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Visual Explorer™: May 2009

May 29, 2009

The Art of Public Service

Visual Explorer™ image #780
Excerpt from Dean Ellen Schall's Convocation Remarks
Presented to 2009 graduates of the
NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
May 15, 2009

See the related New York Times article: What do you see?
More at the NYU site
“In the Wall Street Journal last week, 10 college presidents were asked to answer a question from their own schools’ applications. They all found it harder than they imagined. We have always understood at Wagner that it mattered how we started to engage you, even as prospective students, that we were beginning a conversation, perhaps a relationship - one that could last for years.

Two years ago, when many of you applied, we decided to add a particular twist to our application - in part to get your attention, in part to signal we were after a different level of engagement. We gave you the possibility of responding to a photo, a visual image, from a collection of images developed by colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership. As you may remember, we use Visual Explorer, which is what CCL calls this approach, at orientation as well. The basic idea is that it’s easier to get the conversation started when you have an object in the middle. And we wanted to get a conversation started.

It seemed fitting, as you graduate, for me to put myself to the test we asked you to take up as you, or some of you, entered. So I looked through the Visual Explorer photos and picked one. I will show it to you in a minute. On our application we ask you to tell us how the image you selected represents your connection to public service. Let me try to answer for myself.

The title of my essay is “The Art of Public Service.”
NYU Wagner named itself a school of Public Service 20 years ago, in 1989. For years we had to defend the choice, explain it, compare and contrast it to public administration or public policy, the more obvious choices. The faculty and the then dean, Howard Newman, stood firm though. In naming the school, they saw beyond the way the world was dividing itself into sectors and methods. They imagined that we would come to care more about results and change than in what sector the work was housed. They appreciated that careers were likely to cross boundaries, that people in their late 20s or early 30s were more likely to have 7 jobs than one, that claiming the name of public service for our school would set us apart… and indeed it has. Now 20 years later, we have a president of the U.S. who exemplifies the spirit of public service and who has made the call to public service a virtual national anthem.

I wrote a piece 15 years ago, a few years into being a faculty member at Wagner, called “Learning to love the swamp: rethinking education for public service.” The swamp is a metaphor for the important, complex, and messy problems that resist technical analysis. I argued that the world of public service has more swamp than high ground. Ending poverty, overcoming racism, ensuring equal health outcomes for all, creating public school systems that work, building cities that are sustainable - these are the kinds of challenges that await your talent and commitment. Important challenges, and ones that require the most sophisticated and skilled levels of professional public service. Another name for this professional excellence is …artistry - and that brings me to my image and to the topic of this essay. The Art of Public Service.

I believe more than ever in the need for artistry in the work of public service. We invited you to join us at Wagner to change the world. We offered you – or hope we did - a varied set of tools and frameworks from which you can draw. But tools and frames alone don’t do the trick. Public service is as much about art as science. When we bring artistry to public service, we bring passion, creativity and the gift of seeing new possibilities. Holding a sense of ourselves as artists as we go about the work of public service helps us to stay bold and aim high.

It’s important to remember at the same time that art is not easy and that there are no guarantees- either in art or in public service. I took a beginners’ pottery class this past fall.

I showed up every Monday night, from 6 - 9, much the way you showed up for a class. And it was VERY hard. I was the worst in the class, a fact clear to me and to every one else. Yet I stayed and kept on trying. I knew there was learning in the trying, in sticking with what didn’t come easily. I never actually cracked the code or became a potter. Yet at the end, I have these small little pieces of “pottery” in my house and the odd thing is I display them. They are on the entry hall table and they make me smile when I walk in. They remind me to take myself seriously, but not too seriously, to stretch even in the face of initial resistance, mine or others, to find pleasure in small wins.

Here then is the image I chose:

An image of a person - alas, not me - bringing a pot to life on a potter’s wheel.

This captures in a simple visual image what I wish for each of you as you go forth. That you embrace the boldness of seeing yourself as artists, as creators and changemakers, as people who bring passion and the fullness of your selves to the critically important challenges of public service. And that you have the discipline and energy and commitment to keep on going, even if you don’t get it right the first time around, that you learn from what works as well as what doesn’t and that you find joy in small things as well as big moves.
Thank you.

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May 15, 2009

Need a Coach? Try an Avatar

A snapshot of a CCL coaching session in Second Life
Reprinted from the CCL Leading Effectively e-Newsletter, April 2009.
Contact Cresencio Torres
Looking for a coach? Planning a meeting across time-zones? Hosting a conference, running a workshop or training employees? If so, an avatar may be at your service. In the not-so-distant future, virtual worlds may be the go-to technology for getting work done.

It is "early pioneering days," according to Forrester Research, but "Virtual worlds like Second Life,, and more business-focused offerings are on the brink of becoming valuable work tools." Forrester predicts that, within five years, the 3-D Internet will be as important for work as the Web is today. Tech consultancy Gartner, too, is predicting the growing popularity of virtual worlds: 80 percent of Internet users will be in a virtual world by 2011.

Virtual worlds open up whole new ways for people to interact. But the technologies may also influence what people communicate, how they innovate and what they learn, says CCL's Cresencio Torres. So CCL's early forays into Second Life are focused on both doing and learning.

For example, CCL's innovation group designed a campus in Second Life for coaching and feedback research. We conducted our first coaching and feedback alpha test in February. The coach and coachee spent three hours "in-world" interacting and using real world assessment data. (The picture below shows the two in the Visual Explorer room selecting a picture that began the feedback process.) Through the process, Torres and his colleagues learned a great deal about avatar interaction, focus and sharing of information and goal planning.

"Unexpectedly, we realized that we needed to move beyond the limitations of our current understanding of coaching. It was a major breakthrough in thinking about the entire feedback process and the possibilities that exist once you dramatically change your experience," says Torres. "Maybe in the future, for instance, coaching isn't called coaching at all, but something else."

Millions of Second Life users will have access to a CCL Network and Commercial Island in the summer of 2009. It will be the only Second Life leadership space created for both research and commercial use. Our avatars will see you there soon!

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