Category Archives: Random Thoughts

A collection of thoughts and reflections on education and entrepreneurship

What The World Would Be Like If Entrepreneurs Didn’t Exist

NOTE: This is a group blog exercise while I attended the kickoff reception at the 99% Conference last year. I played the “why” game; I asked the first random attendee the title question, then gave the second random attendee that answer and asked why, and so on.

It wouldn’t be. Period.

Photo Credit: Nick green2012 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nick green2012 via Compfight cc


Entrepreneurs imagined, developed, and built everything physical.


Entrepreneurs have been responsible for some of the natural things we see and use.


They create.


Entrepreneurs don’t know how to do anything else.


Creation is in their DNA.


They’re weird.

There you have it. Next time you’re talking to an entrepreneur, say “thank you”. Yes, we’re weird at times, and we’re really intense at times. Ignore that or embrace that. Whatever. Just be sure to say “thank you” because without us, your existence would be considerably different (and much more boring!!).


The Good and the Best About Being an Educator … There is No Ugly Here

Note: This was originally posted a year or so ago, and was composed using voice-to-text, so apologies for goofs 

The beauty of being an educator

Photo Credit: young_einstein via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: young_einstein via Compfight cc

I spend a lot of time bashing my profession but recently have had cause to smile about my profession. Actually I always have cause to smile when I am engaged with my students. I do what I do because I love giving back and helping my students find and engage their passion.   The other day one of my students, told me that she is graduating in a couple weeks and is completely unsure of what she wants to do after college. She is getting an HR degree but when talking to her I pulled out of her that the things that she’s really passionate about and loves to learn about in practice have to do with beauty and makeup. No this is not one of my areas of expertise I know this is shocking, so I started reaching out to colleagues of mine in Chicago who may be able today introduced this young woman to people in the beauty industry. Lo and behold instantly the number of my colleagues in Chicago we’re willing and able to introduce this young woman to people in the beauty industry.I believe that this process will help to change this young woman’s career path from something that she would settle for to something that she could live for. That’s an impact. That’s why I’m here. That’s the beauty of what I do. It doesn’t usually happen in the classroom during class time. Sometimes it does, when those light bulbs pop on. But more often it happens outside the classroom, during deeper discussions about purpose, passion, and uncertainty.

Educator’s impact is outside the classroom

I have had these discussions with many students in the few years I have been teaching. I have students who have found their way, on my urgent, to Boston. They ventured out on their own because they wanted something new, something exciting, something challenging. They were willing to face uncertainty and to take full advantage of what it offers. I have other students who are working their dream jobs in the Chicago area. They did not find these jobs with a resume, a cover letter, or any other vehicle that would make them seemed like every other robot coming out of college. They found these jobs because they were willing to stand up, speak up, and take a chance that somebody would be willing to help them figure out where they wanted to go and how to get there. I was willing to help.

Educators should do more than educate

I get excited when I see students excited. I rarely see students as excited in the classroom we’re talking about class related material as when I am talking to them trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their does not take anything very special to make a dead in these young men and womens futures. it takes listening to them, asking difficult questions, supporting their fear, in their passion, and being their champion. Is that so hard? Even if it is I would argue it is the most meaningful experiences an educator can have.

The best part of being an educator, in my humble opinion, has nothing to do with education per se. it has to do with supporting our students in their search for meaning, for challenge, for security, for fun, and for the future that is fulfilling. That cannot be accomplished through traditional means of education and in a traditional formatted classroom.

My challenge to educators

I challenge all educators to change their view of what our role can be and should be in the students lives. And to think through how we can have an impact and be responsible champions for our students in their pursuit of a meaningful future.

What are you doing? What could you do better? How are you impacting your students in lasting waves? If you are not, shame on you. If you are, please share how you do that so the rest of us can learn and can be better at what we should do.


New Structure in Education = New Results in Education

Education Isn’t All It Could Be

Aim High

Photo Credit: ShirtRater via Compfight cc

Let’s say you walk into any big box electronics store. You’re not quite sure what you’re looking for but know you want some kind of media device. Remember: you’re the customer. One of the “experts” approaches you and starts telling you about this huge TV.  It’s waaaaaaaaaaay too big for your apartment.  He’s giving you all the details, all the background about how it was built. Lots of big words you don’t understand. You have no choice but to buy that TV, take it home and put it on your wall.

Crazy? Of course it is. But this is what we expect our students to deal with. Students who are the customers. Students are expected to come into a classroom, to listen to an “expert” give them information (that often times makes no sense to them because the “expert” doesn’t help them understand how to apply it,) and to take that information without doing much questioning. Oh yeah, and they have to pay for it.

A New Approach

What to do? We (teachers and administrators) need to let the students investigate what they want to learn. They come in with a general idea of their interest, their passion, and a potential path forward. We need to give them a lot of tools to do investigate, to question, to challenge, to apply and try. We need to take a back seat in their learning process and be their champions in finding experiences to apply that learning.

Can You Take a Back Seat?


Mentors Can’t Get The Job Done

Champions Can Save the Day!


I was talking with Shawna Butler about how to bring more young women into our entrepreneurship program here at Illinois State University. As a little background, I have talked to roughly 500 female entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders and small business owners in the past year to develop Legacy Out Loud.  On almost every phone call with every one of those women, they have pointed out the importance of including a strong mentor program into our program.

Shawna shocked me, which is not easily done. She said “we don’t need mentoring, we need championing.” As she explained, a mentor, for the most part, will usually tell or help a mentee figure out how to do something. A task. A learning goal. There’s a whole lot of supportive and exploratory talking. It is a valuable relationship, no doubt about it. But Shawna had a great perspective I never thought about to be honest. Blew my mind!

Instead of introducing a mentor program, she suggested introducing a Champion Program. A champion will help someone he/she is working with in the task/goal arena just as a mentor. But wait, there’s more! A champion will also put his/her name and reputation on the line for another person. They will advocate for that person. They will champion that person’s future (in the case of college students).

Mentors Talk the Talk, Champions Walk the Walk

As a young college student, I had some idea where I was going. I had mentors helping me figure out my goals. They helped me learn certain tasks that are very valuable to this day. Only one of them stuck their neck out for me, and put their reputation on the line for me. She was my champion, and it made all the difference in the world. Shawna, you’re a genius! Thank you for opening my eyes.

PS – If you are a mentor, should you be a champion instead?

PPS – Do you need a champion?


The purpose of education is . . .

Last year I did a TEDx talk at Heartland Community College about my visions for the future of education. It was a high point of my life; watching TED talks have provided me so much inspiration and to have that opportunity was incredible!  I spoke to the audience about how to change the education system so that a college experience can realize it’s intended promise to prepare students for the real world. I spoke about the generic purpose of education being to prepare young people to be responsible and productive citizens and lifelong learners. Specifically, I think the purpose of education is to help students find answers to their meaningful questions.

Thoughts on Education

I asked the attendees to answer the question “What is the purpose of education?” on a paper airplane, and at one point in the talk to send me their airplanes. Here are their answers:

Turn dreams into reality.

Foster the art of asking questions.

To inspire students to learn from on their own, and to prepare them for the world (Sam Ferrante)

To teach you how to think.

To inspire and evolve how we think.

To expand minds.

To get a better idea (Carol Hahn)

I have no idea about the education thing. . . I just want to be cool enough to live in a red house. . . and I will have a red plan also (my sidenote – my wife and I live in a red house, which is very rare in our town where all the houses are beige)

To question. To be aware. To be courageous (Carol Hahn)

To open minds, inspire creativity, and to teach us how to live in the world (Jean)

To help them discover their true potential (Alejandro Montesdeoca)

To expose people to skills and knowledge that will allow them to lead happy and productive lives (Jon Shackley)

To discover and pursue interesting questions

Improving people’s lives (George Mueller)

To teach people of all ages relevant skills and provide them with relevant knowledge. Education can be delivered via many modes! FOR FUN . . . education should not be confused with training. You wouldn’t want your kids to take a sex training class, would you? (Doug Minter)

For individuals to better themselves and build a future/career. Expand on their knowledge and better themselves as a whole (Arianna Shipley)

To educate (Antonio Montes de Oca)

Knowledge is power (Antonio Montes de Oca)

Education is a forum for new ideas seen through the lens of the ideas of others

To teach people to think

To challenge yourself and become a better asset in the world (Kali Lewis)

Give the ability to explore (Ravi K.)

People say education prepares you for the real world, when in fact education is the real world. While being educated, kids are and should be allowed to truly think and create (Kayley K.)

“So that employees can follow written instructions” So sorry for being jaded (Marcus)

To get smarter (Julie Shackley)

An opportunity to gain knowledge, build self-confidence, know who we are and increase awareness of our surroundings and our world (Linda Walter)

To advance one’s self to the benefit of one’s self and community

To provide students with the tools and creativity to go beyond their own expectations (Cecilia)

Foster all ideas in a non-judgmental setting

To bankrupt parents!

Education is to help us discover the purpose of life

To prepare a student to be successful in their future (Brent R.)

To learn to love learning (V. Sittig)

To teach how to think, question, and create (Robyn Walter)

What do you think is the purpose of education?


How Our Education System Isn’t As Bad As You Think

Our education system has been under attack recently. And for good reason. We have lost track of why an education system exists. Many voices (mine included) have spewed much venom. As is normal with soapbox issues, few of those have provided workable solutions to the education epidemic going on in our country. I am a process innovation thinker – I see things as a process, I break the process down into it’s pieces, I develop innovative improvements on those pieces, and put the process back together. I’ve spent considerable time thinking this way about our education system. I cam to an important realization the other day while thinking this through in preparation for a TEDx talk I’m giving on Saturday.


Our Education System Isn’t As Bad As We Think

Let me be clear – the No Child Left Behind, Common Core and all that nonsense is just that – nonsense. It needs to go. Those of us in the education system need to focus on students as individuals and work to prepare them to be productive citizens in the uncertain world that awaits them. We have ALOT of work to do on that level to change from the robotic, Orwellian approach that has infected our system. But the more research I do, the more I find pockets of promise – individual schools or larger units of schools doing amazing things. With this renewed promise, I think that perhaps things aren’t so bad.


I am about to sit down and read Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools – can’t wait to see what gems lurk in there, and how I can further disrupt the system based on that. It came about from his ridiculous TED talk, which you need to watch if you haven’t already – here you go!


Questions, Not Answers: A Re-Framing of Education

I gave a talk at TEDxHeartlandCommunityCollege talk a year ago about creative disruption in education. This post is some of my thinking going into that talk. I reflected on my experiences in my educational journey – what impacted me and what didn’t – and on the broader purpose of education. Now the education system is built around answers. But that can’t continue.

Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Questions and Power

Why do teachers control the knowledge?

Why can students only “receive” an education inside a building?

Why are students only allowed to answer and not question?

Questions are powerful. In education, questions threaten the status quo. In a classroom, they challenge the information being shared by the “expert”. Some teachers even see questions as threatening. That is a good thing as far as I’m concerned; let the students threaten so they gain confidence and ownership over their educational experience. The classroom structure is backwards. Typically speaking, the teacher provides information on the topic of the day. The teacher is giving students answers to questions they haven’t asked. Questions they often don’t care about, to be honest. A simple tweak can make all the difference int he classroom:

Instead of teachers presenting information 1st and then inviting questions from students 2nd, try inviting questions about a topic 1st and present relevant information 2nd. Or even better – don’t provide any information, but guide them in finding their own answers.


Questions are power. In our current system, the teachers have all the power because they control (if not kill) the questioning. It’s time for a new dynamic.

Teachers – let your students ask questions, and don’t be afraid to said “I don’t know”

Students – take charge and ask your questions. Don’t lose the opportunity.


How Did We Get Here? A Moment to Reflect

This post originally posted  at an older blog – I thought it was good enough to post again!!

Reflecting takes guts. I mean real reflecting. Not just the “that was a (fill-in-the-blank) experience” kind of reflection – anybody can do that cheap seat reflecting. I mean the authentic, deep, squishy, tingly reflecting. When we reflect, we need to do serious work, to learn from experience. If we succeeded, let’s learn so we can repeat it. If we failed, let’s learn so we don’t repeat it.

What To Reflect On

The act of truly, deeply reflecting isn’t easy. By “reflect” I mean to think deeply about something from the past. And through these reflections, we get a better understanding of how we made it to where we are in the present moment. That is a powerful, VERY powerful, gift we can give ourselves. One of the hard parts of reflecting is to know what to focus on. We all make mistakes. Lots of them! You know you do – own it, be cool with it, share it, learn from it. When reflecting, the most powerful lessons can be gleaned from the most uncomfortable and awkward experiences. Go to the dark corners of memories and experiences that scare you. Find where you took risks and failed, or where you succeeded but the goal was disingenuous. That’s where the gems are – go searching for them, and bring them into the light.

On the fun side, it is also powerful to reflect on the questions we ask. The learning that paves our life path comes from the questions we ask. Therefore, reflecting on that life path requires us to reflect on those questions. Think about why you asked those particular questions. What was so important about that question at that time?

My Reflections

I am not good at reflecting. I do not spend much time or energy looking back, but instead choose consciously to look forward. I often tell myself that’s because looking forward is more intriguing. But honestly, I think it’s because my past frightens me. Some of the choices I made, and the resulting consequences, are scary. Reflecting on those is quite emotional, and I don’t like emotions, I don’t like feeling them, talking about them, or confronting them. But I know I need to get more comfortable with this.

Because I don’t like the icky side of reflecting, I start with the questions. I ask a lot of questions (at least the voices in my head have lots of question-based conversations). When I was younger my questions had to do with hustling. I wanted to know how to get more drugs, quicker and cheaper. I wanted to know who could help me with this singular purpose. My questions were very shallowly focused on this pursuit. As I got older, my questions switched focus from destructive to more constructive, from self-focused to other-focused.

As I emerged from my drug fog, I began to ask questions about how to help others, about how to balance the karmic scales that I put well out of balance. I asked about my career path and other self-focused pursuits, but they were productive pursuits, not destructive. Once my wife helped me find my career path and pushed me down it, my questions focused on disrupting education. How can I enrich the classroom experience of students? How can I expose youth to entrepreneurial thinking? How can I destroy NCLB and Common Core and other destructive efforts? Why do we not let students have a voice in education? The questions are endless (it’s really a hassle sometimes!) I work every day to collaborate with others who can help answer these questions. It’s a grand existence!

But that existence is tempered during those few times when I reflect on the dark corners of my past. To be honest, it’s not often I go there. I don’t like to; I am scared, but I also do not see much point in that. I stole from many people, I cheated people, I lied to people, I manipulated and conned people. I was selfishness and greed defined. I sold drugs to many people – from very young children to very old adults, from people who had never used to people who desperately needed to stop using. I didn’t care who I sold to, as long as they had money. Period. Some of those faces I can still remember. That’s scary. But what happens when I reflect on these times in my life is that I become more passionate and energized about my current state and my current path in life. I do not do what I do because of my past, but my past does help fuel my desire to make a positive dent in the universe. I can make that dent through infusing entrepreneurship into education, at every single level. My reflections remind me of why I do what I do. They scare me into staying on this path. They are good and bad, they are light and dark.

My question to you: What do you reflect on? How does reflecting benefit you?


I Got Fired – Is That Bad?

The last time I got fired, I was 16 years old and I made a very conscious choice to party with my friends instead of show up to work. That was nearly 24 years ago. I got fired again a while ago. Not from my “food-on-the-table” job, but from a consulting sort of gig.

Getting Fired Sucks

It all boils down to fit. I did not fit with the direction the project was heading. I am always the first one to step out of the way if I’m going to impede progress of a good initiative – and this was a very good initiative. Fired due to lack of fit. Could be worse.

I will be the first to admit that I have a healthy ego and am pretty narcissistic. My wife will confirm this! Being fired does not suit my ego or narcissism very well, in fact it bruises it to some extent. That may not be a bad thing, but it certainly does not feel good. After the sting wore off, I began to think more deeply about being fired, what that means, and the opportunity that presents.

Getting Fired Isn’t So Bad

There are a number of reasons I came up with that getting fired isn’t so bad. Now, being a recovering addict, I realize this may be similar to making up excuses why today is a bad day to quit. However, here I go:

1. I have more time on my hands.

2. I have more intellectual bandwidth available for projects for which I am a good fit.

3. I reflect on my approach, my conversations, my interactions with people.

4. I have to review and update my CV (resume), my social media profiles.

5. I have to be humble with family, friends, colleagues. The family part stings pretty bad for one reason, and the colleagues part stings in an entirely different way. But equally as painful.

I have to reflect, I learn a little humility, I have more time and energy. None of those are a bad thing. Admittedly again, this is not my bread-and-butter job – that would be a different story. But any experience that requires us to reflect, to be humble, to take stock can’t be all that bad, can it?

Would You Fire Yourself?

This led me to look at other side gigs in my life right now. None of them are necessary; I took all of them on for one reason or another, but all I consider voluntary at this point. I asked myself if I would fire myself from any of them. This is a very tough inner journey that incorporates issues of self-worth, satisfaction, greed, narcissism, love, passion, and all things beautiful and ugly. I decided I would not fire myself from anything at this point.

On an intellectual level, I am not glad I was fired. I really enjoyed the possibility that project held to engage with a great audience and to accomplish something fantastic. On a more personal level, I can say I am somewhat glad I was fired – only because of the opportunity it presented me. I failed. In this particular project endeavor, I failed miserably. I put my everything into it, and I got fired. That failure presented a fantastic opportunity for me to pause, reflect, and learn. I am better for it (at least I will be next time around!)

My question to you: what would you fire yourself from?


And the Purpose is . . .?

[this post originally posted around the holidays a year or two ago – but I dig it, so thought I’d repost it here]

My purpose here at Illinois State University is to spread entrepreneurship across campus. I’ve struggled to engage young women students and women business leaders in the community in the classes and programs. The more I talked to colleagues and looked into research regarding entrepreneurship, startups, and innovation, the more glaring became the gender gap. This always bothered me, but around the holidays, I decided to do something about it.

Purpose is Central

Since the holidays, I’ve been a networking tornado – blasting through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and any other outlets possible to connect with women who have experience with entrepreneurship and innovation and wouldn’t be shy about sharing their honest feedback. It has been extremely easy to get hundreds of women to spend 20 or 30 minutes chatting with me. My secret? I let them know I want to empower young women through education, and that since I’m a dude I am clueless about how to do that effectively, so I need their guidance. That vulnerability and humility and transparently sharing my purpose seals the deal. These women have all sorts of perspectives, from different industries, roles, generations, geographies, and any number of other differentiating factors. A few things are common to most of the feedback I have received.

The one thing every single woman has urged me to do is to focus on purpose

They urge me to get young women to think about their purpose (generally and specifically to any number of slices of life’s pie)

They urge me to encourage young women to own that purpose, and to share that purpose with anyone and everyone.

They urge me to facilitate young women connecting with others around their purpose.

Purpose has been on my mind lately, and I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities that presents me.

The Purpose of Education

Education needs a purpose. Administrators could be so much more effective if they focused on purpose first and outcomes second (and less on quantitative results and more on qualitative results). We as educators need to re-examine our purpose.

Why are we in this career? Research? Teaching? Service? A paycheck? Seriously think about it. I’m here to impact young people and help them uncover and get started down their desired career path.

Students could improve their experience if they explored their purpose for continuing their education. They choose to be in college, they choose which college. They make daily choices to engage with their educational experience. To what purpose? Owning that purpose would create much more impactful moments. I’ll bet that would leak into the educators’ experience and the administrators’ experience, and would begin to infect these stakeholders’ purpose.

What About You?

What’s your purpose? Think about it. I mean really think about it. Think beyond specific roles in your life (as a parent, spouse, employee, boss, leader, whatever). Think holistically. Why are you here? What, really, is your existence about? Think beyond the “what do you want you epitaph to be” sort of exercises. Dig deep. Get uncomfortable with yourself; be vulnerable. Own your purpose, whatever it is. Then live it. The world will be better for it. Your world will be brighter for it. The impact will be awesome!

I’d love to hear what your purpose is, and to help you accomplish your purpose. Share by commenting here, or by emailing me at