Education vs. Learning

I recently took a course in renewable energy at NYU. As I signed up for the course I received 20 or so emails containing different promotional announcements. After the first email which provided the details of the course, I did not open the remaining 19 or so messages. This is unfortunate for me as one of the emails contained the syllabus that listed the pre-reading for the course. I received that email the day before directly from the instructor. I spent the entire day consuming hundreds of pages of data. This oversight was my error, I just didn’t have the time to filter through the emails to determine which ones were relevant to me and which emails contained information that I might want to review at some time.

It was also announced in one of the unread emails that NYU would be changing their certification course program, eliminating certifications now calling the courses Career Advancement Courses. I loved it. After one or two courses I would have enough information and connections in the any given field to pursue my interest in that field. If I want to or if it’s necessary I can pursue an advanced degree in this discipline. As is true with any change, many students did not value the certification and many were disappointed that the certifications was being eliminated.

Gift vintage certificate / diploma / award border template in vector

I congratulate NYU for taking this bold move. If a university the caliber of NYU has the courage to make such a decision, others will follow. That’s impressive leadership. NYU made this decision by evaluating the data of students that took their courses. They learned most took one or two courses but did not complete the certification. Non-certification courses are also less expensive and more accessible to a wider audience. The goal of the courses is career advancement, so they decided to call the classes what they are: career advancement courses.

As I work on large, complex transformations business architects assess the resources of: People, Processes, Technology and Information. (PPTI) When evaluating the resources of the People we have today and the talent we need to implement a transformation, education and certifications can become a barrier. The current staff, while functioning adequately, may not have the required education. If they are not functioning sufficiently and need to develop new skills quickly the time it takes to earn a certification or advanced degree is just not agile enough for the goals of the project or to remain competitive. The available talent pool may not have the required formal education but might have transferable skills.

When we do find the talent that meets all criteria they may not want to do the tedious work that is necessary as it may be vastly different to the reward and experiences they had in academia. Compensation may not be available to adequately counterbalance the investment the student has made in their education. While the candidates may have the education required, they may not have the skill further delaying progress.

There is a gap.

Victor Saad created his own solution to the large investment in education and the lack of guaranteed employment as result of the education in the Leap Year Project. This is not an accredited program yet but I hope one day it will be. Mr. Saad is sharing his process with the creation of the Experience Institute.

Why do we now rely so much on education and certifications? My view is it is the path of least resistance. When hundreds maybe thousands of resumes are received for a position it’s easy to electronically cull the universe and make it more manageable by dismissing any resume that does not have the required education. It also, on the surface, relieves the responsibility of hiring managers and leaders of critically assessing talent and being accountable for their results.

What talent are we not considering by relying on education alone? Those over the age of 50 that have had long-term careers? Those that have worked in non-competing industries in similar functions? Veterans that have skill, discipline and leadership skills that are needed but don’t easily translate? Those educated outside of the country that have the skill but their education is not accepted in the US?

It would require time, leadership, communication skills and critical thinking to evaluate the current and potential resources of People.

Some will argue with me that there are laws that prohibit them from considering other talent and they cannot incur the legal risk. This is sometimes true but not always true. My opinion is we do not allocate enough time to hire talent. Once we do hire, we are reluctant to have uncomfortable conversations and invest in those we recruited so diligently.

If we recognize the accurate amount of time it takes to recruit and to develop people as well as having the courage to have uncomfortable conversations; we will readily identify we are surrounded by a pool of potential talent.

The Art and Science of Communication

Raj Ramesh does a great job of explaining how capabilities work in business architecture. One capability where organizations and individuals sometimes inaccurately assume competence is Communication.

“The single greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw


Effective communication is a high impact, low cost capability that can be an incredible competitive advantage creating efficient, agile execution and high trust environments aligned with strategic objectives.

We all think we are good communicators because we know what we mean as we attempt to convey our message. However, it is not the job of our audience to listen, it is our job to make them hear. Assuring our teams and affected audiences understand what we intend is the tough part. Inspiring them to take action can even be more difficult.

When I work on project teams I’ll ask participants if everyone is clear on objectives and responsibilities. I’ll hear “yes, we had a meeting.” ONE meeting? Expecting that one meeting will be enough when trying to influence a complex transformation is highly unlikely. Expecting that one meeting reached your audience in a way that will influence their comprehension and change behaviors is improbable.

In today’s environment we are inundated with communication impacting our ability to remember and retain detail.

In the Mad Men days of advertising a common statistic was, ‘you had to hear a message 7 times to understand it.’ Today, as we have so many causes requiring our attention, demanding action from us, messages need much more repetition.

We need to communicate in such a way that people will understand. We all have audio, visual and kinesthetic learning abilities. It’s important to reach audiences in all ways to ensure our message is understood.

A great course that helps individuals enhance their writing skills is given by PowerSuasion. PowerSuasion will evaluate five writing samples and creating a Writing Profile and a Writing Editing Guide. These tools will help writers understand where they are falling short in writing and give them a tool that will guide them in improving. When I took the assessment I submitted an article, a proposal, a presentation, an email and a letter for professional review. The consistent mistakes I made through the different channels were eye-opening. I also learned about my strengths in writing and became a more courageous writer. In addition I learned how to use each medium its fullest advantage.

If you’d like to increase the capability of Communication in your teams and your organization ensure the continuous learning about the discipline of Communication is an individual priority and an organizational priority.


What does the term “architecture” mean in business?

The term architecture means looking at a business problem or an opportunity from the greatest context possible considering factors that may or may not seem to impact the result to define the most thoughtful approach to implementing a solution.

My friend and colleague Raj Ramesh explains the concept more clearly in this three minute video:





Why is Fast better than Slow?

When an outsider evaluates the progress of a project a question that often comes up is . . . “how long did that take you?” There might be a touch of cynicism in the tone, a little judgment. The assumption is progress is taking too long. Team members also may value fast progress over slower progress.

Illustration of an old alarm clock with a globe behind

The time it takes to achieve a task is only one measurement. When gauging progress consider the following categories.To remain agile — assign a status of High, Medium, Low to this assessment. In your project are you:

  • Building a strong business foundation?
  • Taking thoughtful risk and assessing consequences carefully?
  • Are you anticipating risk and planning for possible outcomes?
  • Have you employed thoughtful recovery from failure?
  • Are you using resources wisely?
  • Are you employing a sage use of time?
  • Is your work aligned with the organization’s vision? strategy?
  • Is every action true to the organization’s values?
  • What is the best possible solution considering your current capabilities?
  • Are you establishing realistic goals? adjusting when necessary? Are your processes as efficient as they can be?
  • Is there effective Leadership on all levels?

Once you apply a high, medium or low status to the above then determine if you are moving too fast or too slow.

Be careful of letting a stopwatch alone dictate your results.






Creating a Vision

Visions are often a very powerful unifying force amongst teams of people attempting to achieve common goals. You can have a vision for your organization, your team, or your project.

Simon Sinek describes why knowing ‘why’ you are doing something is important in this 5 minute video.


I gained a deeper understanding of Leadership while working on an assignment at a financial services company that serves the military and members of the military community. Like many people I thought Leadership means that the person in the corner office does the right thing for the benefit of the organization’s mission and for all, while giving clear direction. I thought Leadership meant that Leader had personal integrity and could be trusted. I learned the military professes we are all Leaders. We demonstrate our Leadership every day in our actions, our decisions, and our interactions. In today’s competitive, ambiguous, fluid and transparent world personal Leadership skills are increasingly important.


As a consultant, there are times, when I’m asked to weigh in, in confidence, on the behaviors of those I work with. I take the responsibility seriously and give my answers thoughtfully and carefully. I know that my answers have the power to help the person we are discussing succeed or can sometimes even influence their exit. I personally believe that every person comes to work every day to give the greatest contribution that they can. If, for some reason, they are not doing the right things, they have not been given the proper direction or support. They may be working with broken processes. When I’m giving tough love to clients I’ll tell them “you get what you build”. If your employees are cynical and not contributing to their best ability –” you built that.” If your employees are motivated, engaged, and contribute beyond your expectations, “you built that too.” If you want different behaviors, you must conduct some critical self-assessment and ask yourself what you and your organization can do differently.


A manager brought me in his office to ask about one of the employees I was assigned to work with. The employee did not acknowledge my emails, if he showed up for meetings he showed up late. He was often un-prepared and un-informed although this employee was pleasant, knowledgeable and well-liked.


Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:


“Alicia, what do you think of John? Is he pulling his weight on this project?” (I hear the subtext here, the manager is not asking an exploring question, he’s leading me to validate his opinion the employee is not pulling his weight)
My response, “John is very bright, he has a lot to contribute, I do, however, think he can work on his leadership skills.”
The manager leans forward, not expecting this answer. “John’s not the leader on the project.”
I reply, “True, however he’s an important team member. Emails are often not consistently answered in a timely manner, if at all. He does not regularly attend meetings. If he’s absent from meetings, he does not send a delegate or ask for meeting notes. His input is critical. We won’t be successful without him. By raising the bar on this behavior, we will run a more efficient project and manage resources more effectively.”


The manager leans back in his chair with a new awareness and is now armed with information to better help his team member achieve greater success, through improved leadership skills.


We are all leaders. We demonstrate it every day in all we do.


I really wanted to use this photo as the cover photo in the website.







The message it demonstrated to me was that NLA works with smart, independent people that excel individually to achieve common goals.


The second photo of one person helping the other up the mountain was intended to demonstrate that we provide assistance and fill gaps so that the we can enable and unlock the potential of the smart, independent people we work with.



I couldn’t find the rights to the first photo. I searched everywhere. I searched in Google Images, I searched in ThinkStock. I became pre-occupied with the importance of this photo, of the image and the idea that I wanted to present.


I was at a crossroads. It’s not right to steal an artist’s photo. Artists are a group that are often exploited, under-appreciated, under-recognized and under-paid. Someone somewhere stood in the freezing cold to capture that shot. They deserved compensation or at least credits for the photo and I couldn’t find it.


Posting the photo without permission seems like a small risk and it probably is. I see images used commercially that I know are not available for commercial use. When I see it, I recognize it as wrong. I judge the people who used those images and I shake my head at organizations that allow it.


Could I now allow myself to be in that category — the apathetic category?


After some time, I realized that there are many great photos I could use properly that would convey a similar message. I finally chose the three figures standing on a mountain top, independently. We’ve received several compliments on the imagery.


Corporate values are important. They are the guideposts that help employees make decisions when they are at the crossroads and there’s no one around to give permission. Sound values create agility in problem solving and enable speed to market with new products and services. Authentic values attract and retain high caliber teams.


At NLA two of our core values are ‘maximizing individual contributions’ and assuring ‘fair compensation’ for those we work with. Stealing a photo from an artist is not the right thing to do. Thoughtlessly using a photo without permission is not the right thing to do.


You might be asking why the photo is presented in this blog? Is it ok to showcase work in a blog?


It’s ok. Blogs are not designed for commerce but to share information. It’s a shade of gray but an important distinction.


Solid corporate values will empower employees and leaders to make the best possible decisions with the information they have available to them, with the purest intent they can at the time in our fluid and ambiguous world.





The Dots

This is my favorite speech in the world. I watch it when I need inspiration, when I need to be reminded that all ideas or thoughts do not have to seem ‘right’ or make sense at their inception to be effective or to change the world. I watch it to have the courage to move away when something doesn’t seem quite right when all conventional logic and wisdom disagree. I watch this when I need to remember to “give time, time.” I love Steve Job’s encouragement to believe in and trust in something – a higher power, God, a greater good. Whatever it is, believe in something and trust it.

Watch now

I love how vulnerable Steve Jobs is, how flawed he might seem, how courageous he was. This speech inspires me to move forward with transformations, organizational change and design, technology implementations and building new opportunities.

If I feel something is right I try to remember to follow it without fully understanding why. If I’m told something is wrong, I try to remember to be aware of that observation. However if I think/feel I’m on the right path to move forward, I try to remember to have courage without fully understanding, without judging the process, believing that we can and will connect the dots later and perhaps create something bigger, better and more valuable than we ever dreamed of.

Most importantly, I remember that you cannot Connect the Dots looking forward, you can only Connect the Dots looking backward. I remind myself of how many times I have seen and experienced this process working, when I am shadowed by doubt, criticism or cynicism.

Next Level Architecture’s (NLA) website will evolve over time. Right now, it’s created to communicate that we, at (NLA), will help you Achieve Your Goals, whatever those goals may be. We won’t work with you to conform into our methodology, we will work with you to unlock the potential of your organizations’ strengths and capabilities while minimizing and managing the organization’s weaknesses or blind spots.

Your goals could be:

  • Transforming a business function
  • Creating efficiencies
  • Capturing new business opportunities
  • Merging companies or business units
  • Implementing technological solutions

Call NLA ‘when you need to get it done.’

Call us when you need to maximize the potential you already have through your organization’s people and capabilities.

Call us to see if there’s a fit. If there’s not, we’ll know that for whatever reason it wasn’t quite right. If it is, we’ll welcome the privilege to work with you and your organization.

It can be done. We’d like to help.

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