Friday, April 15, 2016

#BlogExodus: Examine

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer has for many years invited people to "Blog Exodus" at this time of year. See her blog from the 11th of April: Basically, she chooses a theme a day for the fourteen days leading up to the Seder, and invites us all to write on that theme. You can do it on her daily Facebook post or on your blog.

Today's theme spoke to me at a moment when I had some time to write. The theme is Examine.

Now Examine is very Pesadik trope - next week we will clean our homes of all chametz - the stuff that has been leavened. Some will even use a feather and candle to examine the nooks and crannies in our homes so we can find the last of the chametz. We have been examining store shelves for weeks, hoping to find everything we need in order to prepare meals for a week, including one or two fairly large feasts.

But seeing the word Examine as a theme for the day makes me think about something even more intimate. It is interesting that the Israelites were instructed to make sure the lambs they sacrificed on the night of the final plague had to be without blemish, but were not told to purify themselves in any way. But much of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is filled with various people in a variety of situations being commanded to purify themselves as they prepared for a ritual or to reenter the camp.

My wife and I agree that Pesach is one of our favorite festivals, and it may be number one. The reason has to do with the cleaning of the house and the switching of the dishes. For me, though, it is also the idea that I need to Examine myself, and find the chametz that is inside me. I need to find the things that are holding me back from setting out on the path to freedom this year. And I need to deal with them. Some I can handle on my own. Others are big enough that I will need some help.

My rabbi growing up, Mark S. Shapiro, used to say that as hard as it was to get the Jews out of Egypt, it is (still!) harder to get the Egypt out of the Jews. We bring our chametz with us, just like packing a lunch for the road. The forty years of wandering was God's attempt to get the chametz of actual slavery - and the fantasy that somehow Egypt was better than the reality of freedom - out of our heads.

Find your own chametz - the kind that is inside you. And get rid of it. I am hoping we don't need to take a whole generation to get it done.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Teaching in the time of Trump

One of my favorite subscription e-mails is from HistoryTech.  It is written by educator, consultant and tech guy Glenn Wiebe. He is definitely my kind of educator. His blog consists not only of his own thoughts about the use of technology in teaching history, but also those of others he learns from. And it is about good teaching, not just good use of technology. Each posting has links to web sites or apps that educators might find useful usually around a common theme or idea. Very accessible. 
History Tech
History, technology, and
probably some other stuff

Today he relies on his own wisdom as well as that of others to give some insight on how to approach one of the most troubling phenomena we have faced in some time in the American classroom - Donald Trump. It is a big issue for more than the Donald being Donald. In our classrooms - both secular and religious there is requirement of political neutrality on the part of the teacher and the school. But this is not a topic that can or should be ignored. So here is Glenn's post, which can also be found at

Teaching in the time of Trump

Several days ago, I wrote a quick post highlighting seven ways to survive a divisive election while making your students smarter. That post generated an interesting conversation – many teachers began asking similar kinds of questions. Specifically . . . how can we teach diversity and tolerance when much of the campaign rhetoric directly challenges these very American values while at the same time maintaining a neutral political stance?

A recent article in the National Council for the Social Studies journal Social Education can help us address this concern. Titled Teaching in the Time of Trump by Benjamin Justice and Jason Stanley, the NCSS article provides context, rationale, and specific suggestions for focusing on American democratic values and process.
The article is an incredibly useful teaching tool but it also provides a powerful reminder of our fundamental task. Head over to get the full text but I’ve pasted some snippets below to provide some flavor of what Justice and Stanley have to say.
Teaching in the time of Trump raises a fundamental pedagogical question: is it permissible for a teacher to adopt a non-neutral political stance in the classroom, either through explicitly addressing the problems with Trump’s rhetoric or, conversely, by remaining silent in the face of it? How can teachers balance the much cherished value of political impartiality (protecting the students’ freedom of expression and autonomous political development) against the much cherished American values threatened by Trumpish demagoguery?
Why should we even worry about this?
Democracy has two chief values, liberty and equality. In most conceptions of liberty, demagoguery is allowed in a democracy. Controversial speech is still free speech. The problem of demagoguery lies not in its conflict with freedom, but with the democratic value of equality. Demagoguery causes problems in the absence of equal respect; it feeds off of and strengthens divisions in society.

Public school classrooms are training grounds for liberal democracy, where students learn democratic skills and knowledge.

Students must learn the bounds of reasonableness by interacting with apparently fixed knowledge – such as that in their textbooks – and also by applying knowledge to their engagement with other students in the process of analysis of public issues. In that process, teaching for democracy is not the same as giving free rein to all perspectives so that all are treated as equally reasonable. Rather, teachers lead conversations and set reasonable parameters so that all students can safely participate and learn what is reasonable and what is not reasonable. This is the fundamental political purpose of a public education.

Democratic principles and ideals are not themselves neutral. Neither is teaching students to become citizens in a society that aspires to these ideals. Because of the value of liberty, one should not suppress the speech of those who argue that one religion should have a preference over others, for example. But it is reasonable for a teacher to observe that Trump’s rhetoric is a contemporary example of a violation of the democratic ideal of equal rights for all religions.

Teachers also cannot be neutral about the misrepresentation of facts or the violation of norms of truth in public speech. They should emphasize to students the importance of evaluating the accuracy of statements made by candidates. Some examples of websites that check these are FactCheck, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and PolitiFact.
Why worry about facts?
Trump’s rhetoric exhibits several characteristics of demagogic speech. If political speech ought to be guided, in liberal democracy, not just by reasonableness but also by truth, then Trump’s seeming willful disregard of it is also illiberal, whether it was his efforts as a “birther” to discredit President Obama by demanding his birth certificate or his recent claims about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the World Trade Center attacks.

In another example, Trump tweeted an inaccurate graphic claiming that 81% of whites who were murdered were killed by blacks; the real number in 2014 was 14%. Such disregard for truth is a mark of the rise of history’s worst tyrants. Hannah Arendt in her book Origins of Totalitarianism grimly observed this axiom in action: “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such . . .”
Justice and Stanley suggest three strategies for teaching in the time of Trump:
  • One approach would examine the material conditions leading to a situation in which voters are attracted by undemocratic rhetoric. Perhaps the institutions of democracy have failed them. A state that promised its citizens a raft of goods, but in fact never delivered them, would in so doing lay the groundwork for a protest candidate who proved his or her credentials by violating its norms of respectability.

  • A second approach involves a comparison of the current material conditions to those present at other times in U.S. history at which demagogues achieved some measure of success through the politics of division and exclusion based on religion, race, and political belief. In short, one could compare the political environment that gave rise to Trump to the ones that gave rise to Father Coughlin in the 1930s and George Wallace in the 1960s, by examining similarities or differences in the state of the economy, social tensions, and disagreements over controversial government policies. Several of my Twitter PLN suggested a similar approach by asking students to look at other places around the world and in different time periods. Compare current US events to leaders and events in the past and discuss implications and consequences of those actions.

  • A third approach would track the genesis of Trumpism to the shift in rhetoric brought into public debate by partisan news media and social media. This would involve a historical project comparing previous media norms to the ones at work in contemporary partisan media. Students might examine the impact of the growth of stridently conservative radio and TV programs and electronic media during the last 25 years, and consider whether they prepared the way for the political rise of Donald Trump.
What’s our obligation? Our job?
Silence is not an acceptable strategy. As teachers, we should advocate no particular political party, candidate, or public policy. But we are all obligated, deeply, to hew to the basic principles of democratic life in order to help our students discern what is reasonable. Public school teaching is not neutral and has never been intended or understood as such.

Public schools are places where reason and reasonableness must be cultivated in the best traditions of liberals and conservatives alike, striking the balance between the principles of equality and freedom, preparing students for the maelstrom that awaits them.
It’s not necessarily an easy job. But it’s one that we cannot ignore.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

David L. Odom: History without a reason

One of my rabbis, Evan Schultz, shared this wonderful article with our staff yesterday. It is definitely a part of the Jewish Educational Theory of Everything! The idea that we do something because we have always done it, completely unhinged from the original, innovative rationale for doing it, can be debilitating. Let's talk about this!

The article comes from - a learning resource for Christian leaders and their institutions from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. David L. Odom is the
Executive director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. You can find the original posting here.

David L. Odom: History without a reason

SIgn announcing times of Sunday Services at The Church of St. Mabena
Many times institutions have traditions -- such as the Sunday service time -- that are preserved without a reason for doing so.
Wikimedia Commons/Theroadislong
Leaders must be able to articulate why an institution does what it does. Is it a matter of history, or is there a reason? writes the executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Early in my new boss’s tenure, I asked her for help.

“Is this one of those situations that has a history but not a reason?” she asked.

The question stopped me cold.

She told me that in her two-week tenure, several people had sought her advice. In each case, she had asked, “Why are we doing this?” In response, the person would launch into a story that never included a reason for the project.

Since hearing the phrase from my boss -- Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis, who is serving as interim dean of Duke Divinity School -- I have repeated it to several leaders whose faces lit up. They can see in their contexts the projects that have a history without a reason.

Learning the history of an issue is critical. It reveals stakeholders whose views might remain important and can give hints about the circumstances that first gave rise to the issue. Those who claim to know the history often care about a situation’s outcome, and giving them a chance to tell the story helps bring them on board.

I have met several leaders who believed that the relevant history started with their own arrival at an institution. My boss was pointing to a different challenge.

During good times, an organization can coast on autopilot. The reasons for an initiative can get lost, though it can still seem to be productive. When times are tough -- economic challenges, leadership changes, neighborhood changes, stakeholder investment shifts -- it is critical to be able to articulate why the organization does what it does.

The starting point is to ask, “Why?”

But be careful. Asking why can make people nervous and cause them to wonder about your motivations -- are you simply trying to control of the situation? Assure them that you’re trying to understand the situation, and listen carefully. If their story doesn’t conclude with a reason, ask the question again.

In my case, Dean Davis asked the question to understand the dilemma and empower me to solve it. I had wanted her to make a decision, but she wanted to offer me some guidelines for solving it myself. The decision had high stakes, and we had not worked together before. Her question enabled us to share information and gain each other’s trust.

When I was a young pastor, I was the one asking questions.

I was troubled that my congregation had its Easter Sunday worship service at 9 a.m. Every other Sunday of the year, we worshiped at 11 a.m.

When I asked why, people said that 9 a.m. was more convenient for Easter, but no one had any evidence that it was. I was worried about the people who came to church only once a year and might assume that we held our service two hours later.

When I pressed the question, I learned that the church had historically held a sunrise service followed by a breakfast. Because of the long delay between the end of breakfast and the beginning of the 11 a.m. service, the second service had been moved back to 9. It had been more than 10 years since the last sunrise service and breakfast. The 9 a.m. service had a history -- but no longer a reason.

I was worried that newcomers in our community would show up at 11 a.m. thinking we would have a service and then feel left out when we didn’t. On my first Easter Sunday there, I decided to hang out in the parking lot after the 9 a.m. service to see whether anyone showed up at 11. Five carloads of newcomers pulled into the empty parking lot about 10:50.

If there is something significant at stake, it is unwise to frame the issue as simply “history or reason.” As a leader, approach the situation with a both-and mindset: How might you preserve the history and make space for something new?

My colleague Greg Jones refers to this mindset as “traditioned innovation.” In our case, church leaders didn’t want to change the time, but they did agree to invest in signs and other media to announce the “special time on a special day” for Easter. We worked hard to reach newcomers in the community who would find the 9 a.m. service appealing.

With the phrase “history without a reason” stuck in my mind, I listen carefully to the stories people tell me about why something is done a certain way. Does the story imply a reason? Does the person hear what the story implies? Does the reason make sense in the current context? Can the history and the reason be brought together?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Winning Giving Tuesday (or If I Had $45,000,000,000!)

Attention Warriors defending Christmas - you may want to put down your red Starbucks cups and watch some commercials from Best Buy. Those ads tell you that when you give Tech, you get love and "Win the Holidays." Ugh.

Now it turns out that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have won "Giving Tuesday" with some seriously audacious generosity. According to the New York Times:

The Zuckerbergs Giveth Away Their Facebook Fortune Many billionaires turned to philanthropy late in their lives. In Silicon Valley, some are turning to it much earlier. The most prominent example of that trend happened on Tuesday when Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook co-founder and chief executive, said he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, plan to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares - currently valued at $45 billion - for charitable purposes. The couple made their announcement in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Max.
Now there are several directions we could take this. We could examine how this does or does not fit the patterns being discerned about Millenials. Let's not. We could explore the outrageously out of sync wealth that has sprouted in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley (Boston) and Silicon Wadi (Israel) and how the new billionaires are handling it. Pass. We could focus on the new philanthropy of those billionaires such as the Giving Pledge, an effort set up in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates, or Warren Buffet's approach to fellow billionaires urging them to give away their money. I like it, but not today.

Instead, I would like to invite friends and colleagues to consider your answer to the question:

If you had $45,000,000,000 to donate for charitable purposes, how would you distribute it? What kinds of causes would you support? Would you give it directly to an individual in need? Would you give it to organizations?

Giving tzedakah is both an everyday mitzvah and an every holiday mitzvah. So after you have thought about what you would do with $45 Billion, make like Samuel J. Jackson and ask "What's in YOUR wallet?" Figure out how you can take an amount that is realistic for you - not Zuckerbergesque - and direct your own tzedakah to one or more of the recipients you thought of!

Happy Chanukah and Happy Giving Every Day.

The announcement that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife would give away billions of dollars drew hundreds of responses from New York Times readers about the causes they'd support Here is a link to what they had to say: If Readers Had $45 Billion to Donate, This Is What They Would Support

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees From War Aren’t the Enemy

From the New York Times Editorial Board November 18, 2015. Well said!

Credit: Jordan Awan

The House is expected to vote Thursday on H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015, which Republican sponsors say “would put in place the most robust national-security vetting process in history” for refugees, one that would “do everything possible to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores.” 
Conceived partly in response to the Paris attacks, the bill seeks to “pause” admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Though there are real fears of terrorism, this measure represents election-year pandering to the xenophobia that rears up when threats from abroad arise. People who know these issues — law enforcement and intelligence professionals, immigration officials and humanitarian groups — say that this wrongheaded proposal simply would not protect Americans from “foreign enemies.”

One of the bill’s chief sponsors, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House committee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, surely knows how federal protocols for admitting refugees work. Yet the bill disregards the complicated current process, which already requires that applicants’ histories, family origins, and law enforcement and past travel and immigration records be vetted by national security, intelligence, law enforcement and consular officials. This process can take 18 months to two years for each person.

Among other hurdles, the measure would require that the secretary of homeland security, the director of the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence personally certify that every refugee from Syria and Iraq seeking resettlement here is not a threat. That’s a lot of women, children, and old people.

Moreover, this bill ignores most of what the United States has learned, since 9/11 and before, of how potential terrorists actually reach these shores: such individuals more often already live here, or they come via illegal means. Unlike the refugees in Europe, those seeking resettlement in the United States must apply from abroad. They don’t arrive until formally admitted, and about half of those seeking refugee status are approved. Continue reading the main story

So far, half of the Syrian refugees accepted into the United States, officials say, have been children, and another quarter are over 60 years old. Roughly half are female, and many of those applying from abroad are multigenerational families, often with the primary breadwinner missing. About 2 percent are single males of combat age.

Given these facts, it is fair to say that the people who will be denied resettlement by this bill would be the victims of war, people who have been tortured and threatened by the same jihadists the United States now battles. They are families, they are old people and they are children, who might be given a chance for an education and a future. Continue reading the main story

This is a frightening time for Europe, and for the United States. Should this bill reach his desk, President Obama is more than likely to veto it because it has little to do with fighting global terror. It is sad that this proposal has been described as a first chance for the new speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, to cooperate with the Senate. This bill doesn’t reflect who Americans are, and congressional leaders should have the good sense to realize that.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#JewishPurpose: An Open Invitation to Participate

This was posted this morning on eJewishPhilanthropy. Consider this cross posting to be me adding my signature. And it will fit in with my Jewish Educational Theory of Everything, I think!

Let's talk!


Since the release of the Pew study in 2013, there has been much hand-wringing in the Jewish community, with some calling this, again, a time of crisis. There is fear of increasing rates of assimilation and growing disaffiliation from traditional institutions. This was especially apparent in the recent statement, Strategic Directions for Jewish Life: A Call to Action, signed by many respected colleagues.

We do not accept this doom and gloom picture of a dying Jewish community, and we think the analysis and recommendations in the document are too limited. As leaders of Jewish social justice initiatives, we see instead an incredibly exciting moment in Jewish life, in which Jews of all generations are experimenting with new modes of practice, diving into learning, creating new Jewish cultural expressions, and drawing on Jewish wisdom and our Jewish traditions to inspire engagement with the world. Rather than mourning the changes in modes of affiliation, we should celebrate this moment and determine how the many different parts of our community might respond expansively and creatively. We want more new voices at the table and more ideas for next steps to be shared.

Pew reports that 56% of Jews say that being Jewish means working for justice. We take this statistic as an opportunity for the organized Jewish community to take on new powerful work for justice, with the involvement or leadership of our groups and our partners. This statistic is also a challenge to many in our ranks who are not doing justice work, or not doing it Jewishly, to act for justice in ways that are connected to the richness of Jewish tradition.

Integrating Judaism with social justice is not a gimmick – it’s a true, authentic way of being Jewish that is both rooted in our texts and traditions, and in the American Jewish experience. Over time, thousands (perhaps millions?) of Jews have acted for justice out of their Jewish values, history, and tradition. It is exciting that in the past 30 years this has become more visible and an entire field is being built around an explicitly Jewish perspective on pursuing justice. That field and those who populate it deserve a central place at this table as we debate aspects of our future.

But there is more. We who are doing this work know that we don’t have all the answers. We know that it is a core principle of social justice that the answers to the most pressing collective challenges have to come from the grassroots, from those most affected by what is and those looking the hardest for what could be. We, as Jewish social justice leaders, know that even perfect solutions to collective challenges often fail if they don’t feel connected to the community affected by those challenges.

So, we are hoping this letter launches this conversation into a broader sphere. We want to know what you – Jews inside and outside of Jewish institutions – think. What is your dream for a dynamic, exciting Jewish community? What do you find in the 21st century Jewish community that speaks to your interests? Where does it let you down? What are you doing outside the Jewish community that you would like to see become part of what the community offers?

During Chanukah, join us for a communal conversation on social media using #jewishpurpose responding to these questions.

This is an invitation to all of you and to the broad circles of people we suspect you can help us engage. We want people who are engaged in Jewish life, people who are occasional participants, and people who watch from the sidelines. We want those who are social justice activists and those who are quiet sympathizers; those who bemoan the state of the world and haven’t figured out what to do about it; those who work in the community and those who don’t; and we definitely want and need people of every generation.

See you online!

Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Abby Levine, Exective Director, the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
Adam Berman, Executive Director, Urban Adamah
Alex Weissman, President, Reconstructionist Student Association
Aliza Levine, Organizer for UNITE HERE New England Joint Board
Amram Altzman, Keshet Leader, Co-founder of the Sexuality, Identity, and Society Club at Ramaz High School, and Blogger for New Voices Magazine
Andy Levin, President, Lean and Green Michigan
April N. Baskin, Union for Reform Judaism
Chava Shervington, President, Jewish Multiracial Network
Cheryl Cook, Executive Director, Avodah
Daniel Sokatch, CEO, New Israel Fund
David Eisner, President & CEO, Repair the World
David Krantz, President of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
Davida Ginsberg, Moishe Kavod House President
Debbie Goldstein, Carolina Jews for Justice
Dove Kent, Executive Director, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Emilia Diaimant, Executive Director, The Jeremiah Project
Esther-Ann Asch, Advocacy Committee Member at Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York and Former Vice President of Jewish and Community Affairs at FEGS
Fair Trade Judaica
Habonim Dror North America
Idit Klein, Executive Director, Keshet
Jacob Feinspan, Executive Director, Jews United for Justice
Jenna Weinberg, Board Member, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Jewish Labor Committee Western Region
Joy Sisisky, Executive Director, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York
Judy Levey, Executive Director, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Karla Van Praag, Executive Director, JOIN for Justice
Kathryn MacĂ­as – Moishe Kavod House leader
Lee Sherman, President & CEO, Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies
Leo Ferguson, Leadership Development and Communications Organizer, JFREJ
Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women
Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee
Rabbi Alana Alpert, Director, Detroit Jews for Justice
Rabbi Barbara Penzner, co-chair, New England Jewish Labor Committee
Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Board Chair, JCUA
Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, Program Director and Rabbi in Residence, Jews United for Justice
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Vice President for Community Engagement, HIAS
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Senior Vice President, Union for Reform Judaism
Rebecca Ennen, Jews United for Justice
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rita Freedman, Acting Executive Director, Jewish Labor Committee
Robert Bank, Executive Vice President, American Jewish World Service
Ruth W. Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service
Sheila Decter, Executive Director, JALSA
Stosh Cotler, CEO, Bend the Arc
Tamar Ghidalia, Board Member, Jewish Community Action
Uri L’Tzedek
Vic Rosenthal, Executive Director, Jewish Community Action
Workmen’s Circle
Yavilah McCoy, Bend the Arc Leader and CEO of VISIONS Inc.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ken Gordon: My Daughter and Design Thinking: Have Either Really Come of Age?

Ken Gordon is half of the genius that brought us JEDLAB. (If JEDLAB means nothing to you, then go there now. Come back here later. Ken is a lot of things. And he has served our people in a number of ways. And I love the way he sees the world. Rabbi Laurence Kushner once wrote a book called Invisible Lines of Connection. Ken sees them as if they were painted in neon colors. And he has proven remarkably adept at helping others see them and use them to connect to more and more people especially in Jewish education. His main job is now in the world of business consulting, but even before he got there he was like me - a bit of a design thinking junkie. This article was posted on his company Continuum's blog in August. I loved it, then lost the link. Yesterday I found it again. I think it is every bit as important today as it was in August. Check it out. I love the way he synthesizes the Bat Mitzvah with the real world. It is a wonderful example of making Judaism relavant. (Hello, Millenials?) And go to Continuum's site to read more of Ken's work and that of his colleagues. It can teach us Jewish educators a lot.

by Ken Gordon

I have a 13-year-old daughter. Shoshi. She stands as tall as my wife Lisa, speaks Hebrew with a gorgeous Israeli accent, and knows more Torah than both her parents combined. As I type this, she’s studying hard to become a bat mitzvah. This phrase means, literally, “daughter of commandment.” When she officially becomes a bat mitzvah this winter, tradition says she will be responsible for fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of a Jewish adult.

I tell you all this because when I hear the phrase “design thinking comes of age,” which is the cover story of the current issue of Harvard Business Review, I think of Shoshi. I think of what it means, what it really means, for design thinking to come of age.

The official, optimistic line goes like this: In 2015, design thinking has become a fully responsible player in business, one that’s as equally important as, say, digital or branding. It is no longer a merely interesting concept in which a company might or might not dabble. We tell ourselves that design thinking is now an integrated element of many organizations—such as, say, Intuit—and we expect it not to loosen up their approach to problem solving, but to produce serious business results.


But then I think of my actual 13-year-old kid. Do I truly expect Shoshi, who neither drives nor votes nor dates nor earns money nor pays taxes, to become a fully responsible adult after the ceremony is over? I don’t. Truth is, neither my expectations nor our community’s will require her to be a real adult right now. More adult, yes, but not fully. This has a lot to do with the fact that we are secular Jews, and thus don’t literally follow the 613 mitzvot—but it’s also a realization that my kid, like most kids in our society, isn’t anywhere near proper adulthood at 13.

In a similar way, we may also be overestimating the level of maturity of design thinking in the business world. Advocates like to believe design thinking now occupies an ergonomically correct seat at the grownups’ table… but, it still has a ways to grow.

Which isn’t to say that there hasn’t been progress. John Maeda’s recent report about the importance of design to tech companies is significant—between 2011 and 2015, nine creative firms have been acquired in #designintech M&A. That’s nine out of thousands of design shops, of various sizes and capabilities.

At Continuum, we’ve seen some serious interest from companies in developing their innovation capability, and that seems a significant shift. Maybe the CEO of the future will be a designer-in-chief, but that moment, if we’re honest, still seems off in the distance.

So what do we do to slide design thinking down the maturity curve?

We can encourage those firms that have expressed an interest in design thinking to explore the concept more deeply. At Continuum, this means using the content we publish, as well as the conversations in which we engage, as a means of educating the interested.

We teach the notion that design thinking requires sincere cultural commitment to work. It isn’t just that one’s CEO cares about the design: the entire org must do so. Design-centricity isn’t just about hiring designers or attending workshops: it’s about adopting a certain mindset and approach for all business issues.

We must demonstrate that design thinking takes time and patience. Design thinking is a long-term process that involves much prototyping, testing, refining, tinkering to a serious degree. This takes time (it can’t be rushed) and won’t necessarily provide instant returns. Your org has to understand that design thinking unfolds in time, and might have to learn to develop a strong will to wait.
We insist that design thinking must drive business results, which means an emphasis on implementation.

Our current moment is about drawing a baseline. Design thinking is becoming self-conscious, and that’s a good thing: but it’s not the same thing as maturity. Once we know where we truly are, in the present moment, then we can design a more sophisticated future for design thinking. And that’s cause for celebration—one that won’t even involve a caterer.