Generalism.

The past few months at Reading Plus have been the typical ‘high-growth-phase’ variety, according to those who have seen these scenarios before. Lots of new faces, both in Vermont and around the country. We are scaling up all parts of our organization to grow and impact more students.

As we grow, we are reorganizing into a more typical corporate hierarchy. We had previously been a looser organization – it was less “who do you report to?” and more “what team are you on?” … or even “what project(s) do you own?” The past few months have shown that we need more structure to stay effective, and we’re firming it up.

Along the way, the need for each individual and team to be defined and held accountable to a need or metric has risen. With that comes the move toward more specialization, and away from the more generalized skill sets that have been our organizational hallmark to date.

This presents a challenge for people whose specialization is being good at many things.

In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein uses a set of stories and data to explain generalists can thrive, even as our world increasingly seeks to niche all of us. Being able to draw on experiences in different domains builds resilience in both individuals and teams.

Something that drew me to Agile Software Development in general, and User Story Mapping in particular (thanks especially to Jeff Patton), was the idea of going “a mile wide and an inch deep.” For generalists, skills and learning appear the same.

In evolution, it’s the specialists who thrive – right up until the system is disrupted. Then it’s the generalists, with their broad resilience, who survive.

So the question is, how does the resilience of generalists serve them during times when specialization is the better strategy for success? Do they need to put on a specialist hat as part of ‘adapt-or-die’? Or is there an explicit case to be made of the balance between the two ways of thinking?

Similar to the Agile Manifesto’s manner of preference then… That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. Context matters.

Wisdom of the Sages Podcast

If you’re a student or teacher of yoga, and you’re serious about deepening your knowledge of the source texts behind the practice, you need to check this out.

I met these two amazing humans last summer at Raghunath’s farm in Chatham, NY at a Bhakti retreat. They are both wonderful teachers and the weekend was joy made real. The experience was truly moving – kirtan, satsang, asana – and afterwards I joined the Zoom group of students tuning in at 5am to the daily reading of the Srimad Bhagavatam that wsa already underway at that time.

For 2020, Raghunath and Kaustubha have created a podcast with the daily reading and have restarted at the beginning of the Bhagavatam. Jump into this beautiful journey – the conversation is rich and it will deepen your understanding of yoga, so succinctly defined by Kaustubha Das as “a practice which empowers one to overcome the obstacle of the mind, for the purpose of the self experiencing it’s own true nature.”

Wishing you a mindful 2020.

Confident Reading

Our leadership team at Reading Plus has been engaged in deep work on our company over the past few months. Part of that work has been, for me, a rediscovery of our student product’s knock-on-effect in terms of motivation.

Reading Plus assesses students when they start using the program. The assessment has multiple dimensions – vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and motivation. The goal is to determine the reading profile of the student to set up an instructional program that best meets their needs. Is this a student who reads at a high comprehension / high vocabulary level, but reads very slowly? Is this a student who reads with good comprehension, but doesn’t read much because they don’t see themselves as a good reader? What scaffolds does this student need to be more successful?

I’ve been watching my son develop as a reader these past few years, and have noticed that he reads well but doesn’t seem to enjoy it. We have tried different topics and non/fiction options. Nothing seemed to catch him.

So in the best tradition of Piaget, I set my son up to be assessed by Reading Plus.

He completed the assessment and I was able to review the results with him. It was illuminating. His vocabulary level was very high – 11th grade, for a 4th grader – and his reading comprehension level was that of a 5th grader, albeit with a reading rate below what a 5th grade reading rate would be for a proficient reader.

But it was the motivational inventory that was most striking. Despite his abilities, he didn’t think of himself as a good reader. This turned him off to the idea of reading in general.

When he saw the results, the wheels started to turn. He immediately felt a sense of confidence about reading. We started him on the program, with an instructional path based on his results.

It’s now a few weeks into the program. His reading rate is almost at 5th grade levels, and his comprehension is steady. His sense of accomplishment grows with each lesson.

We built the core SeeReader program almost 6 years ago, when I was leading the development team. Since then I’ve moved on to other parts of the company, learning more about the “business side” of the business. But it’s profoundly gratifying to see that after all these years, what we built still works, better than ever, and in a real world, personal way.