Setting Axis labels , the dots and a dash

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  • Connecting dots

    Connecting the Dots

    No time like the present to renew the public posting of my writing. It’s time I release into the world, conversations I never stopped.

    What is a frame and how do the boundaries we impose, the labels we choose or omit affect our own and others’ awareness and understanding? My willingness to converse about frames is often one way, inbound. I ask, and then listen to other’s answers.

    In order to do the work, I realized I needed to be a little crazy, take risks and yet my own thoughts I keep tightly guarded.  Internally, I’m a busy bee, chewing up and on ideas in my head, scribbling notes in multiple forms on all sizes and shapes of paper, and even typing them into private digital containers.  This results in multiple drafts, digital and papered.  Occasionally some emerge in private exchanges of emails or intimate conversations with friends or closed social circles.

    The Challenge

    Recently, one of my trusted colleagues over a “catch-up” lunch mentioned a writing challenge he had done in the past and was about to re-activate. I decided, yes no time like the present to join him. So with this post, I’m signaling my commitment and notify my readers that I’ll be posting daily for the next 21 days or 4 weeks M-F. The sponsor Megan Macedo designed this challenge for fellow writers as a promise to help us uncover our core language. A concept, you’ll see referenced repeatedly and thus I’ll wait to elaborate.

    The promised learning objective won me over, but it was also the wider accountability the challenge offers that led me to commit, before emotionally and mentally grasping a theme. I knew of the score of obstacles I’ve constructed that stop me from publicly posting my writings. I need that accountability to clear the debris and minimizing my voice in order to get the feedback I require to really learn, not just ponder.

    Step one was to settle on the outlet. With three blogs, long ago I muddied their distinctions and elevated their purpose to achieve loftier standards than they warranted. I’ll explain more below.

    Dear Reader, I chose my Framestretching blog, and will try out shorter length posts in order to focus and more effectively Frame a thesis as well as keep track of thoughts I’m working out.  I’ve not been successful at that and its’ time to try, so here goes.

    Thesis One: Are axes found or created?

    I’m not talking blades but then again, those that chop wood share something in common with those that frame data.  Both require sharpening to be effective.  Graphically, axes focus on particular data by labeling the coordinating factors, grounding their origins and specifying a range for display. They serve as reference guides, orient and give data context which makes evaluations, if not measurement, relatable and relative.

    Whether quantitative or qualitative, the respective axis labels standardize the interpretation. Whatever you think about the data, the axis invites you to consider the framing it provides.

    In conversations I engaged yesterday attending a memorial service for a force of nature–Charles Lewis Owen, I noticed how our frame of mind or frame of reference presumes rather than reveals any axis labels. An idea that would not have escaped the notice of Chuck Owen, an engineer by training who taught at the Institute of Design (ID) at the Illinois Institute of Technology for over 50 years.

    Each speaker at the memorial acknowledged that it was both Chuck’s personality as well as his research and teaching that helped frame and position the significance of Design as a valuable discipline. VJ Kumar described how Chuck’s contributions added dimension and set apart the intention of design and thus ID in three fundamental ways:
    1. From intuitive to structured;
    2. From appearance and aesthetics to performance-based; and
    3. From seeing parts or products produced to recognizing their existence, function and contribution inseparable from a whole or system.

    As the former dean and life-long colleague, Patrick Whitney expressed, Chuck was multi-faceted and it was his fluidity across 8 dimensions that made him the force of nature that everyone came to value, love and respect. All these facets correspondingly imparted renewable benefits to anyone and the many things he touched.

    How many of us limit ourselves to two facets of existence–the private and the public? Chuck’s thoughtful but persistent willingness to share his observations and systematic thinking led to pointed advice that modeled for others how they too can keep adding value in the world. His courage and style, sadly I only experienced briefly. After the service, I aspire to learn from and assimilate more.

    Getting in the ring

    Chuck was infamous for connecting the dots, but he also taught what he studied and published about systems, objectivity in research, focused methods and documentation. He taught people to take one slice at a time, and that connecting dots depended upon careful observation, collection, and interactive feedback.

    In my case, my own research activities are inseparable from my learning. My intentions often blur or obscure my own point of view and thus my connections across the collected dots sound muddled and without a clear purpose. Definition and focus prove difficult and thus I struggle with distillation continuously. It’s why I’ve chosen frame defining as my mission, to the extent it helps me level up that will be a bonus.

    There’s an expression from boxing about punching above one’s weight, I looked it up to be sure I’ve captured it properly. The expression refers to the level of an individual’s performance, achievement, or doing relative to what others consider to be the truer level of their abilities, talents, or personal attributes.

    A dear friend is a skilled athlete. He won the California Highschool champion title in Tennis that earned him a full athletic scholarship to Stanford and played on the legendary Standford Tennis team. In his senior year, staring into the eyes of a future World tennis Champion, he realized he lacked the same level of desire to compete. When I met him decades later he was assuming a new position at a small liberal arts college to create a service-learning program. I found his choice to play in this small pond curious, given his incredible strengths, discipline, and intellect. He had forsaken the classic path of privilege and connections and indeed actively been changing the world, using his powers to train others and fully extend their abilities.

    In my own work, I work with startups whose zeal is infectious and also exhausting for they often fail to have clarity of purpose. I had taken that plunge myself, years ago giving up the safety and security of a challenging stressful job in banking’s big arena where I had achieved rapid success before hitting that glass ceiling. My failure of not knowing what I didn’t know led me to leap with great confidence into the small pond where I thought my abilities and skills would prove successful.  It was my learning and comeuppance that had made me stick to the small pond space. Now, equipped with expanded skills, greater awareness and sensitivities, I expect my abilities to stand a better chance of having an impact.

    Then again, maybe I’m still deluding myself.

    Did I really wish to forgo success or merely refuse compromises I believe the larger pond environment demands?  I have been slow to realize that I never lost the competitive fire in me. It still breaks out as frustration mixed with high octane emotion. In opting to follow the example of my friend the athlete, I have not reconciled why I’m still punching well below my weight class. Is my ego too fragile?

    I’ve worked hard to be a better listener, facilitator and done the work to create experiential learning opportunities.  Still, I fall short in my objectivity, or willingness to receive the feedback from every direction and keep my circles tight.

    So its time to change. Time to engage more openly, and give in to whatever vulnerabilities I’ve been shielding.  Without engagement, there’s no feedback.  I’m here, I’ve stepped into this challenge and opening the door, welcome to my thoughts and please share your thoughts.

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