Mr. Houston also offered a daily mantra, which I found appealing and seductive: for him, it was a sign of his healthy paranoia (and paranoia, we learned from James Collins, is an essential ingredient of success of the companies studied in Great by Choice.). For Houston, he asks himself, “six months from now, twelve months from now, five years from now, what will I wish I had been doing today or learning today?” Good stuff for a CEO or a principal or a superintendent to be asking. John Mann and I just finished an interview with Superintendent Ken Eastwood from Middletown, New York, where he emphasized the need to focus on the future from his superintendent’s perch and let his staff run the daily operations of the district. More in that interview and what, Like Houston, Eastwood plans to be asking or doing for his district in the future will be available in the next month.
Mr. Houston brought up another great point in his interview that educators and their superintendents alike can utilize as a key value. He said, he is drawn to hire “people who really love their craft, and treat it like a craft, and are always trying to be better and are obsessed with what separates great from good." For me, a teaching staff that is always trying to figure out how to teach the most vulnerable as well as the brightest would be the ideal team. He argues those obsessed with a significant problem of practice are those that will become the greatest among us. Some interesting interview questions surface like: How do you describe the teaching profession or the principalship? How do you intend to get better? What is your significant problem of practice?
Finally, Mr. Houston offered a zinger for us as he reflected on his graduation speech to M.I.T. graduates in 2013. There were three things that he thought he wished he knew at 22. His cheat sheet had three things on it: a tennis ball, a circle, and the number 30,000.
First, the tennis ball represented a passion or an obsession—pursuing something that consumes your interest and learning. Second, the circle symbolizes you as the average of the five people you call your closest friends. Put yourself in a group of individuals who challenge and love you at the same time. Finally, the 30,000 represents the average number of days each of us has to live or about 82.5 years-of-age. His point is make every single day count.
His last observation reminded me of my mother, Rose Burrello, who lived to 94 years of age. Mother used to say that each day she strove to do something that was going to be crucial even though sometimes she did not know what it was first thing in the morning. She was a great lady who taught me lots about resilience and the importance of learning something of significance each day. She was also about preparing for the best that was yet to come.
Enjoy summer, get some needed rest, and have some fun with family and friends.
Best wishes always,