06-22-pmJust like a quarterback sizing up the playing field right before the snap, can’t I call a quick “audible” at the line of scrimmage whenever I want?

Cindy says I can.

Just that I should call what I’m doing for what it really is – “taking a mulligan.”

 I intended to write about a podcast I heard last week.

The show guest was an author who had written a book on SUCCESS.

He had interviewed dozens of real-world leaders and game-changers and his bottom line summary intrigued me; that individual and organizational success is always rooted in a definitive and disciplined system.

He said it’s a simple equation.

Success = A Clear System

I was looking forward to writing about the impressive record of the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady, and head coach Bill Belichick.

They employ a consistent approach to the game of football – a system – that is unrivaled in the NFL.

I’m sure I would’ve had you spellbound.

But now we’ll never know.
(Okay, we kinda do…)

Then two days ago I went to a noon-hour funeral.

A friend’s mother died at age 91 and I wanted to be there, even if just to sit in the back of the church.

Paul’s mother was one of the most cheerful, caring, and supportive individuals I’ve ever known.

At the designated moment in the service, Paul’s older brother went to the podium in the front to read the scripture his mother had selected herself just two weeks ago.

It was one of her favorites.

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-7-05-35-pm“It’s fitting I read from my mom’s bible,” he began. “I haven’t seen this in years. You all can probably see how taped up and marked up it is. This thing is really old.

“And when I opened it this morning to bookmark the verses for today, I could tell how precious this book was to my mom. I was amazed by how many little notes and scribbles she managed to store within it.

“There was note in her handwriting that I found especially interesting.

“I couldn’t help noticing this old dog-eared card my mom had written to herself.

“It reads,

Remember –

… to locate the blessings that are there,

… to see how you’re challenged to do better,

… to discover who needs to be in your prayers today,

… and to set your attitude for the day accordingly.”

And then Paul’s older brother said,

“And now let’s listen to one of my mom’s most cherished scriptures… keeping in mind the system that seemed to work so well for her.”


At this point, I knew I’d have an inner battle ever trying to write about success and using football and the New England Patriots as an example.

It was slowly dawning on me that Paul’s mom had a winning system, too.

And it also dawned on me that I’d better rush home right after the funeral before returning to work and scuff up my own bible a bit.

Life is short and you never know.

I could just envision my younger brother going up to the front of the church to read a scripture at MY funeral and say:

“I’m now going to read from Tom’s bible at this time. Please bear with me for a few minutes while I take it out of the box it came in, remove the cellophane wrap, and peel off the price tag.” 

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There’s nothing sad about today. (Except for Sad Fact #5) – SCN Encourager

Thanks for grinding through all five Sad Facts this week.

I thought I should tell you this right from the get-go.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-8-44-55-pmCindy’s probably right.

I have an incredible knack for plunging pell-mell into wrong assumptions.

Just because something’s a struggle for me (AKA a Sad Fact) doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bothered by it.

She asked if any of my Sad Facts struck a nerve with “invisible friends.”

I told her I didn’t know.

Because when it comes to sharing Sad Facts about school PR, most of us take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-00-59-pmIt’s in our DNA to be upbeat and positive.
(Or at least in our morning coffee.)

But dang.

I sure wish Cindy would’ve brought this all up before last night.

It’s a little late in the game for me to scrap Sad Fact #5, don’tcha think?
(And that’s a rhetorical question. If you screamed “yes,” I didn’t hear you.)

But on my little island of one, I’ve benefitted from each and every Sad Fact.

•  #1 (Monday) – As we grow older, we tend to disavow and doubt our inner artist, even though we need more creativity, not less.

•  #2 (Tuesday) – A personal “I help ___ reach ____ even though ______.” mantra systemwide beats the heck out of the typical organization mission statement.

•  #3 (Wednesday) – We are continually reminded to be attentive listeners, but rarely reminded to watch what people do.

•  #4 (Yesterday) – Sometimes we forget to bring a “sense of possibility” to the school leadership table.

Sad Fact #5 today presents a significant challenge as well.

In reviewing a recommended list of 30 power words to use for writing more emotionally appealing and effective headlines, I discovered something shocking.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-9-56-23-pmI don’t have a word use gap.

I have a word use rut!

When I separated out “power words” I commonly use from those I rarely use, I saw they split out evenly 50/50.


How sad is that?

There are 15 words I routinely use all of the time.

And then there are 15 words I obviously should use more… but apparently I can’t figure out how.

This “word rut” represents my Sad Fact #5.

And naturally, I’m not going to make the assumption it affects you, too.
(Proving Cindy right yet again…)

See for yourself.

Here are the 15 words on the list I regularly use:  

 – new
– imagination
– free
– special
– proven
– skill
– better
– innovative
– competitive
– important
– latest
– growth
– opportunities
– technology
– challenge

Here are the 15 words I should try to use as well, but don’t. 

– daring
– mammoth
– shrewd
– colossal
– astonishing
– rare
– zinger
– unlock
– bonanza
– insider
– odd
– surprise
– remarkable
– secret
– urgent

Now ’bout you?

Does school PR Sad Fact #5 hit home? 

I’m going to assume it does.

But if I’m wrong, get back to me and show me how you used “zinger” in one of your headlines!

That I’ve got to see!

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Do you have school PR spidey-senses? (and Sad Fact #4) – SCN Encourager

You have more skills than I can list.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-27-43-pmBut you know me.

That won’t prevent me from giving it a shot.

So here’s my school PR spidey-sense Sweet Sixteen.

And you’ll find Sad Fact #4 (a sense I think we need to call upon more often) bringing up the rear.

I have no doubt you bring all 16 of these senses to the school leadership table in your own unique way.

The SENSE of direction: what’s the purpose?

The SENSE of foundation: what’s best for kids?

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-31-54-pmThe SENSE of frugality: what can we afford?

The SENSE of place: where will we do this?

The SENSE of time: when will we do this?

The SENSE of structure: what’s allowed in the contract?

The SENSE of progress: how we measure this?

The SENSE of people skills: do we have the right people on the bus?

The SENSE of mobility: do we even have the right bus on the right route?

The SENSE of competency: what’s do-able in the real-world?

The SENSE of eventual value: who really will benefit?

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-7-38-21-pmThe SENSE of “Javert” (my only Les Mis reference): is this legal?

The SENSE of formality: is this in keeping with district policy?

The SENSE of geekiness: can our technology support it?

The SENSE of weather: is there a dark cloud on the horizon?

The SENSE of humor: a funny thing happened on the way to the Board meeting…

And as proficient as we are in all of the above senses, Sad Fact #4 is something we need to ramp up.

Especially today.

So I encourage you to move it to the very top of your school PR spidey-sense tool box.

At least within easy reach.

Let’s better promote and advance a SENSE of Possibility.

And who better than us?

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Listen up. Look out. And the confliction contained in Sad Fact #3 – SCN Encourager

Okay, I’ll say it.

But very quietly.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-36-26-pmSo Cindy and our daughters won’t hear.

But I’m convinced attentive listening is over-rated.

Yeah, I know every leadership and communications guru out there advises “listen to your stakeholders”… “listen to your parents”… and “listen to your heart.”

And while all of this is well and good, it sets a real-world trap for us that is today’s Sad Fact #3.

It’s something accurately tagged as the over-pursuit and over-reliance on listening. 

Because here is what premier marketers, persuaders, and consumer influencers believe and routinely wrestle with: the huge gap between what we’ll say and what we’ll do.

Face it.

Sad Fact#3 reminds us that is it our actions that give us away.

Listening alone rarely provides the complete picture how someone (or a target segment) will behave.

You’ve simply got to keep your eyes open and watch ’em.

There’s your real-world proof, no interpretive guesswork required.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-38-23-pmNow it may be debatable if observing people IN ACTION actually gives you better strategic insights than listening to them, but you’ve got to admit that we’re all advised to “listen” a zillion more times than we’re ever advised to “be observant.”

Listening is over-rated, don’tcha think?

Cindy’s not sure which side of the argument she falls on.

With me as her way-too-convenient-and-under-the-same-roof guinea pig, she’s says she’s well versed about the giant gap between what people say and what people do.

The problem for her (in her view, mind you) is that I’m never IN ACTION often enough to test if “better insights” come from observation.

She maintains “my talk” is the only field research available to her.

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Sad Fact #2 won’t surprise you. But that doesn’t make changing it any easier. – SCN Encourager

Usually we’ll choose anything but… the SIMPLE.

And I mean anything.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-07-19-pmFor any number of reasons, we’ll choose the path of the –

the safe,
the people-pleasing,
the expected,
the self-serving,
or the ego-boosting.

Long before we’ll even give the “more simple and clear” route full and fair consideration.

At least that’s what I do.

Thanks to an ever-present inner voice which always nags, “Why make waves outside of your own lane?”

And how helpful is that?!?

But at least it moves me into Sad Fact #2.

Like yesterday’s Sad Fact, it also represents a “status quo” condition we can impact.

All we’ve got to do is consider taking the simple path first.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-09-53-pmIt begins with a simple question for you.

Here ’tis.
(See? I’m actually trying to practice what I preach… for once!)

How many times have you participated in creating a mission statement, a vision banner, or a list of your school district’s core values?

More than once, I’m sure.

Now, as important as these activities are, what would happen if everyone in your organization (whatever his or her position, role, and level) was able to SIMPLY articulate:

“I help ___[a]______ fulfill/do/reach ___[b]______ even if ___[c]_______.”

(a) = who is served
(b) = what is achieved/accomplished
(c) =  the existence of a unique challenge or obstacle

It’s kinda crazy, but it’s true.

When every team member can simply state his or her own “personal purpose” within their organization, good things happen.

Without fail.

Clarity becomes the norm and organizational momentum accelerates.

What mission statement hanging on a wall or printed on the bottom of a letterhead comes with this kind of guarantee?

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-12-04-pmCan’t say I know.

But you can double-check with Disney.

They’re believers.

In the simple.
In the purposeful.

In metrics that matter.

And yes, it’s embarrassing to defer to the wisdom of a mouse.

But what’s new? 

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Not every Sad Fact is one we can do something about – SCN Encourager

But here’s one worth tackling.

In fact, I have 5 for you this week.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-4-04-28-pmOne for every school day.

Cindy’s tagged this as “sad facts from a sad sack” week, so there’s no need to respond and point this out to me.

She’s already beaten you to the punch.

But with so much sad and depressing stuff occurring all around us, I just thought I’d highlight 5 Sad Facts we could all step up and improve upon.

(Or at least I could… and should…)

So try #1 on for size.

My first Sad Fact comes straight out Gordon MacKenzie’s book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball.

It’s a book about “organizational physics.”

Sounds horribly boring, I know… but people rave about this book as power-packed with observations and ideas about how to support people who work alongside each other in the service of a common cause to reach their full potential.

Now, this sure sounds like us, right?

orbit-2016-10-09-at-3-43-51-pmMacKenzie said he loves presenting to school classrooms and talking to kids about creativity.

He even brings in his metal sculptures and demonstrates how he creates them.

According to MacKenzie what breaks his heart is what happens is when he asks the students, “How many of you are artists?”

In a first grade classroom, all of the students eagerly raise their hands.

And then as he works his way up through the different grade-levels, he sees fewer and fewer hands get raised, as students feel the pressure to “be normal” and suppress their true creative genius.

Unfortunately, this kinda sounds like us too, don’tcha think?

Well, whatever your answer, I bet you caught MacKenzie’s point.

We’ve all got some creative genius of our own bottled up  – and only we as individuals can choose to let it out.

All we’ve got to do is stop feeling the pressure to “be normal.”

Now if I can overcome this Sad Fact – certainly you can.

After all, this is three-step process for me.

I first have to struggle with “being normal” for starters.

And only then can I join you in fighting the pressure to “remain normal” before unleashing the artist within!

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I can’t be the only one who loves this useful website – SCN Encourager

But Cindy said I probably am.

She sizes it up this way.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-22-38-pmWhat are the odds?

That’s what she wonders.

How many other podcast junkies can there actually be?

Especially among the ranks of busy school leaders and communicators?

Cindy hopes very few.

She said she’s not quite ready to lose faith in America.

But thanks to this amazingly simple website, I see things differently.

I see my “listening options” exploding!

All because this cool internet resource will allow you to convert any YouTube video link into an MP3 file.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-24-45-pmThink about it.

Forget the dumb pet antics, musical parodies, and the crazy plays in the world of sports.

You know also YouTube hosts tons of thought-provoking TEDx talks, group presentations, and lectures.

Certainly most of them are not be all that entertaining and fun to view.

But they sure are worthwhile if you just listen to them while puttering around the house – or as in my case – while shaving and showering in the morning.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-4-14-58-pmCheck it out.

Try taking this 14 minute TEDx talk for a speedy-kwik audio-only spin.

Here’s Dr. Cal Newport’s presentation called “Quit Social Media.”

Now it’s just bing – bing – bing – bing (4 steps!).

1. Go to the YouTube video.

2. Go to “Share” and copy its link.

3. Now click over to:


4. Drop in the YouTube link into the box shown on the website and sha-zam!

After a few moments you’ll be able to download an MP3 file and be good to go.

Not only do I think you’ll love this YouTube to MP3 tool, I think you’ll enjoy Dr. Newport’s talk.

He’s convinced social media is chipping away at our capacity to concentrate.

He may be onto something.

And I’m definitely going to finish listening to the MP3 I downloaded yesterday.

But first I want to watch a few more dumb pet antics, musical parodies, and the crazy plays in the world of sports.

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