Newsletter: Learning U N B O U N D

people, products, and ideas energizing workplace learning

summer 2017

In this issue …

  • Interview/ Sue Baechler gets us “All In” with her new board game
  • Provocations/ My latest article for suggests we do away with leadership training
  • Coming Soon/ Joe Wheeler’s new program creates leaders for a digital age
  • Big Idea/ How to future-proof your education
  • Book Review/ Through the Shadowlands, by Julie Rehmeyer, takes us on a life-or-death learning journey
  • My News/ A cool conference in Santa Fe, Oct 3-4; a college course based on The Greats on Leadership; my next book, now in the works

interview/ Sue Baechler Gets Us All In

Sue Baechler, Founder/CEO of Originaliti Media, is one of the most creative thinkers I know. I spoke with her about her new All In board game and her thoughts on today’s learning landscape.

What’s different about the All In board game? It’s game-based strategy implementation. But it really solves a human-behavior issue more than a strategy issue. People’s motivations and actions need to be aligned behind the company’s goals. And that is hard to do. The game brings people together, and they walk away with a clear line of sight to the strategy, a plan for the couple of actions they’ll take, and an ally to help them. (By the way, “All In” is shorthand for alignment and for being included and inspired and intentioned.)

What was the gap you saw that made you want to develop it? In all the work I’ve done over 30 years, I’ve found that you have to go in believing that people want to do good work and look for what’s getting in the way of that happening. Like, in the case of strategy implementation: misalignment or lack of trust. We’re good at writing down the strategy and putting it on the whiteboard; not so good at getting the people on board.

What do you like best about the game? I like seeing the transformation from “How do I win?” or “What if I lose?” to people helping each other get there. We put the company strategy and goals on the table, and at first it all reads “foreign.” But the game is engineered to dispel fear and reward collaboration. However they come in—excited to learn or afraid to fail— there is eventually a shift from the individual to the collective, and you can see it.

What was the biggest a-ha you had while you were testing it? The biggest a-ha for us was that this misalignment issue is huge, and it’s real, and it blocks people from getting things done. It struck us how inefficient groups can be when they’re working at cross-purposes or without a clear purpose. We felt even more compelled to figure out how to help. For participants, the biggest a-ha is going from “I want to win” to “Oh! I can’t win until everyone is all in.”

As you look at leadership development today, what is most exciting to you?Everywhere I see people who are inclined to take the lead. They’re self-propelled. It’s no longer, “Wait 10 years and then you can be where I am; wait your turn.” They can do it on their own. You may find participants in your own development programs saying, “Um, we had a meetup at Starbucks and learned this two years ago.” That kind of energy needs to be understood and nourished. It’s very peer-based.

… and what is most frustrating? The overdoing of control: Insisting that people demonstrate a long list of competencies to advance in an organization rather than personalizing the list to recognize all the stuff people already know about leadership—from volunteering, parenting, driving a pizza van, dealing with a jerk boss. It doesn’t mean people don’t need guidance, but how you provide it—how you use what people know and their desire to help other people—I have not seen that catalyzed. It’s not, “We will develop you.” I am developing me!

What’s a piece of hard-won wisdom you’d like to share with learning professionals?Listen and learn from the people you are “developing.” Whatever you think you know, start with that—but then ask what they think. Really, truly make it a habit to listen and learn from everyone at all levels. We (the supposed experts) need to be closer, not farther away. And it’s so much easier to get help from everyone! Years ago I was intoxicated by the idea that “the higher you go, the more you know, and therefore you’re right.” Actually, it’s the opposite.

Listen to Sue’s recent podcast for the O.C. Tanner blog.

Learn more about the All In board game.

provocations/ Please … No More Leadership Training

The term “leadership development” has morphed over the years. It used to refer to executive education programs, housed at business schools and populated by rising vice presidents sent off to those ivy-draped enclaves to receive the polish deemed necessary for top corporate jobs. But starting in the 1990s, two things happened …

Read more of my article for

coming soon/ Leaders for a Digital Age

I love getting a taste of cool stuff in the test kitchen. Here’s what Joe Wheeler (of the Service Profit Chain Institute and CX Workout) has cooking. Yes, it’s D for digital, but it’s not about the technology; it’s about the strategy. I served up three questions for Joe.

What’s this new program about? Accelerating Digital Leadership is a program based on the work of Professor David Rogers as described in his bestselling book The Digital Transformation Playbook: Rethink Your Business for the Digital Age. It’s designed to give leaders a practical roadmap to navigate their way through the digital transformation of their business.

Why did you decide to create it? Digital transformation requires more than just appointing a chief digital officer. It requires an organizational commitment to embracing digital business models to remain competitive. A recent research study by Bizagi, a leader in digital transformation, found that 70 percent of business leaders agree that “efforts to transform the business externally are undermined by the internal complexity of the organization.” Accelerating Digital Leadership is a first step to solving this issue.

What will surprise people the most when they experience it? The ROI. Managers leave with an actual playbook to change their business. The action learning version of the program provides a blended learning experience: cross-functional teams are chartered to transform a product or service to a digital business model.

To learn more, contact CX Workout:

big idea/ How to Future-proof an Education 

“College is supposed to help young people prepare for the future. But as headlines warn that automation and technology may change—or end—work as we know it, parents, students, and universities are grappling with a new question: How do you educate a new generation for a world we can’t even imagine?”

Writing for Quartz, Peter Marber tells how “the most forward-thinking college in America” paves the way to the future with books and ideas that have been around a long, long time.

Read the Article

book review/ When a Learning Journey Is Life or Death

THROUGH THE SHADOWLANDS: A Science Writer’s Odyssey into an Illness Science Doesn’t Understand

   By Julie Rehmeyer

Julie Rehmeyer had spent years battling a mysterious illness so extreme she often couldn’t turn over in bed. Using her science and math training, she sought solutions from doctors, researchers, and the medical literature. Nothing helped. Then she found a group on the Internet who said toxic mold was making her sick. Their theory struck her as wacky pseudoscience, but she was out of ideas—so she drove into Death Valley, alone, leaving behind everything she owned.

Part memoir, part science journal, Through the Shadowlands will naturally be of interest to ME/CFS sufferers and to anyone with an illness poorly understood by Western medicine. But it’s also a fascinating account of an extreme learning journey. Rehmeyer turns an unflinchingly mindful eye on herself: her physical symptoms, thought processes, family history, relationships, emotions, and possible delusions. In the end, love of learning and the courage to self-reflect are the driving forces behind her recovery. (May 2017, Rodale)

Buy the Book

my news

  • My latest book, The Greats on Leadership, continues to find fans. I’m especially excited about a new partnership with the Alliance for Liberal Learning to develop a for-credit, college-level course (Leading with Substance) based on the book. To learn more about the course or to chat about how I might engage and inspire leaders in your organization, email me at
  • Book No. 3 is in the works! MAINSPRING: Zen and the Art of Quiet Influence. Tagline: “Mindfulness meets execution.” My wonderful publishers and I are aiming for a summer 2019 launch. Stay tuned (and if anyone can connect me to the Dalai Lama, let me know).
  • Please join me in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 3-4, for the Culture Ambassadors Retreat. I’ve already met a few of the other speakers, and … wow! This is a unique opportunity to make connections with a think-different group—in the City Different, no less. Email me for a discount code for 50% off the registration fee.


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Oops! Road Sign

Every day, many of us wonder: Am I illegal?

Until now, there has been no quick and easy way to find out. So frustrating!

I decided it was up to me, as a patriotic citizen, to step in and provide support. Take this 12-question quiz and erase all doubts about your legality or lack thereof.


1. While driving, have you ever knowingly and willfully exceeded the speed limit?

2. Have you gambled — participated for money in an office pool, fantasy football league, home poker or bridge game, or the like?

3. Have you ever thrown out an old tenant’s junk mail? (destroying other people’s mail is a federal offense)

4. Do you sometimes download or share copyrighted songs, shows, or images from the internet?

5. Have you ever had sex with a prostitute?

6. Ever had a Sharpie in your hand in a public place? (Sharpies are classified as graffiti tools, which by law may not be carried in public.)

7. Do you smoke marijuana in one of the 46 states where it is outlawed?

8. On your tax returns, do you occasionally overstate business expenses or understate income? What about the 147 bucks from that yard sale you held last July?

9. Do you fail to report and pay sales tax on all out-of-state catalog and online orders, as required by law?

10. Ever thrown prescription drugs, paint, motor oil, an old cell phone, toner cartridge, or a computer battery into the trash?

11. Have you ever had non-procreative sex (oral, anal, or gay) in one of 14 states where it is still illegal?

12. Did you ever enter a country on a visitor’s or asylum seeker’s visa; find work in a meat processing plant, on a farm, or cleaning offices 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no benefits of any kind; and overstay your visa because your current existence, though grueling and horribly insecure, was preferable to abandoning your children and returning to the place you risked all your money and your life to escape?

Total your “yes” answers and use the key below to interpret your score.

0: Congratulations! You are LEGAL.

1-12: Sorry! You are ILLEGAL.

Please note: If you are illegal, you have 48 hours to report to the nearest deportation facility. We cannot allow lawbreakers such as you to remain in our country. The fact that you have harmed no one and think a lot of these laws are stupid is no excuse. All Sharpies will be confiscated at the border.


The Government

p.s. For more on how to be illegal, see “9 Laws Everyone Breaks,” by Dennis Ryan, on, Dec 2016; also “6 Laws You’ve Broken without Even Realizing It,” by Cezary Jan Strusiewicz, on, Sep 2011.)

p.p.s. Feel free to copy or share.

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Shadow Leadership

This post by Steve Keating is very much in line with my thoughts on new ways to define leadership levels (see last chapters of The Greats on Leadership). Nicely put!


Shadow Leaders are leaders in name only. They may have an impressive sounding title or hold a lofty position on an organizational chart but they exhibit few if any leadership characteristics.

They keep their head down, usually do solid work, and are relatively good followers but they stay in the shadows to hide from risk and they do not lead.

Risk involves making decisions, charting a new course, dealing with conflicts, or just trying new things. A Shadow Leader’s first priority is to protect their position and the income that comes with it.

Shadow Leaders focus on what is with little regard for the possibilities of what could be.

Shadow Leaders bring a larger than average expense to their organization for two reasons. First, their good work could be accomplished by someone without the lofty title and compensation. Second and this is worse, far worse actually, because they don’t lead…

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America, Make Your Stand


Okay, America. We can all see where this is going.

The question is: Whose side are you on?

The persevering, no-nonsense Mother Abigail … or the overly florid but eerily compelling Randall Flagg?

The former was born and bred in the rural heartland and has deep support from minority communities. The latter has an affinity for casinos and treats women like dirt.

Remind you of another dynamic duo who recently swept aside the competition in New York?

Stephen King’s The Stand is the first leadership book I ever read, and I still love it. These days we rarely talk about leadership in terms of a showdown between good and evil. We feel that sort of talk is … I don’t know, judgmental?  In poor taste? Unsophisticated? We tut-tut about The Donald’s xenophobia and Hillary’s trust problem. We say politicians are all playing the game, there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, and on election day we plan to hold our nose and vote for the least bad one–or maybe just stay home.

Novels and TV series are the only places, today, where we can shamelessly cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys. And even there, what we mostly get are heroes with deep flaws and villains with a soft side. Lately I’ve been binge-watching Scandal. The whole point of that show seems to be that no one wears the white hat.

The great thing about The Stand (and indeed many King books) is that, despite the apocalyptic setting, the situation is all too familiar. Good and evil walk right up to us every day: on the street, on our screens, in the office. Hi! Nice to meet you! I’d like to be your man–or woman. Vote for me. Support me. Follow me.

And every time that happens, a little voice inside tells us: Good leader … or bad leader. White hat … or black hat.

Do we listen to that little voice? Or do we drown it out in a lot of sophisticated talk about trust problems and flawed candidates and no-such-thing-as-a-perfect-leader?

You know what they say: The devil’s greatest trick was convincing us he doesn’t exist.

So come on, America.

Make your stand.

For more timeless stories about good and evil leaders and how to recognize them, check out my latest book: The Greats on Leadership: Classic Wisdom for Modern Managers (London/Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, May 2016). 


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My new book! The Greats on Leadership

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, The Greats on Leadership: Classic Wisdom for Modern Managers.

It will be released in early May wherever books are sold. Reserve your copy today, and read on for details …


Many thanks to the wonderful team at Nicholas Brealey Publishing (an Hachette company based in London and Boston), who believed in this project and have been delightful to work with at every step of the way.

You can read all about the book on my website,–including, I’m proud to say, some great early reviews from luminaries of the leadership and literary worlds: Marshall Goldsmith, Richard Whiteley, Bryan Burrough, John Humphrey, Diane Hessan, and many more.

Speaking of luminaries, I recently spoke to columnist Chris Nelson about the ideas in The Greats on Leadership. Read his very interesting article: “Ditch Your Corporate Leadership Training Program: Launch a Shakespeare Book Club Instead.”

Finally, here’s a quick summary of the book … Please buy and enjoy!

The Greats on Leadership: Classic Wisdom for Modern Managers

You don’t need a big title or a business degree in order to lead with impact. What you need is practical wisdom: the insight, judgment, and strength of character that all great leaders have, but most business schools and corporate workshops don’t teach. The Greats on Leadership gets you there.

Jocelyn Davis takes you on an in-depth tour of the best leadership ideas of the past 25 centuries, featuring classic authors from Plato to Winston Churchill, Shakespeare to Jane Austen, C.G. Jung to Peter Drucker, and many more. In a style both thought-provoking and entertaining, she shows how history’s great writers have always been, and still are, the real leadership gurus.

Davis spells out the behaviors that distinguish true leaders from misleaders and covers 20 specific leadership topics, including:

  • Leadership Traps (Shakespeare)
  • Change (Machiavelli)
  • Power (Sophocles)
  • Dilemmas (Madison, Hamilton)
  • Communication (Lincoln, Pericles)
  • Personality Types (Jung)
  • Motivation (Frankl)
  • Judgment (Maupassant, Melville, Austen, Shaw)
  • Character (Churchill, Plutarch, Shelley, Joyce)

Each chapter begins with a synopsis of a great work by the author and then draws out the key leadership insights, weaving them together with business examples, the best contemporary research, and tools to help put it all into practice. In the last two chapters Davis presents a new way to think about leadership levels, framing them in terms of the impact you have rather than the title on your business card.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or MBA searching for something more inspiring than the standard textbook, a new manager looking for something deeper than the typical how-to book, or an experienced executive seeking ideas to lift you to the next level, this remarkably readable and practical guide will set you on the road to becoming a great leader.


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5 Twitter Tips for the Busy and Clueless (like me)

A colleague of mine, @CatherineKillo1, recently joined Twitter. She’s way more social-media savvy than I; nevertheless, she’s new to the Twitterverse, so I offered to send her some tips. She said yes please, and then I thought, why not make it a blog post?

So here goes.

I joined Twitter (or rather, joined with my current persona, @JocelynRDavis) in April 2014. As of today I have about 865 followers and am following about 845. I don’t know how good those numbers are, but I think they’re not bad when you consider that a) I’m not the least bit famous, b) I spend very little time on social media and have no helpers, and c) all my followers are actual people.

If, like me, you are un-famous, have little time or aptitude for social media, and find the idea of buying imaginary followers unappealing—then you may find these tips useful.

Tip 1: Tweet Two to Five Times per Day, on Average

Twitter rewards those who participate. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I know that those who tweet regularly will get more followers than those who don’t.

I set a goal from the beginning that I would tweet three times a day and once a day on weekends. I have pretty much stuck to that, and it has worked for me. I’ve read that as a business owner I should be tweeting once every 15 minutes, but c’mon … I’m not devoting my life to Twitter. Yes, I know one can build up a bank of tweets and schedule them, but still, that means I’d have to come up with 50+ tweets per day. Seriously?

The good news is, if you have the Twitter app on your phone and follow Tip 2, it’s not difficult to hit the three-tweets-per-day mark.

By the way, it also helps to have a profile blurb that captures your “brand”—i.e., what you and your tweets are about. I adjust mine everyone now and then. Oh—and don’t lock your account so that you have to approve follower requests. That’s pointless (you can always block a bad egg), and it discourages most people from following you.

Tip 2: Don’t Stress About Original Content

People will tell you that tweeting original content, such as your own blog posts or your own witty-profound thoughts, is essential to getting followers. Maybe that’s true, and I do try to write an original blog post once a week (that’s another story), but honestly I don’t notice any difference, follower-wise, between the weeks when I’ve tweeted original stuff and the weeks when I’ve simply tweeted articles or posts by other authors.

How do I find content to tweet? I’ve identified several main interest areas—leadership, learning and education, and writing—and I’ve signed up for seven or eight “feeds” in those areas: a couple of newsletters (like this one), a few LinkedIn groups, Medium, ReadThis, and The Needs. They push articles to me in daily emails. I’ve also bookmarked a bunch of websites I like—various companies, publications, and blogs—and when my email feeds fail to inspire me, I’ll visit one of those sites and see what’s new. Almost every article and post these days has a Tweet button, so it’s easy to hit Tweet when you’re so inclined.

I don’t agonize about what to tweet. I tweet whatever strikes me as interesting that day. I do think it’s important to have a few core topics, but you don’t need to stick rigidly to them; in fact, some of my most-viewed tweets have been “off-message,” just stuff I thought was cool.

Tip 3: Follow Back

For a few months I followed only people who seemed to share my interests. People would follow me, and I would check them out and maybe follow them back. As a result, my followers number would shoot up one day and drop back the next: 2 steps forward, 1.9 steps back.

Then I tracked my followers on a spreadsheet for about a week and the light finally dawned: If you don’t follow back, most people will unfollow you.

The way to lock in your followers is to follow back. Once I realized this, I started following nearly everyone who follows me. The exceptions are individuals who:

  • Are only about selling something
  • Tweet things I find offensive (profanity, borderline racist remarks, etc.)
  • Don’t seem to be trying at all (3 tweets since 2012 and nothing in their profile)
  • Have clearly bought their way in (see next point)

Re purchasing followers: When I first got on Twitter I was amazed to see quite a few non-celebrities with 100,000 or more followers and very few tweets. It took me a while (yep, clueless) to realize that one can buy followers and that some folks do this to make their numbers look good. The “followers” are accounts set up by the truckload by enterprising tweeters who will, for a fee, follow you with those accounts.

You will receive plenty of pitches from these people. No harm in it, I guess, but it seems a bit creepy—like being followed by an army of ghosts.  Aragorn was OK with it, but I’m not.

Tip 4: Drop the People Who Drop You

The flip side of the tip above is to unfollow the unfollowers.

Certain tweeters use a sneaky tactic in an effort to boost their follower-to-following ratio:  they follow you, you happily follow them back, and then a week or a month later, unbeknownst to you, they unfollow you. The way to catch these nefarious types is periodically to scroll through your Following list (I do it about once a week) and look for the “Follows You” note on each one. If there is no such note, you know that person has unfollowed you—and you can choose to unfollow them.

Now, there are some people I choose to follow even if they don’t follow me, but I have learned to limit these one-way follows to two very small groups:

  • Dedicated creators of content in my areas of interest (such as certain newspapers or bloggers)
  • People or organizations I really want to support (such as certain charities or authors)

Of course in the first month or two, you’ll want to follow a bunch of people just to get some traction. But after you get going, there’s not much point in following those who don’t follow you. If you want content pushed to you, sign up for newsletters or email feeds (see Tip 2). And if you desperately want to know what the Kardashians are doing—fine, follow them, but then you’re probably not reading this post.

Tip 5: Forget About Actually Following Anyone and Embrace Serendipity

Since Twitter purports to be about “following” people, it’s natural at first to think that you’re supposed to do just that: Keep up with all those tweets. Watch what everyone is doing. Read what everyone is saying.

In fact, there’s no need to do anything of the sort. When I first got on, I spent maybe a week trying to read all the tweets in my feed and another week panicking and cutting back my Following list to a manageable size (I know … clueless). Then I realized I didn’t have to read any of it if I didn’t want to. It’s sort of like browsing a bookstore. You visit when you feel like it; maybe something catches your eye, maybe nothing does, maybe you buy something, maybe you don’t.

Nowadays, I find myself visiting my Twitter feed one to three times a day, on average. I scroll for a few seconds. If something catches my attention, I’ll click on the link or maybe do a retweet. I have stumbled across a lot of fascinating stuff this way.

Serendipity. Or should I say: Seren-Twipity.

I am still learning. What are your Twitter tips for the busy and clueless?

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Miles: 1655. States: 10

This post reminds me of Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited: “Then I simply MUST visit the botanical gardens.”

that ribbon of highway

Today was planned to be mostly a driving day. For the most part it was, but I ended up making a rather delightful detour.

I saw a sign on the highway for Red Robin just outside Madison, WI. I had initially planned to get my free birthday (veggie) burger there with my sestra and boyf, but alas alack, plans did not work out. I decided to stop and get my burger because hey, practically free lunch. It was also 2 on a weekday, so I didn’t feel weird about eating alone. While I ate my burger (which is SO GOOD you guys), I scrolled through Google Now, as I am wont to do. It suggested nearby attractions, and recommended the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and I thought, hey, why the hell not?

It ended up being probably my favorite place thus far. There’s a conservatory with tropical plants, which seemed to…

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